Rick Revelle began his talk at the November 8 Editors Kingston gathering with a welcome song to the accompaniment of a cedar-strip drum, setting a lively tone that continued throughout the evening.
A natural storyteller, Rick shared many tales of his life and work, starting with the story that led to his career as a writer: his discovery as an adult, based on an offhand discussion with a cousin about deer-hunting licences, that his family was Anishnabe. (For more on Rick’s background and books, see our last blog post, and this interview in the Miramichi Reader.) This late-life reconsideration of his identity inspired Rick to research his Indigenous heritage, and he soon became fascinated by the history he learned and wanted to share it—in story form. His YA books (I Am Algonquin, Algonquin Spring, and Algonquin Sunset) have been compared to the Little House books for the way they bring a historical period to life through a wealth of accurate, practical detail.
Rick also graciously answered many questions about his writing from a professional point of view, especially as it related to the editing process.
He expressed admiration for and gratitude to editors in general, and reported having an excellent relationship with most he had worked with. “If you’re a serious writer and you want to get published, pay an editor to help you,” he said (earning a round of applause). He cheerfully leaves copy-editing decisions to the professionals. “I don’t even bother looking at all the little tracked changes. I just read the comments. If there’s anything important, the editor asks about it there.” He was grateful to an editor who fact-checked a description of the Richelieu River and corrected it so the flow was in the correct direction.
He did recount problems with one editor who asked him to cut material that Rick felt was crucial to a book. This included some violent episodes and some supernatural aspects, both of which had been included with careful intent. “It would have gutted my story” to remove these elements, Rick said. “Luckily, it was my second book; I knew what I was writing about. I had done my research.” He felt confident enough to push back firmly, and the material stayed.
The level of research Rick puts in impressed even this audience of professionals, who deal in accuracy for a living: the table filled with approving nods as he described reading Champlain’s original chronicles, and there were a few gasps when he mentioned the five hours he’d spent investigating how twelfth-century Algonquins would have kept away mosquitoes. (Of course, there were also cries of “So, how did they?” The answer turns out to be burning sage and smearing themselves with an ointment containing golden seal.)
Also of great interest to editors was Rick’s discussion of the Indigenous attitude to story ownership. Whenever someone tells him something he thought might be a good inclusion in a book, he always asks if he can use it. Usually the answer is “yes,” but if it’s not, he says, there’s no question of betraying the teller’s wishes. “It’s not my story to tell.” Rick advised the editors in attendance to keep this aspect of Indigenous culture in mind.
Another piece of advice he had for editors working on Indigenous publications: “Ask whether the text has been vetted by elders.” Not knowing any better himself at first, he said, he didn’t think to include this step for his first book (and, as a result, nearly missed out on a distribution opportunity for Indigenous-focused books that has proved valuable for his novels). Now, he wouldn’t think of skipping that step, and even proudly includes printed comments from several elders at the end of each book.
There was some lively discussion of language tools. All three of Rick’s books feature glossaries of Anishnabe (Algonquin) terms, and the latest includes a pronunciation guide. When Rick mentioned the Mi’kmaq “talking” online dictionary, the group didn’t hesitate to try it out (with a little help from the Ongwanada Resource Centre’s Wi-Fi and Adrienne Montgomerie’s iPhone).
The evening was a success, both as a Twig gathering (a good turnout of some 13 people, including a visitor who attended as a long-time fan of Rick’s writing) and as an educational opportunity for Kingston editors.
Coming Up Next
We meet at the usual place and time:
7 to 9 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30)
Both Editors Canada members and non-members welcome