Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction: Guest Post by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

SARA SUE HOKLOTUBBE: Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction

When I started writing, I heard people talking about writer’s block. Some thought it was real; others considered it an excuse. I fell in the second camp, believing anyone could work through it if they tried hard enough. That is, until it hit me. 

After my fourth book hit the shelves in 2018, I took a break from writing. Recovering from major back surgery had shifted my focus for many months to the simple act of walking again. Moving from Colorado to Oklahoma a year later left me feeling displaced. Books, research papers, and everything else in my office was securely packed away in boxes for the seven-hundred-mile journey. How would I ever get it all sorted out? 

By the end of 2019, I began to settle in with a plan to be writing again soon. We took a short trip during Christmas and New Year’s and arrived home in early January shortly before Covid-19 made its unexpected arrival in the U.S. No one has to be reminded what happened next. 

At the beginning of the shelter-in-place orders, I thought it would be the perfect time to pump out mystery book number five. Then reality set in. There are writers who can write in the midst of chaos and some who cannot. 

I had writer’s block. 

As hard as I tried, nothing would come. Day after day I tried to form a plot in my head. I came up with an interesting character, gave him a name, made notes, and filed them away. Was he a good guy or a bad guy? I wasn’t sure. It would come to me later, I was sure. 

With thousands dying every day, and countless others trying to slowly recover from an evil virus, the thought of writing about a murder mystery in the middle of a pandemic seemed wrong on so many levels. 

The collective worldwide reaction to the murder of George Floyd set off a whole other dimension of pain and suffering. How could I come up with a fiction story about murder when the daily headlines bled with horror stories of deadly injustice? I couldn’t do it. 

I had all these thoughts and feelings screaming to get out, so I started writing essays. It wasn’t a mystery, but it was writing. I began chipping away at my writer’s block. 

Then came the deaths of two of my heroes – John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – not from COVID-19, but that other lethal C-word. I was heartbroken. How much crueler could 2020 be? 

The universe seemed to be sending signs of encouragement. My second book, The American Café, published in 2011, received a new five-star review on Amazon. The book had won some awards when it first came out, yet nine years later readers were still discovering it. The review lifted my spirits. 

When I started writing the Sadie Walela Mystery Series twenty years ago, one of my goals while creating murder mysteries, was to passively educate the reader about Cherokee history, injustice, and discrimination. I wrote each of my four books with its own underlying message, one that hopefully didn’t interfere with the story, yet left the reader satisfied that justice had been served and they had learned something. 

I recently received an invitation to serve as the featured author for Amerind’s first virtual Happy Hour Book Club to talk about my last book, Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch. It will take place on Zoom on November 5. Amerind is a museum, art gallery, and research center for Native cultures and western art located in Dragoon, Arizona. (www.amerind.org

As I slowly deal with the trauma of this year’s pandemic and the added chaos an election year brings, I search for my voice and know there’s a story waiting for me to tell – one of truth and justice, a story that soothes the reader’s soul while they try to escape the daily grind. I’m not sure what that story is yet, but I know if I work hard enough, it will come. 


Sara Sue Hoklotubbe is the author of the award-winning Sadie Walela Mystery Series set in the Cherokee Nation where she grew up. She is the winner of a WILLA Literary Award, a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Best Mystery, a Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Award for Best Mystery, and the 2019 Trophy Award for Best Fiction Book by Oklahoma Writers’ Federation. Her books are: Deception on All Accounts, The American Café, Sinking Suspicions, and Betrayal at the Buffalo Ranch, all published by the University of Arizona Press. Sara and her husband currently live in Norman, Oklahoma. 


Sue Binder said...

Wonderful view of that Writer's Block, acknowledging the reality and your personal journey through the years with the distractions. I, too, had a lengthy block several years in fact. Sometimes I see that as wasted time, but other times, I know that I was processing and seeking my voice and message. I believe this article demonstrates that you are doing exactly that. I look forward to all your books, whether Sadie, shorts, or blogs. Just keep writing.

Helen DePrima said...

Great discussion of the writers' block issue. I wish I could blame specific circumstances, but my firth book has simply been hanging fire for nearly a year. Suddenly, in the midst of personal and public crises, the final chapters are coming almost faster than I can type. Sometimes, just have to wait for the tide to turn and then ride it for all it's worth.