Tuesday, December 31, 2013



I love visiting with students who are reading my book; the energy, questions, and stories exchanged on both sides is exhilarating and inspirational.  However, as a professor myself, I realize there is little time in the academic calendar for scheduling an author visit, not to mention all the expenses (airfare, hotel, meals, honorarium) involved.  So, I've adopted a grand idea:  If you are teaching Bad Indians and would like to schedule a Skype visit with me, and if you can arrange a nominal honorarium, now's the time to get your date on my calendar. To get a plan started, email me at and I'll get back to you promptly.

In October, I skyped with David Carlson's class at Cal State University, San Bernadino.  We had a fabulous time!


Decide what kind of Skype visit you want: Q &A?  Writing workshop? Discussion of a particular piece from Bad Indians (or another book)?  Part reading from my work, part Q&A?  Let me know the general course curriculum ahead of time, too, so that I have time to plan what will work best for your particular focus.  For example, if you are coming from Women and Gender Studies perspective, I'll choose different material than if you are coming from a Creative Writing perspective.

Given your current group of students and classroom situation, think about where you will position the monitor where the students will see me; try to keep me at their eye level.  During Q&A, think about having someone responsible for turning the monitor/camera eye toward the student speaking, so I can see that student - or, have students with questions walk up to a particular spot within my range.

Visiting with a "talking head" can be impersonal on both sides; I love having your students introduce themselves to me before they ask a question.  Just a quick, "Hi, I'm Jessica" is fine, but more is great if they feel like letting me know their background or fields of interest.

Ahead of time, give the students my blog URL and encourage them to explore past posts, my bio, tribal website, and so on.  I think it helps them feel a little less shy and may help generate questions and conversation.


One hour Skype visit to a university classroom:  $300.

One hour Skype visit to your book group:  $150

One hour Skype visit to a Native community college, university or high school: free (seeing Native faces makes my day!)

One hour Skype visit to a high school:  free (but I do love thank-you notes, or copies of any interesting projects like a video book promo, a performance of a poem or story)!


For your scheduling plans, please know that I am definitely not available during these times January through April 4 (there are, of course, the usual committee and department meetings, office hours and conferencing to work around, but these are the absolutely inflexible times - please keep in mind that I am in Virginia, and on east coast time):

M and W, 2:30-3:55
T and TH, 10:10 - 2:50

So as we approach the New Year, I'll make my toast to technology, and how it allows us to meet, talk, question, and exchange ideas despite obstacles of distance, time and funding.  Looking forward to hearing from you, and thank you again for the warm, loving support of my work.


Monday, October 14, 2013

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus came to massacre you" (or, Why Storytelling is Still Important, and learning to Analyze stories is even MORE important)

--> What?!
It’s tempting to post and re-post all the wonderful anti-Columbus memes going around the internet today.  Columbus with a big bloody “X” scrawled across his face.  Cartoon Indians on the shore watching the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria looming on the horizon, saying to each other, “They better have their documents! No illegal immigrants here!” and so on.

But when I walked in to my office this morning, all I could see was this poster.

I found it in a local antique shop years ago, but never had the guts to hang it in my office until this year (maybe being a full professor has something to do with that).  After all, I teach first years; what would they think, walking into Professor Miranda’s office for the first time and seeing a full-blown massacre of whites by savage Indians?  Any chance of them taking Native Lit with me somewhere down the line would probably go straight down the tubes, I figured.

Now, I’m not so sure.  I’m not so sure first years would run screaming from the room (no one has yet, but more on that later), and I’m not so sure I don’t want to have a conversation with any of my students about this incredible poster.

For one thing, most students never seem to actually catch on that a massacre is happening at all.  They see the Holy Fathers rising beneath the IHS starburst (first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus Christ, which the Latin Church has traditionally rendered IHS as Iesus Hominum Salvator) surrounded by blond-haired, blue-eyed angels, and seem strangely comforted.  


True, the “massacre” (and by now I hope you realize I’m using this word sarcastically) is at the bottom of the frame, and much darker, both in coloring and in tone.  Easy to miss, to mistake as just foundational mass, nothing important.

If my students looked more closely, they would see these images:

A wooded settlement out in the wilderness.  Log cabins.  A beautiful lake.  And angry, nearly-naked, tomahawk-or-club wielding Indians cracking Catholic priests’ skulls open, burning one priest at the stake (with a handy iron kettle nearby, presumably to make Priest Stew afterwards).  Across the lake, more Indians set fire to what looks like a primitive church, with another Priest standing outside, arms outstretched, beseeching heavenly intervention.

Funny how we are in the fifth week of the semester and not one of my students, first year or otherwise, has noticed the juxtaposition of these two scenes, or at least, never commented on them.  Maybe my students are more concerned about the difference between a skeleton outline and a rough draft.  Maybe they think, Professor Miranda is REALLY religious!  Maybe sitting next to this poster, framed on my office wall, makes absolutely no impression on them at all.  Yet these same students comment on other artwork in the office – a student broadside of “Ironing After Midnight,” a Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow poster, the photo of Robert Latham Owens, first (and only) Native to graduate from Washington and Lee (Valedictorian, 1877; Law Degree, 1908), my collection of chapbooks and handmade books and so on.  Even the actual steel shovel with Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging,” hand-lettered on it by a creative student, which is tucked away in relative obscurity, gets an appreciative nod now and then.

Why not this picture?

I warn my students that if they aren’t uncomfortable or disturbed by the materials we cover in my class, I’m not doing my job.  In fact, it is my job to bring this material to their attention, help them engage with it, learn how to read it in multiple ways, and figure out the significance of both the material and their discomfort.  Over the past 13 years I’ve been teaching at universities, student evaluations have raked me over the coals for this, but they have also thanked me.  At this point, the “thanks” are beginning to weigh in a little more.  I must be getting better about being, as one student accused me, “A Native American Feminist!”

Oh, besmirch my name!  I love it!

So on Columbus Day, I am looking at this poster with new eyes.  I am trying to see why the righteous resistance of Native peoples to colonial and religious invasion is so hard to take.  I am trying to see why fighting back against a terrorism that was grounded in greed, racism and fear is so damn hard for people to recognize as resistance, rather than “massacre” by “savages.” 

Surely, the way 2/3rds of the poster is taken up by the priests being elevated to sainthood – all that light and glory, angels and rays of heavenly beneficence – has something to do with this unusual blockage of vision.  Whoever painted this poster – and I don’t know the origins or artist – knew what they were doing.  They were telling a story we all know by heart.  In short, the poster is meant to serve as a visual metaphor: the colonizers as goodness, rising above the savages even when the savages seem most likely to resist, and crushing that resistance with the sheer weight of a story told over and over again in the dominant voice, using all of the power gained by believing in that story, no matter how false.  No matter how self-serving.

The poster tells a story full of heroics, sacrifice, and lies.  My job is to point out the holes in this story.  Starting with this one:  resistance to terrorism is not a massacre.  Innocence is not always represented by the guy in the white hat - or, in this case, the halo.  And anger is not always a bad response to injustice. 

Once again this year, I will post anti-Columbus memes on my FaceBook page.  Once again, I’ll lose “friends” or get comments like “get OVER it already!” from people who consider themselves otherwise sane human beings. 

I’ll deal with it all.  Just more “microaggressions” to fuel my Bad Indian engine.

But this year, I’m going to look over at the poster next to my desk, and smile.  They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I say, resistance is in the voice of the storyteller.  

Hello, my name is Deborah Miranda.  I'm not just a storyteller.  Counter-narrative is my game, and if you send your children to the university where I teach, they will not emerge unscathed.  Beware.  Critical thinking happens here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013



L to R:  Andy Smith, me, Dian's book, Dian Million, Jennifer Denetdale after Dian's book panel at Critical Ethnic Studies Association conference in Chicago, 2013

Hard to say goodbye to friends at the Critical Ethnic Studies Conference here in Chicago, but good to be heading home. 

So much to process.  So much work to do.  So many good human beings out there doing it!

Throughout the last few days, I have talked to many people who are teaching Bad Indians right now, all over the country. 


Did I just write that?  yes, I did.  People are teaching  Bad Indians in universities around this country, and in Canada. 

Pause again, while the skeletons in museums get up and dance.

Hearing from these professors, what they see happening in the book on both literary and theoretical levels, responses from students, is heartening, exciting.  I’m so proud of those Ancestors whose stories are being told, whose actions and words are changing colonial mythologies and re-writing histories and taking root in a new generation.  Thank you, colleagues, for trusting this book to be included in your classrooms.

And along with the news from classrooms, something that I did not anticipate: the problematics of being an Indian professor who has survived violence but now must teach about it.  Teaching the book is often a trigger, particularly for women.

Of course it is.  But I could not see this until Jennifer Denetdale brought it to my attention.  I had completely denied this possible and quite reasonable reaction in all of my imaginings about Bad Indians in the world.

I worried about critics.  I worried about student reaction to having their knowledge about history and the U.S. Government being mercilessly challenged.  I worried about family responses.  I worried about Catholic Natives for whom the book might seem sacrilegious or disrespectful.  But curiously (especially as a Native woman who has survived violence and sexual violation), it never crossed my mind to worry about something that now seems obvious: It is hard enough for Native professors to claim authority in the classroom, for many reasons; who wants, on top of that, to feel vulnerable and fragile, in front of one's students? to cry in front of them, or to get angry?

And yet, as Jennifer repeatedly told me, the book must be taught.

In many conversations over the past few days, my colleagues and I faced this dilemma head on, with an honesty and passion and frustration that I can only appreciate and thank them for giving me.  We’ve decided to talk more about it, via email, and perhaps plan a pedagogy panel about teaching texts in which violence (especially against women and children) is portrayed and demands an intimacy from us in order to be discussed with students. 

There is, it seems, something about Bad Indians that brings old memories to the surface in a way that violence portrayed in fiction or even autobiographical poetry does not, particularly for Indian women.  I am still sitting with this knowledge and information, and it will take a long time for me to unpack my own feelings about this.  My initial response was horror.  And shock.  And forehead-smacking:  my own response to trauma has always been to internalize it, compartmentalize it into writing, where I am in control, where I decide what gets said or unsaid, written or unwritten – or at least, I can pretend I control that (as I’ve said before, writers often have no idea what we are unleashing from our depths until the words are already out there - and sometimes, this is a way of protecting ourselves from even more trauma).  I honestly feel horrified that I have “done” this to my colleagues, to the dear and brilliant Indian women teaching this book.  What kind of person would do that? 

Here I am, caught between being an author, and a loving community member.

But the book had to be written, and those stories had to be told, and as my colleagues at CESA have told me, they want to teach them.  They just feel unprepared for the way it hits them in the middle of the gut, in the middle of the classroom.

We need to talk about this.  And we did, and we will continue that conversation via email and phone and skype.  We have thrown some ideas around: a panel about the pedagogical aspects of teaching about violence that hits home.  Sharing techniques.  How to teach our truths brilliantly and yet not forget self-care.  How, as Dian Million says her new book Therapeutic Nations which we celebrated at the conference, not to get trapped in “the place where Indigenous women are posed as the abject victimized subjects of our present neoliberal states.”  How to walk into our classrooms in our Indian bodies claiming our experiences fully, and teach the truth about violence in our communities without being swallowed up by grief or casting a false, pathetic image of what survival looks like. 

This is a fierce charge.

I think I’m glad that Bad Indians is a good place to start this conversation. That little hesitation in my voice exists because it seems, in some ways, a frightening place to be, to have positioned myself.  And yet, as always, I am sure about the ways the Ancestors are guiding me.  I feel sure that I am feeling my way along this path in ways that, as I said during our panel on Sovereign Erotics, are reaching toward balance and away from fear.  It’s a felt knowledge, as Million says: something not always honored by others as real knowledge.

My first task is to finish reading Therapeutic Nations.  And then, I am certain, entering into a conversation with other Native professors and scholars that will change and clarify and re-charge how we do what it is we do.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Dug this postcard out of my office mess as I unpack from yet another move.  Calamity Jane spent all of last year on my bulletin board next to my desk.  It's time she got back on that train and headed out for a stiff drink and a few dancing girls!

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Deceptively simple:  one poem, on one postcard, mailed to one person per day for the month of August: THE AUGUST POSTCARD POETRY FESTIVAL.

Yep, I'm already two days behind.  It's my first time, okay?!

So here are the first three postcards/poems for August 1, 2 and 3.  Although I typed and taped the poems to the postcard (handwritten is supposedly the pure form), and that's technically a cheat, I DID in fact compose them each in under five minutes and they are what they are (until someday I go back and either revise or put them out of their misery).

Obviously, I need to up my postcard collection FAST.  I mean, I had to fall back on Painted Cats and Smithsonian Indians!  'nuff said.  I also blurred out the recipient's names/addresses.  Although the list is public, they might not appreciate over-publication of their mailing addresses.

Stay tuned for my daily postcard.  If you really love me, send some unique (unused) postcards my way.  Perhaps you'll see them here, with poem attached!






Sunday, June 16, 2013


When I was a kid growing up in a trailer park in rural Western Washington State, some of the best days were when my step-dad made a dump run.  Cedar View Trailer Park didn’t provide garbage pick-up, so we took our trash to the dump every week or so.  This dump was old-school: no limits, no guidelines, just back your pick-up truck to the edge - or in my step-dad Tom's case, his light yellow Eldorado pick-up - and heave-ho. (Yes, I know it seems odd that we'd have a Cadillac Eldorado yet live in a trailer; my step-father had a series of interesting cars acquired through poker games, barter, debts collected; like the amphibious car we took to Westport so he could drive it into the water and watch onlookers gasp as he flipped switches and turned it into a functional boat.  The effect was ruined, however, when the amphibious car stalled out and the Coast Guard had to tow my step-dad and his pals back into port.  We also had a huge brown boat that we dubbed "the Ark" sitting in our yard for a few years that we joked would come in handy if the rain failed to stop come July.)

The way my step-dad *imagined* his Westport debut with the "Amphicar."

What I liked about dump runs with my step-dad was that Tommy was a born scrounger, one of those guys who could make something out of anything, or sell it to someone who could.  When I got older, I wondered if Tom, from Minnesota, was Anishinabe or Lakota.  But my sister Annette DeLeonard told me once that she’d heard Tom was a Traveler, a gypsy.  He was very dark, as dark as my real dad, with similar dimples and wavy black hair, dark brown eyes - handsome in a slick way, and charming.  He never seemed to have an actual profession; he drove semi-trucks, towed and repaired trailers, traded, bought and sold just about anything, and always seemed to have a dozen "jobs" on the line at once.  He was the kind of guy who drove vehicles he’d bartered for down our little county roads with grace and style, a cigarette in one hand and a Coke can full of beer in the other.  
Me and Tom: fishing trip.  He'd gotten this little tear-drop trailer in trade somewhere.

Once he had a job towing trailers across the border from Washington State into Canada; he took my brother Kacey and me with him a few times (I had my first taste of deep-fried prawns at a little café along the way and decided this was absolute gourmet food) until our mom figured out that Tom wasn’t so much transporting trailers as smuggling something IN those trailers, and Kacey and I were along as innocent distractions for the border patrol.  I guess nowadays, you'd call my step-dad a con artist. 

Rare photo of Tom, circa 1970?

Anyways, I loved Tommy.  He was invariably sweet and kind to me, telling me I was “smarter than the average bear” and bringing home candy or pocket change for me.  He wasn’t exactly attentive, but he didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and he was generous to a fault.  On dump runs, while he checked out potential scrounge-worthy trash, he'd let me rummage through the toys that had been thrown away to see if anything appealed to me.  I know, right? Letting your 6 or 7 year old paw through a garbage dump?!  A kid's dream.  I always found something - a naked doll, a teddy bear, a chalkboard, a book or encyclopedia, some used watercolor paints in a cool box. 

One day I found a doll about a foot tall, completely made of purple velvet fabric, with a real horsetail for hair.  I learned how to braid hair on that doll, but that's another story with an ending I don’t want to tell.

I'm thinking fondly of those dump runs with Tom because today is Father's Day, and as I gave a friend a ride back to her apartment, we passed a dumpster outside a large apartment complex.  There, abandoned on the asphalt, was a beautiful wooden dresser, and we could see all the drawers for it just flung into the trash.  Well, I had to look, didn't I?  Luckily my friend was just as curious and gorgeously uninhibited.  So we parked, got out, and looked into the dumpster.  UNBELIEVABLE! we said to each other: there's an entire apartment in there! 

We started with the brand new soccerball, for my friend's grandson.  Then we began seeing the really good stuff:  a whole bag of kitchen cooking utensils, top-quality, even some fancy knives still in their sheathes.  Baking dishes and pots and pans, glasses miraculously unbroken.  Unopened household cleaners.  A brand-new umbrella.  An ironing board.  A hand-pieced quilt, for heaven’s sake!  “I’ll bet he broke his grandma’s heart when he threw THAT out,” my friend said.  We figured it was a student, tossing out his apartment before leaving town; or, a property manager stuck with emptying a student’s apartment.  Either way, this stuff was primo scrounge.  We couldn’t believe no one had taken this to Habitat for Humanity, or called the Good Will, or even – as good manners around these parts dictate – just set it all outside the dumpster for easy pickings.  I mean, computer speakers?  Come ON!

“You know what the best part is?”  my friend asked me rhetorically as I balanced one of the dresser drawers on end so she could step up and lean over into the bottom of the dumpster.  “The best part is, you think this is fun too.  Thank you so much!  My daughter can use ALL of this stuff!”

It crossed my mind then that perhaps a newly-minted Full Professor shouldn’t be dumpster diving, at least not in her own university town.  It crossed my mind that you can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can’t take the trailer park out of the girl.  And it crossed my mind that for five years, while my real father was in San Quentin far away, I had a daddy who taught me a thing or two about surviving at the bottom of the economic graph.  And not just surviving, but rising to levels of resourcefulness, creativity, and artistry that allowed me to become the woman I am now.  Yes, I am a professor of English.  And yes, I still love a good dumpster dive now and then: something there is about perfectly good household materials tossed out as trash that drives me absolutely fucking nuts. 

No, I am no longer that needy kid whose family lived by the “skin of our teeth,” as my mom used to say, but I know so many people who do – my friend, her daughter, her grandchildren, all trying to live on incomes that qualify them for food stamps, TANF, WIC and the food pantry.  No, I have no shame about dipping into that dumpster for that family, for the children who will be so delighted with that ball, for the mother who will wash those blankets and treasure that hand-made quilt and be grateful for a lamp in the bedroom.

And yes, though he was only in my life for five years, and things didn’t end well between Tom and my mother, and even though he died of a terrible cancer soon afterwards, that travelin’ man left his mark on me.  Thanks, Tommy.  Thanks for the practical application of survival skills you taught me.  I'll never know if you were Indian or Gypsy or any other ethnic combination.  But I do know that you were a kind man who saw opportunity everywhere.  I like to think some of that determination rubbed off on me, just a little bit.  One man's trash, you used to say, with a grin.  One man's trash.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On the Road Again

We're still April snow-showering here in Lexington, but it's time for BAD INDIANS to get back on the road.  Here's the April schedule. All but the UCLA reading are open to the public, so I'd be happy to see friends, family, and anyone with an interest in Bad Indians along the way.

Monday April 8th: Syracuse University.  Jackie Cuevas’s afternoon classes, 2:15-3:35 and 3:45-5:05

Thursday April 11th: reading at SUNY Oneonta. 7:30 p.m., Morris Conference Center, Craven Lounge.  Susan Bernardin.

Saturday April 13th:  Reading at Tia Chucha’s 6:30 p.m., 13197 Gladstone Ave  Sylmar, CA 91342

Monday April 15th: Cabrillo College, Aptos CA. 6-9 p.m.  Stan Rushforth.

Tuesday April 16th:  Reading at UCLA (for UCLA faculty & students only), 12:30-1:45 p.m.  2209A Bunche Hall.  Rebecca Rosser.

Thursday April 18th: Salinas Public Library, Salinas CA.  John Steinbeck Library, 6 p.m.  

Saturday April 20th:  LATimes Festival of the Book.  For much of the LATFOB, I'll be hanging out at Heyday's table - come find me!

Sunday April 21st: LATFOB.  I'm reading 10:30 - 11 a.m., in the Kaya Press: SMOKIN' HOT LIT LOUNGE, Booth 380.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hidden Histories, Lacunae, and more Bad Indians: My Next Big Thing

WENDY CALL (photo by Kathy Cowell)
Many moons ago (okay, back in January, when this weary year was still new), author Wendy Call tapped me to do a “The Next Big Thing” blog.  You can read about Wendy’s blog post on her blog, Many Words for Welcome.  

Being ‘tapped’ consists of answering a series of questions about one’s next writing project, and tapping four other writers to do the same.  It requires a blog, time, and at least half a brain’s worth of inspiration.  Until now, I have not had all three of those key ingredients at the same time, but here I am, waiting for my granddaughter’s birth, and working on my project at a local coffee shop!  What better time to tackle these questions, and tap some authors?  I’ll let you know who I ask to answer the questions next!

What is the working title of your book?

The Hidden Stories of Isabel Meadows and other California Indian Lacunae.  This was a title suggested by my esteemed editor at U of Nebraska Press, Matt Bokovoy.  I like the words “hidden” and “lacunae” for their implications of things that are obscured, possibly lost, but still haunting us with very real power. 

What is the origin of this book idea?

As I worked to put together all the pieces of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, I realized that two big, long essays about a few of the Isabel Meadows stories found in J.P. Harrington’s ethnographic notes were just not ever, ever going to fit into the manuscript.  No matter how many ways I tried to squeeze them in, no matter what I did, those two essays – which are about the same people in the rest of Bad Indians – simply did not belong.  It took a long time to convince myself of this, because I loved those essays, I loved the Indians in those stories.  It’s pretty funny that it took me so long to finally admit that they didn’t belong in Bad Indians, but only about 2 seconds after that to think, “Hey, this is a whole ‘nother book!”  So I guess in a way you could sub-subtitle this book “Spawn of Bad Indians.”  There’s even a third book that has emerged out of this one – a biography of Isabel Meadows.  I’ve created a monster.

What genre does your book fall under?
Ha!  This one is comprised mostly of personal/historic/academic essay.  No poetry, not too many images.  Where it will be placed in bookstores is beyond me.  No doubt in the Native American Lit section, but also anthropology, ethnology, history, creative non-fiction, possibly memoir …

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This isn’t fiction, and the narrative is narrowly focused on analysis of how Isabel’s stories reveal more about California Indian strategies of resistance to Missionization.  However … I think Isabel’s biography, my NEXT book, would make an excellent movie.  I have no idea who would play her, though.  Some really fierce, smart, tough broad.  Thanks for giving me the chance to think ahead on this one.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Little-known narratives of a pistol-packing mixed-blood maiden Indian Aunt reveals a deeply indigenous method of storytelling as incisive cultural analysis, teaching tool, historical revision and preservation of a Coyote intelligence.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ll tell you when I get that far.  So far, if you count the two essays I wrote while finishing Bad Indians, about 5 years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Without a doubt, Isabel Meadows.  The more I read her stories, the more I realize what a phenomenal woman she was: technically illiterate, but a craftswoman of storytelling, surviving, and preserving the heart and soul of her mother’s people.  When I began to really study her stories, I became infuriated that J.P. Harrington gets all the credit for them!  These stories are not his ethnographic notes; they are stories that she graced him with as part of her own strategy to reach future Indian generations.  I want to set that record straight.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
These are many of the same people who appear in small pieces, poems or photographs in Bad Indians, plus others; the book is a much more linear effort to stitch the small pieces together into cohesive threads and see the larger picture of individual lives.  Why did Teodosia throw a pan of hot coals into her husband Ventura’s face, blinding him?  Why did she take him back at the end of his life?  Why is it that I am descended from Padre Real?  Whatever happened to my cousin Victor, identified as a “joto” (faggot)?  What’s the real story behind Bradley Sargent stealing Rancho El Potrero from Estafana, and was her Chilean husband really just in Sargent’s back pocket?  Plus, Hidden Stories is an extension of the idea that bad Indians make good Ancestors, and without good Ancestors, I wouldn’t be here. 
Isabel as a young, well-to-do mixed-blood Indian woman.

One of Isabel's stories; this one is about a young girl named Vicenta who is raped by Padre Real.

Isabel as an elderly Indian woman living in Washington D.C., working for Harrington.  She sent home most of her pay to help raise nieces and nephews, and care for her brother Thomas Meadows.  The family had long since lost their land in a drawn-out, painful legal battle with Isabel's older brother, Frank.  That's a story worthy of a novel!

Melinda Palacio: A Conversation with Deborah Miranda

Luis Rodriguez (author of Always Running, It Calls You Back and more) with me and Melinda Palacio at the AWP Book Fair.  We took over the Tia Chucha/Scapegoat Press table!

Melinda and I met at AWP in Denver, but we didn't really talk until spending hours together at the recent AWP conference in Boston.  Both of us were hawking new books, but had plenty of time to visit.

As a result of our time together, Melinda emailed me a set of interview questions recently, and they have been posted at La Bloga.  It never fails to amaze me that each time I do an interview like this, the questions are so different, and elicit such different kinds of reflection on my part.

Melinda's new book, How Fire is a Story, Waiting is rich with imagery.  Lines from this book come back to me even weeks after I finished it ... truly, worth your time.  No less than Juan Felipe Herrera - California Poet Laureate - has written that "Palacio’s work is expansive, physical, funeral-wet, elevated, funny, existential, woman-story, jazzy and Pachukona. She is unafraid to dive head-on into questions of death, loss and self. Into the fiery entwined spikes of father-daughter estrangements, mother-daughter intimacies and most of all, she is “insomniac” bold in this volume as an ongoing sequence on self. Melinda’s collection has Bop and “swagger,” lingo, song, denuncia, compassion and wild, unexpected turns– all the key ingredients and hard-won practices of a poet (and shaman) in command of her powers. I don’t think there is anything like this book. ¡Brillantissima!"

Melinda's first book was Ocotillo Dreams, which has also earned great praise. Visit Melinda at to find out more about her work and her reading schedule.  She is one busy woman!  I very much appreciate that she took the time to interview me, and am currently scheming to get her on a campus visit to Washington and Lee next year.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Donna Miscolta, author of When the de la Cruz Family Danced, sent me some interview questions that really made me think about what was going on inside my head, and my world, while writing Bad Indians.  Check out the interview on her blog, and while you're at it, her own exquisite writing.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

In the Beginning

I’m seven years old.

I sit down to write my first story:  How the John Rabbit Familys Lived in the Tall Grass.

The plural is important, as you will see.

Once upon a time in the wild wilderness in the tall grass a baby rabbit was born.  It was white with a little tail and a light pink nose.  Its mother was white and black and the father was gray.  Their eyes were red and they sparkled in the dark.

Colors are clearly important to me.  I add a baby brother rabbit, gray with a black nose.  The whole nuclear family thing makes me happy.  But …

Then in a year it was rabbit season and the mother and father had to leave the baby rabbits.

Next come words that I know never appeared in my school vocabulary list: scared, dangerous, rough, sad, hid, shot.  Phrases like there were few of them left. 

I don’t know the word “survivor” yet.

I do, however, have some idea how to survive.

…it was mateing time and they didn’t want to leave each other, so they chose mates and had their babies. 

And life is good again, especially if we overlook the incestuous nature necessitated by rabbit massacre.  They didn’t want to leave each other.  Who can blame them? 

I know one thing for sure: never let go of anyone.

The rabbit siblings become Father and Mother rabbit to a brood of four babies who learn early how to forage: when they were two months old they got their own food but their mother and father were still with them…they liked their home in the tall grass.

My seven-year-old self knows about seasons:  Then it started to hail and the rabbits started to look for food because when it hailed it would snow the next morning.

I know how to make grocery lists:  They had 8 carrots, 8 bushes of grapes, nine piles of grass and a tin can of water. 

I know about the importance of a home:  Father rabbit went to look for shelter…he found shelter in a nearby cave with hay on the bottom to sleep on.

I even seem to know that life is hard on parents.  My rabbit family waits out the heavy snow in their snug cave, and surprise!  the next day is Christmas Eve.  I was hoping you wouldn’t ask, Father rabbit tells the kids when they inquire about the holiday.  Clearly the guy is feeling the weight of responsibility. 

Still, the little rabbits receive decent, if sadly gendered, presents: “I got a sling shot.”  “I got a little dolly.”  “I got a toy gun.”  “Let’s play dolls.”  “Let’s play war.” 

Predictability ranks pretty high in my seven year old world.

I make certain that Mother rabbit is very resourceful.  She takes good care of Zelda when the little rabbit catches cold:  Mother gave her most of the food and some water.  Then she covered her up with hay to keep her warm.  Later, in the Christmas Eve scene, Mother made sure no one was hungry, thirsty or sick, then she went to get the tree. 

Mother rabbit also makes everyone go out to play when the snow melts, which makes the baby rabbits cry.  Father rabbit is very stern. Go outside or you can not have any food.  Since it is also little Dan’s birthday, Father rabbit wants to give Dan 1 swat and a pinch to grow an inch, but no presents because its too close to Christmas.  Now if youre going to cry get to bed, Father rabbit tells poor sniveling Dan.  Dan chooses to play outside. 

Good sport, says Father rabbit.  Evidently I have clear ideas about fathers and crying.

Then come more words a seven-year-old shouldn’t know so casually. 

Rabbit season again. 

They stayed together but five got wounded and soon died. 

And father rabbit was the only one left.

Like a good survivor, Father rabbit quickly remarries and raises up five more rabbit children.  Father rabbit told them he was the only one left in his family.  Alice, his new mate, asks, What did you name your other babys?  and Father rabbit reels off the names of the dead in a loving litany.  Then tells them, We better get to sleep, its going to be a rough day. 

Uh-oh.  Is it rabbit season again?

But no, I'm the writer of this story.  I may be only seven years old, but I’ve had it with this murderous universe these poor rabbits find themselves in.  I know how to fix things.   

When they awoke they were in a strange place.  “it's a house” said father rabbit. A little human girl arrives and gives them all the feed and water they wanted. 

They are saved!  No more living in the wild wilderness of the outside world.  No more rabbit season, guns, hunting.  No more dead, missing or wounded children and parents.

They were very happy to be with the little girl, I write on the last page, and they lived happily ever after.  THE END.

This story marks the first time I ever used written words to save myself.  This story marks the first time I wrote down what had happened to me, and how much I wanted to be rescued. 

Forty-four years later, I finger these yellowing pages, the faded pencil on blue lines, the bright green yarn stitching the pages into my first book.  I have to smile.  There is no manly prince galloping up on his horse.  Father rabbit does not slay the rabbit hunters or lead his family to safety.  Mother rabbit does not sacrifice herself for the sake of her children, or if she does, it doesn’t work. 


As the author of this story, I’m seven years old, but I already know about genocide, abandonment, disappeared parents, hunger, hiding, tough love and a deep craving for home.  I’m seven years old and already I know how to trade independence for domesticity, wildness for the assurance of food, water and a nice cage (a temporary solution that will give me some serious issues with men and marriage later in life).

I’m seven years old.  My father, descendent of indigenous peoples ruthlessly diminished from one million to a few thousand, lives in a distant place called San Quentin not far from the missions that incarcerated our ancestors.  My four sisters from his first marriage have dropped off the face of the earth, though I can recite all their names.  My mother-who-disappeared-for-a-year has eventually returned; I’m still watching her every move to make sure she doesn’t run off again.  My two older siblings from her first marriage have been left behind in a foster home in California.  Once a year, my mother sobs over photographs of the baby girl who died from neglect.  My step-father moves us from one ramshackle trailer to the next as he patches together part-time jobs.  We can’t always pay the electric bill or fill the propane tanks.  We eat a lot of rice, beans, and USDA commodity food from the food bank.  I bounce from school to school, always a little behind everyone else, never on the same page of the reader or arithmetic book.

Notice that my rabbits form and re-form nuclear families, name their babies, celebrate holidays and birthdays, yet the concept of formal education is never mentioned?  School is not a friendly force for good in my life.  Yet.

But I'm seven years old and I’ve just figured out something enormous:  the alphabet is my friend.  Spelling may be tricky, writing may cramp my hand and teachers insist that my pencil grip is all wrong, but the alphabet makes me powerful in ways nothing else can.  Pencil and paper are my tools.  Words are my weapons.

Looking back at this story, I see it:  that little girl is going to use this alphabet to write her own way out of civilization.