- by Vonna Harper
“Mt. Shasta of Northern California rises stark and challenging in the distance. No wonder ancient peoples considered the massive peak the home of their gods.
Where I stand at the Lava Beds National Monument, Mt. Shasta seems to watch over me. I’ve come to this remote and foreboding place to research the Modoc Indians who found shelter in the caves created during a volcanic eruption ten thousand years ago. The Modocs once had no use for the vast lava beds, prickly sagebrush, and frozen winters. But conditions at the reservation they were forced to share with their enemies the Klamaths became intolerable. With Kientpoos (who the settlers called Captain Jack) leading them, they left, intending to return to their ancestral home, but settlers had taken over their land. Pursued by soldiers, the Modocs hid in an area that became known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold.
They stayed there throughout a long, cruel winter, but the estimated sixty warriors were no match for several thousand soldiers. In the end, Modoc men, women, and children were shipped to Oklahoma. On Oct. 3, 1873, Kientpoos and two others were executed.
With me on this day are three dear friends, all writers. Because we each have our own reasons for exploring the monument, we go our own ways. I head up the trail the Modocs took from their stronghold to nearby Tule Lake. Surrounded by wind and birds and watched by lizards, I try to walk in the Modocs’ moccasins. What was it like for a man desperate to feed his family? How did mothers keep their children quiet and warm in those dark places beneath the ground? What were their prayers, their hopes and fears?
Suddenly I know I’m no longer alone. Looking up further along the trail to the outcropping where Modoc scouts watched for signs of attack, I see a man. He wears his black hair in a bowl cut under a small-brimed hat with an eagle feather in it. A ragged wool blanket is over his shoulders, and he carries a rifle.
This can’t be! I’ve seen drawings and photographs of Modocs during the war. My imagination has the best of me. With my heart pounding, I continue up the steep, rocky slope. The Modoc waits for me, looking tired and wary. Then the sun escapes from the cloud that had been over it, and I see tears in the warrior’s eyes.
Seconds later he’s gone.”
Revisiting that experience reminded me of how much I loved writing Native American historicals. If my counting is right, my relationship with Tor/Forge lasted for eight books, all with the same editor. Then as happens in this business, the NA market dried up. (Either that or a complete change in cover art factored more than the publisher wanted to admit but that’s another story)
I’ve gone on to writing other things, most of it erotica these days because for me that’s where the money is. I often create clans from some unspecified timeframe. Their spiritual beliefs mirror NA and occasionally I throw a little shape shifting of animal or bird spirits into the mix. I do so because I can’t completely turn my back on how deeply diving into the NA past enriched me.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to return to the worlds I created in those eight mainstream historicals. Unfortunately, my poking around has uncovered no current publisher interest. Does this mean readers have moved on? They’re more interested in steam punk? In fantasy or vampires?
Hopefully by fall I’ll be re-releasing the first three of those eight books via Kindle. Once I have, I’ll begin assessing whether a market for this genre I love exists. If not, so be it. If so, ah!
I’d like nothing better than to finish the NA partial I wrote before Tor ended our relationship, but I’m a realist. I don’t dare commit that kind of time until/unless I know there’s a market. Ah for the innocent olden days when I believed I could write what resonated with me, but they don’t exist. (They never did)
But I’m not down for the count, not yet. Thanks to Kindle and other venues, I can do my own market research. Who knows. Maybe those old stories will become the new ‘hot.”
I gotta give it a shot.