For 17-year-old queer street-kid Girl, the gutters of San Francisco are home. But when her best friend dies, she escapes the city for the heartland in search of a place where she can breathe again.
Torn between a longing for home and her restlessness, Girl seeks to link herself with almost anyone who crosses her path: a bored housewife in Salt Lake City casting a net for illicit thrills, a born-again Christian punk rocker and his girlfriend, a teenage waitress living in a small town with a horizon so endless Girl is terrified to leave her motel room.
On a farm in Nebraska with her old friend Randa, Randa’s boyfriend Bill, and Bill’s extended family, Girl finds something that seems close to what she is seeking. But as the corn harvest progresses, what at first looked like salvation becomes something darker, and Girl hits the road in a stolen car headed for Memphis and one last chance for survival.
How the book came to be
The book started as non-fiction. I wanted to write about the meaning of home. Even though I'm 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: meatpacking plants boarded up, spooky and left for ruins. Indian reservations weren't even on the map, and yet I knew of their history of bloodshed. Suddenly middle America 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 wouldn't it 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 written about in a short story a couple years earlier. I thought, I'll put Girl out in Nebraska on a farm. I'd stumbled on a perfect contrast: a rootless, wild California kid juxtaposed with all the clichés of the American heartland.
I wrote in a fury and in a few months had a first draft with a rich voice. After a year and a half, I had the book. In time I realized its theme was place, and its questions and conflicts centered around each character's relationship to place.
Excerpt from CRASHING AMERICA
“Sometimes I got overwhelmed by all those cornstalks and their floppy 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. ”
How the book came to be
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 RADIO GUERRILLAS. They brought me onto the streets of Belgrade, lit my imagination, and inspired me to continue to dig deeper. Once again I was researching and envisioning the clash of disparate peoples and cultures, and once again I was in the grips of a many year project.
is my second novel and is seeking a publisher. 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.