By Christina M. Stachura
Copyright © 2008 by Christina M. Stachura, All Rights Reserved
Credibility is crucial for a writer, and I learned that the hard way
when I Googled my way into a Native American chatroom on a mission to
learn more about their culture for a young adult novel I was writing
about a Native American teen-aged girl who falls in love with an
African-American boy. Maybe because I had not built up a rapport with
the people in the chatroom and just came in with questions in hand, I
was met with stony silence, until the facilitator of the room returned
my questions with two of his own: "Are you Native American?" and "How
can you write something of which you have no experience?"
I had read several books on the Taos Pueblo, but wanted the personal
perspective of Native Americans for my novel. Though the question stung
a bit, the speaker was entirely within his rights. I did not have any
So I went to the Taos Pueblo itself for the San Geronimo Day Festival in
September. I stayed with my brother and his family who live just outside
of Taos. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. At the
festival, I *was* Carson Hernandez, the heroine of my young adult novel.
I saw the festival through her eyes. I tasted genuine Native American
food, including fry bread (which for Carson's family is like a staple),
and it was scrumptious.
I saw the sacred clowns (Koshares) perform; they even came into the
crowd. They got into lots of mischief, which included throwing
disagreeable people into the river! I almost clapped my hands like a
teenager when a particularly recalcitrant boy was tossed into the river.
Later, after the Koshares had been through the crowd and performed their
tricks and jokes, they gathered around a pole in the center of the
pueblo. They pretended to be looking for something around the circle,
and this went on for about ten minutes. Then, someone pointed up at the
top of the pole and they found the sacrificial goat at the top. Much was
made of how to get it down.
The sacred clowns had miniature bows and arrows, to the crowd's
delight. They tried to shoot the goat down, and most of the arrows made
it a quarter or a half way up before turning down, to cheers, claps and
laughter from the crowd. Then they found a rope attached to the pole and
a few of them tried to climb it. One only got a few feet up and had to
come down, but also received good natured applause from the crowd. The
second got farther up and the third finally figured out if he climbed up
on the shoulders of another Koshare he could maybe make it to the top.
He did! He cut the goat down to many gleeful cheers and much applause
from the onlookers.
Research, and as much immersion into your characters as possible, builds
your credibility when writing a novel. I'm not nearly finished with the
research I plan for my young adult novel. It may take me three years to
write, but it will be fully researched and I will be satisfied by then.
I bought a few more books in Taos while I was there and ordered a few
more books recently from Amazom.com. Also, I have learned there are
several tribes in my own state of Michigan and many more in Canada for
me to investigate. While they are not the Taos Pueblo, they will still
give me insight on the Native American ways of life.
Credibility is important in writing anything, whether it's an article, a
short story, or a novel. If the reader doesn't believe you, he'll stop
reading. Whether you are writing about a surgeon, a teacher, an
astronaut, a line cook, or a postal worker, try to learn as much as you
possibly can about that person's duties before you write because the
reader might sense you don't know what you're talking about. Make room
for the savvy reader.