At 96,000 words, IN THE HEART OF THE HOLLOW FOREST is close to completion. The story has arrived at the climax in that glowing glass forest, and I have a strict outline in place for how the final scene goes down. It’s sad, kinda brutal, and arriving just in time for October.
But I still have a ways to go.
With the recent struggles in publishing regarding diversity, I’ve realized I need to do more for this story. I’d already planned a trip to Cherokee in October to ask questions and learn more about the community, but I need to do more than that. I need to find people willing to tell me what parts of my research are right, and which are wrong. American Indians deserve respect in literature, especially YA literature. There is a great need for more novels by American Indian authors. As an ally, I want to make sure I do this right. I want to ensure the depiction of Cherokee culture in the story is one that will help readers instead of doing harm.
I was surprised when the story took this particular turn and rewrote itself. While researching legends in North Carolinian history, I discovered many Cherokee legends and stories about the area, and how awful the Removal was. What I was taught in high school and college barely scraped the surface of what the Trail of Tears was really like. It opened my eyes to the reality of American Indian history and how it continues to affect American Indians today. I’m glad I learned more about this, but I wish I had been taught the truth in high school and college. I think that’s something that has to change. American history and world history focus primarily on Western nations. So why aren’t we taught more about American Indian history? African history? Middle Eastern? Asian history? Why are so many cultures erased as though they never existed at all?
Colonialism still continues. Erasure never stops. The shift in focus with publishing is a good thing, but it’s hard. We still have to keep working, listening, overcoming our own perspectives to see another’s.
I am glad the Eastern Band of Cherokee have managed to keep their land, but at the same time, I’m dismayed by how the federal and state governments continue to encroach on Cherokee land and rights. Learning about the conditions in reservations across the US and the terrible injustices American Indians live with every day has made me aware that colonialism never really ended–and the general public is completely unaware of it.
The only way I can help as an ally is to support American Indian authors. I am not an authority. I can’t speak for them. I have a story, and there are three Cherokee characters in it. I dearly hope that I haven’t made mistakes, but as Cherokee is not my culture, I know the chances I’ve gotten something wrong are high simply because it’s not my culture. The responsibility of getting the research right is on me.
It will take a long time for this work to be finished, but I must do it right or not at all.
Let’s stay motivated. Positive change is possible. I will continue to believe that.