On Thursday, November 10th, at 12:27 p.m. my phone rang. It was Sharon Peregoy, member of the Crow (Apsaalooke) Nation, and instructor at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Montana. I had emailed her a week earlier to introduce myself and my hunt for a Crow language editor for my new novel, and could she point me in the right direction?
Eleven months prior to this phone call I’d decided to write a love story about an Indian warrior (who was Crow) and a white woman (who became an alien).
While it’s easy to make up a fictitious alien culture, dealing with a real one–from another century at that–is hard because you can’t make any assumptions, a lesson I learned when writing The Vicar Takes A Wife. My main concern was treating the Crow culture with respect. I was also counting on hiring a Crow editor to make sure the language was accurate.
Sharon, who promotes Crow language acquisition and cultural knowledge, called to say she was interested in taking on the job, and boy, am I glad she did. All but three of my Crow words were wrong (tense and context are everything), as were a few customs. She wrote the Honor song in the epilogue and gave me greater insight into Crazy Warrior’s vision quest. (It’s strange when someone knows one of your characters better than you do.) She’d send her edits, I’d call her with questions; she’d edit some more, I’d call with more questions. The result is that, while the story is fiction, I have tried to make factual any reference to Crow culture or history.
In fact, Crazy Warrior completes the real requirements for becoming an Apsaalooke chief, which are:
- Be the first to count coup on an enemy in battle (mentioned in Ch. 10)
- Take away an enemy’s weapon (Ch. 11 and 12)
- Steal a horse from an enemy’s camp, the “horses” being the Alpha Glider and Langtunna 1 (Ch. 11)
- Lead a successful war party (Ch. 12 and 13)
Crazy Warrior tells Daga there are only three requirements, which is because the story takes place a few years before the Crow acquire horses.
(Here’s the color version of the map, created by cover designer extraordinaire Patrick Knowles, which is black & white in the paperback edition. This is what Crazy Warrior sees when he picks up the electronic map.)
My next big concern was dialogue. I wanted Daga to learn Crow, and while it was understood she spoke it stiltedly, her dialogue was written fluently. However, I prefer to err on the side of realism, so I went back through the manuscript again and again . . . and again and again . . . and then some more . . . simplifying her dialogue to make it broken yet (hopefully) realistic, having her slowly learn the language but never become fluent. This meant transferring a lot of details into thought or leaving them out altogether and hoping it wouldn’t diminish the quality and style of the book.
As for the Crow characters’ dialogue, I did my best to adhere to the following, which I believe refers to the Hidatsa dialect of Crow:
Crow have a verb ending used in place of an indirect quotation, thus they cannot say, “He said that he would come.” Instead, they say, “He will come, it is said.” – Crow Word Lists: Crow-English and English-Crow Vocabularies, Robert H. Lowie, p.ix, 1960.
That’s why it’s written, “Daga doesn’t want a handsome husband, she says,” instead of “Daga says she doesn’t want a handsome husband.”
**UPDATE: April 2018–still editing . . . estimated publication late Fall 2018.
Seal from the Crow Tribal flag – opi.mt.gov
Sharon’s photo – leg.mt.gov
Map and cover design – Patrick Knowles