With The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke apparently still in limbo—I have not been able to reach either my editor or my agent—I am moving on with the next step, into the next book. The draft of Little Brother, a memoir of my brother Jonathan, is also stalled at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which according to my contract, has the right of deciding on it before any other publisher. This is the far too familiar stalemate that has writers like me tearing out our hair. Years ago, a lawyer I’d asked to review my contact said succinctly, “They have you over a barrel.” This, in addition to the fact that I have been working for seven and a half years with no pay, which keeps many talented people from ever seeing their books in print.
How to live on nothing is a question the publishers have not condescended to consider. And so the huge growth of self-publishing, producing more books now than the so-called legitimate press.
Now that I have that off my chest, I’m moving ahead to the historical novel I’m calling Taken by Indians, based on my many-times great-grandmother’s capture by the Shawnee in what is now West Virginia in the fall of 1789. I have a lot more reading to do about that time and place and particularly about the Shawnee, one of the smaller tribes but one that held out the longest against the white invasion of their lands.
Margaret Erskine’s experience of her three years as an adopted daughter in a Shawnee encampment is in marked contrast to most captivity narratives. She never called the Shawnees barbarians or tried to convert them to Christianity. As with more than a few other white women adopted into Native families in the eighteenth century, she made herself a home there and might have preferred never to leave.
Part of my earlier research, these photos are from a re-enactment of the siege of Boonesborough, Kentucky by the Shawnee and their allies in 1778. While I am not a fan of re-enactments which are seldom historically accurate, the enthusiasm of the participants at Boonesborough, all of whom seemed immersed in their roles, carried me along, and I will never forget standing near the gates to the recreated fort as the Long Knives—the Virginians—fired their matchlock guns at the Shawnee. As a small girl in Kentucky, I was fascinated by Walter D. Edmond’s The Matchlock Gun—not least for the heroic character of the pioneer mother. So I am intrigued to learn how my ancestress came to feel at home with people I never learned, back then, to view as human.
I am girding myself to take the next step and continue with my research, as soon as I’m able, and, with the help of my Taos circle of writers, to start writing again from p. 107 of the first draft.
Wish me a better run of luck.