Tag Archives: yakama

Newly published: Awacha Nay–For My People, by Heidi Ennis

This Native American historical fiction novel is now available, paperback and e-version. I was substantive/developmental editor.

Heidi originally came my way thanks to Shawn Inmon, author of a number of successful fiction and non-fiction tales, who gave me the kind of buildup I’m not sure I could ever live up to. She had a novel long in the works, begun two decades prior, about pre-contact Native Americans in Washington and Oregon, and was I interested in editing it?

I’m not sure she would consider this a stroke of luck, but it so happened that I had lived a good portion of my life in the regions her story covers. I went to junior high and high school with the descendants of the people she portrayed, had read some of their history, and so on. I also knew the ground, its flora and fauna and climate. This made me rather more exacting in my critique than another editor might have been. Or as she said more than once: “You kicked my ass.”

Yeah, kinda. I suppose most editing involves some form of compassionate ass-punting.

After the sample edit, which satisfied her that I could help her, I did the initial read and commentary. With some mss, I can begin editing; in other cases, I prefer to give the author a shot at fixing the issues using her own creativity. That was the case here. I was blunt: I likened the portrayals of emotion to an ongoing Lifetime movie, and suggested that she dig deeper into the terrain and its Native languages and cultures–especially Sahaptin, the Yakama language, and Chinook Jargon, which was a Columbia Basin trade patois incorporating English and French into a mix of Native languages. “You also need to develop the economics and geopolitics of the region. Oh, and please draw a map and provide some family tree and language glossary stuff, if you add in significant amounts of actual native culture. And one last thing: how about dumping your last thirty pages, and ending the book with a bang at this specified spot?”

There was the possibility she might not like that answer, and might instead tell me: “You know what? My posterior is sore. I think I’ll find an editor who doesn’t kick it, thanks.”

Not Heidi. She expletive did it. Everything I said. Conscientiously.

Months passed. I next received a ms version of similar length, but peppered with well-chosen Sahaptin and Chinook Jargon words that explained the complex relationships that characterized Native trade and culture. The economic flow of goods and exchange, along with the importance of political relations, now helped drive the story. Cultures were richer, based in better research, and more complex. There was emotional balance now, yet without eradicating the ability to inspire a reader to feel. Villains were more nuanced and flexible, as were heroes and sidekicks. It felt much more textured and balanced. All that remained to fix were a couple of plot points I considered to stretch credibility a little far.

That part was hard. She had to kill her darlings, as Faulkner advised us. She didn’t want to draw that blade. I prevailed upon her that she was at the risk of contrivance, which is what happens when the author wants a certain thing to happen so badly she lets the strings show in setting it up. By that time, I think she considered me a darling–in the sense that if she threw a grenade rather than using a sniper rifle, she might have the joy of getting both me and the plot darlings in the blast radius. But again, she did it.

My pace on the edit was glacial. Part of it was the need to keep many characters and locations straight in a 500-page book, but part was of my own doing. Every time I needed a Native American word, I had to refer to a glossary. If it was a name, to a character listing. Most of that extra detail was stuff I had advised Heidi to add. What was I going to do now, start complaining? However, it did slow things down. There was no point beginning a work session unless I was prepared to open up four documents, and when I came to a decision point, often I needed to step back and consider with eyes off for a while. But in time, I did finish my work.

A writer this coachable is one for readers to watch, and editors to treasure.

I think her characters are a bit better than those in the O’Gear books, on a par with Shuler’s. That’s the league I see Heidi playing in. And she has it set up masterfully for a sequel.