Tuesday, September 25, 2012

'Miracle,' the White Buffalo

'Miracle,' an extremely rare wild, white buffalo. Born on August 20, 1994, on the Heider Farm, Janesville, WI. Not an albino, but the product of a double recessive gene. As with the 'spirit bears' of the Pacific Northwest (black bears, also double recessive, and thus, white), these rarities are held in very high esteem by Native peoples.

One legend passed down from the Rosebud and Lakota Sioux says: 'A holy woman spoke to a young brave on the prairie and said, "Return to your people and tell them I am coming." The woman brought a wrapped bundle to the people. She unwrapped it, giving them a sacred pipe and teaching them how to use it to pray. "With this pipe, you will walk like a living prayer," she said. She told the Sioux about the value of the buffalo, the women, and the children. "You are from Mother Earth," she told the women, "What you are doing is as great as the warriors do." Before she left, she told them she would return. As she walked away, she rolled over four times, turning into a white buffalo calf. It is said after that day the Lakota honor their pipes, and the buffalo will always be plentiful.'
'Miracle' lived just ten years, passing into the spirit world in 2004. But during the animal's lifetime, thousands visited the farm where 'Miracle' was part of a free-ranging herd. Among the visitors were tribal representatives from many North American Native nations.
'Da'a uhpam hu'u, chu'uchum hemako' Fly back to the stars, little one...


Monday, September 24, 2012

Drew Hayden Taylor's 'The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel'

Although this title has been out for a while (2007), I thought to include it in my reviews of Native-related subject matter, largely because of its author. An award-winning playwright, author, columnist, film maker, and lecturer, Canadian, Drew Hayden Taylor, utilizes a wonderful sense of humor to bridge the gap between various cultures. He accomplishes it nicely in his travel appearances, far and wide, and in the pages of his novels; 'The Night Wanderer,' his first YA, being no exception. I was lead initially to his writing by way of the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, where 'Wanderer' took Gold/First prize in the Juvenile/YA fiction category. I followed that up by watching a short video book trailer and speaking performance clip. I was hooked!

What attracts me to work like 'The Night Wanderer' is that it blends together several important themes in ways that directly appeal to young readers - much as I strive to accomplish in my own fiction projects. Themes of coming of age, ties that bind, and redemption are backdrops for his treatment of kid-important issues like bullying, suicide, prejudice, and fairness. I was impressed with how he mixed these in 'Wanderer.'
His depiction of life on an Anishinabe (Canada) reserve is authentic and well-supported, including Native American vocabulary and word usage. The humor he weaves into the dialogue and description is refreshingly smart, and reminded me of the clip from his speaking performance - very funny stuff!
Yeah, this is a vampire novel, but it is definitely 'once removed.' And by that I mean that the main characters are Native American and the plot does not follow the typical line. The protagonists are Tiffany Hunter, a 16-year-old resident of the fictional Otter Lake Reserve in present-day Ontario, and Pierre L'Errant, a mysterious man of Anishinabe ancestory who shows up from Europe. Tiffany has serious issues going with her dad, who doesn't approve of her non-native boyfriend, while her grades at school are also taking a nose-dive. Pierre is seeking an honorable end to his vampirism, drawn into Tiffany's world when he becomes a boarder in her home (Tiffany's father decides to convert the house to a B & B).
This novel is great escapism; a delicious blend of the real and the unreal, plus thrills and chills in the deep woods of Canada. The dark of night encounter between Tiffany and Pierre is, by itself, sufficient to make the reader rave about this novel, once they've raced through the pages to finish it. I can enthusiastically recommend this read to those looking for a different slant on the traditional paranormal.
Look for more reviews in the coming days. Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great new selections in YA novels - Native American Theme

In addition to my series, 'The Borderlands Trilogy:' 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' and 'Coyote-meeter's Abyss,' I highly recommend the following new books, all with a Native American theme. They are well-written, sensitive, and timely works reflecting the amazing diversity of North American Indian topics and nations.

The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp

Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories by Luci Tapahonso

Moccasin Thunder by Lorie Marie Carlson

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Night Flying Woman by Ignatia Broker
Wild Inferno by Sandi Ault
Neighbors by Joan Leslie Woodruff
You can find all of the above titles at your local library, or available at Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon.com, and all independent booksellers. I will begin a critical blog series on each of the titles shortly. Watch for my posts on Facebook, Twitter, and here at : http://www.desertdogblog.blogspot.com
Happy reading!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Descriptive Passage at its Best!

In a recent Facebook post I suggested three novels of western author, Zane Grey, and so what do I now do?! Use a fourth. :) Here, from his 1910 classic, The Heritage of the Desert, is an excerpt that demonstrates his wonderful skill at setting a scene/establishing mood/creating imagery in the mind of the reader:

Hare (the protagonist) held to the pommel and bent dizzily forward in the saddle. Silvermane (his horse) was going down, step by step, with metallic clicks upon flinty rock. Whether he went down or up was all the same to Hare; he held on with closed eyes and whispered to himself. Down and down, step by step, cracking the stones with iron-shod hoofs, the gray stallion worked his perilous way, sure-footed as a mountain-sheep. Then he stopped with a great slow heave and bent his head.

The black bulge of a canon rim blurred in Hare's hot eyes. A trickling sound penetrated his tired brain. His ears had grown like his eyes--false. Only another delusion! As he had been tortured with the sight of lake and stream now he was to be tortured with the sound of running water. Yet he listened, for it was sweet even in its mockery. What a clear musical tinkle, like silver bells tossing in the wind! He listened. Soft murmuring flow, babble and gurgle, little hollow fall and splash!

What style! And here's the thing: When reading a story with this kind of creativity, the reader has no choice but to fall totally into the moment--up very close in the head and experience of the character. Since Grey is already there (in the head of his protagonist), his great challenge as a writer is to make sure you are too. And doesn't he succeed magnificently?

This two-passage example is very fine writing by an author known far more as a popular fictionist than a literary craftsman of remarkable prose. And yet, he delivers fabulously here in the tradition of masters of the pen, i.e. Stevenson, Hugo, Cooper, and Baroness Orczy. Is Grey's writing archaic? Yes, definitely. And is that a huge issue for today's readers? It could be for a younger audience, and perhaps a small distraction for the adult reading public. But I'm so impressed with his ability, his commitment to the craft of writing, the cleverness and beauty of his word selection, that I feel much less inclined to be a detractor--just the opposite, a strong supporter!

Why not take a similar journey yourself, into the pages (and fascinating imagery) of a Zane Grey novel? If you are a lover of the classic adventure story, you will find great escape. If you are a writer, you will (re?)discover a real stylist here!

My best to you in reading and writing!

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Junior Version of Dan Brown!

Recently I posted a promotional, calling my new middle grade/YA novel, Secrets of the Medicine Pouch, a 'junior version of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.' Understanding how popular (and well-written) Brown's book is, I had to think hard about the similarities between our two works, and how/whether the plot, characters, pacing, story details, etc. would lead readers to make such a comparison. I'd like to share with you some general points that I believe make the case.

1. The imaginative use of ancient script and code - I did considerable research into the ancient writing and symbolism of Native American/Sonoran culture as it was originally interpreted and used, and ways it might still hold meaning and significance for today's reading audiences. The real challenge for me was conveying all of the specifics to my editorial staff at Open Books Press.

2. Important props in the storyline are secretive and hidden away - As with Dan Brown's riveting storyline, Secrets is very much about the delicious mystery of the unknown and the imaginative. What the reader is forced to speculate about, simply because detail is being held back, drives the plot and makes the novel a real page-turner. I try to provide just enough 'food for thought' to keep the 'stomach' from growling--at least, not too loudly.

3. The plot must develop fully within a very restricted timeframe - Secrets races, as does The Da Vinci Code. Placing a severe restriction on the amount of time your main characters have to successfully complete the mission is a winning formula in any novel project.

4. Very authentic and believable characters - Both novels utilize well-developed, dual protagonists who convince the reader early on that they are in charge, on top of the action, and best suited to solve the mystery and overcome the odds.

5. Unpredictability -  Numerous twists and turns in the plot and storyline make it very difficult for the reader to anticipate what will happen next. I always want my reader to be with me, but not ahead of me. Actually, struggling to catch up is okay too!

And so, my advice to readers is to revisit The  Da  Vinci Code. Reread this wonderfully crafted book, enjoying it for all the literary strength it possesses. While you read, take mental notes (even jot down as necessary), so that you gain full satisfaction from the experience. Then, pick up Secrets of the Medicine Pouch. Follow a similar note-taking process, and finally ask yourself: Is this (Secrets) not the best example of historical mystery/adventure since the publication of Brown's hugely successful book? I strongly believe that that will be your conclusion! Happy discovery!