Indigenous Heritage in Horror Month: Interview with Andrea L. Rogers
Andrea L. Rogers is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but currently attends The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where she is a doctoral student in English. Andrea graduated with an MFA from the Institute for American Indian Arts. Andrea has three wonderful children. She taught Art and HS English in public schools for 14 years. Her work includes essays, picture books, middle grade stories and one comic. So far. “Hellhound in No Man’s Land,” is in A Howl: An Indigenous Anthology of Wolves, Werewolves, and Rougarou. Her piece was illustrated by Jordanna George. Her first book, Mary and the Trail of Tears was historical fiction which is pretty much horror for Native people. It was on both the NPR Best of 2020 list and American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Her critically acclaimed YA Horror book, Man Made Monsters, was released by Levine Querido in October 2022. It was illustrated by Jeff Edwards and won the Walter Award and several other accolades. Her next YA novel, a Cherokee futurism, The Art Thieves, will be out in May 2024. Her picture book about Southeastern tribes and wild onion dinners (the opposite of horror) is called When We Gather, and will be out in May. When We Gather is illustrated by Madie Goodnight (Chickasaw) another picture book, Chooch Helped, will, also, be out next year and is illustrated by Rebecca Kunz (Cherokee).
What inspired you to start writing?
I always loved stories. Mom probably got tired of reading to me all the time–I mean she had her own stack of books on the nightstand–so she bought a set of cassette tapes of kid’s versions of Bible stories and my little sister and I taught ourselves to read before kindergarten from those. But we also fell asleep listening to those stories-Old Testament justice stuff. Maybe that’s why I write horror.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you in?
I loved scary stories as a kid. They were unpredictable but inevitable when they were done well. And unforgettable. The stakes were high and the fear of the unknown transcends time. I read that one lesson in horror is that bad things happen to good people. I’m Indian. I didn’t need horror to teach me that. The horror I like best, the balance is reset by the end, the bad people–well, bad things happen to them, too.
Do you make a conscious effort to include indigenous characters and themes in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
It would take a conscious effort to remove indigenous characters from my work, specifically Cherokee. I’m Cherokee, my kids are Cherokee, my cultural community and Nation is Cherokee. Without them, how would I speak? However, a famous Native writer once said if there are no alcoholics in your Native story, it’s not realistic. And that’s crap. We aren’t defined by trauma or poverty any more than anyone else. There are a whole lot of non-native people in twelve-step meetings, and plenty more who should be there. There are valuable people and beautiful things in Native communities. I wanted to make sure that Native people, especially women and kids got to read about that.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
One thing writing horror has taught me is it is the absolute best and healthiest way for me to process grief and fear and that when I share that experience I find out I’m not really alone. I’m in conversation with people who have lost and fear loss and want the world to be different.
How do you feel the indigenous community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
The horror writers I love write with an eye towards respecting other humans, meaning they consider how their stories depict human beings different from them, rather than treating us as those “Other people” who they don’t bother writing for. I used to expect microaggressions, slurs, appropriation, misuse/disrespectful use, inaccurate use of Native beliefs, history, and culture (Wendigo anyone?) and Native people used simply as props or victims or information dumps that said, “oh, hey, this is true and scary.” When that stuff happens in more recent work, now, I’m unhappily shocked. Once I recognized the racism, fatphobia, homophobia, and misogyny, I kind of gave up on horror. I didn’t need to go to fiction for that. For a long time, as a reader and a writer, I didn’t consider horror a safe space.
Another thing that is changing is there are more books that are age-appropriate in the horror genre. Unfortunately, when you have people banning books by anyone brown or gay, readers will suffer and it will be hard for those writers to justify spending the time and energy to write a book they expect to be banned and not even picked up for publication. It is having a chilling effect already. Book banning is everyone’s problem.
What are some indigenous horror writers you recommend our audience check out?
Jessica John’s novel Bad Cree, Shane Hawk’s Anoka, anything by Stephen Graham Jones, horror or not, Waubgeshig Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow and the next one I need to read myself. It’s kind of an Indigenous Futurism, too, and we don’t have a lot of that out there, yet. Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God kind of fits in that category. And for me, her book The Sentence was a too real horror story. Cherie Dimaline plays in this playground, too. Eden Robinson’s work is phenomenal and pretty scary at times. Devon Mihesuah’s Dance of the Returned was great. In YA, Cynthia Leitich Smith has a new one out called Harvest House, every kid who likes horror should get it for a gift.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror writers today?
Ignore trends. Write the book you need to write right now.
What about for Indigenous writers?
Don’t pander to people who want to know our secrets or are too lazy to read non-fiction to learn about us. Take your time getting the work right. A well written book may take a while but it’s worth more than a fast mediocre book.