Words from a member

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Nancy Purcell

Monday, April 12, 2021

Interview with novelist, Annette Clapsaddle


Annette Clapsaddle
photo by Mallory Cash

Writers' Night Out featured novelist, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, Friday evening. Fifteen people signed in for our Zoom meeting. I enjoyed talking with Annette who is a member of the Eastern Band Cherokee and lives in the mountains of western North Carolina. 

She has published a debut novel, Even as We Breathe, set in the area around Cherokee NC and Asheville.

    GB: Where were you born, Annette, and where did you go to school as a child?

AC: I was born in Qualla, NC. just outside of Cherokee. I went to Smokey Mountain Elementary and then Smoky Mountain High School. Yes, they are spelled differently—a detail that quite amuses me.

GB: We know you have degrees from two prestigious northern colleges. Tell us about that.

AC: I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in American Studies from Yale University, along with my Secondary English teaching license in 2003. I earned my Master’s Degree in American Studies from The College of William and Mary in 2004.

GB: What did you study there? What did you want for a career?

AC: As an American Studies major, my concentration in undergraduate and graduate school was in Native American Studies. I always knew I wanted to be an English teacher and writer, so I took many English courses and some creative writing within the American Studies field.

GB: Did you always like to write even as a child?

AC: I have written for as long as I can remember. I still have little stapled-together books from elementary school and half-filled abandoned journals from my childhood. I had a whole gaggle of make-believe friends, so I think it was inevitable. Either I would be a writer or need to work on my friend-making skills.

GB: When did you decide to write this novel, and how long did it take to get it ready to submit for publication? How did you know when it was ready?

AC: I quite honestly lose track of time and we all know that writing a novel is rarely on a linear trajectory. So, I’d say it took around four years or so from concept to publication acceptance. I was workshopping the novel at the Appalachian Writers Workshop while simultaneously looking for an agent. Because of this, I first felt it was ready for publication when Rebecca Gayle Howell (working with the new Fireside Industries imprint at University Press of Kentucky) requested it, read it, and asked to publish it. 

Before that, I had resolved to keep working on it until I found an agent. Turns out, I did not find an agent until the novel was published. And in truth, I knew it was really ready when Silas House and I finished the editing process and it finally felt complete.

GB: I tell my writing students that they should expect to revise or re-write many times before sending to a publication, magazine, or review. What do you tell your students about that? 

AC: I tell my students the same thing. In fact, I use my own process as an example and talk them through the steps when I am in the middle of a project. They sometimes get to read my rejection emails with me and I show them what editors’ comments really look like on the page. 

GB: I heard that Silas House was your editor for this novel, and you appreciate his method of helping you. What was unique about his editing?

AC: Silas is incredibly insightful, generous, and tender as an editor. I know that last description is pretty unusual for an editor. When he returned edits for any given section, his notes would often be framed as

1. This line doesn’t work. 

2. This is the reason why.

3. Here are some options for making it stronger. 

4. But only if you choose to.  

I am pretty sure I would not have had a similar experience with many other editors. He understood the project from the first day and helped mine the authentic voice I wanted to convey, not what a market might typically expect from a Native author.

GB: You have said that you learned to write from some of the most notable writers here in western NC. Can you tell us about that?

AC: I certainly learned to write in school. Of course, that was my first introduction to the craft and I had incredible English teachers growing up. But I do not have an MFA, so my adult writing education relies heavily on experiences in workshops like the Great Smoky Mountains Writers Program and the Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman, KY. WNC also has a wealth of incredible writers who are also willing to serve as mentors and cheerleaders. I am very fortunate to call many of them teachers and friends.

GB: Please tell us the difference between the Qualla Boundary and a reservation for native Americans?

AC: In short, both land bodies are held in trust by the U.S. government. However, with the Qualla Boundary, we bought our land back a couple of times. It is, of course, our traditional homeland, and then we have, in many instances, had to repurchase it after the Indian Removal. Reservations elsewhere are typically lands set aside by the U.S. government. We own our land and it is also federal land. 

GB: I was touched by the comments from your students who said they finally could read about someone like them They related to this boy in your novel in a way others could not.  Why is this important?

AC: Regardless of topic or subject, if I can’t relate to my students, I am not a teacher. I think writing is an extension of this. We read to understand ourselves or our environments better. So, it is the job of the writer to provide this sense of connectivity through whatever mode they choose. As humans, we crave that connectivity and clarity of understanding. To know any of my students find that in my characters is the most significant contribution of both my teaching and writing.

GB: Launching a new novel during the pandemic had to be more difficult than you had thought it would be. Do you find the virtual appearances satisfying and helpful in promoting your book?

AC: Luckily, I had no idea what to expect from the publication process. Launching in a pandemic may have been easier for a debut novelist like myself. Because it opened up new opportunities through virtual events, I think I have probably said “yes,” way too much. It has been a bit exhausting. However, I have been spared long travel. I am grateful for all of it, though. I have been surprised to see the virtual events sustainable over such a long period of time. Attendance continues to be steady and strong. My publisher (UPK) and I have been pleased with sales, so I really can’t complain. I just hope that Indie bookstores have been able to benefit from these experiences as well. They have had to make incredible adjustments.

GB: I have heard high praise from my friends who have read Even as We Breathe, and I look forward to having my copy arrive soon. We appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to answer our questions and for being with us on Writer's Night Out.






  1. Glenda,
    You did an excellent job with this interview. I enjoyed reading it very much.

  2. Thank you, Brenda Kay. It was a pleasure and I appreciate your leaving comments on this site.


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