Arts & Culture
Local Author’s New Novel ‘House of Purple Cedar’ Speaks Choctaw Truth
Published: February 26, 2014
Now, with the publication of his latest novel, House of Purple Cedar, released last month by Cinco Puntos Press, Tingle has delved deeper into history, including his own. The novel describes the destruction of Skullyville, Okla., home to a once-thriving Choctaw community that was slowly driven out by an influx of white settlers in the early 20th century. Extensively researched, the story begins with the real life arson of an Indian boarding school for girls that resulted in the deaths of 20 children. Tingle believes that the story’s violence and chilling animosity make the novel more appropriate for an adult audience. The book also illustrates that the Choctaw are one group of many—including women, children and the elderly—who have been oppressed by powerful antagonists.
A victim of and witness to domestic abuse, Tingle seems to use his narrator’s opening lines to address his own need to confront the reality of the past, forgive the transgressors and move on. The story begins: “The hour has come to speak of troubled times. Though the bodies have long ago returned to dust, too many ghosts still linger in the graveyards. You are old enough. You need to know. It is time we spoke of Skullyville.”
Tingle says that the novel took him 15 years to write because he needed 15 years to find the courage to write it. “If people don’t fling the door open and shine the light, [abuse] will continue,” he said. “And if I don’t begin to tell the truth now, I’m going to be one of those ghosts trying to grab someone walking over my grave.”
As Tingle toured the Choctaw National Cemetery in Skullyville and read historical accounts of the town’s destruction, he tried to comprehend how a town the size of New Braunfels could disappear “without a building standing and no mention on the map.” He explained: “The kettle of my imaginings boiled over a low flame as I tried to picture men capable of such cruelty. And somewhere in the course of the stewing I realized I knew these men, fueled by alcohol. I had witnessed family cruelties akin to those described in House of Purple Cedar. I had seen fear on the face of innocent women.”
It is with this personal experience that Tingle developed the resonating theme of forgiveness in his own life and the lives of his characters. In House of Purple Cedar, the Choctaw experience and Tingle’s childhood are not just stories of abuse. They are also stories of laughter, perseverance and forgiveness. The book’s title refers to a paradoxical house from Choctaw lore, one that doesn’t provide answers, but rather different ways of looking at something—much like Tingle’s stories.
House of Purple Cedar
By Tim Tingle | Cinco Puntos Press | $21.95 | 336 pp