I’ve been considering doing a post like this for a long time but never seemed to get around to it. I’m still not sure I’m fully into it but since Christy and I are in the process of transferring the paperback version of Whistling Woman to our control (which is causing some major frustration, I am not a happy camper right now!) I decided what better to do than add to my frustration by writing a blog post. Why should writing a blog post frustrate me, you ask. Well, I’m one of those bloggers whose brains won’t stay on a set track when writing a post. My mind tends to go off on tangents and my fingers always seem to follow right along. I often end up with a couple of thousand words that jump around like a grasshopper, landing here and there, and never quite getting to the point…
See? I’m doing it again when I should be introducing this post and getting on with what I want to say. So, here goes:
Christy and I have had several readers ask us which of the stories in Whistling Woman are fact and which are fiction. That’s not as easy to answer as you might think because we took liberties on almost every page of the story, weaving fact with fiction, reality with imagination, truth with…um, shall we say, little white lies. The one thing we never fiddled with was the historical facts. We researched them endlessly, going back time and time again to make sure we had them right. Also, the Cherokee legends and medicine were, to us, sacrosanct but of course, where the legends are concerned, who knows exactly what is truth and what is ficiton.
So, in an effort to enlighten our readers (who we totally love and are eternally grateful to!) I’m going to take the book chapter by chapter and hopefully (by the time Moonfixer’s is out at least), I’ll make it all the way through the book. That’s 22 chapters–Yikes!
Okay, the first chapter deals with Bessie sticking her finger into the bullet hole in the man Papa shot. Fact or fiction?
John Warren Daniels (Papa)
A little of both, Bessie did in fact stick her finger into a bullet hole in a man’s forehead and Papa did in fact shoot him, bring him home and put the body on the kitchen table until he could take it to Marshall in the morning. We heard that story quite a few times as children and I think it’s one of the reasons why we grew up thinking Aunt Bessie was the coolest person in our family–aside from our dad–and quite possibly it started the whole fascination with her stories and the desire to write them down before they were lost.The fiction part comes with the background information. Bessie was only around 10 years old when it happened (in the book we have her at 14) and neither she nor Daddy ever mentioned what it felt like when she did it. For that part, we went to friend and fellow author, David Hunter, who after marveling at the questions he gets from his friends, told us what it would feel like. Having never stuck our fingers in a bullet hole in a person’s forehead before, we have no idea if that part’s fact or fiction, but having no desire to actually check it out and verify it, we were willing to take David’s word for it.
A bit of backstory in the chapter tells about Bessie hating her name and changing it when she was eight years old. That part’s all true. She was named Vashti Lee at birth and she did hate the name (though she never said why) and she did in fact decide to change it when she was only 8 years old. The fiction comes with the reason she did so, and how she came by the name “Bessie.” As far as we know our Great-aunt Loney didn’t start calling her that when she was a baby leading her to take that name as her own.
Then there’s Elisi who is probably 90% fiction and 10% fact. Bessie’s great grandmother was indeed full-blooded Cherokee (making Bessie 1/4 and Christy and me 1/16) but we have no idea if she gathered wild plants and herbs as a way of making a living. We do know Bessie was familiar with some of the Cherokee medicine but we don’t know where she learned it or who taught it to her. And the name Elisi? That’s Cherokee for grandmother which is why we decided to call her that. We weren’t able to find her real name in the records nor were we able to verify the heritage but family history via Aunt Bessie tells us she was indeed full-blooded Cherokee and that she and her familly hid in the mountains to escape the Trail of Tears.
I think that covers the first chapter. All the characters in this one were real people (witness Papa’s picture above) but the stories, while based on fact, are laced with our imagination.
Did I forget anything? If I did, please leave a comment and I’ll address it next Friday. For now, happy Memorial Day everybody and amid all the cookouts, picnics and parades, don’t forget to honor all those who are currently serving or have served our country!