Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The "Other" Story

I've been stepping out on my novel. Maybe my slow, sporadic revision methods are negatively impacting my interest, or maybe the act of revision itself is becoming too frustrating for it to be my only project, and I need the distraction of a Shiny New Idea. I'm too noob at both psychology and writing to accurately analyze the reason for my unfaithfulness, but for now I'm embracing it.

It's sort of a mix between historical fiction and fantasy. At first it was straight up fantasy, but as I was deliberating over certain worldbuilding and plot elements, I stumbled across The Longhouse religion, founded by Seneca Chief Handsome Lake. Lots of things fell into place, and the world my story takes place in feels more complete now, but more importantly, the more I read, the more I became enthralled with the entire Iroquois history and culture. 

I fully admit that less than a week ago, I knew next to nothing about modern or historic Native Americans. Now that I'm staring my white privilege in its pasty face, I realize that I knew nothing about them because I didn't have to know. As a person of European descent, reading history books in schools founded by other people of European descent, I was told, in so many words, that my history was the one that mattered. Native American culture - or rather, the wide variety of Native American cultures that we tend to lump together into one shallow caricature, were a novelty of the past, irrelevant to my modern world. It's been difficult to accept the fact that I benefit every day from the atrocities of colonialism, but it has also motivated me to seek out ways I can use what I learn to make a positive impact.   

It's a complex subject that will take more than a few days on Google to understand, but I'm actually excited about all of the research ahead of me. Further educating myself definitely needs to happen before I look for a banner to wave, not after. It's going to be hard to narrow down my book list, since I've found books covering everything from Iroquois medical botany to Seneca folk tales to illustrated guides on Native American dance steps. It's going to be even harder to decide where exactly I'm going to draw the lines between history and fantasy. I want paint an authentic picture of the rich, living culture of the Seneca...while also telling a story about demons and magic and undead and other way cool things I love about fantasy. What I keep and what I make my own will, I think, ultimately determine where I fall on the appreciation versus appropriation spectrum when this project is completed.