Recently, Debbie and Murv teamed with writer James Murray and published a project four years in the making, Secret History of the Cherokees. The 2012 epic novel unearths new histories for the tribe. Inside the pages are fits of vulgarities and violence and era appropriate dialect and dialogue. Hints of early colonialism trickle throughout the book, but the brunt of the text covers a few generations from the early nineteenth century to the Trail of Tears to mid-Civil War1800s to 1860s. Murv carries an air of pride about their newest release. He says, "Our novel was not written to be the last novel on the Cherokees. It was written to be the first novel on the Cherokees. That opens the door for some other good ones. And I hope nobody takes offense at that, but nobody mentioned the fact that they had slaves before our novel." He supports his statement by saying, "Forty percent of the people living in Oklahoma in 1850 were captured Africans." Slavery is never an easy subject to talk about, but Secret History is a historical narrative to give a voice to this bygone era.
Though the book is fiction, many of the characters are real people: Colonel Stand Watie, William Quantrill, John Ross, and Sequoyah, just to name a few. Debbie Duvall says, "There [are] a lot of people in this book that are real people. And then there's one family that is fictional, but the rest of the people are real....You can tell the story of what happened from the point-of-view of the fictional family without stepping on too many toes." She defines the book as "historical fiction based on fact." With each chapter, research was first. "We were writing a chapter at a time," says Duvall. "So we'd research and write; research and write. The research went up until the end."
The novel was a collaborative trinity. Murv echoes a common question directed toward the trio of authors: How can three people write a novel together?
I must have heard that a hundred times. It seems to me if one person's writing a novel, he gets away with some real bullshit. But if there's three people writing it, and they're exchanging ideas, then a lot of the crap is thrown out. We had a 500 page book. We cut it down to 280 pages because there was that much stuff that really wasn't necessary.
Despite the editing, Debbie saw writing the novel as a release: "[In a novel,] you can say whatever you want and take as long as you want to say it."
When asked about their future endeavors, the two envision many more projects together. Debbie wants to write a sequel to Secret History. Murv wants to do more Rabbit chronicles. Jacob and Duvall continue to promote their works at libraries and schools. They love reading to the kids and passing down the great Cherokee stories to our future leaders. Murv cracks a crinkly grin saying, "When you're there with the kids, it all rubs off on you."
Cherokee historian and novelist Robert Conley tells Jacob and Duvall they are keeping the culture alive. Murv believes, "We are the Cherokee myths in the future. They are still growing because we're helping grow them. The animal creatures that represent the Cherokee mythology are alive because you keep them alive." And the two are in the perfect location for such an enterprise. Tahlequah is the cultural center of the universe for the Western Cherokee band. Murv looks out of the studio window and sees the ghosts of a distant past: "Sequoyah used to walk down this street, man. [Chief] John Ross rode his big black carriage right [down this road]you can see it. There he goes clomp, clomp, clomp."
Murv and Debbie stand in love-locked arms outside their studio door. He clasps his hand around her wrist as she pats his belly. They stare into one another's eyes. Without a word they speak with a smile. Cars and pickup trucks pass by on the same street that Sequoyah and John Ross once walkedthey still do. If one looks close enough, he'll see Rabbit and Bear, too. Stories and myths live on because someone carries the torch. Writing books is never easy, but Murv and Debbie stand behind the work they produce. As Murv puts it: "Ad astra per apsera." That's his home state, Kansas's motto which means, "To the stars through perspiration, work, or difficulty." And the difficulties of working with someone and the daunting processes of research are worth it, especially for the kids. Murv and Debbie know that the next generation will keep the fire burning and be there to pass the legends along, but they have to hear them first. The message is in the trees, the animals, and the water. An entire people survived thousands of years living in accord with nature. Some still do. Murv and Debbie see the importance of remembering our ancestors' organic existence, and it truly is...a collaboration.