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How I Came to Write ”The Floor of Heaven”

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, Narrative Nonfiction, Nonfiction.

When I was a young boy growing up in a wooded area of the north Bronx, my friends and I used to chase around playing cowboys and Indians. Hiding behind the rock outcroppings and clumps of tall, ancient trees, we devised intricate games that involved ambushes and ferocious shootouts with our cap guns. Then the developers cameand the Wild West that was our corner of New York City began to disappear. We had no choice but to move on to other pursuits. And so I soon discovered basketball and books.

Howard is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Wanda won.)


Guest column by Howard Blum, author of
The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last
Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush (Crown; April
2011). The book received a starred review in
Publishers Weekly and was recently purchased
by 20th Century Fox for production as a movie.
He has also written 8 other bestselling nonfiction
books (see all here). A former NY Times reporter,
he’s now a contributing editor
Vanity Fair.


But the memory of my early “cowboy days,” of the adventure and intrigue of a child’s old west stayed with me over the years. And in time I decided to write a nonfiction book about the period.

However, the more I read, and the more I thought about all that I was reading, I became fixated not so much on the taming of the American West as I was by what happened after the West was won. Like my childhood “West” that came to an abrupt end at the hands of the developers, I became intrigued by an Wild West that had suddenly grown civilized. In the 1890s the vanquished Indian tribes had settled with dour resignation on government reservations, the wheels of steam engines now clicked and clacked against the metal tracks stretching across the plains where short generations ago herds of buffalo had thundered, and homesteaders pounded sturdy fence posts and plowed the rich brown earth.

But what about the menwanders, trappers, Indian fighters, cowboys, lawmenwhose fierce, independent, courageous, and often violent ways had shaped the West? They had succeeded in taming one frontier, only to become victims of their own success. They were heroes who had outlived their usefulness. Their spirits found neither joy nor comfort in the routine anda curse? a blessing?they had grown accustomed to the sharp edge of uncertainty that shaped an active, dangerous, self-sufficient life. They wanted to grow old boldly, and in the company of new adventures. And so they packed their saddlebags and, as if driven by some natural instinct, began to migrate. They turned their backs on the towns they’d helped build, on the Main Streets where families now strolled, and journeyed to Alaskalast great American wilderness.

It was Alaska’s very remoteness, the promise of a vast, virgin and uncivilized country, that attracted these pioneers. And when in my readings I came across one them, Charlie Siringo, a cowboy turned Pinkerton detective who becomes caught up in a puzzling and dangerous mystery involving a fortune of stolen gold at the height of the Yukon Gold Rushwell, I knew I’d found the story I wanted to tell.

Howard is excited to give away a free copy of his book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Wanda won.)

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16 Responses to How I Came to Write ”The Floor of Heaven”

  1. Wanda B says:

    This book TOTALLY intrigues me and I would love to win it. This is exactly the type of book that I enjoy reading!!

  2. Joel Heffner says:

    When I went back to visit the house I lived in during the 1950s (in Brooklyn) I found that the house of gone and the small area was turned into a parking lot! Memories were leveled. It was sad. :(

    I’ve always considered writing a book about whatever happened to the house. Maybe I will.

  3. Valerie Norris says:

    I am fascinated by the Old West era, and have written the beginning of a pioneer historical. Can’t wait to see this book!

  4. Kim Criswell says:

    I’ve been traveling a lot in SE Asia this year, and reading books about the cultural changes colonialism and "modernization"(i.e. capitalism) brought. I suspect there’s a similarity here: explorers who leave the familiar behind for the adventure, fascination & freedom of forging new paths.

  5. Scott Mesrobian says:

    This sounds like fascinating story. It never occurred to me that the pioneers who "tamed the West", would be that era’s Type A personalities – still needing the next challenge and adventure, rather than settling down to enjoy what they built. But I have to ask…rock outcroppings in the Bronx? In the 20th century?

  6. Michelle Mares says:

    I absolutely love to find myself consumed by the trappings of an era long past. I long for the richness of tales about discovery and rural life after the Civil War and on through industrialization, the roaring 20s, and most definitely the second World War. These times are untouchable, romanticized through literature, and, for most of us, completely unimaginable. I understand and share in the desire to bring back some of our history and to examine a world in which we do not belong but from whence we’ve come.

  7. Jin Kaps says:

    The title caught my attention. Sounds like it should be a fascinating read. Can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  8. Jewel Allen says:

    Chuck: LOL
    Howard: Sounds really interesting. Can’t wait to check it out.

  9. wade 2121 says:

    I’ve read books about the West in the 1900s and on but haven’t read about Alaska. I’d love to read this.

  10. Jeanne says:

    I have wondered about those indiviuals who thrived on the challenge of the west and on the need to keep discovering and keep moving. What happened when there was no more "west" to go? This book sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to read it!

  11. Wow! Sounds like an amazing book. Bet you lost yourself in that research.

  12. Konstantza Chernov says:

    How very interesting. Great title, too.
    I would love to read this book.

  13. Mike Hays says:

    A story of restless men, book looks very interesting. Will put on the reading list for sure. I can relate to the lost woods of your boyhood NYC home. We lost our vacant lot, the gateway to the Missouri river valley, at my Kansas City boyhood home to the construction of a new house. We felt like starting a revolution the day the backhoe showed up.

  14. Guinevere says:

    I love the story about how this book came to be (though I admit, my imagination is struggling to picture a wooded corner of the Bronx…). I’ll definitely be adding this to my to-read non-fiction stack.

  15. I cannot win this book, but damn does it look good. That’s why I am just forced to comment anyway. And I like how this is a story about how what happens early in our lives affects us later.

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