While we often think about how real world tragedies can inspire fictional stories, fictional stories about real world tragedies can also bring said tragedies to light. Like how the TV show Watchman highlighted the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. It’s what writer Nick Medina hopes to accomplish with his first novel, Sisters Of The Lost Nation (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), a mythological horror thriller inspired by and centered around the disproportionate number of indigenous women and girls who go missing every year. In the following email interview, Medina discusses how this issue inspired and influenced this novel.
Photo Credit: Ashley Sutton
To begin, what is Sisters Of The Lost Nation about, and when and where is it set?
In a nutshell, Sisters Of The Lost Nation is about two Native American sisters and the horror one of them faces when the other goes missing from their tribe’s reservation in Louisiana. Set in 1996, the story incorporates unsettling Native lore while shining light on the Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls epidemic (M.M.I.W.G.).
Which, for people who don’t know, is a real thing. In Washington state, for instance, 3% of the people who were missing in 2019 were Native American women, even though Native American women are only 1% of that state’s population. So, did you set out to write a story about this issue, and Sisters Of The Lost Nation is what you came up with, or did you come up with part of the plot and realize it would work really well if you tied it to this issue?
I got the idea for Sisters Of The Lost Nation in September of 2018 after rather randomly coming across an article in the Chicago Tribune with the headline Epidemic Hits Native Americans. The writer, Sharon Cohen, shared the story of Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, a young woman who went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in 2017. Ashley’s sister, Kimberly Loring, had been searching for Ashley since day one. She vowed to search until she’s eighty. She’s still searching today. The article sparked an idea that I started outlining that night. Things came together pretty quickly after that. Of course, I did a lot of research as well, but that article was the start of it all.
The issue of missing indigenous women is one that impacts those living in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Why did you set Sisters Of The Lost Nation in Louisiana as opposed to in Canada or Latin America?
I chose to set Sisters Of The Lost Nation in Louisiana for a couple reasons. First, I’m part of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, so the familiarity helped me build a believable world within the novel. I should say, however, that the tribe in the novel is completely fictional. Even though the Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women And Girls epidemic is one that impacts tribal nations far and wide, as you mentioned, I didn’t want to saddle any one tribe with the events that take place in this book.
I also think Louisiana has many qualities — the hot, humid climate, the swamps, the bayous, the alligators, and ties to voodoo — that make it a great setting for a creepy tale.
It sounds like Sisters Of The Lost Nation is a thriller, but a scary one. How would you describe it, genre-wise?
We’ve been calling it a thriller with mythological horror. It’s funny, though, because I’ve been reading so many other descriptions online from people who have read advanced copies of the book. Some have called it noir, gothic horror, YA, mystery, suspense. I think they are all fair descriptors, but thriller with mythological horror sums it up best.
Sisters Of The Lost Nation is your first novel. What writers, or stories do you think had a big influence on both the story and how you wrote it?
Craig Womack’s Drowning In Fire immediately comes to mind. It’s a beautiful book about a Native boy coming to grips with his identity and sexuality, and it influenced aspects of my main character, Anna Horn, coming to terms with who and what she is. I don’t want to give away too much about how Anna evolves in the book, but at 17 years old, she’s often misunderstood and undervalued. I hope readers will find her transformation inspirational and eye-opening.
How about non-literary influences; was Sisters Of The Lost Nation influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Since much of Sisters Of The Lost Nation takes place within a casino resort on the tribe’s reservation, I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King’s The Shining, and how eerily Stanley Kubrick depicted the Overlook Hotel in his film adaptation of the novel.
Another film adaptation, Jaws, was also fairly influential. I love how we don’t need to see the shark in order to sense that danger is near. I wanted the embodiment of horror in Sisters Of The Lost Nation to accomplish the same feat. I hope readers will feel it and fear it even when it’s not directly referenced on the page.
And then, to flip things around, Hollywood loves making movies out of thrillers, especially ones that have some kind of social / political undertones. Do you think Sisters Of The Lost Nation could work as a movie?
For sure. I think Sisters Of The Lost Nation could make a great thriller or horror film, depending on which elements of the story are emphasized. Considering that there are aspects of race, oppression, culture, and folklore within the story, I think it could send a chill down viewers’ spines while also sharing an important message about the Murdered And Missing Indigenous Women And Girls epidemic.
And if someone wanted to make that movie, who would you want them to cast as Anna, her little sister, and the other main characters?
Unfortunately, we don’t see too many young Native actors in mainstream movies, but I think there’s a great deal of talent in the cast of Hulu’s Reservation Dogs. I could totally see someone like Elva Guerra (who narrated the Sisters Of The Lost Nation audiobook), Paulina Alexis, or K. Devery Jacobs portraying Anna and her little sister, Grace. It’d be important to me to see Native actors cast in these roles.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Sisters Of The Lost Nation?
My hope is that readers will be entertained by Sisters Of The Lost Nation and informed at the same time. Though the story revolves around a very real, very sad social issue, at its core it’s a thriller with a chilling plot and a creepy creature base on Native lore. Ideally, I hope readers will enjoy the ride while becoming a bit more aware of the M.M.I.W.G. movement.
Finally, if someone enjoys Sisters Of The Lost Nation, what novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next, and when they’re done with that, is there a nonfiction book about this issue you’d recommend?
There are a number of great thriller and horror novels out right now written by Native authors. I don’t think you can go wrong with anything by Stephen Graham Jones. I also really enjoyed Erika T. Wurth’s debut novel, White Horse, which gives readers a straight-shooting protagonist who’s intriguing and cool without relying on Native stereotypes.
As for a nonfiction book, I love is Lakota Woman. It’s a memoir written by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes. It’s not specifically about the M.M.I.W.G. movement, but it does acknowledge many issues Natives face, including violence against women.