JK: Historical Authenticity, Part 2
The same kinds of questions come up about authenticity in characters who might have used swear words often. Would I use them in my story to be authentic to the time period? No.
I don't use vulgarity (even though we know those fur trappers sure did!) and I don't use explicit sexual images either (because I have this agreement with my characters that I won't reveal their little idiosyncrasies and then they won't reveal any of mine!). It takes more time and skill, I think, to convey the emotion we want by not using those terms. I also don’t use words for the human anatomy that are slurs even though a character might have used them back then. Some historians call this “wriggling” and rewriting history. I don’t. I think it’s making choices today that can reflect the attitudes of that period without replicating the racial slurs for posterity, assuming of course that we are writing for posterity hoping our books will be forever in print.
I’ve been gratified to hear from readers that because of the way I’ve portrayed Indian people, as real with strengths and flaws, that they’ve come to see another side to their experiences and to be less able to stereotype them as a people. I’m grateful for that.
Another note, I often suggest people read Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird and tell them that there are four letter words in there that are not "love" and to try to step over those and not miss the good things this author has to say. At one event a woman came up to me later and said she appreciated that comment and that she could step over the word while reading; but with books on tape, it was a startle to hear profanity and very difficult to step over. Just one more reason for me NOT to use that kind of volatile word and to find some other way to convey the emotion.
As a writer we’ll have Indian readers; young readers; people who might not know how people were referred to in that uprising of 1862 that Erica is writing about. She’ll be giving them a good story, authentic, while not turning them off because of words that were meant to demean, and I think that's a great gift to give us all.
I’d be interested in your comments and thanks to Erica for asking (and she said I could post the question and answer here!)
Jane Kirkpatrick, www.jkbooks.com Look for A Tendering in the Storm, book two in the Change and Cherish series from WaterBrook Press/Random House.