CBP: We'd love to hear your Christian testimony...
Marlo: I grew up in the Catholic Church, but it wasn’t until college that God overwhelmed me with His love in Christ. There, God grabbed my heart and changed me forever. I fell in love with the God of the Bible and was redeemed by the blood of Christ. The events that led up to my conversion were so simple that they hardly make a stirring story. For me, there was no life of drugs, or rebellion, or wild living. I was a good girl, going to a good college, doing my homework, following the rules. But deep in my heart, I felt a loneliness, an ache for something, for Someone, more. So I decided to go to a Bible Study that the girl down the hall had mentioned to me. The Bible Study was an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship ministry that was in a dorm room above mine. I had hardly gone to a study when God flooded my life and heart with such love, such beauty of His presence, that I rejoiced to give my heart to Him and accept the forgiveness and redemption of Jesus. In the months that followed, I learned more of the truth of the gospel and fell more deeply in love with my Savior. Since then, the desire of my heart is to grow deeper in my relationship with Jesus and follow His will in all aspects of my life.
If a person were to look at my life before Christ came into my heart and afterward, they would see little difference in morality, but they would see a huge difference in direction and passion. Before, I lived for me. I had goals to accomplish, dreams to make come true, a vision for my life the way I wanted it to be. I was going to be Somebody Important.
After Christ became the center of my life and love, I discovered that I already was somebody important – somebody important to God. And I began to trade in my plans, dreams, and hopes, for His will in my life. This I’ve found to be an ongoing process, this submitting my will to His, laying down my plans to embrace His. But, whereas before my life was about me, now I desire it to be about Him. At the core of my being, Jesus lives. And I will never be the same as I was before.
CBP: Why did you choose to write a novel about the last Yahi Indian?
Marlo: What intrigued me about this story was the mystery of Ishi, the last Yahi. No spoke his language. No one knew his true name. When he was a boy, the white man obliterated most of his tribe. He was among a handful of survivors. He lived his whole life hidden from the white man, until one day, when there was no one left, he abandoned his sanctuary to enter the strange and alien world of his one-time enemies. Who was he? Why did he take the immense risk of entering the white man’s world? What did he want? What did he hope for? And how did the life of this one unique man change those who became his friends? These are the questions I wanted to explore in the story of Only the Wind Remembers. I wanted to see what God might do through the faithfulness of one person alone in an alien world.
Then, as I did the research, I discovered in Ishi a man what was fascinating in his own right, a man that I wanted to know and talk to and share my life with. The only way I could do that was to write his character so that he would come to life on the page.
CBP: How much of Ishi's character is based on the historical figure?
Marlo: In writing Only the Wind Remembers, I attempted to paint a picture consistent with the historical record of who Ishi was. I wanted his personality, his mannerisms, his heart to live again through the pages of my story.
One of the ways I did that was to have “my” Ishi go through many of the same experiences as the real Ishi. For example, as in my story, the real Ishi shared the Yahi culture through songs and stories etched onto Edison wax cylinders. He made arrowheads out of bottle glass, demonstrated Yahi hunting techniques, and even did some janitorial work at the museum. He went to a Vaudeville show in October of 1911 where Harry Breen sang the ditty about Ishi that we read in the story. Both my fictional Ishi and the historical Ishi were fascinated by retracting window shades and piped water. They cared little for shoes and remained unimpressed by either aeroplanes or San Francisco’s tall buildings.
However, while I tried to be true to Ishi’s life and spirit, Only the Wind Remembers is a fictional story. As such, I introduced characters, such as Allison and Thomas Morgan, and events, such as the conflict with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the fable of the Great Eagle, that are not a part of recorded history.
CBP: How did you create the story of the Great Eagle?
Marlo: I wanted to be true to the flavor and style of Yahi tales, as well as Native American symbolism and language. So, I studied the stories that the real Ishi told, including those of the wood duck and U-Tut-Na and U-Tut-Ni, the wood duck’s sisters. I looked at other Native American stories that have been passed through the generations. As I read, I watched for trends, cadence, themes. Then, I patterned my story of the Great Eagle after those stories. For example, in Native American folklore, the coyote is very often the antagonist. Eagles are typically seen as noble and often have a connection with the Great Spirit. And the wind frequently has special significance. So I used those symbols to form the core of Ishi’s telling of the story of the Great Eagle.
CBP: Mrs. Whitson appears to be the enemy, yet her past hurts and pride have isolated her from what she truly wants. How can readers learn from her mistakes?
Marlo: I loved the character of Mrs. Whitson because on the outside she’s harsh, prim, and unlikable. But those characteristics hide a deeply wounded and hurting heart. And only one person (besides God!) in the story knows who she really is. So, in some ways, Mrs. Whitson represents the choice that we all have when faced with the reality that our lives are not the perfect lives we once dreamed of. When we encounter the hard realities of life we can try to grasp our dreams, our desires, our plans more tightly. We can try to force them to come true. Or we can lay down our hopes, dreams, and wishes on the altar before God and accept the life God has chosen for us. And that, I think, can be the hardest choice we’ll ever make, because to truly let go of our dreams and embrace God’s we have to die. Die to self.
Mrs. Whitson chose the way of grasping, striving, and that way led only the bitterness and sorrow. In trying to gain her life, she lost it. And only when she faced the truth, embraced it, could she start to heal and live again.
CBP: Allison's feelings of abandonment and inadequacy are keen. Did you struggle with those emotions, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Marlo: I dedicated Only the Wind Remembers to my mother because she was the inspiration for Allison Morgan. When my mother was four years old she was abandoned by her mother on the doorstep of a farmhouse. Six years later she ran away from there and was taken in by another family. All my life I have heard my mother’s story, and I’ve seen the effects of people saying to her, “You’re no good,” “You’re going to turn out just like the rest of your family,” and implying that unless you do the right things, say the right things, look the right way, unless you are perfect, no one will love you. These are the issues I look at through the eyes of Allison, who was abandoned at an orphanage at the age of five. She’s heard the same things my Mom heard, she felt the rejections and pain, she too has been told she has to be successful, and important, and perfect in order to be loved. She, too, learns that real love is not conditioned being good enough but upon the incredible sacrifice of Christ.
And that message is at the heart of Only the Wind Remembers – that you can never be good enough, you’ll never make yourself worthy, you can never make yourself clean. The incredible work on Christ is that He did all that for us. His love makes us worthy. His sacrifice makes us clean. We are more than good enough through Him, we are the bride dressed in white. We are his treasured possessions.
CBP: What did you hope readers would know or do after reading "Only the Wind Remembers"?
Marlo: Through Ishi’s fable, and the surprise twist at the end, I pray that readers will discover again the wonder of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and what his sacrifice means with respect to the loneliness and unworthiness we often experience in life. In Ishi's story, I hope that people discover again the "wow" of the cross.
CBP: What are you working on now?
Marlo: The novel I’m working on now (tentatively titled Veil of Fire) is set in 1894, Hinckley, Minnesota and explores a real historical mystery. On September 1, 1894, one of the worst fires in history ravaged east central Minnesota. It destroyed six towns, including Hinckley. Descending on the towns like a red demon, the fire consumed 400 square miles, killing 418 people in four hours. The maelstrom of flames caught the townspeople unaware. Five hundred were saved on the train to Duluth, with a bridge disintegrating into the fire only minutes after the train passed. Another hundred were saved in the gravel pit, where they desperately poured water on each other to keep their clothes from catching fire in the intense heat. A few others were saved in potato patches, water barrels, and by sheer grace. After the fire, the townspeople rebuilt their town, but in the midst of rebuilding, a rumor began of a hermit in the hills - a person severely burned, disfigured beyond recognition. The identity of this person was never determined, and it remains to this day a mystery, a myth, a shadowed figure whispered about in tales passed from grandparents to grandchildren. Who was this monster in the hills?