Pulitzer Prize-finalist Margaret Verble discusses the process of writing her new historical fiction novel, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky.

Margaret Verble is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Her first novel, Maud’s Line, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second novel, Cherokee America, has recently been listed by the New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year for 2019. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Margaret Verble

Photo by Greg Reynolds©

In this book, Margaret discusses the process of writing her new historical fiction novel, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky, the way she combines real-life facts with imagination, and more!

Name: Margaret Verble
Literary agent: Lynn Nesbit
Book title: When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky
Publisher: Mariner Books: An Imprint of HarperCollins
Release date: October 12, 2021
Genre/category: Literary Fiction
Previous titles: Maud’s Line; Cherokee America
Elevator pitch for the book: A deliciously strange and daringly original novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble; set in 1926 Nashville, it follows a death-defying young Cherokee horse-diver who, with her companions from the Glendale Park Zoo, must get to the bottom of a mystery that spans centuries.

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What prompted you to write this book?

I was raised in a neighborhood built on the grounds of the old Glendale Park Zoo. And before the zoo, that ground was part of a Civil War battlefield, and before that a Mississippian-area Native American necropolis. It was like being raised on top of a goldmine. There was no way to avoid digging.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I’ve known for a long time what I wanted to write about in this book, but I wasn’t sure how to pull all the pieces together until I started doing the research. Some of that was reading books on the early history of Nashville, some of it was reading newspaper articles from the era in which I wanted to set the book, and some of it involved travel, both to Nashville and to northern Oklahoma. I started focused research in 2017 and began the first draft of the novel in May of 2018. I sent the sixth draft to my agent in April, 2020. She loved it from the beginning and sold it almost immediately.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Not really. The path for this book was as smooth as they come.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Again, no. Writing historical fiction is a process of merging interesting true facts with imagination. This is my third novel of this kind, so I know the drill.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

A book actually happens in the space between the reader and the text. And readers often, in my experience, get out of books what they bring to them or what they need at the moment. If I were reading the book I would hope to get some entertainment and a perspective on history that’s unusual and different from what I was taught in school.

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I think research is important, even if you’re writing contemporary fiction, not historical fiction. Very few people have interesting and original enough life experience to write only from that. 

Join Donna Russo Morin to learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them. And uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc. Most of all, find out how to honor verisimilitude—the goal of any historical writing—and avoid the dreaded anachronism.

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