Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Total Immersion

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 experience.

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.