Jessica Johns is a Nehiyaw aunty and member of Sucker Creek First Nation in Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. Her writing has been published in numerous literary magazines, and her short story ‘Bad Cree’ won the 2020 Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. That short story has now been extended and become her debut novell.
Bad Cree is a gripping debut that follows a young Cree woman whose dreams lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery, forcing her to confront the toll of a legacy of violence on her family, her community, and the land they call home.
What inspires you to write? How did you get into it?
Reading and being in the world inspires me to write! When I read a good book, something I really love, it’ll inspire me to write for days. Doing things and being in community are also huge sources of inspiration. For example, I gardened a lot this past summer and now all I want to do is write gardening poems. The only thing that doesn't inspire me to write is actually writing.
I feel like I’ve been writing as long as I've been able to. I was a big reader when I was a kid, and wrote (and illustrated, I might add) my first book (about a dinosaur named Daniel) when I was like nine. I’ve always loved stories and storytelling and just kept doing it.
You’ve previously mentioned how part of Bad Cree came from having colonial mentalities imposed on you. Do you have any advice for other writers who encounter something similar?
Listen to your gut. There’s some writing advice that is really good, and it’s important to have people around you that give you valuable critiques about your writing. However, there’s some writing advice that is really bad and people who have no idea what the f*ck they’re talking about. Especially when you’re coming up, it’s hard to distinguish between what you should listen to and what you shouldn’t, but your gut will tell you. Listen to it.
Among other things, Bad Cree is a true testament to the power of sisterhood and strong familial bonds. Why was it important for you to include this?
I really wanted to represent the fierce love and protection that comes from family (whether that’s blood or chosen kin). There is nothing stronger or scarier than an aunty or a sister who will go to bat for you.
What are some books that inspire you, and why?
A few of the books that inspired me as I was writing Bad Cree were:
The book has some very visceral, gruesome scenes (the mushrooms growing out of Tracey’s legs have been haunting me, personally). Is there any particular source or inspiration that you draw on for this type of imagery?
Yes! The great book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change our Minds & Shape our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake was a huge inspiration for that particular scene, as well as the wealth of mushrooms I came across in the rainforests on the Vancouver, BC coast. For most of the gruesome, gory scenes, I also did a number on my Google search history.
Bad Cree is available now, online and in bookshops.