Where did you grow up?
I grew up in rural and suburban Minnesota. Even though there are aspects of Minnesota culture that I don’t like, such as “Minnesota Nice” which generally translates as passive aggressive behavior and leads at least some folks to feel like they never really know what is going on when encountering it, I have a deep love for the area. I moved away as a young adult, but I moved back to Minnesota ten years later because of my connection with the land and for the genuine kindness that does exist here despite this Minnesota Nice business. I am part American Indian, and it would be pretty difficult to follow those ways if I lived elsewhere. I have lived in four states other than Minnesota as an adult, and I always felt like I was not home. I always felt pulled back to Minnesota.
Why you are uniquely qualified to write this book?
Nickels is a work of fiction; it is not my life. However, I did set the story in two places I have lived: Minnesota and Madison, Wisconsin. The character, Little Miss So And So, who eventually grows into Miss So And So, does some things I have done, such as play sports. We are also both lesbians and survivors of sexual violence. However, this is her story and other than those rather broad similarities her life is not my life. Another qualification I have regarding writing a book like Nickels is that I have heard many stories of sexual assault from those assaulted over the past twenty years, and wisps of those stories are woven throughout Nickels.
Why did you write this book?
First, I wanted to tell a good story. I have heard a lot of people say that all the stories have been told and I always thought, are you kidding me? I know many stories that haven’t been told and so I endeavored to write one. Someone also once said to me, about Sapphire’s Push, that it was the best portrayal of dissociation they have ever read. I agreed. However, I decided I wanted to write about dissociation in a much more immediate and centrally focused way than it appears in Push—one of my favorite books. Another reason I wrote Nickels is that lesbian life is not portrayed much in literature and the little bit that is written about very rarely deals with homophobia and sexual violence, which are often inseparable, or with these under-the-radar poor and working class lesbian and queer communities that exist all over our country.
What do you think readers will get out of it?
A good story, no matter who you are or what you have experienced, along with a new or perhaps deeper understanding of surviving trauma, particularly incest, and how the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, class, and biracial identity can be both burdensome as well as sources of great strength, belonging, and love. Despite suffering years of abuse and humiliation and isolation, Little Miss So And So frees herself by accepting herself and that’s an awfully good template for all of us.
Another thing I think readers will find intriguing is the protagonist’s voice, created to most immediately and authentically convey the protagonist’s point-of-view, including a rich inner world she creates to live through her parents’ denial of her physical sovereignty, her developing personhood.
And lastly, I want readers to consider “girlhood” differently than it is typically portrayed. What does it mean that we continuously discredit, sexualize, and put down girls (she throws like a girl, screams like a girl and so on) when one third of those considered to be the epitome of weakness in our society are surviving sexual violence by family members and others close to them? Little Miss So And So is an example of how a girl is severely harmed by these things, and she is an example of the resistance and resiliency of girls, and by extension, the capability of the human spirit to withstand what we like to call “unspeakable” and “unimaginable”. Little Miss So And So has to speak in order to recover her life, and the only way healing will occur is if there is someone there to listen.
What will you do next in your life?
Currently I am finishing a memoir and co-authoring a major research project about sexual violence against Native American women in Minnesota. I have another novel, Carnival Lights, which I hope to finish editing. It’s an historical novel set in Minnesota in the 1960s and very different from Nickels. I also teach writing at a university and a community college, so I’m quite busy during the school year grading papers in a variety of Minneapolis coffee houses.