Urban Indian Kari James is a 35-year-old woman of Apache and Chickasaw descent, living a content, if somewhat angsty, dive-bar- and metal-filled life in Denver, when her cousin uncovers her mother’s bracelet—an old family heirloom. Kari had assumed her mother abandoned her when she was only days old, but when she touches the bracelet, her mother’s ghost begins haunting her, pushing Kari to find out what actually happened to the mother she’d always despised. Wurth combines elements of Indigenous folklore with contemporary horror to bring us a novel we can’t put down.
“There was something strange, mysterious even, about the White Horse tonight. Normally, it was merely an Indian bar. My Indian bar. But there was a milky, dreamy quality…like the wind from the open door was bringing them something new, something I’d pushed away for as long as I could remember.” P. 1
Why did you choose to title your book after the White Horse bar in Denver?
It’s one of those places that reminds me of “Old Denver” and it’s a place that all kinds of Indians would frequent for decades. Unfortunately, as I alluded to in the book, it closed. I wanted a lot of Old Denver in “White Horse”, classic locations like Mutiny Now (a bookstore on Broadway), and bars like Hangar Bar and Bar Bar. I also had to include Lakeside Amusement Park, as I spent so much of my childhood there.
In what ways is Kari based on you, and in what ways is she different from you?
Kari and I both went to school in Idaho Springs (though I was bussed in from the country an hour away), and share a gritty, cynical GenX perspective. What I admire about Kari is that she’s self-educated, and she reads a lot. She’s smart. She loves bartending and waitressing. I wanted to give dignity and beauty to that kind of life. That said, I have a doctorate in creative writing and literature and am a professor of creative writing—so my life is in many ways incredibly different.
In the book, you talk about Powwows. Could you describe this in a little more detail?
Native American religion was illegal until 1978. So, it was one of the ways that especially urban Indians could legally express their culture. Starting from the late 1800s, there was tremendous movement—forced removal to reservations. Movement that might as well have been forced. For example, I’m of Chiricahua Apache descent (as well as Chickasaw and Cherokee descent). Traditionally, the Chiricahua migrated from Northern Mexico to New Mexico, to Texas and Arizona, and I’m guessing even somewhat into southern Colorado. At one point my ancestors were in Northern Mexico—but they were pushed out by the Mexican president at that time, Porfirio Diaz—and became one of the first migrant waves into Texas, where they went to work on ranches, and in factories. As to how this relates to Powwow, this became a space to dance, sing, sell jewelry—and hang out with friends and relatives—like it is today. Denver’s annual Powwow (powwows aren’t considered ceremonial, but mainly social) is something I attend regularly—it’s called Denver March.
What function do the mystical elements in the book serve?
For years I was a literary or realism writer. I liked the grittiness—the focus on language and theme and character. And magical realism was a bit too precious for me, if you get my drift. In “White Horse”, the Lofa—a kind of evil bigfoot—is not just a metaphor but a real monster that could actually kill you, and I dig that more literal, less metaphorical interpretation of ghosts or monsters. Ultimately, it was all about getting back to my nerd roots, which definitely had its horror start with Stephen King, and certainly with his iconic novel, “The Shining”. I love the way that his work allows for the gritty underside of life, and reveals the more gruesome truths about human nature. At the same time, he uses horror to give his audience a little bit of dark magic. I aspire to do the same.
November is Indigenous People’s Month. What should people be aware of and how can people support Indigenous communities in Denver?
The American Indian College Fund is housed in Denver, and any attendance at events or giving to that organization goes a long way. You can also read local Native American literature. There are great Indigenous writers in Denver like Lakota author David Heska Wanbli Weiden (a thriller writer) and Blackfoot author Stephen Graham Jones (a horror/slasher writer). And there’s the lovely poetry of Apache/Diné author Crisosto Apache.
What do you have coming out next?
In my next literary horror novel, “Room 904”, the main character is a paranormal investigator—a lot like the Warrens in The Conjuring series—which she’s obsessed with. When her sister committed suicide at the end of the main character’s time as a doctoral student in psychology, it unlocked her ability to talk to the dead. But unlike “White Horse”, which is a love song to Old Denver, “Room 904” is about the new Denver.