Carole Whang Schutter
Sandy Wickersham-McWhorter

A native of Muncie, Indiana, Sandy Wickersham-McWhorter has lived in Ohio since 1973 and has been an LPN since 1980. She has her husband, two sons, a daughter-in-law, two granddaughters, two dogs, and an odd number of goldfish in her outdoor pond living with her in an 1890s home that was a general store\post office. Sandy became a writer in third grade, when she turned her dreams and nightmares into short stories. Science fiction classics and comic books were her reading mainstay; as an adult, she added historical fiction then romances in the ‘80s. The adult writing bug bit her in 1990 after a comment by her oldest son, so when she realized she needed cheap nursing CEUs, and the degree most writers seem to have, Ohio State University beckoned. While earning a bachelor’s in English, she wrote for three newspapers and was a feature writer for Choice, a Christian magazine. While writing romance, science fiction, inspirational, women’s fiction and a mix of them all, Sandy substitutes in local schools, teaches college English 101 in local prisons and gardens.

Researching Multicultural Fiction

Writing multicultural fiction sometimes requires research to explore unfamiliar cultures, including religious practices and daily living. The word research may conjure up visions of college assignments and finding dry information for an even drier paper to turn in to a professor. But not so in the writing world! Here’s a sampling of interesting facts about Navajos I uncovered while researching one of my books, Cottonwood Place.

Cottonwoods are sacred trees of life to most Indian nations. They’re called “standing nations” because of the variety of creatures living in them. The leaves’ rustling in the wind makes a relaxing musical note that connects with a person’s positive energy. Tribes held councils under them to ensure truthful answers to problems. Telling a lie under one makes the liar sick.

For many centuries, the Navajo lived in the Four Corners region where the Creator, God, put them. Four Corners is where the four corners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet, and four sacred mountains are located nearby. The Navajo are obligated to care for the land, for a bond forms with the land at birth, when the umbilical cord is buried near the family hogan (home) and the afterbirth is buried under a young tree from which the baby’s cradleboard comes from.

Navajos celebrate their religious ceremonies in the hogan. One of their most sacred places, it represents the logical order of the universe. Hogans are built of logs with four posts representing the sacred mountains and dirt representing Mother Earth. A dome-shaped roof represents Father Sky. The hogan is usually located near the plants and rocks needed to practice the Navajo ceremonies. They have hundreds of ceremonies, which are

based on ancient myths. They are led by a medicine man or woman and were given to the Navajo by the ancient Holy People to restore balance to the universe or to bless someone so they may “walk in beauty.” The more Navajo beliefs and ceremonies I discovered in my research, the more twists and turns I added to the plot to give it life and realism.

Research done right can add life to a manuscript and enliven the plot. Case in point: When writing Cottonwood Place, I had to study the Navajo traditions to accurately depict the clash between Navajo and Anglo cultures and sharpen the cultural clash through my two main characters.

For example, one conflict running throughout Cottonwood Place centers around Megan’s silver and turquoise squash-blossom necklace and bracelet. Hundreds of years old, they’ve passed from mother to daughter for many generations. They were entrusted to Meagan on her marriage to a man who later beat her, causing a miscarriage. She longs to return them, no longer feeling worthy to possess the sacred jewelry. Then a new love with a white man, Ian, takes over Meagan’s heart. He sees a negative side of Navajo life when Megan is belittled trying to return the jewelry to her grandma. Grandma’s wrath flashes in her eyes as she says Megan must keep it. As family matriarch, Grandma has absolute power; as she says, so it is. Ian is bewildered to learn that two hundred older relatives can still tell Megan what to do.

My research into a culture different from my own allowed me to use the conflict of cultures to drive the plot. I used the knowledge I gained to help Ian and Megan return to an active faith in God in a natural blending of cultures.