Even though I'm a third-generation Californian, somehow I had never really understood what it meant to belong to place. I had a romantic idea that I could find something different among the people in the heartland and traveled to Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska.
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 seeking. 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.
Cleis Press published an essay I wrote about my trip, and I also wrote short stories about the teenage girls I met. Soon I had the perfect character—a street kid named Huck. Once she tore off into the heartland, I had the beginnings of a novel.
A PARTIAL HISTORY OF MY DELUSIONS
is my second novel, a story about a Serbian dissident who becomes enchanted with a New York dancer trapped in Belgrade during the 1999 NATO bombings. The two risk their lives to escape near the Kosovo border where they rescue a stranded American soldier. The trio becomes 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, the dissident and dancer help the soldier discover something even deeper than her courage—a new and surprising humanity.
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 Serbs 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 cultures, and once again I was in the grips of a multiyear project.