Truth and Reconciliation

It’s Truth and Reconciliation Day today, in Canada. A new holiday, for an old injustice. Not that old, in some ways; the last residential school only closed its doors in 1996, meaning while I was going to high school and going on my first dates, native kids were still being taken from their families and forced to get “educated” in a system designed to destroy who and what they were.

I’m going to the ceremony later today, in remembrance of the many — too many — children taken, and children killed, as part of this program.

And while I know this day is not about me, and shouldn’t be, I did my own little part in digging up the truth this week. I finally researched the old story my parents have always told me, about how my dad’s grandmother was Blackfoot. Said she was born on the reservation, that she had long, perfectly-native-straight black hair that she used to unwind at night to brush out, before bundling it all back up again. Mom claims she has a picture of two “relatives,” dressed in Native garb, outside a teepee that’s been erected in my great-grandmother’s yard.

Well, thanks to ancestry.ca, I now know that’s all BS.

My paternal great-grandmother, Mattie Vera Franklin, was born in 1903, in Texas. Not on a reservation. Her parents, Jason Pope Franklin and Maggie Ann Ussery, were also born in Texas. And their parents. And all of them were white.

There’s no mention of any of them in the Dawes Rolls. No ‘In’ in the race column of the Census docs. Instead, there’s Social Security cards, draft cards, birth and marriage and death certificates. All proclaiming over and over again that all my ancestors that far back were US citizens. Settlers. Colonizers.

Nothing more.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. What’s one more lie my parents told me? But this one I thought might actually be true. My “beard” simply won’t grow over most of my face, my hair is preternaturally straight, I tan faster than most white people burn, I…I’ve been ridiculously naive about this.

Mom always told me she wanted to get us put on the tribal rolls, but we were just one step too far to be accepted. I never went around bragging about my Blackfoot connection, or wearing moccasins or any of that Pretindian crap. It was just, this little part of my identity, a connection, however slight, to a history and a people bigger than myself.

And it’s all lies.

So I’m going to apologize to the people I passed on this lie to, thinking it was real. And stop spreading it myself. And recommend that if, like me, your family’s white but there’s some legend in there about a fur trapper and a Native “princess,” go do the research before telling anybody else.

Keeping Score: 9 September 2022

Finished typing up the first draft of the new story over the long weekend. Even found time to create a new Ulysses export style based on the Shunn Manuscript Format (the standard for most of the markets I submit to) so I don’t have to manually fix up the margins, etc when exporting to Word (there are existing Styles that claim to be standard format, but are all missing one or more essential pieces).

Not that the story is ready to submit, mind. I typed it dutifully, and edited as I went to make it the best version of this draft I could. But the tonal shifts are still too big to handle in a short story, and the ending doesn’t land with near enough force.

So over the past week I’ve taken a page from literary agent Donald Maass’ workbook, which I’ve used before to edit novels. One of the big points the workbook drives home is the need to look for connections in the story: between plots, between characters, between locations, everything. Strengthening connections can both tighten and deepen the story, making the stakes feel larger because there’s more history — more connection — between the events and characters.

For this story, I had a set of three characters loosely connected. One was the main character, who worked for one of the other characters, and had hired the protagonist to work on a case for the third. There was no prior history, no relationship between the characters other than the business one. As a result, the conflicts were mainly business conflicts: Can the protagonist get the assignment done (extracting a secret from the client)? Will she rebel against it when she finds out what it really entails? Etc. Not bad, but certainly not world-shattering, either.

But what if the three characters were more connected? What if the client was the protagonist’s father? And the person hiring her to dig into his past was her mother?

Now things get more interesting. Why would the mother pit the daughter against the father? What marriage would have that level of conflict? Why would the daughter agree to go along, at least first? And what might possibly change her mind?

This one shift generated a whole new slew of ideas for me, so much that yesterday when I sat down to work on the story, I started writing out — longhand, again — an entirely new draft. New starting scene, new tense, new voice, even (it’s now in first-person).

I’m already happier with the new draft. It feels more assured, like a train engine already running under full steam. I’m looking forward to exploring what the characters do in this new situation, with these new connections between them.

I never could have gotten there, though, without that first draft. And I’m still going to crib plot and structure from it, even if they end up squeezed into new shapes.

What about you? Have you ever done a complete rewrite of a story, and were you glad you did?

Happy Labour Day!

Taking the day off today. Thinking of going down to walk the Government House grounds, which should be open (and lovely).

Not much to report on the immigration side of things. I’m still waiting for my employer to write up a letter of support (and trying not to think about the potential implications of them dragging their feet there).

I also found out that if invited to apply for permanent residence, I’ll need a police report from the FBI (!), which they’ll only give out if you pay for it (of course) and provide them with fingerprints. They only take ink-and-paper for folks not currently living in the US (like me), and it has to be in a certain format, on a certain kind of paper…Oof.

Luckily, Canada has (once again) come through. I found a non-profit with a service for taking FBI-standard fingerprints, precisely for people like me that need them to immigrate. I’ve got an appointment there, but not till later this month, which means…more waiting.

So while I’m waiting (and you’re hopefully getting ready to spend Labour Day with family or friends), here’s some shots I took from the top of Mount Doug on Saturday, after hiking up there for the first time.

View from the east side of Mount Doug, looking south-ish
Another view from the east side, looking north-east over Cordova Bay
View from the west side, of my new home! I live near that white oval in the far-left of the shot.
The author regrets to inform you that he does not know how to take a proper selfie.

Keeping Score: 2 September 2022

Draft is done! Long live the draft!

Finished the first, very messy, draft of the new short story this week. I already kind of hate it, even after writing the last scene like the previous one didn’t happen. Both those scenes, I think, are going to see heavy edits in the next draft.

For now, though, I’m simply typing it up. Yes, typing: I wrote the first draft longhand, in a little notebook, after reading the advice in Chavez’s book on anti-racist workshopping. Her take was that making her students write out the first draft by hand made them more willing to experiment, to scratch things out and rewrite on the fly, without their inner editor getting in the way. And for the most part, I’ve found that to be true; I’ve got scenes that are out of order on the page, with squiggly lines connecting the pieces to each other in the right sequence. And knowing that I would type it all later — and “fix it in post” — made it easier to finish writing the scenes that I knew, even while writing them, that I was going to have to change.

(she also said that writing longhand got her students more in tune with their bodies, but being over-40 myself, I mostly got in tune with how quickly my hand starts to cramp up)

I am making changes as I type. Fixing a phrase here, adding some blocking (e.g., “she sat back and crossed her arms”) there. Discovering I wrote an entire scene in the wrong tense (!), or used the wrong character’s name in places.

But I’m holding off from making any big changes till I’ve finished typing it. I want to go through the whole thing once more, reading and typing, getting a better feel for how it might all fit together. I’m taking notes as I go, on things I want to change (or simply try differently, to see how it reads), so I can come back after this and do a second draft.

My intent — my hope — is to have the characters and basic plot nailed down during the second draft. (oh, you thought I’d have that set by the time I started the first draft? welcome to pantsing) From there, it’ll be much easier to iterate on revisions, including at least one pass where I’ll print it out and then go through it.

Given my current pace, I might have something to show beta readers by the end of the month? Fingers crossed.