Thursday, October 5, 2023

Q&A with Stephen G. Eoannou


Photo by Marcus Devoe



Stephen G. Eoannou is the author of the new novel Yesteryear. It's based on the life of Fran Striker, the creator of The Lone Ranger. Eoannou's other books include the novel Rook. He lives in Buffalo, New York.


Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on the life of the creator of The Lone Ranger?


A: Well, like all good stories, it began in a bar. Or at a party. My memory of that night is a little hazy.


Somebody mentioned that the guy who wrote The Lone Ranger was from Buffalo, and I didn’t believe them. I’m a Buffalo-based writer and this city’s very good about celebrating writers from this area. If the guy who created The Lone Ranger was from Buffalo, I would’ve heard of him. Or so I thought.


I Googled it and, of course, I was wrong. Not only was Fran Striker a Buffalo guy, but he was also a neighborhood guy. He graduated from Lafayette High School, which was just a few blocks from my house, and wrote The Lone Ranger just north of me on Granger Place.


When I found out he was part of the best or worst deal in entertainment history, I knew I wanted to write about him.


At the most basic level, I wanted to write an action story about a man who was trying to write an action story. A radio play about a guy trying to write a radio play. I wanted Striker to be the hero, not The Lone Ranger or The Green Hornet, which he also wrote.


Having the setting in Buffalo was just a given. The literary turf I’m trying to carve out is this city, the same way William Kennedy carved out Albany as his own.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote the book?


A: I think of a historical novel as a house. The basic structure—the walls, foundation, roof—that’s the historical part. You need those things, or you don’t have a house. You need the container.


But you can furnish that house any way you want. Paint the walls any color you like. Decorate it the way your heart tells you to. That’s the creative, imaginative piece. The fiction.


With Yesteryear, I wanted to write differently than I did in my first two books, (Muscle Cars, SFWP and Rook, Unsolicited Press). I wanted to write bigger. Broader. With more imagination.


I was thinking specifically of Malamud’s The Natural and W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, which the movie Field of Dreams was based on. Both books are baseball novels, so my mantra while writing Yesteryear was, swing for the fences.


That meant no joke was off limit and no description could be too over the top. I wanted to give myself complete creative freedom. A ghostly radio broadcast? Throw it in. A Gypsy curse? Why not? A plot to assassinate FDR? Bring it. Just swing for the fences.


Basically, I built a Victorian house with all the rich architectural details and all the elaborate furnishings. It was a fun book to write.

Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I was fortunate. After Striker’s death, his literary estate donated all his papers to the University of Buffalo, my alma mater. There must be 30 cartons that I had access to.


And, of course, there’s been so much written about The Lone Ranger. Research is a great excuse to buy books. I think I have about a dozen Ranger books on the shelf now.


The two that were most helpful to me were His Typewriter Grew Spurs, written by Striker’s son, and WYXIE Wonderland about the iconic Detroit radio station WXYZ. The biography of George W. Trendle, owner of WXYZ, was also very helpful.


The biggest surprise occurred before I had written a single word of Yesteryear, when I was just thinking about the book. I was being lazy, not writing, killing time by scrolling through Facebook.


My friend Karen Celestan, a wonderful writer, posted an article and its title was something like “Was Bass Reeves the Inspiration for The Lone Ranger?”. I was stunned. I’d never heard of Bass Reeves.


Her post was a gift. Was it coincidence that that article popped up right when I needed it? Maybe. Or maybe not.


One of the areas I explore in Yesteryear is the idea of where stories and ideas come from. Norman Mailer said writing is a spooky art. That whole exploration of the creative process is where the magical elements enter Yesteryear.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: When they finish the book, I hope they tell their friends that Yesteryear is a good story. It was fun book to write, and I hope they tell everyone it was fun book to read.


And I hope to bring Fran Striker’s name back into conversation. He had a huge impact on 20th century American pop culture, and he should be better known than he is.


Finally, I’d like them to think that Buffalo is a pretty cool town filled with really cool places. They should come visit. I’ll show them around. We’ll drink cold beer at reasonable prices.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: During Covid, I wrote what I call my pandemic novel. It has absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic, but I started it right when we were locked down.


It’s called After Pearl. People often read to escape, and I wrote After Pearl to escape the loneliness of the lockdown and the awfulness of Covid.


I was living in Buffalo in a big house with a little one-eyed dog, so I wrote a novel set in Buffalo after Pearl Harbor about an alcoholic private eye with a little one-eyed dog.


I remember blogging that I didn’t know if Pearl would ever be published, but I needed to write it just to get through those days and especially those long nights. I was surprised my publisher, SFWP, liked it.


Pearl will be published sometime in 2025, so I’m working on the final line editing now. I’m also working on its sequel which has the working title of The Falling Woman. And I need to get going on a YA novel I’m co-writing with my cousin about boxing. My to-do list is growing.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: It took me 30 years to get my first book published. It was a long road. Three decades of rejection and dejection. But I didn’t quit. I kept setting my alarm for 5am and writing before my day job. I kept submitting, kept getting rejected, kept rewriting. I kept working on my craft.


I guess if you keep doing something for 30 years, sooner or later you get a little bit good at it. But it took so long to get here. So, when I say I’m delighted and thankful to do interviews like this, I mean it.


Thank you.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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