What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?
I loved to write at a young age. In elementary school, I wrote pages and pages of stories, such that one of my teachers finally limited me to one sheet per story. When I filled up both sides, I just went on looping the story in the margins. Also, since my parents were not fit to parent, I basically looked to stories to teach me about the world, about how to be in the world, as I did not want to be like my parents. I stopped reading in the seventh grade because the abuse had become too brutal and I had to stay away from anything that would reach the depths of my spirit. So I played sports, and partied until I got away from the abuse by attending college out of state. There, I took a creative writing course and the love of writing and reading and stories came tumbling back to me.
As an adult, the authors I feel most inspired by are Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisernos, Leslie Marmon Silko, Andrea Dworkin, Henryk Grynberg, and James Baldwin. For me, stories exist somewhere on their own terms, and when I feel like I have written them down as close as I can to how they exist elsewhere, that is when I feel I have succeeded. Writing stories is connected to the spiritual because stories heal. I want to heal, and I want to put something into the world that might help others heal – find the courage to go on, recover their lives. Healing is hard work and so the kinds of stories I write and the kinds I like to read don’t shy away from the hardness of life, but they don’t exclude the beauty and mystery and joy of life either.
How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?
In a month, there might be a day or two when I don’t write. I also run a lot – six days a week – and my running is connected with my writing. Stories and characters come to me when I am running. What I have done is to make them both every day priorities. I have to eat and sleep and write and run every day. Period. Also, both running and writing keeps my spirit buoyant. If I’m having a hard day I can turn it around by writing and running, so really, they are medicine to me. I explain it like that to people who ask do you have to run and write today? I wouldn’t ask you to not take your medicine today, so don’t ask me to not take mine.
In which genre do you most enjoy writing?
All writing is an exercise of joy for me. I dabble in poetry, but mostly I write fiction and creative non-fiction. I enjoy writing in both genres, but fiction writing is perhaps a nose more enjoyable than creative non-fiction writing. Writing fiction is a spectacular experience because of its expansiveness – I am connecting with an entire world through my creative spirit. It is like co-creating a world with the help of the characters. For me, as I said, I go and get the story, but I am also involved in creating the story because it is filtered through me. However, I’m not completely in charge because the characters exert themselves in ways that I wouldn’t imagine or foresee. They tell the writer things, and the writer has to follow or the writer will damage the story. A writer co-creates.
Creative non-fiction writing is just as satisfying, but in a different way because you are obviously restricted by your experiences. Writing creative non-fiction is a smoother, slower ride – it’s already happened, now you’re crafting it, going through it waiting for the story to untangle, waiting for the flashes of insight, waiting for the figures of speech and the details you will use from a narrative that’s already occurred.
There’s no other feeling that matches what it feels like when I’ve ‘got it down’, when I’ve made it possible to communicate with another person. Having spent much of my life in pain, connecting with others through writing destroys the chains of isolation. Writing is freedom, or at least movement toward freedom, and that is why writing in any genre is joy.
What draws you to write in that genre?
I find it easier to tell more truth in fiction than in non-fiction. I know some readers prefer to read non-fiction writing because they want ‘the truth’, but fiction strikes closer to the bone, in my opinion. There are many things from my own life that I will never tell anyone, much less write about as non-fiction. But some of those things might find life in my fiction.
Writing about sexual violence as a survivor is complicated. In my experience, most survivors do not tell people the full truth of their lives for very good reasons. First and foremost, for me, is that people have a hard time coping with the little bit that I do speak about. Also, there is the element of wanting to ‘protect’ others from the full truth – the full pain – of the abuse. Ultimately, when survivors speak we must be prepared to face the internal backlash, as we are breaking rules of silence set a long time ago under conditions of violence, shame, and threats. However, it’s not just an internal, psychological battle that we must overcome, there are often very real, tangible, and potentially dangerous consequences in the world when we speak out. The perpetrators might still be alive and capable of harming us, or we might lose our job, or not be hired for a job, or face ridicule, shame, and shunning from community members. For me, writing fiction frees up my fear some.
Can you tell me about your current project(s)?
Carnival Lights is set in Minnesota in 1969. Two American Indian girls–cousins–run away from home and end up on the streets of Minneapolis, where they are pursued over the course of a few weeks by pimps. They end up at the Minnesota State Fair, and well, I don’t want to spoil the ending. It’s also a semi-historical novel about the treatment of American Indians in Minnesota on the reservation system, and how we, as a people, both lost and managed to preserve our ways.
I’m also half way through a literary memoir, but I find it extremely difficult to write in both genres at the same time, so the memoir is on hold until I finish Carnival Lights.
What are your writing plans for the future?
Generally, just keep writing. Contrary to what some say–there are lots and lots of stories out there that have not been told. Specifically, I’d like to write a non-fiction book about Native women working in the field of sexual exploitation along the lines of Treuer’s Rez Life and Mike Davis’s City of Quartz. I’d focus it in Minnesota, or the upper Midwest, because this is the place, culture, and people I know and love the best, and I’d like for others to know of these women’s dedication, grace, and heroism.
Where can people find out more about you?