Sometimes the best stories are rooted in historical fact.
That's certainly the case for Sue Livesay Venable, a Tulsa author, who has taken stories about her grandparents' journey to Oklahoma, as well as historical research, to compete her first full-length novel.
Venable will visit the Grove Public Library at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 8, to sign her work, Dwelling among the Untrodden Ways: Life in Oklahoma Territory.
The work, written with Venable's former middle schoolers in mind, also appeals to adults.
More about the book
Venable, a retired English teacher, began her book shortly after her retirement.
Initially, she planned to write a short story - her favorite genre - based upon family tales.
An instructor at a University of Tulsa Writing conference encouraged her to continue, and make it a full novel.
Fourteen years later, Venable has completed her efforts, meeting the challenge to develop a piece of historical fiction which helps readers get a picture of life within the Oklahoma Territories.
"There's a lot of research [in it]," Venable said. "I interviewed a lot of people."
Venable said the process of securing facts, from personal interviews with a wide spectrum of people, to information available from the Oklahoma Historical Society, made the process of writing her book enjoyable.
The story began, based upon her grandfather's attempt to be part of the Cherokee Strip Run in 1890.
During the run her grandfather's horse fell in a hole and broke its leg.
"All he could do was get off the horse and shoot it," Venable said. "That took care of his good luck. So he went back home to Missouri to explain everything to his wife."
Eventually, Venable's grandfather and his family returned to the Oklahoma Territory, first renting then later buying land from the Pawnee Indians.
The family - which included five children - traveled from Missouri by covered wagon.
While the story is rooted in history, Venable has changed some facts from the initial family tales. She also gave the family a new name - Mansfield - and wove in additional information she gleaned from her research.
Some of the information came from diaries of participants in the land run, made available through the OHS.
"It's based on my imagine with the bare bones of family history," Venable said, adding she attempted to include as much historical fact about life in Pawnee County, as she could - down to the street and road names, as well as the land description of where her grandparents lived.
"I interviewed every farmer I could, in order to get the information right," Venable said, concerning life within the area. "I find Oklahoma history fascinating."
Venable hopes her story, written with her former eighth graders in mind, will challenge readers to seek out additional information about life in Oklahoma.
She said historical fiction she used within her classroom often helped students engage with the past - because it taught them facts embedded within the people found on the pages.
Venable said she strived to find a way to accurately portray what the land runs were like in the late 1800s, and how some found success while others sadness and loss.
She also strived to present a historical view of the Pawnee Indians, and others who lived within Indian Territory before the land runs.
More about Venable
Venable and her husband, Brice, live in Tulsa, where they attend Boston Avenue United Methodist Church. They have two daughters, Cathy and Amy.
Venable is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and has two master's degrees from the University of Tulsa. She taught English to students, ranging from middle school to college, in the Tulsa area for 38 years.
One Thing with Venable
One person who inspires you?
I have several friends who have written books who inspire me, including one professor, Marsha Berry, who taught at ORU, who has since moved to Wyoming. My family also inspired me to finish the book, often telling me "you've got to make it happen."
One book which has inspired you?
Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond. If I didn't have to make a living, I would love to have a Walden experience on my own. One year I was able to take my 11th grade English students to that area. It was like going to Mecca for me.
I'm currently reading a book about the Indian massacres, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, and the complete short stories of Eudora Welty. I love how every other sentence has a simile. It blows my mind.
One thing that might surprise people?
That I finally finished my book and got it published. I had a book signing after it was published at the Tulsa Historical Society. I only took 50 books - the room seats 100 people and every seat was filled. I think people were surprised to know I wrote a book.
One thing you can't live without?
I'm very religious, so my relationship with God is the basic and most serious thing. Frivolously, it would be Dr. Pepper.
One piece of advice you've been given?
Never give up. If you give up and get discouraged you'll never get anywhere. And prayers are answered, sometimes the answer or outcome works better than you expect