I collected a whole satchel-full of information off the Montana research trip. I’ve only begun to sort it out. Now I’ve got to turn my attention to my middle Daughter’s wedding on the 2nd, but wait!
What’s this I see in my inbox? It’s from my new editor. “Fill out these forms; read these publications; I need your first edit run-through sooner than later; Is that a problem?”
I’m not complaining because I’d much rather be doing these things than sitting around watching TV re-runs. This just brings another dimension to “Hurry up and wait” and I’m hoping the new book is worth the wait!
Many years ago my young family and I were making our way to Billings on a dark, rainy night, when the VW 411 we owned began sounding like a machine gun went off in the engine compartment and smoke filled the passenger compartment. Upon inspection I noted several aluminum balls lying on the engine block covered in oil. Long story short, we had to sell the car for parts and have my Father-in-Law drive us to Kalispell where he had an old, rusted out 56 Chev that still ran and could get us home.
Yesterday, I was doing a car tour of the area surrounding the Blackfeet Reservation when my trusty ’07 Chevy’s transmission decided to self-destruct near Cut Bank. I made it into the local GM dealership where I was given grim news – the nearest available transmission couldn’t get there until next Monday and they might be able to get it installed by Wednesday to the tune of over $3,000 (that I don’t have readily available).
My salesman, Doug, happened to be the Mayor of the town. He was able to get me a great deal on a 2014 truck that looked almost identical to mine plus several upgrades mine didn’t have. The payments would be a hundred bucks less a month than I’ve been paying, to boot. Hmmm. Buyers remorse or stay in Cut Bank on public assistance for a few weeks? Sold! The lemonade was made.
Now I have a brandy-spankin’-new truck sitting outside my motel. Although I shall miss my old one, I can get used to this. I just have to figure out which buttons to push for launching hellfire missiles. It sure beats the 56 Chevy experience!
Otherwise, I lost a day of research. Back to work double time!
Now I totally believe in first hand research. Many things I read about doing research for my new work in progress were a bit off the mark, particularly having to do with some background information on the countryside.
Things I have found so far: The Blackfeet (and yes they are the BlackFEET, Ellen) in the Southern band located in Montana are the Pikuni (pic-uhn-ee). The Siksika I wrote about in the last post live in Canada along with a couple of other bands.
Badger Two Medicine is a place in Glacier National Park that is not sacred to the Pikuni as I was led to believe. It was named Two Medicine for two medicine men that had separate lodges on a lake there. The sacred place to go for visions is Chief Mountain at the end of the mountain range, a long way from Two Medicine.
Right now North American Indian Days is happening in Browning, the headquarters for the Blackfeet Nation. Tribes from all over the U.S. and Canada are participating. On my way to the grand entry last night, I drove by a good-sized herd of bison. Apparently they are managed for food by the tribe because all the adults had ear tags like the cattle in the area.
I’ll try to post some pictures as soon as I figure out how to do it from Dropbox and not delete the post in the process as I did last night. Meanwhile, the event lasts through Sunday (13th) and I plan to glean as much info as possible before heading back to the barn!
At least the horses under the hood of my Chevy truck are. I had a good chuckle the other day when my Publisher tried to correct me on the proper name of the Tribe I’m going to visit. She insists they are the BlackFOOT because all the Blackfeet she knows in Canada call themselves Blackfoot and they apparently get touchy about being identified otherwise. Everything I’ve read and heard in the historical literature says BlackFEET! The challenge is on! I will be filling up a memory card and emailing it to her in the near future, I can tell. I will give her credit for knowing the three different tribal divisions, though – two in Alberta and one in Montana. She’s a bit of a history buff except for the Blackfeet part.
Meanwhile, back on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, MT, I will be taking in their annual North American Indian Days celebration and playing like a big sponge. The Siksika (Blackfeet) apparently put on quite the shindig and I’m looking forward to witnessing as much of it as they will allow.
If I don’t make it back, a grizzly has no doubt found me and is enjoying a tasty buffet somewhere in Glacier National Park!
That reminds me: I can’t forget to pack my Black Socks
What do you do when you need an armload of information and you can’t get it on your computer? ROAD TRIP!
In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading East, hopefully ending up in and around Browning, Montana for their North American Indian Days celebration that happens July 10 – 13 this year. There’s nothing like seeing and feeling the area you want to write about and make the story believable, especially to the people who live around there. Otherwise, you might as well write about downtown Squirrel Bait, Louisiana and call it good.
Seeing an area with fresh senses adds to the interest of a story. I haven’t been in that area in over thirty years, so my senses should be pretty fresh – and hopefully not petrified. My main character will be on a journey through the Badger Two-Medicine area where motorized vehicles of any sort or not allowed. Beyond that I wonder what the countryside is like? Flat? Mountainous?
To some of the Blackfeet, the area is sacred. Now there is oil and natural gas drilling going on in places. How expansive is it? Is there a larger-than-average drug and alcohol problem on the Rez? How does that affect the culture? I don’t want to presume anything. I just want the story to reflect some of the important happenings of the culture.
This is going to be exciting if I survive it! Did I mention the huge grizzly bear species and habitat restoration program the Blackfeet have worked on for years? It would be awesome to see one or two at a distance, but I won’t hold my breath.
What is life like on the other side of The Backbone of the World?
I have jut been informed that “The Sheep Eater” has been picked up by Champagne Book Group today who has already assigned an editor to the project! A contract is being prepared now. I don’t have any other details right at the moment, but I’ll keep everyone posted as things progress.
This story takes place in Montana near Yellowstone National Park and the main character is a young Mountain Shoshone whose band is known as the Sheep Eaters. He is a ranch hand with…issues.
An acquaintance of mine mentioned that she had just attended a Yakama Nation Pow Wow and how mesmerizing it was. She sent a short video of the Men’s Fancy Dance and was impressed with their skill and attire. She is non-Native and works over there in Central Washington from time to time, wanting very much to find an in-road to the people and the culture to make her job more effective.
Being the veteran of exactly one Pow Wow myself, I tried to point her toward various websites that explained Native Pow Wow etiquette. Not all tribes have the same rules or requirements and some are restricted to Tribal members only. I was glad to see that a Lakota man who also knew her chimed in and filled in a lot of helpful details for both she and I.
My point is to find out all you can about a Tribe’s customs BEFORE you go to one of their Pow Wows. Some allow photography; some don’t. Watch what you say. Respect is the key word. Don’t call their Pow Wow attire costumes…they are regalia. It is rude to point at someone. Always ask an Elder for help or to explain what is allowed if you are new and non-Native. Don’t assume anything.
My experience was awesome. It was a huge family affair and everyone was friendly, even though it was a competition in that case. If you get the chance, go and see it. You won’t be disappointed!
So, I’m typing along on this re-write of my next novel, trying to beef up my main character’s bad-boy traits and a thought creeps into the space between my ears about changing his name. It is one of those comparatively easy fixes, like a “find and replace” sort of thing, but after all this time, the character’s original name keeps springing forth, appearing to grasp for its very existence in my noodle.
“Find and replace” works fine when there are no twists like possessives or nicknames attached to them. It still requires a line-by-line read through to make sure the transition is complete. The problem is that the original name looks perfectly natural after reading through many pages and I confuse myself with thoughts like, “was that the old name or the new name I read two pages ago?”
I think it boils down to spending too much time worrying about the details. By the time I’m done, this could very well be a historical fiction about immigrants sailing into New York harbor from Ireland, except they would look very strange in Pow Wow regalia. I do contemporary Native American fiction.
All I ask is that when “The Sheep Eater” is released, remember that I tried to get his name right!
We Remember And We Are Thankful.
Yesterday, after doing a bit of animal research near Mt. Rainier, I decided to take a small side-trip to a place I know in Mason County that specializes in chainsaw art. What the proprietor does with his saw is amazing — bears, sasquatch, beavers, outdoor art, indoor art, carved benches…and a couple of stereotypical dime store Indians.
I’ve been looking for a unique piece to place at the head of my driveway with my street address on it for some time, even though it might be pricey. I knew this place might have what I’ve been looking for. Then I saw the carved Indians complete with cigars and head dress.
For the first time since I started writing contemporary Native American fiction, I truly felt the indignation rise about how a people is perceived, whether in jest or not. I felt a little nauseated and found myself moving to my truck. I knew the proprietor meant no offense, but I wondered how many Natives had up to that point.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not very much into Political Correctness or a soap box inhabitant. If a man or woman is a Suquamish, I will call him or her a Suquamish and if they have a title, I’ll use that as well. I will use the term “Native” when I don’t know what tribe they are affiliated with. After that, all bets are off. Too me it all boils back down to respecting the person.
When I drove away, the dime store images sat in my brain like dead head logs on a lake, looking for someone to run into them and punch a hole in their inattentive hulls. Sometimes I believe I think too much.