Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Romantic Conquest

By Jessica English

OCTOBER 26, 1998:  Albuquerque author Lana M. Harrigan's historical romances, Acoma and K'atsina, began as one novel, documenting the drama in New Mexico from Juan de Oñate's highly controversial punishment of the Acoma Revolt in 1599 to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The 1,000-plus-page manuscript was split into two books; the second, K'atsina, joined Acoma on bookshelves last month. A third historical romance, set during the de Vargas period, is in the works.

Just before her book tour to promote K'atsina, Weekly Alibi sat down for coffee with Harrigan to talk about love, language and conquest.

What first interested you in writing about Acoma?

... I had heard the story of the men getting their feet cut off (following the Acoma revolt) and thought that it was so horrible. I thought, "How do you survive the hatred that you must feel for someone who would do that to you?" ... In writing the book, I wanted to see ... what would transcend that.

What moved you to approach Acoma and K'atsina as romances?

... When I write, if my character is trudging beside the wheel of the carretta, I want the reader to be trudging beside the wheel. I want the dust blowing in her face, getting in her hair. I want the sweat trickling down between her breasts, feeling like an insect there. I want the readers to be in 1598 or in 1680. ... To me, you can't write a story without the human condition in it. And part of the human condition is the love that people feel for each other. ...

What is the significance of having, in both of the novels, an Acoma man who's fallen in love with a Spanish woman?

I wanted to do something that was a little more nontraditional. I struggled with María (the main character of Acoma) because I didn't like her when I first wrote her. ... I wanted ... the trip into New Mexico to cause her to ... explore her life in a wider manner than she would have (before). ... I thought using a Spanish woman and a Native man would break the barriers of the traditional--the conquering man subduing the conquered women. I wanted the Acoma man to also gain a wider vision of the world, ... to understand that the most important thing was to retain what was good and to see that the invaders were not monsters. That is part of learning how to survive something, having your foot cut off, having your people decimated.

Because the history of the Acoma Revolt is so controversial, have you had anyone raving mad at you for writing these novels?

Yes, I have had people on both sides upset with me. ... If people are polarized, they will not like the unflattering look at whatever part of their ethnicity. From the Acoma point of view, from speaking to a couple people, they'd just as soon the episode go away. But I did have a young Acoma woman come to my book-signing, ... and she said she was so grateful that I had written the book. ... That was very gratifying. I've had Hispanics who adore it, Hispanics who hate it also. ...

Have you ever been criticized for combining history into fiction?

I've never been criticized; that's what historical fiction does. But I think there are guidelines. ... I think you have to stick to historical record. But there are many, many holes in historical record, so then you're free to say how they got from situation X to situation Y. In (Acoma), I had my fictional character, María Angélica's husband, suggest the punishment to Oñate. That was a liberty I took, but nobody knows who suggested it. ...

Who inspired the characters in your novels? Did you take them from historical record?

I basically created them. I took the two brothers Juan de Zaldivar and Vincente de Zaldivar (Oñate's nephews), and I wanted to make one good and one bad. The physical descriptions I took from the Oñate documents. ... I read all the Oñate documents in the English translations. .... I would go to microfiche and read all of those old manuscripts in Spanish when there were things that I wanted to read that I wasn't sure of, or when I used words from Oñate. ... The historical research behind the books, the basic facts, ... are accurate.

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