Also, special thanks goes to my Mom, who is not here. May 1 was the one year anniversary of her death, and that was part of the challenging year. But, prior to her death, Mom read a proof copy of my book – the last book she ever read. My mother was a lifelong reader, but after a long, difficult operation some years ago, she seemed to lose her focus in reading. I sent her the book just so she could see it. First she said she’d read a few pages. A couple weeks later she told me she’d read the whole thing. I wasn’t sure whether to believe her – so I quizzed her about some characters and events – and she got them mostly right. After that, her interest in reading seemed to decline again, and she went back to her murder mystery videos. But, somehow, she got through this book.
So, I thought I’d mention some of the challenges and developments of writing this particular book, In Regalia, with Native American themes. It’s quite different from my first two, which I call “Young Women’s Adventure Stories” – very loosely based on my own experiences, using the point of view of a young white woman exploring unfamiliar worlds. For those books, I had a kind of blueprint to follow – other girls adventure stories: Alice in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz, sort of playing with the story line and some of the characters. In Regalia is quite different – and came to me fairly intact, and without any kind similar model.
1. So, where did this book come from? Mainly from my fairly recent immersion in local, current Native American culture through MCNAA – the organization I’m donating to. That interest evolved over time: first attending the Mashpee Wampanoag pow wow on Cape Cod with my husband and young children; I went for curiosity, but something there touched me. Then it was through my connection with local resident and parent Claudia Fox Tree and her family drum, learning some songs and traditions. Then, through DNA finding distant Native ancestry, Mic Mac, Huron and Nippising. Finally, I became a MCNAA member, and have attended many of their events – learning quite a different perspective on New England and American history.
2. There were several challenges with this book: three narrative voices, all related and overlapping in reference to certain time and events. The 40 year old white woman, Helene, is closest to my own point of view; then there are the journal pages of her deceased younger sister, Renee, after coming out of chronic addiction – for that I relied on experiences of people I know who have been through addiction and recovery; and lastly, the biggest creative leap, the blog posts of a 20 year old Native American named Izzy – who is “two spirit” – a native way of referring to gay, bi, or transsexual. For that, I pulled mainly from my relationships with millennials and friends in the LGBTQ community. A huge part of the challenge of 3 voices was to keep the timeline accurate and details/names consistent. In the end, it came to me that the structure of the book in some way was like a braid, or braiding of three parts to make a stronger whole, also part of Native American culture and belief.
3 challenge of researching topics: allergies, addiction, jail visits, adoption, Native American land and water rights, history. Love to research; hard to stop; learned a lot – but mainly that Native American culture is not monolithic, by any means, and that one of the biggest problems that Native Americans face is that they’re stuck in the past, romanticized or demonized, but not really seen as contemporary beings.
4. Challenge of cultural sensitivity/cultural appropriation – that’s a tough one, and still not entirely clear, the line between exploring and exploiting a different culture’s art and beliefs. But it was a challenge worth taking on I felt. Fortunately, I had some readers with Native American background who were able to fill in some missing pieces, correct some things, and help explain the meaning behind some things. This created a major reframing of part of the story – a cross-country trip of a young white woman and a Native American man. My reader, a Native American man, told me, “It’s not a fun road trip, off to see America. There’s no way I could cross through certain parts of this country without being accosted or assaulted for being Native, and have to defend myself – wrong place, wrong time.”
5. The challenge of finishing the book – like Mindy. And some of the issues special to us – women in mid-life involved with children and aging parents; not having gone through some of the traditional MFA and creative writing programs; and mainly giving ourselves permission to take the time to write, and hope/believe we have something worthwhile to say.
I want to conclude by urging you to read my story – and Mindy’s – but also to consider writing your own stories – fiction or non –fiction – your own truths that you have to share. It’s very doable, and it’s necessary – to hear all voices and all experiences. It’s one of the ways that things change.