How the book began
I wanted to write about the meaning of home. Even though I'm a third-generation Californian, I'd never really understood what it meant to belong to place. I started interviewing people about whether they considered San Francisco home. No one I knew had been born here; San Francisco is so transient. I had a romantic idea that I could find something different in the open prairie of the heartland, and I took a trip to Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and ended up out in the South as well—Louisville and Memphis.
I met teenagers and farmers and stood alone in the open plains. To my surprise, I didn't feel the deep connection to family and place that I was looking for. Farmers were committing suicide, young people felt stranded, farms were left abandoned. Whole towns, such as Sioux City, reminded me of abandoned blocks in the South Bronx. The meatpacking plants were boarded up, spooky, and left for ruins. Native peoples' reservations weren't even on the map, yet I knew of their bloody history. Suddenly the heartland seemed incredibly violent and lonely.
I wrote an essay, published by Cleis Press, about my experiences. I also started writing short stories about the teenage girls I met. Soon I thought it would be more interesting to write a novel, rather than a nonfiction book, about trying to find home in the abandoned heartland. I realized I had the perfect character—a punky street kid named Girl I'd once written about in a short story. I'd stumbled on a perfect contrast—a rootless, wild California kid juxtaposed with all the clichés of the American heartland.
Excerpt from CRASHING AMERICA
“Sometimes I got overwhelmed by all those cornstalks and their green leaves. When I looked down at the dirt under my feet, I felt something vicious and excessive in the way the earth pushed up stalk after stalk, over and over again, more and more life. And there I was helping it continue. ”
A PARTIAL HISTORY
OF MY DELUSIONS
is my second novel. It is a story about Luck, a Serbian dissident, who becomes enchanted with Rafael, a New York dancer, trapped in Belgrade during the NATO bombings. The two risk their lives to escape near the Kosovo border where they rescue a stranded American soldier. They become entangled in a hostage crisis and are flown to New York for media interviews. Only the soldier knows the whole truth about the hostages and struggles to reconcile it with her patriotism. Fighting off the world press while holed up in a midtown hotel, Luck and Rafael help the soldier discover something even deeper than her courage—a new and surprising humanity.
How the Book Began
I grew up in a leftist family in California, was a young organizer and protester against the Vietnam War. By 1999, my former activism appeared more mirage than memory, and I stumbled upon an article titled, “The Milosevic Generation.” Perhaps the indifference of many young Serbians to the genocide committed in their name reminded me of my own avoidance of moral choices concerning the U.S. involvement in Iraq, and I put the article away as fodder for my second novel.
In time I cursed myself for choosing the Balkans as a place to write about! Yet I did become irrevocably pulled in and was grateful to come across books such as Jasmina Tesanovic's THE DIARY OF A POLITICAL IDIOT and Matthew Collin's GUERRILLA RADIO: ROCK N ROLL RADIO AND SERBIA'S UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE. Once again I was researching the clash of disparate peoples and cultures, and once again I was in the grips of a multi-year project.