Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Writer's Mandate

Kate Carmack, born Shaww Tlaa
With the exception of a few work-for-hire projects, most everything I've written has been because I've wanted to, not because I had to. It's a curse and a joy, this freedom. Writers get to indulge in pretty much anything, limited only by language and imagination. They also get to take a lot of wrong turns. Most have files bulging projects gone wrong.

Then there are those stories that have to be told, stories that for one reason or another can't be relegated to the never-mind folder. Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Last Great Race for Gold is one of those. Once deemed the richest Indian woman in America, Kate claimed to have made the discovery of a lifetime. Though cheated out of her fortune, she stood her ground between cultures. Hers will the first book-length, mass-market gold rush history to be told from the point of view of the ones who were there first, the Indians.

From the beginning, I knew this was a story that had to be told, and that I was the one to tell it. How I reached that conclusion, and how I'm handling dozens and dozens (hundreds and hundreds?) of decisions and dilemmas connected with getting Kate's story into print will inform my 2013 teaching series. How to know this is a story that must be told? How to evaluate the merits of a project? How to know you're the right person to write it? How to organize research material? How to outline the narrative? How to refine the narrative style? Which title? How to put together a proposal? How to attract the interest of an agent and editor? How to deal with conflicting primary source material? What constitutes truth in history? In narrative? What place is there for invention in nonfiction? How to balance summary and scene? How to write scenes grounded in historical fact? How to cite sources? How to know when to stop researching and start writing? How to handle revision? How to handle culturally sensitive material? How to keep your momentum? How to pace the narrative? How decide on your form? 

These questions (and more) will be among those I address here. Whether you have an interest in writing, the Klondike, American Indian history, mining, the West, or gold, consider this your invitation to tag along as I see through to completion a project that's called to me from the start: the story of Kate Carmack and the Last Great Race for Gold.