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Sample interview questions for Sharman Burson Ramsey, author of Swimming with Serpents

1. Your debut novel Swimming with Serpents has been called "a debut novel of historical importance.'' For those who haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet, what's the book about?

Two hundred years ago on August 30, 1813, one of the greatest massacres this nation has ever seen happened on the banks of the Tombigbee River at a place known as Boatyard Lake. Located at Mims Ferry on the Federal Road a fort had sprung up around the gracious home of Sam and Hannah Mims who operated the ferry. About a month earlier a militia consisting of many mixed blood Native Americans attacked a group of Red Sticks bent on war on their return from Pensacola with arms and ammunition. The militia routed the Red Sticks but stuck around to plunder their still loaded packhorses making a counterattack by the Red Sticks possible and the Red Sticks won the day. The families of the Red Sticks who were killed demanded retribution and the target for the first attack of the Creek War shifted from Tukebatchee, the major village of the peace Indians, to Fort Mims, where those mixed bloods who had participated in the attack on the Red Sticks at Burnt Corn Creek were stationed.

Star crossed lovers Lyssa Rendel and Cade Kincaid get separated and caught up in the events of that war.

To the victors belong the spoils -- and the story. Swimming with Serpents is the rest of that story.

2. The book was 15 years in the making, told from the Native American perspective, with remarkable detail of those events and that era showing the amount of work put into it. What kind of research did you have to do?

You find out in writing a novel that you can get caught up in the research. You must know the people of the time so you read biographies. You must know the politics, music, culture, medicine, food, climate-- details that make the story come alive. I met people I came to admire. I came to dislike some I had always admired. Then there comes a time you just have to sit down and write. You must know your heroine and your hero and then you let them tell you what they experienced. In historical fiction, as Jeff Shaara says, the chronology of events helps guide your story.

3. You grew up in a family with roots deep in the South. You are the webmaster for a very popular genealogy and southern culture website How did this influence your writing?

I am a genealogist. I knew about my ancestors who came on the Mayflower, settled Jamestown, helped found New Amsterdam, the Huguenots who fled France for religious freedom and the Quakers that came from England, the Scots and Irish who fled hunger and persecution, but I did not know about my Native American ancestors whose lands they took until about 15 years ago. I discovered that family legend was that my fourth great grandmother, Vashti Vann, was an Indian. That was exciting to me and opened new vistas on my personal quest for discovering just who I am.

History books told me that my Native American grandmother's husband, Benjamin Jernigan, was asked by his neighbor, Andrew Jackson, to leave the Burnt Corn Springs area where he had settled and herd cattle near Fort Crawford for the war Jackson anticipated with the Spanish. According to the history book, Jackson frequently visited his friend Benjamin Jernigan and ate at his table. He would have eaten food prepared by the Indian woman whose cousins he sent on the Trail of Tears. I visited the site of the Fort Mims massacre and found a sad neglected piece of earth that had a story that had not been told. If this woman and these people were of my blood, I wanted to know more.

I felt it was a tale I was meant to tell. When I was a little girl my favorite game was Indian Princess. I gave myself the name, Little Laughing Waterfall.

I guess I felt called to write the story. Something in my blood called to me, much like the lyrics to Nightwish's beautiful song, "Creek Mary's Blood"

Soon I will be here no more
You'll hear my tale
Through my blood
Through my people
And the eagle's cry
The bear within will never lay to rest

Wandering on Horizon Road
Following the trail of tears.

4. You've raised three children and have four grandchildren that you are actively involved with yet you've always wanted to be a writer. What made you finally follow your dream?

I have always written, stealing moments between stirring pots and overseeing children. Whenever my husband came home and the windows were open and the fans on full blast, he knew that I had gotten lost in another time and let dinner burn.

But, I had a story that needed telling. It was a serendipitous alignment of the right people appearing at the right time in my life to help the dream be fulfilled. My dear friend Kathie Bennett read the book and said, "You can write. We'll make this happen." Kathie introduced me to Karen Spears Zacharias who told me that Marc Jolley at Mercer University Press was interested in these people and this era. It just so happens that Mercer University Press is located in Macon, Georgia, where Benjamin Hawkins, agent to the Creek Indians, operated the Creek Agency. The novel got into the hands of someone who appreciated the story of these people .

5. How did you create the characters in your novel?

The major characters in the novel were inspired by the ancestors of David Mason, professor at the University of South Alabama about whom he wrote in Five Dollars a Scalp. I borrowed their position in the Creek society which would have been a similar situation that my own ancestors would have faced and created new characters. I was then not bound to their reality and could move them in and out of other situations that I wanted to write about. Most of the other characters are actual historical figures. I am a historian. And I am a writer. I put flesh and blood on facts to make the time and people come alive.

6. Your second book is already in the pipeline with Mercer University Press. Can you give us a sneak peek?

And after I wrote Cade and Lyssa's story in Swimming with Serpents, I was unsatisfied. I wanted to know what happened to those who survived Horseshoe Bend. And I wanted to know what happened to the characters in the book I had just written. So, that led to the next novel in the Serpents Series that will be released next September in 2013, IN PURSUIT. I plan to tell the stories of the characters introduced in Swimming with Serpents in the succeeding novels in the Serpents Series.

Just to confirm that I actually have that Native American blood, I took a DNA test through Tribal DNA and discovered that not only do I have a Native American genetic heritage but that Native American heritage is Mayan/Mexican/Native American. That sent me into a whole new genealogical study that has led to the writing of my newest novel with parallel contemporary and historical plot lines titled Deja Vu All Over Again. I have discovered that we have clues as to what happened to the Mayans written into the genetic code of many of us who are descendants of the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek.

7. Cassadra King writes that Swimming with Serpents is a novel of historical importance. Why is that?

Perhaps she means that it is important for us to look at a brothers war from the prospect of 200 years. You wonder how families can get so divided as to fight a war. Perhaps by looking at the roll of politics, religion, economics and natural disasters in the Creek War, we can gain perspective on events in our own time.