If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our September Author Interviews--9/6 Kathleen Valenti, 9/13 David Burnsworth, 9/20 Jeri Westerson, 9/27 Frances Brody. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

September Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/2--Anne Bannon, 9/9 WWK Bloggers, 9/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 9/23 Kait Carson, and on 9/30 Trixie Stiletto.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.” In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Knotty Question



I try to be a good citizen of the writing community. I’ve received help and encouragement from other authors, and I try to pass it on myself, teaching, mentoring, blurbing, reviewing, answering questions about writing and publishing, and generally trying to help boost other writers. Sometimes, though, I have to pull back from that stance when asked for help.



I’m a Cherokee poet and novelist who writes about a Cherokee protagonist and also reviews books, 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, love interests who are half-Cherokee, half-Navajo, half-Sioux, or just plain half-Indian (these authors don’t seem to know any other of the 500 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.



I also get contacted repeatedly by people who want me to give them a crash course in being Cherokee (or even just Native) because they’ve decided to make the protagonists of their books, or even a whole series, Cherokee (or just Native). These are people who know nothing about the Cherokee, not even the most basic information, and apparently have no Cherokee friends or acquaintances. My attitude toward them, I’m afraid, is not much more sympathetic than toward the authors wanting reviews for their books with “Native” characters. Basically, these folks are saying to me, “I want an ‘exotic Indian’ protagonist and the Cherokee are the most famous tribe, so I’ll choose them, but I have no real interest in the culture or knowing anyone in it. I’m too lazy to do any research on the most documented tribe in American history (the Cherokee were over 90% literate in their own written language and had a bilingual newspaper long before the Removal in the 1830s), so please do my research for me—and maybe I’ll use it or maybe I’ll just do what I want to do, whether it’s true to the culture or not, while putting your name down as the ‘expert’ I consulted. Because I clearly don’t give a real damn.”



Indigenous cultures have been misrepresented by Anglo anthropologists and folklore collectors for centuries. An awful lot of books, especially novels, written by outsiders to a culture end up written from the viewpoint of caricatures rather than real people, and the culture is presented as a collection of stereotypes of that culture (often derived from those misrepresenting researchers). These books almost always, in one way or another, diminish or denigrate those cultures. This totally hilarious and tragically true poem by Sherman Alexie, "How To Write the Great American Indian Novel," speaks to that experience. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237270



Tony Hillerman is usually brought up by these people as an example of what they want to do. Hillerman wrote his novels the way a writer should write about another culture—with respect, extensive research, and the input of members of that culture. In fact, the Diné officially declared Hillerman a Special Friend of the Navajo Nation for his knowledgeable and sympathetic presentation of their culture and people in his books. But Hillerman grew up in Oklahoma and actually attended an Indian school, although he was white. He spent decades in New Mexico before he started his novels, studying the Diné because he admired their worldview and way of life and had friends among them. He didn’t just decide to write about them because he’d read a book or seen a movie and found them exotic. He knew the Diné and had friends among them long before he decided to write about them—and then he learned more.



I question whether someone who expects a stranger to offer an entrée into an entire culture will do the same. This is not the same as asking a police officer questions about police procedure. A culture is much more than a mere profession. And certain cultures in the United States, such as mine, have been relentlessly exploited, twisted, and even made illegal through the centuries by the mainstream European-American culture, which tried to wipe us out altogether not too long ago. Why should anyone from that culture expect that we would welcome their desire to exploit us one more time?



Do I not think that an Anglo writer can write a character or even protagonist from another culture, especially one of the Indigenous nations? No, I think s/he can and should, but if such a writer wants to write such a character, it should not be because they just want to make their character “something exotic.” If all of these writers who say they want to do what Hillerman did would actually do it the way Hillerman did, I would have no problem with that. But that seems to be too much work—and too much investment in actually getting to know Native people and learn about their cultures without having an ulterior, selfish motive. Too many writers today who write about other cultures in their novels are appropriating those cultures and propagating stereotypes. If your interests truly lie with other cultures, don’t be like those authors.


20 comments:

E. B. Davis said...

Following the first rule of writing, Write What You Know, would eliminate the problem, Linda. I don't understand why writers don't follow that rule. Doing so provides authenticity and enables writing with authority. I wonder why they find Native Americans more "exotic" than German/Scot/Hawaiian/Polish (fill in the blank) Americans? It is offensive.

Warren Bull said...

I think the first rule of writing is more applicable when expressed in a negative way Don't Write What You Don't Know. If you want to write about something learn all you can about it before starting to write. There are no shortcuts to writing well. Acting in an offensive way toward other writers does not help your career.

Carla Damron said...

And if you are intrigued by a different culture, GET EDUCATED about it. You raise so many valid points, Linda.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Elaine, I think the main reason we're found "exotic" now is because most people really think of us as extinct, not as living peoples with ancient cultures negotiating modern American society, as we are. Most people think we're quaint relics of the past living on reservations (sort of like zoos) when 70% of all American Indians now live in urban areas. Things like that.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, you're so right. There simply are no shortcuts, no matter how much some people don't want to do the real work.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Carla, that's the thing that gets me. We Cherokee have been documented for centuries by the European-Americans who encountered us (and still are being), and we have documented ourselves. The Cherokee Nation has a huge website full of good information and a wealth of resources, and it's the first thing that pops up when you Google Cherokee, so it's clear they never even bothered to do that.

Sarah Henning said...

Such a great post, Linda. You are right on with this issue.

Shari Randall said...

Linda, I hope you return those books to their authors with a copy of this post instead of a blurb!

Gloria Alden said...


Linda, I can't imagine why people think they can impose on you or why they would even attempt to write about a culture they're not only not familiar with, but haven't done any research on.

A few years ago I looked forward to a book a fellow Guppy was writing that would be taking place in Holmes County in our state, which is know for having more Amish than any place else, so I thought it would include the Amish. I was so wrong! There were only two Amish in it, and the author obviously knew nothing about the Amish culture. And this was a book she'd been contracted to write so obviously the publisher and editors were clueless, too.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Sarah!

Shari, I just get rid of the books. I found, if I returned them with a polite refusal, it opened the door to abuse.

Gloria, the funny thing is they never ask. They just send books or long lists of questions with the assumption that I'm bound to do what they want. My friends who give demonstrations of traditional dance or crafts at public events have found that, if they're dressed in traditional clothing, people feel free to grab their jewelry, their instruments, their clothing, even their hair--even when they ask them not to. A lot of people seem not to think that Indigenous people are real people like them with the same feelings and rights. I myself have had strangers come up and pet my hair without permission.

Gloria Alden said...


Linda, how rude of people to invade your personal space, or to grab their jewelry or clothes, etc. And petting your hair like you're an animal or something! What do you say to them when they do that?

storytellermary said...

Thanks for the gift of your wonderful books.
You owe nothing to these clueless, imposing persons.
A teaching friend taught me that our high school students loved to argue and that my mantra should be "Do not engage." As another friend would tell me, "You don't need the aggravation." They can get their education through their own efforts, and should, as others have responded, write what they know.
A storytelling friend was once asked for permission to tell his personal story of his grandmother's final months. His response was, "Don't you have a grandmother? Tell her story."

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, yes, it is rude, and these are adults who would never think of going up to a white person on the street and grabbing them by their hair or necklace. It's a sign of their underlying contempt and disrespect for us as human beings.

When they pet my hair, I grit my teeth in a grin and say, "Be careful. It's a wig. You might pull it off. I lost my real hair through illness." They back off quickly.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Mary, I love your storytelling friend's answer!

KM Rockwood said...

I have to agree with Warren's "Don't write what you don't know."

Characters have to "speak" to me, and while I realize they have to be variants of myself, since there is no other source for their voices, I try to recognize when their "experience" and mine diverge, and know I have some research ahead of me.

When I first took a few writing classes, I encountered a few people who seemed to think that they were "geniuses" whose every word & thought was relevant, no matter how far off base they were. I can see some of them thinking that you (or someone else) owed it to them to validate their work.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, I think you've hit it right on the head in your last paragraph.

Reine said...

"... I just get rid of the books. I found, if I returned them with a polite refusal, it opened the door to abuse."

I wish I had seen this earlier, Linda. I'd be interested to hear a little about what shape abuse might take in such a situation.

Excellent blog, as usual.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Reine,

They'd write back, calling me names, etc., or they'd write back, demanding that I reconsider or else they would ruin my reputation in the writing/blogging community--things like that. I just found it not worth the time, so since they were all unsolicited, I stopped sending any of them back.

Reine said...

Linda, thank you for responding. I am guessing that I shouldn't be shocked that other writers would do this, but I am. Also, knowing how helpful you are, how helpful and kind… well, it is all the more stunning.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Reine,

In general, I've found mystery writers to be much better, though there have been a couple of exceptions. But then I was stunned to find what a generous, welcoming group mystery writers were when I first encountered them.