Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe’s Sinking Suspicions—Books of Interest by Writers of Color

This is the first post in a month of #diverselit and #WeNeedDiverseBooks posts I am making. It seems a natural for me since I’ve long written a series of posts called Books of Interest by Writers of Color.

I’m a Cherokee poet and novelist who writes about a Cherokee protagonist, so people send me just about every novel written that has a major Indigenous character in it. A terrifying number of them are romances with generic spray-tanned hunks on the cover and love interests who are half-Cherokee, half-Navajo, half-Sioux, or just plain half-Indian (these authors don’t seem to know any other tribes exist) and written without the least tiny bit of knowledge of any of these different cultures. Recently, I received a non-romance novel written by a non-Native author with a Cherokee female protagonist. The blurbs made me hopeful, but once I started reading, it became apparent that the writer had done a little haphazard research online about the Cherokee to give “flavor” to her work. She got many of the most basic things wrong, but oddly enough had a few unusual things right. I don’t suppose I have to state that I won’t be reading any more of her books.

Then, along comes Sara Sue Hoklotubbe’s third Sadie Walela mystery, Sinking Suspicions, and my world is bright again. I could well talk about Hoklotubbe in my series on Literary Mystery Novelists and will tag this post that way, as well, because she writes so well and creates characters that live on the page. But her biggest strength is in her creation of Sadie’s background setting. Hoklotubbe brings to life the world of the Western Cherokee in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and its surrounding counties. Her protagonist, Sadie Walela, has been a rancher, a banker, a restaurant owner, and in Sinking Suspicions, is embarking on a career as a travel agent. Since Hoklotubbe is Cherokee and grew up in the same area as Sadie, she knows the land, the people, and the culture.

In Sinking Suspicions, Hoklotubbe writes about the modern Cherokee, the food, the dances, the small towns, the farms and ranches, the way people look out for one another and take care of each other, the respect for the elders and for family, the sense of humor, the sense of individualism within a sense of strong community of the Cherokee today. She even takes the timeworn trope of the person who claims to have a Cherokee princess for a grandmother and transforms it into something true and powerful.

This is the difference between an author who wants to use a people and their culture to add an exciting, singular touch to his book and writes mostly stereotypes and caricatures for his ethnic characters and an author who really knows what she’s writing about, whether from having lived it or from real research, which means getting to know the people as people and to know the culture through their eyes as a way of living and not an exotic artifact or simply searching on the internet among the stereotypes and (often) falsehoods that even (or perhaps especially) anthropologists have perpetuated.

In Sinking Suspicions, Sadie Walela heads to Hawaii to finalize her next career as a travel agent, leaving her lawman boyfriend, Lance Smith, alone and dissatisfied with her decision. The identity theft that affects Sadie’s aging Cherokee next-door neighbor, Buck Skinner, a World War II veteran and former horsebreaker, threatens his ownership of his family land and eventually leads to murder, conspiracy, and a rocky romance for Sadie. On the island, while worrying about Buck and Lance, Sadie becomes friends with a native Hawaiian family and learns enough about their culture and history to see real parallels with her own people. As tension mounts and Buck becomes a suspect in a murder case, an earthquake in Hawaii that disrupts communications and keeps Sadie from immediately returning to help Buck complicates the situation, leaving Sadie’s dear, old friend in grave danger, as well as threatening her new love. 

Sinking Suspicions is a must-read for those who like to read about other cultures, for mystery fans, and for fans of good fiction in general.


Sara Sue Hoklotubbe is a Cherokee tribal citizen and the author of the award-winning Sadie Walela Mystery Series. She grew up on the banks of Lake Eucha in northeastern Oklahoma and uses that location as the setting for her mystery novels to transport readers into modern-day Cherokee life.

THE AMERICAN CAFÉ was awarded the 2012 WILLA Literary Award for Original Softcover Fiction by Women Writing the West, won the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Best Mystery, and was named 2012 Mystery of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. The book was also named a finalist for the 2012 Oklahoma Book Awards and the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year.  DECEPTION ON ALL ACCOUNTS won Sara the 2004 Writer of the Year Award from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Sara is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc., and Tulsa Night Writers. She and her husband live in Colorado.

Sinking Suspicions is available for pre-order now. http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/Books/bid2500.htm As usual, I suggest my readers buy from the university press that published this book, even though the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The vast majority of writers of color are published only through small literary presses and university presses. Without them, we would only have a tiny handful of big-name writers of color available to us. Support them if you value #diverselit.
REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me):

I'm glad you're going to try Hoklotubbe, Anonymous. She's an excellent writer, and her books are very enjoyable.

Thanks, Sara Sue. I'm going to paste that offer up here also. For anyone who wants to pre-order Sinking Suspicions from the University of Arizona Press, they may use the promotional code FLR and get 20% off.

Reine, I think you'll really enjoy this book and her others. Very authentic. Hoklotubbe does one of the best jobs I've seen of depicting Cherokee humor or, in fact, Native humor in general, which is dry and not always perceived as such by non-Natives.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Books of Interest by Writers of Color—Allison Hedge Coke Edits Another Great Anthology, EFFIGIES II

Allison Hedge Coke is a prolific and acclaimed Indigenous writer who’s been discussed before on this blog. http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/2011/09/books-of-interest-by-writers-of_27.html

Her own books of poetry and memoir include the American Book Award winner, Dog Road Woman, popular memoir, Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer, and two Wordcraft Writer of the Year winners, Off Season City Pipe and Blood Run. Hedge Coke is also known for her fine work in editing series and anthologies of Indigenous writers, most recently and notably SING: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas, which was the first anthology of Indigenous writing from all the Americas.

One of the anthologies Hedge Coke edited in 2009 was Effigies, a strong collection of chapbooks from emerging Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander poets. Now, she has returned with a new collection of chapbooks from five emerging Indigenous poets of the continental United States, Effigies II: An Anthology of New Indigenous Writing Mainland North & South United States, 2014, from Salt Publications. Effigies II contains the poems of Lara Mann (Choctaw), Ungelbah Davila (Diné), Kateri Menominee (Anishinaabe), Kristi Leora (Onondaga), and Laura Da’ (Shawnee).

Ann Waldman says of this anthology, “Allison Hedge Coke has done it again, with her keen ear and eye: brought powerful new Native women's voices to our attention. Rigorous, powerful, brave, haunting, spirited.” LeAnne Howe also praises it. “These poems, fresh effigies carved by five young Native women cracked open my heart.  Read them when alone carefully swaddled in a warm blanket, or read them aloud at the kitchen table to all your relations, past and future.  But read them.”

The variety of poetic voices in this anthology is refreshing. These Native women’s voices are a powerful addition to the growing body of robust diversity that is modern, published Indigenous poetry (for the tribes have been voicing poetry for millennia). The poets of Effigies II bring their voices in the whispers, murmurs, fierce shouts, curses, blessings, lullabies, cries of passion, tears, and mourning. The breadth of life is to be found in these spirited offerings.

Although the poets in Effigies II are emerging poets coming into their own, the work in these pages is sure, deft, full of telling detail, rich in evocative imagery, and ringing with the music of language enriched by drawing on multiple heritages and cultures. These poems demand attention—Mann’s bittersweet tales of searching for roots for family and self; Davilah’s explorations of female sexuality, empowerment and exploitation; Menominee’s travels through ancient history and fairy tale with a postmodern sensibility; Leora’s work linking the modern world and its future with its beginnings through geologic process and creation stories; and the poems of Da’, which grieve for the atrocities, betrayals, and losses inflicted on her people.

Hedge Coke’s sure hand as editor can be seen in the ordering and juxtapositions which allow each poet’s work to feed and support that of the others. I highly recommend this collection to all with interest in new Indigenous voices and in a more nuanced approach to the idea of Indigenous writing, as well as to anyone who just loves to read lucid, lyrical, enchanting, and powerful poetry.

As usual, I suggest you order the book from the small press publisher, Salt Publications, which has a whole series of Indigenous books, Earthworks. Small press and university publishers bring most of the diversity in literature to the page. Without them, we would have a tiny handful of very famous writers of color published and no one else. If you value diverse literature, please support the presses that make it possible. http://saltpublishing.com/shop/proddetail.php?prod=9781844718955

As part of the whole #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, I will devote a month of twice-weekly posts to my long-running Books of Interest by Writers of Color series while recuperating from some surgery mid-July to mid-August (because I'd already planned this and because I just think it's that important, so I'm going to do it anyway). During that month, I may have some extra posts by other writers and critics featuring yet more #diverselit. So stand by for some remarkable writers that you may never have heard of before.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Writing Process

When Jeri Westerson asked me to contribute to a blog project on writing process, I agreed—primarily because I’m a big fan of Jeri as a writer of the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest medieval noir mysteries and as a person. Jeri has given of her time, money, and work to a whole slew of writers organizations, including heading local and regional MWA and SinC chapters at times. She’s also one of the nicest people in crime fiction, which is so surprisingly overstocked with really nice people. (I think they must get all their hostility out in their books, and that’s why they’re so agreeable and kind and generous.) I remember the opening night of my first Bouchercon at my publisher’s party (Jeri and I used to have the same publisher) where I knew no one except my publicist and publisher who were like flowers with all the writer-bees around them. I spent the evening chatting with this stranger, Jeri, who took me under her wing and was acerbically kind to me all evening. (I said she was nice—I never said she wasn’t witty, sarcastic, and adorably snarky.)

Jeri has a new book, Cup of Blood, in her Crispin Guest series coming out July 26th. Books in this series have routinely been finalists for all the big awards in crime fiction and received rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, and other book critics, so I expect great things of Cup of Blood. Jeri’s also beginning a new urban fantasy series with her forthcoming Booke of the Hidden, which ought to be a suspenseful, exciting book. You’ll find Jeri’s post on writing process and more information about her books and the most fascinating medieval things here. http://www.getting-medieval.com/my_weblog/2014/06/blog-hop-again.html

When I looked at the specific questions of this blog hop, I realized I’d answered some very similar questions for a different blog project about diversity in literature, so here’s the link to that post. http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com/2014/06/one-more-reason-why-we-need-diverse-lit.html  Aside from promoting my new Skeet Bannion mystery, Every Hidden Fear, I’ve been teaching an online class lately that’s prompted me to examine my creative process, so I’ll look at it through that lens. 

One of the first things people ask writers is do they outline their books. Aspiring writers ask if they are pantsers or plotters—do they wing the whole thing or do they outline in detail and follow that outline. I’m a hybrid. I write a loose, general outline for the first several chapters and a more detailed outline for the scene I’m about to write. When I write the first draft, I always end up veering from that outline. After writing, I’ll note the changes in the outline for use in revision. Then I’ll do a loose outline of the next few chapters, write, note changes, and repeat all the way through the first draft.

More important than whether I’m a plotter or a pantser, I am a confirmed reviser. I believe that good writing is rewriting. I make my books the best I can through the process of re-vision, seeing them as they are and as they could be, and then re-writing, making everything I’ve written more concise with more evocative images, more precise and telling details, greater suspense, and more concise and lucid prose.

I believe—and I teach—that there is no one right way to write a book. There’s only the way that works for you—with this book. Because it can and does change from book to book. You might write three good books using this mix of methods and feel you’ve finally learned to write a novel. Then, the fourth just won’t work with those methods, and you’re searching for what works all over again. Neil Gaiman as a young writer with a successful novel told revered sf/f writer Glenn Cook, “I think I’ve finally learned how to write a novel.” Cook replied, “You’ve only learned to write the novel you just wrote.” And Gaiman found that Cook was telling him the truth.

I came to the crime fiction field from the “literary” world, in which I still publish, and I have to shake my head and laugh when people in that field talk blithely to me about “the formula” we genre writers supposedly just fill out like a bureaucratic form. As if! The true formula we follow is much like Beckett’s. Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail harder.

If you’ve been following this blog trail, you’ve read about the ways many different writers work (and if you haven’t been, you can go to Jeri’s blog and track backward through the whole chain of writers). I thought I would ask someone a little different from a novelist to talk about her creative process, a professional storyteller. Written fiction evolved from storytelling, and I believe storytellers have a lot to share with those of us who tell our stories on the page. So I’ve tapped Mary Garrett, writer and storyteller.  Mary shared stories with her high school and junior high students at Francis Howell North High School and now tells stories at festivals, meetings and schools, including the Kansas City Storytelling Celebration, Texas, Timpanogos (Utah), O.O.P.S. (Ohio), and NSN (national) conferences, the St. Louis and St. Charles Storytelling Festivals, the Greater St. Louis Renaissance Faire, and others. You’ll find her blog here  http://storytellermary.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/writing-process-blog-hop/.

REPLY TO COMMENTS: (Because Blogger.)

Mary, it's interesting to see how similar in many ways the process of writing fiction and storytelling are. Though storytelling seems to remain more fluid. Thanks for the view into the process.