By Katie Doolittle
So reads the tagline on Heather Lockman’s blog, one of several pages on her fascinating website. It’s tempting to summarize her impressive body of work with this pithy quote—and indeed, history has certainly inspired Lockman’s entire writing career.
If you live in the Olympia area and spend any time outdoors, chances are that you’ve read some of Lockman’s extensive work. She’s done series of panels for both Tumwater Historical Park and Tumwater Falls Park. She also wrote the panels outside Crosby House, Henderson House, and Schmidt House. Perhaps her most widely recognized project would be the installation at Heritage Park.
Most locals are familiar with the low stone wall encircling Capitol Lake; anyone who’s walked the path has seen and probably read at least a few of the markers set into the wall. There’s one for each county in the state, and Lockman wrote them all.
“That’s one of my favorite projects,” Lockman admits. She lives nearby and often walks her dog around the lake where, she jokes, the ankle-high plaques are “the only markers I’ve ever worked on that my dog can actually read.” Of course, she also gets to see humans reading her markers—a gratifying affirmation most writers rarely experience.
It’s probably one of the best perks of a difficult but interesting job – a job that presents unique challenges with every separate contract. Lockman has worked with a variety of local historical groups, both public and private. Sometimes she collaborates with others, and sometimes she completes the research and writing process alone. Perhaps the biggest challenge comes in creating a connected series of panels. As Lockman explains, “Each panel in a series of markers has to make sense both individually and collectively, and in any order. That’s completely different from writing a printed story that’s read from page one to the end.”
In addition to writing historical markers, Lockman has written video scripts for three Washington state parks and collaborated on two nonfiction books about Tumwater and Olympia. Most recently, after years of writing nonfiction, Lockman published a novel.
The Indian Shirt Story is Lockman’s first foray into fiction. This delightful e-book defies easy description. Is it women’s fiction, literature, or something else entirely? Nobody’s quite managed to place this book in a specific market, which may be part of its charm. The one thing early reviewers can seem to agree on is that The Indian Shirt Story has an enjoyable and intensely regional flavor.
Savvy readers will definitely recognize elements of Olympia breathing life into Lockman’s fictitious town of Port Heron.
Lockman’s personal experiences volunteering with Olympia’s Bigelow House Museum have also informed her plot and protagonist. A bit of background: Lockman was president of the Bigelow House Preservation Association in the early 1990s, right when the Bigelow family began pursuing preservation options for their historic home. Lockman was instrumental in fundraising to buy the Bigelow House, grant-writing to renovate it, overseeing the actual restoration, and opening it to the public.
Lockman’s protagonist, Bess Reynolds, has a very similar career. She runs an authentic pioneer homestead museum. This particular job comes with an automatic built-in challenge: how best to balance the Oregon Trail emigrant story against the simultaneous experience of American Indian people? Bess must confront this question head-on when a troubling bit of lore concerning the home’s original owners surfaces in front of the worst possible audience. The old family tale, known as “The Indian Shirt Story,” stirs controversy within the modern community. Readers will enjoy following the story’s origins and mutations through a series of retellings that span multiple viewpoints and time periods.
Lockman weaves several layers of conflict into her novel. In addition to the local issue over the family story, Bess must also deal with a Nashville star seeking to film his latest music video at the museum. Can Bess protect the museum’s historical authenticity from the encroachment of pop-culture glossiness and over-simplification? What will happen to the town when local and national cultures clash?
“Ultimately it’s a story about integrity,” Lockman says. “Historical integrity and personal integrity.”
Helen Hardt, editor at Musa Publishing, goes a bit further. She praises The Indian Shirt Story as “engaging, rich in history, poignant, funny, and politically relevant.”