This is the first post in a month of #diverselit and #WeNeedDiverseBooks posts I am making. It seems a natural for me since I’ve long written a series of posts called Books of Interest by Writers of Color.
I’m a Cherokee poet and novelist who writes about a Cherokee protagonist, 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 and love interests who are half-Cherokee, half-Navajo, half-Sioux, or just plain half-Indian (these authors don’t seem to know any other 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.
Then, along comes Sara Sue Hoklotubbe’s third Sadie Walela mystery, Sinking Suspicions, and my world is bright again. I could well talk about Hoklotubbe in my series on Literary Mystery Novelists and will tag this post that way, as well, because she writes so well and creates characters that live on the page. But her biggest strength is in her creation of Sadie’s background setting. Hoklotubbe brings to life the world of the Western Cherokee in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and its surrounding counties. Her protagonist, Sadie Walela, has been a rancher, a banker, a restaurant owner, and in Sinking Suspicions, is embarking on a career as a travel agent. Since Hoklotubbe is Cherokee and grew up in the same area as Sadie, she knows the land, the people, and the culture.
In Sinking Suspicions, Hoklotubbe writes about the modern Cherokee, the food, the dances, the small towns, the farms and ranches, the way people look out for one another and take care of each other, the respect for the elders and for family, the sense of humor, the sense of individualism within a sense of strong community of the Cherokee today. She even takes the timeworn trope of the person who claims to have a Cherokee princess for a grandmother and transforms it into something true and powerful.
This is the difference between an author who wants to use a people and their culture to add an exciting, singular touch to his book and writes mostly stereotypes and caricatures for his ethnic characters and an author who really knows what she’s writing about, whether from having lived it or from real research, which means getting to know the people as people and to know the culture through their eyes as a way of living and not an exotic artifact or simply searching on the internet among the stereotypes and (often) falsehoods that even (or perhaps especially) anthropologists have perpetuated.
In Sinking Suspicions, Sadie Walela heads to Hawaii to finalize her next career as a travel agent, leaving her lawman boyfriend, Lance Smith, alone and dissatisfied with her decision. The identity theft that affects Sadie’s aging Cherokee next-door neighbor, Buck Skinner, a World War II veteran and former horsebreaker, threatens his ownership of his family land and eventually leads to murder, conspiracy, and a rocky romance for Sadie. On the island, while worrying about Buck and Lance, Sadie becomes friends with a native Hawaiian family and learns enough about their culture and history to see real parallels with her own people. As tension mounts and Buck becomes a suspect in a murder case, an earthquake in Hawaii that disrupts communications and keeps Sadie from immediately returning to help Buck complicates the situation, leaving Sadie’s dear, old friend in grave danger, as well as threatening her new love.
Sinking Suspicions is a must-read for those who like to read about other cultures, for mystery fans, and for fans of good fiction in general.
Sara Sue Hoklotubbe is a Cherokee tribal citizen and the author of the award-winning Sadie Walela Mystery Series. She grew up on the banks of Lake Eucha in northeastern Oklahoma and uses that location as the setting for her mystery novels to transport readers into modern-day Cherokee life.
THE AMERICAN CAFÉ was awarded the 2012 WILLA Literary Award for Original Softcover Fiction by Women Writing the West, won the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Best Mystery, and was named 2012 Mystery of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. The book was also named a finalist for the 2012 Oklahoma Book Awards and the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year. DECEPTION ON ALL ACCOUNTS won Sara the 2004 Writer of the Year Award from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.
Sara is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc., and Tulsa Night Writers. She and her husband live in Colorado.
Sinking Suspicions is available for pre-order now. http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/Books/bid2500.htm As usual, I suggest my readers buy from the university press that published this book, even though the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The vast majority of writers of color are published only through small literary presses and university presses. Without them, we would only have a tiny handful of big-name writers of color available to us. Support them if you value #diverselit.
REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me):
I'm glad you're going to try Hoklotubbe, Anonymous. She's an excellent writer, and her books are very enjoyable.
Thanks, Sara Sue. I'm going to paste that offer up here also. For anyone who wants to pre-order Sinking Suspicions from the University of Arizona Press, they may use the promotional code FLR and get 20% off.
Reine, I think you'll really enjoy this book and her others. Very authentic. Hoklotubbe does one of the best jobs I've seen of depicting Cherokee humor or, in fact, Native humor in general, which is dry and not always perceived as such by non-Natives.
Anne, so lovely to hear from you. I'm glad you'll have Sara Sue at the Tony Hillerman Conference. She's such a fine writer and really grand person, and of course, that conference is excellent. I've been so pleased at the reception of Spider Woman's Daughter.