Sunday, July 27, 2014

Unexpected Delay

I started a month-long series of posts for my long-running series, Books of Interest by Writers of Color, in honor of #diverselit and #WeNeedDiverseBooks after the early part of healing from surgery. One week in, unfortunately, I must take a week's hiatus because I've developed a post-surgical problem that requires me to keep my right arm elevated until I receive a custom-made compression sleeve. This means I can keep writing on the current novel by longhand, but can't use the computer.

So check back in a week for posts about Marjorie Agosin, Allison Hedge Coke, Richard Vargas, Frances Washburn, and more.

Later Note: And even more unexpectedly, I'm having more surgery August 4th, so my hiatus from this series will be longer than I'd thought. My apologies.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sergio Troncoso—Books of Interest by Writers of Color

This is the second in a month-long series on #diverselit and #WeNeedDiverseBooks that I am offering as an addition to my long-running series, Books of Interest by Writers of Color.

Sergio Troncoso is one of the most interesting writers around. Author of essays, short fiction, and novels, Troncoso was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Mexican immigrants who built their own house by hand with no running water or electricity in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the border city. He went on to graduate from Harvard and to study international relations and philosophy at Yale University where he now teaches as a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Conference while living in Manhattan on the affluent West Side. That range of experience of communities from the poorest to the wealthiest informs and enriches his work, as does his extensive study in economics, politics, and literature. His writing is always intelligent and ambitious and often subversive.

His two most recent books are examples of this range. Troncoso’s first novel, The Nature of Truth, was published in a new, revised and updated edition in 2014. Rigoberto Gonzalez reviewing it for The El Paso Times said, “Sergio Troncoso’s The Nature of Truth single-handedly redefines the Chicano novel and the literary thriller.” I found The Nature of Truth an interesting cross between literary novel of ideas and thriller. The hero learns his famous academic supervisor is possibly a Nazi war criminal, as well as a serial sexual harasser and seducer of young undergraduate women. Still, he can't seem to find a way to bring the esteemed scholar to justice because the older man is too slippery. What can or should an honest man do to enact justice? This is an extremely well-written, ambitious novel of thought and action filled with suspense. A real page turner and thought provoker.

Troncoso also recently co-edited Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence, a collection of essays on how the bi-national and bi-cultural existence along the United States-Mexico border has been disrupted by recent drug violence. Publishers Weekly called it an “eye-opening collection of essays.” The anthology won the Southwest Book Award and the International Latino Book Award. The authors featured in this collection are from the border areas of both Mexico and the United States, and the collection offers a multifaceted perspective on the infamous drug violence afflicting the border and the complicity of the United States and Mexico in creating and sustaining this monster.

I first encountered Troncoso’s work in his earlier collection of essays, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, a luminous collection of thoughtful writing about his family’s battle with his wife’s breast cancer when their sons were toddlers, how their very different families reacted to this son of the Isleta barrio’s marriage to a daughter of upper-middle-class Jewish parents from New England, his own struggles with how to be a good father to his two sons and bring forward the strengths of his own upbringing without the drawbacks, among other fascinating topics. Lucid writing, rigorous self-examination, and a refusal to accept shibboleths without intensive questioning are hallmarks of this remarkable book.

He also has published a terrific autobiographical novel, From This Wicked Patch of Dust, which Kirkus Reviews named as one of the Best Books of 2012, and PEN/Texas shortlisted as the runner-up in its biannual Southwest Book Award for Fiction, while his first book, The Last Tortilla and Other Stories, won the Premio Aztlán Literary Prize and the Southwest Book Award.

Troncoso is a writer dealing with ambitious themes whose name should be much better known in American literary circles and is an example of the way so many writers of color doing high-quality creative work are too often shunted away from the mainstream of American literary critical attention because of assumptions that their work will simply not be worth the time to even consider. You will find links to buy all of his books on his website, where you will also find videos of talks, interviews, reviews, and his always-insightful blog.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sara Sue Hoklotubbe’s Sinking Suspicions—Books of Interest by Writers of Color

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. 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.