Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with Regina McLemore, author of Cherokee Steel (Cherokee Passages, Book 3).
FQ: Thank you for the opportunity to chat with you today. I was interested in your biography in that your books began being published in 2020, but your first magazine article was published in 2011. How challenging was it to transition from writing articles to developing a book?
McLEMORE: It wasn’t that difficult because I have always written poetry and short stories as well as nonfiction articles.
FQ: In line with my previous question, I was shocked to learn you worked on your first book for twenty-five years before it was published. I completely related to your explanation in that you were working full time and would find those coveted moments in time to ‘get back to it’ and continue with the story. Was there ever a time after you set it aside reconnected that it was difficult to reconnect? When you found the flow again, did the story take a completely new turn and write for you?
McLEMORE: It was always on the back burner of my mind, and I knew that I wouldn’t give up on my dream. At one point I thought I had finished it and sent out query letters, but nothing came of them. After I retired, I took another look at it and realized that Amelia needed a back story to show how she had become the person she was. That’s when the book obtained a new beginning and a new direction. When I finally connected with a publisher and editors, they helped me realize that I was trying to cover too large a time span in one book and should divide it into multiple books. My writing improved because I learned to narrow my focus and add more details.
FQ: I have an inherent love in reading books about Native American history and culture. I’ve read several works about the Sioux Nation, but am not as familiar with Cherokee cultures and history. After reading Cherokee Steel, it provided a sense of honor, pride and tradition this nation of people embrace. What resonates most with you in the Cherokee culture and why?
McLEMORE: The Cherokees have always been fighters and survivors. They fought hard to stay in their own country but lost the battle. They fought against mistreatment, the weather, sickness, hunger, and other afflictions before and after the Trail of Tears. Some of them lost that battle to Death, but those who survived effectively reconstructed their homeland in a strange, new land. Even when their nation was taken away through statehood, they never gave up their dream of sovereignty. I feel a strong connection because my Cherokee ancestors survived the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and many other hardships while struggling to retain their tribal and cultural identity.
FQ: Back to your bio, you stated you were a full-time teacher/librarian. What subject(s) did you teach and what is one of your most memorable teaching moments?
McLEMORE: I mainly taught language arts; although I have been called on to teach American history and general science for a couple of years.
I once had a student tell me that “I will probably fail English in your class like I did last year.” I discovered that he was a good writer, and I encouraged him all I could. He turned in to an “A” student, and when he was older, he told younger students to “be nice to her because she is a good teacher.”
I always loved sharing my love of reading both as a teacher and as a librarian.
FQ: Congratulations on your Will Rogers Medallion Award. What did the process entail in submitting for the award and did you have a strong sense going into the opportunity you would win?
McLEMORE: My editor told me that my first book would qualify for the award because it was basically a western. He submitted it to the committee and said I should attend the awards ceremony that would be held later that year in Texas. I had high hopes that I would win first place, which would have been a gold medal, but I was still happy that I won a copper medallion for fourth place.
FQ: In line with my previous question, what was your reaction when you won and have you submitted for other awards since?
McLEMORE: I was both happy and slightly disappointed. I have won several awards in writing contests I have entered, with the latest being awards in the Ozark Writers Conference in October 2022. I am currently preparing to submit Cherokee Steel for a major state reading award.
FQ: I believe we are living in epic times...If you had to write a book about one of the current affairs that affects our nation today, what would the topic be and why would you choose this topic as your subject matter?
McLEMORE: I would write about the negative effect of technology on childhood development. I believe that children are losing their ability to use their imaginations and develop social connections because they are tied to screens at an early age.
FQ: I was thrilled to learn you were a librarian as well. With technology today, do you think libraries will eventually be ‘obsolete’ and our great grandchildren will have to rely on our stories to explain why they were (and are) so important?
McLEMORE: I don’t believe libraries will ever be obsolete, but they will have to adapt to the changing times. Audio books are becoming more and more popular. Attention spans have shortened so that a good story teller will have to be creative to catch and keep their listeners’ attention. We must make a determined effort to tell our stories to our children and grandchildren, even if they don’t seem interested. Like one of my students told me when she was an adult, “You thought I wasn’t listening, but I was.”
FQ: Reading truly is fundamental and the adventure of diving in and traveling across the pages and turning them, one-by-one also seems to be a lost art in a sense. Do you prefer to hold a book and engage in the art of turning the pages (or is your preference a reading tablet)? Please elaborate.
McLEMORE: Although I still hold and read a book occasionally and certainly scan a lot of books in research, I find myself turning to my reading tablet to read for entertainment. I have developed a habit of taking my tablet to bed with me at night and reading until I nod off. It’s also great that I can adjust the font to the size that I need at this time of my life.
FQ: There was an exchange between Granny and Bonita where Granny was giving Bonita a hard dose of reality: "...Oh, Granny, not ever’ body drinks. I never heard of Clay Stone or his Pa or his Grandpa bein’ drunk. Then there’s the preacher and his family." "And that’s why the Stones have somethin’ right now because they’re not drinkers. But how about that Ross Stone? He’s goin’ to deal his folks some misery someday because of his drinkin’. And that Michael has always been one to womanize, but his wife holds her head high like nothin’s wrong. ‘Course the Preacher and his have religion, and that’s been the savin’ of them, and I was hopin’ it might save Anderson, too, but I guess he’s just too weak to hold out when the temptation comes. But back to Ameilia Stone..." Essentially Granny was telling it like she saw it. How much of ‘Granny’ runs through your veins?
McLEMORE: “Granny” is based on stories my mother told me about her outspoken grandma who raised her when her mother died. I never got to meet Granny, but I know her because my mother painted such a vivid picture of her. I am sure that I have quite a bit of Granny in my veins and in my DNA.
FQ: Thank you for your time today. It’s been a joy to read Cherokee Steel and I look forward to your next title. Are you able to share a little about your next book?
McLEMORE: My next book is a nonfiction history book about the Cherokee Nation, beginning before the Trail of Tears and ending near the end of the Civil War. I am working to ensure that it is not just a book of dry facts but will focus on the people and events that have shaped what the Cherokee Nation is today. I have always believed that history is the story of the people who made it, and that is what I want to write.