Margaret Coel appeared at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale today, to celebrate the publication of her thirteenth book, The Girl with Braided Hair. I've read all but that last book, and I've been waiting to see her. She was vivacious and knowledgeable, and wonderful to hear.
Coel said when her first book, The Eagle Catcher came out, The Poisoned Pen and Rue Morgue bookstores bought almost 100% of the copies. Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, said she wouldn't know it was September if Margaret didn't show up with another book about Father John O'Malley and Vicky Holden.
Margaret Coel acknowledges a friend who was a Jesuit priest on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in her books. She said she created her lead character, Father John, because she wasn't an Arapaho. She wanted a character who was an outsider like her, someone who could take readers on a journey to get to know people. She actually had the character come to her in a dream, a big, good-looking red haired man who said he was her man, and he was a priest.
Jesuits were missionaries to reservations on the Plains. In 1878, some of the leaders of the Arapaho tribe went to Omaha and asked the Jesuits to start a mission, and gave them the land on the Wind River reservation.
In discussing the Arapaho tribe, she said a man wrote a poem referring to them as a "Travelling People." They were nomads whose homelands stretched across the plains, from Colorado to Wyoming.
Coel said in the past she has done a slide show about the records the Arapaho kept. Their original records were pictographs and on hides. When they saw the ledgers the Jesuits used, they began to keep their records in ledgers.
Coel's other lead character, Vicky Holden, is an Arapaho lawyer, in partnership with Adam Lone Eagle. They are not always in agreement as to what's important in the law. Adam is interested in the big issues, protecting natural resources and the lands and reservation. He's a big picture lawyer. Vicki treats the law one person at a time.
Vicky Holden was an abused wife,a woman who was ashamed, and wanted to protect Ben, her husband, because he was a tribal leader. Vicky finally left her husband, her children, and the reservation, and went to law school before returning. Coel says she still hears from women who are mad she killed Ben, Vicky's ex-husband. They say, "He was so nice. He was changing. He was so good-looking." However, she also received a two page letter from a woman in an abusive situation who finally said, "If Vicky can do it, I can do it." She's now divorced.
All of Margaret Coel's books deal with issues. Her new book, The Girl with Braided Hair, deals with AIM, the American Indian Movement. It's set both in 1973 and the present. The 1970's were a very violent time. AIM sought justice for American Indians. The Trail of Broken Treaties was a march on Washington. They took over the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) building, and held it for one week, before Nixon sent in negotiators who gave them $60,000, enough for bus tickets home for everyone. AIM also took over Wounded Knee for 72 days. There were many indictments. Some people went to prison, and others slipped away and went underground to reservations. They did call attention to the plight of the American Indians, and started cultural schools. AIM did some good things, although the underbelly of it was a divisive, violent organization.
This '70s history of AIM is the background of the current book, a novel in which a skeleton is found on the reservation. Everyone is disturbed because a young girl, in her twenties, who had a child, was murdered. Coel said a friend who is a forensic anthropologist said they can pinpoint the time frame. The girl was killed in the summer of 1973, based on plant residue and the clothing.
Margaret Coel said a friend of a friend contacted her, and said she had worked on the Wind River Reservation in the 1970s, and sent her a journal of the time, including information on AIM.
Today the Arapaho of the Wind River Reservation have oil and gas on the plantation, but they are not rich. They get royalties. Fifteen percent goes to the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes, and they use it for local government, such as roads and police. The other 85% goes to the people themselves. They also run ranches, and work on the state highways. The men like to work outdoors.
What is Margaret Coel writing now? She's writing a standalone. Catherine McCloud is a reporter in Denver. (Coel was a reporter in Denver years ago.) There's a Denver police detective and a professional detective. Someone is trying to kill McCloud, not for a story she has covered, but because of a story she might cover. This, too, deals with the Arapaho tribe. She does have a contract for another Father John book.
Margaret Coel said that she thinks a series allows authors and readers to explore characters. "Readers read novels out of their own experiences. What comes out is a combination of what the author brings and what the reader brings."
Margaret Coel brings passion and knowledge to her series books. I'm sure The Girl with Braided Hair is no exception.
Margaret Coel's website is www.margaretcoel.com
The Girl with Braided Hair by Margaret Coel. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21712-2 (hardcover), 293p.
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