To judge from his novel Facing Rushmore, author David Lozell Martin probably won’t be heading over to FedEx Field to cheer on the Washington Redskins this season. The 59-year-old Alexandria-based author takes down the Skins, the St. Louis Gateway Arch and, yes, even Mount Rushmore as symbols hateful to Native Americans.
“It’s the worst epithet a white man can call an Indian,” says Martin’s protagonist, Charlie Hart. “What’s the worst name you can call a Chinese person…Chink? Can you imagine a football team named the San Francisco Chinks? The Philadelphia Wops? Couldn’t get away with it. But Washington Redskins? No problem.”
But Facing Rushmore, released this month by Simon & Schuster, is a thriller, not historical fiction or an activist’s soapbox project. The story starts with FBI Agent Hart questioning Lakota Indian John Brown Dog about why the St. Louis arch mysteriously turned black overnight without the aid of bombs or chemicals. The cause, we soon find out, is a black ooze produced by Indian ghost-dancing.
Brown Dog and his allies order the United States to return all national parks and forests to the Indians. When their demands are not immediately met, the black ooze destroys Mount Rushmore.
Martin visited the South Dakota monument while researching the book and deemed it “spiritually speaking, the ugliest place I have ever been.” He sees the Gateway Arch as an equally unattractive symbol.
“Yes, it commemorates the explorers who settled the West,” he says. “But it’s also the kickoff point for the genocide of the Indians.” Martin first became interested in the topic several years ago, while researching the 1890 massacre of the Lakota at Wounded Knee. The more reading he did, the more disgusted he became with Americans’ collective ignorance of the atrocities inflicted on Native Americans. This anger inspired him to pen his first politically charged work of fiction.
Facing Rushmore is Martin’s 11th book. He started off writing novels about love and relationships, such as 1983’s The Crying Heart Tattoo, and accumulated a following of female fans. When he switched to blood-and-guts thrillers in the early ’90s, he started getting fan mail from young men complimenting any scene in which the brains hit the fan.
Martin now works in the publishing department at the Fannie Mae Foundation. His first full-time job other than writing in over 20 years, the position is part of a post-divorce new beginning. He sleeps from about 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., he says, in order to accommodate his prolific writing habit. “I’m basically a vampire,” he jokes.
Even though he hasn’t had the type of success he once wished for, Martin is proud of his accomplishments, especially in light of his upbringing in a poor, dysfunctional family. (“Everybody has a sad childhood story. That’s mine.”) He faults strippers, gin, and his own lack of networking and career planning for never becoming a breakaway commercial hit.
“I have no reason to bitch,” he says. “It didn’t happen spectacularly, but it is what it is.”
What continues to get Martin worked up, though, is the name of his hometown football team. “When I walk by somebody in a Redskins jersey, I just have to [puts hands over mouth],” he says. “I just want to say, ‘Do you realize what you’re wearing?’ I’m going to get punched.” —Rachel Beckman
David Lozell Martin will read from and sign copies of Facing Rushmore at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, at Busboys & Poets, 2021 14th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 387-7638.
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.