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Discuss the October 2017 Book of the Month, Strong Heart by Charlie Sheldon.

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Charlie Sheldon
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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 02 Oct 2017, 11:32

I'm willing to answer questions or discuss aspects of this story, if anyone has any, mainly because, when I read other books, now and then I want to ask the author a question and of course never can. Or folks can go to my little web page which has a bunch of stuff related to the story - google "Stories Made Us Human" - which also includes other tales and subjects I find interesting...thanks to everyone who had read Strong Heart and I see people have questions, so here goes.....

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Post by EveS523 » 02 Oct 2017, 11:40

Is any of this story based on truth?

-- 02 Oct 2017, 11:40 --

How much research into Native American traditions, folklore, etc did you do before writing this story?

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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 02 Oct 2017, 13:04

Eve - Is any of this story truth? The geology, the settings, data and facts raised and discussed by Myra and Sergei, the statements about human origins and the ice time, the DNA references, the fossil bone references, the short face bear details, the sea level references, the coastal travel techniques and technologies, the places in the Olympics, all are true. I did over 3 years research on all these items before starting this tale. I learned of the Native American belief, common through all Pacific Northwest and other North American tribes, that they "had always been here" from tribal members themselves, extensive study in the Burke Museum in Seattle, and other sources. I am not Native American, and neither would I ever consider appropriating real legends or myth from specific tribes into a tale of fiction. I worked with several Puget Sound tribes for almost 25 years as regards treaty fishing rights and permit agreements, and during those years gained (I hope) some understanding of local cultures, structure, and history. If you read Strong Heart you will know that the "reveal" at the end really lies in a period dating before tribes as we knew or found them at first contact. The Olympic Peninsula and the PNW (and probably all of the Americas) are territory every square inch of which was used by, harvested, lived on, and died on by one tribe or another, and nowhere is this more evident than the Olympic Peninsula, within which area are located over a dozen specific tribes, all of which lay use claim to a portion or all of the peninsula and the mountains in the center.

Strong Heart is a book of fiction, a story. It is always a delicate dance when writing about an area and people who may live in that area between being realistic, so the reader falls into the tale believing it is real, and yet not somehow appropriating the culture and the people such that they become labelled inaccurately or insulted. I actually did NOT do a lot of research into real Native American traditions because I did not want to be "using" them, which it is not my right as a non member to do. But because the tale is set in the Olympics and deals very seriously with the question, HOW could Native Americans have really always been here as their legends hold, I was either going to possibly anger specific tribal members if I used their tribe, names, or legends, or write something entirely unbelievable. In the end I chose to try to thread this difficult needle as follows - first, I invented a tribe, the Sol Duc tribe, as a small tribe lying somewhere west of the Elwha River, and I tried to make that tribal structure and life realistic based on what I knew and had experienced by working with tribes for many years negotiating with them about treaty fishing issues. So, while it is true the Sol Tribe is located on land claimed by either the Elwha or Makah tribes, because ALL of the land is claimed and used by someone, the tribe in my story is not using or appropriating anything from "real" tribes. I was trying to be respectful of the existing tribes and their traditions doing this. (As an aside neither is the town of Sol Duc real, as some readers may have noticed, although the Sol Du River is real.) The other tribe in my story is a real tribe, the Haida Tribe, of which William is a member, but again I consciously and carefully had him taken from Haida Gwaii as a boy and put in a Canadian government school when a child, something the Canadians did until the 1970s (the Americans did this too, nearly as long), and then running away to the United States. So, he is Haida but by birth not necessarily by acculturation. Finally, the tale told by William's grandmother, on Haida Gwaii, is not based on any Haida legends at all and I was very very careful to have her state as she began the story "This is the story of the time before we were a people as people. This story tells how we became people." The story she tells is entirely fiction (of course) and actually explains how it was modern people may have arisen where the book claims they did. My challenge here was and is to write a story which does include First Peoples such that you, the reader, believe what you are reading is or might be true, accurate, and based on fact; yet do so in such as way as to show respect and honor the First peoples without taking their stories, legends or culture in an inappropriate way.

Did thread the needle? I don't think it is possible to thread this needle without offending someone, especially in these times of identity politics and a world where belief now seems to hold that people of color cannot write about people not of color, or men cannot write truly about women, etc etc. If you read the whole story you will know my argument is that we are ALL from the same tribe, and this is just my twist as to how that happened, and even that twist is a side element to the tale itself, because it is the story that is important. After all, stories are what made us modern, I believe. And, after the story is done, if some of you readers get curious and get out maps and source books to learn about this area and First Peoples and the long and fascinating and difficult history of this region; and if you ponder, as I did, the relationship between scientific data and oral legend, then I have been successful. And, even better, you might pick up the next tale in this series, Adrift, when it comes out in about a year.

Thanks for your question. I hope I have answered it. Charlie

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Post by Doaa Wael » 02 Oct 2017, 13:07

What was your inspiration behind strong heart? How long did the book take you to write? Did you feel like giving up in the middle? what made you carry on?
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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 02 Oct 2017, 13:18

I can see I might regret this forum because I may be kept busy, but I have nobody to blame but myself. My inspiration for the story is lifelong, based on early family history, a grandfather who spent some time in the early years of this century with the Haida people, a curiosity about human origins, basic contrary thinking, and then my love for the Olympic peninsula and the wilderness therein, where I go hiking whenever I can. I have written a number of other novels, usually staring with a simple direct question, and I wanted to do something more difficult, asking more layered questions. I wanted to do something about human myth, legend, origing, and a heroic quest, and I wanted the hero to be an ornery young girl because so few of them are found in literature. I had (and have) no idea how I a grizzled geezer can produce a believable young girl but she emerged and t's up to the readers to determine how rela she is. She was damn real to me. Is damn real. How long did it take me to write? Once I started, when I took a literary fiction class at the University of Washington in 2013 between gigs on ships, I started the first draft October 8 and finished the first 155,000 word draft December 28, less than 90 days later. Then it took 3 years to prune edit change, ponder, ponder again, edit and edit again to get finished. Did I feel like giving up? No because when I started I was ready and it just appeared, and I had a few readers early on who really encouraged me. The hard part was finding a publisher, that's a 20 page tale of rejection frustration pain and humiliation. I did not want to self publish because that way you cannot get reviews or returns from bookstores, and finding a publisher ain't easy. IronTwine Press has been great, a small new publisher in Bothell Wasington, and Ethan and I are doing what we can.

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Post by Doaa Wael » 02 Oct 2017, 13:33

Charlie Sheldon wrote:I can see I might regret this forum because I may be kept busy, but I have nobody to blame but myself. My inspiration for the story is lifelong, based on early family history, a grandfather who spent some time in the early years of this century with the Haida people, a curiosity about human origins, basic contrary thinking, and then my love for the Olympic peninsula and the wilderness therein, where I go hiking whenever I can. I have written a number of other novels, usually staring with a simple direct question, and I wanted to do something more difficult, asking more layered questions. I wanted to do something about human myth, legend, origing, and a heroic quest, and I wanted the hero to be an ornery young girl because so few of them are found in literature. I had (and have) no idea how I a grizzled geezer can produce a believable young girl but she emerged and t's up to the readers to determine how rela she is. She was damn real to me. Is damn real. How long did it take me to write? Once I started, when I took a literary fiction class at the University of Washington in 2013 between gigs on ships, I started the first draft October 8 and finished the first 155,000 word draft December 28, less than 90 days later. Then it took 3 years to prune edit change, ponder, ponder again, edit and edit again to get finished. Did I feel like giving up? No because when I started I was ready and it just appeared, and I had a few readers early on who really encouraged me. The hard part was finding a publisher, that's a 20 page tale of rejection frustration pain and humiliation. I did not want to self publish because that way you cannot get reviews or returns from bookstores, and finding a publisher ain't easy. IronTwine Press has been great, a small new publisher in Bothell Wasington, and Ethan and I are doing what we can.
Thank you so much for your insights, I enjoyed reading them! I am glad all your hard work paid off in the end. Thank you for sharing your experience, interests and your time with us! I think it is a great idea to invite the author here :)
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Post by Miriam Molina » 02 Oct 2017, 19:45

I didn't get all those intricate details (Sol Duc and Haida stuff) from my first reading of the book. I hope I have time for a re-read for a better appreciation of your research and editing efforts.

While there was a point in the book where I struggled to keep awake (Sarah's first story), the next chapters all flew. When I reached the end, I could only say "Wow." You wrote a strong book. I'll be anxiously awaiting Adrift for the next chapter of this amazing story of origins and destinies.

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Post by gali » 02 Oct 2017, 22:56

Thank you for your answers.

What was your hardest scene to write?

What is your work schedule when you're writing?
In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you." (Mortimer J. Adler)

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Post by hsimone » 03 Oct 2017, 03:40

Thank you for sharing!

What was your favorite scene to write?
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Post by juliusotinyo » 03 Oct 2017, 04:16

Hi Charlie,
I loved the book and am still contemplating the ending. Especially Sarah's ordeal in the 'other time.'

I share in your curiosity on origins of people and consistently challenge common narratives, I am intrigued with the more outlandish events.

Do you mind or have you written a standalone version of Sarah's journey. Or a historical story similar to that?

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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 03 Oct 2017, 08:28

Hardest scene to write (gali) - not a scene per se but the most difficult aspect (for me) was the pivot to Sarah's story. I knew some readers would go with it, seamlessly, and I would lose others (and I do). It's a big shift and reviewer comments show that some of you struggle with it. The challenge was to make it feel natural and have it ride with the flow of narrative, and have the shift be startling but acceptable.

Favorite scene to write (hsimone) - the scene where Sarah goes off up around the bend to draw, because the bear just leapt into the story. It was a total surprise. Astonishing.

Julius - I have not considered offering Sarah's story as a stand alone tale. I am having enough trouble flogging one story, let alone two. Her tale is the first such "ice time" tale that has ever appeared for me.

-- 03 Oct 2017, 08:57 --

Oops, sorry Gali - my work schedule when writing - great question by the way. For me when I am writing, or editing, I go somewhere quiet and just do it. Originally I felt I had to be on a train or a ferry, as I had found that being essentially lazy, the idea of sitting down to write for hours was totally intimidating, but anyone can scribble for 30-45 minutes taking the train to and from work as I did in NYC or a similar ferry ride as I did the first years in Seattle. You only work a short time but if you do it every day a book appears very fast. I stopped writing for a few years then when I started again with Strong Heart I just wrote in my house after Randa went to work, I'd start after breakfast and write for two, three, five hours. These days I pretty much feel I can do this anywhere and any time, I have a pad to use when wandering around. For example I am now editing and finishing the third book in what has become this Strong Heart series, and to do that I went over to the peninsula and found a cheap dingy motel room with terrible TV and had nothing else to do but edit. The weather was nice so in the days I took off, hiked somewhere, found a nice log to lay against, and edited in the forest. Whatever works, I think....

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Post by Miriam Molina » 03 Oct 2017, 10:14

I forgot to ask a question in my earlier post.

From my research about my favorite authors, I observe that they create characters who are modeled after themselves. James Lee Burke and his Dave Robicheaux, Sue Grafton and her Kinsey Millhone, John Sandford and his Lucas Davenport, and Lee Child and his Jack Reacher are but some who come to mind. Lee Stone admits to modeling Slacker Mills after himself. Mois Benarroch even gives his main characters his name.

Would you say you have an alter ego among your characters? Would you ever create someone who is a lot like you?

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Post by Angela Stripes » 03 Oct 2017, 10:57

Thank you for taking time to answer our questions!

Who is your favorite character in the story?

When I write, I tend to gravitate toward my side-characters or villains in some stories as much as main characters in others. It makes it a bit tricky to help the audience like my main character when the side-kick is my favorite.

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Post by Charlie Sheldon » 03 Oct 2017, 11:00

Miriam - I would say I do not "create" characters; rather, the characters appear, sometimes fully formed, sometimes a bit hazy but gaining clarity as they emerge into the tale. I am sure there is a bit of me in all characters, of course, but I do not feel that I have an alter ego in one of the Strong Heart characters. I think in some earlier efforts - earlier stories - I had characters more like me because I did not trust myself enough to let characters emerge, and as such, my character development was restricted and more limited, if that makes any sense. In Strong Heart I did all this research, years and years, filled notebook after notebook, but the information was not character development, it was tied to ice times and DNA and the peninsula geology. The basic tale I wanted to tell, I knew (from looking back at my notes) needed an inter-generational element (the grandfather and grand daughter), a mythical element, an element of time. In the end I started with this notion about the old legends and the danger of belief-driven zealotry, how being sure we are right always, always makes us wrong, but then it wasn't until I started Strong Heart - as a writing exercise 10 minutes after the first class in the fiction class I had taken began - that Sarah, William, Tom and Myra appeared. I know that makes no sense. None of this makes any sense. That's why it's so much fun.

And, Angela - I like them all. I think of course Sarah has to be the favorite, I have no idea where she came from, none at all, but there she was - is.

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Post by MarisaRose » 05 Oct 2017, 06:09

When I read (actually listened) to the book, I was incredibly captivated by Sarah's character. I felt the mysteriousness that surrounded her was fitting for her age as well as her circumstance. Her narration was also indicative of native storytelling and imbued with adolescent/mature emotion. Was Sarah's voice difficult to write? What was your inspiration for her character? I thought you did a great job creating such an intense character while giving the reader relatively minimal background about her. Further, I always wondered if there was a significance to Sarah's gender. For some reason, I don't think her story would have had as much impact if she was a male. Did this play any part in your development of Sarah's character, or was it unintentional?

Lastly, it was a pleasure to review this book! I can't wait to see what else you publish. Thank you for your words!
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