- Sarah Flores
Author Interview — Kathy Love Cowen
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
Author Kathy Love Cowen is a fun, clever, spunky, and heartfelt writer who I've had the pleasure of working with for a couple of years now. She has poured her love for the Native American culture onto the pages of her three-book Walking Stick series, with book four coming out this year.
Get to know Kathy in this honest and thoughtful interview.
— Sarah Flores
From Kathy's website:
"The Walking Stick is a slightly mystical story that will help you understand the way of life for Native Americans during the frontier days. Learn many of the Cherokee rituals, take a glimpse of life without electricity and fast food, and learn how Native Americans evolved from a tribal culture to becoming your neighbor in the suburbs. The books are Christian-based and suitable for young adults. Snuggle up to a bobcat named Six Toes, or Angel, the white wolf, and get ready for adventure, romance, mystery, and humor."
Kathy Love Cowen, author of the best-selling Walking Stick series.
SF: You have many strong female characters in your Walking Stick Book series. Are any of them based on your own characteristics?
KLC: Yes, I’m afraid to admit they are all various shades of me, or people I’ve known during various periods of my life. I see a drop of me peek through even the antagonist that everyone loves to hate.
SF: What is your Native American background, and where does your interest in this culture stem from?
KLC: Chewahnih Walkingstick and Isaac Nicholson are my 5th great grandparents. I became interested in our heritage while my son was in Iraq. When Ancestry.com became popular, he was interested in finding out more about our heritage. My aunt who lived in the Oklahoma Indian Territory told me stories all my life about my Indian lineage, but until a few years ago, I’d never seen any proof or knew what tribe she was talking about until I started researching it online. It’s been interesting tracking the paths and finding that these weren’t just drawing room stories told to an eager little girl with a feather stuck in her pigtail. I’ve finally been able to trace them to the Dawes Rolls and map our family to the present.
SF: Do you plan to write any books outside of this series? Perhaps in another genre?
KLC: Yes, I’ve started a children’s book and another about drug and human trafficking that starts in Columbia. I’ve very anxious to finish them both and hope to do so before beginning another in the Walking Stick series.
SF: Some authors have stated that they "hear" their characters' voices. Does this happen with you, and if so, what's it like?
KLC: Yes, probably more than I’d like to admit. In fact, I’ve checked with other authors to see if they hear voices. I was slightly worried when I began to hear them out of the blue. My husband and I were at the beach house when I woke smelling smoke. In a lucid, half-dreamlike state, I thought my husband had flipped a cigarette off the deck and set the whole yard on fire.
The state of fog your mind is in just before you wake can be manipulated and directed. I remember trying to hear the noise that sounded like angry women's voices screaming in panic. I smelled smoke and heard horse hooves pounding the hard-packed dirt. The very first time, I had to concentrate on a voice or sound to filter it out of the havoc going on around them.
I finally roused myself out of bed, and still half asleep, stumbled to the deck to see what was on fire. All I found was my husband with a pot of coffee and a cup waiting for me, but I could still hear the ruckus in my mind. I sat down with Al, grateful for the coffee, and visited with him about what was going on in my mind and why. I’d never experienced anything like it.
When we went back inside, I balanced the computer on my lap and started to go on social media, but somehow Word popped up, and I began typing. Every morning after that, I made a habit of lying in bed and listening carefully to what was happening. The characters took on a mind of their own. Once I began writing, I thought I should know how it was to end, but I had no clue. My characters write their own endings and don’t pay one bit of attention to the direction I think they should go. I’ve had many arguments with them. Six weeks later, I had the first draft of Chewahnih, book one.
SF: Do you believe it's important to be able to feel emotions with some sort of intensity in order to be a good writer?
KLC: Absolutely. I can assure you I feel what I write, and most of the time I have experienced near the same, which most people don’t know. In book 3, I became so angry with one character I had to kill him off, and he was one of the family members. The problem now is, he was my antagonist. For book 4, I had to come up with another. I remember my eyes stinging and tears streaming while I wrote several of the chapters in Winter Moon and a whole lot in the upcoming Snow Eagle.
SF: What do you hope readers get out of reading your books?
KLC: I hope my readers get a greater appreciation for the way we live today and learn to appreciate the character and culture of all Native Americans. We have chiseled their history to fit what the government wants us to know. I hope to bring attention to their plight, show where they, as the first people of America, have been abused, their lands confiscated, their people taken by force to become slaves, or as in book 4, their children kidnapped and enrolled in Indian residential schools with the sole purpose of vilifying Native Americans and assimilating them into the Euro-American culture while giving them a basic education. These children were forced to endure heinous mental and physical crimes while trying to get a basic education so they might join the society that wished them nothing but harm and extermination.
I would also like them knowing that after reading about the four-legged secondary characters, individuals have a greater appreciation for their own house pets and see them as more than just animals and realize that they, too, have thoughts, feelings, and a personality deeper than their fur. There are reasons why our pets do the things they do, and often just understanding how they think and what comes natural to them will help owners identify problems—or at least understand them. When your cat brings a half-eaten lizard to you, he’s sharing his supper. Enjoy.
The first book is, to me, the fictional version of how my grandparents met. An adventure novel with a dash of spice. I love animals, and one of my true favorite authors is Dawn Lee McKenna. She introduced a couple remarkable pets in her Hidden Coast series, one being a rooster that perched on the ceiling fan, and the other a Catahoula dog that wags his whole fanny. Her secondary characters added another clever layer to her novels. Needless to say, Wolf, Raven, and Six Toes are a little on the wilder side, but are probably more typical of what my tribal characters would have had. Animals of all kinds are a critical side of the Cherokee people, and today, they are a critical side of my life. I’d like to think it is a remaining drop of Cherokee blood that allows me to understand my own animals more than others might. I can’t say that my two cats come close to Six Toes, but I’m sure they have a bobcat link somewhere deep inside.
SF: Outside of being an author, what other professions or hobbies have you enjoyed over the years?
KLC: I used to paint when I was young. When my son Wesley went into the military after 911 and was sent on his first deployment to Iraq, I picked up a paintbrush after a 30-year lull, tuned in to Bob Ross, and started painting “happy little trees and clouds.” His soothing voice quelled the knot in my stomach. I moved on to various other styles, but it still relaxes me to swipe in a few happy little clouds.
I am a master scuba diver and had the good fortune of being able to participate in several scientific projects with the Institute of Marine Life Sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, TX. The deployment of a joint project with TAMUG and Houston Lighting and Power artificial reef was the largest. I was the diver with the underwater video tethered to another diver who was to watch my back while HL&P dropped two-ton blocks of rock formed from the byproduct of generating electricity, coal ash.
I was also involved with H.E.A.R.T.—Help Endangered Animals Ridley Turtles—and was one of only two civilian individuals that held a permit to keep an endangered sea turtle in my home. I would pack my sea turtle in a green tote, and off to schools we would go, armed with a slide presentation in hopes of instilling the necessity for conservation, why this particular species had become endangered, and what was being done about it. While involved with H.E.A.R.T., I began organizing their fundraisers and found I had an aptitude for and enjoyed event coordinating.
SF: What are some ways you’ve grown as a writer, and what are some lessons you might share with other aspiring writers?
1. Get a good editor.
2. Get a good editor.
3. Limit the number of characters, not everyone needs a name, and in my case, even though horses are a favorite of mine, I still don’t have to name them all. (My great editor taught me that.)
4. Watch using the same phrases or gestures.
5. Keep the language in the same period your story is set in. In the 1840s, you can’t shoot a rocket forward or flip a switch when someone’s mood takes a turn.
6. I also try not to start each sentence with the character’s name, which I have a tendency to do.
7. I am the queen of commas. Thank you, Sarah, for keeping my pauses in place.
SF: While there is humor and romance in your novels, you also deal with strong social issues such as abuse and racism. Why is it important for you to include these topics?
KLC: The first slaves in the United States were Native Americans. Entire tribes on the East Coast were captured or decimated. The government lied to tribal leaders, promising them that their lands would be protected, and then force-marched thousands halfway across the continent. No one hears their story. Their history is no longer taught. Residential schools sprouted up around the country.
Social workers representing the government would withhold government supplies, and at times, kidnap young children to populate these schools. The term “Kill the Indian, save the man” was coined by Capt. Richard H. Pratt in 1884 in an effort to “Americanize” these children so they might join the “civilized” society, thus turning their backs on the tribal way of life. The children in these schools were forced to cut their braids, were forbidden to speak their languages, and issued clothing worn by the masses. Physical and mental abuse proliferated.
When any culture is grouped together, provided what is needed for physical survival, without the means to provide for themselves, pride and stability diminishes. Alcohol becomes the drug of choice, and violence follows. I like for my readers to see that what is happening today was just as commonplace in the tribal setting, such as PTSD, The Warrior’s Curse, abuse between cultures and against women and children. I hope to teach some of the survival techniques used then because they are just as applicable now, especially with the way our country is regressing. You never know when you might need to eat a cattail.
SF: Your series gives voice to a culture that isn’t celebrated or spoken about as often as others. How does knowing this make you feel?
KLC: Angry. I was going to say sad, but no, it makes me angry to see what’s happening to our beautiful country by those that use any excuse to kill, burn, and destroy. The youth of today, and possibly for more than one generation, hasn’t been taught what happened to indigenous people of this continent, and in my opinion, the radicals leading are walking right into the same bear trap. Had this nation been truthful, and its first people’s history been taught, we might not be faced with what is going on right now.
In a quote from Rush Limbaugh, I feel everyone should consider this. “It is this simple. If they are willing to kill people and break things, and you are not, they win. One ugly fact about human nature is, if someone will not fight for what is theirs, they lose it.”
Native Americans did fight, and they put up a good fight, but they were overpowered. But one thing they have that others may not, is that their dignity is intact. They can hold their heads high, and have embraced their history while becoming “Americanized,” and are taking their rightful place in all walks of life. Since 1817, there have been several Indians sworn into the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In 2019, the first two Native American women joined Congress.
When the truth isn’t told about our heritage, history does repeat itself. Currently, over 5,500 Native American women have gone missing. Human trafficking of Native American women and children is still a crisis and growing. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/25/us/native-women-girls-missing.html
This all began one morning with a lucid dream of how my grandparents might have met, fell in love, and what they went through to survive. I hope I’ve done my job well enough to bring them to life to you.
Books in the Walking Stick Series
Storm Eagle, Book 4 (Coming Soon)
Connect with Kathy Love Cowen
Kathy Love Cowen, author of the Native American romantic-adventure series, The Walking Stick, was born and raised in Kansas. She attended Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas, as an art major. Kathy and her husband Al, now live on the Texas coast. She has one son, Wesley Love, a Purple Heart veteran of two wars.
Most of what Kathy does involves the assistance of a fat black cat named Bandit. Hypnotized by the blinking cursor, Bandit claims co-authorship of the series and is responsible for any unintentional oversights in the manuscript.
Check out previous WDTL author interviews:
Sarah Flores, Editor
Write Down the Line, LLC
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