Halito (hello), fellow authors! I appreciate George having me on his blog today. I’m Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer, a Choctaw author and digital course creator. My signature course, Fiction Writing: American Indians, equips authors to write authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I also teach a live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors that takes you through the process of mastering dictation through easy exercises that lead you to become the master of your fictional worlds.
As a tribal member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, I’ve written and published 16 historical fiction books. I’m highlighting pieces of my writing life in the hope you find them helpful on your journey.
Do you write in more than one genre? Historical fiction is my primary (and favorite) genre to read and to write. Something about digging into the past gives me a deeper connection to the present. That is especially true of my American Indian heritage. My books range from the Choctaw Trail of Tears in the 1830s to the Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I. I love a good old-fashioned western, which I get to share through my Doc Beck Westerns series set in the 1890s, featuring an Omaha Indian woman doctor. I write clean stories with close family relationships, fistfights and gunfights, and accurate cultural heritage.
What brought you to writing? When I was five years old, I had a story I wanted to share about being kind. But I was horribly shy and knew the only way to share my message was through writing it. My mama has saved that story to this day, and she continues to be my greatest fan and encourager. In my early twenties, I released a lot of the chaos in my life, wiped the slate clean, and handed the chalk over to God. He brought writing back into my life and let me know I was born to tell stories.
What are you currently working on? I released Fire and Ink, book 5 in the Choctaw Tribune series, in August and am outlining the final book in that series. There are 3 more books to go in the Doc Beck Westerns that are also underway. I have my first traditionally published nonfiction book coming out this fall, a biography on a WWI hero who was Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee — Otis W. Leader: The Ideal American Doughboy (Chickasaw Press).
How do you come up with character names? Authenticity is a significant component of my work. One of my methods for naming my American Indian characters is diving into historical records. Census, tribal rolls, and recorded stories are great sources for me to find authentic names for the people and times I’m writing about. Do you base any of your characters on real people? Absolutely. My novella, Tushpa’s Story, was based on a young boy who had a dramatic experience crossing the Trail of Tears in 1834.
Though the main character is fictional, the characters in Anumpa Warrior: Choctaw Code Talkers of World War I are the real men who were the code talkers and their commanding officers. I had the honor of interviewing descendants who knew these men and shared personal aspects that lent so much to the story. There are many historical figures sprinkled throughout my stories.
What kind of research do you do? I didn’t start off as a good researcher. I was scattered, but I knew research was vital because of the roles my work plays in the world. These books let readers experience authentic First American history and culture in an entertaining story. Through that, my stories are ambassadors. They are also a way to preserve this heritage for generations to come. My research has taken me down the backroads of Oklahoma and our homelands in Mississippi; deep into the secure vaults of the National Archives in Washington, DC; reading through stacks of nonfiction books and online archives; the WWI battlefields and cemeteries of France; sitting quietly and listening to elders.
Today, I love research and the treasures I discover of my ancestors that I get to share with readers.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m terribly excited to get started on an action-adventure series set in the 1970s that stars a Choctaw artist who has to fight the bad guys and retrieve priceless historical American Indian art pieces. In between my own books, I’m actively teaching authors how to create authentic stories that honor Native American history and culture. I’m also gearing up for my live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October. Nearly 100 authors joined me in April of this year to master the skill of dictating their stories. It was a rousing success, and I can’t wait for the one this fall.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? The faith of my ancestors continues to inspire my writing life. They walked the trail for me, and I’m so grateful to share their extraordinary lives through my real and fictional characters so that you, the reader, can go on the journey with us.
Find out more about my books (and my mama’s art) over at ChoctawSpirit.com
Interested in the Fiction Writing American Indians digital course? Find it here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/americanindians
Want to join the live Dictation Bootcamp for Authors in October? That’s here: https://www.fictioncourses.com/dictationbootcamp