Category: West

Náápiikoan Winter: Book Review

Náápiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams

When one nation strives to dominate another for economic gain, more than money is at stake. Cultures, lives, passions, traditions and human needs also fall in sacrifice. This realization resonates through the deeply-woven story line and intriguing characters of Alethea Williams’s novel, Náápiikoan Winter.

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As we writers do when we deliver a new novel, Alethea Williams provided a review copy of this book for my consideration. Although I don’t know Ms. Williams personally, I offered to review her book because I read primarily historical fiction about the Great Plains and American West. When I do, I look for that magical blend of re-examined history and story, careful truth and colorful imagination. In short, a believable story well told.

Náápiikoan Winter is an ambitious novel; it sets out to portray an epic view in very personal detail. It captures a turning point in the American West when Native tribes face the crisis of aggressive English and French trading and exploration. This novel succeeds, through well-integrated research, in making this intense, global crisis feel immediate and personal. Several characters bond and clash to demonstrate the spiritual and material treasures at stake for Native and European interests at the turn of the 19th Century, on the as-yet uncharted North American continent.

Strong Characters Collide

The first key character in the book is a young Mexican girl who grows into one of the significant women in this story, Buffalo Stone Woman. I won’t spoil the plot, but young Isobel undergoes personal and cultural trauma and transformations. After a strong introduction to Isobel, the author only hints at most of her adolescent changes, but they ultimately situate Isobel to sense oncoming disaster and try to save her adopted Pììkáni tribe.

The second key character is Donal Thomas, a Náápiikoan (meaning Old Man Person, a term given by the Siksikà to White traders, out of respect for their many wonders). The seventeen-year-old boy, indentured to the Hudson Bay Company for seven years, is sent against his will to the Rocky Mountains to learn and to trade. He is a fascinating character, depicted well from within (ambitious, yet traumatized by his childhood), and through the eyes of Native characters. I found Donal believable as he naively and unwittingly precipitates several levels of social, spiritual and domestic disaster for the Pììkáni, who welcome and host him for the winter.

Ms. Williams develops many other Native characters into clear and interesting individuals who struggle for tribal status, safety or love. One of particular interest and beauty is Sweetgrass Woman, a credible teenage girl who longs for respectability and self-determination in a tribal culture that has already decided her domestic role. Her confused attempt for spiritual autonomy through association with Buffalo Stone Woman is particularly touching. I also appreciate the depth and complexity of Bear Dog, who could have easily remained a one-dimensional “bad guy,” yet he, with his devious longing for acceptance, feels complex and human. Also deeply satisfying is the character of Saahkómaapi, the elderly dreamer who squabbles with his wife, hungers for more women, and risks everything to protect his people’s medicine from Náápiikoan.

A Wild, Believable West

Náápiikoan Winter doesn’t romanticize tribal or individual behavior or suffering. Complex tribal and inter-tribal politics, family rivalries, and White disruption of these dynamics—all are well-depicted, often through tense, yet subtle confrontations. Several well-drawn secondary characters sense, but don’t know how to resist, the looming “white wings” of the traders and the civilization they signify. The goods and relationships the traders bring to the tribe are attractive, yet unrelentingly erode Pììkáni religion, leadership, decision-making and survival through this one Náápiikoan winter, and through those to come.

The Writer’s Strength

In addition to her intuitively-integrated research, one aspect of storytelling Ms. Williams manages well is what I’ve learned to call “knowledge gaps.” She skillfully withholds and manages key information, giving the characters and reader just enough knowledge, but keeping all in the dark for just long enough, to keep the pages turning.

When I closed the covers of Náápiikoan Winter, I felt a sense of loss for a time in history. I felt a connection to place, and regret for characters and cultures who would have no happy-ever-after, romantic ending. I respected the author for not glossing over a hard telling of a story that seemed true, both in facts and in details. I felt the dust of the past clinging to me. I had that echo—of living character voices and cultures intimately experienced—that I get from fine historical fiction.

Recommendation

I highly recommend Náápiikoan Winter to readers who like strongly-researched fiction about the clash of cultures and diverse individuals, in North American history.

Alethea headshot

Alethea Williams, author

Alethea Will

Náápiikoan Winter may be purchased at:

Barnes and Noble online: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/naapiikoan-winter-alethea-williams/1123779705?ean=9781532710568

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Naapiikoan-Winter-Alethea-Williams-ebook/dp/B01EIQNCMO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472572992&sr=8-1&keywords=naapiikoan-winter-alethea-williams

Read more about Alethea’s work at: http://actuallyalethea.blogspot.com

A New Place, a New Story

k lyn wurth great plains and western fiction

Announcing a New Place

Thanks for visiting my blog. This is a where I write at length about the research, references  and influences that inform my writing. This blog is a peek behind the curtain, but there’s a new place, a new story…

Find Your Place in a Story™

There’s a new trademark, too, giving greater emphasis to what I hope for my readers, that they will find their special place and a more meaningful life in the stories I tell.

To learn more about the purpose and heart of my writing, and my commitment to writing about the Great Plains and American West, I invite you to visit my new web site:

http://www.klynwurth.net.

horseshoe from klynwurth.net

Go West, my readers, go West, and Find your Place in a Story

find your place in a story trademark K. Lyn Wurth

WWW and Seven Kinds of Rain

October was a great month for travel, and the Pacific Northwest put on a beautiful show for Women Writing the West in Redmond. This month also brings a sense of direction for my latest novel, SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN.

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In Oregon we walked and drove through breathtaking landscapes, visited the Imperial Livestock Ranch where we met an amazing Western woman entrepreneur, learned about the latest trends in publishing and honed our craft. Not to mention having a great time catching up with old and new friends! Endless inspiration . . . I came home energized to write more. I also met some very nice sheep.

I appreciate receiving an honorable mention for my short story, “Fool’s Moon,” which you can read along with other LAURA Short Fiction Award winners here. I read an excerpt at the awards dinner and people laughed in all the right places. A writer always hopes for that!

Since returning from Oregon, I’ve been editing my novel-in-process, which I’ve titled SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN. Yes, this the working title announcement and you saw it here, first. I’ll publish a sneak-preview synopsis soon.

While I had expected to self-publish this novel and its sequel, my professional editor surprised me with her favorable response to the manuscript. When she said loved it so much, she’d be reading it in “all six of her book clubs,” I began to rethink my publishing and marketing strategy. I’ve already designed a book cover and a book trailer. It felt good to move in that familiar direction, but . . .

I’m not one to think less of a self-published novel, or more of one that’s traditionally published. Literary excellence can rise or fail and there can be pitfalls, either way. But after self-publishing THE DARKWATER LIAR’S ACCOUNT, I understand more of the difficult aspects of doing everything myself. The most difficult parts are gaining reader and professional reviews, garnering publicity and otherwise expanding my reach to more readers.

Of course, an author gives up control when she joins with a professional team to produce a book. It’s business. It’s about sales number and the bottom line. I will face difficulties, simply different ones, if a publishing house sees potential in my novel. I’ll still be engaged in the marketing, as every author must be in today’s competitive marketplace.

So, SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN now begins the query circuit, seeking literary agent representation. I’ve done this before, so I’m pumping up for the emotional and mental exertion—many successful novels have endured more than seventy rejections before an agent fell in love. Each one of those attempts signifies selecting and researching an appropriate agent, crafting a personal pitch letter, tailoring a novel synopsis and then waiting, sometimes from 6-8 weeks, for a reply. My first novel, THE DARKWATER LIAR’S ACCOUNT, went through thirty attempts before I decided to self-publish. It takes a thick skin to find an agent, then to endure numerous rejections by publishing houses. So, we’ll see how it goes . . . because unexpected, amazing things can happen.

And one can always use  one more item to cross off the Bucket List.

Exceed seventy literary agent rejections for one novel manuscript.

Better yet, let’s be optimistic. Send your good wishes to SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN, my latest and best story yet. I hope to share it with my faithful and new readers, soon!

Sacred Bundles Our Children Carry

With permission, I drew this sketch of a sacred bundle on display at the Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site near Republic, Kansas. Because of the bundle’s ongoing sanctity to the Pawnee people, on-site photographs are prohibited. The bundle appears to be made of some sort of hide, and tied with ribbon-like bands. A long smoking pipe, fragments of arrows, a fork tipped with bone and small American flags adorn the outside. The pipe appears to be carved of stone, with a stem of wood. A Kansas Historical web site reports that this particular bundle was once x-rayed, and contains stuffed bird bundles, hawk bells, counting sticks and a leather strip decorated with glass beads.

Sacred bundles like this were integral to Pawnee medicine ceremonies. Only a woman could possess a bundle, which usually hung on the west wall of a home or above an altar, while only men could utilize it in ceremonies.

A sign near this bundle reports that it originated near Loup, Nebraska. A young Pawnee girl named Sadie carried it away on horseback from the famous battle at Massacre Canyon near Trenton, Nebraska, in 1873. On that day, a thousand Sioux surprised 350 Pawnee men, women and children on their summer buffalo hunt, and approximately seventy Pawnee were killed. This is recorded as the last major battle between two Indian tribes in U.S. history. Sadie’s father entrusted the bundle to her at the battle, binding it to her back. He died that day, without having an opportunity to explain its ritual use. Sadie kept it safe as her family’s spiritual legacy, and her daughter entrusted it to the Kansas State Historical Society.

As I consider this object, I think about the manual labor and arts of preparing the skins and the pipe. I consider the meaning, now obscure, assigned to the arrows, the fork and the pipe. Who decorated that leather strip with beads? What are its colors and designs? How did the men handle the counting sticks in their rituals? The bones in those bird bundles once bore feathers high above the earth, with bright eyes looking down on prairie grasses, earth lodges and the twisting Republican River.

Time and memory. Meaning and mystery. Tragedy and hope. So much human experience, rolled up in leather and tied with ribbons and flags. The hope of a family, a legacy caught up in a crisis. A sign of enduring faith for a struggling people, suspended behind glass for this writer to sketch and ponder. Among all of my questions, one endures.

If I had to send my child running for survival today, with only seconds to decide, what bundle of meaning would I thrust into those young hands, to inspire my future generations?

Kent Haruf, a Benediction

Readers lost a great novelist, and Great Plains and Western writers like myself lost a mentor, on Sunday.

Colorado should be proud of, and surely grieves for, Kent Haruf, a resident of Salida, Colorado, who wrote about a fictional Colorado Eastern plains community in Plain Song, Eventide and Benediction. Just prior to his death, he finished the copy edits for his upcoming novel, scheduled for release next year.

His fiction resounds with thoughtful observations of ordinary people, the bonds and limitations of community life and a special appreciation for the sugar beet farming country of eastern Colorado. His characters run from infants to the aged, from unwed mothers to bachelor farmers. In portraying all, he shows the grace of compassion and an exquisite mercy. His language is simple and strong.

After first reading his novels this year, I’d hoped someday to meet this national treasure and warm human being. An acquaintance from the Women Writing the West Conference, Susan Tweit, wrote an engaging post about her relationship with Haruf, her neighbor. Her words make me even more sorry I’ll never have the chance to know him, but his work inspires me to write clear, heartfelt stories about the Great Plains and West, focusing as he did on broken, yet redeemable, hearts and relationships.

I encourage you to feed your hearts and minds on Kent Haruf’s fiction. You may soon share my gratitude that his words live on. May he rest in the peace he shared in writing with all of us.

Learning Happened Here

Nine years ago this winter, newlyweds Dave and I stood in the middle of a relative’s field and decided to build a sort of nest here, a home on some land outside of town. Farmers in this area generally alternate between soybean and corn crops, and 2005 was a corn year on this particular Wurth property, so we stood in the softening brown rows of recently-harvested stubble and imagined a home. I still have an ear of corn that the combine missed that season. It’s propped in a corner of a downstairs windowsill, to remind me of what was here before me.

We weren’t the first builders on this site. A local historian, also a Wurth relative, told us that in the early Twentieth Century,  a one-room country school stood on this very corner. Constructed on every southeast square-mile corner down this main road, Amherst Township country schools, like most, had to be accessible for walking children.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m thankful for many things. One of them is that education has always been one of the first priorities for settlers on the Great Plains and the West, a legacy of which I am a happy beneficiary. In most homesteading communities, once shelter was erected for people and animals and crops were planted, even far-flung neighbors gathered to discuss their children’s education. Even before it was compulsory, education was a dream American settlers claimed for their children.

So, learning happened here, long before we built our dreams. Down in this ground, there may be chips of slate, rusting nails or broken toys. Maybe crumbling bits of a schoolhouse foundation and broken glass. Around where I sit at my desk, children gathered when a school bell rang, for study and play, reciting lessons, expanding their thoughts and becoming citizens of the wider world. A coal stove belched smoke and glowed to keep out the winter chill. Chalk dust hovered in the air and a water bucket with a dipper probably stood in the corner.  Books fell on the floor. Inkwells spilled. Feet scraped on hardwood floors. I wonder where the outhouse stood? There’s a thought. No wonder this soil is so fertile, and my flowers so bright every summer!

Considering the old school that stood on these corner acres, I’m even more grateful to live in this place. Thank you, children, for being an invisible but real part of my history. Thank you, teachers, for all you gave. You still provide joy, as I remember.

For those of us who take comfortable, well-equipped schools, computers and information for granted in this digital age, let’s put our energies into teaching our children what’s most important. Let’s teach them to be grateful for the people who were first in their places, and the richness of history that surrounds them.

Let’s teach them how to think and how to learn, before they leave our nest.

In This Place

Wherever you are, so much has happened in this place.

Page Lambert said at the Women Writing the West conference in October, “For each of us, and with each new story, Place will be different. At its heart will be everything that has ever been born, lived in, or died in that place, everything in the past, everything in the present, all energy— every sound, smell, ray of sun, every shadow, every sorrow, every joy.”

I considered these words deeply during my return to Colorado, where I grew up. As I sat on a boulder beside the St. Vrain River, I listened to the river rushing and delighted in the golden aspen leaves overhead. I considered the many times I’d been there as a child, with various friends and family, some now deceased. I thought, too, about the flood rearranged much of the valley’s beauty in September of 2013, and how that place must have seemed very different during those disastrous days. I could see the marks of that flood in the road repair signs, as well as the sand deposits and detritus lining the river

Personal, geographic and climate events are just a few dimensions of the place where you find yourself, right now.

Picture the changes that cycle through your current location. Remember or imagine, too, the people who lived, loved and died there. Recall the conquerors and the conquered who fought over and for the territory you occupy, who longed for the place you call home.

Imagine their sounds and shadows, their sorrows and joys. Imagine the richness of your place.