July 29

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NARRATING REZ DOGS by Joseph Bruchac

Writing and narrating a novel about people caught in a pandemic during that same event, is pretty unique. But, then again, everything about REZ DOGS was different from anything I’ve done before. To begin with, I wasn’t traveling as I usually do, doing storytelling programs, visiting schools. For months at a time I was home, seeing no one outside my own family…and our dogs.

It didn’t mean that I was housebound. Unlike a lot of people, especially those in cities, I’m surrounded by nature. My wife and I live in the middle of a nature preserve with woods all around us. So, each morning I would walk my dog Kiki along the dead-end road past our cabin. And that was when I began to do something I’d never done before–dictate a novel into my iPhone. In fact, every word of REZ DOGS was spoken first–then revised after downloading it onto my computer. 21st Century oral tradition.

Since the story revolves around a Wabanaki girl and a dog that chooses her, my process of writing while walking with Kiki was very appropriate and, quite frankly, inspiring. In many ways, the isolation of the pandemic, being alone with my dog, and sharing an experience parallel to that of my main character, was absolutely right. Traditional stories about dogs kept coming back to me on those long walks, asking me to include them in my novel. Being used to telling stories to audiences dozens of times a year, and now not being able to do that, made me want to share those stories even more.

As a professional storyteller, I have no hesitation about recording my work or anyone else’s. In fact, I ‘ve narrated several audio books before and not just my own.

But the recording of the story was still within the pandemic with its limitations of travel restrictions, mask-wearing and social distancing. It meant that, unlike any other thing I had ever recorded before, I was not able to go into a professional studio. I was on my own.

But that’s not exactly true. My stepson Mikael is a professional musician and an audio engineer. He and his girlfriend live in the house where I was raised – – just a few miles from our cabin. As a member of the family, he’s one of the people I saw regularly during the pandemic. My official office is in a separate part of that house and a few times a week I’d see him—both of us masked and socially-distanced. 

So, it was natural to enlist him in the recording process. An amazingly state of the art miniaturized portable studio set-up was sent to us. The quietest part of the house, a carpeted second floor hallway, is where Mikael set it up.

Our contact with the official engineer and the producer was entirely through headphones. But once we started, things proceeded like the proverbial clockwork—aside from pausing a few times when log trucks went by on the road. The recording was done in less than half a day. We kept things set up and a week later went back to do a few pick-ups.

Writing and recording REZ DOGS was a learning process and –like my story itself—an example of finding new ways to do meaningful things in the face of unexpected challenges.

Joseph Bruchac is a highly acclaimed children’s book author, poet, novelist, and storyteller, as well as a scholar of Native American culture. He is the coauthor of the bestselling Keepers of the Earth series with Michael Caduto. Bruchac’s poems, articles, and stories have appeared in hundreds of publications from Akwesasne Notes and American Poetry Review to National Geographic and Parabola. He has authored many books for adults and children including Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two, Skeleton Man, and The Heart of a Chief.