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!