Guest Post: E Russell Braziel on ‘Writing Historical Fiction: beyond getting the names and places right’

Writing Historical Fiction: beyond getting the names and places right.

History gives us a path to tell our stories, but how we transverse it says a great deal about ourselves as writers.

Historical fiction is a word that carries contradiction. As writers we have the instinct to weave our narratives to our whims. Yet, when writing historical fiction, we must maintain a delicate balance between fiction and fact.

Some of these details are small: a character can’t fire a colt peacemaker before 1873 or make a cellphone call before 1983; however, the greatest challenge for many historical fiction writers is creating the cultural context of the time period with which our stories are set. In this difficult task we face misrepresenting and appropriating a culture and people. Never is this more true than when writing stories about America History and the indigenous tribes whose past on this continent are far greater and longer than our own.

One of the most important details to the story of Kado: Lost Treasure of Kadohadacho was respectfully representing the culture and history of the Caddo people. This is all the more important since the cultural impact of the Caddo people has been erased or destroyed by narratives with heavy bias towards native tribes. The Caddo people were a large nation of ethnically diverse citizens who had a complex economy of goods and trade. They did not fit the historical stereotypes and for that reason they have been pushed to the footnotes of history. Though the story of Kado takes place in a period of decline for the Caddo Nation (caused by violent colonial expansion and disease), it is vital to speak to the rich history of this people.

Therefore, telling the story of a young pioneer in the early 1800’s requires navigating the pitfalls of past narratives. This means that extensive research needed to be undertaken and the story needed to go through many periods of review by members of the Caddo Nation and experts in Caddo culture and history. Two experts in the fields of the Caddos and their homeland played a vital part in telling this story, Phil Cross and Jeffery Girard.

Phil Cross is a Caddo elder, former chairman of the Caddo Culture Club, and expert in all things Caddo. He provided Caddo stories, and invaluable help with the language and background of Caddo culture. This insight was vital in representing the Caddo language both within the book, but also in creating the pronunciation guide that can be found on the official Kados website. His expertise in the Caddo Grass dwellings helped to inform the illustrations of Jean Guillet. These illustrations can be found in the book and on the Kados website. These beautiful images are pivotal in representing the complex society of the Caddo people while debunking stereotypes of natives residing only in impermanent dwellings.

Jeffery Girard is an archaeologist and author of The Caddos and Their Ancestors. He provided a great deal of scientific evidence of the Caddoan culture. He also aided with research and ensured that the descriptions in the book were accurate to his archaeological findings at sites in northwest Louisiana where Kado: Lost Treasure of Kadohadacho takes place.

The additional research and review of Kado by tribal members and experts added a great deal of cultural context to the book. As historical fiction writers we have a responsibility to retain the facts of history, but even more so we have a moral obligation to ensure that our stories do not uphold bias and misrepresentations of the past. All while creating engaging and alluring characters and stories.

In Kado: Lost Treasure of the Kadochadacho we meet 18-year-old Tom Murrell who feels restless after his family moves to the Arkansaw Territory. Upon arriving to his new town, a single arrow nearly strikes Tom. The event causes a great stir as there hasn’t been conflicts with any tribes in the territory.

One such person that stokes the flames of this event is James, a young man that Tom befriends rather begrudgingly as James is known for telling tall tales. Tom makes another friend in Mattie, a smart and honest young woman with an interest in Kado culture. She begins teaching Tom words in the Kado language.

While Tom settles into his new home, conflict is on the horizon as a band of renegade Osage plot against the Kado. Tom is pulled into the dispute after witnessing the death of Tiatesun, the spiritual leader of the Kadohadacho tribe. The stakes get dangerously high as the only chance to save his family is for Tom and his new friends to join with six Kado warriors, make sense of the many clues they uncover on their quest, and discover the real Na-Da-cah-ah.

Packed with action and adventure, Kado draws on the rich history of the Caddo people to create a lush and nearly fantastical world.

About the Author

E. Russell (“Rusty”) Braziel is the author of KADO – Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho. He has been a rock musician, company executive, serial entrepreneur, widely read blogger and is the author of The Domino Effect, bestselling nonfiction book about energy resources.

Born in Caddo country in Northeast Texas, Rusty is the gggg-grandson of John Murrell, patriarch of the Murrell family whose 1818 expedition from Tennessee to a frontier settlement in Arkansas launches the story in Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho

For over 15 years, Braziel has been a student of the Caddo tribal culture in pre-Columbian and early frontier periods, including the tribe’s history, language and beliefs.

He and his wife Teresa split their time between a homestead in Northeast Texas and grandkids in Houston.

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