It’s my pleasure today to welcome Rose Christo, author of my favorite new series, Gives Light, to Crunchings & Munchings!
I reviewed the first book in the series on Monday, and am really excited to get the answers to some burning questions about Gives Light, music, and cheese. Welcome, Rose!
REBECCA: Skylar’s muteness seems central to his relationships with people (who knows sign language, who can understand his facial expressions, and who treats him like he’s a child, etc.). He’s our narrator, so we know what he’s thinking, but were there challenges in writing Skylar’s character? Particularly in his interactions with others?
ROSE CHRISTO: I think the narrator being mute came naturally. When I was a kid I had problems with selective mutism, so I know what it feels like to want desperately to communicate with the people around you but to be unable to. Since the narrator couldn’t talk, it gave other characters the opportunity to project onto him. There’s also the fact that you have to choose to believe him when he tells you what he feels instead of relying on his dialogue. He’s had time to reflect on events, and he filters things out.
REBECCA: Skylar and Rafael’s relationship is so magical—complicated and effortless at the same time. A topic that comes up on Crunchings & Munchings all the time is how notoriously difficult first loves can be. Do you see Gives Light (the book and/or the series) as a love story?
ROSE CHRISTO: I love love. I love family. Family trumps romance every time but I think when you really love someone they become your family anyway. I guess it’s a love story, but at the same time it’s really about two boys who lost core parts of their families in the same tragedy but find them again in each other.
REBECCA: History looms large in Gives Light, both Shoshone history and characters’ personal histories. The rich, vivid detail with which you render daily life and joy on the reservation feels so present, though. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship between history and presence in the book?
ROSE CHRISTO: Oh, thank you. I think it’s easy to forget that America isn’t even 300 years old yet; her “history” was just a few generations ago. It was my grandpa’s grandpa who escaped the Bear River Massacre. My grandpa, Kookum’s second husband, he was born in the Saline Valley, which California snatched illegally in the 1950s and only returned to the Panamint Shoshone in increments long after he’d passed away. He died without getting to see his home again. The kids in the story are Plains Shoshone, but the issues are the same, and ongoing. History isn’t just the past. Everything that happens today is a chain reaction put in motion by the generations before us; everything we do today creates the world the next generation has to live in. Does that make any sense?
REBECCA: It absolutely makes sense. The present we live in is always also someone else’s future and someone else’s past, and they’re inextricable.
Although YA lit is bringing us more diversity all the time, Native characters and settings still aren’t common bookstore fare. What are your thoughts about the state of Native representation in YA lit? What do you think is important that we see in the future? Do you have any favorites that you might recommend to interested readers?
ROSE CHRISTO: One thing I think is really bad about Native characters in YA, or in any medium, is that they’re almost always used in this poverty porn kind of way. There’s this belief that we’re particularly abject and destitute but like any community we have our goods and our bads. 11% of us are unemployed; but that means 89% of us aren’t. 22% of us live in poverty, and that’s by no means a happy number; but if you think for a moment, that means almost 80% of us are doing pretty well. Where’s that 80% in our media representation? Why do we constantly see the worst case scenario? We’re good and we’re bad, we’re rich and we’re poor, we’re smart and we’re stupid. Our community’s one of the fastest growing communities in America right now. I’d definitely like to see more visibility, as well as more parity.
Zitkala Sa (Lakota) is my favorite NDN author. Not only was she the first Native American novelist but she also penned the first American opera back in 1910 (The Sun Dance). Check her out, I think you’ll fall in love.
REBECCA: Similarly, what about queer YA lit? Skylar and Rafael move from friendship to romance without facing too much hostility on the reservation, and Gives Light is important, I think, in talking about the ways in which culture/ethnicity and queerness inform one another. What are your thoughts about the state of queer representation in YA lit? What do you think is important that we see in the future? Do you have any favorites that you might recommend to interested readers?
ROSE CHRISTO: This one time I went to a bookstore in my college town and immediately I noticed two things. First was that the queer lit was shoved all the way in the back of the store, in the dusty section no one looked at twice. Second was that almost every book I picked up in that section had some really sad plotline: kid gets bullied, kid gets disowned, kid gets AIDS, kid internalizes homophobia . . . These are very real issues. But I want LGBT folks to be able to read books about themselves where they aren’t reviled, but cherished, adored. Show me a queer couple whose biggest problem is that they can’t stand one another’s furniture. Show me a queer couple whose computer has been hacked! Not because they’re queer, but because one of them’s a politician! Or a secret agent! In an ideal society you shouldn’t be treated differently just because of who you’re in love with. Maybe you like monster trucks and you also like a guy named Steve. I don’t see how they intersect at all, unless Steve happens to be a whiner baby who won’t let you go to the rallies on Sundays. Literature follows changing attitudes. I guess I think that if we’re going to make the kind of society we want to live in, literature is a good place to start.
The first LGBT-themed book I ever read was Carmilla. God, it’s just the darkest, most beautiful story written on paper. I can’t believe J. Sheridan Le Fanu got away with it in his time.
REBECCA: Rafael’s particular and strong tastes delighted me. Do you share his love of drawing, tattoos, or power metal? (I have a sneaking suspicion that you do, because your Goodreads bio says “I used to have all my favorite metal bands listed here until I realized nobody cared about them. Then, I cried.” Well, I care about them (and am a fan myself) and would love to know!
ROSE CHRISTO: Rafael’s the son I wish I had. I don’t like art, tattoos creep me out, fairy tales are stupid, but metal? Folk metal! Why’d you get me started on metal? Eluveitie and Moonsorrow are the best but there’s also Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Suidakra . . . Aztra are those five kids who show up at political protests with molotovs, Haggard is if every classical genius in history ditched the harpsichords to play death metal, Panopticon are a great folk/black metal band from Kentucky. “Bodies Under the Falls” gives me chills every damn time, you can practically feel the wailing of the empty ghosts echoing in your veins. Speaking of black metal, CoF wasn’t always so corny, Dusk & Her Embrace is an auditory masterpiece, pure, lyrical evil. At Sixes and Sevens, another masterpiece, Atlantis in your headphones.
You know Lacuna Coil? [R: Yes, love them!] I wrote to Andrea as a kid, when I was going through a messed up time and needed some guidance from an adult. He wrote back to me. Not just once, but several times. And he was in Italy, and he was on tour. I will never forget what he did for me. I will never not love metal. I don’t know what a Goodreads bio is but I guess they got that right.
REBECCA: I’m so glad I asked (and so charmed to know that about Andrea from Lacuna Coil)! So, can you tell us a little bit about what your experience with self-publishing has been? How did you choose to go that route, etc.
ROSE CHRISTO: Writing is fun, but I never treated it seriously until my best friend asked if I could write him some stories where gay characters get to be heroes. This relates back to [the above discussion of queer lit], I think—he was at this dark place and he just wanted to see himself portrayed as normal for once, instead of this perpetual pariah. I started writing for him and at some point, I can’t remember when, he told me to publish the titles for kicks. Everything I write is with him in mind. If he likes it, it’s a keeper. If he doesn’t, it never sees the light of day.
REBECCA: I have a theory that everyone has at least one hidden talent, no matter how random or seemingly useless. Will you tell us yours?
ROSE CHRISTO: Ha! I’m really good at physics. I was going to be a physicist until I thought, “That’s not going to help my community.” If you show me a picture of a nebula I can probably identify it. I have favorite nebulae and that’s really nerdy. Uh, I got second place in the National Latin Exam a few years back, so if you ever find a time machine please call me. I make good tea? But I hate tea. Yuck.
REBECCA: What is your favorite food or drink to make while writing?
ROSE CHRISTO: My dad’s family are mostly Plains Cree from Box Elder but my mom’s side were all Irish Travelers, so this leads to really weird combo dishes, like pumpkin spice frybread with hot cabbage sodmay. The last time I cooked sodmay while I was writing the tomatoes came out pitch black. I still need to replace the smoke detector. Two of them, actually. Damn.
REBECCA: Mmmm, pumpkin spice frybread sounds amazing! Finally: cheese is very important to Tessa and me, so we’ve got to know: what is you favorite cheese?
ROSE CHRISTO: Commod cheese. There was this tribal building on the Fort Hall rez that handed out giant blocks of commod cheese to the families that fell on hard times. Even if I were fabulously wealthy I think I’d be buying that stuff in bulk. Melt it and put it on frybread and you’ve got yourself a five star meal. I wish I could give you some right now.
REBECCA: Oh my god, I wish you could too. Rose, thanks so much for being willing to chat about Gives Light! I loved the series so much and I’m so excited to get to spread the word.
ROSE CHRISTO: Thank you very much for reading my stories. That’s amazing to me, and it’s really humbling.
Check out Rose Christo’s entire Gives Light series. I promise you will be wowed!