Hi everyone and happy August! I hope you’re having a great summer.
A few years ago now, I found myself in between books and unsure about what to write. After a few weeks of indecision, I wound up starting a rather fun project that I never actually intended to publish—or even finish—but started to become more and more invested in the longer I worked on it. Once the rough draft was done though, I put it away and moved on to writing something else. I never really intended to return to it. That all changed when I happened across the book in May/June of this year and found myself getting caught up in the story again and next thing you know the book I was supposed to be writing had fallen by the wayside and another book had emerged in its place! And now that book is (mostly) done.
It's an adaptation of the wonderful and much-loved Pride & Prejudice except all of characters are Indigenous and they live in a fictional First Nation community called Smoke River. And honestly—this book was so much fun to write. I love Jane Austen's books (we had a fabulous Jane Austen course in my undergrad where we read all of her books) and throughout the years I'd occasionally wonder how the stories would play out if they were told with an Indigenous lens. Once I started, I found there was so much that was different (certainly more than I've probably captured), that it became really challenging to write. It wasn’t just a matter of updating the narrative to a modern, Indigenous context. There were these big shifts that had to be accounted for and so I tried to be conscious of those, as well as the portrayals of various characters. But even though it was challenging, it was so great to write it while holding things like Indigenous women’s rights and collective responsibility, language and lacrosse and Treaties in my mind.
And though these more serious concepts bubble to the surface in this adaptation, the book is also very much about the love story between the characters, Elizabeth and Darcy. It also includes some of my own love for language, language revitalization and the resilience of our communities (and also probably, my own appreciation for the challenges of dating and finding companionship—an agonizing experience all on its own).
As part of getting the book ready for publishing, I thought I would share the first few work-in-progress chapters here. If you have a Kobo or a iPhone (or iBooks app), you can download the first five chapters here (there is also a pdf that can be read on most devices). They are formatted with the really lovely new ebook creation service Vellum. So if you are also a writer looking for ways to make your stories look clean and professional, this will give you an example of how this particular service looks. This book still has to go through another round of edits and copyedits, so my apologies in advance for any typos, but there was something about the green, leafy forest and warm summer days and approaching thunderstorms that made me want to share it now. And so here it is!
The working title of this book is Pride & Rezjudice. (I'm still searching for the right title, or maybe this is it, I don't know!). As I mentioned before, it’s a light-hearted, funny, contemporary telling of a famous love story from an Indigenous perspective.
Chapter one is available below :). I hope you enjoy it!
P.S. I made this cover in Canva—a free web-based graphic design tool service that is super accessible and easy to use. The illustration is one of my own that I am using until we do a proper cover. But I wanted to sneak peek preview to be pretty :).
Everyone knows that trying to find a partner who has a good mind, speaks the language and is ready for a healthy relationship can be somewhat difficult; goodmindedness being one of those Haudenosaunee traits that everyone talks about and virtually everyone has a varying definition of.
As a concept, it was a powerful one, often said to be more journey than destination. It was a state of being that could be yours one instant and gone the next, and yet the happiest households always seemed to thrive best when it was present for at least one moment—however brief—every day of the week.
Filling a home with language could be even harder in these times when virtually all Indigenous languages were critically endangered and given the prevalence of English media. English was quite simply everywhere. On phones and television. Computers and newspapers. Snapchat and Instagram.
And although finding language or goodmindedness in another person seemed hard—and finding them together even harder—things were changing in Smoke River. It was subtle, incremental change that not everyone noticed and that from time to time was eclipsed by tragedy, loss or political turmoil. But it was change enough to keep Mrs. Benedict’s dreams alive; that all five of her daughters would have healthy, meaningful relationships and that they would go forth from her home to create homes of their own, ones that shared her values and her deep and abiding respect for language, culture and ceremony.
So imagine her surprise and excitement, when a promising candidate for a son-in-law rented Mr. Martins’ two-story log cabin on River Road.
“Did you hear who rented Elmer Martin’s place down by the river?”
Mr. Benedict was watching a TED talk on his iPad and wasn’t feeling inclined to answer her.
“Mr. Benedict, did you hear me? I asked you if you heard who rented Elmer’s old place?”
It wasn’t really an old place. Elmer had built it before he went to live in Southern California, where he’d been living for the last five years. Everyone had thought that he would come back—including himself. But then he got swept up in his work in a place called Silicone Valley—a strange name if you asked Mrs. Benedict—and decided to relocate. The house had sat empty for most of the last five years, which Mrs. Benedict felt to be a real shame considering the lack of housing on the reserve, and she made certain to let everyone know it whenever occasion arose. For all of her love of goodmindedness, Mrs. Benedict was a woman with opinions that bordered on judgemental and it gave her great joy to express them—especially with her husband, despite the fact that he grew weary of hearing them over and over again.
“No dear. I didn’t hear,” he answered her now. “I’m watching a talk about astrophysics, and since I’m not an astrophysicist—I need to pay attention.”
“It was rented to a young man from Kahnawake,” she said, ignoring him. “His name is Charles Bingley. He speaks the language and he goes to longhouse. And he’s single and doesn’t have any children.”
Mr. Benedict did his best to suppress a groan. He knew that in his wife’s eyes, this made Charles something of a rare a commodity but it didn’t make it any less strange to him that she viewed him as such.
“How great would it be if he married one of our daughters?”
Here again—Mr. Benedict grunted. He knew that nothing would bring Mrs. Benedict more joy than seeing each of her daughters married to nice partners, but the way things were going—he didn’t see it happening.
And he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted it to.
He missed the days when all they worried about was the girls graduating from high school. Missed the late night studying. The frantic searching for answers and explanations—math had changed so much since he’d been in school. No, he wasn’t ready for whatever the next phase was. Not yet. And he didn’t understand why they needed to be thinking of such things. After all—their children were happy. Successful, even.
Their eldest daughter Jane had spent the last three years working at the local elementary school as an educational assistant. His middle daughter Elizabeth had secretly accepted an offer to do a Masters in Fine Arts at Emily Carr (he knew this because he opened her acceptance letter) and Lydia and Kitty were quite too young to be thinking about getting married. They were having trouble enough making them go to school, despite Mrs. Benedict’s hounding them. As for Mary—Mary was more interested in trees and plants than people, and he was hardly of a mind to take her from that.
“Why are you always in such a hurry for the girls to get married?”
Mrs. Benedict stiffened and her lips twitched. She had an option here. She could let her anger show or act like his comments didn’t bother her. Not for the first time, she wondered why he couldn’t just understand. Hadn’t she told him time and time again that a household required a two-person income to be sustainable? Hadn’t they both agreed that the only way to pass on language and culture to future generations was if both partners valued it? And who, if not the parents, were responsible for creating a network of like-minded individuals for their children to potentially wed?
“Oh Mr. Benedict! Do I really need to explain myself to you? Can’t you just realize this is important?”
Of course, he did recognize the importance. Nothing would have brought him more joy than having a child-in-law who had a job, knew the language, was trying to make a difference for their people. That being said, he didn’t see the point in foisting his daughters on the poor fellow who’d rented Elmer Martin’s place. Besides—he didn’t want anything keeping Elizabeth from going to Emily Carr. Not a single thing. Even a boy from Kahnawake.
No, no, no.
It was far better that they didn’t meet this Mr. Bingley at all. The girls were doing well enough without the distraction and this was hardly Regency-era Britain. As Indigenous women, his daughters had power and autonomy. And while settler populations had yet to fully examine their own dark history to enact real change in Indigenous-settler relations, there was reason to be hopeful that some things—education, language, ceremony and a connection to the land would be enough to carry his daughters through the never-ending storm of culture clash.
He comforted himself that there were good people to be found everywhere on Turtle Island, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.
Besides which, what were men compared to rocks and mountains? Forests and lakes? Fields and bogs? Swamps and crags?
Mr. Benedict contented himself that he knew the answer to that question.
Mrs. Benedict pitied him for it.
Though Mr. Benedict showed no sign of wanting to meet Charles Bingley, he was nonetheless one of the first who had occasion to do so. Despite his earlier misgivings, he left the meeting deeply impressed by the young man and he knew at once that Mrs. Benedict would feel the same—which made him all the more reluctant to tell her about it.
But try as he might he could not avoid it, for Mrs. Benedict was a singularly determined and focused woman, and it was only a matter of time before the subject of Mr. Bingley came up again.
“There’s a social tomorrow night after the sing.” Mrs. Benedict told him over tea. “I wonder if he’s going to come?”
“I certainly hope not,” Mr. Benedict replied, scrolling through his iPad. “I don’t think we should go either. It’ll be too busy.”
“Mr. Benedict, how can you say such a thing? And put that thing away. Can’t you see I’m trying to talk to you? Don’t you care?”
“Now don’t say that, my love. You’ve been talking non-stop since we got married and I’ve always been willing to lend a ready ear. Why, I think I’ve committed to memory almost every word you’ve ever said. Would you like me to show you?”
“You must invite him,” Mrs. Benedict said, sounding petulant.
“If I do that it’ll seem like we’re trying to market the girls to him. And if we’re going to market them—why don’t we just go ahead and make a short commercial for each of them? I could play them for him on my iPad.”
“We could even make them on your iPad,” Elizabeth chimed in, entering the room and joining them at the table. “There’s a great app for that.”
“Why thank you Lizzie! See, my love? Problem solved. We’ll make each of the girls a commercial and then Bingley can just tell us which of them he wants. I hope it’s Jane,” he added.
“It probably will be,” Mrs. Benedict said absently and for one heart-stopping moment he became terrified she truly was thinking of making advertisements to barter their daughters away to perfect strangers. “But we’ll do no such thing, Mr. Benedict. Why do you always have to try my patience?”
“I didn’t realize you had any to begin with,” he said.
Mrs. Benedict glared at him feeling like she was in a perfect state of misery. It was hard for her at times like these, to not feel like she had married the wrong person.
“I’m never going to be a Tota,” she announced.
The rest of her daughters had chosen that exact moment to enter the room.
“There, there Ista. I’m sure one of us will have a baby sometime in the next five years,” said Elizabeth, her voice filled with the kind of careless cheer that self-possessed women often have.
“I’ll be an old maid then. Too old to pick up a baby.”
“Nonsense. Babies are very light,” Elizabeth said.
Mrs. Benedict snorted. “Mrs. Abrams already has two grandchildren.”
“You shouldn’t be keeping score, Ista. ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’,” Elizabeth quoted.
“I have none.” Mrs. Benedict was mulish.
“Maybe one of the girls will have a set of triplets?” Mr. Benedict suggested.
“I hope it won’t be me,” said Mary, picking up a cloth and polishing a rubber plant.
“And I just know that Mrs. Elm will be parading her pack of daughters around. All seven of them.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’ll be there with your five. A much more sensible number,” Mr. Benedict said.
“How will I? You’ve already said we weren’t going!”
“Did I then? I suppose I’ll have to let our newest neighbour know that I won’t be attending after all.”
Mrs. Benedict’s back straightened so quickly, someone might have shoved a measuring stick down her shirt. “What do you mean? You’ve been to see him?”
“Of course I’ve been to see him, my dear. Weren’t those your exact orders?”
“Oh Mr. Benedict!” Mrs. Benedict clasped her hands together.
“What is he like, Hanih?” Lydia cried. “Is he handsome?”
“I’ll bet he is,” Kitty said. “What colour are his eyes? I hope they’re green. Some guys from Kahnawake have green eyes.”
“What does it matter what colour his eyes are so long as he can speak the language?” Elizabeth asked.
“Quite right, quite right, Elizabeth,” Mrs. Benedict declared, even though it was obvious to everyone else that Elizabeth was being sarcastic.
“Well, his name is Charles Bingley. An older name, not very common. He was very amiable. He speaks a slightly different dialect, but I think he’ll get along just fine here. And yes, I did tell him that I would help him get acquainted with the area. He’s quite interested in doing some fishing while he’s here.”
“We have plenty of fish!” Mrs. Benedict cried happily.
Mr. Benedict rolled his eyes. Everyone pretended not to notice.
“Yes, dear. We’re practically mongers.”
“I need a new outfit!” Lydia proclaimed.
“So do I,” Kitty said quickly.
“We all need new outfits.” Mrs. Benedict declared.
“If everyone’s getting new outfits, I want a new book,” Elizabeth said.
“Oh Lizzie. You’re never going to find a husband if you don’t stop reading so much.”
“Exactly, Ista.” Elizabeth sat back in her chair with a satisfied smile. “Exactly.”
Word of the arrival of the newest inhabitant of Smoke River First Nation spread quickly. From discreet Facebook messages to coy texts, in no time at all, the women of Smoke River became aware there was a single, childless, employed and very attractive young man living in the large house on River Road. And apparently, he hadn’t come alone. His younger sister had come along to help settle him in, and so had his best friend—about who little was known.
All in all, there was a general air of excitement, mystery, determination and dread accompanying the Benedict family as they set out for the social that evening.
“Oh, of course.” Mrs. Benedict mumbled. “Everyone and their daughters came out tonight. Look. There’s Lucy Anderson. She never comes to these functions. She’s just here to make sure her daughter gets the first shot at Bingley. Everyone knows she hasn’t been to a social in years.”
Elizabeth held her tongue. She didn’t like when her mother decided to judge people, but there was no point trying to get at it with her right now. “Look there’s Charlotte!” Elizabeth said happily and rushed off to meet up with her friend.
Charlotte and Elizabeth had become friends when they both attended the same off-reserve high school. They’d also gone into an immersion program together once they’d graduated. Elizabeth had stayed on for the second year of the program before doing her undergrad and was a moderately good Cayuga speaker now. Charlotte had gone to university in the City of Brantwood after the first year. She’d since graduated with a degree in information management and was trying to get into a graduate-level information sciences program. She worked part-time at the library but was anxious to find something more permanent.
“Hey Lizzie! Come to meet Bingley, have you?” her friend teased.
“If my mother has her way, my sisters and I will be the only ones to meet him. Is he here yet?”
“No. He should be here soon enough. He’s not here alone though.”
“Wise man,” Elizabeth said. “Who’d he come with?”
“His sister, Caroline. She’s a piece of work, let me tell you.”
But before Charlotte could say anything more, Bingley himself walked into the room. Elizabeth would later think it was entrance worthy of a movie. The entire longhouse went silent. It didn’t help that the singers were in between songs, so that each and every head turned toward the door.
There was nothing disappointing about Bingley. He was a most attractive young man. He had dark skin and rich brown eyes. His sister was practically his twin—beautiful and slender, with almond shaped eyes and black hair that fell straight to her waist. In between them stood another man. He was taller than either of them and just as attractive, though his skin was slightly fair. There was a standoffish air about him—as if he was daring someone to judge him.
“Who’s that?” Elizabeth asked.
Charlotte smiled. “That, Lizzie, is William Darcy—the richest man in Akwesasne.”
“Strangely—no. His grandfather made a lot of money working in patents and put it away into trusts. His father became a lawyer, and then of all things—won the lottery. When he died—he left it all to Darcy. They both did.”
“Wow.” Elizabeth whistled low. “Must be nice.”
“He’s quite educated, as well.”
As fascinating and educated as Darcy was—Mrs. Benedict only had eyes for Bingley, who stood with Charlotte’s father Mr. Longboat and his wife. In no time at all, she had rounded up her daughters and shepherded them over to where Bingley and his company stood.
His sister, Caroline seemed bored and didn’t do much to hide her obvious displeasure with the entire evening. Elizabeth did her best to ignore her. She had made a promise to herself after graduating high school that she would not subject herself to the company of mean, negative girls and she wasn’t about to make an exception just because someone was new to town. But Bingley’s attitude more than made up for his annoying sister. He had an easy-going manner and was delighted with everything; the music, the longhouse, and most especially—with Jane.
Indeed, as the night went by, it became obvious to everyone in attendance that the eldest Benedict had captured his special attention. When he and his partner trapped Jane and Elizabeth between them during the Duck Dance, his eyes shone and his laughter could be heard across the entire room.
They were in such great spirits, that when Rabbit Dance started, Elizabeth immediately turned to Darcy and asked him if he’d like to dance with her.
His mouth grew tight and she could have sworn his eyes darkened like a demon’s—at least, that’s how she put it to Charlotte later.
“No.” His answer was brisk, abrupt. “I’d rather not.”
Elizabeth forced a smiled onto her face.
“Sure. Dancing’s not for everyone.” And then she quickly moved away from him. Five minutes later, everyone in the longhouse had heard about how William Darcy had snubbed her.
“Don’t even worry about it,” Charlotte said. “He’s a jackass.”
“Yeah. Well—he’s a jackass who just completely humiliated me in front of the entire community.”
“So? At least now everyone knows what a jerk he is. And how very kind and polite you are to ask a stranger to dance.”
“Which does pretty much nothing for my pride, but whatever,” Elizabeth joked. She wasn’t about to let Darcy get to her. She would move on and forget his slight and had started to do just that—when the sound of Darcy’s voice drifted through the air towards her.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I want to go home.”
“Oh come now, Darcy! We’re having so much fun. Why don’t you dance?”
“I’m not in the mood to dance. Besides, there’s no one here to dance with.”
“What do you mean? There are tons of girls here. And they’re all very nice and attractive.”
“You were dancing with the only attractive girl in the room.”
“She’s amazing, isn’t she? But her sister Elizabeth is quite good looking, as well. And very smart.”
“She’s adequate, but not good looking enough to tempt me, I’m afraid. You should go back to your companion. I’m fine. I’ll manage until you’re ready to leave.”
It was a good thing it was dark—for Elizabeth’s face flushed with embarrassment and she was sure it showed. Charlotte reached out and squeezed her hand.
“Count yourself lucky, friend. If he liked you—you’d have to talk to him.”
“You’re right.” Elizabeth forced herself to laugh. “As it is, I wouldn’t talk to him for all the money in the world.”
They laughed and abused him a little bit more, each one trying to outdo the other in how grateful they were to not have to speak to the insufferable William Darcy. Finally, they went back in, danced a few more dances and by the time they were finished she was feeling much better.
Amidst the crowd she met up with her sister Jane and together, the two of them went to the dining hall to find something to drink. Bingley followed behind them—as did his sister and Mr. Darcy.
“So what do you do?” Bingley asked Jane, as they waited for their strawberry juice.
“I’m an educational assistant.” Jane told him.
“That’s incredible. Do you speak the language?”
“Jane’s a great speaker,” Mrs. Benedict proclaimed, appearing out of nowhere and edging between Jane and Bingley. “She teaches the kids at her school.”
“Is that true?” Bingley asked her.
“Yes, but I wish I spoke better.” Jane said modestly. “Elizabeth is much better than me. I feel like I have a lot to learn.”
Elizabeth smiled. It was just like her sister to divert attention from her self to others—and just like her mother to try and embarrass her.
“Charlotte and I both went to the immersion high school,” Elizabeth explained. “Then we took an adult immersion program when we left school. We were very fortunate to do so.”
“What are your plans now?”
Elizabeth fell silent. She did not know how to answer this question. She hadn’t told her mother about her plans to attend Emily Carr. It seemed unwise to do so now, in the middle of the social. “I’m not sure. We’re both waiting to hear back on our grad school applications.”
“Charlotte always did struggle with her grades,” Mrs. Benedict said. “It was good of Lizzie to help her along.”
“Charlotte does just fine without me.” Lizzie said, annoyed with her mother for insinuating that Charlotte was somehow incapable.
“She failed the third grade you know. They wanted to keep her back, but her mother insisted they push her through.”
“Honestly, mother. This is hardly the time to talk about all that.”
“What? Everyone knows.”
“Charlotte was very sick that year,” Elizabeth said. “She missed a lot of school. It wasn’t because she couldn’t do the work.”
“Jane is very healthy,” Mrs. Benedict said, leaping at the chance to showcase another attribute of her eldest, most attractive daughter. “I always joke she got the best of our genes. She could have been a model you know—a talent scout once came and asked her to take pictures for him. But Mr. Benedict didn’t like the idea. I must say, I don’t really like it either. It’s much better that she’s here. She works at the school, you know? Now she only needs to get married. I thought for sure she’d be married already. She had a fellow that she was seeing for a few years. He asked her to marry him but she said no.”
Elizabeth felt Jane stiffen beside her and Bingley seemed to struggle to determine which part of Mrs. Benedict’s long speech he ought to respond to.
“That’s only because he asked her at a hockey game,” Elizabeth laughed, trying to diffuse the awkwardness that had fallen across their conversation. “And he didn’t bother to ask Hanih if it was okay.”
“And you think that’s important, do you? To ask a girl’s family if they approve of the match?”
Everyone’s eyes swung towards Darcy.
Elizabeth lifted her chin. That actually wasn’t her view, but she wasn’t about to take sides with Mr. Darcy—if it was his. “Well, of course.”
“That’s a little patriarchal, isn’t it?”
“It’s respectful.” Elizabeth said coolly.
“Interesting. In this day and age, I would think that a young woman would resent a young man asking her family about anything to do with her private relationships.”
“It’s true that women must make their own decisions about who they choose to spend their time with. But the family ought to have an opportunity to make out a potential partner’s character and share those thoughts with their daughters.”
“Daughters will do just as they please anyways,” Darcy said.
“Of course they will. But at least they’ll know that the lines of communication are open and that the family will be there to support them in the event of marital breakdown.”
“Which is more often that not, wouldn’t you say?”
“Relationships are challenging,” she acknowledged carefully.
“They shouldn’t have to be.”
“Perhaps they wouldn’t be—if people took the time to get to know one another properly.”
“And how do you propose people go about doing that?”
“By taking time to get to know themselves. By expressing their true selves to one another.”
“That’s difficult to do when people are just getting to know one another, especially if they’re being judged for how they choose to express their affection.”
“You’re referring to what I said about the hockey game,” Elizabeth said. She shrugged. “Well, I stand by that comment. There are good and better ways of expressing one’s affection.”
“Are there?” Darcy lifted his eyebrows. “So what do you recommend, to encourage affection?”
“Dancing.” Elizabeth answered, lifting her chin. “Even if one’s partner is merely adequate.”
Mr. Darcy’ lifted his head and his lips parted ever so slightly, but said nothing. Elizabeth smiled and having made her point, spun on her heel and drifted back towards the dance floor.
That's all for now! Feel free to let me know if you want me to post a few more chapters here! S.