Ojibwe author, Angeline Boulley joins Ryan and Mark to discuss her best selling novel, “Firekeeper’s Daughter“, life as a Sault Ste. Marie Band of Chippewa Indians tribal citizen, and her career in Indian Education.
Mark L. Wilson (00:03):
The pursuit podcast, a purely guest centric show, focusing on people and organizations that advance positive change positivity can be anywhere. And in a time of vast discord, the pursuit of is finding those who champion its causes loudest. Join us as we sit and learn about the pursuits of local leaders in their community, let’s go,
Ryan Buck (00:26):
Hello, good people, and welcome to the pursuit of podcast where it’s truly not us. It’s you. I am Ryan Buck, artist development, New Leonard Media, and with me as always is the boss. Mark Wilson, president New Leonard Media. How are you?
Mark L. Wilson (00:39):
Oh, I’m great. Ryan. It rained a lot
Ryan Buck (00:41):
Yesterday. It did. That’s enough about us. Our guest today, amazingly is Angelina Boulley author of the novel, the “Firekeeper’s Daughter.” How are you? Wonderful. Thank you so much for being here. I’m
Angeline Boulley (00:55):
Really thrilled to be
Ryan Buck (00:56):
Here. Wow. So what brings you to Traverse City?
Angeline Boulley (01:00):
Ryan Buck (01:09):
Oh, that’s excellent. Are you here with the National Writers Series?
Angeline Boulley (01:12):
I will be in December.
Ryan Buck (01:14):
Oh, okay. So you’re gonna be back. Yes. Oh, that’s incredible. You need to come see us again. So the road to publishing this book has been a long journey. This is an idea hatched in high school and fully realized recently over the years of what were some of the roadblocks in front of you and finishing this book?
Angeline Boulley (01:35):
Well, first, you know, just that spark of an idea when I was 18 and then I went to college, I didn’t pursue creative writing as a career. I worked for different tribal communities after graduation. I always worked with native teens and I just put some pieces to the puzzle together of if listeners aren’t familiar with my, the story of how the story started when I was 18, a friend of mine who went to a different high school, told me about a new guy senior year. And she thought he would be just my type,
Ryan Buck (02:12):
Your type, my type. She was trying to set you up. Yes,
Angeline Boulley (02:16):
Yes. And I was dateless and intrigued. So I asked more questions, but as the weeks went on, it turned out. He wasn’t my type. He did not play sports. And he hung out with all the partiers. And as they say, that’s not my brand. And so I never met him. And at the end of the school year, my friend said there had been a huge drug bust. And it turned out that the new guy was an undercover officer. So I remembered thinking what if we had met, what if we’d liked each other? And then I thought, well, what if it wasn’t that he liked me, but that he needed my help. And then I thought, why would some undercover investigation need the help of an ordinary Ojibwe girl? And then my years working in different tribal communities, I would kind of add pieces to that puzzle of, oh, what if it was something that involved science? And she was really good in chemistry. What if it was something that involved her culture and she was strong. She knew her teachings. And she knew about traditional medicines. Actually she may end up being the ideal person to help with an undercover investigation. Yeah. That was how it started.
Ryan Buck (03:32):
You envisioned yourself in a role because you could have very, truly been embroiled in a real life version of the story. Right. Had he been your type? So I I’m really curious about this and, and, and to talk to authors about this. So from good reads.com, this is the description of the book as a biracial unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal 18 year old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis streams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother. Now, is that an apt description? And did you have anything to do with that when there’s a description of your book, do you have control of that online?
Angeline Boulley (04:22):
No, but a lot of times they’ll pick up a summary from the publisher and that comes from my agents submission letter when we originally went out on sub with my manuscript. So, and even, I think there might be a line or two from my query letter when I was seeking an agent and describing the book. And so it’s really interesting to see maybe how just a kernel of how the original story was pitched, ends up making it into something like good reads somebodies review. Sure. So that’s interesting.
Ryan Buck (05:01):
Yeah. So looking back, had you had a big block of time to write this book and not years, how do you think the novel would be different?
Angeline Boulley (05:12):
When I was younger, I would say I was much more romantic and probably would have fought hard for a nice, happy little ending that tied everything up neatly in a bow. I think that I didn’t know as many of the teachings as I do now, that really helped inform the book. And I think I wouldn’t have understood the responsibility about portraying my tribal community to a larger audience and the importance, not just of writing about our trauma, but writing about our joyful things too. And so I think just having that perspective, it’s a difference. And I’m very glad that over the 10 years that I spent writing it, I’m glad that none of those early drafts were yeah, that I didn’t pursue publishing any of
Ryan Buck (06:04):
Those. You still have them.
Angeline Boulley (06:06):
Ryan Buck (06:07):
I do. You do. So as an 18 year old, the young adult landscape was kind of different from literature standpoint back then, did your target audience over the years change at all? Or was it always going to be kind of targeted towards a young new?
Angeline Boulley (06:23):
I think so I was 18 before I ever read a novel that had a native main character. And when I read the book, it was something where the representation was kind of problemsome. It was written by someone who is not native and it played into a lot of stereotypes about the Indian maid and then the daughter of a chief and just things that I remembered feeling like, wait, I’m supposed to be loving those because it has a native main character, but I don’t think this is the represent, you know, I couldn’t put into words what I do now say it didn’t feel authentic at all.
Ryan Buck (07:01):
Wow. Was the story always going to be set where it was set or did you play with different locations?
Angeline Boulley (07:07):
It was always going to be in my tribal community. It was always going to involve sugar island
Ryan Buck (07:12):
Really. Now what’s the significance of that to you?
Angeline Boulley (07:17):
The Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians is a tribe. That’s comprised of a number of historic bands that are linked to fishing villages around the upper peninsula and the band that my family comes from is Sugar Island. And so, you know, that’s the community that I that’s, that’s where my heart is, is I’m Sugar Island. I grew up downstate, but my grandparents and cousins lived in Sault Ste. Marie. So every summer we spent time in the Sault and on Sugar Island. And that was just really where my identity as an Ojibwe girl, that’s where it really was forming.
Mark L. Wilson (07:56):
And to this day, that’s still where ceremonies
Angeline Boulley (07:58):
Held, right? Yep. I did my fast on Sugar Island and yeah, it’s just a special place.
Ryan Buck (08:04):
Yeah. That’s incredible. Does it help to write what, you know? Yes, it does. It does. What’s really compelling about the book. The cover is really compelling. How big of a hand did you have in that to people who don’t know what it takes to write a book and sell a book? Was that something that you conceived or how did that come together?
Angeline Boulley (08:23):
Generally, debut authors do not get much say in anything, but because my deal was very good. My agent was able to negotiate that I would have input into the cover. And so my publisher knew that I very much wanted an Ojibwe artist to do the cover. And so they did some research and they found a Moses Lunham who is Ojibwe and he’s from kettle and Stony Point First Nation in Ontario. And yeah, and then this was like, right as COVID was hitting. And he’s an artist who, you know, he sells us our work online. He also does school visits and all of his school visits dried up instantly with COVID. So he wasn’t sure you know, how to make his livelihood. And my publisher contacted him and said, would you be interested in doing cover design for this young adult book featuring an Ojibwe young woman? And I was able to see some early samples and just the cover with the vibrant, you know, butterfly, the two faces, just, it was stunning.
Ryan Buck (09:35):
How many tattoos do you think people have of that cover at this point? I,
Angeline Boulley (09:38):
No, but actually I want to get one. Yeah, I do. I do. My publicists are trying to get me on Colbert or some other late night shows. And so I am hoping to there’s a tattoo artist. Kira Murillo, she’s indigenous she’s native, I think out in the Idaho area. And a friend of mine got a tattoo from her and she books out like a year in advance, but I was hoping that if I was like, well, I’m going to be on national
Mark L. Wilson (10:11):
Television. Anybody would bump you up with
Angeline Boulley (10:14):
It. Could you please like, you know, but, and I’d love to have it. My shoulder all the way down to my elbow, the cover design
Ryan Buck (10:24):
And how meaningful, because this story has been with you for a long time, and we’re going to get to the amazing success that it’s created and your dedication to having native Americans be as much of a part of everything that you’re doing as possible. The name of your lead character, Daunis is unique. Daunis Fontaine. Is there a cause naming characters and stories has to be tough. So did you agonize over all of that? And what’s the story behind Daunis?
Angeline Boulley (10:54):
No it was an easy name for me to come up with. I always knew she would be darkness because Daunis (Daanis) is Ojibwe for daughter. And what I figured the backstory would be as that, you know, her mother was 16 when she had her and her mother comes from a very wealthy white family. And her father was from sugar island and times were tough. This was before they had their casino. And so I had that because Daunis’, dad, wasn’t going to be on her birth certificate, that her mother would have insisted that she have the name Daunis. Right. To have some part of her dad there. And then Fontaine. Actually I did research on an area in Northern Italy because I have where her grandmother comes from, like the French fur trader kind of an elite. And then her grandfather comes from the Italian stone cutters that immigrated to Sault Ste. Marie to help build the Soo locks and the power canal. And so I kind of, I located a town that was called Fontaine in Northern Italy. So I decided that that’s where the grandfather’s family would have come from. So really doneness. I wanted her to be kind of the personification of Sault Ste. Marie and just represent all these major influences.
Ryan Buck (12:11):
So, you know, you’re going to influence the zeitgeists at this point because Daunis is probably going to be a popular baby name. I had not. Have you heard anything like
Angeline Boulley (12:20):
That? I had not thought of it at
Ryan Buck (12:22):
All. I I’m guessing, cause it’s such a gorgeous side of the tribal community. That will be kind of a big thing. I think that if it inspires names, you know, is that something that you would be proud of? Is that something that you would, you know, if you heard, Hey, and that’s what that was the most popular baby name of 20, 22. What feelings would that evoke?
Angeline Boulley (12:43):
I would feel proud. I would feel like my goal was to write the most impactful story that I could with the widest reach possible and definitely having people name their babies after, you know, my main character. That definitely would be okay. We’re we’re out there in the cultural
Ryan Buck (13:05):
That’s true. That is true. Well, in working with Mark and working with Grand Travers Band, I know the erosion of native language is a very serious topic. Did you have a specific approach to any of that when you were writing the book as it related to reclaiming language? Yes.
Angeline Boulley (13:23):
My book has quite a bit of anishinaabemowin in the story and I wrote the story in first person present tense point of view. So the reader is inside. Daunis’ head and seeing the world as she sees it as she’s seeing it. And because Daunis has grown up with her language, that just is a part of how she sees the world. My father is fluent, but he didn’t teach us when we were young. You know, he thought he was doing us a favor by not teaching us. So when I worked on the Ojibwe language for the book, I first go to my father and he spells everything phonetically. But then I was talking with Margaret Noodin from university, Wisconsin, Milwaukee. And she really was excited about the potential of this story, this book being a supplemental text book in anishinaabemowin courses. And so I decided to use the double vowel system for writing the words. And she also worked with the audio book narrator to make sure that the pronunciations were correct because yeah, yeah, Margaret Noodin was just so committed to having this book be something that could be a teaching tool for people who wanted to learn more about Ojibwe language.
Ryan Buck (14:46):
And what’s so remarkable about the success and so remarkable about you is that you have delivered something that’s very accessible, but it’s also very specific and it’s a passion. So when you started writing it, did you expect this would have a broad audience or did you think this would be a niche book?
Angeline Boulley (15:07):
I really had this unwavering belief that it was a great story. And if I could do justice to it, if I could improve my writing, if I just worked at this story, I thought it could be big. I knew it would get published. I just knew it was a great story. I certainly never anticipated it landing the way that it has, but I knew that there would be non-native people reading the story and what I could share about our culture and our community and our elders that was important to me. But, you know, my primary audience always has been indigenous people, especially teens or people that have struggled with their identity as being native and sometimes hearing the, oh, you don’t look at, or, oh, but you’re not like them, or just the strange identity issues that sometimes, you know, people
Mark L. Wilson (16:08):
It’s a struggle. And I think that’s one of the most special things that this book brings. And it’s not just the non-tribal community that I think really craves that authenticity. And that’s why they’re responding so well to this book, but individuals just like, I identify with it, right. I’m half Sicilian descent, half Odawa first-generation born [raised] in the home for those that haven’t been acquainted there was forced assimilation and our families were basically generation after generation in the boarding schools being taught to not be Anishinaabe. And so we have a lot of us that live pretty much an assimilated life until maybe your late twenties, early thirties, when you start really struggling with like, well, who am I and where do I really come from? And start coming back around. And so literature such as this is like a really powerful tool to help these young folks transition into who they are and where they come from.
Ryan Buck (17:09):
Yeah. Well, you you’ve talked about when you were young, there wasn’t any literature that you identified that had native, you know, protagonist, main characters, but looking back, if somebody researched really hard, was there literature back then that just wasn’t recognized or wasn’t celebrated or may now be celebrated because of what you have pioneered?
Angeline Boulley (17:32):
I think there probably was, but maybe it was just so obscure that it never reached my,
Mark L. Wilson (17:40):
I would think legal books, documents, genealogical books that tell the story accurately, but it doesn’t paint picture right
Angeline Boulley (17:51):
Of fiction story can draw a reader in and experience things through another character’s eyes. And, you know, that’s really what I wanted to do was, and I can’t tell you the number of times that it, this happens mostly women there’ll be a native woman that comes up to me at a book signing or an event. And she wants to tell me how much the book meant to her and how she identified with the story. And she can’t get the words out because she’s just overcome with the emotion of seeing herself represented in a book. And to me that’s the best reaction. And it just feels like a really special touching connection moment that I have with a reader when I can just see it in their eyes. It’s happened at, you know, quite a few times.
Mark L. Wilson (18:44):
I, I struggled with that with thinking what I was going to say to you here today to be on the same thing as like, am I going to well up thinking about my own personal struggles in my journey. And what’s led me to where I am today and proud to be an [inaudible]. Cause I, I get that, like I said, I’m half Cecilia and I got a lot of my mother’s genes in me that stand out a little bit more. And so it’s one thing to be in the tribal community and get that question, like, what is your blood quantum? And that’s like one of the most hurtful things to even have to recognize that as tribal people, we have to judge ourselves based on how much blood you have. And then on the flip side, you know, I can assure you that the kids at traverse city west junior high, we’re sure to remind me that I wasn’t white, you know?
Angeline Boulley (19:35):
Right. And that’s something that, you know, Don, this she’s, you know, her non-native family, doesn’t like the native part of her and on the reservation, she’s not really viewed as you know enough Indian because of her connection with her mother’s family. And I just saw too many teens, too many of my students deal with similar things and then myself, my children. And so I really felt that talking about identity issues and really claiming your identity, that is very much a hallmark of young adult coming of age, claiming your identity in your placement.
Ryan Buck (20:18):
And you’ve talked about this in interviews, and you’ve just talked about this today about looking native or not looking native and how that affects you. So was Daunis being biracial from the get, I mean, that’s a critical part of the story, correct? I mean, that’s inherently,
Angeline Boulley (20:36):
She started out very much like me and then it wasn’t until several drafts in where she became more independent from me. For example, I am not good in chemistry or math or science and I’ve never played hockey ever. So wow.
Ryan Buck (20:56):
Is that true? That’s true. Cause I was going to ask you what your connection to hockey is.
Angeline Boulley (21:01):
I have a son who played hockey who is still
Ryan Buck (21:04):
Angeline Boulley (21:06):
Then growing up, well, I lived in Sault Ste. Marie for about 15 years. And if you live in a town that has more ice rinks than pizza places, you’re definitely in a hockey town and you’re going to pick up through osmosis. You’re going to pick up a bit of hockey. Wow.
Ryan Buck (21:23):
So we’re going to get to the point where this is going to be a television show on Netflix. And do you have a vision of her in your head? Do you have an artist drawing when you think about Daunis, what she looks like is how much of you is in this novel?
Angeline Boulley (21:40):
Like I said, originally, I thought about her like me, but now I think of her different, you know distinct and different for the longest time. So I had this Pinterest board and I would make all these casting selections, but I’ve been working on the book for 10 years. So actors that I had envisioned for certain roles have definitely aged out of those roles. And I never found anyone for doneness until my son had me watch the show called resident alien. And there’s an actress on there. Her name is Haley Layla rain, and she plays a 16 year old J a young woman who’s indigenous. And when I see her, I think, okay, that I think she could be done us. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that.
Ryan Buck (22:34):
So as a, as a former educator, what would you say to anybody listening who was in your position at 18 and had a story to tell, should they just full speed ahead? What would you say to them?
Angeline Boulley (22:48):
Full speed ahead. I mean, you can be going to college, you can be working, you can be, you know, raising a family, but there are moments where you just think through the story and if you’re not ready to write it, just think about it. You’re still creating, even if you’re not writing. And I created for 28 years before I actually put pen to paper and started writing. And by then I knew exactly who Don this was. I knew the beginning. I knew the ending of the story and I knew who one of the villains was and everything else has been just gone through different. Every draft was, had things different. And
Ryan Buck (23:30):
As a writer, how much pressure did you put on that ending? Because I can imagine, you know, as any storyteller, the ending is critical. So how much pressure did you put on yourself to create what you thought was the perfect ending?
Angeline Boulley (23:45):
I, that wasn’t my struggle. Wow. I always knew the ending. And then when I knew
Ryan Buck (23:54):
More about the ending and really developed it, I was very happy with it. And it always stayed true to the idea. Is that in your interactions with other authors, is that rare?
Angeline Boulley (24:07):
Many times authors will know like a tent they’ll know the beginning, they’ll know the mid point and they’ll know the ending and then everything else gets flushed in. At some point, my struggle was always the middle and then really working with my editor at Macmillan. She really helped me so much with figuring out what the point of the middle is. And it’s making good on the promise of the premise. So if this is indigenous Nancy drew than the middle needs to be full of fun and games of doneness gaining the skills that she needs or realizing that she already had those skills and being proactive in seeking out clues, right.
Ryan Buck (24:53):
In a very uniquely native story. When you approached this book over the years, were there any stereotypes that you were looking to address or maybe even avoid?
Angeline Boulley (25:04):
Well, I always wanted to represent my community in a respectful manner. The story does delve into methamphetamines and I wanted to make the point that it wasn’t just on the reservation. It was in town, it was in other hockey towns. It was, you know, so that it wasn’t viewed as an Indian problem, but rather it was something that has devastated so many communities.
Ryan Buck (25:30):
Is it true that you spent time with the state police learning how to make a meth?
Angeline Boulley (25:35):
Yes, that’s true. I take research very seriously.
Ryan Buck (25:40):
Wow. How did you even approach that?
Angeline Boulley (25:44):
When I lived in Sioux St. Marie, I got to know a professor at lake state who had been a former law enforcement officer who had context at the state police academy. And it was some committee and we just happened to be talking over dinner with like a large group of people. And I had said something about this book that I was writing, and most people are like, oh, that’s nice. But he was like, Ooh, that sounds good. What about this? What about this? And it was it was really exciting. And then he said, Hey, if I could arrange for you to attend this, there’s a workshop coming up on production of math and identifying clandestine meth labs. Would you be interested in going and heck? Yeah, so I attended and I was the only non law enforcement person at the
Ryan Buck (26:34):
That’s interesting because there, there has to be a lot of trust because anybody like sneaky meth want to be meth dealer could be like, Hey, can I do a training course with the police?
Angeline Boulley (26:43):
I I’m sure I am sure that a background check was done to make sure that I am sure. Yeah. And that said, if someone put me in a room with meth ingredients, I would not know what to do, but it was don’t reach out to you. Don’t reach out to me. I, I can not make meth
Mark L. Wilson (27:04):
The research though. I mean, you could also go into any pharmacy and they’ll tell you what they can’t sell you.
Angeline Boulley (27:09):
That’s right. And that plays into the book too, because the story is set in Sioux St. Marie, which is a border town and sell their Sioux Ontario. And when the story is set, there are different laws. So in Michigan, you can only buy a certain amount of Sudafed things with ephedrine in it, but yet across the bridge, you could buy larger quantities of it. And so it made it fit in the story for having a place to get those supplies. And in bulk,
Mark L. Wilson (27:46):
I should mention that I only learned what I know from watching breaking bad. So like, I didn’t just automatically know that Sudafed is like one of these
Angeline Boulley (27:56):
Boy you came up with that information quick. Aye. Yeah.
Ryan Buck (28:01):
How, how much of that realism do you think affected the, the effect of the book? I mean, you look at a story with the drug element. How much of that realism do you think was important to the success of the book?
Angeline Boulley (28:15):
Well, a lot I wanted to tell a truthful story, some unvarnished truths that affect Mike community and other communities. And unfortunately drugs are a part of that, but I wanted to tell a story that was bigger than that. And that gets at community and healing and joy and connections.
Ryan Buck (28:40):
Right. And you’ve mentioned a comparison to Nancy drew. Were there any other literary characters that kind of inspired Daunis along the way? Anything that popped up that you added in along the
Angeline Boulley (28:52):
Way? Not really. Yeah,
Ryan Buck (28:55):
Of course. Yeah. That’s fine.
Angeline Boulley (28:57):
It was hard because when you send a query letters to an agent or emails to literary agents, you want them to represent you, you usually put in some comparable titles, they call them comps. And so I knew one would be indigenous Nancy drew, but what else do you put in? Right. It was really hard for me to figure out, well, what is my book? Like, because to me it wasn’t like anything I had read before that was stressful. Trying to come up with how to pitch the book in terms of literary comps, because you’re supposed to use recent books and, you know, you can’t comp it to blockbusters like Harry Potter or the hate U give. I mean, that’s kind of a share, right? Yeah. You’re really comparable to those. And it has to show that you’re well-read in that genre or that age category. And so I struggled with it and I was somewhat validated that when it came time to go on submission to publishers, my agent pitched it as genre defying, you know?
Ryan Buck (30:06):
And do you think the uniqueness of it, I mean, you obviously have an agent who really went to bat and you know, how important was that partnership and how, how did you kind of keep that person motivated and behind your, your book?
Angeline Boulley (30:20):
She is a rockstar in the publishing and the literary agent world. I had received multiple offers of representation from different agents. And she just had this stellar reputation. Like if you were an agent who wrote books, you would want her to be your rep because she is just at the top of the field. Right. And she was also the easiest to talk to just not at all, pretentious, not at all. What I thought a New York agent would be like, and I have a hard time asking for help and talking with her, I felt like, okay, I could go to her. If I started to feel over my head, I wouldn’t wait until it was a crisis. I could come to her early and say, I’m struggling with this or that. And she would help me problem solve. And to me, that was the key thing of why I went with her was that approachability and that ease of being able to talk about things, right.
Ryan Buck (31:23):
Well that wellspring of success, all these people after you and wanting to be a part of this at any point where you’re like this could be exploited, this doesn’t feel right. Or was that success right off the bat? What you were envisioning?
Angeline Boulley (31:37):
I think this is something where my, my age and experience work in my favor because I have an ear for that smooth talker kind of thing. So I have a good gut instinct about people. And if I get a bad feeling, I, you know, move away from them. And, and I do business with the people that I choose to do business with. For an example, when it came time to meet with different production companies, about the film rights, I would say the same thing to everyone. And it was the most important thing to me was native representation, not just in front of the camera, but behind the camera, in the writer’s room at all levels of production. And one of the production companies, the main guy with it said, oh, well, are there any native screenwriters? And I, and I thought, why would you pitch me? I’m going to sell my project to you. You don’t know the first thing about, if you can’t find a screenwriter, you haven’t done the first bit of homework, right? Why would I do business with you? And I’m not going to do Indians one-on-one with people that I’m in business with,
Ryan Buck (32:50):
Tell them to go hang out at Sundance for a little while.
Angeline Boulley (32:53):
Yeah. And with higher ground productions, it was the complete opposite. When I said that about representation, they were like, of course, and these are the networks that were already plugged into, you know, these are the people that we know these, and they were just so committed and believed. That was like a core belief of theirs too, about representation matters in books. It matters what you see on screen.
Ryan Buck (33:18):
So this is going to be a series on Netflix and higher ground productions, obviously president Obama and former first lady, Michelle Obama’s production company. And you talked about these pitch meetings. So you are being sought after for a show. What are these meetings? Like? You mentioned, somebody came in and said, you know, are there any native American writers? Is it just you in a room? Where were you at? Can you kind of frame what this experience is like on your end? They were
Angeline Boulley (33:48):
All phone calls, conference calls
Ryan Buck (33:52):
And there’s this COVID related or would it normally be
Angeline Boulley (33:55):
No, I think those things just happen. Maybe it could have been in person, but I was also working full time. And actually that was the week that I was in Minneapolis for a national Indian education association convention. And I remember taking the call from higher ground. I was in a CA I was driving from the conference venue to the airport and I took the call on speaker phone in the car.
Ryan Buck (34:25):
Did you know at that point that they had a deal with Netflix or was it just a wonderful,
Angeline Boulley (34:29):
That was the getting to know you call the discussion about their ideas for the project where they see it, for example, did they see it as a feature film or a series?
Ryan Buck (34:40):
Oh, that was in discussion as well. It could have been. So what was, was that your decision to say TV series or how did that kind of work?
Angeline Boulley (34:49):
They would pitch what they thought would be best. The production company would say it’s, it’s a nearly 500 page book to boil it down to a 90 page script. Right? There’s a lot that has to get cut, but doing it as a series. And they loved the elders. They loved the, all of the different characters in the story. And by pitching it to me as a series, they explained they could really dive into some of the characters that they just fell in love with. So to me, that made a lot of,
Ryan Buck (35:24):
At that time, when you took that call, while going to the Europe, did, did the enormity of this land on you? Like when did it settle on you that this is going to be something amazing and you’re going to share it with more people than you probably could have ever envisioned.
Angeline Boulley (35:39):
Yes, of course my hands were shaking when I took the call and one of my staff members was also in the car with me and we just kept looking at each other. I had pulled over into a gas station parking lot. So, because I didn’t want to be on the road and, but we just kept staring at each other, like, you know, oh my gosh. Yeah. Yes. And it was incredible. And then my agent called me after the call ended and said, I didn’t want to tell you this beforehand, but higher ground doesn’t move forward. Unless Barack and Michelle are on board with the project. And she said, I wanted to let you know that Barack Obama is going to be reading your manuscript this weekend. I just freaked out. I just freaked out. So I re-read my manuscript that weekend. And I just remembered pausing during different scenes and thinking did present prac Obama get to this part in my manuscript. Did he read this scene? And it was the most incredible weekend of just he is reading my, you know,
Ryan Buck (36:50):
Because that was going to ask you, have you read your book? Like objective?
Angeline Boulley (36:54):
I have, I, it’s hard though. Now that it’s in print, it’s hard for me to read it. I get caught up on, Ooh, did I really need that word there? Or did I need this or that thing? It is. It’s like, oh, I wish I could have had one more go through. I think I could have made it even better. It’s easier for me to listen to the audio book because I’m able to get lost in the story easier. Whereas seeing
Mark L. Wilson (37:21):
You have a great voice, why did you choose to go with a different voice actor to read your book?
Angeline Boulley (37:26):
Because I’m a fan of audio books and I’ve heard too many authors read their own books and it wasn’t a good decision. Their breaths would be at different points or they just, it wasn’t as polished as what a train.
Mark L. Wilson (37:43):
She had to be able to kinda switch out for certain characters a little.
Angeline Boulley (37:47):
And I knew I could voice doneness. And I knew, you know, I had a pretty good granny Joon voice, but as far as all the other characters, that was the thing. I didn’t have the skills to tackle so many other characters. And so my publisher knew that I really wanted an indigenous narrator. And so we put out a casting call for indigenous narrators and I posted things on all of my social media and my publisher did too. And I was able to listen to all of the samples and the instant I heard is Abella star LeBlanc. I just knew that’s exactly how Don this sounds in my head. And then she had the most perfect granny, June voice. She got like the cadences of how elders in my community speak. So I just knew in an instant that that’s who I wanted,
Ryan Buck (38:41):
What a connection to have with another person that you now have. So this is a, obviously a very personal story to you, a personal character, and now it’s going to be out into the world and other people’s hands. You have some control over this, but now other people are going to be involved in bringing it to television. Does that scare you? Does that excite you? And how involved are you going to be moving forward?
Angeline Boulley (39:04):
It scares and excites me. Just the thought of seeing the story on screen. When I was writing, when I would get stuck, I would envision it as a movie on screen. And I would look at what the actions were and maybe think of it from a different character’s point of view, the scene from a different character. So I’m a very visual person. And so the thought of my story being on screen is just so thrilling. But yet there are certain things the author controls and you control whether or not you option the film rights you control, you control who you option those rights to. After that you give up, it’s like letting your baby into the world. And you have to trust that the people that are gonna, you know, bring that to fruition are going to have your core values. And, but you have to let go of it. I opted not to be a screenwriter. I don’t have that training. And I’m more interested in telling new stories and I will be an executive producer on the series, but I’m not sure what that really means. I don’t think it means anything.
Ryan Buck (40:22):
You know, I I’m curious, and you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but as an executive producer, I do think you have influence. Is there something that you, when this all moves forward, that you will say, this cannot change. This element cannot change. You cannot take artistic license with this element of the story or a character. Is there anything that you will, that’s the hill you’re going to die on?
Angeline Boulley (40:45):
I think if I saw a script and I didn’t recognize doneness, or I didn’t recognize my tribal community, I would definitely speak up on that. I do wish very strongly that they would do some location shoots in Sioux St. Marie and sugar island. I don’t see how you can tell a story that features the sugar island ferry. So prominently in the story and not do a location shoot there, but I don’t
Ryan Buck (41:12):
Logistics of Hollywood, you know, like you’d hate to see and recreate it on green screen or something right
Angeline Boulley (41:18):
There. I just can’t fathom that.
Mark L. Wilson (41:21):
And or the community working with licensing, certain things who knows, but I would think, you know, you said you’ve been writing this and rewriting it so many. You have so many different versions and pieces of it that now when somebody reads the book, you can create in your head, each individual has that. So like, it, it would be exciting to see what somebody else is going to do with the directing the series and where it goes, you know?
Ryan Buck (41:51):
And I think that’s can you talk at all about where things are as it relates to the shell and the, like, as it
Angeline Boulley (41:58):
They’ve named a show runner, his name is Mickey Fisher. He was the head writer on [inaudible], which was a series on NBC with Halle Berry. Yep. So he’s the show runner and a co had writer. The other co-head writer is we know no Williams who is bad river, or [inaudible] from Wisconsin, and she is a screenwriter with 20 years experience. And so I’m just really thrilled
Ryan Buck (42:28):
Angeline Boulley (42:28):
Start. Yeah, it’s a great start. And I know that they’re working on the first script and once Netflix GreenLights that, then they’ll assemble, what’s called a writer’s room and they’ll bring in a writing team to work on the first season of,
Ryan Buck (42:45):
So your book is leading to the employment and the collaboration of probably hundreds of people. How does that feel? It feels really
Angeline Boulley (42:55):
Good. It does.
Ryan Buck (42:56):
It feels great. Have you met president Obama or will
Angeline Boulley (43:00):
I have not met the Obamas yet, but I have faith that someday I will,
Ryan Buck (43:08):
You know, from our conversation here and your passion and the story is just so unique. I think this is going to be a huge success. So are they asking you for more what’s the next step? Okay.
Angeline Boulley (43:21):
Well, my book deal with Macmillan is for two books. So I am working on book two. And what I can say about that is it’s not a traditional sequel per se. It’s still set in my tribal community and you’ll see familiar faces, but it’ll have a new main
Ryan Buck (43:39):
Kind of a leading question there, to be honest, because you’re creating a universe.
Angeline Boulley (43:45):
I think that it has been really encouraging the response from publishing and from Hollywood about indigenous stories told by indigenous writers. And
Ryan Buck (43:58):
That’s what is so exciting. I think it’s interesting, a kind of mystery thriller universe, but it’s steeped in native American culture and you’re teaching and you’re sharing. Is there anything else you’d want to share with our listeners? How can people contact you and what is the best way to buy the book? And I, I don’t want to set you up, but a bookstore, hopefully if you have one in your town, but what’s the best way to, to get the book.
Angeline Boulley (44:24):
I encourage people to support their local independent book seller. I will also say that Barnes and noble has named fire keepers daughter as its young adult book of the year. And
Ryan Buck (44:39):
Angeline Boulley (44:40):
So, yeah, just buy the book, buy an extra copy and give it away to a friend
Ryan Buck (44:46):
Through this. Have there been other native American authors that you’ve met anybody that you’d want to maybe plug or any other books that you would recommend?
Angeline Boulley (44:53):
Well, I do want to get back to what outside want to share is if book one was pitched as indigenous Nancy drew, book two is indigenous Laura Craft, but instead of raiding tombs, the
Ryan Buck (45:07):
Angeline Boulley (45:09):
Their jaws are dropped. Instead of rating tombs, the main character will be reclaiming ancestral remains and sacred items from private collectors and museums to bring back home to sugar island. And in the course of one of her heists things go very badly.
Ryan Buck (45:27):
Thank you for sharing that. That’s a school that’s. That is unbelievable. Oh my gosh. Yeah. And what’s the best way to maybe contact you? You have a website, correct?
Angeline Boulley (45:38):
Yes, I do. AngelineBoulley.com. I’m also on social media. I’m on Instagram and Facebook as Angeline Boulley and I’m on Twitter at Fine Angeline, F I N E fine Angeline. And really that’s the best way to get ahold of me and other indigenous authors that I love Cherie Dimaline. She wrote the Marrow Thieves and okay, this is the perk that about being an author that no one tells you about. I got to read the sequel to the Marrow Theives is called “Hunting By Stars”, and that’ll be out this fall and Cherie Dimaline, did my book launch with me, my virtual book launch. So we were in conversation and really hit it off. And so her agent asked my agent if I would read the early copy of hunting by stars and do a book blurb. And I was like, you have no idea what the Marrow Theives, you know, has meant to me.
Angeline Boulley (46:39):
I just think it’s such a, a wonderful, compelling all the emotions, all the feelings, everything book. And for those who don’t know, it’s sat in Canada in the near future where people have lost the ability to dream and only indigenous people are able to still dream. And so they want to round up indigenous people and put them in what they call schools, but really what they want to do is to harvest their marrow because they think that’s where the secret to dreams, the science of dreams is in our bone marrow. And so it’s the story of a 14 year old boy named Frenchie. And he’s on the run from these, you know, hunters basically
Ryan Buck (47:22):
Like a harrowing experience for native American
Angeline Boulley (47:25):
People. Yes. And it is, it is such a great
Ryan Buck (47:29):
Read and one an amazing metaphor too. That’s
Angeline Boulley (47:32):
Incredible. Yup. Definitely her books. I love.
Ryan Buck (47:35):
Wow. Well, Angeline, I cannot thank you enough for being here. This is absolutely amazing. And congratulations on all your success. I cannot wait to read the book and watch the show because I legitimately feel like this is important, not just through working with mark and working with GTB here for the last eight years, but for telling the stories that need to be told.
Angeline Boulley (47:57):
Thank you. Miigwetch for that. And I would also like to add that I was very careful in what I shared and what I chose not to share. So I don’t write about actual ceremony. You know, I fade to black when Daunis or auntie are going into the sweat lodge. So I was very careful about checking with my elders and my teachers about what to share and what not to share. So I had this mantra while I was working on my book that I write to preserve my culture and I edit to protect it.
Ryan Buck (48:29):
I think what it’s going to do is create a discourse that will take its own path. You know, like a river. It will go the way it needs to go. And again, thank you for being here and writing an amazing book that will educate and inspire and, and thrill every reader and a sequel coming out. And sounds amazing.
Angeline Boulley (48:48):
Thank you for having
Ryan Buck (48:49):
Me and thank you so much to our listeners. Thank you for listening and thank you pursuing the positive
Mark L. Wilson (48:59):
You guys. Thank you so much for joining us again on the pursuit of podcast, the pursuit of the firekeeper’s daughter, Angeline Boulley. I was so honored that she was willing to come over on such short notice, have a conversation with Ryan and myself. This is been just an absolute high point of the studio and this podcast. Kchi Miigwetch! I can’t say it enough. Shout out to our sponsors, Tin Lid Hat Company, tinlidco.com, promo code: thepursuitof, and newleonard.com for all podcasting inquiries.