Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kathleen On New Books and Old Stories


Yesterday was my granddaughter's birthday. Today it's Sam Beaudry's. In celebration I'm blogging on two sites today. Over at Wildflower Junction, AKA Petticoats and Pistols I'm giving a little background on how the new book came to be and I hope we'll be talking about favorite themes in romance. If you read the excerpt from IN CARE OF SAM BEAUDRY either on my website or at Amazon, you'll probably be able to guess one of my personal favorites. By the way, check out our Reading In the Fast Lane in the sidebar for more summaries of our current books. We'd love it if you used the links to Amazon from the little shop in our trunk. (No junk. No kidding.)

Sam Beaudry is a contemporary romance set in Montana, which makes it a Western, and Sam is Metis, which is a mixed-blood of Cree/Chippewa/French/Scots descent, or some combination thereof. This story has little to do with Ameican Indian issues, but many of my books do. American history fascinates me, but for obvious reasons I'm particularly interested in Native American history and cultures. I just watched the third in PBS's five-part American Experience series called "We Shall Remain" . It's about the Trail of Tears, but unlike so many documentaries on the subject, it's dramatized with a fine cast (including Wes Studi) and it focuses on the Cherokee fight for self-determination prior to their forced removal from the Southeast. While most documentaries depict the tragedy of that forced march and show the Cherokee as pitiful victims, this show gives the Cherokee their due as an independent people holding out against great odds and negotiating in a government-to-government relationship. When the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision that the U.S. government could not legally remove the Cherokee and take their land, President Jackson simply defied the decision. In the end, those who stayed behind had to renounce their Cherokee citizenship if they wanted to remain on their land.

The program "reads" more like a movie than a documentary, and one of the drawbacks of the format is that it's hard to tell how much of the dialogue comes from a screenwriter. But there are voice-overs reading from the writings of some of the principles. One anecdote was about the machinations going on in Congress over the proposed removal of the people. New England representatives were generally opposed. One congressman actually killed another in a duel. Cherokee leader John Ross wrote at the time: "As soon as they bury their illustrious brother, Congress can get back to dealing with us savages." Typical Indian humor.

I think I've been influenced as much by historical fiction as I have non-fiction. A good novel will send me looking for more facts. More details. More perspectives. I've generally had very positive response to the kind of story I like to tell--cross-cultural love stories in which the past often touches the present--but every once in a while I'm accused of having an "agenda." When that happens I'll step back and have myself a serious think. What do I really know, and what right does a non-Indian really have to write this story?

What I really know--because I've been a first-hand witness for almost 40 years--is that Indian self-determination is as much of an issue now as it was in the 1830's. I know that my readers are mostly non-Indian women who are much like me, and I know that my stories have served as a conduit for them in some small way. We've done a very poor job of teaching this aspect of American history in our schools, but every once in a while you get a book or a documentary or a movie that actually sheds some light on the whole of our history. It's important because we're still tromping through other people's homelands and turning everything upside down and inside out without appreciating the natives' right to self-determination, without knowing much about their culture. In other words, without respect. Hence, we tend to repeat the worst of our history. And we have to know that the people have yet to recover from the havoc we made in Indian Country. A few big casinos on a few tiny, well-placed reservations doesn't cut it. This is something we must own as Americans who continue to benefit from the policies and procedures of our forebears.

The last two parts of "We Shall Remain" are about Geronimo and Wounded Knee. I'll be watching. I know that the repercussions of Wounded Knee are still felt in the Dakotas today. I've written about various aspects of the incident in a couple of my novels. To this day American Indians suffer the highest infant mortality rate and the highest rate of teen suicide in the country. These are not just statistics. They are the lives of someone's child, brother, nephew, friend. I know because the Eagle family suffered one of each of those losses last week. I mention this only because I believe in the Lakota prayer, "all my relatives." It's been the major lesson of my life, and I hope that comes through in some my stories.

What's your general take on history? What aspects of the past particularly touch your personal present? Can you recommend some great historical fiction? Movies? Documentaries?

I'll send one random commenter a book from my backlist. Check the excerpts on my website.

Be sure to drop in on Pam Crooks tomorrow, right here in the convertible!

31 comments:

Laurie said...

My in laws were forced out of Hungary after WW11. They were transported on trains to Germany with only what they could carry. Several relatives ended up on trains to the USSR and were forced to work in coal mines. German families were forced to take them in. They eventually came over on a boat in Nov. 1951 via Ellis Island and settled in Wisconsin.

Historical fiction: Dr Zhivago, Dances With Wolves, Shogun, Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans, Pamela Clare's Surrender

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy I know this ia a subject dear to your heart and I believe you have as much right to write about Indian history and struggles as anyone. It's part of your own story and you have a right to a point of view and a voice. You're uniquely qualified and you speak out of love and compassion and understanding. You go, girl, and don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise!

As for my own take on history, I think much of what I "know" (about my own family history and about history in general)is simply legend and interpretation. But that's what history is. . . interpretation of events, actions, intentions. Look at the radical change Columbus has undergone in just the last 20 years. He was once considered a bold, visionary explorer who opened the way to a new world. . . now he's a crackpot willing to risk lives to agrandize himself, while contaminating and abusing the native populations. None of what he did has changed a bit. . . but how popular culture looks at it has certainly changed.

What amazes me is the way people try to use "history" to prove their arguments. After 30 years plus of researching and studying history, I'm deeply skeptical of
almost any argument that uses historical "facts." The winners write the accounts and tell the story. . . it's always somebody's slant. I'm more likely to "believe" archaeological evidence. . . which at least is based on artifacts.

Arkansas Cyndi said...

I live in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The history of this city is INCREDIBLE. Yesterday, I was reading story about the capture of Lucky Luciano here in Hot Springs. He'd come to see a retired mobster living here. The local authorities wouldn't turn him over to NY authorities. Ignored the warrant. Long story short...Big fight between our city and state Attorney General, who ran and was elected Governor. He began raiding HS for gambling machines, etc. Local city officials offered to "support his re-election" (ah BRIBE) and he left the city alone.

We were known for all our mob contacts. I am fascinated with our history.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Betina, it's absolutely true that the "winners" write textbook history. But so much of what has been written gets no play. It's also true of women's history. When I was in high school our U.S. history class did not revolve around a textbook. We used source documents. We debated issues like "manifest destiny." That class made such a difference in my life because I learned how to dig deep and challenge and consider all sides. So important. One thing I'm still learning is that the concept of "progress" is deceiving. By the mid 20th century we were convinced that the Great Depression could never happen again because regulations were in place thanks to lessons we'd "learned." Hmmm.

Kathryn Magendie said...

What a beautiful compelling cover.

Oh, that Trail of Tears....

Kathleen Eagle said...

Cyndi, they say all politics is local. All history is local, too. Isn't it fascinating to talk to "old timers" who remember "back in the day" like it was yesterday? Okay, so I'm fast becoming one of those old times. When I read to the first graders on Earth Day, I told them I remembered the first Earth Day. One said, "Wow! You were alive on the first Earth Day!" Ah, yes, I thought. And God said, let there be light.

Arkansas Cyndi said...

"Let there be light" BWAHAHA

Christie Ridgway said...

I can't wait to read the new book, Kathy! I have always loved the window you've given me into a world I'm unfamiliar with.

As another contemporary writer, I think it's so important to understand the history of our charcters' ancestors and/or the place they are living. I'm reading a several-book set about California history right now, which helps to inform the identity of the kind of people who live in my books (usually Californians like me). For those of us living in the west, many of our ancestors came this way looking for something else, something better. When they hit the Pacific Ocean, they've come to the end of the line, which I think colors how Californians behave and think.

Kathleen said...

For me being of Irish and Scotish decent, it is the history in which their stories are retold especially by the English during the time of the great famine in Ireland.
I am really looking forward to reading your new book. This story is right up my alley. It has a western theme, romance and kids. Nothing better!!

TheTownCrier said...

The complete story, with the words of the principals, of the Trail of Tears, read the recent book, "Jesus Wept" An American story. I can't wait to see the PBS episode on this one.

http://jesusweptanamericanstory.blogspot.com/

Kathleen Eagle said...

Town Crier, I went to your blog and found it fascinating. Thanks so much for the photos. More real faces to go with the PBS drama and other versions of the story. And your story is truly cross-cultural and so American. Please let us know what you think of "We Shall Remain."

Kylie said...

Kathleen, my favorite period of historical fiction to read has always been American western romance, Civil War era and Regency.

I became interested in how Native American beliefs would impact (big surprise) police work. A couple years ago I wrote The Last Warrior, about a Navajo Tribal police detective in Tuba City dealing with drug related homicides in the area. I found the research absolutely fascinating, but had a more intense fear than usual of not getting details right and not doing justice to the rich history of the people there. I haven't attempted another book with a Native American hero, but the research I did for that one remains my favorite.

Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves has always stayed with me. Braveheart. Blood Diamond. Hotel Rwanda. Schindler's List. I could go on...!

Michele Hauf said...

My historical interests tend to take me to Europe, for reasons that are beyond me. But I am fascinated with the 17th and 18th century.

Love the cover of that book, Kathy! And Wes Studi is a favorite of mine ever since The Last of the Mohicans.

Anonymous said...

My family's history revolves around that of Colorado. My grandfather was a sheepherder and told of the Indians he would meet in his travels. His ranch was about 30 miles east of the original Bent's Fort on the old Santa Fe Trail.
I think I learned a lot of the different aspects of the settling of the West when I read James Michner's Centennial and the early books of Louis LAmour and Ernest Haycox
JOYE
JWIsleyAT aol.com

Kathleen Eagle said...

Kylie, I know exactly what you mean about the intense fear of misrepresenting American Indian culture in our fiction. This is a good thing. Think of how many films were made with no thought given to "getting it right"--or even close! Dances With Wolves was groundbreaking because Lakota consultants and Indian actors were front and center.

I live in a house full of Indians, have a huge Indian family, but I live in "white" skin. I don't speak for Indian people, but I do write about non-Indian characters sojourning in Indian Country, and I hope I'm able to bring readers along.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Michele, Studi is excellent in "We Shall Remain." When I went looking for a photo for this post, I discovered that we were born in the same year. He's about a month my junior.

Greta said...

Hi, Kathy!

Historical fiction: I read Michael Shaara's 'The Killer Angels' after a friend recommended it. Good book!

I also really enjoyed the Ken Burns Civil War documentary. Somehow the Civil War passed me by in my Minnesota high school--I really knew very little about it, beyond what I'd picked up from novels.

But for general historical reading, I'm more interested in Irish history, and in the Vikings.

TheTownCrier said...

Thank you Kathleen. I will post more 'family photos' on the website. I think this quote from my book sums it up. I look forward to reading your book! I haven't seen last nights episode yet, can't wait!

“All Nations have their rises & their falls.
This has been the case with us.
Within the orbit of the U. States move the States
& within these we move in a little circle,
dependent on the great center.
We may live this way fifty years and then we shall
by Natural Causes merge in & mingle with the U. States.......
Cherokee blood, if not destroyed,
will win its courses in beings of fair complexions,
who will read that their ancestors became civilized
under the frowns of misfortune
& the causes of their enemies." -

John Ridge , letter to Albert Gallatin,
member of Thomas Jefferson's staff - February 27, 1826

http://jesusweptanamericanstory.blogspot.com/

Helen Brenna said...

Kathy, I love the cover of your new book, too!

As a writer, I think I'm in the minority here, but I've never been much interested in history until recently. Now I feel like there's just too much to catch up on and I don't know where to begin!

My son's a history lover, though, and can recite all kinds of dates and historical facts. Recently, we watched "Band of Brothers" an HBO made miniseries that's supposedly based on factual events for a particular group of men during WWII. I thought it was amazing, both from the historical and story-telling standpoints.

GladysMP said...

Because I married someone of Polish ancestry, folks take it for granted I am Polish which isn't true. But it has been interesting studying about my husband's background. His grandfather came over from Poland through New York and settled on a farm near Bryan, Texas. He had eleven children by two wives, of course not two wives at once. But members of that vast family have researched their ancestry very thoroughly and we have a book containing their efforts. My husband started corresponding with a young man in Poland and they share both letters and Christmas cards. The young man sent my husband a picture of the house where his grandfather had lived in Poland. The house is still standing and is a surprisingly nice house. We also have a picture of the boat that his grandfather came over in from Poland. We have the picture of that boat on the wall in our bedroom.

As for my reading historical books, I love Westerns, especially stories pertaining to Texas history. Texas has a truly unique history.

TheTownCrier said...

Hi Gladys, as for Texas History, there is some of that in my book. After Ridge, Boudinot, and one of my grgruncles were assassinated after the trail of tears, they formed a community in Texas called Mt. Tabor. Their children all were involved in Texas and covered Sam Houston when Texas sought independence. Very interesting!

http://jesusweptanamericanstory.blogspot.com/

Debra Dixon said...

You wouldn't know it to look at me but I'm 1/8 Creek Indian. My sister is a dead ringer for someone with serious Native American heritage.

I've got the peaches and cream Irish thing going on and her skin tone is completely different.

I'm fascinated by history. I'm a documentary addict but I've never been compelled to work with historical material in fiction. I'm more of a contemporary girl in writing. Other than I did a lot of Native American history in research papers in high school. I was very interested in knowing more about the American Indian experience.

I have a whimsical attachment to Regency England because I choose the ignore the reality of how much life would really suck if I were forced to live in those time. But boy wouldn't it suck to really live there? To be so constricted in movement and station?

Estella said...

I enjoy your books because I can tell you do a lot of research before you write.

catslady said...

I didn't care for history in school - dry facts,memorizing dates - yuk. But I can't get enough of it now. I enjoy watching the history channel and historicals are my favorite reading. There are at least two sides to every story and unfortunately you don't usually get the true facts or hear about all the grey areas. Last of the Mohicians is one of my favorites.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Isn't family history fascinating? We did the National Geographic Genographic project a couple of years ago--you do a cheek swab and they check your DNA--but it goes way way back. Interesting, but even more so was the research my daughter did online tracing public records. She found out stuff I didn't know about my grandparents. All she needed was a few names and dates.

Debra Dixon said...

Kathleen- We did DNA testing on our mutt. Our money was on German Shepard and Alaskan Husky.

She came back about 60% Akita (my son had been saying she was an Akita for years) and a few other breeds, one of which was German Shepherd.

The testing results are by level so you know which are the predominant breeds in the results.

I'd love to do a cheek swab on me!

Venus Vaughn said...

Debra,

That's why I don't read historicals. I can't suspend my disbelief long enough to get lost there.

I'm a black woman. Historicals don't reflect anything like a good time for someone who looks like me.

Virginia said...

I love reading historical books. I am really fasinated by the Civil War for some reason. Also enjoy reading about the history in Ireland and Scotland.

MarthaE said...

Wonderful post! Thanks. I think it is important to remember the proud heritage of the native Americans that were pushed off their lands. I like the American Revolution and Civil War stories. I really liked the way Killing Angels was written... it gave the day to day grit feel of the war and personalities that were involved.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi, Greta! Shaara's "Killer Angels" is fantastic. His son wrote the sequel--not nearly as good, imo. I've always been interested in the Civil War, ever since I was a kid. I saved articles that came out during the 4 year centennial. I idolized Lincoln. Also Robert E Lee. Yep, I've always loved history. I had some terrific teachers, now that I think about it.

Mandy said...

Kathleen,

I was so impressed when I first found your books. At first, I was skeptical - another non-Indian writing about Indian people. I was pleasantly surprised - that seems like a million years ago.

I'm a history buff and I have done some family history searching myself. I remember my aunts having Cherokee alphabets around and other clues. When I was old enough to ask, I was met with silence. My grandmother was from the south and it seems you just didn't talk about some things.

I think we as a nation should have a better knowledge on our past. It gives us a better framework for our present and future.