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.

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