Soon to be released this coming September is the sequel to Jen Ferguson’s first teen novel The Summer of Bitter and Sweet. In Those Pink Mountain Nights, Ferguson explores the events that take place over the course of a week in a small-town pizzeria. She addresses the endemic violence perpetrated against Native women as well as issues of mental health and sexuality through a teen coming of age story.
Ferguson is a Michif/Métis and white writer from Canada. Her first novel was a Morris Award finalist, a Stonewall Honor, a winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award in Young People's Literature, and received six starred reviews.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I don't think anything ever inspired me to become a writer. I think that stories are how I understand the world. I'm not good at math, and I'm not great at things that need 3D shape, but I'm really really good at telling stories and I'm really good at doing that primarily through words. Because words aren't 3D, right? They are things that my brain understands.
I was the kind of kid who, in high school, I was writing novels on my computer in the basement of my parents house, terrible, terrible novels that no one will ever see and have been deleted and the hard drives no longer exist. But I sort of always gravitated towards writing, and I've even tried to quit writing. Not very successfully though. I've always sort of been dragged back by a story that announces itself and grabs me and says, ‘Okay, it's time’.
Do you take inspiration from any other Native or non-Native writers?
I feel like anything you consume, you take inspiration from. I think it's really hard to say specifically that I took inspiration from ‘x’ writer. I am a reformed literary fiction writer for adults. So I have read all the classics and there were very few Native writers included in the kind of reading I was doing in undergrad and then in my master's degree and my PhD.
So that's sort of been something that I've been fixing in the last chunk of years is consuming a lot more Native writers, but I don't think that having read Tommy Orange I would ever say I'm inspired by Tommy Orange or having read Billy Ray Belcourt that I'm inspired by Billy Ray. I think that everything you consume, whether you know it or not, it's part of what's going to bubble up and be your inspiration.
Publishers are excited for Native writers and to publish Native stories and not to pigeonhole them into what they “expect” from a Native writer. I think that the past maybe eight years or so have really changed what's getting published both in kid-lit and adult but especially from Native writers, and that that's only going to keep floating outward and that's incredibly exciting. It’s exciting to think that you're not the only one telling stories from your ancestry or telling stories from your nation, but that there are lots of people and there will be lots more.
How does your Indigenous and queer identity inform your writing?
I think that for me, there's almost no way to write that isn't informed by who I am. I think I could generalize and say that's true for all art, right? Because the art comes from me. Therefore, it's informed by how I see the world and how I understand the world. There's a responsibility that white, cis-het, able bodied, excetera writers don't feel. They don't feel a responsibility to represent their communities.
I write for teens, so I also feel a really heavy responsibility, writing for teens. I think that makes my art stronger. I think that my particular experience with colonialism and Canada as someone who passes as a white person, unless I disclose otherwise, and passes as a straight person unless I disclose otherwise, that has to shape the kinds of stories I tell. So I find that my characters tend to have a foot in whiteness or are comparing themselves to whiteness in some way. That might not be true from another Native writer who grew up in a different way than I did or who didn't grow up in Canada because there's an experience of a particular kind of colonialism that Canadian education systems were really good at.
What do you hope young people take away from your books?
I really want them to take whatever they need. I don't want to suggest to young people that there's a particular thing waiting for them that I expect them to find and take, but I would say differently for the middle aged white woman who picks up my book. There actually are things that I want her to find and take with her. But for teens, I want them to find and take what they need. I think one of my strengths as a writer and also one of my flaws as a writer is that I put a lot of things in my books. So if you don't want A, B or C, there'll be something else down the line for you to take with you.
Is there anything in the book that you’re most excited for people to read?
It takes place in a pizza place, and it's very loosely based on the first place that I ever worked as a sixteen year old. My bosses sort of weren’t around a lot, and let the sixteen year olds run their business, which I found was really empowering and terrifying. I'm really excited for people to find that space where the teenagers are basically running this business and they're having a lot of fun doing it. To me, that's a really exciting emotional place that I remember caring about a lot, and it formed me into the kind of human I am today.
What can we expect from the new book?
I think readers who love The Summer of Bitter and Sweet are going to find that there are some similarities, it's an introspective story. I care about characters more than I care about plot. Characters create plots for me rather than plot acting on characters. But instead of being in the first person, this book is in the third person. There are three main protagonists, two of them are Native. One of them is a white Canadian settler. And the book is more interested in the exterior. It's still an internal story, they're happening in that town. The pizza place the characters really love, they find out that their boss is selling it to a group that's going to franchise it. So they sort of come up against external forces. They're facing a certain kind of capitalism. They are looking for a missing Cree teen girl that the police have stopped looking for. So I think society is really loud in this book.
Do you have advice for any young aspiring Native and queer writers?
So two things. One, find your people, find the people who support you unconditionally and are not trying to tear you down. Stay away from the “mean girls” in publishing. And find your people, so when you need to vent, you vent in your text chat and not all over the internet, because you're going to need to. Get accustomed to rejection and get accustomed to not letting it beat you down. There's a lot of it in the business, and it doesn't stop once you get an agent, and it doesn't stop when you get a book deal. It doesn't stop when you have an award winning book behind you. So, get used to it and learn how to move forward with it.
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