Andrea L. Rogers’ Man Made Monsters is terrifying, hilarious, and tear-jerkingly poignant

Andrea L Rogers

Andrea L. Rogers. // Courtesy the author

Writer Andrea L. Rogers’ new book, Man Made Monsters (out this week from Levine Querido) sees the Cherokee author delving into two centuries of a family, beginning in 1839.

Along the way, Rogers takes horror tropes and uses Native history and perspective to turn them inside-out. While there are zombies, vampires, werewolves, aliens, and more, this YA novel is based firmly in the concept of family and is by turns terrifying, hilarious, and tear-jerkingly poignant.

From its opening line, “Tsalagi should never have to live on human blood, but sometimes things just happen to sixteen-year-old girls,” you’ll be sucked into this series of tales that focus on “predators of a distinctly American variety – the horrors of empire, of intimate partner violence, of dispossession.”

Aided by the illustrations of artist Jeff Edwards, it’s also one of the best-looking novels to hit our to-be-read stack in ages.

We spoke with Rogers from her current residence in Fayetteville via Zoom to discuss Man Made Monsters and what brought it to vivid life.

The Pitch: Some of the book’s sections have been short stories that were published elsewhere. Have they always all been connected?

Andrea Rogers: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Louise Erdrich and Faulkner and you know, their world. They build this world where everybody really is somehow connected. They have their own little cities and towns and villages and so maybe that’s kind of what I was always just thinking. In fact, when I originally started this, I just gave everybody the last name Wilson, and eventually it was like, “You know, Cherokees frown on incest, so you know, I need some more names.”

In my head, they were part of the same family. I have a cousin and she and I are a lot alike, but we didn’t spend hardly any time together when we were kids. Her dad was like, 10 or 15 years younger than my dad, so we’re close in age, but we were geographically distant. After my grandmother died, she lived in Jay, Oklahoma, and that was really the only time the family got together—at her funeral there in Cherokee nation. So, I really didn’t see her.

She was about 10 years younger than me, so I wouldn’t have spent time with her ’cause she was little, but we get together and we are so much alike. She was staying in Austin for a while and she’s like, “Hey, do you wanna check out this Buddhist Zen temple with me?” and I was like, “Yeah!” She’s interested in writing, doing screenwriting, and loves film. We’re just so much alike. I was thinking about how my dad had four brothers and four sisters and all of us were raised by siblings who grew up with similar situations. They grew up with similar difficulties.

Her dad had the Vietnam war. My dad avoided it by joining the Air Force and being in the Air Force band, but his older brother almost was in World War II. He like just barely missed. He was there and they sent him home, but they were raised by the same parents. They were raised on the same allotment. They were raised with the same choices for participation and cultural stuff, so I thought when me and my cousins get together, “We’re like alternate universes, right? We’re these worlds that are like, “If I had been raised in Tulsa, then I would be like this. We’re like a multiverse.”

That’s what I like about Erdrich’s work is that you get different points of view, so you see stories in different ways and you may even seem to see the same situation in different ways and so for me, it’s like, these are all me or if I had been raised this way, if I had been born in 1945, you know, and if I had been born a boy, if I had turned into a werewolf. So yeah, I think they were always connected.

What’s so fascinating about the book is the way it is kind of multiverse, especially in the different genres of each of the segments. The werewolf part is a 1950s monster movie and the ghost cat section almost feels like a Miyazaki kind of movie, where it’s just like, “Oh, that it’s so sweet.” It seems like you got to explore all of these different themes and genres within one bigger work.

It was fun to play in different worlds. I’m glad that that came out and comes through, especially with “American Predators,” which is told in the second person. Boy. I was terrified of that because second person is hard to do and not have your reader dismiss it after the first page. Playing with all the different points of view was fun.

Man Made Monsters CoverHow closely did you work with illustrator Jeff Edwards? It seems as though he really got to the heart of each story.

I’ve admired his artwork for a long time. Actually, you know, I had seen his artwork, but didn’t put it together with him. I had met him when I went to pick up some posters. He works in the Cherokee language technology office and does graphic design for them and does a lot of really cool stuff for them but on the side, he’s an artist too.

There’s a place called Spider Art Gallery in downtown Tahlequah and it’s Cherokee artists. I’d go in there and I’d see stuff and I’d see his work and be really excited about it and I’d have to buy a piece–a print or something. Then I realized who he was. I had sold the book and we were talking about illustrators and what kind of illustrations would be in the book. I wanted my editor to check out Jeff’s work so I’d send him to his Facebook page or something, but then I went and saw Jeff and I took him a copy of Mary on the Trail of Tears, and I said, “Hey, I’ve sold this other book, but it’s horror and it’s gonna have some illustrations. Would you be interested?”

He’s like, “Ugh, I don’t know. You know, I have insurance. I have a day job. It’s just extra money when I do stuff like that and I don’t like being told what to do. If I show somebody my work and they’re like, ‘Oh, but could you do this? Could you do that?’ I’m like, ‘No, this is what I did. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. That’s fine.’” [laughs] So he was like, “Nah, I don’t think so,” but I was persistent. I went back to go visit with Ed Fields, who’s a Cherokee language specialist, visited with him, brought him lunch, and we visited and then went to pick up posters, I think, or something.

Ed told me to go get from Jeff in the language department. And I said, I said, “Dude, I sold the book. It really sold. Are you sure? Would you consider it?” I said, “Tell you what: let me send it to you. Check it out, read it a little bit, see if you’re interested. If you’re not, I totally understand, but God, I would love it. You’re perfect.”

He puts Cherokee in almost all of his illustration work. He cares about the language and he cares about the culture and he’s a good guy. So he read it and, and then he started illustrating! I was like, “Wait, I have a contract! Wait, I haven’t got my editor to say yes! Hold on!”

I put Cherokee in, every now and then. I’m not a fluent speaker. I’m in a class. I’ve tried to learn Cherokee. It’s hard. I wasn’t raised around it but I see myself as sort of a gateway drug dealer for Cherokee. I’m like, “You kids with these malleable brains who are ready, come learn Cherokee while you can. It’s hard when you’re older.”

But he read the book and then he’d go back and he’d re-read the stories and then he’d make some art and then he’d go and read it again. He picked out what resonated with him and that’s what I wanted. You don’t tell Jeff what to do and what he did was perfect. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m so honored and grateful that he finally said, yes eventually, ’cause I was pushing him out of his comfort zone, too.

That first story, speaking of language, has several languages that you do not translate. You’re just like, “You’re on your own,” which seems like you have a certain amount of faith in an inquisitive reader.

One of my favorite horror writers is Tanarive Due and she’s a black woman. Her husband is Steven Barnes and they have a podcast called Lifewriting. I was listening to it this weekend and what Steven Barnes was talking about was having faith in your reader—that your reader will pull out one what’s important to them.

Don’t hit them over the head with meaning, right? You’re not being pedantic. You’re not being teachy, you’re letting them figure the story out. Kids will find the information they need and the information that they want. Until we take the internet away from them, they’re gonna read whatever they want. If they’re interested, they’ll check it out. They’ll look it up. I taught English and I was big on context. Just asking people to be, “All right, just trust me. You’re gonna figure it out. Trust me, you’ll figure it out.”

Also, just the reality that Texas at that time, there were those languages. My husband’s family came over in the 1850s from Germany and in the 1950s, they were dozens still speaking German down there. The reality of the language stuff, and also that we were communicating—I think that’s something that gets lost when people talk about what was going on.

Native people were talking to each other. I mean, we might have been using Spanish or we might have been using sign language, but the Commanche chief in Texas knew what was going on with the Cherokee in Indian territory in Georgia. They knew what had happened to the Pequots way back when. We had a telegraph and it may have been verbal, but they knew what was going on.

Andrea Rogers’ Man Made Monsters is out now from Levine Querido.

Categories: Culture