Tony Hillerman's heir apparent, award-winning and bestselling author, Margaret Coel, writes about the Arapaho people of Colorado and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation. Her latest release, The Spider's Web, is the 15th book in her series.
Margaret, you’ve said that the Arapahos are your dream people. Why are you so fascinated with them?
The Arapahos lived on the plains of Colorado in what they call “the old time.” I’m a 4th generation Coloradan who grew up on the stories of our area, including stories about the native peoples. Something about them just drew me in, and the more I researched and got to know them, the more fascinated I became. My first book was a non-fiction book, titled Chief Left Hand, which is a biography of one of their leading men in the 19th century and a history of the people in Colorado. That was the book that took me into their world. It was published in 1981 by The University of Oklahoma Press and has never gone out of print.
How were you able to research the crimes and customs of the tribe? Have they allowed you to interview them or have you researched them mainly in libraries and newspaper articles?
All of the above. I do a lot of research in newspaper articles, and I spent 5 years in library archives researching the Arapahos. I visit the Wind River Reservation every year, and have for the past 30 years, and I visit with my friends.
How did your protagonists, Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden come about? Were they based on real people?
They were the kind of sleuths I needed for my novels. Amateurs, yet the kind of people that those in trouble would turn to and would trust. Father John is an outsider, like me. I wanted a character who would come to know the Arapahos and appreciate their history and culture, as I did. My thought was that the reader could come along on his journey. As for Vicky I wanted to write from a woman’s point of view, and I wanted a strong Arapaho voice in the stories. No, they are not based on real people, but I’m told one of the ongoing games on the rez is trying to figure out who they really are!
What is the most interesting fact that you learned about the Arapaho tribe?
They were traders, called the “businessmen of the plains,” in the early days. They were very sharp business people, and still are. They are also very spiritual.
Why did you leave Father O’Malley in Rome to write Blood Memory, a departure from your Arapaho series?
I thought he should go to Romewhile I write Blood Memory, and then I would have a tax-deductible excuse to visit Rome as well.
Were Tony Hillerman’s books your inspiration to write your own series?
Oh, yes, and so was Tony Hillerman. He really created the market for mysteries set among native tribes. Peope who read all of his books—and loved them—started looking around for similar mysteries in different locations. And there mine were!
What’s your writing schedule like?
I write 6 days a week—this is a real job. Usually I write for 4 or 5 hours, then spend a couple hours on the “business” part of the writing business—dealing with editors, agents, publicist, requests for interviews and speeches. The type of thing I am now doing. Then I also do a lot of research and reading for each book.
How many books did you publish before you acquired an agent? And was acquiring an agent difficult?
With the mystery novels, I acquired an agent right away. The agent liked the manuscript of The Eagle Catcher, my first novel, and sold it to Berkley Publishing, still my publisher. I signed a 3-book contract, and I was off and running.
Which of your nonfiction books or novels was the most difficult to write? Which is your favorite? And why?
I wouldn’t say my non-fiction book, Chief Left Hand, was difficult, but it required a tremendous amount of research and documentation, as well as travel to the places I wrote about. So it took a chunk out of my life. But it was a terrific experience, and it allows me to write the mystery novels. As for my favorite book, it is always the book I am in the midst of writing. It fills up my head and consumes my life. When it is done, I send it on its way into the world and hunker down with my next “favorite” book.
Advice for aspiring writers?
One important word: Persistence. You have to keep at it no matter what. Keep writing and honing your craft. Keep getting better and better. Keep searching for the readers out there who are waiting for your stories.
Thank you, Margaret, for taking part in the series.
Margaret's website: http://www.margaretcoel.com/about.php
She's also on Facebook and invites everyone to join her there: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001416618752&ref=ts