Literary Risking with Murrieta's Leap
I've mostly done my best to work within accepted literary/genre formats in my recent fiction writing such as Higher Forces and Ten Percent Max. But with Murrieta's Leap, I took my own author leap and wrote that book in a unique tone, grammar, attitude, perspective and so forth. Some of my reviews have been very positive - but I just got one that socked me in the stomach:
(no name on review) "I live in the area in which this book is set, so its blurb captured me. Though I seek out fictionalized accounts of local Indian history (such as the excellent "Making the Reata), I'm not sure I can finish this. I am only part of the way through, but will probably discard it as I find the tone and grammatical weaknesses distasteful."
First, I apologize to the reader if my 'blurb' was misleading. Indeed, I am no historian, nor was I trying to pretend that I (or anyone) know the truth about the Chumash civilization in olden days in the Ojai Valley. All I have is what my grandfather John Selby told to me - which was a lot, but not as history. Rather, he knew a small band of Chumash who still lived up Coyote Creek when he, as a teenager, first started camping out there (just above what is now Lake Casitas) 10 miles west of Ojai township.
Gramps talked in his unique way of communicating - and because I'd recorded over 18 hours of his narration of his early days on his ranch, I experimented with writing my fictionalized story of his ranch (where I also grew up). The result, after quite a few years of experimentation, is the grammar and style and tone of Murrieta's Leap. I know it's very different - but it's his voice as nearly as I can employ it as a storyteller narrative.
Something very deep happened to me as a writer in the process of writing Murrieta's Leap - I step by step surrendered entirely to that voice, and let it flow without judgment through me. The resulting story is certainly grounded in Gramps' actual experience - but the story itself took off, combining Gramps' spirit and my own into a voice I've never heard before, that speaks with humor, authority, acceptance, honesty, and a radical openness to the new ...
I consider Murrieta's Leap my best fiction. It stands quite separate from my other novels and screenplays, and I hope readers will let go of pre-conceived expectations, and just dive or leap or plunge into the tale. It's somehow mythic, the characters explore new realms - and I stand 110% behind its deeper thrust and meaning. As for the Chumash ... I feel their spirit came into me and helped in the writing. And this was only possible through letting Gramps, who knew them, speak freely.
I've now finished the screenplay (Finding Juaquin) of the book, and hope to find an Ojai-based producer or director to make the film - that will be the ultimate fulfillment, and I'm sure Gramps will smile upon us! As per the nature of film versus novel, the screenplay version in some places is quite different - but the underlying mythic thrust is the same, and the jolting but uplifting climax. Do let me know how this story strikes you!