An hour’s drive outside of Green Bay, nestled amid towering pines, lies an unassuming building. Casting shadows on the log facade, three flags dance in the wind – the stars and strips of Old Glory, the blue banner of Wisconsin, and a red and white flag bearing the great seal of the Menominee Nation. Ostensibly, my husband and I traveled to Wisconsin to attend the Oneida pow-wow (an annual event my husband, an Oneida himself, hates to miss). But for me, the visit to this remote reservation is the highlight of my trip.
Some authors dread the tedium of fact-finding for the novels. I love it. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to historical fiction. Like no other, this genre has the ability to flesh out those dry events I studied in school, making them relevant, personal, and evocative. This communion with the past, in turn, shapes the way I view the present. It gives me a more nuanced, empathetic outlook.
I hope to bring this experience to my readers with my next novel—a historical fiction recounting the Native American boarding school experience of the 1880s. I want to give voice to those students who endured this experiment in cultural extermination.
And truth is the foundation that makes this experience possible. I’ve logged countless hours at the UNLV library reading personal accounts and histories. I’ve sifted through numerous online resources and faded sepia photographs.
Last week, my research culminated in a trip to the Menominee Cultural Museum. A small, one-room building with 90% of it’s artifacts on loan from other museums, this site offered the perfect smorgasbord of information for my niche interests.
There’s only so much information I can glean from books. Squinting over a small picture of a pair of moccasins is nothing like seeing them in person. Behind their glass cases, the careful stitching and intricate bead-work pop before your eyes. The subtle wear of the leather breathes life and history into them. Even standing amid the dense, majestic forest sheltering the reservation elicits an awe impossible to recover from a glossy textbook.
This is why I love historical fiction and the research that underpins its greatness.