THE NEXT BIG THING interview:  Sandra Sarr

The Road to Indigo

a novel

First, thanks to Claire Gebben, author of Harm’s Way: A Blacksmith’s Journey, for tagging me to participate. 

What is the working title of your book?

 The Road to Indigo


 Where did the idea come from for the book?

One of my main characters, Perry, grew out of a short story I wrote titled, “The Accidental Black Girl.”  Several years later, in graduate school, a teacher required me to submit a chapter a week of a young adult novel to practice the craft of fiction writing.  Unlike the other students in class, I’d never written a young adult novel.  But I did have my short story featuring a young protagonist.  She turned into Perry, ages fifteen through eighteen, in the novel.  I wrote several chapters in that class, most of which I abandoned after my first visit to Southern Louisiana, my novel’s setting.

I always knew I wanted to write a book about healing–healing illness, relationships, and gender and racial injustice.  I chose southern Louisiana as the setting because of its cultural diversity.  Plus, I’ve always loved reading literature set in the South.  When I began researching the region and its people, I discovered the traiteur healing tradition, which fit the characteristics of my other main character, Maybelle, to a T.

Initially, I wondered if this story was mine to tell since I wasn’t part of the traiteur lineage and had never visited Louisiana before my extended research trips. But several traiteurs opened up to me and trusted me with their stories.  We talked in living rooms, kitchens, restaurants, an art studio, parks, spiritual candle shops,  a library, and on back roads. Other folks I encountered in my travels graciously listened and connected me with invaluable resources.  The healer who my character, Maybelle, most resembles said to me, “You were born with this book in you.  Now you just need to sit down and write it.”  Her words gave me the courage to listen for the story and capture it as it came. I had an outline, too. My thesis adviser saw to that.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction with a touch of magical realism reminiscent of Alice Hoffman’s The Third Angel and Keri Hulme’s The Bone People.

Who would you choose to play the parts of the characters in your book?

The Road to Indigo:  The Movie


Natasha Tretheway (in her youth): Perry Rebecca Landry

Maya Angelou: Maybelle Dupree

Morgan Freeman: Amedee Ardoin

Sinqua Walls: James Carver

Cicely Tyson: Nellie

Ruby Dee: Mattie

Courtney Cox: Molly

Christopher Walken: Roger

Kathy Bates: Pearlie

Robert Duvall: Louis

Tommy Lee Jones: Sheriff Cox

Dennis Haysbert: Cliff

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Set in the late-‘60s Civil Rights era, an endangered 15-year-old girl, Perry, develops her latent ability to see and heal illness under the care of a powerful traiteur, French for “treater” of maladies, named Maybelle, a black Creole who owns a plantation named Indigo near Avery Island, Louisiana.

(Bonus:  Determined to find her father, Perry confronts forces of destruction and discovers within herself the power to heal more than she could ever imagine.)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Nearly two years, if counting from when I started anew after my first trip to southern Louisiana.  I consider the previous work exploratory drafts that helped me find my way into the story I wanted to tell.  I finished my first draft in February and am working on revisions.

What inspired you to write the book?

Originally, I set out to write a book about what I learned about life from the dying.  It would be based on personal narratives collected as part of the Story Catchers Program I founded with Franciscan Hospice in Tacoma, Washington, in 2003.  As I wrote, I began to hear fictional characters speak to me.  I realized writing a novel would give me more freedom to tell the story I most wanted to tell.

I grew up within a racially integrated family in a small segregated town in the 1960s.  My family received death threats, prompting us to move away to another state.  How much has really changed since the late 1960s, when my novel takes place?  Questions of belonging, justice, relationships, and healing form the heart of my book.

Since 2011, I’ve lived in southern Louisiana for the month of May so that I could talk with traiteurs and capture the landscape, voices, music, and essence of Acadiana.  I’ve developed a deep affinity with the healing spirit of the place and its people and have made lifelong friends in Louisiana.  Their faith in The Road to Indigo kept me inspired to complete the book.  No way could I disappoint them after they’d given me so much.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Perry, Maybelle, and Amedee work together on a book to preserve knowledge of the region’s traditional healing plants and their uses.  Such knowledge is actually in danger of being lost.  In the novel, their book is called Amedee’s Remedies.  I include a list of healing plants used by traiteurs, crediting my sources, including Wonda L. Fontenot’s invaluable Secret Doctors: Ethnomedicine of African Americans.

Thanks to the efforts of Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park in Lafayette, Louisiana, Dr. C. Ray Brassieur, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and others, this valuable knowledge is being preserved in the Jardin des Traiteurs (The Healer’s Garden) at VermilionvilleDr. Brassieur is also translating the 1933 thesis of Charles Joseph Bienvenu who documented herbal healing recipes of Acadiana.  His thesis sparked the idea for The Healer’s Garden.  I was thrilled to attend the garden’s opening in May 2012.


Will your book be self-published or are you being represented by an agency?

I am seeking representation.  I’ll update my progress here, so stop in again.

Please check back next week when I’ll post the name of the writer I tagged for THE NEXT BIG THING series.  Thanks!

About Sandra Sarr

I've written my first novel, The Road to Indigo, and am actively seeking an agent and publisher. I'm a 2013 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts Program with the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, Whidbey Writers Workshop.
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22 Responses to THE NEXT BIG THING: THE ROAD TO INDIGO, a novel by Sandra Sarr

  1. margaretsmn says:

    I love hearing about your novel. I’ve heard only bits and pieces on your Facebook posts. Now I am intrigued and ready to read it. I hope you will return to South Louisiana when it is published to do readings. Let me know. I’d love to organize one in New Iberia.


  2. Deb says:

    I am so intrigued & excited to read this!


  3. Sandra Sarr says:

    Thank you so much, Margaret. I look forward to seeing you this May. What a generous offer to organize a reading/book signing in New Iberia! That is so kind of you. And if you ever want to bring Blessen on tour to the Northwest, I’m happy to do the same for you. Check out King’s Books in Tacoma, for starters.


  4. Sandra Sarr says:

    Thanks, Deb! I’m at work on revisions, but am happy that this preview/self-interview hooked your interest.


  5. Ardine Martinelli says:

    Sandy this just deepens my interest in your novel and the characters you have brought to life. I love your cast of characters for the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sharon H says:

    I am excited to read your full novel!

    Liked by 1 person




  8. Can’t wait to read the book. Very intriguing — the author’s important journey threading throughout.


  9. kefahuchi says:

    Stories of healing have this way of reaching under our consciousness in a way that almost makes me gasp. “How to heal?” is a question I really don’t know how to answer. Do we heal ourselves or do we need each other? Is the answer something in-between?

    Sandy, I didn’t know what a traiteur was and had to look that up when I read this. In the brief wiki on it, it said one must ask the traiteur for help, only in the emergency of a moment could it be offered without request. My first reaction was that would feel transgressive, the emotional intensity of the thought of asking to ‘be healed’ has a sort of emotional rush that feels so textured I can’t even sort it out. Almost a bundle of voices, some old, some new.

    I wonder if magical realism isn’t made up of a bunch of things, and one of them is that to heal & change a frightening creative leap is in the going. How else to trust except to step a moment into the unreal?

    Lovely blog. Thank you. 🙂


    • Sandra Sarr says:

      You raise such interesting questions, and I’m pleased that you were inspired to learn more about what it means to be a traiteur. Thank you! What really stands out as I read your post is the notion of whether we heal on our own, in relation with others, or something else altogether.

      Traiteurs believe their healing gift is from God and take no personal credit for curing or alleviating illness. That is why traiteurs typically do not accept payment for their services. In fact, they refuse to be thanked. It is a spiritual calling to become a traiteur, one that comes with great personal responsibility. One aspect of their sacred code of ethics is that they must provide help to anyone who asks for it (creating a huge conflict for my character, Perry, by the way!). Traiteurs’ credibility is built on their record of success in healing people. A sick person might go to the traiteur’s home and simply say that they have a problem they were hoping to get some help with, “saying it slant,” making the request indirectly.

      You seem to imply that the mere act of asking for help is, in itself, healing, or at least sets the stage for healing to take place. Assuming I understand you correctly, I will say that I agree.

      When a traiteur treats an individual, I’d say that at least three are involved in the healing: the traiteur, the sick person, and their shared spiritual source. There is a giving-and-receiving exchange between the healer and the sick person, one in which personal ego has no place. A flow of spiritual energy between the two takes place, and that energy originates from God, creator of all. How else to trust except to step toward the Unknowable, knowing one is not truly alone?

      Traiteurs, sometimes known as secret doctors, generally treat with herbs, medicinal plants, and prayer. According to Wonda Fontenot, who I mention in the Next Big Thing interview, secret doctoring is a tradition that includes aspects of the old and the new, “one based on the integration of several cultural traditions.”

      Thanks for being the first to engage in the content of the interview. I hope you will keep asking questions and making related observations! I hope others will chime in too!


  10. Your journey has been an inspiration, Sandy. I expect the novel will be even more than that, since it will take us right there and ground us in that place of healing. Please keep us posted. Love the photos too.


  11. Colby Hebert says:

    Wonderful interview. And it was very nice to meet you, I hope to reunite some day! And am anxious for the finished product. Bon chance,


  12. Pingback: The Road to Indigo | Reflections on the Teche

  13. Pingback: “The Next Big Thing” interview | Claire Gebben

  14. Christine Word says:

    What a captivating interview! I am intrigued by the very idea of your book & by your creative approach to it. I was inspired by your answers to the casting question of a movie version. So when I heard a song played today on KRVS radio, I thought it might be appropriate for the soundtrack. It was an artist from south Louisiana on an album called “The Bronze Age” by Marcella and Her Lovers. Her father Terence accompanies her on the accordion in one of the songs. Haunting. I enjoyed connecting with you in Breaux Bridge Friday. Can’t wait to read your book.


  15. Michele Sandlin says:

    Hi Sandra… We met at at the Joie de Vivre coffeehouse over the New Year’s holiday and I promptly LOST your business card! Que lastima! Please contact me so that we can continue our conversation!
    It was a delight to meet you and I am terribly interested in hearing more about your developing novel, the traiteurs and healing through writing… Fondly, Michele Sandlin–you may private msg me on fb. I live in Dallas. 😉


  16. Gaywynn Thomas says:

    Hi Sandy, it was great meeting you in New Iberia at Sweet Interiors. I loved hearing your story and can’t wait to read your book!


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