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.