Ojibwe or Chippewa?

Monday, February 23, 2015


I am currently researching my next book, which will be about a Native American girl attending an Indian boarding school in 1895.* As I mentioned last week, the protagonist is from the Chippewa tribe. I grew up in Chippewa country in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so that seemed to be a natural choice.

That isn’t the end of the matter, however. The tribe goes by several names, so what should I call it? In earlier centuries, the members called themselves Anishinaabe, which means “original people.” Others referred to them as Ojibwa or Ojibwe or Ojibway. This may mean “people who make pictographs” (because they passed down tribal history using birch bark pictographs as well as through storytelling) or “puckered” (based on the style of moccasin they wore). Then the English came along and Anglicized it to Chippewa.**

Both Ojibwa (and its variations) and Chippewa are frequently used today, but Chippewa appears to be predominant in the names of the tribal organizations across the upper Midwest. It’s also easier for my middle grade readers to pronounce, so I have chosen to identify my protagonist as a member of the Chippewa tribe.

And because I don’t have enough information to set the first part on a specific reservation, I’m creating a generic one called the Chippewa Indian Reservation.

I also have to create a generic boarding school, and I decided to call it Dewmist Indian Boarding School. Can you guess how I came up with that name?

Find out in next week’s post.

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*My reference to Indian boarding schools is not meant to be insensitive or politically incorrect. That is simply what these schools have been called throughout history. In fact, the word “Indian” is in the name of most, if not all, of them.

** This information comes from several sources, but the primary one is The Chippewas of Lake Superior by Edmund Jefferson Danziger, Jr.

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The photo shows an Ojibwa family in front of their wigwam around 1860. It is part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection and is in the public domain because of its age.

The Name Game

Monday, February 16, 2015


People ask how I come up with names for my characters. I don’t always use the same method, so it’s easiest to explain by using examples.

When I started writing Desert Jewels, my protagonist’s name was Martha. I chose it because it matched the picture I had in my head. However, she refers to her mother—the other main character—as Mama. My online critique partner said that the two “M” names had her confusing the characters. Since Mama is of Swedish descent, I decided to keep that and change my protagonist’s name. I tried Ellen, then Jane, and neither felt right. I ended up with Emi, which is a Japanese name that is easy for English-speakers to pronounce. My protagonist is half Japanese, and her ethnic background is the basis for the story, so it worked perfectly.

Now I’ve started my next book, which I have tentatively titled Creating Esther. The main character is a Native American girl from the Chippewa tribe. She goes to an Indian boarding school in 1895, where they try to “civilize” her by giving her a traditionally white name. So for this protagonist I need two first names—a Chippewa name and a “white” name.

One way that superintendents and teachers chose white names was to compile a list of names from the Bible and assign the next one. Running through some Biblical names in my head, I settled on “Esther” because it just sounded right. Also, by the end of the book she will have made some decisions that put her on the path to saving her people, as the original Esther did. Of course, my Esther will do it less dramatically and as one of many forces that work together, but I like the concept.

Coming up with a Chippewa name is more challenging. I went on one of those baby naming websites and looked for Chippewa girls’ names. I like Keezheekoni because it supposedly means “burning fire,” and my protagonist has a fiery temperament. However, using the sources I found, it appears to be hard to pronounce.

There’s another problem. While most of the baby name sources list it as a Chippewa name, a couple list it as Cheyenne. And I can’t find any of its roots in A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. (Ojibwe and Chippewa are two names for the same tribe. More about that in next week’s post.) Of course, there are many different dialects, and my protagonist is more likely to come from Michigan than from Minnesota. Also, Chippewa was originally a spoken language with no written equivalent, and the people who tried to write it down used various spellings. For example, in Red World and White: Memories of a Chippewa Boyhood, author John Rogers says that his new baby brother was named Ahmeek, meaning beaver. The Concise Dictionary cited above spells beaver a-m-i-k. And the pronunciation guides give those spellings different pronunciations.

So am I going to name my protagonist Keezheekoni? I’ll start there, but it might change.

Because finding the right name isn’t easy.  

The Importance of Beta Readers

Monday, February 9, 2015


Beta readers are essential when the writer isn’t part of the audience.
I read a lot of middle grade fiction, but I read it with adult eyes. And I was a middle grader once, but that was a long time ago.
So after I did an initial polish to the manuscript for my middle grade novel, I went looking for beta readers. Within the past few weeks, I gave out eight copies. Sunday I got my first two responses.
These two evaluations came from sisters—one in 4th grade and the other in 6th grade. Both told me that my main character acted too young for her age (which I had been unsure about) and that the chapters were too short (contrary to what the “experts” said chapter lengths should be). The 4th grader really took the assignment to heart, telling me that I should show more of my protagonist’s routine before Pearl Harbor, help the reader know Emi’s father better, and make the chapters flow more smoothly. (Her actual comment was that the book “kind of jumped around.”) She even pointed out that I used “choked back a sob” and “gulped back a sob” a lot. Pretty perceptive for a 4th grader.
On the other hand, I had worried about the vocabulary level. I wanted it to be challenging but not frustrating. Both comments indicated that I had succeeded in keeping the vocabulary understandable.
I already have some ideas on how to make changes, although I will wait on most until I get the other responses back.
These two evaluations also confirmed something I already knew—when writing for an audience the writer doesn’t belong to, beta readers from that group are a must.
And I can’t wait to read the rest of the comments.

Writing When Life Interferes

Monday, February 2, 2015


I’m a full-time writer, so I don’t usually have a problem finding writing time. But even when I worked in Chicago as a lawyer, I managed to find several hours a week to write. I could do that because my life had a routine, and I slotted my writing time into it.

But what happens when something explodes the routine?

My husband just got a knee replaced, and I went from full-time writer to part-time writer and part-time caregiver. I still have some writing time, but it doesn’t feel like enough.

Writing is in my genes. It’s also what keeps me sane even when I’m tearing my hair out looking for the right words and trying unsuccessfully to avoid clich├ęs. I can’t not write. (Yes, the double negative is intentional.)

So what do I do? I look for every spare moment and use it.

Roland’s knee surgery is a good example. I spent a lot of time waiting that day. No, that’s wrong. I spent a lot of time reading as research for my next book. If I wasn’t in research mode, I could have taken my laptop and written. Or, more likely, I would have done it the old-fashioned way.

I keep a notebook labeled “WIP” (Work in Progress) that I carry with me when I expect to have a few minutes of writing time away from home. I use it when I take my elderly mother to doctors’ appointments, and I will use it when I take Roland for follow-up and physical therapy.

My WIP notebook contains four tabs.

The first tab is for typed notes such as:

·         The basic story line/plot, which is a short summary at the beginning of the project and a chapter outline later on;

·         Character sketches;

·         Notes that I made as I thought of things out of sequence, recorded so that I can add them to my draft at the appropriate spot; and

·         Anything else that I may need to refer to as I write.

The second tab contains the current manuscript. I double-side it to save space, and if it is still too long, I only take those parts of the manuscript that come right before the section I am working on now. (Or before and after for a second or third draft.) Having the entire manuscript is better for continuity, because I can look back if I can’t remember what my character did or said in the past or what the living room looks like. But if I don’t have that section, I make a note to check it when I do.

The third tab is for photocopies or printouts of any research documents that relate to the current part of the story.

And the fourth section is the most important. It has lined notebook pages to write on.

Have you ever thought about setting up a WIP notebook? You don’t have to follow my categories. You can even do it on your laptop if you prefer. But make sure you have something you can grab and take along whenever you might have some waiting time.

Because that may be the only way to write when life interferes.