It’s with great pleasure that I host Margaret Verble on my blog once more. I first hosted her when her debut novel, Maud’s Line, was published, and since I greatly enjoyed that novel, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of her book launch and blog tour again.
You can read my thoughts about Cherokee America here.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading this intervew as much as I did preparing it.
Interview with Margaret Verble
- When I heard about your new novel after Maud’s Line, I thought it was… well, a new novel. But from your thanks at the back of the book, I gather that this was actually a novel long in the making.
Yes, Cherokee America was decades in the making. In part that was because it took a lot of background reading to produce. But largely it’s because when I first started trying to get it published there wasn’t a market for multi-cultural fiction. Agents were afraid to take on a book so “Indian,” didn’t think they could sell it, and often didn’t understand the “tribal” aspect of it, which dictates writing about a whole group of people, not just a singular character who rises or falls.
- In so many ways, this is a true Western novel. All the elements are there, the time and place are recognisably the province of traditional Western. Still there is nothing traditionally Western to this story. How did you come to choose this genre? Or was it just the story that called for that particular time and place, rather than the genre?
It’s the story that called for the novel to be a Western. I wanted to write about that particular time and place, and its people. I haven’t read enough traditionally Western novels to fully understand why you and others call it so untraditional. But if it’s because the major character is female and most of the other characters are Indians, I suppose that’s right.
- In today’s narrative environment that tries with all the available means to compete with internet and its fast pace because this supposedly keeps the reader attention, your novel struck me as very different. The way you present and unfold events, the way characters appear and act in the story, the very structure of the sentences, everything seems designed to slow down, to ask the reader to take their time. This seems to me a very deliberate choice, or is it?
Yes, it is a deliberate choice. I was trying to write a book both about Cherokee America the woman and Cherokee America the Indian nation, something most Americans don’t know anything about. So I needed several plots and characters. And they all had to be introduced. They couldn’t just charge off into action. Additionally, I also wanted to immerse the readers in the culture, not just have them skip over it like a stone over a pond. Finally, in my experience, Cherokees are more indirect than white people. Rushing in a straight line from the beginning of a story to the end would be a very un-Indian thing to do."I’m writing about Cherokee America, a real place at a particular time in this country – Margaret Verble #authorinterview #historicalfiction Click To Tweet
- The time period and the place comes to life very vividly, which – in my opinion – is particularly hard to achieve in historical fiction. It’s in the details of everyday life that your characters come to life and we see how they are different from us, but also how they are really, truly like us, especially deep inside.
What are your sources? Is it just book and archival research, or did you have the possibility to delve into other kind of resources?
I’m not sure exactly which parts of the book you are referring to, but as for things like details about the land, I’ve spent a lot of time there, myself. I’ve fished the Arkansas River before it was tamed, walked that sandbar, fished that bayou. I know to check a rotted tree stump for cottonmouths, and to this day don’t roam that land in warm months without a snake stick. As for the in-door scenes, I use my grandmother’s coal oil lamps when my electricity goes out, and I’ve pumped my own water when I’ve had to as a child. So the setting is recalled from personal experience. And some of the characters are the parents or grandparents of people, mostly now dead, who I knew well. I don’t imagine their elders acted much differently from the way they did.
- Andrew’s funeral felt like a watershed in the novel. Whereas in the first part I was, as a reader, especially privy to Check – her life, her feelings, and thoughts, her dreams – in the second half every character became a main character, if I may say so. The focus of the story shifted from one character to an entire community. Again, this is quite an unconventional choice, how come you went this route?
Certainly, Andrew’s death is a watershed for Check and her boys. And as a woman worn out from grief and death, it would be unrealistic to expect her to be a whirlwind of action in the first few days after her husband’s death. So her mourning allows other plots and characters to come to the forefront. Remember, I’m writing about Cherokee America, a real place at a particular time in this country, as well as about her.
- I love the diversity of your novel’s community. We find white people settled in the Cherokee Nation (usually after marrying inside it), black people (both freedmen and never owned), and a majority of Indian people (not just Cherokee), who present their own diversity, since each character acts, thinks and feels differently, depending how deep they adhere to the traditional life. Still, there’s a lot of harmony. In light of what you said above, do you think writing multi-culturally is easier today than it used to be?
Getting books published that are written by somebody other than white males is certainly easier. But I think we’re in a period where we’re in danger of developing a literature that partitions authors off into silos. Whites can only write about whites, African-Americans can only write about African-Americans, Native Americans… etc. etc. And if you write about anybody not in your group, you can only be “inauthentic.” That’s as dangerous as appropriating other peoples’ experiences with only your imagination and as excluding large groups of people from ever being written about. I don’t think we can have any hope for a multicultural society if we have to segregate people in our literature. I put African-Americans in Cherokee America because they were in Indian Territory, just like Indians and white people were, and when I started writing the book they had been left out of so much of American literature it just seemed unconscionable to leave them out again.
- Many of us are unfamiliar with the concept that there used to be an independent Cherokee Nation once. What was this experience all about? What does survive of it today?
I’d have to write a dissertation to answer this question fully. But, yes, there was an independent Cherokee Nation, and also independent Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, and Chickasaw Nations. These Nations were given their land for “As long as grass grows and water flows,” and then stripped of it in violation of treaties to create the state of Oklahoma and to, as a by-product, destroy those Indians forever. However, that plan only partially succeeded, and they are strong, functional Indian Nations today.
- What are your plans for future projects? Is there a novel you really want to write or to get published? Are you working on it already?
I have already written the novel I’d like to get published next. But I don’t control the publishing gods. So I write every morning.
This post is part of Cherokee America Blog Tour. Many blog are taking part and every one of them is offering something different. Get a look!
From the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Maud’s Line, an epic novel that follows a web of complex family alliances and culture clashes in the Cherokee Nation during the aftermath of the Civil War, and the unforgettable woman at its center.
It’s the early spring of 1875 in the Cherokee Nation West. A baby, a black hired hand, a bay horse, a gun, a gold stash, and a preacher have all gone missing. Cherokee America Singer, known as “Check,” a wealthy farmer, mother of five boys, and soon-to-be widow, is not amused.
In this epic of the American frontier, several plots intertwine around the heroic and resolute Check: her son is caught in a compromising position that results in murder; a neighbor disappears; another man is killed. The tension mounts and the violence escalates as Check’s mixed race family, friends, and neighbors come together to protect their community–and painfully expel one of their own.
Cherokee America vividly, and often with humor, explores the bonds–of blood and place, of buried histories and half-told tales, of past grief and present injury–that connect a colorful, eclectic cast of characters, anchored by the clever, determined, and unforgettable Check.
About Margaret Verble
Margaret Verble is an enrolled and voting citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a member of a large Cherokee family that has, through generations, made many contributions to the tribe’s history and survival. Although many of her family have remained in Oklahoma to this day, and some still own and farm the land on which the book is set, Margaret was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Many of the characters of Maud’s Line are based on people Margaret knew as a child and the setting is land she roamed for many years of her life. In part, Margaret wrote this book to keep those people and that land alive in her heart.
Margaret’s new novel, Cherokee America, will be released by Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt on Feb. 19, 2019. A prequel to Maud’s Line, it is set in 1875 in the Arkansas River bottoms of the old Cherokee Nation West.
Margaret is a member of the Authors Guild and Western Writers of America.