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Author/Reader Discussions > A Red Woman Was Crying - Author Discussion

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message 1: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Next month, we'll be discussing A Red Woman Was Crying with author Don Mitchell.

Don has given us a total of 10 copies to give away (a mix of print - limited to US resident, and digital PDF / Kindle open to everyone).

In order to be considered, you must comment here or on the blog for a shot at winning one and secure a spot in the discussion that kicks off December 15th:


This giveaway will run through November 8th.

Winners will be announced here and via email (if you provide one) on November 9th.

Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC's blog (linked above), stating why you'd like to receive a copy of the book, what format you prefer, and where you reside remember, only US residents can win a paper copy!.


2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from December 15th through December 21st. Don has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him.

*If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion right here in this thread next month.

3 - If your goodreads profile is blocked (set on private), please leave me another way to contact you.

message 2: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments I'm looking forward to this.

Anybody who scores the print edition will get an inscribed one. People who score the PDF/Kindle copies will also find their suitably inscribed.

message 3: by Asli (last edited Nov 03, 2014 06:23AM) (new)

Asli Alpdogan | 4 comments I would really like to win a copy :) I agree to participate in the group read discussion
I prefer a kindle version, I reside in Turkey.

Lori, thanks for the reminder

message 4: by Rosanna (new)

Rosanna (rosannabell) | 125 comments I'd love to read this book and participate in the discussion. The subject matter of the book sounds absolutely fascinating! I live in the US and would prefer a print copy. Thanks!

message 5: by Dee (new)

Dee (austhokie) | 616 comments done - hopefully multiple ones didn't go through - my computer didn't like the capcha preview

message 6: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Dee, did you comment on the blog? Nothing came through. Why not just enter with a comment here?

message 7: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments I would like to read and participate in the discussion. A print copy would be great but if others need the print version I will be happy to read a kindle version. Thanks!

message 8: by Dee (new)

Dee (austhokie) | 616 comments I tried to comment on blog! The capcha didn't like me

message 9: by Dee (new)

Dee (austhokie) | 616 comments I live in the US, would be willing to participate in discussion - either kindle or print works - I read both equally

message 10: by El KRIM (new)

El KRIM (geekreadersc) | 2 comments i would really win a copy ;)

message 11: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
El Krim, then please read the instructions on how to get your comment counted. Edit your comment with the correct info!

message 12: by El KRIM (new)

El KRIM (geekreadersc) | 2 comments thank you Lori ,it's because I am not a U.S. citizen
but i'll download a digital copy

message 13: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
EL Krim, the giveaway is both print (for US only) and digital (open internationally).

message 14: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Bauer I would like this book because as a new member I would really like to get into the swing of participating in things like this. I have no preference as to format. I agree that if I am chosen, I will participate in the discussion from Dec 15-21.

Thank you!

message 15: by Nani1018 (new)

Nani1018 | 13 comments Sign me up! The book sounds exciting. I wholeheartedly ageee to participate in the discussion. I would prefer a print book, and I live in Georgia.

message 16: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments I hope you get one, Nani (I don't have anything to do with choosing the people). One story is set in Hilo!

message 17: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Congrats to everyone who commented! You win!! I'll be contacting you though PM here, so check your goodreads inbox.

Thanks for your interest in Don's book. It should make for great discussion.

message 18: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments A couple of weeks away, now. This is going to be fun.

I'll warn people in advance that I live in the Hawaiian Standard Time Zone, which is 2 hours earlier than the US West Coast, and 5 hours earlier than the US East Coast.

For my international readers, Hawaii time is GMT-10.

For example, if you're on the US East Coast and you post a question at 9 AM, it will be available to me at 4 AM my time. I'm not usually up at 4 AM although I usually am up between 5 AM and 6 AM.


message 19: by Dee (new)

Dee (austhokie) | 616 comments hi don - I'm supposed to be getting an ebook version of this, but haven't received - any idea when I can expect it? ;) (trying to plan out December reading)

message 20: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Wow, that's not good. I thought I'd sent out all the ebooks. I can do it immediately.

Please send your email address to and I'll send you a Kindle version immediately, or a PDF if you prefer that.


message 21: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Dee, looks like that was an oversight on my part when I sent all the info to Don. I'm really sorry!

I'll pass along your email address to him right now. Can you please let me know when you get the book?

message 22: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments I was reading some of your book this morning. It is so good and interesting! Thank you for sending me a copy.

message 23: by Dee (new)

Dee (austhokie) | 616 comments thanks Lori!

Don - I got the link - I can't access until tonight, but i'll let you know

message 24: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Alright everyone, are we ready??!!

Don joins us tomorrow for the discussion of his collection of Nagovisi stories A RED WOMAN WAS CRYING.

What's your initial reaction to the stories? What did you think of his writing style?

message 25: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Good morning everyone! And welcome Don!
It's great to have you here!

Don, let me kick this off by first asking about your time with the Nagovisi people. What was it like there, that very first day?

message 26: by Dee (new)

Dee (austhokie) | 616 comments hi Don - i'm about half way through A Red woman crying right now (damn work for getting in the way) ;)

what drew you to the study of anthropology? did you go into college planning on that, or how did you end up interested in the field

message 27: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments Good morning Don and so happy to share some time with you! When did you decide to write a book about the Nagovisi people? While you were there? When you came back home or did you you already have a desire to write this even before you went there?
Also I feel that the richness of your stories and characters were enriched by your living and experiencing life among these people. Do you agree with that?

message 28: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Lori wrote: "Good morning everyone! And welcome Don!
It's great to have you here!

Don, let me kick this off by first asking about your time with the Nagovisi people. What was it like there, that very first day?"

I had two "first days."

Unlike Elliot, I had a chance to make an initial visit, to find a village and ask if I could come and live there. At that time, I couldn't speak even the trade language (tok pisin) so I was dependent on an interpreter. The main feeling I remember was "I'm really going to do this thing," and then relief in being told it was OK for me to come, and seeing a village that seemed perfect in every way. Little did I know, as described in the story "I Don't Kill People Anymore," that the leader Mesiamo had steered me precisely to the village where he wanted me. As he says, "[The village is] the kind of place white people like." I didn't find out what he'd done for a couple of years, and when I did I was impressed.

The second first day was when I moved from the Catholic Mission at Sovele, where I stayed while my house was being built, finally into the house in the village. The feeling then was "now it begins." I knew that the research would be difficult but I did have the feeling "I can do this," and "I hope I don't make any bad mistakes at the beginning."

The village people (all 10 households) were very, very welcoming, and the kids were kids and that helped a lot, because kids everywhere are curious, funny, ready to do anything, unafraid, and so on. Kids broke a lot of ice.

I had better say that when I was doing fieldwork, I was married to another anthropologist (my ex-wife). Unlike Elliot, I wasn't alone (another reason why Elliot isn't me).

message 29: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Dee wrote: "hi Don - i'm about half way through A Red woman crying right now (damn work for getting in the way) ;)

what drew you to the study of anthropology? did you go into college planning on that, or how ..."

Hi Dee -- well, I got it to you a bit late.

If there's one thing that set me up to be an anthropologist it would be having grown up in a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual environment -- the small town of Hilo, Hawai'i. That other kids (and their parents) did things differently, believed different things, perhaps spoke a different language (or two or three) was an obvious fact of life and it set me up for the realization that human societies are incredibly diverse and that learning about them is satisfying. Then of course later on I came to realize that writing and talking about other cultures is an important mission.

Even so, I planned to study electrical engineering! That didn't last long, once I took my first anthropology course.

As an undergraduate I was much more interested in physical anthropology and evolutionary biology than in cultural anthropology, and that's what I went to graduate school to study. After about 3 years I realized that my true interest lay in a sub-field that at that time had no name, but does now: ecological anthropology. People and their cultures shape and are shaped by their environment. That's obvious, but it's not easy to dig down and figure out exactly what the connections are and how they work and that their origins are. I always was attracted to the study of change, and I knew (because Bougainville wasn't a blank spot on the map) that the Nagovisi were shifting from growing almost all their own food (being subsistence agriculturists) to growing the crop cacao (cocoa) and selling it (being cash croppers). Obviously this would have huge implications, because growing a cash crop and selling it on the world market and then using that money to buy imported food is bound to change things dramatically. And I wanted to study that.

message 30: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Rhonda wrote: "Good morning Don and so happy to share some time with you! When did you decide to write a book about the Nagovisi people? While you were there? When you came back home or did you you already have ..."

Hi Rhonda.

Here's something amusing, from my field notes (June 9, 1969): "I think I could write a novel about this place that would be good. This conflict of cultures s**t always makes for good novels."

I didn't get started writing fiction about the Nagovisi until the mid-1990s, about a quarter-century later.

So: I was thinking about it in 1969 (and did nothing whatsoever). I wrote some poems about Nagovisi in the mid-90s (and got them published). I wrote some creative non-fiction about them (also published) and then in 1997 I wrote the first version of "Fireflies Killed Her" (which is very different from the version in the book) and then in 2001, the first version of "Dog Fights," also very different from what's in the book.

I was still a full-time professor and running a small business on the side, and so I didn't think I could start a major project like a novel until I retired, which happened in 2006.

In that year I started planning the novel called "News of Elsewhere," which by 2011 had grown into a 300,000 word monster that I couldn't see how to cut down. And that was only Part I. News of Elsewhere was told in multiple voices. All the characters in A Red Woman Was Crying were there, plus several others. Elliot had his own voice.

In 2013 I got the idea to take a few of the characters, and rewrite the novel material to make a set of linked stories. Each story in Red Woman is drawn from several chapters in the novel, and extensively rewritten. And I got the idea that the story collection would be more interesting if Elliot never got a voice (except in the last chapter).

I'll go back to News of Elsewhere sometime. I'm going to work on another one first.

And as for the enrichment because of my having lived there -- absolutely. It's even more than enrichment, I'd say. Without having lived there, I wouldn't -- couldn't -- have done it. I will say that more than a few writers appear to believe they can write about "tribal cultures" with no first-hand knowledge, probably not even having doing any reading in the anthropological literature, and that's an approach that I reject absolutely. It never works. The indigenous people are rendered either romantically, or as crude stereotypes, and it's obvious to any anthropologist that the novelist has no clue about the culture she (or he) is writing about. The people are either "just like us," or as if they came from another planet, mysterious and impossible to understand.

Or the people are basically "set dressings" so that the real story, which centers on the outsiders who have gone to this strange place, can proceed.

I reject that way of writing, completely.

I wrote about that on my blog here:

and here:

My years among the Nagovisi gave me enough of an understanding of how the world looked to them that I was willing to risk writing from their point of view. In the field, and then later, I learned how they had thought of me, the outsider who came to them, and I felt sure I could translate that to fiction.

My idea was that in having them talk about their relationship with Elliot, they would have to talk about their own culture and their own kin and their own issues, because having this stranger living with them would force them to think about themselves as well as about him. Anybody in the US who's had an exchange student living with them, for example, immediately realizes that some important things about US culture need explaining and that in explaining, we have to think carefully about ourselves and our own culture.

So my Nagovisi characters are no different. Elliot's trying to find out about them, and they're trying to find out about him and his world. It's not one-way. Each is the other's other, and I could never have understood how that really plays itself out without having lived there for years.

There's a lot more I can say about this, but I think not in this very long response.

message 31: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments I think your comments and answers to our questions are very interesting. In my mind when I finished the book I was hoping that you would write more stories someday about this very subject.It really captivated me and I found myself wanting to know even more about the Nagovisi people and the land they inhabit.

message 32: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments The betel nut is an important part of the social interaction. Is it offensive then to turn down partaking of this? Does the nut have a welcoming flavor or something that is an acquired taste? Does this grow in plentiful supply?

message 33: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Rhonda --

I'm glad you'd like to know more. I'm guessing that you wouldn't be particularly interested in my academic publications (but if you are, let me know). I'll see what I can do about some visual material, like video. I have some video (from 2001) online but because it was for a particular purpose, it's private. I'll have a look at it today and if it seems to me that it's OK to make it public, I will.

As for betel -- the taste resembles very strong mouthwash, at first, and then ramps down. Very astringent, and it produces copious amounts of bright red saliva.

In a social context, using betel resembles the way it was when many people smoked cigarettes. You'd pull out a smoke and offer one to your company, and the two of you would smoke. Or it would be like "let's grab a cup of coffee."

If you're a Nagovisi or other indigenous person it's not offensive to turn it down. You can just say you're not in the mood. If you're an outsider, it can be -- even though, during the time period of the stories, a Nagovisi wouldn't let on that he or she was offended by the Australian who wouldn't chew.

There are several steps -- opening the nut, getting the pepper catkin, dipping into the lime (lime powder, not the citrus).

Betel's effect is like a very strong cup of coffee on an empty stomach. Woo hoo! The effect lasts for maybe 15 minutes. It's an upper, an appetite suppressor, and it's great fun to chew and spit. True, not every outsider likes it, but I loved it.

The Australian administrative officers didn't use it -- too "native" for them. I have planted a half-dozen betel palms here in Hawai'i, some of which are bearing now.

It's not always in plentiful supply. It's not seasonal, but there can be times when nobody's palms are bearing. And the palms are individually-owned, and taking from someone else's would be theft. So as Lalaga does in "Namesakes," sometimes if you want to chew you have to go hunting around the village to see who's got any.

message 34: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments I was reading your comment about your house being built. Who built the house for you and do you know what happened to it when you left for good? Did your home have a cookhouse? What are the homes made of?

message 35: by Nani1018 (new)

Nani1018 | 13 comments Hey Don! I'm so excited to be a part of this conversation. Like Rhonda, I was wanting to learn more about the Nagovisi people. What I love about this whole story is that I am reminded of how much we have in common with people of other cultures rather than our differences. Of course our customs and languages could be drastically different, but those basic human feelings of love, fear, resentment, distrust, and curiosity are universal. I was a history major, and that's one thing that I loved about studying the past.

I loved that you inserted legends to frame the story. As a local girl from Hilo now living in Georgia, I'm trying to pass on our legends and customs to my daughter. What made you decide to insert those legends between the stories? I thought it was an interesting choice of organization.

Okay, baby is waking up from her nap. More questions/comments from me to come!

message 36: by Don (last edited Dec 15, 2014 08:17PM) (new)

Don | 52 comments Not surprisingly, the "contractor" for my house was the leader Mesiamo. It took about a month to build. I paid for labor and materials and of course a lump sum for the boss man.

After my first field trip (1969-70) the house stayed vacant, but after my second field trip (1971-73) it was eventually pulled down because someone wanted to build in that spot. By then it wasn't in very good shape, except for the columns and flooring, which were hardwood. If a house lasts 8 or 10 years, that's a long time.

Houses were built with wooden frames and thatched with sago palm leaves. The thatching was a good 6" thick, so it was completely waterproof. The walls were woven sago leaves, quite tight.

Of course throughout the book I took "real" incidents and built on them. In "Namesakes," the conversation that Lalaga and Elliot had about the "false cookhouse" referred to an actual structure that I (and the man I based the Siro character on) built. It wasn't really a cookhouse (which is why everybody called it the "false cookhouse") because cookhouses are always separate and always built on the ground rather than on posts. But it did have a fire area, benches, and chickens and other animals wandered in and out. In "I Don't Kill People Anymore," Mesiamo gives a good description of the false cookhouse also.

I have located some video and I'm going to need to make a couple of edits and then I can post a link, most likely tomorrow. That way, you and everybody else can see what the village looked like in 2001.

message 37: by Don (last edited Dec 21, 2014 08:09PM) (new)

Don | 52 comments Nani1018 wrote: "Hey Don! I'm so excited to be a part of this conversation. Like Rhonda, I was wanting to learn more about the Nagovisi people. What I love about this whole story is that I am reminded of how much w..."

Aloha Nani! I was walking on Kaumana Drive twice yesterday (doing a 20 miler) and thought of you, but I didn't know exactly which house was your family house.

What you say about customs and languages and the basic emotions is certainly true. And that's one of the things I tried hard to get across: sure, the Nagovisi culture was very different from US culture of the late sixties, but the Nagovisi understood Elliot's emotional states just as he understood theirs. And there was common ground about children.

I was working with the legends in the unfinished novel. There, because I was giving the reader Elliot's field notes and journal (fictionalized) I also stuck the legends in from time to time. But when I started on the story collection, I decided it would be cool to begin with the origin myth of the Red Woman and Sekentu the snake. It's also true that ever since I heard that myth, in 1969, the very first sentence, A red woman was crying, stuck with me so much so that I used it for the title. I mean -- it's just so wonderful that we never learn why Koso was red, or really what a "red woman" might be; the whole red thing just disappears from the myth. As you know, that's what myths and legends are so often like.

I also wanted to reader to see unaltered (but translated) Nagovisi speech patterns. In telling stories, Nagovisi very commonly use triplicates ("she ran, she ran, she ran") but when writing fiction and rendering speech, this really doesn't work. And then there's the matter-of-fact nature of the legends, some quite graphic ("Crocodile Kills His Father") but also commonly with no explanation or amplification at all, such as that Sipita gave birth to the first crocodile. That's just taken for granted, and the story goes on from there.

I also chose the myths so that a reader might, if she felt like it, use them as a kind of window into Nagovisi culture. For example, Nagovisi women are powerful (among other things, they own the land; upon marriage, the man comes to the woman's people) and yet in the myths the dangerous spirits are female. Why are the clan ancestresses dangerous? Why was Poreu killing her descendents. Why are dangerous female spirits easy to trick?

message 38: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Nani1018 asked about the myths/legends.

If you want to hear one of the myths ("Manape's Short Snake") you can go here:

and hear a man named Otoloi telling it. Otoloi was a fabulous story teller and orator, and even if you don't understand anything he's saying, you can tell how good he was. The recording is muddy at first, but gets better.

Another one from the book ("How Women Got Their Decorations") is also available:

this is a raw recording and has me and Pita Tevu talking about what he's going to do (at one point in the beginning I'm saying he shouldn't avoid the triplicates just because it's being recorded, and at another point he gets tangled up and we have to talk about whether to begin again or not, and at the end Jill Nash is making certain that she has the right name for the decorations).

This is the story, for those who haven't read the book, about when women had penises. Or something very like penises, until men cut them off. Or at least one woman did. Better read it!

message 39: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Don, I was surprise and then not surprised by how strangely, perversely sexual most of the legends were. And incredibly odd, too. How do you find most readers react to them?

How about you guys, what did you think of them?

message 40: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments I can't think of anybody who's had much to say about them, actually. A reader who doesn't read the preface might think that I invented them.

I did have that unbelievably lame (and stupid) Kirkus Indie review in which the reviewer talked only about the myths (about 10% of the book) and not at all about the stories (90% of the book). So they had an effect on whoever the reviewer was -- a seriously bad effect, which was of course not my intention.

message 41: by Rosanna (new)

Rosanna (rosannabell) | 125 comments Hi Don,

I'm really enjoying reading about the Nagovisi people and culture, and the racial and political tensions of the time period. It's fascinating!

I noticed that a lot of the myths reference "cutting things". For example, Sekentu was killed by being cut into pieces, Uiawa was cut into pieces by his father, the thing that emerged from the woman was also cut into pieces and transformed into the decorations women wear. I was wondering if you had an opinion as to why you thought this theme reoccurs frequently in Nagovisi mythology?

I was also curious if any of the Nagovisi people have read your novel and what their thoughts were?

Also what did you find was the biggest challenge you faced when living among the Nagovisi people?

I have a lot more questions, but I'll start with those. Thanks so much for your time!

message 42: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Hi Rosanna --

I don't think the cutting business means too much. The reason it probably seems strange to people who don't live in the tropical forests is that most of us don't cut things up outside of the kitchen. But in the forest, in the gardens, in the village -- everybody, even little children, has a knife of some sort at hand, and knows how to use it.

Nevertheless, your question is an interesting one. It may well be that "cutting things into pieces" is what's important, rather than the cutting itself.

I have to admit I can't do better than that.

I made PDFs and Kindles available to Nagovisi who can get onto the web (there are probably 100 of them). A handful have read it, but only one of them has made extensive comments -- a man named Simon Kenema, who blurbed it. Simon will probably be reading this and I'm sure he's tired of reading this about himself (because he is indeed absolutely his own man and doesn't need defining by me and my book) but to me it's really wonderful that Simon is Mesiamo's grandson, that he will be the first Nagovisi PhD, and that his PhD will be in Anthropology. He's finishing up at St Andrews University, in Scotland.

Answering the question you didn't ask, I think that if the young generation had a problem with the book, I would have heard about it by now. Via Facebook, I invited them to this discussion, and I'm hoping that some of them will show up.

I suppose the biggest challenge I faced was learning their language, which is very difficult for English speakers. It has very complex tenses, 63 (yes, you read that right) pronouns, a lot of the action happens inside the verb, and so on. Lucky for me, I quickly became fluent in the "trade language" called tok pisin and that meant that we could communicate. You'll notice that I made Elliot fluent -- more fluent than I was -- so that I didn't have to spend time dealing with misunderstandings or failures of communication, unless I wanted to. There's a lot about language in the story "Dog Fights."

After I was able to communicate, the next big challenge was learning the culture, particularly about land ownership. And then doing the garden studies and making maps.

It might not seem like a challenge, but finding ways to dissociate myself from the Australian colonial officials, the foreign businessmen (often Chinese), and the missionaries was difficult. At the beginning, I was very much aware that to the Nagovisi, I was simply a somewhat different kind of white outsider. But to the other whites, I was an American who, they thought, should talk to them and hang out with them whenever possible, instead of living in that village in the way back.

The way the Nagovisi saw me changed over time, of course. Siuwako talks about this in "My White Man," and Siro talks about it and shows how it goes in "Dog Fights." Siro is very much aware that Elliot is trying not to take the "white" side (here, "white" means colonial officials and missionaries) but Siro knows that Elliot needs to stay on their good side, at least sort of, because he needs what they have. What Siro describes in fiction is pretty much the way I felt.

Another challenge (one that every anthropologist has) is described by Lalaga, Siro, Mesiamo, and Siuwako -- the way an anthropologist must not interfere in village affairs, must not take sides, tries to hide what he knows (in order to get fresh information), has to keep secrets, sometimes has to pretend that he can't do something that he certainly can do, and so on. In real life, I often found that frustrating. For the sake of my research, I often couldn't be myself (although this was far less true with the handful of Nagovisi I was very close to).

In "Namesakes," the character Lalaga (and the real Lalaga, on whom I based the character) completely understands Elliot's various dilemmas, and tries to help him out, but without being seen to be helping him out.

Finally, I won't pretend that I didn't miss being in the US in the late sixties. That was a different kind of challenge. The San Francisco scene, Woodstock, the war-related upheavals -- I missed out on all that, and was very much aware that I was missing out on it. I got news by shortwave radio, magazines took 6 weeks or 2 months to arrive (letters were a little faster) and so there was a perpetual feeling of being "out of it" with regard to what was happening in the US.

I had better point out here that the character Anna is entirely fictional! I invented her and used her so that Elliot would have very strong emotional ties to the US, and that things could happen that surprise him and about which he could learn nothing and do nothing. And I wanted Elliot to have secrets that Nagovisi could extract from him. And, I thought, he would have a hard time ever explaining the various Anna difficulties to Nagovisi. But he didn't. You'll see that Mesiamo and Siuwako were surprised by Elliot's secrets, but they quickly understood what was important about them.

I'm like any other writer. My characters often surprise me.

message 43: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda Farrell (vanaef) | 46 comments I really love kids and watching them enjoy life. Is there any special kind of game or interaction that the village children wanted you to do with them? Since they don't have all the amenities and electronics that the kids today have I bet they were creative in their play.

message 44: by Kristina (new)

Kristina Bauer Good evening everyone and Don,

I think I was most fascinated about the story of Elliot's "grandfather," where he discusses how his wife was killed by the plane. Was this based on a true story? Did you have a similar discussion with someone from the Nagovisi people?

message 45: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Rhonda wrote: "I really love kids and watching them enjoy life. Is there any special kind of game or interaction that the village children wanted you to do with them? Since they don't have all the amenities and e..."

They played with natural objects (throwing, kicking, rolling) but they also made trucks and cars and scooted them around the village. They played in the river a lot, and when it was high (but not dangerously high) they would make banana-trunk rafts and head downstream.

My mother used to send me balloons and other small toys, and these were very popular. Once she sent some balsa wood gliders and the older kids went completely nuts. Generally they were all excellent sharers, but when the first glider came one boy grabbed it and ran off into the forest because he was overcome by desire. Later, people made fun of him and he apologized -- it was bad behavior, what he did.

The thing about kids (of all ages) that was interesting was that the Nagovisi believed that if you were able to do something, you were permitted to do it, with only a few exceptions (sex being one of them). So if a child wanted to smoke and could master smoking, that child smoked if he or she had tobacco. Same for chewing betel, working with sharp knives and axes, building and managing fires, and so on.

There was a lot of imitation of adult life -- building play houses and that sort of thing. All the children older than 6 went to school at the mission, though. It wasn't as though all the kids just played in the village all the time. In a couple of stories ("Namesakes" and "I Don't Kill People Anymore") the narrators comment on the schoolchildren going and coming.

message 46: by Don (last edited Dec 15, 2014 08:07PM) (new)

Don | 52 comments Kristina wrote: "Good evening everyone and Don,

I think I was most fascinated about the story of Elliot's "grandfather," where he discusses how his wife was killed by the plane. Was this based on a true story? Did..."

Hello Kristina.

Of all the stories, I think this one has the smallest "real" background.

There was a man named Polanara and indeed I called him Grandfather, as Elliot does, because I had established a namesake relationship with his grandson. And once he did take me to his WWII taro garden so I could survey it.

And it was said that during the early stages of the American attack, a woman was killed. Somewhere. In my field notes I had no information beyond that -- some person, somewhere. When I returned to Nagovisi in 2001, having already written the first version of the story, I asked about this. Even Lalaga, whose mind was perhaps the greatest repository of Nagovisi history and culture, could only remember that yes, something like that had happened.

Now, everything that Polanara describes about what happened after he got back to the village reflects Nagovisi culture accurately. For example, people killed by violence were cremated during the day, not the night. People should have had a ritual meal before going to get the wood, but there was no time. The leader Mesiamo behaved as a leader like him would have -- asking questions, looking after people, getting things organized.

As for Polanara's question -- were the American pilots black men or white men -- I talked to people who did believe that the Americans who bombed them and who dropped "poison" (it was diesel fuel) on their gardens were black men. I never got a good explanation from any of them as to why they believed that, but I think what I had Polanara believe is reasonable, for an old person. The young men and women never believed anything like that.

The story, by the way, first came to life in 1995 as a poem ("Fireflies") then by 1997 had morphed into a short story ("John Brown's Body") that won a prize, and finally it became what you read. "John Brown's Body" was very different -- 3rd person, with Polanara having a different question to ask of Elliot. And Elliot broke his anthropological ethical rules by inventing a story -- a lie, really -- to tell Polanara to make him feel better. He tried to invent a spirit world that was backing the Americans, and to connect the demons of that world with Nagovisi demons. I was pleased with that story, but the one in the book is I think better.

message 47: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Here's a link to a video that I made for my friend Ann Pancake (a wonderful writer, whose work influenced me strongly). Ann was helping me with the novel that I never finished (News of Elsewhere, aka NOE), and she also gave me a lot of help with A Red Woman Was Crying.

At one point in 2011, having read about Nagovisi and all my characters, she asked if I had any video she could see. I did, although it's not the best quality -- I shot it in 2001, standard def. I quickly edited something for her, and this is what I'm linking you to.

The video was never meant to be public. It still has a password -- you'll need to use it: "nagovisi."

You'll hear me as a voice-over, explaining who the people are and what they're doing, and how some of the scenes relate to NOE.

I'm sure you'll understand that although I used Nebula as a "model" for the Siuwako character, my friend Nebula certainly isn't Siuwako. The same is true for Siro, modeled after her husband Tevu.

In 2001, Nagovisi had only just emerged from a terrible war that had lasted 10 years. The infrastructure was in rough shape, consumer goods in short supply, and so on.

When the (unidentified) narrator of the last story, "Crocodile," is talking about returning to Nagovisi -- this is what he's talking about.

I'll encourage you again to explore Ann Pancake's work. She has two books out ("Given Ground," a story collection, and "Strange As This Weather Has Been," a great novel set in West Virginia. Ann's newest story collection ("My and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley") is due out early in 2015.

And that's it from Hilo for today. I'll see you folks early tomorrow morning, my time.

message 48: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10089 comments Mod
Hey everyone!

Things got kind of quiet today so I'm stirring you all back awake!!


Talk to me about the writing process. I know this book came out of what was NOE, so how did you go about selecting the stories, cutting them down, and organizing them here?

message 49: by Don (new)

Don | 52 comments Lori -- I'll have to answer you later. The downside of Hilo, out here in the middle of the Pacific and worse yet, on an outer island, is that sometimes I have to go to the other side of the island unexpectedly, to get something. As in today. As in now.

message 50: by Lori (last edited Dec 16, 2014 02:01PM) (new)

Lori | 35 comments Nani1018 wrote: "Hey Don! I'm so excited to be a part of this conversation. Like Rhonda, I was wanting to learn more about the Nagovisi people. What I love about this whole story is that I am reminded of how much w..."

Hi everyone. I echo Nani's sentiments regarding how the stories depict what we have in common. What I found fascinating is how concerned the Nagovisi are with what others think of them (both Elliot and their own kind) and how much thought and effort they put into modulating their talk and behavior to achieve the desired impression, such as "slowing down" the conversation, hiding their true feelings, asking leading questions, etc. It makes me think of how Americans act in business situations to get people to do what they want or to buy their products.

Don, did this aspect of their behavior surprise you and did it take you a while to realize what they were doing or did you get it fairly quickly?

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