I’m doing something a little different with this post – I’m actually interviewing a fellow author! I came across Jay Jordan Hawke several years ago through his self-published novel, A Scout is Brave. I enjoyed the book very much and we became Facebook friends over time. When he told me he had written a new book, I recommended the publisher of my novel, Children of the Knight, and they accepted his new story without hesitation. Pukawiss the Outcast is a standalone prequel to A Scout is Brave and a wonderful, magical story that I loved. So I decided to find out more about this book and the background of the man who wrote it. So here’s the interview (my first one and no, it doesn’t have fancy formatting so please don’t bag on me for that. Ha!)
MJB: Tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?
I wrote it as a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, A Scout is Brave. I created the character of Joshua for that novel, and I liked him so much I wanted to explore his character further. I wanted to show the readers the world Joshua came from, and what shaped him as a person. In short, I wanted to immerse him in reservation life. I also wanted to write it because I attend powwows on nearby reservations, and it occurred to me a few years ago that no one has ever done anything about powwows. We have all these sports movies about the underdog rising up and winning in the end, wouldn’t it be cool to explore that theme in a competition powwow? So I decided to take Joshua from A Scout is Brave and explore his training as he learns how to Fancy Dance, and at the same time learns about who he is. Finally, I wanted to explore the contrasting views of gay people prevalent in many traditional societies with mainstream Christianity. People don’t know that many cultures not only tolerated gay people, but openly celebrated them.
MJB: I’ve been to some powwows out here in California and they are spectacular. I love Native American traditions and thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of your book. So, what makes you angry?
People who don’t believe in equal rights. People who think that their religious perspective should be the law of the land. Bullying angers me. Basically, injustice angers me. Oh, and stupid drivers who keep cutting me off on the way home from work. That really gets me mad!
MJB: I’m right with you on all counts. Personally, I think most bad drivers are just bullies with cars. So, how important do you think villains are in a story?
I think some kind of villain is necessary if you want to keep the reader’s attention. Stories are more interesting if the main character has someone to fight against. I try to write really memorable villains in my stories. In my first novel, A Scout is Brave, Levi was the villain, and I wrote him to be the perfect embodiment of a bully. I’m a little more subtle in Pukawiss the Outcast, because the book has a very different tone. But it’s clear, by the end, who the villain is. I should point out that the villain doesn’t necessarily have to be another person. It could be an inner struggle against your inner demons, so to speak. Those stories can be just as compelling. And often villains are simply an embodiment of those inner struggles anyway.
MJB: Are any of your characters in Pukawiss based on real people you have known, especially Joshua and Gentle Eagle? Can you tell us a little about the real people or, if these are wholly made up, what inspired you to write them as they are?
Joshua has some of my characteristics, but mostly he’s my invention. I’ve never known anyone like him before. I originally created him to correct some of my own weaknesses. He embodies courage and self-confidence, he’s athletic, and he quickly adapts to new and unusual situations – no matter how terrible or terrifying. He has some of my qualities, but mostly I created in him the person I wish I was more like. Gentle Eagle is his kind-hearted Grandfather, who also happens to be really cool. There is a bit of my own grandfather in him, although my grandfather didn’t have mad guitar skills. The villains are conglomerate characters of people I have actually known – from cold-hearted preachers, to simple-minded bigots, to high school bullies — I unfortunately have had too much contact with them.
MJB: I agree that Joshua is a delightful, inspiring, and immensely likable protagonist, the kind of kid we readers want to see succeed. It’s sad you have had run-ins with so many rotten people in your life. I especially noted in both your books the negativity of the Christian characters. They are extremist and bigoted, not in any way reflecting the values modeled by Jesus Christ, and thus give the impression (at least to Joshua in the book) that all Christians are like them. Are these the only kinds of Christians you have met in your life, or do you know any who actually live the faith according to the Christ-model? If you do know any who truly live “love thy neighbor,” was there a specific reason for focusing on the extreme haters?
I think I promote a very positive message of God in my book, unless you have a limited understanding of God. God is not Christian, in my opinion. He transcends dogma, and he especially transcends human hatred and bigotry. In that respect, Christianity certainly doesn’t measure up in my novels. But let’s face it, if Christians interpreted the Christian message the way you do, then the past 2,000 years would have been very different, and my Ojibwe protagonist wouldn’t be living on a reservation where they are trying to preserve what’s left of Ojibwe culture. My Christian characters are not extremists or out of place for the Midwest, especially in the small rural community where Joshua is from – they are mainstream. In short, yes, those are pretty much the only kind of Christians I’ve encountered—from the small conservative Christian farm town in which I grew up, to the conservative Christian college I went to, to the conservative school in which I currently work. If anything, I give my Christian characters more humanity that the people I actually knew deserve. Currently, I can’t even tell people around here that I’m a published author, because I’d be fired in a second by the conservative Christian administration that always talks about God’s love and family values. Imagine being a published author and not being able to tell anyone? And it’s not just bigotry toward gay people. Religious differences are highly suspect as well. Having said all that, I’m deeply religious, or spiritual, whatever word you want to use. And I try to demonstrate a love for the spiritual in my novels. You can’t read my novels for very long without picking up on that. Christians have taught gay people that God hates them for thousands of years, causing many gay people to turn away from that message. The greatest crime Christians have committed is taking God away from gay people. I’m trying to give him back. It may not be the Christian God though. But it’s a much friendlier one.
MJB: I guess growing up in California is way different. I grew up Catholic and even as a child when the dogma was much more rigid, never once did I hear priests or nuns or other Catholics or my parents speak ill of gays or minorities or even other religions. So growing up I accepted everyone at face value, and still do. For me, that’s the Jesus I came to know and accept. Sadly, as with all religions, over the centuries people have put in their own prejudices and agendas and corrupted the original message. Kids should know the beauty of all religious faiths, including Native traditions, which I personally admire. There’ve been far too many people dragging the Creator’s name through the mud, and those of us who understand that must fight to change it. Moving on, Pukawiss takes place in 1998. Are the Ojibwe youth of today, like Mokwa in your story, as accepting of gay, or two-spirit, youth as he was in the book? What about other tribes? On modern reservations, are gay youth treated with respect like in the old days when two-spirits were considered touched by God?
It really depends on which reservation. The one I based the book on is a real place, although it is not mentioned by name. The very first gay-positive person I ever met lived on that reservation. Her name was Linda, and she was part Lakota, who lived with an Ojibwa man on the Rez. I also met a Midewin on the Rez, who rejected the judgmental attitudes of Christianity with respect to gay people. It was such a shocking contrast to the world in which I grew up. Having said that, homophobia is also still a very sad reality on many reservations that have succumbed to over a century of missionary attempts to suppress the two-spirit tradition.
MJB: Without giving too much away, I loved how you helped Joshua accept and love himself by having him learn about the outcast, Pukawiss. That was very affirming. I love dreams in books, and often use them in my own. Prophetic dreams are a big part of your story because they are a big part of Native tradition. Have you ever had a dream that turned out to be prophetic, even in a small way? Do modern Indians still treat their dreams as messages and act on them accordingly?
My story definitely has a lot of supernatural elements in it, as does its sequel. Since the book immerses the readers in Ojibwe life on the reservation, I felt I couldn’t do justice to the story without demonstrating how pervasive the supernatural, the mystical, whatever you want to call it, is on the reservation. Traditionally, it would have been normal for Joshua to be both a two-spirit and a powerful dreamer. The two went together. Dreams were considered messages from the spirits, and gay people were especially adept at listening to and interpreting them. Joshua’s two-spirit status would likely have been revealed to him in a dream in earlier times. And yes, part of that is still there on the Rez today. The power of dreams is especially prevalent and is a central element in the story. The lead character, Joshua, discovers that through dreams, he can peer into the future and capture brief, often puzzling, fragments of what is to come. I believe there is a larger reality beyond the one we know about – and that one can access it through dreams. I have had many experiences with dreams of my own – both fascinating and terrifying. A lot of the stuff involving Joshua’s dream reality, especially in the sequel to Pukawiss, were dreams I’ve actually experienced. If the storms seem vivid and real, it’s because I was describing what I’ve known. My name, Jay Jordan Hawke, by the way, was given to me in a dream. I’m not kidding about that.
MJB: That’s awesome about your name! How cool is that? Wow. So tell me, do many modern Ojibwe still follow the old ways as Gentle Eagle does in this book (i.e. do they still have naming ceremonies, for example?)
Absolutely! A lot of what I described in the book comes from things I’ve experienced on the Rez. Ritual and ceremony are not for special occasions, they are practically an every day occurrence. And it all comes without the hateful dogma that so characterizes the churches I’ve been to. It’s pure God, without all the hate.
MJB: It would be a powerful experience, for me, at least, to witness some of those ceremonies. We tend to think we know everything with our technology and science, but there’s so much we can learn from the old ways if we’re willing. I love the naming ceremony and the whole concept behind it. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all be given names that befit our nature? Okay, I’m rambling. Ha! Next question: if you could have a dinner party and invite anyone dead or alive, who would you ask?
I tend to side with the underdogs of history, the people who lost. In that spirit, I would love to have dinner with Tecumseh. Tecumseh was a Shawnee leader, who managed to unite the tribes of the Midwest to defend it from the expansion of the Americans onto their lands. He even allied with the English, who he fought with during the War of 1812. Tecumseh also stands out as someone who transcended his time. He abhorred torture of prisoners, for example, and would order his followers not to harm white captives. You got to respect someone like that. Besides that, maybe Alexander the Great if only because he could give Tecumseh some really good battle strategies that may help him when he returns to his own time. Oh, and Harry Styles. Tecumseh, Alexander the Great, and Harry Styles – what a dinner that would be.
MJB: Ha! Yes, those three together would be the YouTube download of the century. Funny you mention Harry Styles because he has a recurring Twitter cameo in my Children of the Knight sequel tweeting messages of support to my main character who is being harassed by the media. And then he has an actual cameo in the third book. Not sure he’ll make it into the final release versions, but he seems like a good guy who doesn’t let any of the media nastiness get to him. Okay, lastly and most importantly, is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I would like my readers to understand that the stigma against homosexuality is the only thing that is not natural. It is also not universal. Pukawiss the Outcast celebrates a very common Native American tradition that venerates gay people. It may seem like the whole world, and all of history, is against you. But that simply is not true. Imagine living in a world where as a gay person you are considered something extra special—that you are in fact touched by God. That’s a radically different world from the one most gay teens grow up in today. I want people to see what that is like through the eyes of my teen protagonist.
MJB: Thank you, Jay, for a fascinating and very honest interview. Personally, I hope you meet some followers of Jesus, as I have, who actually embody the faith, and people in general who are not so narrow-minded period! Sadly, politics is all polarized, too, because both the left and the right are convinced all of life’s answers come from a single playbook when most of us live our lives in the middle. Human nature is far too complex for any one-size-fits-all dogma. What we need in this country, and this world, is balance, something the Native traditions extolled. Unfortunately “balance” seems to be a dirty word in the 21st Century. Take care, Jay, and please, give us more Joshua stories!
You can purchase Pukawiss the Outcast from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the publisher, Harmony Ink Press. It’s a great read!