So why set a novel at a Navajo mission boarding school? Well, I didn’t really plan to. During my last semester of college in spring of 2009, I had to write a screenplay for a creative writing class. I didn’t have any ideas! But as I prayed about it, three characters came into my head: a young woman going west to teach at a Navajo mission boarding school; the opinionated young reverend in charge; and a young man seeking, against much opposition, to follow Jesus within his God-given Navajo identity. Those three characters became the screenplay that became the novel which became Beneath a Turquoise Sky.
I really didn’t know much about the Diné, or Navajo, before I started working on this story, despite living quite near the Navajo Nation for five years during my teens. But as I started to research this story, as God connected me with Navajo believers willing to share their stories, hearts, and lives, He began to break my heart with so much history and hurt I hadn’t known about. The boarding schools…the Long Walk. The tragic story of a people, like most First Nations in this country, stripped of or torn from their land and culture and told, often by those of my ancestry and faith, that they had to change who they were in order for God to love them. And yet a people resilient and strong, with a beautiful and surviving culture and stories that deserve to be told.
And I want to tell these stories, however imperfectly…in Beneath a Turquoise Sky, in my second novel manuscript Remember the Wind, a contemporary story with the historical thread of a Navajo Code Talker of World War II, and most recently in my story Fire in My Heart, which deals with the Abolition movement as well as the unjust incarceration of the Paiute people at Fort Tejon in 1863. I’m so grateful to all the friends who have opened their hearts to relationship with me and taught me much about the pain of the past that still imprints the present, but also about the reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness that only Jesus can give.
It is not always an easy journey, but it is a good one. I hope you might come along!