Monday, November 29, 2010

when a Mormon boy ran away to live with the Indians: The Legend of Jimmy Spoon [part one]

Chief Washakie Shoshones, Art Poster by National Archive
Shoshone Chief Washakie
When I read the memoir Among the Shoshones by Elijah Nicholas Wilson, I thought perfect -- an adventure for boys set in the 1850s! I contacted Nick's son, Charlie, an elderly gentleman living in the Wyoming town named for his father -- Wilson -- at the base of the Tetons. When I asked permission to write a biography, he was gung-ho. He mailed me his family's genealogy and recounted details of his dad's life with the Indians and as a Pony Express rider. I was thrilled.

After months of research & writing, my manuscript Nick, the White Indian Boy was accepted by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. As a final detail, HBJ wanted Charlie to sign a release. "No problem," I said. But his letter chilled me. I never gave you permission, he responded. You may not write about my father. I felt sick. Literally, I was shaking inside. When I calmed down, I phoned him. A caretaker explained that Charlie had just had surgery and "wasn't well." Translation: all our correspondence was null and void.
The Legend of Jimmy Spoon
One of my favorite covers

Now it was HBJ's turn to say "No problem." They advised that I just rewrite it and change the names. Rewrite a novel? It was like pulling a thread in a patchwork quilt that made the whole thing unravel. One change led to another ... you get the idea. It was a ton of work, but the process actually freed me. I no longer had to be 100% accurate, as biographies should be. I could make stuff up!

What fun it was to find The Legend of Jimmy Spoonin my head. In a future "Notes From the Sunroom," I'll tell about doing research with teenagers from the Shoshone-Bannock tribe.

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