HISTORICAL FICTION ~ RESEARCH
When I realized that KEECHIE was evolving from a simple experiment in writing in dialect to a full-length novel, I wanted the history of the time period to be as accurate as I could make it.
The 60-year-old Indian woman,Keechie, lived in the 1950's south, and was taught to speak the "white man's language" by her black father. He was born of parents who were emancipated slaves. I was a teenager in that time period and was familiar with the vernacular of the black people, which was only slightly different from the way the local white people spoke. Very little research was required for that part of the writing, and little would have been available if I had tried.
But I needed to describe Keechie's heritage, her ancestors, her religion and burial customs. That required research, and it was during this information search that it became obvious that I had another story to write—that of Keechie's Muscogulgean-speaking ancestors. It was these people who, in the 16th century, had introduced an agricultural lifestyle to the already-present, indigenous population of hunter/gatherers!
Primarily it was their maize, or corn, that changed history wherever they settled. They had learned of this wonderful crop in their ancient homeland in northeastern Mexico. It had been created—genetically altered—by the Aztecs, who through selective breeding, turned a local grass (teosinte) into what we now call corn.
Maize, or in the Aztec language - Centli, was so important to them that it was considered one of their their gods, and of equal importance as their Sun God.
In the sequel (or probably more appropriately, pre-quel) to KEECHIE, I went back in time to these early immigrants who were Keechie's ancestors. This actually made an interesting reversal of book order, having the earlier story told after the later one.
This may heave the added benefit of causing the reader of either of the books to want to read (purchase!) the other.
One can only hope...