At the age of 25, I stepped off a plane in Bolivia to begin two years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I assumed that connections with the people of South America’s most indigenous country would be easy because I’m Native. The truth was much more complicated. This is my debut book.
Deborah Miranda (Ohlone /Costanoan-Esselen) author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, said this about the book, “The Indigenous peoples Pike lived and worked with speak loudly from these pages, challenging many of us to check privileges we didn’t know we had, demanding the right to be complex, strong, and human. This book is all heart, all vulnerability, as a young California Indian woman makes family far from home.”
Do you write in more than one genre? Creative Nonfiction is my favorite genre to write in, and by that, I mean memoir and essays. However, I have a few short stories I’ve written. I have a story about a Native Elvis impersonator who dances in powwows in his Elvis regalia.
What brought you to writing? Writing has always been my strategy for dealing with life. Writing in a journal is a mindfulness exercise. I never knew that when I started, but that’s exactly what it is. Writing requires me to focus on the moment I’m in. All the brutally honest writing I filled my journals with helped me develop a clear voice on the page. I learned to write for myself and never thought I’d show my writing to anyone else. An online writing class at Austin Community College helped me have the courage to share my writing with others.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? A library is the absolute best place to write. During the pandemic, I’ve really missed libraries. Not only are they usually bright and quiet with comfortable chairs, but I am also surrounded by books. There is nothing as inspiring as looking up from my writing to see a book that looks terrible and think, “If that book was published, maybe mine has a chance.”
Tell us about your writing process: There are times when I feel inspired to write, or an essay idea pops into my head, but, honestly, deadlines are the thing that makes me actually sit down and write. In Austin, I used to read at a monthly open mike event, and the pressure to produce something good to read terrified me. I was always motivated to get a good five-minute piece ready by the deadline.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The very first revision is incredibly challenging. I am comfortable with churning out the crappy first draft. But turning that imperfect lump into a chapter or essay that I might want to show someone else is daunting. My computer is littered with first drafts that I never went back to because I wasn’t sure what to do with them.
Who’s currently your favorite author? Right now I’m reading Toni Jensen’s Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land and loving it. It is beautiful, honest, and humorous in a sly way that makes me want to read it slowly to enjoy the stories.
Do you travel and visit the settings used in your work? My book is set in Bolivia during the two years I lived there in the late 1990s. But I did travel back to Bolivia in 2018 while I was writing the book. Bolivia is a stunningly beautiful country, and the trip helped me beef up the descriptions of the landscape and the people. During my return, I also paid attention to how Bolivians speak and revised some of the dialogue in an attempt to more accurately reflect conversations.
How long to get it published? I queried agents for over a year with no luck. Then Heyday Books, a small publisher in Berkeley, California, began accepting submissions after being closed for a while. They liked the book outline I sent and asked for the full manuscript. A few months later, they made an offer to publish the book. In total, I spent about 18 months trying to get the book published before finding Heyday. Then I spent another year and a half working closely with two editors revising the book.
How do you come up with character names? Naming the people in my book was a difficult issue for me because it is a true story. But I didn’t want anyone else who is part of the story to be easily identifiable. For this reason, I changed everyone’s name except my own. I even changed the name of the town. Bolivian newspapers were a great resource for finding realistic names because they are full of quotes by people listing their names.
Do you have subplots? The revision process helped me with the subplots. The editors I worked with pointed out ways that I could strengthen the subplots. For example, there’s a subplot about an important friendship I had with a volunteer from El Paso. In earlier drafts, the description of the friendship was primarily in one or two later chapters. My editors suggested I add scenes earlier in the book to develop those subplots more. They also helped me discover a few subplots that needed to be cut out entirely.
What kind of research do you do? People might think that writing memoirs doesn’t require any research because the author is writing about their life. And it is true that the eight blank journals I filled with my recollections while a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia were the first source of information for the book. But, in my case and that of most memoir writers I know, research was a critical part of the writing process. I read books and academic articles about Bolivia, the Peace Corps, and even about my own tribe, the Karuk. Not all of this research ended up in the book. Still, it helped me better understand the historical context I was writing about.
Looking in the future, what’s in store for you? An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir came out on April 6th, and I’ll be promoting that during the spring and summer. After that I will be finishing my next book, which details the years after the Peace Corps when I lived in Eastern Mississippi, broke and pregnant, teaching English at a chicken processing plant. The working title for that book is House, Mississippi, although my teenage daughter thinks I should call it Radioactive Chicken Baby.
Order Book: An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir
How do readers contact you?https://ursulapike.com/
I’m a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I’m taking a continuing education course entitled Indigenous Literature. In our last assignment, I read Linda Legarde Grover’s poem “Everything You Need to Know in Life You’ll Learn in Boarding school.” It hit me like a sledgehammer driving a spike into a railroad tie. After my comments, I’ve included Ms. Grover’s work in its original format and full length.
For most of my life, I knew little of my heritage other than there was German on my mother and father’s sides of the family. The little I knew of my indigenous heritage came from my father. He was born and raised in Siskiyou County before his father died. Twelve years old, he had to quit school and get a job. Dad was Indian on his mother’s side—he looked it—a member of the Karuk Tribe of California.
Applying for a job, the supervisor said, “Kid, you look like an Indian. Are you one? I don’t hire no Indians.” He responded that he was white. He got the job. He remained white and assimilated for several decades. If you think that’s bad, sad, whatever, his story was nothing compared to the U.S. and Canadian governments’ programs that forcibly removed indigenous children from their families and placed them in boarding schools.
The children’s hair was cut to white-man standards. They were beaten if they spoke their native language; English was the only language allowed. The boys were taught farming and the girls how to be domestic helpers. These schools were in existence from the 1880s through the 1930s—some vestige remained until 1978. An 1893 court ruling kept Indian children in boarding schools until 1978. With the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act, parents gained the right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools. The photos are of three indigenous boys before and after arrival at a boarding school.
These boarding schools—reeducation camps—were worse than the internment camps of World War II in the treatment of the confined.
Here’s what Army officer Richard Pratt, founder of the first federal Indian boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, said in a speech in 1892 when he summarized the government’s philosophy as “kill the Indian…save the man.”
The United States’ official policy was to eradicate Indigenous culture by forcibly separating Native children from their parents and making them white on the inside and easier to eliminate.
Everything You Need to Know in Life You’ll Learn at Boarding School
Speak English. Forget the language of your grandparents. It is
dead. Forget their teachings. They are ignorant and unGodly.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Indians are not clean. We will
teach you to be clean. You will never amount to anything. Stand in
line. You will practice proper hygiene. This is a toothbrush.
Hang it on the hook next to the others. Do not allow the bristles
to touch. This spreads the disease that you bring to school
from your families. Make your bed with mitered corners. A
bed not properly made will be torn apart. Start over. The boarding
school feeds and clothes you. Remember and be grateful.
Say grace before meals. In English. Don’t cry. Crying never
solved anything. Write home once every month. In English.
Tell your mother that you are doing very well. You’ll never
amount to anything. Answer when the teacher addresses you.
In English. We do not recommend visits to your family. If you
visit your family in the summer, report to the matron’s office
immediately upon your return. You will be allowed into the
dormitory after you have been sanitized and de-loused. Busy
hands are happy hands. Keep yourself occupied. You’ll never
amount to anything. Books are our friends. Reading is your key
to the world. In English. Forget the language of your grandparents.
It is dead. We forbid you to speak it. If you are heard
speaking it you will kneel on a navy bean for one hour. Don’t
cry. Crying never solved anything. We will ask if you have
learned your lesson. You will answer. In English. Spare the
rod and spoil the child. We will not spare the rod. We will
cut your hair. We will shame you. We will lock you in the
basement. Learn from that. Remember and be grateful.
Speak English. You’ll never amount to anything.
Linda LeGarde Grover is an Anishinaabe novelist and short story writer. An enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, she is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
For more information on the government death of a race by forced assimilation visit these URLs and watch the film Where the Spirit Lives
We have Beatrice Szymkowiak here to tell us about poetry.
Beatrice and I are alumni of the Institue of America Arts. We graduated with MFAs in 2017. Hers in poetry, mine in fiction writing.
My research includes environmental literature, Indigenous contemporary poetry, and translingual literature. I am also particularly interested in Caribbean literature.
I am currently working on my creative dissertation, entitled B/RDS, a poetry collection that questions the Western heuristic approach to nature, and that has for a starting point, the iconic Birds of America by John James Audubon.
Book title and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:
Red Zone (Finishing Line Press, 2018) explores the WWI environmentally ravaged landscapes of my childhood.
Praise for Red Zone;
“Before the shrapnel, before the night in hell on the way to hell, and after that night, too, we were: ‘naming the woods.’ RED ZONE does a lot of things, but it also draws our eyes to the risk of our own departure. Description, sure. Timing, of course. But cognition and argument also? Szymkowiak makes me want to read more.” Joan Naviyuk Kane
Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of several poetry collections: Milk Black Carbon, The Straits, The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, Milk Black Carbon, and forthcoming Dark Traffic. She is the recipient of multiple awards, fellowships, and prizes, including a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and an American Book Award.
“In a complex meditation on the destructiveness of war and the persistence of nature, poet Beatrice Szymkowiak explores France’s Zone Rouge, the area so devastated by war that people are still forbidden to enter, where things still blossom and explode. Where “crows burst” above the land of “unexploded explosives.” Where “slow soil & / shrapnel” yield to “a murmuration of starlings.” In the long poem “Fleury-Devant-Douaumont,” the page itself becomes the zone, mined & grenaded & shrapnelled by words, words that begin to merge, becoming neologisms of compost—”betweenroots,” “shrapnelspades,” “inboots.” In the end, despite human interventions, “yellow-bellied toads frogs salamanders / crested newts thrive” and “corpses tuber / into russets.” Szymkowiak has written a crucial book, especially critical as the entire globe quickly becomes a Red Zone.” Jon Davis
Jon Davis is the author of several poetry collections, including Improbable Creatures, Preliminary Report, Scrimmage of Appetite, and Dangerous Amusements. He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry and the Peter I.B. Lavan Prize from the Academy of American Poets.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do write poetry and non-fiction
Tell us about your writing process: My writing process varies following the projects. However, I often start a poem with a list of words, images, and an idea or a conceptual arch. Once I have a first draft, I revise until I feel that the poem does or evokes what I wanted it to do. Then I let it aside for a while and go back to it for additional revisions. This pause between two revision processes is necessary, as it creates a new perspective on the poem.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The very first word of a poem!
What kind of research do you do? As my poetry work often incorporates non-fiction, I do extensive research: reading essays, articles, historical documents, watching documentary films, etc.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I am interested in writing more non-fiction, and I have recently developed an interest in epic poems. But you never know what might come up!
How do our readers contact you?
My website: https://szymkow9.wixsite.com/bszymkowiak
Twitter account: @OhOldOcean
Buy your book?
I read to discover, to learn, and to be astonished.
Ed Miracle writes sociological science fiction. He lives with his wife in an adobe house they built together in Northern California. Ed is a university graduate who served six years in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service. Now retired from his computer systems career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Ed continues to support his community as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical responder.
My novel, Maker Messiah, begins when a fierce young man unveils a Trojan horse technology that empowers ordinary citizens to subvert the world’s power elites. All of them. Overnight. Are his 55 million Maker machines destroying civilization, or is he a secular messiah bent on lifting humankind out of our existential ruts? More than a tale of survival, Maker Messiah explores the motives, possibilities, and intensely personal outcomes that arise from one man’s quest for his perfect revenge.
It has come to my attention that many novels are not really – at least not very – novel. Even science fiction has turned dark and fearful, too often derivative or predictable. Where did our visions for a better world go? Maker Messiah is one answer that over 3,000 readers are now pondering. Check it out and add your reviews at http://www.amazon.com/dp/b07wzgnlbv (This story is not religious.)
Years ago, I joined Tri-Valley Writers Club, a local affiliate of California Writers Club, to find a critique group. Forming a sci-fi gang-of-two that expanded to four improved everything about my writing and added three good friends to my life. Not all critique groups are as happy as ours. Still, I recommend every writer regularly swap chapters or stories with other active scribblers. Unless you’re in a bar, then don’t.
I believe writing, as an unnatural act, should be indulged behind closed doors. If only to avoid getting caught with that cute little adverb on your lap. I can’t imagine delivering an unwritten, unpracticed speech, so I plan what I write. Not to limit the possibilities so much as to corral my impulses. If I need to get somewhere, it helps to see a destination with guideposts along the way, especially when detours pop up.
I re-wrote Maker Messiah from scratch five times, not counting multiple edits. I was so relieved to complete the first version, I hoped the product of my long labors would . . . work. Beta readers said it didn’t. I was disappointed, angry, determined to do better, so I got serious. I bought and read Everything About Writing. Basically, through draft after draft, I taught myself what worked and what worked better. A publisher read my third draft and suggested re-writing from a different character’s viewpoint, which I did in six months. “Sorry,” my crit group said, “It’s not that person’s story. It’s this other guy’s.” Back to square four. Moral: it ain’t good enough until it’s way better than good enough. Then push some more. If it’s not everything you’ve got, you’ll only cheat yourself.
Here are my essential writing guides:
- The 10% Solution, Self-editing for the Modern Writer by Ken Rand (My editing bible)
- Story Genius, How to Use Brain Science to Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
- Damn Fine Story, Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig
- Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas
- Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
- Writing Tools, 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark
- Deep Point of View by Marcy Kennedy
- Internal Dialog by Marcy Kennedy
Since publishing Maker Messiah, I’ve gathered a fistful of my smaller yarns, a mix of fiction and true events, between the covers of Short Stories with Long Tails. These include “Submarine Dreams,” my award-winning reply to the question, “What’s it like out there on a nuclear submarine?” http://www.amazon.com/dp/b0859r88ys
Finally, readers of this blog may contact me directly by email at email@example.com Flattery and supplication indicate good taste; insults are accepted only if they make me laugh.
This week, I revisited a few posts from bygone years. The oldest post was February 28, 2013. Here is what I wrote way back then:
Yesterday I glanced at the cover of a recent issue of AARP’s magazine. There on the cover was the “Hook.” Find the Work You Love!
Today is an anniversary of sorts. One year ago today, I was laid off from a great job. I have found work I love, writing, however so far sans pay. It would be nice to find a paying job.
I had to look at the article. Maybe this can help me find something that pays?
The article presents several senior citizens’ stories but is primarily about two women, Maz Rauber and Amy Reingold. The two write “juicy novels for young adults” under the pseudonym Ella Monroe.
They have an exciting and inspiring tale about the job they love. If you visit this URL, you can read the article and watch a video interview of the duo.
In the eight ensuing years, a lot of water has passed under the bridge (cliché alert). I accepted the reality of age discrimination and gave up looking for a new job, earned an MFA, and published my debut novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters.
The URL for the article no longer works. I did find a URL (https://us.macmillan.com/author/ellamonroe/) for Ella Monroe but did not locate the interview.
There were two comments left, one by my best friend Jim Kennemore, who passed away last year. I miss him every day.
The other by my youngest daughter, Katie Cramer Rosevear, who has been an inspiration to me. She is a successful businesswoman, give her a visit at http://www.lolaandivy.com
Watched the video…Interesting. So you want to collaborate on a book? Just kidding. You know I think if you are serious (and I believe you are), I think you ought to write and submit some short stories to different publications. The pay might be small, maybe nonexistent, but if you can get published, you begin a resume. I thought about submitting that D.C. story of mine to HOG magazine a few years ago, but it was way too long…anyway, good luck with it all…JAK
Katie Cramer Rosevear:
Happy one year of writing, Dad! Thank you for inspiring me every day! Xo
Her new romantic comedy mystery, Temporarily out of Luck is the third in the Hattie Cooks mysteries and follows Temporarily Employed and Temporarily Insane.
Here’s a bit from TOOL: Great job. What man? And murder. Newly employed at Wedding Wonderland, Hattie Cooks is learning the industry from a woman she greatly admires. When her former brother-in-law is found dead in his luxury SUV, all fingers point to Hattie’s sister, who is planning her own I Dos.
Detective Allan Wellborn is caught between a rock and a hard place—Hattie’s family and investigating the murder of a well-connected Sommerville resident, the same loser who was once married to Hattie’s sister. Determining who’s the bad guy—or gal—isn’t going to be easy and sure to piss off someone. Can Hattie beat the clock to find out who murdered Tracey’s ex before she is charged with the crime and her wedding is ruined?
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I start my day with an early workout, eat breakfast, shower, and am usually working at my desk by 9-ish. I get all the nuts and bolts out of the way, then move to writing. I like music in the background, like classical guitar, Simply Frank, 70’s. My two malt-poos plop on the couch but sit up when I move about in case they might miss something.
Who’s currently your favorite author? In my early mom years, I discovered Dick Francis and have followed on to Felix Francis, who I met last year at Bouchercon—a fun thrill for me. I like Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Jill Mansell, Carl Hiassen. And revisit Emilie Loring, Mary Stewart.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I tackled my mystery head-on and had a good draft in less than a year. I subbed to some contests and did well. I met my critique partner in my local RWA chapter, and we traded work. She changed my life with her six 800-word short stories for Woman’s World magazine. I got the rhythm and wrote my own shorts. Soon I was subbing stories and sold lots. I still like writing them and have indie pubbed several collections. After a while, I tackled my mystery with new eyes and was offered a contract.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Lordy, the things people say, what they wear, what they look like! These details make characters really come alive and not be paper dolls. My sons live in fear they might do something and end up in my book (and yes, they have. LOL.).
What is the best book you ever read? I’ve only read two books and then instantly reread them—A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux and Come to Grief by Dick Francis. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is up there. In eighth grade, my English teacher assigned our class to read a book and give an oral book report. I was terrified! However, I managed, and afterward, the teacher told me I could have read a more challenging book. I asked my friend what she read. She said, “Rebecca.” That book pushed me into reading more adult books, specifically Agatha Christie.
A little bit about Vicki: Funny, sweet, and quirky, Vicki Batman’s stories are full of her hallmark humor, romance and will delight all readers. She has sold many award-winning, and bestselling romantic comedy works to magazines and, most recently, three humorous romantic mysteries. An avid Jazzerciser. Handbag lover. Mahjong player. Yoga practitioner. Movie fan. Book devourer. Cat fancier. Best Mom Ever. And adores Handsome Hubby.
Find Vicki Batman at:
Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/vickibatman/