Congratulations to Christine Day on the upcoming publication of We Still Belong, cover art by Madelyn Goodnight (Chickasaw)(Heartdrum, August 1, 2023). It’s Christine’s third middle grade novel with Heartdrum. In a recent starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it “A rich, captivating story that will resonate with readers.” From the promotional copy:
Wesley is proud of the poem she wrote for Indigenous Peoples’ Day—but the reaction from a teacher makes her wonder if expressing herself is important enough. And due to the specific tribal laws of her family’s Nation, Wesley is unable to enroll in the Upper Skagit tribe and is left feeling “not Native enough.” Through the course of the novel, with the help of her family and friends, she comes to embrace her own place within the Native community.
Take a look back at Christine’s first Cynsations post, a 2019 interview with Kim Rogers about her debut novel, I Can Make This Promise (HarperCollins, 2019).
Native Voices: Christine Day on I Can Make This Promise
By Kim Rogers
I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Day (Upper Skagit) for Cynsations. Her debut middle grade novel, I Can Make This Promise cover art by Michaela Goade (Tlingit)(HarperCollins 2019, Heartdrum 2020 paperback), was inspired by her own family history and tells the story of twelve-year-old old Edie who discovers her family secrets and finds her own Native American identity.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing I Can Make This Promise to life?
Even though this book is marketed as #ownvoices, the Native representation was a challenge. I think the stakes felt higher for me, because Native narratives are given so little space in children’s-YA literature.
It was important to convey the tension in intergenerational stories, the importance of family and community connections in young Native lives, and the specific histories and geographies outlined in this story. These are real places and real people.
This book is fictional, but it speaks to various truths in our society. I wanted that to be very clear, to both Native and non-Native readers.
Also, before I found my Dream Team, it was hard to break through to agents and editors. At one point in my journey, someone asked if I would be willing to rewrite the entire story from Edie’s mother’s perspective, set in the 1970s or 1980s, because they believed that would improve the “stakes” of the book. They thought that Edie was too far removed from the “action” that was happening in Native lives and communities, historically. And while this is valid advice, I knew right away we weren’t a good fit.
I declined the opportunity to follow through with that revise and resubmit. Because I’m not writing historical fiction here. And I’m not interested in any version of I Can Make This Promise that doesn’t include Edie, because to me, she is the heart of the novel. This story uniquely belongs to her. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But with I Can Make This Promise, we are also talking about hope. We are also talking about finding and mending broken relationships. We are also talking about returning to homelands and identities that have been stripped from us. This is why Edie’s perspective is so significant.
What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?
Be gentle with yourself. It takes serious mental and emotional athleticism to bring a book into the world.
Publishing is a long and arduous process, and there will be days when you feel like everything is working against you. There will also be days when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re meant to be, doing the work you’re meant to do. You will be brought to tears in unexpected and inconvenient moments. You will feel extremely vulnerable. It’s all inevitable.
So please, take care of yourself through the highs and lows. You need to let yourself breathe. You need to learn when to walk away. And you need to remember that you and your literary art are two separate entities.
How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?
I no longer swear on social media.
To be clear: I’m not in the “Keep YA Clean” camp, by any stretch of the imagination. I have absolutely nothing against children’s-YA writers swearing. And I mean, obviously, I’m writing books that address the ripple effects of intergenerational trauma and cultural genocide, which is about as far away from “clean” content as you can get. So maybe it seems a little silly that swearing is where I personally draw the line.
But for me, it feels important right now, because I think there are enough adults in this world who treat their social media profiles as private journals, or personal outlets for “locker-room talk.” And it must make issues like cyberbullying and casual racism so much harder to tackle in our schools. Which is why I generally choose to refrain.
Each time I post something online, I pause and ask myself if I would say this same thing in front of an elementary or middle school assembly. Because that’s who my real audience is. That’s who I’m here for. So that’s how I try to conduct myself, especially since my public profiles are one way for educators to get a sense of who I am, and what to expect from me if they invite me into their school environments.
Also, in terms of marketing and promotion, I’ve learned to thrive outside of my comfort zone. I think most people in my life view me as a generally modest and quiet person. I can also be very private, about certain things.
But as an author, it’s important to be open with yourself and your work. If you want people to be aware of your signings and events, you need to post about them with some regularity. You need to be willing to introduce yourself to new people, and to keep performing and sharing the same stories, over and over.
I can see why some writers burn out, or why they might prefer a more anonymous approach to developing a public persona. But it’s absolutely been worth it for me because I love connecting with kids and readers. Writing can be such an isolating journey, and it feels good to step out in front of people, from time to time.
Christine Day is a citizen of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe. Her first novel, I Can Make This Promise, was a best book of the year from NPR, as well as a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, and an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book. Her second novel, The Sea in Winter, was a Top 10 Indie Kids’ Next selection, a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Book Award, and an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book. She also wrote She Persisted: Maria Tallchief, a biography in Chelsea Clinton’s book series about inspirational women. Her next book, We Still Belong, is coming to shelves in Summer 2023. Christine lives with her family in the rainy and resplendent Pacific Northwest.
Her work is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
Kim Rogers writes books, short stories, and poems for young readers. Her debut picture book, Just Like Grandma, illustrated by Julie Flett, was recently published; A Letter for Bob, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, is planned for summer 2023; and I Am Osage: How Clarence Tinker became the First Native American Major General, illustrated by Bobby Von Martin comes out in winter of 2024, all with HarperCollins/Heartdrum. She is a contributor to Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (HarperCollins/Heartdrum, 2021). The cover, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt, was inspired by Jessie, the protagonist in her short story, “Flying Together.” Her poem, “What is a Powwow” is also included.
Kim is an enrolled member of Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and is a member of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Much of her current writing highlights her Wichita heritage. She lives with her family on her tribe’s ancestral homelands in Oklahoma.