The American Café Sizzles With Surprise and Mayhem

Lisa Gale Garrigues
12/16/11

Mystery and Mayhem in Small-Town Oklahoma

When  Sadie Walela decides to pursue her lifelong dream of owning a cafe, she doesn't realize that she's about to jump headlong into a sizzle of surprise and mayhem. That mix includes one gun-toting elderly white lady, a  shell-shocked war veteran, a young woman in search of her roots, a mysterious Creek man named Red, and a small-town police department that, to say the least, has its hands full. It’s all in The American Café (University of Arizona Press, 2011).

With her second Sadie Walela mystery (the first was Deception on All Accounts, 2003), Cherokee author Sara Sue Hoklotubbe not only spins an intriguing and satisfying yarn but also tackles American issues, Indian and white, as they play themselves out in the small American town of Liberty, Oklahoma. The American Café, whose former owner shows up dead in the first few pages, is Walela’s newest entrepreneurial adventure and attracts a cross-section of American life.

Hoklotubbe is not afraid to deal head-on with the  issues her characters bring to the table—racism, adoption, alcoholism, the search for roots, the trauma of war, the sustenance and transformation of small-town America. And she does it artfully and skillfully, moving us along in a fast-paced story with well-developed characters while weaving in her own knowledge of Cherokee language and tradition.

Anyone who has been tempted to chuck his or her boring job and follow a dream can find inspiration in Hokotubbe's Walela as she leaves behind the secure world of banking and tackles the challenge of entrepreneurship, juggling coffeepots as well as employee relations.

But Hoklotubbe doesn't stop there. On top of navigating the fine line between red and white in small- town America, Walela is also subject to a series of inexplicable assaults. Our protagonist is not rattled.

At the  end of the suspenseful, entertaining and insightful meal of mystery served up by the American Café, I have only one word left for Sara Sue Hoklotubbe and her heroine: “More.”

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Stripping Away the Mystery of Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

The American Café is the second in an engaging mystery series. Indian Country Today Media Network caught up with the author to find out a little about where her creation Sadie Walela has been and— more important—where she’s going.

In what ways has your Cherokee heritage inspired your writing?

I grew up in a small community in Cherokee country. When I was a kid, I thought everybody was Indian. It wasn't until I grew up that I realized, “Okay, maybe not.”

I had a kind of a small view of the world, so to speak. I think it kind of hit home to me when I was a teenager, working in this restaurant in the summer time on Lake Eucha [in Oklahoma], which is where a lot of my writing revolves around because that's where I lived. This guy came in, and he had two young boys with him, and he said, “Can you tell me where the Indians are?” I looked at him like, What do you mean? And he said, “Well I want to take the boys to see the Indians and their horses and their teepees and stuff.”

I thought, Okay this is a really funny joke, right?

I started laughing because it was so silly. Then it dawned on me that this man was serious. And I said, “No, there are no tipis. First of all we're in Cherokee country; it's the plains Indians who have teepees. We live in houses, we work, and we have jobs, and ... here we are.”

I think that's always kind of in the back of my mind. I'm always so amazed about how uneducated people are about Indian Country.

How did you get started with the Sadie Walela series?

I had spent 21 years in the banking business. My knight in shining armor, in the form of a Choctaw, came and rescued me from the banking business. We moved to another state where it wasn't really easy to get a job. He said, “Isn't there something that you've always wanted to do?” I said, “Well, I think I'd like to write.” And he said, “So go write.”

What are your plans for this series?

I'm working on the third book right now. It's going to be another Sadie adventure that's going to take her in another direction. This is going to revolve around a neighbor, a full-blood Cherokee World War II veteran who fought the battle of Iwo Jima.

Is there anything else you would like to say to Indian Country?

I'm just very thankful that when I moved back to Tahlequah I had so much support from Cherokee people when I was writing there. Elders in the church took me under their wing and helped me with the language. I could just ask them anything. That was really something. Having already lost my mother and my grandmother, I was really thankful for those people. To hear people come up and say, ‘Oh my friends, they want your book for Christmas,’ really makes me feel good.

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