First novel of love and war inspired by Ferndale author's Indian heritage

March 06, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Janice Drexler owns more than 80 books on Native Americans. Now she has one more, her own.

Last summer the 57-year-old Ferndale resident's first novel, "The Long Sun," was published by Soho Press. The 266-page historical novel tells the story of a white family adopted by the Tuscarora tribe. The work is set in the 1700s in western Pennsylvania.

"It's deep, and it's shallow," Mrs. Drexler said of her story. "There's been a lot of trouble between the Indians and the white people. Originally, I wanted to show how they could get along."

The novel ended up as an intricate tale about love and war. The Billips family settles with the Tuscaroras. The teen-age daughter, Sassy, marries into the tribe. Meanwhile, colonists begin to take over Native American lands.

Publishers Weekly praised Mrs. Drexler for her "clean and straightforward" prose and powerful story line. "The action never flags in this first novel, which despite its heavy bias, will have readers caring deeply about its spirited characters," said the June review.

The bias stems from Mrs. Drexler's heritage. Her grandmother and father were Cherokee. Growing up, Mrs. Drexler remembered her grandmother wrapping herself in heavy blankets instead of wearing winter coats. Her father also carried on some customs, planting corn seeds in the hills and building 3-foot tall mounds of earth in the backyard so the family could lean against them as if they were chairs.

Though she could draw from her Indian heritage, Mrs. Drexler did extensive research at the North County Public Library. She spent two years working off and on, researching and writing. She wrote whenever she could -- on weekends, her days off from work as an insurance specialist. When she finished the book in 1992, it was 500 pages. She wasn't sure what to do with it.

"I had no intention of being published," said Mrs. Drexler. "But then I said, 'Geez, if I'm going through all this effort, who is going to read this book but me?' "

Mrs. Drexler didn't even let her husband, Bob, read the novel. Yet, she didn't want her work to collect dust on a shelf. So, she sent letters to a dozen publishers she found in the Writer's Market handbook.

Two months later, after checking the mail box every day, she got a call from New York's Soho Press. The company wanted to print her book and give it national distribution. Today the book can be found in B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks. Mrs. Drexler writes under the pen name, Janice Lucas, a name from her first marriage.

"I was surprised and elated. I couldn't believe it. I stayed in at lunch and actually got up and danced," she recalled.

The last time Mrs. Drexler was published was in 1955. She was 18 years old, Miss Glen Burnie High School, and an aspiring writer. A poem of hers titled "Madonna" was published in the Young Writers Magazine.

But marriage at age 19 and four children soon after sidetracked her writing career.

Not until 1990 when she bought a computer and a printer did she return to writing. She continues to write and is working on a sequel to "The Long Sun." Another work-in-progress, a historical novel about a coal mine in West Virginia, is set at the turn of the century.

Mrs. Drexler said she is not ready to write full-time. She enjoys her job and wants to watch her grandchildren grow up.

"I have two grandsons who live close by and play basketball. I never miss a game," she said.

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