Half native. Half white. One hundred percent nothing.
"My mom doesn't want me. My dad just got out of jail. They want me to go live with him on the reservation in the Everglades. Trouble is, everybody there just ignores me.
At least I get to work with Pippa on my film project at school. We used to be friends when we were like twelve. Now that we're hanging out again it's like old times--except she's way cuter.
The thing is, I don't belong anywhere. I don't fit in on the Rez, and I suck at school. My dad thinks I'm an idiot, but Pippa thinks I'm all good.
I don't know what to think. Am I bad news or am I more than good enough?"
When I began researching my third young adult novel, MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH (Flux, 1/2014), the key to finding Trent's voice carried me to the Miccosukee reservation in the South Florida Everglades.
My good friend and former student, Houston Cypress (otter clan) smiling under the palms on his family's tree island. MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH would not exist without his generous spirit. He welcomed me onto the Miccosukee Rez and answered all my questions with tremendous patience. We took an airboat over the "River of Grass" and met his friends on the Rez.
This jagged chickee roof inspired a scene in MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH. When you look up, you'll see ribbons of clouds. The thick wooden posts are carved from cypress trees.
Boardwalk to the chickee huts on the tree islands in the Everglades--not a "swamp" as many people assume, but a vast expanse of sawgrass prairies studded with live oaks. As a little girl, I used to climb the same trees in my backyard in Miami.
Chickee chobee ("big houses") thatched with palm fronds on the tree islands in the Everglades. The homes seem to float between the sky and sawgrass.
Houston took this picture of me learning how to grind corn for
(cornmeal porridge) at his father's chickee on the Rez. Cooking pots are on the shelf nearby.
"Indian Boy Wrestling Alligators at Musa Isle Indian Village, Miami, Fla."
State Library and Archives of Florida.
The Miccosukee and Seminole style of wrestling allows you to keep your hands free (and ready to bind the gator's jaw with rope).
A pointy gator tooth that I carried in my pocket--a gift from Houston's father. He found it in a cooler on his front porch! I keep it on my bookshelf at home.
Another gift from Houston's father, who discovered a pair of Stickball rackets (traditional game that is similar to lacrosse) hidden in the tall grass near the road. I carried them back to New York in my suitcase. Now they're on my wall and they're the first thing I see when I wake up.
Bookmarks inspired by the patchwork design, Everlasting Fire. Each morning, Houston's father lights the cook fires in his yard and keeps the flames burning throughout the day.
"Miccosukee Boys Reading at the Mission"
State Library and Archives of Florida.
The boys in this archival photo remind me of the book's protagonist, Trent Osceola, who loves to read.
I'm thrilled that the cover for MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH was modeled by a Native American face. Here I'm smiling with the advanced reader copies.
Launch party for MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH at Books and Books, in my hometown, Miami. Can you spot Houston in the second row?
Water lilies (spatterdock) threading the sky-blue water in Everglades during my airboat ride with the Miccosukee tribe through the tree islands on the Rez.
Miccosukee patchwork jacket tangled in the post of a chickee on a tree island that belongs to the Cypress family. The air was sharp with woodsmoke that day and speared with sunlight.
Sewing machines in the chickee at Houston's father's house on the Rez. No doubt, their needles have stitched many intricate patchwork "Big Shirts".
A wide-eyed baby alligator--my new friend on the rehabilitation island on the Rez. The opening chapter of MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH was inspired by my meeting with Quasi, a pet gator abandoned in the Everglades. He is in safe hands with the Miccosukee tribe, who look after the South Florida animals in need of special care.
The amazing teens rocking out in The Osceola Brothers Band. Just like Trent in MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH, they find solace in music.
I am so thankful for my experiences on the Rez and for the kindness of Houston, his family and friends.
Discover more on the book's Tumblr page: