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“Tatanka: Valley of the Bears” will be released in German this month.
“Tatanka: Valley of the Bears” will be released in German this month. (Courtesy photo)
“Tatanka: Valley of the Bears” will be released in German this month.
“Tatanka: Valley of the Bears” will be released in German this month. (Courtesy photo)
Virgil W. “Bud” Foutz, holding his wire-haired dachshund, Tessa, spent 7½ years writing “Tatanka: Valley of the Bears.”
Virgil W. “Bud” Foutz, holding his wire-haired dachshund, Tessa, spent 7½ years writing “Tatanka: Valley of the Bears.” (Courtesy photo)

The wait ends this month for Alconbury High School athletic director Virgil W. “Bud” Foutz.

On July 20, the publishing house of Thienemann Verlag in Stuttgart, Germany, will release the German edition of Foutz’s historical novel “Spirit Walker” as “Tatanka: Das Tal des Baeren” (“Tatanka: Valley of the Bears.”)

“It took seven-and-a-half years to write,” said Foutz, who completed his 528-page adventure novel while keeping his day job as an educator for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools in England.

“I’d write nights while everyone else was asleep.”

Everyone, that is, except a loyal companion of 17 years.

“My muse, Tessa, is our little wire-haired dachshund,” Foutz, who’s been teaching physical and outdoor education in Europe since the 1970s, writes in the dedication to his novel. “She quietly kept me company through the entire book, not once criticizing any of my numerous rewrites.”

Talking by telephone, Foutz said the book, his first published novel, is a about Tatanka Najin (“Standing Bull”), the son of a Scottish adventurer and a Lakota woman. His protagonist, known to the Lakota as Spirit Walker because of his special knowledge, leads his people on an adventure-filled move to their new home on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains during the early 19th century.

“I wanted to portray American Indians as they truly lived,” Foutz said, “to show them in a natural light.”

He did just that, according to Thienemann editor-in-chief Stefan Wendel.

“One of the reasons we liked the book is that it’s very well-written,” Wendel said recently by telephone. “It’s very authentic. There was a lot of information about how they lived. This guy really knows his stuff. A lot of research went into it.”

Two or three years of research, in fact, said Foutz, who doesn’t come by his knowledge of American Indian culture from books alone. His hometown is Farmington, N.M.

“I’m the son of a third-generation Indian trader,” Foutz said. “I was born and raised on the Navajo reservation. I have a head full of stories.”

The story’s journey from head to page, however, can be a laborious process. Foutz recalled the time he first showed his manuscript to a knowledgeable friend, Catherine Jones-Davies, a former DODDS teacher who is now a professor of creative writing in Iowa.

“When she finished,” Foutz chuckled, “the manuscript was spread out all over the floor. It looked like she’d killed about three chickens on it. There was so much red ink.”

Jones-Davies, however, offered encouragement as well as red ink.

“She told me I had a good story,” Foutz said, “and to keep going.”

Foutz said he also got help with his manuscript from Jones-Davies’ friend, R. Baird Shuman, a former professor at Duke University, and from former Stuttgart teacher Kathy Morrow before beginning the process of selling his work.

“I spent about a year looking for a publisher,” said Foutz, who taught outdoor education at DODDS’ Hinterbrand Lodge near Bertchesgaden, Germany, for 18 years and now conducts student expeditions to challenging peaks in the British Isles. “I accumulated a portfolio of rejections almost an inch thick.”

Persevering, Foutz hit upon the idea of taking selected chapters of his novel to last spring’s book fair in Leipzig, Germany.

“I left envelopes with six publishing companies,” he said, “assuming they were all headed for the round file. Then I got a call from Thienemann.”

The publishing house bought the rights and had the novel translated into German. Both the publisher and the author hope to contract for an English-language edition in the near future.

“Thienemann has always wanted to get an original English or American manuscript that we could sell to publishers in other countries,” Wendel said. “English is the language all editors can speak and read.”

Even with “Tatanka” soon in the stores and online at Amazon’s German-language site, Foutz said he and Tessa are planning to burn a lot more midnight oil.

“Thienemann has asked me to do a prequel and a sequel,” he said.

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