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  • Jennifer Z. Major

Where every step needs to matter.

Right now, one of our sons is trekking in Peru with 2 friends. I am insanely proud of him, simply because he skipped right over "someday I'll go there" to "let's go, now".

Why does that matter? Some would mutter their opinion that the boy shouldn't do such crazy things at his age.

Well? A) he's not a boy. He's a young man. And B) he's well prepared. As our daughter said, "He's been independent since he was 14."


The three young men did their research, and figured out their budget, found cheap flights, sorted their gear, etc, and off they went.

They flew to Lima, then took a flight to Cusco. They spent a few days in Cusco acclimating to the altitude, then took off on a four day hike to Machu Picchu. One of the three had to turn back due to illness, but managed to make it to the ancient city a few days later, by train.

One CANNOT mess with illness at high altitude, especially if one lives his life at almost sea level.

And thank God for wifi, because we're getting snippets of news from the top of the world.

Gems like this...which the entire free world has seen, but I can't get enough of this shot.

Yes, I will get the traditional "Aww, Mom!" for including this... because as one of our kids said, I posted this enough times...

Now, here's the thing, the writing life is very similar to a very, very, VERY long trek.

Just as these young men have to make each and every step count, especially because at those altitudes, there is 40% LESS oxygen in the air, and the sun is basically 2 feet away (the UV count here in May is roughly 8, which is considered high, up there? It's 11.), I have to make my writing time and my research time count.

I cannot waste the time I have in favour of being lazy and making do with a few facts, because I have to resist the urge to wing it when creating settings for my Navajo characters. Yes, it is easier to gloss over the day to day mundane details of a scene. But here's the thing, if I say that my characters, in 1863 Dinétah (Navajo country), were enjoying their weekly Sunday meal?

Boom, there goes my Native audience in a heartbeat.


Hmmm, well, who determined the days of the week and added them to the 1863 Navajo calendar?

And when exactly did the Navajo started printing calendars?

Or naming their days of the week?

Or using the concept of a week?

Yeah, umm, not a thing in the hogans of 1863.

The naming of 7 days, the grouping of those 7 days into a week, and using 4 weeks to make a months and printing those months on calendars, are all European inventions.

Including such a minor detail within the realm of a Navajo character prior to that person encountering any Anglos whatsoever would cause an event known as "tossing" for any Native American or First Nations Canadian reader.

"Tossing" is when a reader is ripped out of the story by something in the book that is so wrong/shocking/lame/stupid/upsetting that the book takes flight across the room/lawn/beach/pool deck and leaves the reader disgusted and annoyed.

That event also results in the reader never forgetting the moment and reason that he or she gave up on that writer. Thus, word of mouth also takes flight, and reviews drop like rocks all over the place and that writer is sunk.


One thing that sent chills rocketing down my spine, very recently? In my first book, the main character is a silversmith. All through the years of writing and researching this book, I had the character, Tsi'tnaginnie, making his true love a squash blossom necklace.

Sweet, beautiful...and innaccurate!

That particular pattern didn't start appearing until after the 1870-ish settings I was using in the book. I discovered this so close to my agent sending the book off, that my head is still spinning from how close a call that was.

The thing is, when it comes to my work and the historical events that take place in my books? I am expected to be the expert on these events. Why should the publishing house have to take the fall for a writer being lazy and/or basically wrong in his/her research?

Yes, there are valid reasons I've included, and not included, certain Navajo customs in my books. The deep and loooong theological and cultural viewpoints on certain things would take a month of Sundays to explain, so, suffice it to say, I know what to include, and what not to include, in my work.

And I can back up every fact or concept.

As a writer, I must be prepared for when the reader is immersed in a work of historical fiction and unless there is a disclaimer such as "Fort Perry is a creation of the writer, and did not exist in the late 1870's", the reader assumes that Fort Perry did exist.

Thus, I have to take the steps necessary to ensure that the reader is aware of what is true, and what is fictitious.

But my readers can take this to the bank: everything that pertains to Navajo culture, history, and customs, is 100% true and accurate.

Because if that step is wasted, and the reader abandons the adventure because I messed up?

Then the whole trek doesn't count.

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