This week, we welcome Lalita Tademy, the New York Times Bestselling author of two historical novels: CANE RIVER and RED RIVER. Her new novel, CITIZENS CREEK, tells the story of Cow Tom–born into slavery in Alabama in 1810 and sold to a Creek Indian chief before his tenth birthday–and his granddaughter Rose as she rises to leadership of the family as they struggle against political and societal hostility intent on keeping blacks and Indians oppressed.
Here are my questions for Lalita:
This is your third historical novel. What advice do you have for other writers of historical fiction on balancing faithfulness to the facts and telling the story you want to tell?
Arm yourself with facts, immerse yourself in detail, lay out the accurate clothesline of events until you can recite everything by heart, and then let it all go to write a compelling story. Do not get the two things, research and storytelling, confused.
Are there historical inspirations for CITIZENS CREEK’s Cow Tom and his granddaughter Rose? Who are they?
Cow Tom and Rose are based on real and fascinating people who lived in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. From the moment I read about them in what is now an out of print book, STAKING A CLAIM, by Jonathan Greenberg, I was pulled in by the uniqueness of their personal stories, set against the turbulent backdrop of slaves owned by Creek Indians, the land appetite of the US Government and subsequent removal of Indians from their homelands into Indian Territory (territory which eventually became Oklahoma) along with their slave “property”, the forced choosing of sides within the Creek nation between Union and Confederate during the Civil War, the position of black Freedmen as members of the tribe after the Civil War, and the required pioneer spirit of women who ran or helped run ranches as the westward expansion unfolded.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a more contemporary novel now, based in both present day as well as the 1960s and the turbulent times of Black Panthers, demonstrations and the Berkeley Summer of Love. Seems like I just can’t shake the turbulent times thing.
You’re a member of the famous Finish Party, a group of African-American women writers in Oakland. Can you talk about how having such a supportive group of other writers has helped you? (See coverage in O Magazine)
I’m not so sure about the famous part, but the Finish Party is a group of incredibly supportive African American women writers who critique one another’s work as well as providing a great emotional safety net for one another. We’ve been together about 8 years now. I wrote my first book, CANE RIVER, without a writing group of any kind, as well as about 80% of the second, RED RIVER. But to have a group of trusted and devoted readers/writers who have your best interests at heart makes a huge and positive difference in the creative process, especially during those times when as a writer, you’re locked into your own head so firmly you can’t tell up from down.
Tell us about one book that made an impact on you.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee. It came at a fatalistic time in my life when I didn’t believe in justice or fairness, or the possibility of the positive impact of a moral choice.
Thank you, Lalita, for being a guest at the Debutante Ball!
Lalita Tademy is the New York Times bestselling author of two historical novels. Her debut, CANE RIVER, was Oprah’s summer Book Pick in 2001 and was translated into 11 languages, and her second novel, RED RIVER, was selected as San Francisco’s One City, One Book in 2007. Her third novel, CITIZENS CREEK, will be published in November 2014.
GIVEAWAY: We’re unable to offer a giveaway of Lalita’s book, so we’re running another giveaway of my book, THE MOMENT OF EVERYTHING, this week. Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Friday, November 7 to enter to win a signed copy of THE MOMENT OF EVERYTHING (US only). Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!