John Christian Hopkins and Trace DeMayer: 11-11-11 e-launch!

With a wink to today’s Mayan Apocalypse, John Christian Hopkins (Narragansett) and Trace DeMeyer (Shawnee/Cherokee) are launching an indigenous e-publishing effort.  DeMeyer’s new company, Blue Hand Books, is unveiling Hopkins’s latest novel, Twilight of the Gods, in electronic format.  Get it on your Kindle, or read it on your computer in Adobe.

Both journalists, Trace and John worked together in the early 2000s on the Pequot Times.  Since then, both have (mainly self-published) interesting books.  One Small Sacrifice (2010) is Trace’s brave and heart-wrenching account of her experience, all too common in Indian country, of being adopted out of her Native community.  (NPR recently ran a much-praised series on the continued widespread removal of Native children from their homes, in direct violation of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act).

John has also written about painful Native histories, but parlayed these into imaginative genre fiction.  Carlomagno (2003) made the son of Wampanoag leader Metacom, sold into slavery in the West Indians, into a dashing, swashbuckling pirate.  Nacogdoches (2004) brought the Ringo Kid to a small racist Texas town ruled by Boss Kilgore.  In Twilight of the Gods, now, it looks like the paranormal has caught his attention.  I asked John a few questions about the book (you can find a more extensive interview–and more information about e-publishing for indigenous authors–at the Blue Hand Books link to the right):

S: What prompted you to publish this book electronically?

J: I jumped at the idea of working with Trace DeMeyer, a friend whom I have great respect for, on her Blue Hand Books venture. I’ve been reading how ebooks are the future and been thinking of a way to get involved in that.

S: What’s the book about?

J: Jaded tabloid reporter Napoleon Marquard is off to the Pine Ridge reservation to cover what he sure is a fake “unicorn.” But mysterious events start coming to light from across the globe; reports of savage monsters, hideous beings and “gods” from every civilization throughtout time. The more Marquard learns about the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the more he believes the world is facing theend of days — the Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods!

S:  That’s wild!  Each of your novels has been so inventive and different–a swashbuckling tale of King Philip’s son on the Spanish Main; an anti-racist Western; and now a fantasy novel.  Have you tried mainstream publishers, and if so, why do you think they haven’t been more receptive?
J:  I can paper a house with the rejections from traditional publishers! I’ve come so close to being published, but it always seemed to come apart for some silly reason beyond my control. A manuscript that I haven’t published yet deals with King Philip’s War. A now-defunct publisher liked it, asked to see theentire manuscript and then rejected it because they said the names of my Indian characters sounded too fake, “like a John Wayne western” they said. Ironically I pointed out to them that I am a descendant of the main character, King Ninigret. But they made up their minds. The main Indian characters were all real people. Another publisher sent a western out for a peer review and they voted 2-1 against publishing it — and both cited the same reason, a lack of footnotes! I told them it was a work of fiction, but no one listened. It seems like publishers make up the rules as they go and for whatever reason I always seem to fall through the cracks.

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Mohegan Medicine Woman Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel

The Mohegan Medicine Woman writes speculative fiction.  How cool is that?

Although still quite young, and incredibly busy with other work, Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel has published several books, some of them out of print and hard to get (sound familiar?): a short tribal history, The Lasting of the Mohegans (1995); a history of her family of Mohegan women leaders, Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon (2000); and, with Joseph Bruchac, a children’s book, Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People (1997). 

More recently, Zobel has been working quite seriously on fiction (she already has a Master’s degree in History but has also undertaken an MFA in creative writing).  Two novels feel like they should be part of a trilogy: the futuristic Oracles (2004) and the Victorian Gothic Fire Hollow (2010).  Both are set among the fictional Yantuck tribe, whose land, people and traditions look quite a bit like the Mohegans’; both follow young medicine people in training; and both read like environmental histories/omens.

In Oracles, the last casino has gone down in flames (literally and figuratively).  With deforestation nearly complete, some of the elders are left stewarding the small stand of surviving trees, and worrying that their medicine plants have become less abundant and effective. Meanwhile, busloads of children and New Agers trek up Yantuck Mountain to try to see or take what they can from traditional ecological knowledge and spirituality.

As though adding GIS layers into a map of Native space, Zobel visits the Yantucks in an earlier period in Fire Hollow.   Young Wolf Weekum is sent to school with a mysterious schoolmaster; I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but will say that Zobel plays with a local legend of one Jeremiah Shumway, who was murdered and fed to local hogs.  Both books show Native people (especially Native medicine women) keeping their traditions alive while keeping up with cultural changes, and both are really witty and imaginative.  There are a few good Native writers starting to work with speculative fiction (especially Daniel Heath Justice, who’s Cherokee), but I don’t know of any novels quite like Oracles or Fire Hollow.

If you’re motivated to read either one of these books, please join our reading group on Goodreads.com.   I hear Zobel is working on a young adult novel now; I also hear she is going to be reading from her work, along with several other interesting local writers like Larry Crow Mann and Joan Tavares Avant, at the New England American Studies Association conference on November 4 in Plimoth.

Larry Spotted Crow Mann (Nipmuc) book launch, June 11

Next Saturday, June 11, in Webster, Mass, Larry Spotted Crow Mann will be launching his first book, Tales from the Whispering Basket. This collection of short stories and poetry is informed by his Nipmuc experience, imagination, and knowledge of tribal history. For details, see his website.

I asked Larry if he’d be willing to chat about his writing and publishing experience.

SS: How did you come to write this book, and how did you decide you were ready to publish?

LSCM: I’ve been writing since I was in my early twenties. Usually it was letters of a political manner concerning issues facing my tribe. My family and friends would tell me how passionate and compelling my letters were and how well detailed I would chronicle the history and stories of our people. However it wasn’t until I went back to college about five years ago that the confidence to actually publish began to bloom. As each semester went by, every professor would tell me how wonderful and creative my essays were. Finally one of the professors suggested I enter a story and poem into the school’s Journal of Fine Arts contests. Surprisingly I won and thus was my first publication. After that I thought to myself to put some of my creative stories and poems together in a book. I didn’t want to just to put together a Native American historical text reciting dates and events. I saw this as an opportunity to let my creativity flow that is inspired by Native American events, but also all of life around us. As far being ready; well that took a lot of patience because the editing process is another story in itself.

SS: So how long would you say it took to put this book together, start to finish? What was involved?

LSCM: Fortunately I’m able conceptualize a story rather quickly. I visualize the action and characters almost like a movie. So putting the stories together took about 5 months. However, format, exterior designs, grammar and editing brought the entire project to about 2 years. Even with that, I feel the process went rather quickly due to help I had from good friends who have already written books. I’ve learned a great deal of all the intricacies of putting a book together. I must say, it was quite grueling at times but definitely a learning experience that will allow me to move along much better on my next project.

SS: I know what you mean!–most people don’t realize (if they haven’t published a book themselves) that the writing is only a tiny part of the whole process. Getting it into print is an entirely different story. Who is publishing this book, or are you self-publishing, and how did you make that decision?

LSCM: Amazon is the publisher through their service; however it is considered self publishing. I went this route because I know how long it could take ( sometimes years) for a publisher to accept your work in this business. Not to mention it could be years before they even look at it. Needless to say, a writer needs to have a lot of confidence in their work if they are willing to publish. I truly believe this collection of stories and poetry will do well and thus catch the attention of a publisher rather than me trying to get theirs. And from that point , it could be a possibility to publish outright.

SS: One last question, Larry: what’s the next project?

LSCM: In my current book is the short story “Mattawamp.” This is a depiction of the real life Nipmuck Quaboag Chief and hero of King Philip’s War of 1675. The story takes place when Mattawamp is a boy (1650) and has to deal with the changing world around him. Many of the events that take place in his childhood would ultimately affect him and his view of the new colonists on his homeland. The short story I wrote covers about a year of Mattawamp’s life. I want to write a full novel which will continue the saga and lead up to and after the King Philip’s War. To me this will be an important book, because it’s not just a Native perspective but a Nipmuc perspective that is far too often left out. Philip is the one people mostly think of , when in fact it was Nipmucs who did most of the fighting and the sacrifice. People like Monoco, Matoonas, Sagamore Sam and of course Mattawamp, led the most successful campaigns during the conflict. These are little known facts until people start to look into the history. My future novel will resurrect these Nipmuc leaders of the past who have been almost forgotten from history.

Also I want to continue writing short stories in many different genres. I find it exciting because even when creating a fictional story there’s research involved. I love learning, especially about things I may think I don’t like or want to write about. This allows me to take on an alter ego and voice in a story. But again the research is important; just like when you hear actors talking about getting to know a character inside out, I think it’s the same for writers.