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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Five Reasons Why I Almost Didn’t Write Naked Edge




As I write this, there are only 25 days until Naked Edge is released, and I’m getting the butterflies in my stomach that I always get before a book is released. I know you other authors know what I mean when I say that a book’s release date feels a lot like the day you send your kindergartener out into the big, cruel world for the first time. Books are our babies, and no matter what we write and no matter how hard we try to write the perfect, engaging story, someone will tell us our baby is ugly and stupid.

I tell my family that writing novels is an act of will. From the story concept to filling yourself with the emotions of your own characters to seeing the story through page after grinding page, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, you must fight discouragement and frustration that threatens to psych you out and make you quit. That’s true for every novel I’ve ever written.

But before I sat down to write Naked Edge, I had to decide whether I really wanted to do this — whether I really wanted to write a romance with a traditional Native heroine and all that implies. I’d sworn at one point early in my career that I would never write Indian romance. Far too often the Indian romances I’ve read are filled with stereotypes and often include assumptions that many Indian people find offensive. And though I’m not concerned with political correctness, particularly in a historical setting where life was anything but politically correct, I am close to a number of Indian people who would expect me to produce something that was accurate and culturally sensitive.

I’ve been asked by three different Native leaders from three different nations — Diné (Navajo), Hopi and Lakota — to act as a bridge between the Indian world and mainstream America. It’s a responsibility I’ve taken seriously through more than a decade of reporting on Native issues, and it’s a responsibility I have to take seriously as an author, as well. It seemed to me that the best way to deal with the complexities and risks involved was simply not to write novels with Native heroes or heroines.

Except that, because my life is deeply entwined with those of several Indian people and because my work as a journalist has so often involved Native issues, my head kept filling up with ideas.

So here are the 5 reasons I almost didn’t write Naked Edge — and what led me to change my mind.

5. There is very little about contemporary American Indian life that isn’t highly political. That’s just a fact. I decided I would have to find a way to remove the politics to the best of my ability. This is a romance novel, after all.

4. Someone somewhere will use the word “half-breed” to describe the heroine. This word is roughly the same to Indian people as the “n-word” is to African Americans. It’s right up there with “redskin.” I would hate for anyone to use this word to describe Kat, but I decided that it would give me a chance to do what I just did — to explain to people that they shouldn’t use the word unless they’re trying to anger someone. (And while I’m at it, the word “thoroughbred” refers to horses, not people.)

3. Modern Indian life can be confusing, and I would want to depict it as accurately as possible. There is so much most people don’t know about contemporary Indians. The idea that most Indians have gotten rich off casino money is absurd. Some have; most have not. Most don’t live on reservations. Most don’t speak their ancestors’ languages. Many have little idea about the traditions and spiritual beliefs of their ancestors. Some have adopted the world view of mainstream culture and Christianized. In cities, it’s not uncommon for Indian people from many different nations to practice a sort of mix of traditions. So you’ll find people from many different backgrounds participating in Lakota ceremonies, and you’ll find Lakota who’ve never been to a sweat lodge (inipi) or Sun Dance (wiwang wacipi).

On the other end of the spectrum are families that live on reservations in extreme poverty in homes without electricity or running water. Some speak almost no English. The struggles of their daily lives are beyond the imaginings of most Americans.

Sifting through all of this — and much more that I won’t go into — would make writing this book very difficult. And, indeed, it took more than a year as I tried very hard to make the story reflective of this complex reality. Inevitably, someone whose great-great-grandmother was a third Cherokee (or whatever) is going to point to something that they believe is inaccurate. But everything in the story is based on things I have seen/done personally during my time on the Navajo and Lakota reservations.

2. In a society rife with stereotypical depictions of Indian people, I wasn’t certain that readers would be able to relate to a more realistic Native heroine. Too many books and films seem to present the Indian world as if it had been created by Disney. There are almost 600 federally recognized Indian nations — and there are many that for bureaucratic reasons are not recognized. Each nation has its own history and culture. It is impossible to generalize, and yet most depictions of Native people contain lots of generalities. I decided I would do my very best to avoid that.

1. The book is bound to anger some Indian people who justifiably wonder what a chick with blond hair and blue eyes is doing writing about Native issues. Some might see the book as exploitation. This, more than anything, gave me pause. I decided that there really was no way to avoid this. I’ve tried to act with integrity during my years of reporting on Indian issues. I’ve never gone anywhere I wasn’t invited to go. I’ve never participated in a ceremony that I wasn’t invited to attend, nor have I ever participated in New Age copycat ceremonies run by non-Indians. There’s nothing I’ve done as a journalist that I wasn’t asked to do. Because I know this, and because the Indian people who are my friends know this, I won’t be hurt by what might be said in this regard.

But there’s something else: I participated in the events that inspired this story, so, although the story deals with contemporary American Indian issues, the kernel of real life that the story contains reflects my own life as a journalist. In that way, aspects of this story are my story, too.

In addition, I have committed to donating a portion of the proceeds from the book to programs on the Navajo reservation that serve women and children.

I wanted to go on the record with all of this before the book comes out. That way, my response to these things, should they arise, can’t be dismissed as “sour grapes.”

Ultimately, this book produced more anxiety for me than most of my other novels because it required me to take more risks. I felt a enormous sense of responsibility. I have done my best to address the problems and potential pitfalls that come with wading into these waters, and I’ve done so as respectfully as I know how.

The result will be on bookstore shelves in just 25 days. I hope people will enjoy Kat and Gabe’s story, and I hope they’ll learn a few things about the Native world they didn’t know. I hope that the book will act as the bridge I’ve been asked to be, fulfilling the expectations of the elders who trust me.

I did my best to tell a sensual love story between a contemporary Navajo woman and a white Park Ranger. He saves her life; she saves his soul.

Judging the story is up to you.

20 comments:

limecello said...

Pamela - I am SO GLAD! that you wrote this book! I've been wanting it forever, and especially *because* of Kat!
I'm... I want to say I can't believe #2... but I'm resigned and pretty sure that you're right, and someone will say it. *breathes deeply*

I love nice fluffy romances, and that's really why I started reading the genre, but sometimes I crave substance too. And I'm so glad you thought about those issues. I'm going to assume, based on what I've read in your other books, it'll be clear you were respectful and did your work and research, rather than just making things up or using stereotypes.

25 Days! *Squee*!

Hi, Limcello — So good to see you! And thanks! I appreciate your trust and I hope you find the story was worth waiting for. :-)

In this case, I didn't do my research. I lived it. I hope that shows.

Yep, only 25 days. I'm not sure whether to get excited or to lock myself in my bathroom. LOL!

Phyl said...

I've been looking forward to Naked Edge before you wrote this--now even more so. Through your blog you strike me as someone who is willing to take risks that the average person (i.e. me) would not take. In addition, it's clear you strive for authenticity. That sounds like an awful good foundation. And the story sounds damn good too :-)

Good luck, Pamela. There are lots of us pulling for you and trust that you got it right.

You are the bravest woman I know! Beautiful and courageous, yes! I love your fearless writing, inquisitive mind, passionate caring, articulate expression and kind, generous heart. Thank you for writing this book Pamela! I LOVE YOU! :)

J. said...

I've already pre-ordered the book. Can't wait for it to come =]

Debbie H said...

Pamela, the ones who know you and your writing will LOVE this book. I knew some of the Indian culture already, but you opened my eyes to a lot I didn't know. Thank you!

The ones who will say bad things about the book are the one who have not done their research into your work, or just can't say anything nice about anyone because they are jealous.

I can't wait for the release!

Linda A. said...

I think that anyone who does anything worthwhile is bound to be criticized for it. Emily Carr, one of my absolute favorite artists, has been criticised for 'exploitation' of Indians, by people who weren't even alive when she did her wonderful paintings of West Coast totems. Like you, she never intruded without being asked. I've even heard people say writers shouldn't write about the opposite sex, because they can't portray them accurately. How ridiculous is that?
I'm sure your Indian friends realize that you did your absolute best to be accurate and respectful. Whatever people say will reflect on them, not you. Can't wait for the book!

Amanda said...

I can't wait for Naked Edge!! Can't believe its only 25 days till the release!!

I'm so excited for you! I have loved everything you've written and I know I will spend some very happy hours hidden away with this one too!

Hi, Phyl — Thank you so much! I guess I've done some pretty crazy things in my life. As for authenticity, part of the fun of fiction for me is creating a worthwhile story out of the reality around us. I had NYT bestseller once tell me to quit wasting time on research and just make stuff up. But that doesn't work for me. It must be the journalist in me. As a reader, I find that inaccuracies pull me out of the story. So I try to have as few as possible. Thanks again!

Dear Kat — Thank you, thank you, thank you. The feeling is mutual. This book wouldn't exist without you, my friend.

Hey, J! You're too sweet. I hope you enjoy it!

Hi, Debbie — Thanks for saying that. (Debbie has already read the book, y'all.) Yes, the people who know me already know about the book and are happy about it. People are entitled to their own opinions; I certainly don't want to tell people what I think they should think. But this book is different because there's more on the line. I think I just needed to get that off my chest. And thank you!

Hi, Linda — Not write about the opposite gender? That's funny!!! I do understand why many Native people don't want non-Natives writing about them. One reason is the overabundance of stereotypes. Another reason is that so much of Native culture has been stolen that many Native people feel exploited. But I've done my best to walk a different path as a journalist and writer. And, as I said, a portion of this story is my story. Thank you, Linda! Hey, when is the even for your book?

Hi, Amanda — Well, as of today it's only 24 days. I need a countdown widget. I tried to make one. Let's just say it didn't work. :-) And thank you, dear.

Haha!

Linda, I found it:

http://www.romancing-the-book.com/2010/02/interview-with-jennie-marsland.html

Stop by and read an interview with Jennie Marsland, and be entered into a drawing for a copy of her book!

limecello said...

Pamela- work and research - living it is bound to come through, like when you did your stint in prison (jail - sorry couldn't resist that exact phrasing) for Unlawful Contact.
You nailed it head on, although I've only been on the opposite side.
Still, considering how often the words jail/prison are bandied about, very few people know much about it.

Yes, it's a minefield and people are bound to get upset - but in a way it's better to discuss or address it than pretend there aren't such things happening. I'm never quite sure how to feel when an author has a note at the beginning of a book with "thanks to X for letting me believe two people from different races could fall in love." O_o It's like a medical miracle!

Limecello, that's exactly how I see it. And the thing is, I'm not trying to be political in this book or to express my own point of view. It's a love story presented from as realistic a point of view as I was able to muster.

I just got back from signing books in Louisville. It was a great event with lots of people, some familiar faces, some new faces. One of these days I'm going to hop into my car an drive across the country signing books every night somewhere.

But not this weekend.

Tonight I'm going to finish reading a nonfiction book about the U.S. Marshal Service's WITSEC program. Fascinating stuff.

My next I-Team hero, Zack MacBride, is a Deputy U.S. Marshal.

What is everyone else doing?

KCP said...

Thanks for the heads up about your blog this morning in your Facebook message.

I can't imagine the anxiety you've dealt with over this book, but it's done...and I will have a copy in 25 days...so will everyone else. And here's what I know: You can't please everyone. But it's obvious that you didn't take this storyline lightly, and I would think that anyone who might give pause to the content and judge it, might consider that fact. Hopefully those people will look upon it as a book that was written by someone who genuinely cares about the subject matter, and took the precautions and time necessary to do it justice.

I'm excited for a few reasons. One, I'm a huge fan of the I-Team, and adore its characters. But the subject matter will be something new for me, and coming from you, and your experiences and knowledge, I'm confident I'll learn something :)

Hot characters paired with educational subject matter? I'm in!

Hey, KCP! Great to see you here.

Thanks for what you said. I'm going to have to get past these nerves and just remember that I've done my part and the rest isn't up to me.

As for hot characters...

This blog post has been very serious, so the next one will have to be very sexy. Very. Sexy.

Plus, I want to post an interview with Gabe so you all can get to know him a bit before you get between the covers with him. ;-)

And there are some scenes with Gabe, Marc and Julian — male bonding scenes — that I posted to my Yahoo group that I should share here, too.

Lucy said...

I'm not so hip on Native American culture and politics, but having read the book already (mwaha, that is one of the perks of dating your son... among other things. :)) I must say I find it quite culturally sensitive and informative. :) And obviously, a very good romance novel!!!

KCP said...

Oh yes...please, give us hottness in the next blog! I LOVE character interviews too!

Seriously Pamela...I can't wait for Kat's book. SERIOUSLY!

Hi, Lucy, darling — Thanks for being so sweet. And the perk for me of you dating my son is... YOU! Anna and Meg read it, too, right? (They're college friends of Lucy's and of my son, y'all.) It was October that I was there, but it seems like a million years ago. Give Benjamin a hug next time you see him, pretty please!

Kristin, I'm so glad you're looking forward to it. Let's see what Gabe has to say for himself. :-)

Mary G said...

Pamela
I don't know where to start. One of my fave authors is Cherie Feather (Art of Desire- wonderful book). I love Native American romances - hero, heroine either or, mixed whatever the word is.

You can't worry about accuracy if you've done your homework, you do the best you can. It can happen to any book, any author no matter the subject.

I went to an RWA Toronto Chapter meeting & while I enjoyed every minute this is what stayed with me.
You have to be true to you & write
with "your" voice. One author actually said to me that she was not successful until she ignored the "market" and wrote what her "voice" said to write.
Not everyone will love what you write. There will always be someone to critcize. Listen to your voice.

This last is from me. I just want to read romance no matter what the subject is. I don't want real politics to interfere. It's romantic fiction. I can read about issues in the newspaper. I don't want to worry about a fave author feeling angst & possibly not writing something at all. Now that sadden & scares me.
(hugs)

Hi, Mary —

What you heard at the RWA conference is what I absolutely believe. You have to be true to what it is you want to write as a writer. That’s why I write what I write and not vampires or something else. As the old saying goes. “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” :-)

As for my angsting, I’m fine. All authors go through some level of this as a release nears. I've held phone vigils with other authors as they’ve waited the night before a big release. (Yes, authors are nuts — but in a good way.) So please don’t let any of this worry you or make you sad. I did write the book, after all. And in the end, I was happy with it. That’s what counts.

Joanne P said...

I love, love, love every single one of your books and I am sure Naked Edge is going to just as amazing as I think all the others are. Counting down the days until it is released!

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