Today’s author interview is with Jim Poling Sr. the author of the new release Smoke Signals. Jim chats with us about writing his book, and the inspiration behind it. He also tells us about the new project that he’s working on.
Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.
Jim: Smoke Signals blends the history of tobacco with the struggle of North American Indian peoples to survive in a culture that tried, and still does try, to assimilate them. It was the Indians who gave the Europeans their first tobacco. It was meant as a sacred gift, offering respect, friendship and a connection to the spirit world. The newcomers never understood the real meaning of tobacco, but took it and through greed transformed it into what it is today: A source of sickness and death around the world, and a product that earns huge money for governments and criminals alike. Now Indian tribes throughout North America are using the tobacco industry to help pull them from poverty and as a weapon in their battles for sovereignty.
Jim: Native rights have been a central interest in my writing since the beginning. As a journalist I have witnessed many shocking aspects of native life. I have also witnessed government bungling of native affairs, and have sat at dinner tables where supposedly intelligent people nod wisely and say things like: “They would make their lives easier if they were more like us.” Natives are a distinct people with their own languages, their own culture and their distinctness should be recognized and respected within our larger culture.
Caitlyn: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Jim: Restraining myself from writing with total rage. Rage over how native people have been treated, and still are treated, in Canada and the United States. Rage over decades and decades of government inaction on native issues. Rage over government hypocrisy in condemning tobacco smoking while making billions of dollars from tobacco. And, rage over the single-focus anti-smoking groups who demand a Smoke-free World without even trying to think through the consequences.
Caitlyn: What was your first publication?
Jim: My first book was The Canoe: An Illustrated History, which sold 15,000 copies back in 2011-2002. Interestingly, that book opens with an Anishnaabe man sprinkling tobacco on a lake in thanks to the Creator for a new day and for the trees that have allowed him to construct his birch bark canoe. It was the canoe that allowed the Europeans to explore and colonize North America.
Caitlyn: What is your new project?
Jim: After eight non-fiction books, I’d like to write my novel. It’s a novel I’ve had in me for decades and I now feel I can write it as something that readers would enjoy and appreciate. Not surprisingly it has a native element and a plot that involves contraband tobacco. Someone, of course, gets murdered in a most unusual way.
Jim Poling, Sr., is a former Native affairs writer for Canadian Press and is the author of Waking Nanabijou and Tecumseh: Shooting Star, Crouching Panther. He lives in Alliston, Ontario.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.