Five questions for Andrea L. Rogers

The eighteen interconnected short horror stories in Man Made Monsters (Levine Querido, 12 years and up) by Andrea L. Rogers (Cherokee), illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Cherokee), follow a family forced from their ancestral lands through generations spanning two centuries, from 1839 to 2039.

1. What inspired you to combine fantastical horror with real-life horrors?

Andrea L. Rogers: When I read fiction, I pick up random information about the world and history. Native people have often been stock characters in horror, portrayed in stereotypical ways, existing in made-up scenarios which may or may not have their facts straight about the Native people whose land is the setting for these stories. There is not a lot of horror (or contemporary fiction) out there being told through a Native lens. There certainly wasn’t when I was a kid. There were scary stories and movies that I was able to get lost in, but the main characters didn’t look like me or my family. As a teacher, when I tried to find books by Native people to give my high school students in our Native Education program and, later, my daughters, I couldn’t find them. I knew that for a long time. At some point I sat down to write, and these are the stories that sprang to life. They were fun to write. They were set in my world, so they couldn’t exist without the real-life horrors that have been visited upon Native people. We didn’t ask for these things to happen. They don’t define us as tribal nations, but they do impact our lives. I wanted to tell stories where we were the final people, where we do survive.

2. Did you write these interconnected stories in order, or did you have a different process?

ALR: I jump all over when I write, even when a story or manuscript seems linear. I see scenes and stories in my head like a film, so sometimes I have an opening or an ending that really moves me.

With this collection, I had written about twelve stories while getting my MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and I had also written two earlier stories. I printed them and organized them chronologically to see which generations had stories that were missing. Where I found gaps, I had family history and Cherokee history that inspired me. Once I had at least one story per generation, I had to decide if chronologically was the best way to organize the book. I tried a few different ways of rearranging things: by themes, backwards, by seasons. In the end, this method of interconnecting them made the most sense. You meet the characters when they’re younger and, sometimes, you get to see how things turned out for them and theirs.

3. What was it like for you seeing the art?

ALR: I was a fan of Jeff Edwards’s work before I knew I was a fan of Jeff Edwards. He had pieces at the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, as do Cherokee artists from all over the country. In the meantime, I met him when I went to pick up language materials at Cherokee Nation. The second time I met him, I realized I had just bought some prints that he made. They were smart, funny, and cool looking. I sent him my book and he agreed to give it a shot. He read the whole collection, then went back and read each story before making the art. Jeff understood the stories. What spoke to him made it into his work. I never dreamed it would be this beautiful. I aimed for the stars by asking him to illustrate, but I got the moon.

4. How did you care for yourself in the writing of these difficult stories?

ALR: Is crying self-care? Maybe. I let myself mourn my characters, but I also feel joy when things work out. Writing these stories maybe is a form of self-care. Honestly, it’s reading nonfiction and news about Native and Indigenous people that’s more difficult. Reading a paper about Columbus’s treatment of the little girls in Hispaniola? That’s the stuff that gets me. I’m writing new stories about Native girls being the “final” girls.

5. “The rest of my life is on me.” Do you find this idea (from the end of your book) empowering? Unsettling? Neither or both?

ALR: I hadn’t thought about that. I think it is both, but mostly I wanted it to be empowering. Trauma sucks. But if you don’t deal with it, might you traumatize others? That’s what vampires do, yeah? Even if you do deal with it, you may hurt other people. I think that’s why monsters such as Mary Shelley’s monster resonate with me. He didn’t ask for that. It’s only through his grief that he sees what his life choices lost him. But better choices weren’t really available to him because of all he had been denied. None of his needs were being met. Native people didn’t ask for this, either. But we’re still here. Native cultures and communities exist. Many native languages are based in a worldview that can restore some balance to people and the planet. On the best days, my life, future me, is my responsibility. For me it is empowering. For me, it’s a mantra.

Photo: Hiba Tahir. From the October 2022 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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