For the Love of Story

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I’ve decided to keep Raymond Day in my novel. I feel the story is going to suffer greatly without it; he needs to be there. Day, who first appeared in The Queen of Crows, is a problematic character for a few reasons. First, his origin story dates back to the Westward expansion in the 1830s era. He is a vampire (not spoiling anything by telling you that) and how he became an undead being that can only survive on human blood is the stuff of nightmares. But that particular detail, mind, is tied to what happened historically. Yes, it’s alternate history. However, to make his Native American character believable, certain details reflect what happened at the time. I haven’t settled on a specific tribe yet, as he played a minor role in the short story, but thinking Cherokee might be the best fit.

I have a stack of books on the subject, and the one I started reading last night is by Peter Nabokov. It’s called Indian Running, Native American Testimony: From Prophecy to the Present 1442 – 1992. I’ve decided to take the academic approach, by reading first-hand accounts, to make Day’s character believable — but also handle one of the trickier bits about him. That is, often when Native American characters are presented in fiction (if at all), there’s a tendency to put them in a historical context as if they are invisible in the modern world. (This is a PolicyMic article that gives a brief overview of some of those issues.)

On the flip side, there is also a tendency to lump every tribe together, so a character becomes representative of all Native Americans; much like when whites are all lumped together and the distinction between the French and the English, for example, is completely erased. Saying that all tribes got along just fine is like saying all of Europe is one big happy family. Really, the lumping occurs from a lack of knowledge. It’s easy to categorize when you don’t know the details, and as a writer it’s my job NOT to do that.

Am I obsessing about research? Oh hell, yes. I’m going to get parts wrong, but at the same time? I would rather be smart about characterization, which is often embedded in the style of language and descriptions I use, than be like: “Oh hey, here’s this pulp-y character that comes along and is there to move the plot forward.” There are very few Native Americans in modern-day fiction. Few. I can’t remember the last time I saw one in a film; The Prophecy, maybe? Native Americans are not fantasy elves with mystical powers that have their own form of magic because of their deep connection to the land. Beliefs? Yes. Aliens from outer space? No.

And what of those beliefs? Well, you see this is the other reason why research is a requirement for me. No two tribes are alike, and beliefs vary widely. The vast majority of Native American beliefs don’t match European goals and thought processes, either. That’s where these accounts are helping me, because I am reading and seeing exactly what people from the era believed, what they experienced, and how they viewed the expansion. Hey, big hint folks: it’s not what Hollywood has depicted. Ever.

I’m lucky, I suppose, in that there’s no shortage of materials out there. I think the only reason I’m not (lucky), is because it’s going to take me longer to finish writing the book, but once I have his character down it’ll go much faster. I mean, sure it sounds like an excuse. Research can be a way to procrastinate, but the thing is: I’m not reading any of these books or diving in because I don’t trust myself as a writer, or because I’m freezing up, or any of those other “lets-beat-ourselves-up” reasons… I’m reading all this to internalize the information, so that I do the best job I possibly can. With so few Native American characters out there, that’s immensely important to me, and I’d never forgive myself if I was sloppy about it even though I’m writing fiction knowing what I know. Call it pride or whatever you like, but that’s just how it’s gotta be. I LOVE BEING A WRITER. And this? This research? It’s part of my job.

    Mood: Strangely strange.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Quite a bit.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I moved. Well, kind of.
    In My Ears: White noise. ZZZzzzzzz
    Game Last Played: Ninjas versus Zombies
    Book Last Read: Indian Running, Native American Testimony: From Prophecy to the Present 1442 – 1992
    Movie Last Viewed: Kill Bill II
    Latest Artistic Project: Art classes. SON OF A BISCUIT! That reminds me…
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.




Monica Valentinelli >

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