D. M. Rowell (Koyh Mi O Boy Dah), like her protagonist, Mud, comes from a long line of Kiowa storytellers. After a thirty-two-year career spinning stories for Silicon Valley start-ups and corporations, with a few escapes creating award-winning independent documentaries, Rowell started a new chapter, writing mysteries that also share information about her Plains Indian tribe, the Kiowas. She enjoys life in California with her partner of thirty-eight years, their son, and a feral gray cat.
Never Name the Dead: No one called her Mud in Silicon Valley. There, Mae was a respected professional who had left her Kiowa roots far behind. But when her grandfather called, she had to go back and face her childhood rejection by the tribe. She owed him that. What she didn’t expect was that this visit was only the start of a traditional four-day vision quest that would take her into dark places involving theft, betrayal, murder—and a charging buffalo. And that was only Day One.
What brought you to writing? A life-long passion for reading, specifically mystery novels, fueled my desire to write a mystery series. As a reader, I enjoy series with reoccurring characters and ongoing story arcs. Reading a series allows me to visit old friends year after year.
As I wrote NEVER NAME THE DEAD, I planned it to be a series starting with four books spanning four sequential days emulating a four-day Kiowa vison quest (with a few murders thrown in). The first book is the first day of the vision quest of self-discovery for my main character, Mud. The novel takes place in less than 24 hours, and the second book starts fifteen minutes after the first ends, taking Mud into her second day of the quest with another murder to solve. At the end of her fourth day and fourth book, Mud’s vision quest ends with Mud finding the way to unite her worlds—and solve another murder.
Tell us about your writing process: I try to write for 3 to 4 hours every day. While I’ll start the morning with the intent to write first thing, I let myself be distracted by daily tasks before feeling comfortable enough to sink into my story. I’m not a planner. I write as the story unfolds for me. I’ll start the story once I know the murderer, the victim, and why. After a few chapters, I’ll see the reveal. That gives me my endpoint. Everything in-between comes about as I write it.
The first draft captures the story. At the end of my first draft, I go back through the story to paint a deeper picture and get it in shape to hand off to my editor. I have an excellent editor at Crooked Lanes Book, Sara J. Henry. She knows just where and how to direct the critical trimming needed to make my story shine.
What kind of research do you do? In NEVER NAME THE DEAD, I share a lot of information and insights into the Kiowa tribe, culture, and history—all from the Kiowa perspective.
My research comes from a lifetime of learning from Kiowa elders in my family and tribe. The history and traditions shared in the novel come directly from our oral traditions, originally told by tribal elders.
I was fortunate to grow up with my Kiowa grandfather, C. E. Rowell. He was a master storyteller, artist, and recognized Tribal Historian. My grandfather taught me about our Kiowa history and introduced me to other elders, including a 101 years-old!
I spent over a decade collecting memories, songs, and stories from tribe elders to preserve for future generations. Much of the footage can be seen in my documentary, Vanishing Link, and in a series of Kiowa language lesson videos posted here, www.thekiowapeople.com.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Ten months.
I wrote my first draft of NEVER NAME THE DEAD while taking courses for the UCSDX Creative Writing program. I followed teacher extraordinaire Carolyn Wheat through Novel I, II, and III. At the end of the Novel courses, I had my first draft completed. It took two more drafts before I had the book ready for readers. From start to first draft, it took six months, then four more months to complete drafts two and three.
How long did it take to get it published? I was extremely lucky! I had an agent and a book deal with Crooked Lane Books nine months after finishing the novel.
How do you come up with character names? My main character has three names. LOL!
She is known as Mae in Silicon Valley, where she has built a digital marketing agency on the cusp of national attention. In Oklahoma’s Kiowa country, she’s called Mud, a childhood nickname that stuck.
The main character’s first two names were the easiest for me to come up with. Much in my writing honors my Kiowa culture. I wanted to add a bit of my mom’s side of the family into my novel by using my mom’s name, Mae, and her mother’s childhood nickname, Mud, for the main character’s names. It delighted me as a child to hear one of my great-aunts call my grandmother “Mud.” Even now, it makes me smile.
The hard part was finding how to explain the two names of the main character, especially “Mud.” That was resolved by adding a third name and a Kiowa Naming Ceremony. I won’t reveal any more about the names other than to say that Mud’s Kiowa name speaks to the journey Mae/Mud is on through the first four novels as she finds a way to blend her two worlds; traditional Kiowa spirituality and Silicon Valley tech savvy.
What are you currently working on? I’m working with my editor, Sara J. Henry, on edits for the second novel, SILENT ARE THE DEAD. The title has just recently been finalized.
Who’s your favorite author? I stretch favorite authors to include oral storytellers; that makes the question very easy to answer. My all-time favorite storyteller is my grandfather, the late C. E. Rowell. Grandpa excelled at bringing stories to life. He was an artist, master storyteller, and a man of distinction within the Kiowa tribe. He was a Tribal Elder recognized as the Tribe Historian and Reader of the Dohason and Onko pictoglyph calendars called Sai-Guat, or Winter Marks.
My grandfather brought the people and stories to life for me. No storyteller has captured my imagination as deeply. Grandpa inspired me to follow our traditions and be a storyteller.
C. E. Rowell sharing a story from one of the Kiowa Calendars with tribe members (1999)
Do you have any advice for new writers? Believe in yourself and write your stories! I didn’t write until late in life because I did not believe I could do it or do it well enough. Finally, I started writing for myself, and the story flowed. My happiest moment as a writer came when I finished the first draft. I wrote the book I always dreamed of doing!
Be sure to say hello if you see me at Left Coast Crime or Bouchercon.