Andrea L. Rogers grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She got a bachelors in English and a minor in art at the University of Tulsa. She graduated from the MFA program at the Institute for American Indian Arts in creative writing, fiction. She currently splits time between Fort Worth, Texas, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she is working on a Ph.D. in English. While teaching art at an all-girls public school in Fort Worth, she wrote Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story, published by Capstone in 2020. Her short stories have been published in Transmotion, Kweli Journal, Yellow Medicine Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and Waxwing. Her essay “My Oklahoma History” is included in You Too? 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories, a YA anthology. Her short story “The Ballad of Maggie Wilson” is included in Ancestor Approved, an anthology of Native writers published by Heartdrum Press/HC in February 2020.
1. Mary and the Trail Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survivor Story Part of The Girls Survive series byStone Arch books, an imprint of Capstone.
2. “My Oklahoma History”in You Too? from Inkheart Press.
3. “The Ballad of Maggie Wilson” in Ancestor Approved, an intercultural Powwow collection from Hearttdrum/Harper Collins. Forthcoming, also from Heartdrum, the picture book, When We Gather.
What inspired you to write this piece? Are there any writers or works that have influenced the way that you write?
AR: When I was a kid, there was an accident that damaged my lens and it had to be removed. Various people have since asked if I could get a lens replacement. That surgery is possible now, but my eye doctor told me my brain wouldn’t be able to recognize the images. I’ve wondered, though, if it might work, would I do it? I have no depth perception, so I see the world a little differently from most people. I see a very flat world. If I could, suddenly, see in three dimensions would it be overwhelming? What if I didn’t like the new way I had to see the world? What if I was no longer good at photography? From there my writer brain takes over and says, what if a new lens made me see dead people? What if it had a secret chip in it that could be hacked? This story is, also, very much an homage to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, which totally freaked me out when I saw it in a movie theater (more than once) in 1999. The ghosts startle you, but it’s the mom poisoning her own children that keeps me up at night.
There are so many writers I admire. In fiction, it would be Stephen Graham Jones, Victor LaValle, Darcie Little Badger, Louise Erdrich, Shirley Jackson, Sharma Shields, Cherie Dimaline, Tommy Orange, Kelli Jo Ford, and Brandon Hobson. These are all writers who, when they have new work out, I drop everything and read their stuff. Little Badger’s short story, “The Whale Bone Parrot” is a work I go back to again and again. It really impacted what I was trying to do in Man Made Monsters (is this a work in progress?????) in a big way. For that matter, Jones’s Mongrels and LaValle’s The Changeling and The Ballad of Black Tom–when I read those I was like, finally, someone has done what I keep trying to do.
Doing my MFA at the Institute for American Indian Arts influenced my craft more than anything. I met Toni Jensen there and many discussions with her have shaped my work. Tommy Orange was my thesis reader, and he is a great teacher and amazing reader. I went to IAIA planning to rewrite a YA novel, but all these strange paranormal stories began to surface, and Manuel Gonzales told me to follow my heart. So Man Made Monsters was born.
In nonfiction, Terese Mailhot (Seabird Island Band) and my friend Ruby Murray (Osage) are people I check in with for advice.
MR:“Lens” approaches experimental science and medical trauma in Indigenous communities by way of the supernatural. What has your experience been incorporating ancestral and historical trauma into fiction? Have you ever felt limited by the genre?
AR: I hope people understand that Black and Indigenous people have been experimented on in hospitals in the past. Currently, they are, often, not given lifesaving drugs and treatments and not listened to when they express health concerns. The Healthcare system in this country and Canada kills us. Literally. The real scary thing is the people killing us may not even be “evil” in the classical sense of the word, but they feel they’re just doing their job.
The only limitation that I see, in fiction, might be that some readers may not believe or even know what happened in the past to Native people, and I don’t mean two hundred years ago, I mean to our parents and grandparents. This stuff is recent and people cope however they cope. My grandfather’s aunts and uncles were on The Trail of Tears. I’m grateful for my rich Cherokee cultural inheritance, but the traumatic lived life of my ancestors is, also, braided into my DNA.
MR: As the story continues, the narrator discovers their newfound “double vision” that allows them to see others’ true—and disturbing—intentions. Why did you choose the eye as the central image of this piece? What is the symbolism behind the lens and its forced intrusion?
AR: I love the variety of meanings for the words “lens” and “see.” I taught art for a while, and when you look at color theory and light and how it changes people’s perceptions of things—I think that’s a really useful metaphor to keep in mind while writing. If you want people to really hear what you have to say, you have to figure out what to show them.
MR: The narrator encounters three ghosts in the hospital room—two young girls, Bea and Kitty, and an unnamed older man. What drew you to these three characters in particular? What was your writing process like while developing them?
AR: The two girls were probably influenced by The Sixth Sense, though, when I was writing it there had been stories in the news about a nurse who may have killed up to sixty children in San Antonio hospitals. That terrified me. As for the soldier, my dad and all his brothers enlisted in some branch of the military. I remember a photo of my uncle who was sent to Vietnam. He came back, but obviously, that was hard on all those guys. Visually, I picture my Uncle Roy. But my father had acne when he was in the air force and my mom said, they kind of experimented on him with treatments; sanded his skin, caused a lot of scarring. Those stories were definitely in my head when I wrote this story.
MR: Did you write “Lens” specifically for this issue of Massachusetts Review or was it a piece that you were previously working on?
AR: I wrote this story in a creepy basement in New Jersey the night before I was going to talk to an agent about my story collection, Man Made Monsters. My collection had supernatural monsters and aliens, but I didn’t really have a ghost story. I’d had the idea for a while, so when I sat down to type it up, it came pretty quickly. I really wanted this piece out in the world in the best possible way. I was lucky to be able to submit it to The Massachusetts Review. I was super excited, especially about this issue, because I got to have my piece next to friends and writers I admire. I also assumed that the audience would have the range to see what I was doing. That maybe some of them understood what it’s like to wait all day at IHS or get sub-par medical care. This was exactly where I wanted this piece.
MR: How has the length of this piece shifted from its initial to final draft?
AR: This was one of those rare stories that just kind of flowed. I wrote it and put it away for a bit. When I went back to polish up the manuscript, I ran it by two people in my Native critique group to make sure it made sense. I tinkered with it some, because nothing is ever perfect or finished, but sometimes you just want to get more eyes on a story, so you have to stop.
MR: What influenced your decision to make the conclusion of this piece suspenseful?
AR: I think life is suspenseful. We’re all just waiting to see how everything is going to turn out.
1. Homepage for the Cherokee Nation.
2. Homepage for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
3. Homepage for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
4. Moving Forward: Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust Between American Indians and Researchers: This article lists only a few examples of involuntary and unethical treatment and research on Native Americans in the health care industry.
5. The Remarkable and Complex Legacy of Native American Military Service (American Indian servicemen).
6. Trailer for The Sixth Sense.
7. What Parts of the Eye Can Be Transplanted?: Information about cornea transplants.
8. I recommend Twitter account @AelleRogers1 for adult fiction recommendations.
9. And my account, @AndreaLRogers, offers suggestions for kidlit on Twitter and Instagram.