Joseph update and excerpt

Just a little update for a few of you who have asked. The book on Chief Joseph is coming along. My editor and I have had a bit of a time of it. He has wanted me to write a book for the New York Times crowd; I’ve wanted to write a book that shows the native people that I have a sensitivity to the issues that so infuriate them about white authors. These are two very different visions. I call it the “sushi versus salmon” wars.

But we’re coming along. I’ve decided to post my rough-out of the introduction so you can get a sense of what will be coming when the book is finally completed. I hope you find it interesting.
Continue reading

Joseph project

In the strange, fleeting way that is northern Minnesota, the first hints of fall are already in the air. This morning I saw my first leaf beginning to turn from summer green to autumn yellow. It is a bittersweet moment, because it portends a quiet, restful passage into fall, while reminding us that our summers here are short almost beyond understanding. You can’t even grasp the totality of the experience before intimations of change are in the air.

But, even so, we still sit on our screen porch late into the evening, listening to looncalls and watching moonlight dance upon the lake, always reminding us that it’s good to be alive.

I’ve been pushing forward on my Chief Joseph book. I have never undertaken so monumental a project. For almost two years now I have lived more in the presence of an historical event than in the real world I inhabit. The Nez Perce are my compatriots, the events of their exodus and exile my own personal narrative. My mind wanders to battlefields, specific overlooks, spots on the trail. My imaginative life is populated with images of Idaho canyons and Montana plains.

It is indeed a strange world the writer inhabits, where thought and imagination are more vibrant and vivid than daily affairs. Life becomes as much dream as reality, and dreams become continous with conscious thought.

I have decided to take a giant risk in this book. The only way I can give the story life and to do honor to the Nez Perce experience is for me to make myself a participant in the journey. Only by doing so can I create a ground level awareness of events in you, the reader. This would be fine if I were to leave it at that. But I am intent upon inhabiting a Nez Perce consciousness and affect to create a point of view. My way of entry is through inhabiting the English spoken by the Nez Perce who were interviewed after the event. Though English was their second language, and their skills of expression within it limited, the accounts they gave, not only of the journey, but of their treatment in the following decades, reveals the way they experienced and processed the events.
Thus, I’m involved in a daring kind of psychological re-creation based on a risky process of linguistic “reverse engineering.”

If this particular “blog” works, I’ll write more about this in the future. But, for now I’m going to sign off, because I may turn out to be incapable of posting this, and, thus, send it hurtling into the void. If you’re reading it, I avoided this fate. Let’s hope it shows up on your screens.