Award-winning author and Oklahoma native, Mary McIntyre Coley, recently presented an entertaining insight into her latest book, Cobwebs, at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center.
What makes this novel so unique to Osage County is its connection to Pawhuska. Cobwebs is a suspense novel set in modern-day Pawhuska with ties to the infamous Reign of Terror. Many well-known historic sites have been drawn into the story, including the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, the Osage Tribal Museum, Osage County Historical Society Museum, Williams Park, Pawhuska Library and Pawhuska Cemetery.
Coley’s first introduction to Osage County began in the last half of the 1980s when she was working as a feature writer for the Ponca City News.
“I became intrigued by the area south of the river called The Osage,” said Coley. “I am a 16th Cherokee myself (on both sides of my family) and was fascinated with Native American spiritual beliefs and practices. I found myself drawn into the mystery of the infamous reign of terror and that no one really knew how many people were murdered.”
Coley also noted her interest in family history and how some families can keep secrets.
“These secrets may be about someone’s health, ancestors, or whatever,” continued Coley. “Eventually my interest conjured up the character of Jamie Aldrich who is the protagonist in this story as a woman who did not know her family’s past because she had never been told about it.”
When the story unfolds, Jamie is in her 40s. As a child, she and her siblings would spend their summers in Pawhuska visiting their great aunt Elizabeth. They had playmates and knew Pawhuska. Something happened the summer before Jamie turned 12 that scared her so much that the memory of the event was washed out and she never wanted to return to Pawhuska again.
Thirty years later, Jamie is summoned by her aunt who is then in her 90s. When she arrives, Jamie finds Elizabeth to be frail and agitated, inexplicably claiming that her entire life was a sham. When Elizabeth is attacked by an unknown intruder, she becomes unconscious and goes to the hospital. Jamie stays in Pawhuska to help her aunt recover but unexplainable things begin to happen at Elizabeth’s house and to Jamie. The longer she stays in Pawhuska, the more she feels like she can’t trust anyone.
Coley gave careful thought to designing the cover for Cobwebs.
“I wanted something suspenseful, something that would draw the eye,” said Coley. “The idea of cobwebs has to do with all these memories Jamie cannot access and the secrets of her family. The spider represents the bad people in the book – the evil. The yellow feather is for the Native American. Jamie is looking up from the basement into the light – looking for enlightenment. There is actually a scene in the book where Jamie is trapped in a root cellar.”
Coley said she spent a lot of time conducting research at both the Osage County Historical Society and Osage Tribal Museums. “I was intrigued by the list of allottees, the 1906 register, and the volumes of photographs at both museums.” continued Coley. “Cobwebs is interspersed with lots of history. If someone loves this book enough to come to Pawhuska, they can visit those locations. You are in Pawhuska. They cannot, however, go to Elizabeth’s house because it is fictional – just like all my characters have been invented. They are not related to anyone that I know of. I imagined Aunt Elizabeth’s house as one of those around 16th-17th streets — a two-story house that has fallen into disrepair because the caretaker had passed away.
“A passage in the book describes a fire in the Osage County Historical Society Museum’s storage room. This passage was written five years before the early January fire that broke out in the Museum’s storage room. This key scene happens when Jamie and a friend sneak into the Museum looking for records that might not be on display. They are in the storage room when someone starts a fire to kill them and hide any evidence.”
The author is already working on a sequel to Cobwebs called Ant Hills which takes place in Jamie’s hometown of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Set in an historic railroad town southeast of Santa Fe, the story centers around Fort Union which was an old Indian wars fort built in the 1880s.
“I love to weave history into my stories and hope to release Ant Hills next year,” Coley said.
Coley is an environmental educator and writer, residing in Tulsa. She earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Oklahoma State University. She holds a BS in Zoology and Communication with a Masters in Environment Education. Her love for history intensified when she worked her early years with the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation as a historic park planner.
Coley will be reading passages from Cobwebs on November 22rd, from 5-9 p.m. at the Dickens on the Square in Claremore, Boarding House Books. At 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 23, Coley will be at the Tulsa Historical Society. On Dec. 7, she will be at Brace Books and More in Ponca City from 1-2:30 p.m.
Learn more about this author at http://www.marymcintyrecoley.com. She may also be found on Facebook, Wordpress, Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and Wheatmark.