Books written about lacrosse are few and far between. When they are, you know they’re going to be good because how many people would write about lacrosse unless they had a passion for the game? Today we get to do something fun and chat with the author of one of the best new books of the season, and of course it’s about lacrosse.
Medicine Game is written by Delby Powless, a former member of the Buffalo Bandits, Six Nations Chiefs and Iroquois Nationals, and current resident of Six Nations. It’s a novel, but one based in truth, both that of the author and of people he’s known.
My thanks to Delby for sending me a copy of the book to review and then answering the many questions I had about the book and his writing process. The interview contains one mild spoiler regarding an early scene in the book, and is marked so you can skip it if you wish.
Catch up with our review here.
AT: For starters, what was your motivation to write Tommy’s story?
DP: My motivation to write Tommy’s story was my own struggle that I have with mental health. This was just my way of being open about some of those issues. Reading Theo Fleury’s book Playing with Fire was something that helped me a great deal, so writing this stuff out was very therapeutic.
AT: How has the mental health system in Six Nations changed in the last 20 years, and what changes or improvements would you like to see come in the future?
DP: I think the mental health support system on Six Nations has improved over the last 20 years. Information where people can receive support is very visible on social media and is much more accessible to the public. I don’t know what other changes can be made but it is going in the right direction.
AT: What authors inspired you growing up?
DP: I didn’t really have a favourite author growing up, but I do remember liking two stories, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption and The Body. They were both by Stephen King and I liked seeing the differences between the books and two of my favourite movies (Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me).
AT: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process and the self-publishing process?
DP: I had some of the characters and a bit of a plot to start, sort of developed more characters and the plot as I went. One of the hardest things for me was coming up with names for characters. I keep changing them all the time.
I originally wrote Medicine Game as a screenplay around 2014. That only took a few weeks to write with screenplays being much shorter. I sent it to a couple of publishing places and got a lot of “thanks, but no thanks,” so I just put it on the shelf for a few years. I later looked into self-publishing and found out that it can be done through Amazon. I liked that idea better because I didn’t have to send it around to get rejected a bunch of times like the screenplay did. Also, the copyright belongs to me and I have more control to do what I want with the book. So I slowly worked on it when I could. Sometimes I wouldn’t touch it for months, so it was a long process, especially because I kept changing or adding things. I still think of things now I want to add or change even though it’s been published.
AT: How much of the story is autobiographical?
DP: More of the beginning of the book is autobiographical. It’s more fictional as the plot develops.
AT: The book is set on the fictional Sparrow Lake reservation in the U.S. Why did you choose to set your book in the 1990s/early 2000s? Why the U.S. instead of Canada as the setting?
DP: I wanted the story to take place in the ‘90s and 2000s because it was a time when technology wasn’t as big. Cell phones and text messaging were just starting to take off Tommy’s childhood was about kids playing outside with their friends and a lot less parental supervision.
I thought the story would be better to take place in the U.S. rather than Canada because it was about field lacrosse, which is obviously more popular in the U.S. Though high school field lacrosse is also played in Canada, the main focus is their box lacrosse associations. Whereas in the U.S., the ultimate goal for high school kids is a State Title.
AT: A big theme in the book is the amount of partying that Tommy and his friends do. Do you think that the partying in lacrosse culture is excessive? And not just in Indigenous communities, which can sometimes be portrayed as a stereotype.
DP: I’m not sure if lacrosse culture is excessive in partying or not. Maybe because I’ve seen hockey and other sports culture as well. I think it is a team game and sometimes teams look at partying as a way to bond together. But I can say that the pressure to fit in with your teammates, especially as a younger athlete, can be linked to partying too much.
AT: Do you have a Hazel Blackwater in your life?
DP: I don’t want to spoil the book too much but I will say that I have had a lot of help from a lot of good people and they have all helped me in some way or another. Some I think don’t even know how much they have helped me. One is an elderly lady who is very special to my family.
*Mild spoiler here*
AT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall the reader being privy to the story that Tommy eventually tells Hazel. We never really know why he is suicidal. Obviously, we know the tragedies he has survived (the events I speak of happen within the first few chapters and is in fact the reason for the journey Tommy goes on throughout the book), but it feels like a conscious decision not to dive into his specific thought process. Why did you choose to write that part of the story like you did?
DP: I guess the reader knows Tommy’s story so I chose to not have him explain it all to Hazel as well. It’s kind of implied he has told her when it says she advises Tommy to tell his parents. That conversation Tommy then has with his parents about what happened is kind of the tough conversation that he is relieved to get off his chest.
I guess the point is this: the process of opening that dialog seems to be harder to do than having the actual conversation. And in my experience when it is out and in the open it’s a relief. That’s kind of what I was going for there. As to why he is suicidal, that is due to the childhood sexual abuse. A traumatic experience like that can lead to so many emotions that people carry with them throughout their life. And how maybe on the outside people could see a person who is somewhat successful and have no reason to feel like taking their own life. You really don’t know how someone feels inside until they tell you.
AT: What sorts of feedback did you get throughout the process of writing?
DP: So far, the feedback has been positive and people have been able to relate to the book. People from other Native communities have liked the way the Rez and the people are described because it reminds them of their own community. Though every Rez is a little different they all have their similarities.
I have received some positive feedback from people who have reached out and expressed similar experiences and hope to be more open about discussing similar issues. I do know this book isn’t going to be for everybody, but hopefully it can help some people feel more comfortable about having those tough conversations about what may be going on inside them.
Medicine Game is available in Kindle and Paperback from Amazon.