David Crow is the author of the memoir The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story, which focuses on his relationship with his father. A lobbyist, Crow lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and how long did it take you to complete it?
A: The book took 10 years to finish. I had a busy career as a lobbyist and wrote at night and on weekends. The emotional re-creation of the story was hard for me at the beginning. I wasn’t ready to write an honest blow-by-blow account of my life because of how difficult it had been.
Then at age 55, I went back to Gallup, New Mexico, and sat in my car across the street from the house where my family used to live. The owner came out and told me that he recognized me from all the times I’d been there over the years.
After he learned I wasn’t stalking him, he invited me inside to talk. Over the course of the next 12 hours, I blurted out my entire life story to him, including a number of horrific events I hadn’t shared with anyone. Somehow that experience gave me the freedom to begin the book.
Through a literary friend, I met Sandra Jonas, and she edited, coached, guided, and helped me put this book into my own words. She taught me a great deal about how to write creatively, which is a really tough skill to master from scratch.
I made so many mistakes along the way, but all’s well that ends well. And this did.
Q: You describe some extremely difficult parts of your life in the book--how did writing about these events affect you?
A: Good question. I remembered the events without much difficulty, but what I didn’t do was appreciate the terrible impact they’d had on me.
As I wrote, it became clear to me that from my earliest memory, I did whatever I could to survive each day, which involved staying away from my parents as much as possible and making jokes when anyone asked me about my life.
I had created a persona around an elaborate game of denial and making fun of profoundly disturbing events.
At the end of the writing process, I opened up and found no need to hide anything. My siblings simply blocked everything out, and I understand that. But I just couldn’t block it out and couldn’t come to terms with it.
Writing the book gave me the opportunity to face these difficulties, forgive myself and my parents, and look forward to the next chapter of life.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: My publisher, Sandra Jonas, and I played with titles for a long time. We needed a theme that captured Native Americans as well as my father’s elaborate lies that dominated our family life. Sandra and I would toss titles back and forth.
But the second I heard The Pale-Faced Lie, I knew it was perfect. A play on “bald-faced lie,” it signifies that our family lore, stories, and tales all shape who we are and what we believe in.
My family believed the lies as a way to both feel superior to others and justify being a poorly treated minority.
My dad was very intelligent and complicated and had an inferiority complex that came with an explosive temper. He insisted he was a full-blooded Cherokee, and no amount of proof changed his mind.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I want my readers to know that if they are persistent and work at it hard enough, they can overcome problems they thought were impossible. And that anyone with a horrific background must go through a complicated process of forgiveness.
I always believed that I deserved what happened to me and that I was destined to repeat it. I think that’s why so many toxic cycles aren’t broken. But if you confront terrible events with complete honesty, without feeling sorrow for yourself or angry, you can forgive yourself and others.
This isn’t about condoning abusive behavior. This is about freeing yourself so you move on.
So often, people in these situations believe they have no choice. You do have a choice. You are what you believe and what you do. If you have toxic thoughts, bad things will follow. But if you believe yourself to be good, you’ll attract positive people and events into your life.
I’m sure millions of words have covered this subject better than I have, but I think readers need to see that the simplest changes can be the hardest to achieve. Don’t quit.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am probably stuck in a time warp involving the Navajo Indians and the frontier town of Gallup. I’ve been working on an outline of a trilogy following Gallup and the Navajos from the early 1930s through the mid-1970s.
I have learned how to write correctly, thanks to Sandra. And I love doing it, so something will come of my plans.
Anything else we should know?
A: The Pale-Faced Lie has just been acquired by a large Russian publisher, which is exciting. And I have received a couple of movie offers, but Covid-19 has slowed that down a bit.
I am also working on a 15-part podcast with National Public Radio called Unbound and writing articles for my blog. I have participated in several Zoom book club events and really enjoy talking to readers.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb