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Friday, March 15, 2013

Hidden Histories, Lacunae, and more Bad Indians: My Next Big Thing

WENDY CALL (photo by Kathy Cowell)
Many moons ago (okay, back in January, when this weary year was still new), author Wendy Call tapped me to do a “The Next Big Thing” blog.  You can read about Wendy’s blog post on her blog, Many Words for Welcome.  

Being ‘tapped’ consists of answering a series of questions about one’s next writing project, and tapping four other writers to do the same.  It requires a blog, time, and at least half a brain’s worth of inspiration.  Until now, I have not had all three of those key ingredients at the same time, but here I am, waiting for my granddaughter’s birth, and working on my project at a local coffee shop!  What better time to tackle these questions, and tap some authors?  I’ll let you know who I ask to answer the questions next!



What is the working title of your book?

The Hidden Stories of Isabel Meadows and other California Indian Lacunae.  This was a title suggested by my esteemed editor at U of Nebraska Press, Matt Bokovoy.  I like the words “hidden” and “lacunae” for their implications of things that are obscured, possibly lost, but still haunting us with very real power. 


What is the origin of this book idea?


As I worked to put together all the pieces of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, I realized that two big, long essays about a few of the Isabel Meadows stories found in J.P. Harrington’s ethnographic notes were just not ever, ever going to fit into the manuscript.  No matter how many ways I tried to squeeze them in, no matter what I did, those two essays – which are about the same people in the rest of Bad Indians – simply did not belong.  It took a long time to convince myself of this, because I loved those essays, I loved the Indians in those stories.  It’s pretty funny that it took me so long to finally admit that they didn’t belong in Bad Indians, but only about 2 seconds after that to think, “Hey, this is a whole ‘nother book!”  So I guess in a way you could sub-subtitle this book “Spawn of Bad Indians.”  There’s even a third book that has emerged out of this one – a biography of Isabel Meadows.  I’ve created a monster.

What genre does your book fall under?
Ha!  This one is comprised mostly of personal/historic/academic essay.  No poetry, not too many images.  Where it will be placed in bookstores is beyond me.  No doubt in the Native American Lit section, but also anthropology, ethnology, history, creative non-fiction, possibly memoir …



Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This isn’t fiction, and the narrative is narrowly focused on analysis of how Isabel’s stories reveal more about California Indian strategies of resistance to Missionization.  However … I think Isabel’s biography, my NEXT book, would make an excellent movie.  I have no idea who would play her, though.  Some really fierce, smart, tough broad.  Thanks for giving me the chance to think ahead on this one.



What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Little-known narratives of a pistol-packing mixed-blood maiden Indian Aunt reveals a deeply indigenous method of storytelling as incisive cultural analysis, teaching tool, historical revision and preservation of a Coyote intelligence.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?



I’ll tell you when I get that far.  So far, if you count the two essays I wrote while finishing Bad Indians, about 5 years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Without a doubt, Isabel Meadows.  The more I read her stories, the more I realize what a phenomenal woman she was: technically illiterate, but a craftswoman of storytelling, surviving, and preserving the heart and soul of her mother’s people.  When I began to really study her stories, I became infuriated that J.P. Harrington gets all the credit for them!  These stories are not his ethnographic notes; they are stories that she graced him with as part of her own strategy to reach future Indian generations.  I want to set that record straight.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
These are many of the same people who appear in small pieces, poems or photographs in Bad Indians, plus others; the book is a much more linear effort to stitch the small pieces together into cohesive threads and see the larger picture of individual lives.  Why did Teodosia throw a pan of hot coals into her husband Ventura’s face, blinding him?  Why did she take him back at the end of his life?  Why is it that I am descended from Padre Real?  Whatever happened to my cousin Victor, identified as a “joto” (faggot)?  What’s the real story behind Bradley Sargent stealing Rancho El Potrero from Estafana, and was her Chilean husband really just in Sargent’s back pocket?  Plus, Hidden Stories is an extension of the idea that bad Indians make good Ancestors, and without good Ancestors, I wouldn’t be here. 
Isabel as a young, well-to-do mixed-blood Indian woman.

One of Isabel's stories; this one is about a young girl named Vicenta who is raped by Padre Real.

Isabel as an elderly Indian woman living in Washington D.C., working for Harrington.  She sent home most of her pay to help raise nieces and nephews, and care for her brother Thomas Meadows.  The family had long since lost their land in a drawn-out, painful legal battle with Isabel's older brother, Frank.  That's a story worthy of a novel!


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