An evening with author Angeline Boulley did not disappoint Wednesday at Sturges-Young Center for the Arts.
Eventgoers packed into a crowded SYA ballroom for a chance to hear from the author about her book, “Firekeeper’s Daughter.”
“Firekeeper’s Daughter” tells the tale of a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, Daunis Fontaine, who has never quite fit in—both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. When her family de ella is struck by tragedy, Daunis puts her dreams on hold to care for her fragile mother de ella. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother’s hockey team.
After Daunis witnesses a shocking murder that thrusts her into a criminal investigation, she agrees to go undercover. But the disappointments — and deaths — keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. How far will she go to protect her community from her if it means tearing apart the only world she’s ever known?
The evening with Boulley began with an introduction by the author by SYA executive director Sheila Bolda. She listed the many accolades that have been bestowed on Boulley’s work by her, including shooting to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List and remaining on that list for weeks.
After listing the many awards for “Firekeeper’s Daughter” (too many to list here), Bolda explained that in the Ojibwe language, one wouldn’t say, “How are you doing?” but “How is your star shining?”
“To say that over the past year, this first-time author’s star has shone incredibly bright would be a huge understatement,” Bolda said of Boulley.
Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, began her presentation with a reading from “Firekeeper’s Daughter.”
The floor then was opened to questions and answers, both from Bolda and members of the audience. Boulley said she hoped audience members had a lot of questions, because that’s her favorite part of the evening. They did.
Among highlights, Boulley spoke of the whirlwind that has ensued since the publishing of her book. She spoke of her father’s role as a firekeeper and her time as a former Director of the Office of Indian Education at the US Department of Education.
Boulley spoke of the inspiration for “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” which she called a “bizarre” story. During Boulley’s high school years, a friend from a different school had a guy in mind she thought Boulley should meet. It piqued Boulley’s interest in her, but the friend later said she did not think the boy was her type of her after all. He didn’t play sports and he hung with the wrong crowd. Boulley never met him. Then, before graduation, at an assembly, the boy announced he had been an undercover cop, Boulley said.
“I remembered thinking, what if we had met,” he said. “What if we had met and liked each other? What if I needed my help? This idea that has stayed with me for over 37 years now was, why would some undercover drug investigation need the help of an ordinary, 18-year-old Ojibwe girl? Really, that spark of that idea has stayed with me that entire time.”
The “what ifs” ensued. What if it was a drug investigation on federal land? What if it was on an Indian reservation? What if the drug had a recipe that could be manipulated and what if that manipulation was something with a cultural component? What if this 18-year-old girl was excellent in chemistry but also knew about plants as traditional medicines and knew her culture and language? What if she was connected to everybody and everything in the community?
She would be the ideal person to help with the investigation, Boulley said. She had figured out how it would all be and began writing.
Boulley said she wrote “Firekeeper’s Daughter” for 10 years. Her advice from her for aspiring writers? She told writers you cannot edit a blank page. Her first draft of her book was horrible, she said. But she was brutally honest with herself about what she worked and what she did n’t. She also would re-read her favorite books by her through writers’ eyes.
As for the publishing process? Boulley said she tweeted a pitch for her book from her during a pitching event on Twitter. She had 60 agents like her tweet from Ella, which was an invitation to send the first few pages. She took part in a mentorship as well which resulted in an author reading her manuscript and suggesting her agent, which was the agent Boulley ended up with.
How did her tribal community receive the novel? Boulley said it was received overwhelmingly well. She changed the name of her tribe from her in the book and fictionalized it, which was the greatest decision she could have made, she said.
The research for the novel? Boulley said she had sources in a retired FBI agent and a retired federal prosecutor. One of the most interesting aspects of her research on her? Boulley learned how to make crystal meth. Boulley also told the humorous story of waiting in the parking lot for her son’s hockey practice to end. She thought, would a body fit in the trunk of this car?
“So I drove my car to the edge of the parking lot and I popped the trunk and I climbed inside,” she said. “I was like, it would work if it was like this or this. Then tribal police came and they were like, is everything ok? I said, I’m a writer. This is research.”
Following more questions and answers was a book signing. Boulley also had spoken at a writing class at Sturgis High School prior to the event.