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**guest post from Author D. G. Driver
The Legends of the Juniper Sawfeather Novels
It’s Native American Heritage Month (or American Indian Heritage Month, as preferred by some). I’ve written a blog post for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day blog before about why I wrote the Juniper Sawfeather series with a teen girl who is half American Indian as the protagonist. This contemporary series centers on this headstrong girl who wants to stand apart from her well-known environmental activist parents, but it is also fantasy series about mythical creatures hidden in our natural world.
When I wrote book 1, Cry of the Sea, it was not with the intention of writing a trilogy, nor was it with the purpose of tying the book to American Indian mythology. The concept was born out of commemorative news coverage of a massive oil spill. I wondered “what if a mermaid washed up on the beach during an oil spill? What would happen?” Based on that premise, I wrote the novel, and it was finally published in 2014, winning awards for its environmental theme.
So, the series did not begin as one infused with mythology. There is a myth in it. In chapter 7 Juniper’s full-blooded American Indian father, who loves to regale her with old legends, tell a story about “The Singing Boat” in which whale hunters are being attacked by a killer whale. The boat sings and calms the whale until the whalers are safe. He surmises that maybe a mermaid was under the boat singing to the animals. Having written this book so long ago, I’ve lost track of the original source material for this myth, but I know it came in part from a real myth where the god Glooskap sings to an orca to pacify it. I fictionalized it to fit my novel. Peter Sawfeather also tells his daughter that the spirits of fallen warriors become killer whales, and that is a very popular myth amongst Northwest Pacific tribes. This second myth becomes extremely important again later in the series.
After Cry of the Sea was released, reviewers, readers and my publisher all began asking me if there would be a sequel. I hadn’t planned on that, and it took some effort to figure out where I wanted the story to go. I decided each book should focus on an environmental crisis and feature a new mythological creature. Cry of the Sea hints at the end that they are headed to a logging protest, so I set Whisper of the Woods in the forest. But what fantastical creature should I use? Elves? Fairies? Tree sprites?
In between publishing Cry of the Sea and writing Whisper of the Woods the We Need Diverse Books and #ownvoices movement became a really big deal. People were crying out for more books with diverse characters, and it was becoming clear that if a white author were going to write about a person of a different racial background, she better get it right. I put a lot more effort into my research for books 2 and 3 to make them more authentic. This included the mythology. I didn’t want to create my own mythology to fit the book; I wanted to fit the book to real mythology.
I found a wonderful website that has the mission of collecting the myths and legends of American Indians and sorting them by tribal nation, region, and subject matter. I was able to look up myths about forests, trees, sprites, dryads, and so on. I wound up finding two amazing myths about an ancient tree with a spirit inside it. Both are featured in Whisper of the Woods. One of them explains the tree spirit that traps Juniper 170 feet up in its branches. That same myth, “The Warriors and the Sun”, also wound up being the key to tying the whole trilogy together. This myth has 5 warriors going on a mission to convince the sun to grant them wishes. I adapted it to only three warriors. In this myth – I kid you not – one man is turned into a merman, one is turned into a tree, and the third is turned into a stone. When I first found this myth I ran around my house like a maniac, so overjoyed to find exactly what I needed.
Now I had to figure out the plot of the final book of this trilogy, Echo of the Cliffs. The remaining brother, the one who had been turned to stone, needed to be found. But there were a lot of other plot points in the story that needed to be explained as well. I wanted to find the perfect location for the story and researched giant stones and rocks in the region. I came across the Fuca de Pillar near Cape Flattery, which is the farthest west point of the continuous United States and just so happens to be on the Makah Reservation. Yes! I read mythology from the region, learning about the Wah-tee-tahs that are small people that live in the rocks and the Basket Woman who kidnaps small children. There is also the Thunderbird and Killer Whale whose epic fight caused a great flood. I created a Makah married couple that love to tell stories to relate these tales to Juniper and her parents. The myth that really got me, however, was one I discovered about a girl who was so distraught at the death of her lover that she ran and jumped off a cliff, turning into a waterfall on the way down.
That myth was the clincher! The one that pulled the ending of my story together. You’ll have to read it all to know why. There was one more thing I needed right toward the end. I never wanted to have a stereotypical shaman in this series that just happened to know magic, and yet I had a scene where something like that happened. Even in the final drafts it was still bothering me. I went searching again, and I found one more gem – a myth about the sun and the moon, twin gods who have the power to transform things and people. I truly felt the spirits of the American Indian mythological world were blessing me.
The entire series is complete and available now, but I still had more writing to do about Juniper and her mythical world. Early this year my publisher asked me to write a prequel to the series for a short story collection called Kick Ass Girls of Fire and Ice YA Books. (The ebook is intended to be a sampler of the authors with this publisher and is free.) Writing this story seemed an impossible task at first. Juniper discovers magical creatures (mermaids) for the first time in Cry of the Sea. What could this earlier story be about? I went back to researching, needing an environmental cause and a mythical creature.
Yep, a gopher wound up being the key. I wanted it to be a groundhog because we have them near my home along the sides of the roads, and they are really cute. According to American Indian mythology, however, gophers were the correct animal to use. They symbolize a warning, an omen that something bad is happening. In my novelette “Beneath the Wildflowers” Juniper sees a gopher every morning in the fenced off field beside her high school and feels like it is trying to tell her something. She soon finds out that field is going to be torn up and turned into a new basketball stadium. Would you believe it that gophers in Washington are endangered as are a few types of butterflies? And would you also believe there is a myth from that region about wicked Little People that live underground? There is.
The Legends of the Juniper Sawfeather Novels | The Next Chapter
This summer I was asked to write another short story about Juniper for inclusion in a children’s Christmas anthology called Winter Wonder. Based on the timeline for the book series, I had to place this story between Cry of the Sea and Whisper of the Woods. I did not introduce any new mythology to this story. Instead, I chose to focus on the unique life she leads by giving her one busy Christmas Eve day where she goes from visiting her grandfather on the reservation, to her mother’s parents in an upscale suburban neighborhood, and then back to the logging protest site for the evening. This novelette focuses more on who Juniper is, her family, and her background – with just a hint toward the magic that readers will find if they go on to read the next novel.
I think I’m done writing Juniper Sawfeather stories at this point, but I do love her and her magical world. I hope you will too. My fascination with American Indian mythology remains intense, and I don’t think I will stop learning about it anytime soon.
You can learn more about The Juniper Sawfeather Novels, read excerpts and reviews at www.dgdriver.com
Find all of D. G. Driver’s books at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/D.-G.-Driver/e/B00J70QN64
Wonderful resource for American Indian culture, language, and mythology: http://www.native-languages.org/
- G. Driver is a multi-award winning author of middle grade and young adult novels. She originally hails from Southern California but now lives near Nashville and is a PAL member of SCBWI Midsouth. She loves writing about diverse characters dealing with social or environmental issues. Along with The Juniper Sawfeather Novels, she has written the award-winning novel about autism and bullying, No One Needed to Know, a sweet novella about the importance of hand-written letters called Passing Notes, and has stories published in several anthologies. In addition to writing, Driver is a teacher in an inclusive early childhood development program and enjoys performing in local theater productions with one or more members of her talented family. Driver is available for school presentations or to speak at special events.