Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Join Discussion with H. L. Grandin, Author of The Legend of Tyoga Weathersby! Add Your Thoughts!


                              H. L. Grandin

A major issue I noticed immediately was that your writing has almost a poetic fluidity about it, especially when you talk about nature, the setting, etc. Obviously, you might have had some training, but I'm curious about how you perceive your own writing, whether you looked to other writers for guidance... Your books move into the epic literary novels how have they been received by your readers?
There is a meter and rhythm to life that composers of musical scores tap into to evoke emotion. I believe that words - just like musical notes - can be used for the same purpose. One of the greatest compliments my editor ever offered to me was that she thought I wrote as if I were composing music. And I have to admit that I work rather hard to achieve that goal. There is cadence to the written word that an astute writer can employ to lead the reader into feeling the scene or sentiment without them even realizing that it is the composition that got them there. A staccato phrase is more definitive. A lyrical passage can be contemplative or pastoral. Oftentimes I agonize over the number of syllables in the words that I use in a passage as a one syllable word mid-sentence may break the tonality of the dialogue or description. I absolutely LOVE that search for the perfect word. I have taken a week to finish a single paragraph! Writers can drive themselves mad!
I have had no formal training. And while I have been a ravenous reader my entire life - I have been careful not to emulate anyone. I write the way that I write because it is the way that I write. I write for myself and not for commercial gain or the acceptance of others. The notion of being confined by the rules of composition is abhorrent to me - and I refuse to be bound by what others think writing should be. Fortunately my editor reins me in and makes sure that I adhere to the basics of English composition - but my original manuscripts are something to behold. Fortunately - my readers have embraced my writing style. I hear, "I couldn't put the book down," a great deal. The public's reaction to the books has been quite remarkable.

Well, here's one of your readers to instantly recognize your style of writing! I've read it a few other times and when I find a writer that uses a special technique, I always want to just sit back and...enjoy!

For me, this was the first book I've read regarding the Native Americans on the eastern side of America. Do you have actual experience with their activities where you've lived? What groups are in your vicinity? And while we are talking about did your interest in Native American history ignite?

The Appalachian Trail Nearly 2200 miles long...

I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, very close to George Washington's home, Mount Vernon. The area was peopled by the tribes that belonged to the Powhatan Confederation. The Powhatans were Algonquin Indians and they lived in the mid-Atlantic region of the continent from the Chesapeake Bay to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. I would walk alone along the banks of the Potomac River - about a half a mile from my boyhood home - and find Native American artifacts such as spear points, arrow heads and grinding stones. I'll never forget the first time that I picked up an arrow head and held it in my hand. It may have been buried in the mud for one thousand years before I discovered it encased in the muck. I was just overwhelmed in the realization that the last person who held this beautifully crafted point in his hand was an American Indian. Was he the maker of the point? Had he knapped the flint himself? Was he laughing with his friends when he wound the cord around the shaft of the arrow to fix the point to the tip? What was he aiming at when he let the arrow fly? All of these questions somehow changed the tiny bit of stone into something so much more. I read all that I could find about the Algonquin Nations and continued hunting for Native American campsites and artifacts. I am to this day absolutely enthralled with their way of life. As a matter of fact, it was their way of living in harmony with the natural world that served as the basis for the central theme of my books. 

Modern man is no less a creature of the natural world, but we have allowed ourselves to become so far removed from that which we were intended to be that we have lost the ability to hear, to see and to feel the subtle cues that surround us every moment of our lives. That's where the "Promise" comes in to play.

One of the issues that has most intrigued me about Native Americans is that element of spirituality and mysticism that almost always is attached to their people. You included much in the books, but how personally do you feel and think about their relationship with, ancestors, in particular?

Native Americans considered themselves an integral part of the natural world. The earth was their mother and she provided for them all that they needed to survive and thrive. They lived in harmony with nature, never taking more than they needed, and never wasting that which was provided. Their spirituality was rooted in the concepts of "belonging" and "harmony." They chose their spirit guides - both for the collective whole or the entire tribe, as well as for
themselves as individuals - based upon their own connection to the natural world. The Cherokee tribe to which Tes Qua Ta Wa belonged was known as the Wolf Clan. Wolf packs roamed the Applachians in the early 1700s, and every evening as the sun set the village of Tuckareegee would have come alive with their howls. They would have revered and honored the courage, strength and wisdom of the wolf. Adopting a name that bound them as a tribe to that natural power would have connected them in a familial way with the animal's spirit.

Death was a common occurrence in any Native American village and the passage was seen as a transition rather than an end. The game they killed to feed their bodies lived on in them. The transition from food source to "self" was a sacred act that required homage and respect for the prey that gave its life so that they may live. In a similar fashion, the death of a loved one was seen as a transition from the flesh and blood world to that in which the spirits dwell. Death was not viewed as the end but simply a change from the corporeal to the spirit world. The spirit world was real to Native Americans and receiving messages and guidance from their departed ancestors was a gift of great importance. 

I was intrigued when I read that you had created a language for your characters. Did you try to write the novel without it at first? If not, how did you go about creating the language to give it some semblance of integrity and repetitiveness...?

I tried and tried to get help with the Tsalagie language. I contacted Universities with Cherokee study programs only to receive messages from professors and graduate students that they were too busy to help me. I went on line and reached out to those proclaiming to be Native speakers of the language only to receive no reply at all. So, I researched and studied and gained access to online Tsalagie dictionaries and phrase translations and just did the best that I could. It is a very complicated language. Complex ideas and descriptions are encapsulated in single words. The way the speaker ends a sentence or phrase can change the meaning of the preceding words so the same words can be used to convey different ideas, places or concepts.
Describe in your own words what you meant to portray by "The Awakening--The Knowing"?

I believe that nature speaks to us through a silent language that all of us were once capable of understanding. Because we are so removed from our true natural selves, we have forgotten how to listen to the gentle voice of Mother Nature. Have you ever been alone in the woods as the sun begins to set? There is a stillness that seems to wrap you in its arms. It quiets your soul and
empties your mind of extraneous, useless thoughts. In that quiet, one can hear the messages that are carried on the wind. If you listen closely you can hear the whispered warning about the coming rain and the morning chill. You can sense whether the night will be filled with calm or predation. The "Promise" is from nature herself. She is telling you, "I will let you know all that you need to know." It is the promise that she will let you know when you need to run, when you need to stay still and quiet, and when you need to prepare to fight for your very life. But there is more. At the moment of Tyoga's awakening on Carter's Rock, there is a reference to how the vision frightens him. And that is the other side of the equation. Nature is savage, brutal and uncompromising. She gives no quarter and does not forgive recklessness, carelessness or stupidity. Tyoga is taken aback at the viciousness that is revealed to him. But the lesson is well learned. He accepts what nature places on his plate without question or regret. All things happen only as they must.

Would Tyoga have become one with the commander of wolves if he had not already been awakened?

No, I don't think so. There is a separation between mankind and the wild things that cannot be breached. While Tyoga's relationship with Wahaya-Wacon releases him to do things that he
would not have otherwise been able to do, he never completely loses his humanity. The veneer between the two worlds is paper thin. I challenge the reader to question that separation, and to ask themselves about the limits of their own capabilities. How far would they be willing to go to keep those they love safe? Would they - could they - kill violently and without regret? Is murder ever an acceptable act? If nature places no value judgment upon the deed - as the notion of right or wrong is purely a human contrivance - is it perhaps always an acceptable outcome? Lots of questions. I don't profess to have the answers to any of them.

The way I read your books, Tyoga had really chosen the Indian life, even though he kept some contact with his parents initially. Did this evolve or did you write it that way to "create" your story? The ways of the Amonsoquath related to sexual activity was quite different based upon his family's religion... While this might be factually true, what were your thoughts in writing that Tyoga felt guilty about the difference?

Tyoga struggles with this concept throughout both books. I remember thinking while I was writing the "Green Rock Cove" chapter, 'No! What are you doing? Stop it!" It was as if the character was taking me places I never anticipated he would go. I know what writers mean when they say, "The book wrote itself." I also have to admit that I wasn't even sure that I liked Tyoga Weathersby very much - and it didn't become clear to me that he was indeed a moral, decent, kind human being until Book II. We are all fallible, imperfect beings. We make
mistakes. While Tyoga was committed to Sunlei, he was not married. And the marriage vow was one that he would not have likely violated. He was a young, single, strong, virile man in the prime of his life. We (men) would all like to say out loud that we would not have taken Prairie Day if we were put in the same situation. Some would be strong enough to reject her invitation. Most would not. We are, after all, only human. 

Tes Qua keeps a secret from Tyoga for many years and only shares it when they were on the hunt for Sunlei. What was your intention?

Destiny, or - more specifically - allowing another to travel the path that is before them without interference - is a sacred concept in Native American culture. Autonomy and the freedom to define one's life according to their own terms was nature-given. Even if that path was one of self destruction and death, the individual was not impeded in any way. The elders were only permitted to step in if the path brought dishonor to the tribe. Tes Qua knew that he was to be tested on that night when he and Tyoga were challenged by the Runion Wolves. He did not know that the wolf pack - and more specifically the Commander - was to be the bearer of that right of passage. When Tyoga stepped in and altered the destiny that was to be Tes Qua's, the deed was done. All things happen only as they must. Tes Qua could not interfere with the burden that Tyoga was to bear, as his destiny had been determined when he spared the Commander's life. But Tes Qua was not the only one who knew that it was he that was
supposed to be tested on that night. The Runion 
Wolves knew - and the ritualistic scars left by the wolves' teeth were part of his initiation rights. Is that where the battle would have ended had Tyoga not returned to the scene? Would Tes Qua have been given the powers that were bestowed to Tyoga as he watched himself dissolve in the Commander's eyes? We'll never know. What we do know is that the connection between the wolves and Tes Qua is more than it would have otherwise been had he not be the chosen one. Over time, Tes Qua comes to understand this spiritual connection. And the men use it to their advantage in the end.

Animal spirits have long been part of the Native American culture. Do you think that your story relates to those beliefs in any significant way?

I think that I covered this in an answer above. But the concept of Native American spirituality goes beyond the animal kingdom. Their concept of self is deeply rooted in their oneness with nature. Their relationship with the earth, the sky, the wind and the rain all had significant
meaning and dramatically impacted the manner in which they conducted their lives. I point out in various scenes throughout the book their thoughts about predation and the taking of one life so that another may live. They found life lessons in how the deer grazed and the fish swam in schools. The circular flight of an eagle was reflected in their medicine wheel and in their dances and ceremonies. I hope that my book accurately reflects those beliefs throughout the story. 

OK, I admit it, I was never quite sure whether Tyoga actually killed the Commander at the time they fought??? Did he go away and later die? Because as I understood it, his body was not there at the place where they had fought?
Tyoga spares the wolf's life, thus fulfilling his father's admonition at the time of his awakening to the Promise, "My son, your journey has only begun. The gift of the promise allows you to hear, but understanding its message will require more. You will be tested by the very power that has awakened you. But beware the victory. For in the spoils lie both a blessing and a curse. The choice you make will set your course for the rest of your life. I hope that you choose mercy. I pray that the price exacted for your kindness is less than the loss of your soul." And in this short paragraph lies not only the definitive theme of The Legend of Tyoga Weathersby, but the question with which I hope my readers struggle forever.
Tyoga shows mercy in letting the defeated Commander live. The wolf would have shown no mercy at all. Did Tyoga do the right thing?

You used Awakening, Knowing, Promise--are they all one thing???
They are - although there are subtle differences. I use the term, "Awakened to the promise," because as I explained above the promise is an assurance from Mother Nature that she will tell you all that you need to know to survive. The word "Awakening," or, "Awaken," is a reminder to the reader that all of us have this knowledge and that we only need a nudge to bring it back to the surface so that we can hear and understand.
Even before the white man came, apparently there were wars between tribes... What are your thoughts on why this occurred?
This is really an interesting topic. One always wonders how a nation of peoples who could show such love, kindness and devotion to those of their own tribe, participate in such ruthless abominations when committing acts of war. How could a father who so tenderly kissed his little girl goodbye in the morning, skin an adversary alive in the afternoon and roast his flesh over an open fire? It is simply incomprehensible and impossible to explain. Be that as it may, the woodland tribes of Native Americans fought battles over land and hunting rights. There were other instances of going to war over blood vengeance, political insult or challenge for regional dominance - but for the most part, when game became scarce in an area tribes moved to new locations where the game was plentiful. Oftentimes that move encroached on another tribe's hunting grounds, and a battle for the hunting rights ensued. In the 1730 and 40s these rules changed as the French and Indian War loomed on the horizon. Native Americans were paid (bribed) by the French, British or Dutch to go to war with various other tribes who had pledged their allegiance to a country other than their own. As I state in the book, danger was around every corner and just over the next rise. Hostilities became so intense that it was nearly impossible to tell friend from foe as allegiances turned for want of a cask of whiskey or iron tools.
The initial concept of land was that it was not to be owned, but then when the white man decided to take it, the Native Americans began to negotiate for its sale. How do you see their beliefs versus their actions?

You are right that the concept of owning the land was foreign to the Native Americans - but the notion of lording control over a piece of property to take advantage of its natural resources was not. The "sale" of land to foreign governments was really a matter of necessity. The Indians wanted European goods and all that they had to barter with was land. When it became clear that the white world would take whatever land they wanted to control, it was the smarter choice to sell the land for what they could get rather than risk a war against an unstoppable force. They did what they had to do in a rapidly changing world.

Trinity Jane was an interesting character... What made you decide to have him marry a white woman?
They actually didn't officially get married, but committed themselves to one another on the basis of family, land and fortune. It was enough on the frontier for them to be recognized as a married couple. I thought that it would be interesting to test Tyoga's commitment to the two worlds he had so adeptly straddled throughout his life. He loved and cherished his Native American roots, but he was born of the white world and appreciated the cultural norms. I knew that he could never be with a colonist from Williamsburg who did not share his love of Native American culture, so Trinity Jane, a white women raised by the Algonquin fit the bill. I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure whether he would stay with Trinity Jane or just leave her behind after he saved Sunlei. But, in the end, I think that he made the right decision.
I am purposely trying to keep from sharing too much about the storyline, so, let me turn this around and ask you...what are you willing to tell us about the story that was (1) what you like best about the novels, (2) what was the hardest for you to write and (3) would you go back and change anything at this time?

1) I really like the lesson of the books: All things happen exactly as they were meant to be for no other outcome is possible. This is really an intriguing concept. Have you ever arrived at a four way stop at the exact same moment that another car arrives at the intersection? Think about this: if you had changed anything - and I mean ANY ONE THING - about your morning, that meeting would never have happened. And you can extrapolate backward as far as you like, and still the outcome would be the same. All things in your life, and in that of the person you met at the intersection, happened exactly as they had to happen to have the two of you meet at that intersection in that moment in time. No other outcome could possibly be. Tyoga's acceptance of things as they are becomes a point of contention between himself and those that he loves, but the truth of the matter cannot be contested. I think that it is a valuable lesson for all of us to learn. There is great freedom in the acceptance.

2) I don't think that there was any one thing that was difficult for me to write, but I had some difficulty in doing something that would allow the story to flow. It sounds odd, but I found that I had to relinquish ownership of the story to the characters. It is hard to explain but they seemed to know where to go and how to get there. Every time I tried to force the action in another direction it just didn't work. I remember getting to certain scenes in the book and not knowing where to go, so I would just ask, "So now what?" So I would go to bed and fortunately Tyoga or Tes Qua or Trinity Jane would tell me what I needed to write next. It was an amazing process and I loved every minute of it!

3) I would re-write the Tsalagie dialogue so that the Native American language was represented accurately.

My last question is...What would you like to tell your readers that nobody has thus far ask you? Surely, something?!!!

Dedications in both books include “the one released.” The dedication is meant as a nod to those who have made the selfless decision and sacrifice to free that special someone to find a new love. It also recognizes the heartache carried forevermore by those who have been released, for it is equally difficult to be on either side of the equation. Time, place, circumstance and situation sometimes conspire to thwart not only what could have been, but perhaps what should have been, and that theme is carried throughout the books. While the pain remains a constant companion, the "release" of the other is as it was meant to be. All events unfold only as they must, for no other outcome is possible. To ask "why" is an exercise in futility.

Wow! Once again you have given all of us much to ponder, consider, and perhaps accept as our own truth!

May you allow the characters to continue to write what they want to share in your next book...
And thank you so much for spending time here at Book Readers Heaven, surrounded by Mother Nature herself and where spirit cats abide...

No comments:

Post a Comment