For The Love of Dogs - and a good dog story
Set in southwest Montana during the Great Depression years, Troy Kechely’s new novel, Stranger’s Dance, follows a small ranch family through the struggle to hold onto their land and their relationships with each other. In the opening scenes, the protagonist, Frank Redmond, is clearly on the verge of giving up on it all.
With Frank on the cusp of abandoning his family, a stray dog shows up and befriends his wife and father. Despite the convention that strays were chicken-killing pests that ought to be shot, they take the dog in and name him Stranger. For Frank, the dog is both an incredible irritant and a catalyst for massive change.
The story is certainly well-researched historical fiction that provides a gritty and honest portrayal of Depression Era Montana. However, its appeal isn’t limited to historical fiction aficionados. Neither is it limited to dog-lovers. It’s simply a good story.
“It’s a human story, where a dog has an important role,” said Kechely. “Humans and animals have this unique connection. If we’re open to it, it’s very healing. I set out to convey that in a story that anyone could enjoy.”
The Bozeman author added that he never actually set out to be regarded as a historical fiction writer. In fact, future books may follow the Redmond family into contemporary times. The next book is already in revision, and it takes place in the 1960s. “I’ve outlined a third book that’s set in the nineties,” he said. “At what point is this no longer historical fiction?”
He thinks the entire series could cover several generations and each would include an animal who acts as a catalyst for change in the characters. Kechely’s readers love that aspect of the first book. They’re asking for more about the Redmonds, and Kechely has no trouble finding new inspiration.
The source of that inspiration is profoundly personal. “I grew up west of Helena, on a ranch at the base of MacDonald Pass. I had a childhood full of experiences that most people in the U.S. only dream of,” Kechely said. He doesn’t take that for granted. He was adopted as an infant; he could have grown up in an industrial city on the East Coast.
Introverted as a child and often finding his older siblings didn’t necessarily welcome him in their activities, Kechely often disappeared for hours, exploring the ranch and spending time with the horses and ranch dogs. He got to know all the work animals, viewing them as friends.
Between childhood memories and recent research hours spent interviewing other ranch families in his home region, Kechely figures he won’t ever run out of material.
There’s plenty of other sources of inspiration too. Count Kechely as a self-taught renaissance man with a decidedly Montana twist. By day, most of his writing work has been of a technical nature for a civil engineering firm. On the side, in 1997 he founded and led Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue. On weekends, Kechely also taught self-defense and gun safety, and as a nationally-known canine behaviorist, he instructed law enforcement on how to de-escalate confrontation with domestic dogs during police work.
His work in canine rescue yielded an infinite amount of creative non-fiction material about dogs and people who’ve surmounted incredible obstacles. His classes for police officers led to publication of the book, Management of Aggressive Canines for Law Enforcement—Kechely’s first venture into the world of book publishing.
His first venture into fiction involved writing short stories every Christmas—usually about a touching dog-human encounter. These were based on real events but fictionalized to fit the seasonal theme. Reader feedback from those stories encouraged him to try his hand at something bigger.
“Nothing in my past writing life prepared me for the task of writing a novel,” he admitted. It took years of research and developing characters and revising multiple drafts. “I credit a phenomenal writing coach, several editors, and an army of test readers who went through multiple revisions with me,” Kechely said. “It was very much a team effort.”
It took incredible tenacity to write that first novel in the midst of maintaining a day job and countless volunteer pursuits. But Kechely, with encouragement from his writing coach and test readers, pressed on. The tenacity and commitment paid off with a book that is gleaning positive reader reviews and the attention of a regional distributor. Not bad for a self-taught writer, just a ranch kid from rural Montana.
Now Kechely just has to find time to keep writing. He has scaled back on some of his volunteer commitments. But his diverse interests are so often the source of his writing ideas. He can’t quit them entirely. “So, I wind up taking vacation time to work on manuscript revisions,” he said. “I don’t go somewhere for vacation. I write.”
With a life of diverse interests, and a first novel that crosses genres in service to telling a solid story, Kechely noted that he personally feels no constraint to any genre. The Redmond family is keeping him busy for now, but he has other stories in the creative well, ranging from military suspense to science fiction. “I just like to tell a good story,” he said. “I’ll keep writing them as long as they keep coming to me.”
Country Bookshelf (28 W. Main in Bozeman) will host Kechely at an author event on Wednesday, February 10 at 7:00 p.m. Q&A and book signing to follow author talk. More about the author at www.TroyKechely.com
Anika Hanisch is a freelance writer, coauthor, and book coach in the Gallatin Valley. More about her work at www.MontanaCoauthor.com