Throwback Thursday: Christine Day’s Path to Publication & I Can Make This Promise

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.

Author Christine Day, photo credit: Jessica Wood

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.