My guest this week for the Tasha Turner Coaching Virtual Blog Tour is Allison Bruning. Allison writes historical fiction with a dramatic flair. As I read through Allison’s contribution I realized I only did half of the assignment myself. OOPS! For my faux pas on this assignment, you can check out http://lacipaige.blogspot.com/. Now, I”m going to turn things over to Allison.
This week on the Tasha Turner Virtual Blog Tour we were asked to share how we came up with the title and characters of our books. The title is easy. It’s the first name of my main character, Calico Marie Turner Lutree (Known to the Shawnee as Snow Vision Seeker Buffalo Woman). When I was developing my characters I knew very little about the Shawnee. I knew the Shawnee were a large and powerful tribe from my home state of Ohio. I had heard some of the stories growing up about them but nothing else. I was eager to learn more about their world and ways.
This may sound weird but when I started developing my characters I made them go through an application process. I wanted to know everything I could about them before I ever began to lay out the story. I copied off a three page character bio that looked like an employment application, cut out photos from magazines for their profile picture then began to fill it out. It’s surprising what you can learn about your characters when you sit down and begin to explore their lives with them. Of course there were some sections that didn’t apply to them such as what do you like to watch on television? Where did you go to high school? What’s your favorite website? I would love to see those answers from someone who lived in the 18th century! I could just Calico’s answers “A website? Well I guess if I’m looking for a certain type of spider I would have to go to the site where they build their web.” LOL! When I had begun the application process with Calico and her twin sister, Rose I knew who their parents were. It wasn’t until I had begun to explore deeper into their lives that I had met Alexander, Pierre, Creek and the other supportive characters in the series. I completed the same process with the secondary characters as I did with Calico. Doing so opened up a new world for me. A world that would grant me more story ideas and plenty of subplots to play with.
After I had finished the character bios I felt like there were still pieces missing. I was having such a hard time with doing the bios for the Shawnee characters I had almost quit. Little Owl was getting on my nerves and the Shawnee characters just weren’t talking to me anymore! It was beginning to feel like a hopeless situation. One of my writing mentors at the time told me, “O honey, you can’t write about something you don’t know about. It’s impossible. Perhaps they’re not talking because you don’t know anything about their world. You can’t expect them to be like the white characters in your book.” Her words relighted my spark of inspiration. I enrolled at the University of Kentucky in the undergraduate anthropology program (I had initially wanted to get a second BA so I can go to grad school for cultural anthropology, what I ended up instead was getting a better insight into my characters.) I began to explore the Shawnee world through anthropological articles, books and even went out to talk to Native Americans. Calico’s Shawnee name, Snow Vision Seeker Buffalo Woman, was given to her by a Native American. It means:
Snow – Her skin is white as snow
Vision Seeker – She is medicine woman who has visions
Buffalo Woman – Her hair is as crimpy as the buffalo’s fur.
Most Native Americans were reluctant to talk to me. “Oh, great, another white person who wants to tell OUR story.” It was hard to break the barrier between us but eventually some did come around to speak to me. I even called a chief of one of the Shawnee tribes in Oklahoma. We talked for an hour. He spurred me onto an Anthropological book that had been written well about his people called, Shawnee: The Native American Tribe and its Cultural Background by James H. Howard. I thanked him and immediatly bought the book. I learned so much through my research my native characters began to talk to me. I couldn’t type fast enough!
One world of advice I would give to any author who wants to take the plunge into exploring a world that is not their own, especially when it comes to Native Americans, be careful what you read. There is a lot or propaganda and bias historical reports out there on Native Americans, especially the Shawnee. Ask yourself when you are reading a historical document whose point of view am I reading this from? What is happening in the author’s neck of the woods while he or she is writing this? Analysis the document well. If it seems biased against the culture you are wanting to depict them THROW IT AWAY IMMEDIATELY. I had the hardest time finding research that supported the Shawnee so I went directly to the source. If I hadn’t done so I don’t think I would have been able to accurately depict Little Owl and his people. As Little Owl would say “I am Shawnee!”
The Executive Director of the Kentucky Young Writers Connection, a non-profit agency of writers who promote young authors throughout the state of Kentucky. Allison originally hails from Marion, Ohio. Her father, Roland Irving Bruning, was the son of German immigrants who came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother’s family had been in the United States since the 17th century. Allison is a member of the Peter Foree Chapter of the Daughters of American Revolution. Her linage traces to Private Reuben Messenger of Connecticut. Her educational background includes a BA in Theater Arts with a minor in Anthropology and a Texas Elementary Teaching certificate. Both acquired at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. Allison received National Honor Society memberships in both Theater Arts and Communication. Allison was also honored her sophomore year with admission into the All American Scholars register. She holds graduate hours in Cultural Anthropology and Education. In 2007 she was named Who’s Who Among America’s Educators. She is also the recipient of the Girl Scout Silver and Gold Awards.
Allison lives with her husband in Kentucky. Calico is book one from the series, Children of the Shawnee. It is available at http://amzn.to/JSNRpm. She is currently working on the sequel, Rose. She is also working on another series, The Secret Heritage, which traces the life of her great great grandmother at the turn of the 20th century in Ohio. Allison’s interest includes Ohio Valley history, anthropology, travel, culture, history, camping, hiking, backpacking, spending time with her family and genealogy. Her genres include historical fiction, paranormal, romance, and suspense.
You can reach her at:
Facebook Fan Page http://on.fb.me/plvkxJ
Thank you for hosting me!
My pleaseure! Always a joy to have great guests!
Very interesting and informative. I loved your application process. May have to see how that works for me in the future!
I still do it to this day but it gets interesting when they ask, which high school did your character go to? What store do they like to shop? Hmm, I think Calic would answer What’s a High School and store? Well my uncle is the French trader, does that count?
What’s great idea – interview your characters. Your recommendation about being careful of your sources applies to just about anything. Michael Jecks talks about this also. A lot of information found on the net as well as books is biased or just wrong so it is important to find an expert and get their advice… It could be as simple as looking up a respected college curriculum on the topic. As has been noted on a few groups I’m on many times if someone senses you are genuinely interested and did your research to find an expert they are willing to help. Fantastic post Allison.
Hello Ms. Bruning – I am always amazed by writers who are able to do so much of the character’s backgrounds up front. I “meet” my characters in my head, and they tend to only reveal bits and pieces of themselves as they’re telling me their stories. Do you keep the all of the bios you do in a file or notebook of some kind?
I have a binder for their applications but even at that I don’t always glean everything right away about them. More often I have a foundation of facts from the application process that they only go further in detail as I am writing the story. I am also known to write portions of the story then go back and do the application process. It just depends on where they lead me. I always tell people, if your characters are talking just write down whatever they are telling you at that time. Don’t edit or critique. Just let it flow.
LOL – that’s all my characters seem to do is talk, talk…day or night, when they want to share, they couldn’t care less what I’m doing or how I’m feeling.
Great interview and wonderful tips. It was nice “meeting” you :-). Happy writing!