An Oyster’s Tale

When it comes to writing, I guess I’m an irritated oyster. I’ll be going along and realize there’s something inside that’s a little rough, a little edgy. It doesn’t sit right. It feels wrong. I take a look. Sure enough, there’s an issue or something that simply could be better. (See previous blog on good enough) Having located the irritant, I get to work and something new begins to take form, a pearlescent layer that improves some aspect but leads to another. With a little work another layer forms, then another and another, each one bringing a fuller, richer gleam.

Here’s an example from my work in (endless) progress. Years ago when I wrote my first series, I had a Native American character that I made Comanche. At the time, research materials were sparse. I knew the Comanche were a particularly feared tribe and thought that added contrast for this character who plays a noble role. In rewriting the series, I now have access to the truly horrific practices of this tribe, so for story reasons, I no longer felt it the best choice.

 

After researching the natives who had at least some presence in the Colorado territory, I settled on Jicarilla Apache—also scary and skilled in warfare but not as given to torture, especially of a sexual nature, as the Comanche. Having made the decision, I then sought out everything I could find. Many sites read like a tourist trading post, but some yielded documents with substance. For days I delved, getting a feel for the Jicarilla as a people. One book written by someone who spent time among them in 1845 yielded anecdotes, customs, and conversations from his personal interactions. I’ll draw from these to enrich later books as well. For now, I needed to establish my character.

As I had called him Grey Wolf, which was also the name of a Comanche chief of some renown, this too had to change. So I began a name search. Slogging through Native American baby names, I found Cherokee, Cheyenne, Lakota etc., but not a single name of Apache derivation. In tribal sites I found vocabulary I could combine like colors and animals but that still didn’t feel right. Digging deeper I found an account that explained that Apache boys/men were mainly unnamed until an attribute or a particular feat set them apart. (The women were rarely named at all)

In spite of this seeming impediment, I got excited. The wheels started turning. What might my character have done to be named? What would the name be and what did that say about him? This minor character wanted flesh, a story within a story.

Then I found a Jicarilla Apache text on Internet Archive openlibrary.org that gave the actual Jicarilla language with an English translation beneath the words. Since I’m in love with languages, there will now be a smattering of Jicarilla in the story. And the English was as useful in its oddity. For instance: “There girl pretty. Then these men to her many gathered.” LOL. I am loving this.

Today I had the joy of incorporating my discoveries into the story. It was a few pages of prose and dialogue that brought Many Elk (Ts’ĩ Nes Kĩ Na Da Dzes meaning He Lay Down With Many Elk) and my heroine to life in a scene that was okay but now has a luminescence I wanted to give it.

So, there in excruciating detail is one tiny part of my process. Hopefully when this oyster opens, there will be a pearl some will appreciate for its depth, hues, tones, and the struggle that produced it.

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14 Responses to An Oyster’s Tale

  1. Shelly Foulk says:

    The struggle does not make itself apparent in your finished product. Much like the duck gliding across the water seemingly effortlessly all the while paddling with all its might below the surface. The quality, depth, and richness that you offer, the breathtaking paintings with words that can always be found in your work are ever present. As a reader I learn, bits of history, a facet of God’s character I had not previously considered and sometimes I learn something fresh about myself. Sharing a corner of your creative process has shed light on my own. Please keep sharing. Your thoughts, your wisdom, and the cracks in your armor. All an encouragement to the masses I know. For myself I say, “Thank you”!

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    • What beautiful encouragement, Shelly. I love hearing how the stories impact people. It’s harder for me to show myself through the cracks of armor, as you aptly said. I do hope it encourages other writers to dig in and readers to glimpse the labor of love (blood, sweat, and tears) that might seem effortless. I laughed out loud at your analogy because one of the anecdotes had the Apache wearing gourds on their heads to bob in among ducks on the Rio Grande, grab their feet, and yank them down to stuff in a bag. Some days I think I’m one paddle away from going under. 🙂

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      • Shelly Foulk says:

        The last sentence of your comment continues to tug at my heart; compelling me to remind you of something you know well. When Peter stepped out of that boat, he did it in good faith.
        Yeah Peter! Yet, when in his fragile humanity,he began to sink;he found himself in the grip of grace. Kristen, you are firmly and lovingly in His grasp. Even on the decidedly high wave days. Paddle on!

        You have encouraged my heart and infused me with the confidence to fully take the leap into the destiny God has prepared with my name on it. Thank you is not sufficient …
        however; it is what I have so THANK YOU!!

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      • Once again, such grace in your precious words.

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  2. catharina68 says:

    Hi Kristen
    Every book you are writing becomes a pearl in the hands of people who are reading your books.
    It’s a gift from God that you can write these books.
    You are Blessed!
    Greetings and love from the Netherlands

    Carin

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  3. Marianne says:

    Hi, Kristen

    I am already waiting with baited breath the read this story. I love your novels. I find out something new about myself in each one! YOU ROCK and so do your stories! Thanks for following God’s leading!

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    • Thank you so much, Marianne. Remember in C.S Lewis’s The Dawn Treader, when Aslan peels the layers off Eustace? I think God does that with us, peeling layer after layer to show only as much as we can bear at the time until we stand before him unveiled.

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  4. HUGS AND GOD BLESS YOU AND WRITINGS…grannyg

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  5. Thank you. Hugs and blessings welcome. Sending them right back to you.

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  6. Laura Frantz says:

    Great post, Kristen. I’m just finishing your Diamond of the Rockies series and have found many pearls therein. I’ve held onto this last book, (TTV), eeking out a chap. a day when I really wanted to read it in one sitting! Painful to say goodbye to these characters. All the little details you employ bespeak much research and add so much depth. I have your first book in your first series, too, then realized you are revising them so will wait to order the print ones when you release them. Can’t wait! Thanks for filling my keeper shelf with stories that sing:) Forever grateful!

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  7. You’re so welcome, Laura, and much better disciplined than I with a book I enjoy. Don’t forget the Michelli family series SECRETS, UNFORGOTTEN, and ECHOES connects to those through descendants, if you haven’t read them already. More tidbits of Quillan and Carina.

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  8. Rebecca Dewey says:

    Thank you for the glimpse into your process. Your books are so descriptive, it’s like the characters are real people. I feel like I know Morgan Spencer!
    I am looking forward to many more books in the future.

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  9. Thank you, Rebecca. Very encouraging. 🙂

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