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Local mystery writer provides insights into Cherokee culture

As the wife of our local Episcopal priest, I have opportunities to meet some very interesting people who visit St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. On one particular Sunday, I noticed a rather quiet, unassuming couple sitting at the back of the church before the service began. They introduced themselves as Sara and Eddie Hoklotubbe. They had recently moved to Pagosa Springs from Oklahoma. I learned that Eddie is retired and Sara is a writer. I mentioned that Pagosa Springs is famous for attracting people with creative instincts and welcomed them to our parish. I told them that I hoped we would see them again soon, and in fact, I have seen them almost every Sunday since, always early, always quietly listening to the choir warm up for the morning worship. Since our first encounter, I have learned that Sara does not write as a hobby. Indeed, she is a published mystery writer whose second novel recently has been released by the University of Arizona Press.

Like so many others who have moved to Pagosa Springs, she and her husband drove through the area and realized they had found their next homesite.

“The mountains provide the perfect vistas for my writing,” says Hoklotubbe. She can see Pagosa Peak and Coyote Hill from her office window while she works on her third book. She hopes to have it finished before the end of the year, unless of course, she gets too distracted with golfing and fishing.

Sara is a Cherokee citizen and sets her mysteries in northeastern Oklahoma where she grew up. She says she gets her storytelling skills from her father who could tell the biggest fish story in Delaware County, and her love of Cherokee culture from her Cherokee grandmother. Both are reflected in her books. “While the Cherokee Nation is easily discernible on a map,” says Sara, “the cultural boundaries are blurred by the eclectic melting-pot of people who live within it. In my novels, I have tried to reflect the diversity of inhabitants — tribal people, Anglos, a mixture of both – and the conflict it breeds.”

Her first novel,” Deception on all Accounts” (University of Arizona Press) introduces her main character, Sadie Walela, who is the daughter of a Cherokee father and Anglo mother. Sara artfully inserts phrases of the Cherokee language in the dialogue in a context that allows the reader to not only understand the meaning of the words but better experience Sadie’s world. She depicts Sadie as a lovely, intelligent young woman, who like many women wants to establish a career. Sadie is hoping to get ahead in the banking world, but faces the difficulties of racial and gender prejudice as she works her way up the ladder of success. As a result of poor judgment, Sadie becomes a victim of a bank robbery that results in the murder of a fellow bank employee. The book is filled with intrigue, romance, humor, and wonderful insights into Cherokee culture, while drawing the reader into the atmosphere and personalities of the small Oklahoma town.

“The American Café,” A Sadie Walela Mystery, (the University of Arizona Press), Sara’s second book, was officially released on April 14 after making its debut at both the Tucson Festival of Books and the Left Coast Crime mystery convention in Santa Fe in March.. In this sequel, Sadie has given up on the banking world and has decided to follow her heart’s desire to own her own restaurant. Nothing comes easily to Sadie and she quickly discovers that being a restaurant owner is far more complicated than she ever imagined. Before officially reopening the cafe under her new ownership, Sadie is anxious to meet with the former owner to discuss the history of the day to day operations. But just before the meeting is to take place, the former owner is murdered. As Sadie becomes entangled in this unexpected turn of events, she becomes acquainted with the victim’s sister who quickly steps in to help Sadie get the restaurant up and running. Little by little, the victim’s family secrets come to light as Sadie helps unravel the mystery behind the murder.

Sara’s books have received praise from high places. The award-winning author, Margaret Coel, describes Sara as a “gifted storyteller” and ”The American Café “ as “compassionate and wonderful.”

Library Journal says The American Cafe “has great characters” and is “a good pick for Tony Hillerman fans.”

Certainly, Pagosa Springs has more than its share of interesting people to meet and know. Often these people are the most unassuming folks imaginable with the most wonderful stories to tell. Sara will read excerpts from “The American Café “at the Wild Spirit Gallery on May 7 at 6 p.m. I hope others will attend this reading and discover the wonderful world of Sadie Walela and her talented creator, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.

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