Stories directly related to VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing program

Community Enrichment Class for May

As we wind down the semester, we come to our final Community Enrichment Class. “Magic And Tech: Elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy”  taught by MFA candidates Molly (MK) Martin and Dexter Loken. I interviewed the two of them recently and wow, was it fun. I’m glad I recorded our Zoom meeting, though. With the two of them “riffing off each other” at lightning speed, there was no way I was going to get it all down in my notebook, much less decipher my chicken scratch after the fact. I will make a valiant attempt, however, to tell you who they are and what they will teach.

Let me start by introducing them.

Molly MK Martin

Molly was born and raised in Minnesota, but the world travel bug hit her early: she spent a year of high school as an exchange student in Paraguay. As an adult she joined the Army and was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, which led to a government job stateside. She lived in Eugene, Oregon for a bit, where she got a degree in Linguistics from U of O.

She and her family moved to North Carolina, and then, through a state program to lure remote workers to this state, ended up here in Vermont. One thing about living in Vermont, though: she missed her writer friends. They had been plentiful in Eugene. In looking to find fellow scrivener souls she stumbled across VCFA and realized that the Writing & Publishing program would be a perfect fit. We are lucky to have her! (You can read more about Molly, including her publications, on the poster at the bottom of the page.)

Dexter Loken

Dex is a California boy with nomadic genes. He served in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and has traveled extensively, so far visiting and/or living in 23 countries. The certificate in publishing drew him to VCFA. He then decided to stay for the long haul and get his MFA. As far as writing goes, he finds himself writing short form Creative Non-Fiction, but his true calling is long form Speculative Fiction. He says—and this is true of Molly as well—that his ideas are simply too big for short stories.

He’s been “stuck” in California since Covid started, but at least he has his black lab mix to keep him company!

The Class

This class is about the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction. It is a how-to class for the writing of magic and science.

There’s a lot more telling in speculative fiction, because, as Dexter says, it needs it. You’re building an entire world, unlike, say, most literary fiction which takes place in a world very much like our own. But, on the other hand, you don’t want to give too much exposition. You don’t want the dreaded info-dump. So how do you write a world that is convincing without too much telling? According to these two fine writers you have to know the backstory of your world. You have to know what makes your world tick.

But—and here’s the kicker—you don’t necessarily have to write everything you know about this world. If you know, and stick to, the rules of your world, readers will get it. There’s a caveat there, however: The world of your story doesn’t necessarily have to follow the rules of our world, BUT, once you have established the rules, you must stick to them.

In other words, if gravity doesn’t exist in your world on page twenty-three, or time moves differently on page fifty-five, then gravity and time must behave the same on page three-hundred-and-two. Otherwise, according to Molly—and I concur—you’ll “piss-off your readers.”

And Then

The two will also go into some of the misconceptions about speculative fiction.  Molly brought up the idea that speculative fiction is formulaic. She says (and do I even have to tell you that I concur?) that what some see as formulas are actually scaffolding upon which a good story is built. Rather than constrain a story, it supports the story. It allows it to be bigger—and better—than it could’ve been otherwise.

For his part, Dex wants to get into the misconception that writers write speculative fiction because it is somehow “easier” than other genres. He says (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you know that I concur) that speculative fiction is just as difficult to write as other genres. Each genre has its challenges, and spec-fic is not wanting in that regard.

So, go to this, our last community enrichment class. You’re sure to have a blast, and your writing will improve as well! Tickets and information here.

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Community Enrichment Class for April

I’ve begun the last couple of months with an interview of the MFA candidate set to teach that month’s Community Enrichment Class. This month, however, I’m teaching the class, and let’s face it, even though April is the fool’s month, it would be pretty silly to interview myself.

Nah! Too silly even for me!

So, rather than interview myself, I’ll just give you an idea of my background, my literary loves, and what inspired me to create my community enrichment class, entitled Leaving Europe Behind: Writing (Indigenous) Urban Fantasy for the Americas. Info Here

Who Am I? Part I

I’m an old broad with a young heart. No really. What keeps me that way is that I’ve wanted to be old since I was, well, young. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s, the daughter of an Anglo dad and an American Indian mother. (I’m enrolled in the Delaware Indian Tribe of Oklahoma, though I also have Wyandotte and Creek forebears.) My father’s family didn’t arrive here from England and Scotland until the last years of the 1880’s. I know, I’m diving in deep here, but my heritage matters when it comes to the class.

Knowing who I was growing up was a whole lot easier on the Anglo side. A lot of Anglo-Saxons, Celts, etc. made their way to these shores. White people from the British Isles were everywhere. The Indian heritage was a bit harder to come to know: my mom always told my brother and I “You are an Indian, and don’t you forget it!” I was proud of being Native, but I never really knew what that meant. Movie Westerns were the closest thing I had as a kid to learning what Indians were like—I didn’t meet another Native that wasn’t part of my extended family until I was in my mid-twenties—but let’s face it, we all know how those movies were at fair representation.

Who Am I? Part II

By the time I was twenty I had begun making a life at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. I graduated from Fashion School and opened a costuming business, making and selling period garb faire to faire. I also built my booths, utilizing the carpentry skill that I learned from my dad, a professional cabinetmaker. Needless to say, I was totally besotted by all things English/Scottish/Irish, from Celtic music, to English Punk, to Faerie Stories, myths, and tales.

That lasted a good thirty years, but eventually I needed a change. The life was hard work, and the economy was getting worse and worse for the self-employed. By chance I began writing again, something I hadn’t done since I started my business. I found my passion once more and decided to go back to school.

I had been reading Native American authors for a couple of decades, since I saw the movie Smoke Signals, written by Sherman Alexie. Being back in college gave me access to American Indian Studies classes. I was finally trying to figure out what “being an Indian” actually meant. I dreamed of teaching San Francisco State’s American Indian Literature class, co-run by the AIS and Creative Writing Programs. (Originally, I’d wanted to take the class but—while it was still in the catalog for both departments—it wasn’t being taught.) I also dreamed (and still do) of teaching Creative Writing and Native Lit. at tribal colleges. I ended up  utilizing Independent Studies classes here at VCFA to earn myself an unofficial minor in American Indian Literature.

Who Am I? Part III

I had a zinger of a realization a year or so ago: I realized that in the first part of my adult & career life I was following my dad’s path. We were both makers, building things, out of wood, and cloth, and various asundry things. It was about the visual, and it was about precision, and we were both very good at what we did. I was also concentrating on my English/Scottish/Irish heritage, through the Faire and all the literature I really, really, really loved. Arthurian Tales to Neil Gaiman, with scads of others in between.

When I began to devote myself to writing, however, I was following my mom’s path: she had been an English teacher, before she moved with her widowed mother and brothers and sister from Oklahoma to California. She had also been a writer, or at least she had wanted to be, but taking care of her mother, being the breadwinner, and then marrying and having kids wiped that dream away. We’re talking the mid-1940s through the 1960s, give or take, so that was pretty typical in those days. It’s too bad, though. From what I’ve read of her work, she was pretty good.

I had also left the Anglo-centric world of the Renaissance Faire and turned my attention to Indian studies, my mom’s heritage.

Pretty woo-woo cool, huh?

The Class

The idea for this class arose from that zinger. The melding of my two heritages together, to make a NEW cohesive whole. Not only in myself, but also in the words I love to read. When I discovered there were faeries in native literature, I was so excited. I began to study these “little people” as many tribes call them. Then I thought about how I could utilize these beings in urban fantasy, which is one of my favorite sub-genres. “What if American Gods actually had some American gods in it?” I thought. “What if Anansi had been Iktomi?”

I’ve been tinkering with how to make this idea work. It’s a good one, I think, honoring the mythical beings that come from this continent’s soil. Giving them back their place in this land—well, no, not really in the land, they are of it. But perhaps we can give them a place in our hearts. I’m enjoying this so much, and I’ll happily share the fun in class: First, we’ll read work of three of the masters of urban fantasy (de Lint, Gaiman, Jemison) to give students a feel for the genre. Then we’ll look at the legends and folktales of Jo-gah-oh, Puk-Wudjies, Wematagunis, and many more. After that, let the games begin. Literally. We will play prompt & write games and create stories of these beings interacting with our contemporary world. I can’t wait to see how my students interpret what I teach them. It will be a great afternoon!

For more information click here.

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Community Enrichment Classes

Later this month MFA graduate Valentyn Smith will teach the second Spring 2021 enrichment class, Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction .

Valentyn Smith

Valentyn  is a transplant to Vermont from Brooklyn. She came here originally for our residential program in Writing & Publishing, but found that the low-residency model was a better fit. She earned her MFA in Writing, but came back to W & P for the Certificate in Publishing. Valentyn also works in the library here on campus.

My fellow classmate told me that writing was  with her from an early age. As a quiet child, writing was how Valentyn communicated. I’m sure many of us can relate to that sentiment (I know I can!) She remembers having “story movies” in her head, and that continues to this day.

Her family came to the U.S. from Russia seeking political asylum, and she was greatly influenced in art as in life by her mother and grandfather. Valentyn’s mother, a Ukrainian/Russian Jew, was a fine artist and student of Art History, who learned to speak English by reading children’s books to her young daughter. Her grandfather, on the other hand, believed in speaking up, which could have gotten him killed back in the Soviet Union. He imparted that kind of bravery through words to his granddaughter.

Valentyn had her own version of “the Dark Ages” as far as her art goes, and writing stopped being  important in her life.  However, in college she had her own personal “Renaissance”  and communicating again with the written word made her feel like she was coming home! (this is another sentiment that I am certain that other writers can relate to. It seems like so many of us—myself included—have come back to writing.)

One of the most compelling things about her writing is its connection to Russian folklore.  She didn’t grow up hearing these stories.  Her move to Vermont brought her to the type of tales that have become a motif of her work: Missing her family caused her to study writings from and about their homeland. Russian tales, anthropological texts, oral storytelling traditions and the myths of landscape, full of nature spirits  and fantastical elements. She started using the strong, evocative sense of place in these stories to examine her upbringing in New York City. (This has worked well for her. I’ve had just two classes with her, so I’ve only been privy to a tiny bit of her work. But let me tell you, my response has been “MAN! That girl can WRITE!)

The Class

Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction

Valentyn hopes that students of this class will fall in love with setting, and learn to see it not just as place, but also as an extension of character. She wants them to consider our—and our character’s—relationship to the environment and realize that setting is living, breathing, and can even be considered an entity, both in our lives, but also in our writing. Especially in our writing.

In this class a combination of close reading and generative exercises will help students understand the evocative importance of setting. Students will learn—in both reading and writing—to ask “Why this setting?” and  “Why this journey?” She wants to teach them, she says, to “carve out the why.”

Transporting the reader is the goal here. When she reads she tries to figure out what does the trick in this regard. She wants to teach her students how to pick out and impart tone, mood and style. They will leave the class with a sense of the difference between these elements. Participants will learn to “follow the smoke to the fire,” to discern what casts the spell that “opens the portal to a raw place.” Finally, they’ll learn how to cast that spell in their own writing.

That just gives me goosebumps! It sounds like a great class from a gifted writer and teacher. Go forth and learn, you Padawan scribes!

You can get more information or buy tickets to the class here.

Also, see the poster below:

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Reminder: Friday Night Reading Series

 

Just a reminder that We have our next in a series of readings this Friday night. Join us via Zoom and ENJOY!

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Congratulations to Alumnx Lizzy Fox

Congratulations to our own Lizzy Fox on the release of her book of poetry Red List Blue,  just published by Finishing Line Press. I “attended” the online reading and book launch party last Friday, sponsored by Bear Pond Books and the Hubbard Library. I’d previously heard Lizzy read a poem or two at VCFA readings, but on this night she read several that I hadn’t heard. I very much enjoyed them.

Lizzy is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program here at VCFA, and was the Assistant Director of the Writing & Publishing program until July of 2020. We love and miss her. She’s a bright and shining light who was ready to show each of us the way. If we ever had a question, the answer was always “Ask Lizzy.” But we are so proud of her for following her goals and moving on when she needed to. She left to attend the Teacher Apprenticeship Program at Champlain College where she will earn her Vermont teaching license and go on to teach high school English. The best of success in this endeavor, Lizzy!

And now she has a book out!

This is not a typical book of poetry. Lizzy came out of the slam poetry scene and sound is so important to her work. Her poetry resonates strongly with me and this is probably why. (I was a street poet in San Francisco in the 80s, and that scene melded into the slam scene.) I LOVE poetry that’s meant to be read OUT LOUD! Lizzy told us that before she began her MFA program she wasn’t very interested in how poetry looked on the page. But—despite still being concerned about the sound—she has come to appreciate carefully planning a poem’s look.

She began the reading with “Empty/Full” a poem about love and cold, which closes with these lines:

“Have you seen how the light bends off the ice these days?

The way snow becomes the sun? How empty the trees,

always reaching, never in want?”

Lovely lines, aren’t they?

Lizzy read several poems that night, and even when she thought she’d read the last one, Valentine’s Day, people asked for more: “Read Beryl,” they asked. “Read A minute to seven.” So, of course, she did.

Lizzy’s poetry–or at least what she read that night–seem to be invariably about love, but all kinds of love: not necessarily romantic love, but…that too. Even the poems that are serious have a light air to them, like pixies dancing in a field. I had thought I’d lost my taste for poetry, but Lizzy may just have revived it. I will leave you with my favorite lines of the night, from the poem Blue:

” …she was a painter too–my grandmother.

She dyed her hair red and used yellow washes to make

the canvas brighter. She talked about the black hole

in her brain that ate memories. Later I learned

it was martinis. I’m beginning to notice a pattern.

The sky on a sunny day but not on a cloudy one. Sapphires

except not all of them. Did you know that sapphires

come in every color except red? Red sapphires are called rubies.”

 

Get the book/Find Out About Future Readings

You can order Red List Blue here.

Lizzy will be reading Friday night at the Writing & Publishing Reading Series (here) along with current Assistant Director Shin Yu Pai, visiting faculty Tim Horvath, and visiting writer Prageeta Sharma.

You can find out about Lizzy’s other readings here.

 

 

 

 

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Community Enrichment Classes

For several years now the Writing & Publishing program here at VCFA has offered Community Enrichment Classes. These classes allow the college to interact with the community, and give our MFA students important chances to teach. In the past we’ve had  craft class about our character’s inner lives, as well as poetry and memoir craft classes. This winter and spring we will hold four Saturday classes taught by current students: The Personal Essay: Introspection in the Time of Covid, taught by Hassan AJ; Spell of the Evocative: Setting in Fiction, taught by Valentyn Smith; Leaving Europe Behind: Writing (Indigenous) Urban Fantasy for the Americas, taught by yours truly; and Magic & Tech: Elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy, taught by Dexter Loken and M.K. Martin.

Hassan AJ

A self described nomad, Hassan AJ is an international student in his second year at VCFA. Five or six years ago he was a pre-med student secretly taking online writing classes. He was lured away from medicine when he fell in love with language itself, from the sentence level on. (In other words, from the micro–to the macro) He’s fascinated by the ability to “assemble language on the page to make the world less abstract and more tangible.”

Hassan has concentrated on historical fiction in his time at VCFA, writing a novel based on his family’s ancestral story. However, 2020 has made him look closer to home: introspection has become the name of the game. As he puts it “personal essay and solitude go hand in hand, and what is quarantine but forced solitude?” He also feels that personal essay has a therapeutic component to it that he–and society–needs after a year of Covid.

In other words, this is a timely class for us all after the year we’ve had!

The Class

“In solitude, a mask comes off that allows the personal essayist to look back at the past and extract a truth about the human condition. For centuries, the personal essay’s goal has been to make the bitter awareness of the reality of our existence ‘appetizing and even amusing’” (that last bit is a quote from Lopate, but the rest is pure Hassan).

Three essays will be discussed in the class:

The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this essay, Fitzgerald, like us, is in solitude. His life is on pause.  He uses that pause to find his own disillusionment in life. Fitzgerald “teaches us that facing the past, with all the demons of the present, can help us unmask the self, and understand our follies.”

Goodbye to All That, by Joan Didion

Didion uses this essay, written in Los Angeles, to “make sense of the disenchantment in her life” by viewing her past in New York City through the lens of space and time, seeking to understand what went wrong.

Street Haunting, by Virginia Wolfe

In this essay Wolfe takes an opposite tack from Fitzgerald and Didion, by concentrating not on isolation and introspection, but on her escape from such–and from herself–as she wanders the streets of London where “she has her grip tight on the enchanted life.”

“Hassan will use these three pieces to show how personal essay can help us interrogate our lives and our own inherent disenchantment, or the compulsion to cling to life’s enchantment.”

What enchantment or disenchantment might you need to concentrate on after a year of solitude and confinement? Hassan’s class may just point you in the right direction. The class is on February 27th between 1-4pm est. all classes are online. You can register here.

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Finally, Finally, Finally

2020 is finally over. It’s been a tough year, between quarantining, masking, and having all of our classes on Zoom. (Zoom fatigue is real!) But it’s finally over and 2021 has begun. Classes start this week, second years are ensconced in their rooms working on their theses, and, to make it all even better, we got our first real dump of snow. Winter is here (finally) along with the new semester. We may have had a brown Christmas, and a dry New Year, but now we are in the midst of Vermont’s winter wonderland. I couldn’t be happier, as I stare out my dorm room window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Faculty and Module choices

Our first module offers classes that are of a theme, in a way. Not novel writing, or poetry, or even CNF, but Screenwriting and Playwriting, taught by returning faculty Tim Kirkman and Amahl Khouri.

Tim Kirkman

Writer/Director Tim Kirkman is an Emmy, Gotham, GLAAD and Independent Spirit Award nominee. He has produced a documentary and directed three feature films. His course will teach VCFA students the basics of writing screenplays. By the end of the module each student will have written a 3 to 6 pages for a 3-5 minute short film.

 

 Amahl Khouri

Berlin Based Amahl Khouri is a queer transgender Jordanian documentary playwright and play producer. He’s the author of several plays including She He Me and No Matter Where I Go and part of the Climate Change Theater Action. His course on playwriting is entitled Inside Looking Out: Monodrama/Autobiography that Finds the Self Elsewhere. Students will generate material towards their own personal monodrama. (a one person play about oneself, along the lines of Fleabag and Latin History for Morons.) It sounds like an exciting class, and I can say from experience that Amahl is an engaging teacher as well as a sweetheart.

Spring 2021 Reading Series

Tim and Amahl will be with us for the first in our reading series on February 5th, along with Felicia Rose Chavez and poet Evie Shockley. Chavez is an award-winning educator and author of The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom.  Shockley is the author of the new black  and semiautomatic, winners of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. semiautomatic was a finalist for the Pulitzer and LA Times Book Prizes.

Please join us!

 

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Upcoming Community Enrichment Class

Hello all! I hope your Thanksgiving holiday went well, Covid-19 restrictions notwithstanding. It’s been quiet here in the dorms, though we have gotten to share a bit of turkey, stuffing and pie. Post turkey-day classes have begun again, and we are now into the fifth and final module of the semester.

First-years are finishing their final weeks of Forms and Publishing & Fieldwork, which produces our fine literary magazine, Hunger Mountain. Second-years have turned in their thesis proposals and the first drafts of their critical essays, which are both important precursors to our final semester, when we Write. That. Novel! (Or memoir, or collection of essays, poems or short stories.) I can’t speak for my fellow second-years, but I am both excited and daunted…with the needle thankfully pointed more towards excited. Whew!

In the meantime, we have another Community Enrichment Course coming up on Saturday, December 12.  Led by first-year student Jonathan Calloway, Inner and Outer Weather will look at character development. You can buy a ticket or find more information here. Please join us!

 

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Reading Series Friday 11/20

 

We will host another edition of our Friday Night Reading Series this Friday, November 20th, Featuring our own delightful Miciah Bay Gault, author of Goodnight Stranger, and teacher extraordinaire (if you have the chance, take her module “Sentence Clinic.” You’ll learn the grammar you always wished you knew, discover the joy of diagramming sentences, and get down one on one with your own work at the sentence level. She’ll also help you remember how to see, hear and feel what’s around you.)

Shawn Wong, author of Homebase and American Knees will also read.

Finally, we have an extra added bonus: Folio Agents Sonali Chanchani, Rachel Ekstrom, and Katherine Odom-Tomchin will join us with a panel and Q & A to answer all your questions about the publishing industry. Join us!

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David Weiden at VCFA

Program Awesomeness

 

One of the best things about The Writing & Publishing program here at VCFA is the amazing visiting writers that come to speak and to teach modules. David Heska Wanbli Weiden is just such a person.

Although he started his MFA right here at VCFA, he completed it at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He also holds a law degree and a PhD. He’s a Tin House Scholar, a MacDowell Fellow, and a PEN/America Writing for Justice Fellow.

David is the author of Spotted Tale, a children’s book that tells the story of the Lakota leader of the same name. This book was awarded the 2020 Spur Award by the Western Writers of America. He’s been published in the New York TimesShenandoahYellow Medicine Review, TransmotionCriminal Class ReviewTribal College Journal and many more.

David’s known mostly for writing crime fiction, so it makes sense that the module he taught was called “Techniques in Genre Literature.” The overarching theme of the class was that the borders between genre and literary fiction are fading, and that many genre techniques can be used to make any writing better. As an example, he taught us an outlining technique that comes from screenwriting. To say it’s the best outlining technique I’ve learned would be an understatement. It is, in fact, the only outlining technique I’ve been taught in my six years as a Creative Writing major. (I thought that would’ve come in my first creative writing class, but no.) He also taught techniques such as “varying your beginnings throughout your novel”, “ending a chapter on a cliffhanger, but use cliffhangers sparingly”, and “the best villains are a dark mirror of the protagonist.” These are techniques that work!

Winter Counts

Weiden’s debut novel Winter Counts dropped in late August and is a New York Times Book Review’s Editor’s choice. Publisher’s Weekly has named it one of the Best Books of 2020. It’s gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Denver Post, USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, Air Mail, Crime Time, Mystery Scene, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, among others. During our craft module with David it was announced that Winter Counts is the BuzzFeed Book Club’s November pick.

Plot Summary

In the opening scene Virgil Wounded Horse lays in wait for a teacher, Guv Yellowhawk, from the reservation school. When Yellowhawk, emerges from the local tavern, Virgil pounces and pounds, leaving the teacher bloody and bruised, with several broken bones. This might lead us to believe that Virgil is the villain and Yellowhawk  a poor hapless victim. We’d be wrong. Yellowhawk has raped one of his students, a 9 year-old girl.

Virgil is the reservation’s enforcer, and he has waived his fee for this job.

Soon Virgil is offered another job that he’s not sure he wants to take. Heroin has been showing up on the Rez, and people are dying. Tribal Councilman, Ben Short Bear, wants Virgil to go after a member of the tribe he suspects of bringing in the drugs. The suspect turns out to be Rick Crow, Virgil’s nemesis from high school. Crow was a bully, a full blood who never let Virgil forget he was Iyeska, a half breed. While it would be satisfying for Virgil to bring Crow to justice–and the money is great–something just doesn’t feel right, so he turns down the job.

Then Virgil’s nephew overdoses on heroin, causing him to change his mind.

Winter Counts has what it takes to keep mystery and crime fiction lovers happy: twists and turns, dead-ends, the reddest of red herrings and an ending that will have readers slapping their foreheads, while still leaving them satisfied.

But Winter Counts is more than a crime novel.

This is a story about identity and belonging and finding one’s way and place in the world. The book shows Rez life without any of the usual overblown stereotypes. Heska Wanbli Weiden knows this world intimately. As an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe, it’s the world he grew up in, the Rosebud Indian Reservation of South Dakota.

On NDN-ness

I ate this novel up. I am enrolled Delaware of Oklahoma, who’s never even been on a reservation. My tribe doesn’t live on one, and,  frankly, I was raised in Los Angeles. I never met an NDN who wasn’t part of my immediate family until my mid-twenties. To read about life among a tribe was fascinating to me, especially without stereotypes.

There was so much I could relate to, from the music, (early 80s punk rock to 90s metal)(and how much did I love the pun of including Siouxsie and the Banshees in this list? Especially when we readers learn that Sioux is not an indigenous name but is what French trappers called these tribal people during the Westward Expansion. And that it means “snake.”) to the way white people see us natives; to the way we are told to speak about our own “Indian-ness.” (“I believe they like to be called Native American,” says the white, dreadlocked doctor at the pot-shop to Virgil and his girlfriend Marie.) (This had me cackling in my dorm room. That exact thing has been said to me, and just about every NDN I know!)

But then, of course, the novel told of aspects of being indigenous that I know very little about. The spirituality, elders with advice, going to the spirits to gain guidance and direction. And, just plain old life on the Rez, which tends towards poverty and despair. This novel is gritty, and real, with the plight of poverty and crime as stark and powerfully portrayed as the traditions and spirituality. Winter Counts is  about reconciling past with present and paving the way for the future.

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