Friday, March 11, 2016

Feature Friday Author Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer and Her Novel The Executions

Courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution

I’m happy to have as my guest Author Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer.

Before we begin, Sarah is offering a free eBook from her Choctaw Tribunes series, book 1, The Executions. To enter the drawing, please leave a comment with your Kindle address as to where you’d like the eBook sent.

SARAH ELISABETH SAWYER is an award-winning inspirational author, speaker and Choctaw storyteller of traditional and fictional tales based on the lives of her people. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has honored her as a literary artist through their Artist Leadership Program for her work in preserving Trail of Tears stories. In 2015, First Peoples Fund awarded her an Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship. She writes from her hometown in Texas, partnering with her mama, Lynda Kay Sawyer, in continued research for future novels.

Sarah, I’m proud to have you here today in honor of Native Americans. Where can you be found online?

Where can readers purchase The Executions?

What have you learned recently about yourself, and how has it affected your writing?
This was seven years ago, when I was twenty-three, but it had the most affect on my writing life. I had a bit of a meltdown at that age. It was as if everything in my life was strewn across a whiteboard. Everything I wanted to do, what I thought I was supposed to do, what I thought everybody wanted me to do. I couldn’t do anything for days. I prayed and knew it was time to surrender all. Not in the sweet sense we sing about in songs, about surrendering all to God without truly doing it. I knew it had to be real in my life.
I took an eraser to that whiteboard and, one by one, wiped off each thing in my life. I surrendered those things to Him with the full commitment to take nothing back He didn’t give me. When I came to writing I halted. I was serious about this. What if He didn’t give it back? But I erased it and handed the marker over to God.
Nothing happened for about seven months, except I experienced more peace and harmony than ever before in my life.
Late that summer, God put writing back on the board. I’ve been writing ever since.

Very heart warming, Sarah. What gives you the most satisfaction in your writing—besides "The End," that is?
Reader response. At a book signing, a woman came up to me and wanted to know when the next book in the Choctaw Tribune series would be out. We had a wonderful conversation that came around to a certain racial issue the book addresses. She shared a bit of her dad's story and it seemed to dawn on her the connection with how a character in The Executions handles a situation. She started crying as though finally understanding why her dad had been that way on the issue. I believe it allowed her to grieve, and hopefully to heal.

As I also read The Executions, Sarah, it is helping me to understand some of my families responses to being Cherokee and Apache. So, tell us how did your writing career begin and how long did it take to publish your first book?
I wrote my first story when I was five years old. I had a story to tell about kindness, but was far too shy to tell it. My seven year old brother illustrated it, and my mama saved copies.
I drifted in and out of writing through my teens and early twenties. After I seriously got into writing in 2009, I didn't publish my first print book until the end 2013, an anthology of Choctaw trail of tears story (Touch My Tears: Tales from the Trail of Tears). This was a result of a program I was in with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. Then I published a short story collection (Third Side of the Coin) before finally releasing my first novel in April 2015 (The Executions).

I’m excited to learn more about you and your work, Sarah! What other writing have you done?
I've written regular columns and freelance articles. This January, I was solicited to write stories for First Peoples Fund eSpirit newsletter. What an honor. I received an FPF grant in 2015 to support my book publications.

Is this book’s setting based on a real place?
It's set in the fictional town of Dickens, though I drew heavily on the histories of two towns in Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory in the 1890s for inspiration. Some of the other places like Paris, Texas, and Tuskahoma, Oklahoma, are real.

Is the book completely fictional?
The characters mostly are, but the events are based on actual stories from the time period. It was pre-statehood Oklahoma, and the Indian nations were about to be divided by individual land allotments. The tribes would be dissolved. Two Choctaw political parties clashed over these issues, and the violence often turned deadly.

How would you rate this book: G, PG, or PG 13? And tell us why.
I would rate it G to PG, depending on the guidelines you have for your children. Some of the subject material is tough, but nothing I would have objected to my nieces and nephews reading when they were younger. At a book signing recently, a mother bought all four of my books for her nine-year-old son after I explained the potential content issue. (On a side note, he thanked his mom for making his day!)

Oh, this was satisfying for you, I’m sure. What was your inspiration for The Executions?
My mama shared our Choctaw heritage with me at a young age. I'd always wanted to write stories about my people. The more I learn about our culture and our heritage of faith, the more I want to write these stories. I plan to have at least four books in the Choctaw Tribune series.

What do you have in store for the year of 2016?
Publishing two more books in the Choctaw Tribune series, freelancing, speaking, teaching, and enjoying the adventurous life we live. My mama and I partner in all kinds of cool, creative projects. She gets me into film making and family. It's pretty amazing. We always have something new going on.

Great, Sarah! What parting wisdom do you wish to give those of us not book published?
Keep writing. I wish I had written more as I was developing my brand. I spent a lot of time in the beginning building my platform and learning how to market, and this was all good and necessary, but I did lose sight of actually writing book after book. But I'm focusing on this more now.
Remember, there are plenty of options for publishing. You may go the traditional route. If you choose indie, know that it's not the “easy way out.” Not if you do it right. You have to learn how to be a publisher. Educate yourself. Network. Be professional. Keep your heart in the right place, and you’ll come to love every step of the journey.

From the back cover of The Executions:
Who would show up for their own execution?
It’s 1892, Indian Territory. A war is brewing in the Choctaw Nation as two political parties fight out issues of old and new ways. Caught in the middle is eighteen-year-old Ruth Ann, a Choctaw who doesn’t want to see her family killed.
In a small but booming pre-statehood town, her mixed blood family owns a controversial newspaper, the Choctaw Tribune. Ruth Ann wants to help spread the word about critical issues but there is danger for a female reporter on all fronts—socially, politically, even physically.
But what is truly worth dying for? This quest leads Ruth Ann and her brother Matthew, the stubborn editor of the fledgling Choctaw Tribune, to old Choctaw ways at the farm of a condemned murderer. It also brings them to head on clashes with leading townsmen who want their reports silenced no matter what.
More killings are ahead. Who will survive to know the truth? Will truth survive?

The Executions Review: “Among the many pleasures of Sarah Elisabeth’s writing are her attention to character, language, and period detail. In The Executions, a story grounded in history and the complexities of pre-statehood Oklahoma, she brings to life, with great heart, the compelling mix of cultures, faith, and political intrigue in the old Choctaw Nation. An intriguing read.”—Rilla Askew, author of The Mercy Seat

Thank you, Sarah Elisabeth, for being my guest here at Feature Friday.
Until next time . . . let's all read The Executions