I typically reserve my blog for historical blurbs and promotional information. Today I’d like to share with you a starkly negative review I recently received on Amazon for my novel, Ceding Contempt. I’d like to share this with you for two reasons. First, I do not wish to hide from my criticism. I may not like it, but I seek to accept it and learn from it. Second, I wish to better define for readers what my work is and what it is not. This review and my response to it, will give you a better idea of what my work represents and whether or not it is for you. If you have already read my work, I encourage you to leave a review of your own, positive or negative. This will help me know my audience and how I can better accommodate that audience.
Two Star Rating by History Reader, March 29, 2017
Not a convincing portrayal of the negotiations nor of FB Meyer
I had not planned to review this book. I don’t like raining on any one’s parade, especially someone trying to make a living at historical fiction, but while the author presents many of the unconscionable and /or unethical efforts on the part of traders, half bloods, the state of MN, and a US treaty commission to buy Dakota lands, the book’s plot did not show the full complexity of the history of the treaty negotiations and often misleads those not familiar with the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. The line of reasoning struck me as simplistic.
The US held most of the cards in the negotiation of these treaties. The Dakota, with lands that they had depleted by an unsustainable harvest of trapping and hunting for food and trade, were on the edge of starvation and had been there, off and on, for decades. They had little chance with, or knowledge of the complexity and sophistication of treaty/legislative deliberations except to walk out on any treaty with which they felt uncomfortable with. I wish that they had for their own sake but instead, they agreed, willingly, to the price offered. The young Mdewakantons at Mendota failed to shoot Little Crow and other chieftains who signed the treaty, as they earlier threatened to do, but apparently did not later hold him partly responsible for their plight in 1862. While the author states that hunger played part in the acceptance of the treaty by the Dakota, responsibility for the plight of the Dakota is not shared along with the Office of Indian Afffairs/Department of the Interior and others.
In addition, a 19th C Frank Blackwell Meyer is imbued with a 21st C mindset, stating thoughts and opinions that would probably not be said or even conceived by even the most sympathetic in the 19th C. It sounded odd like reruns of “Dr Quinn Medicine Woman”. No one at that time would have been concerned with destruction of this “vibrant culture” (I cannot recall Mr Mustful’s exact words but something to this effect) much less express it in these terms. This Meyer was a contemporary 21st C person sent back in time via a time warp.
Its also odd that the author’s FB Meyer showed little thought about his career or purpose for coming out to paint and draw natives “in the wild”, as it was often done by other painters of the 19th C. His career as a history/ genre painter rests on this experience on the frontier and yet he is rapidly drawn into the politics and undercurrents of the treaty by near strangers who somehow feel free to “bare their souls” to him, including a Dakota boy who is 8 or so, going on 65 years of age. Young, aspiring FB Meyer seemed to forget why he was there. It just was not convincing.
I hope that Mr Mustful will redouble his efforts to tell the whole story in future novels with more convincing period characters.
My response, posted April 4, 2017
Hello, History Reader! Thank you so much for your thorough review of my novel, Ceding Contempt. While your observations are articulate and accurate I’d like readers to know that we do not share the same goals through this work. As stated in my author’s note, “This is not the conclusive source on these historical events.” It is meant as an introduction through the use of fiction. You are absolutely right that Mayer expresses thoughts and opinions that would not be said or even conceived by a person in the 19th Century. He is me. He is expressing my own thoughts and opinions. Again, as stated in my author’s note “I am not without bias. I come to you with my own set of experiences and perspectives, something from which I cannot divorce myself. But I have, to the best of my knowledge and ability, written something that is informative and entertaining. It is a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, utilizing elements of both.”
These prefaces do not exempt me from giving the reader an appropriate and necessary level of historical integrity, but it should temper the expectations of readers seeking historical fact through this one source. Rather, my intention was to create an intriguing story that is relatable and just captivating enough to get people thinking. I wish to introduce the history while giving the reader the tools to seek out the truth for themselves. Furthermore, I intentionally sought to express modern nomenclature in order to make the novel more palatable to younger readers in the education system, especially in regard to the sensitivity of these issues. I did not wish to detract in any way from historical references by using language or terms that are now considered antiquated or unfamiliar. Unfortunately, this does, in some ways, have the effect of “sparing us from history.”
Regarding the situation of the Dakota at that time, again you are accurate in your description though some might argue. However, as stated previously, we have different goals. The weeks spent at Traverse des Sioux, as far as I can tell, were a time of celebration, pride, and ostentatiousness for the Dakota people. It was a fleeting opportunity for the Dakota to show off their traditional ways of life. In his journal, Mayer was particularly observant and fond of these displays of traditional Dakota living. I decided, through my writing, to express the side of the Dakota that was witnessed at Traverse des Sioux, rather than the poor and wretched conditions and influences that had steadily destroyed and collapsed the Dakota people and their ability/tools for treaty negotiation. However, through Mayer’s (implausible) interviews I still sought to show the reality of the Native condition.
You are right, this is not a period history despite being set in 1851. It is my hope that it is an entertaining though fictionalized story that introduces readers to the people and places involved in this history. I also hope to elicit in readers the same thoughts and emotions and stark revelations through reading this novel as I had in researching it.
I will continue my work. I am currently writing a novel about the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. I will also be attending graduate school to study for my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This will provide me with more tools and knowledge to improve upon my writing and hopefully create a great period history someday.
Thanks again for reading my novel and for your thoughtful review.