Gays Reading

Tommy Orange (Wandering Stars)

March 19, 2024 Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Tommy Orange Season 2 Episode 44
Tommy Orange (Wandering Stars)
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
Tommy Orange (Wandering Stars)
Mar 19, 2024 Season 2 Episode 44
Jason Blitman, Brett Benner, Tommy Orange

Jason and Brett talk to Tommy Orange (Wandering Stars) about dreams and spirituality, learn about sound engineering and roller hockey, and how understanding your history can shape your future. Come for special insider info about a character's playlist, stay for a Moulin Rouge debate.

Tommy Orange is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. His first book, There There, was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and received the 2019 American Book Award. He lives in Oakland, California.

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**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Show Notes Transcript

Jason and Brett talk to Tommy Orange (Wandering Stars) about dreams and spirituality, learn about sound engineering and roller hockey, and how understanding your history can shape your future. Come for special insider info about a character's playlist, stay for a Moulin Rouge debate.

Tommy Orange is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. His first book, There There, was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and received the 2019 American Book Award. He lives in Oakland, California.

Gays Reading is sponsored by Audible. Get a FREE 30-day trial by visiting audibletrial.com/gaysreading

**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason Blitman:

Hello. Oh

Brett Benner:

How are you?

Jason Blitman:

my jet lag is real.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Tell us

Jason Blitman:

does jet lag bother you?

Brett Benner:

oh yeah. And by the way, let me tell you something at 56 years of age, a time change will fucking kill you.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. So I had jet lag and the time change at the same

Brett Benner:

yeah. Like what were you doing? You would, so you went back, you were in Florida, right?

Jason Blitman:

I was in Florida adjudicating at the, uh, Florida thespian state festival, the high school thespian festival, um, which is the largest thespian festival in the country. it was super fun.

Brett Benner:

How many kids did you think?

Jason Blitman:

Oh, thousands and thousands. They like take over all of downtown Tampa. It's really. cool to see, um, and very sweet. but yeah, I just came, came from there. But I'm a little bit of a zombie.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Oh, that's okay. You're gonna, you're good. Back on the horse.

Jason Blitman:

I know, back on the horse. Uh,

Brett Benner:

It's a big, uh, yeah, there's, there's a, you know what, there's quite a few, but I've narrowed it down because it's a big release day. But, um, first off our, our friend, Si Montgomery, her secrets of the octopus, which is a beautiful coffee table book is out today. Um, Chris bajallions. the princess of Las Vegas, which is really fun about a, uh, a princess dying personator in Vegas and the mob. It's great, really fun. But the, you know, the, probably the other big one that's coming out today, which we've both read is James by Percival Everett, um, which is, getting tons of critical acclaim and it absolutely should and I'm sure it's going to be all of her awards, Lisa Ko's new book Memory Piece is out today.

Jason Blitman:

Mm-Hmm.

Brett Benner:

And then the last thing, this is a personal thing for me, um, one of my very dear friends and a classmate of mine from Carnegie Mellon, Sabrina Reeves, her new book Little Crosses come out, comes out today, which is fantastic. So please check it out. Um, so this is her debut novel and I'm so excited for her. So that comes out of today as well. So a lot of good stuff.

Jason Blitman:

Me. Memory, peace. And James, I've read both of those and they are each so good. As always, if you like what you're hearing, share us with your friends, share us with your friends, follow us on social media, we're on Instagram at GaysReading. If you have any questions for us, like you heard in our last episode, the Q& A with Jason and Brett, you could send us an email at gaysreading at gmail. com. All of the books that we talk about on today's episode, but also every episode, you could find on our bookshop. org page, which the link to that is in our show notes. You could buy merchandise. The link to our merch page is in our show notes. And our Patreon link is in our show notes. And also, because we're still relatively new, we're not even a year old yet, which is like, shocking, but, and yet also coming up on our year anniversary, which is also shocking. What makes it so much easier for people to find us is if you can give us a five star review wherever you listen to your podcast, or, you know, if you can even just write a quick, simple, We love gays reading, and, and leave us a review, that would be super, super helpful and beneficial, because that means more people are able to find out about us. So we would be, we're very grateful for that. And for all of our listeners, always. Whether you write us a review or not. Thanks.

Brett Benner:

You've got that thing down. It's like you're basically like, you know, uh, exits are to your left and behind you. You really are. You've got it

Jason Blitman:

I'm a podcast flight attendant.

Brett Benner:

You really are.

Jason Blitman:

Tommy Orange is joining us today, talking about his newest book, Wandering Stars. Tommy orange is a graduate of the MFA program and At the Institute of American Indian Arts, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California. His first book, There, There, was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and received the 2019 American Book Award. And on that note, fascinat your seat belts. I'm Jason

Brett Benner:

And I'm Brett

Jason Blitman:

and enjoy this episode of Gay

Brett Benner:

G.

Jason Blitman:

Reading.

Tommy Orange:

Hello,

Brett Benner:

How are you?

Tommy Orange:

I'm doing well. How are you?

Brett Benner:

Very good. Very good. Hold on. I'm going to put these glasses on so I can not see you, but see the screen.

Jason Blitman:

Tommy you're probably exhausted you're probably I'm like this dude is

Brett Benner:

You're everywhere.

Jason Blitman:

He's on the cover of all the things he's talking to all the people Are you holding up? Okay.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, I actually I went out pretty hard for like an East Coast, leg of the tour. And I got back home and had COVID and had to crash for a week in a hotel room in Oakland. Like I was supposed to be back with my family. Just had to isolate. So I'm fresh off of that. And honestly, I don't feel exhausted right now. I'm sure, I just have a little leg right now. And it's really different than last time. I I went really hard for the debut like they want you to. And so it's, I know it probably looks from the outside, like I'm everywhere. Like you said, like on all the covers and doing all the things, but it's different than last time. It's not as intense.

Jason Blitman:

I know you've done this a gajillion times, but what would you say is the elevator pitch for Wandering Stars? And then we'll move on. But for our listeners who haven't heard it yet.

Tommy Orange:

I don't even know what I don't think I have done this a million times. I I did it a million times for there, there and I don't feel like I've done it, especially like the elevator pitch part for wandering stars. So it's basically, it's a prequel and a sequel and you follow a family line from 1864, the. Sankirk Massacre all the way to present day 2018 post shooting at the power that happened in the first book and they're there and following the aftermath of what happened after this family is experiences this sort of mass shooter event. But you also go into history and you learn about the family line about the ancestors.

Jason Blitman:

You talk about it being prequel sequel and I hadn't read There, There. I did read There, There before reading this book, but then, of course, reading it, I was like, A, you don't have to read There, There prior to reading it, but B, what was really fun for me is that they're, they're very different styles. They're really more like companions too, which is nice, rather than a follow up. Exactly.

Tommy Orange:

my editor was very good at not allowing me to write the same book. And they don't, I think in the literary world they don't like a sequel. I think that, like in the box office sort of Marvel world it's an asset, right? Everyone will go, everyone will show up to Marvel. The sequels and the prequels and I think in the literary world it's cheap or something, and they don't want it to stand alone, and they don't want to expect the reader to have read a book to read a book. It's already hard enough these days to get somebody to focus on the one thing. But I, I was grateful to work with my editor and see her vision and not write the same book. I very much didn't want to write the same book. It took another six years to write this one. So I didn't want to spend six years just doing the same thing.

Brett Benner:

It was at the same editor that you had done there, there with or someone different.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, it's Jordan Padlin at Knopf.

Jason Blitman:

There was a, I'm not going to point any fingers or name any names, but there was a sequel to a book that came out, let's say in the last five years, that essentially could have been, you could tack it on to the existing book and continue reading. And even just this doesn't feel like that in any way. And that was super cool. Okay. So you've been on a handful of podcasts. I won't say you've done it a hundred times, but you've talked ad nauseam about the book and some of its details. And we will certainly go into some of that, something very important to Brett and I, that I would love to ask you about. Are you a desserts guy?

Tommy Orange:

Okay, so I am and I am not. I'm not a huge cake guy. I think historically ice cream's more been my thing if I had to choose between the two things, which I don't know why I would ever have to choose between the two things.

Jason Blitman:

But in case if there was a world where you did

Tommy Orange:

I think I enjoy a good dessert, but I'm not like a, I wouldn't call myself a huge desserts guy,

Jason Blitman:

yeah,

Brett Benner:

salt person?

Tommy Orange:

a salt.

Brett Benner:

They'll say people are salt or a

Jason Blitman:

like a salty, a sweet, just sweeter,

Tommy Orange:

I like a combination of all of them. For instance, if I go to the movies, I'll get a popcorn with milk duds and jalapenos and having a Coke. So you have all of the flavors happening at once. Yeah. Yeah. Not

Brett Benner:

mix it up.

Jason Blitman:

All right. No, that's

Brett Benner:

covered pretzels. Would be a good thing for you.

Jason Blitman:

Sure.

Tommy Orange:

the combinations work either, but I do like chocolate covered pretzels.

Jason Blitman:

But sweet salty and spicy. That's fun. into that.

Tommy Orange:

that.

Jason Blitman:

Now that that important question is out of the way, because, ooh, we interviewed Kaveh earlier and you have said on another podcast that the two books are like best friends, Martyr and Wandering Stars. I saw them as like distant cousins. I could see them on the same family tree somewhere. And before I ask some specific questions in regard to that, but I wrote to Kaveh and told him we were talking today and he said, first of all tell him I said what's up and then make him tell you the, about the Orville mixtape. So I don't know what that means.

Tommy Orange:

Okay of course he told you that.

Jason Blitman:

You don't have to, if that'll get us in trouble.

Tommy Orange:

No, it's totally fine. So in the book, Orville, becomes a musician. And he's In Recovery, he's like playing piano by a lake, and so I play music and have been for many years. I was playing music before I wrote, anything. And I had a bunch of these recordings of just piano compositions that I've written over the years and especially while I was writing this book, and I thought some of them could work as a kind of artifact and I'm not trying to put it out there in a loud way, but if you stumble across it on the internet, and it could feel like, oh, this is like a Orvil recording, There's some stuff on Spotify and SoundCloud that you can access if you just look up Orville Redfeather.

Jason Blitman:

Stumble upon

Brett Benner:

that's so cool

Jason Blitman:

a little secret for the gays.

Brett Benner:

yeah, you, I I loved, and I don't think it's, I don't think it's really a I don't think it's a spoiler, but where he talks, that character talks about how music was the language that saved him. Was that something for you as a young person? Was that integral to your life? Is it, was music always so pertinent for you?

Tommy Orange:

Not always, but from when I was 18, moving forward, definitely, and continues to be, as a listener or as a player. Hugely important. I went to school for sound engineering for my undergrad, so that was huge. A big part of my education was, like, thinking about sound and music in a way that I never would have had I not gone to school for it.

Brett Benner:

Wait, can you explain that for people like me who are stupid in terms of sound engineering, what that entails?

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, it sounds like a phony degree, because it was a bachelor's, it's a bachelor's in science in the sound arts, so it totally sounds fake.

Jason Blitman:

Tommy, I have a degree, a BFA in theater arts, so we are in this together.

Tommy Orange:

so it was a mix of a technical and an art degree, so in a way it does make sense. We're in studios. recording bands and we were recording to analog tape. So this is how old I am. And basically like most of my education there is irrelevant now because everything's digital, but we were like in studios. Most of the time it was a full immersion program. So it was over like an 18 month period. I got my, I had already gone to community college for my general education. So within 18 months, I got a bachelor's because we were just at school. It's, and it wasn't just studios, it was like music theory and it was learning about MIDI, which is musical instrument digital interface, I think. And even like some math around like building circuit boards and very technical in certain ways.

Brett Benner:

Interesting. No, I asked that too, because I really want to push my daughter is she'll be a senior next year. And I, and she loves, she's obsessed with music and I'm really trying to encourage her to be a music supervisor because I think she would love it. So anyway. Interesting.

Tommy Orange:

Wait, tell me what a musical supervisor

Brett Benner:

Music supervisors are hired to, they're either assigned to a television show or a feature. They're the people that when you're watching something, they pick all the music that goes into an episode. So like Grey's Anatomy, for example, anybody you hear in the music in the background, that's a music supervisor. And so they're pulling clips, they're working with the music, the studios the labels, and then they decide what goes in something. And then they work with the executive producers to find the right music for it. So it's a really cool job, especially and like my business partner, because I'm a casting director by trade. And she always talks about, had she known that then, cause she's obsessed with music. It's what she would have done now. That would have been her gig.

Jason Blitman:

It's Tommy's next career.

Tommy Orange:

I wanted to score film. That was like what I wanted to do coming out of the school. And there didn't seem to be any clear path to do that. And if I had known that there was such a position as musical supervisor, I totally would have gone for that. Cause that sounds amazing.

Jason Blitman:

You're still young you have to dig a little to find out that you have a degree in sound engineering or in sound arts. But knowing that both of your book titles came from songs, of course learning that music and songs is your background. It all comes together and makes total sense.

Tommy Orange:

And shows my age because they're both like nineties. Technically they're. My Radiohead I think came out in the early aughts, but it's in the sort of family of 90s alternative.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, it was fun to see that and then listen to them. What's your, what, do you have genres of choice?

Tommy Orange:

No, I'm all over the place. I have I have both Apple Music and Spotify and I'd use them for totally different things. Spotify's like my writing music area and you can't mess up the algorithm. And if you're using the two different things for two different reasons

Brett Benner:

And you want that Spotify rap.

Tommy Orange:

yes. Yeah. The saddest rap, it's the saddest rap you've ever heard.

Jason Blitman:

It's funny you say that because I was just babysitting my niece for a few days and she's one and a half and I just completely messed up my algorithm.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Ruined. To go back to Martyr, just for a second, one of the, one of the reoccurring themes in Martyr and Wandering Stars is of dreams. And I think that was, maybe one of the big interconnecting things that I saw. And something that's said in the book is that the idea that a dream that you don't know is a dream makes it real. Do you, is that something you believe? Do you feel like you live real moments in your dreams?

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, I have, so one of the thousand things that me and Kaveh have found out that we have in common since we've become friends, is this love of dreams. And it's not, I don't think it's as rare as people think. say that it is to have a relationship to dreams, but some, for some reason it's been like completely, blacklisted as a subject. I just feel like people don't like talking about it. They don't want you to write about it. It's like a running joke that like, you don't want to hear somebody's dream. And anyway I've had a, I think it's a cultural thing. I think Americans generally don't like dreams very much, or they don't like to think about them. And I think other cultures do. Anyway I've had a really rich dream life my whole life. And me and a couple of my friends just naturally lucid dreamed, just as. We just did it and nobody told us how to do it. It was just something that, two of my childhood best friends that's just something we did as kids. So it's, dreams are very real to me and they've shaped my life in ways like, and in scary ways too. I've had, Disturbing dreams my whole life and even continue to so it's there's a realness to dreams that to me that it's a dimension that I don't often hear that many people talk about and it was really nice to be able to cultivate that with Kaveh and in the books.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, you saying all of that made me just remember when I was a kid, I had a reoccurring dream, a reoccurring nightmare. And I suddenly just had this moment right now in this conversation. Almost like a fear of what happens if that comes back. And will I even remember if that was the dream that I was having as a kid? Anyway,

Tommy Orange:

Can you share it with us?

Jason Blitman:

I can't say I remember what it was, but I remember there was, I remember there being another person involved and I remember. Like I felt waking up, but I can't say I remember the dreams and all of a sudden I'm just like, I me. Is that like an element of deja vu or I don't know, the interconnectedness of your conscious. is very interesting. But no, I don't remember. But I suddenly remembered that it even existed.

Brett Benner:

But were you ever frightened? Were you ever as a child been frightened to go to sleep because you were afraid to re enter that place?

Jason Blitman:

Oh, what? Probably.

Brett Benner:

Because certainly I've had that moment where you wake, you're having a dream, you get out of the dream, but then you're afraid to fall back asleep in that moment. Because you're going to go right back into it. And yet I've never had something where I've come back the next night and been like, okay, what if I'm going to go back into that place with that thing? That's interesting.

Jason Blitman:

Anyway, dreams. Yeah. Wow.

Brett Benner:

got like going way, way back. I know you, so you, you had a you had a Cheyenne father and a white mother. And I just, I'm so curious because I know your mom was an evangelical Christian. There was just some tension with your dad and your mom because of her pushing back on his beliefs. Where do you stand now? Spiritually? How did that affect you as a person

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, I think the way that I went at fiction, and I've only realized this in the past like five years, when I found fiction, the way I went at it was with religious fervor, and and that was from being told from When I can first remember like my parents telling me the most important thing in life is your relationship to God And I'm like four What does that mean? And also coupled with the fear of if you don't accept Jesus into your heart you're gonna go to hell forever and like somebody who Spends a lot of time speaking of like being in bed and afraid to go to sleep I spent a lot of time not able to sleep at night Thinking about the idea of infinity and suffering for infinity as a consequence of not being able to accept Jesus into my heart, which as a kid, I'm like 5, 6, I'm like, I'm trying to let Jesus in,

Brett Benner:

and waiting for the feeling?

Tommy Orange:

to feel like, and it's I don't, I know in my heart of hearts that he's not in there. And so I'm going to go to hell forever. And like that, so that it was, there was a damaging piece and like a really intense piece that was part of my family life. That I think by the time I went to what does it mean for me? What does spirituality mean for me? Fiction really just filled it for me. Like nothing else ever could and writing also is a process. Is that I was recently there's a Lakota woman that we meet with for healing and she was talking to my wife recently and she called me the most unspiritual spiritual person she's ever met. I don't know what that means in terms of what, what my parents did, what I did, how I ended up. But I do feel like I'm like, don't believe in anything and believe in everything kind of person. Like I'm very skeptical and very full of doubt. But I also, have magical thinking and all that superstition and all this kind of stuff.

Brett Benner:

Absolutely. I was raised similarly in terms of that whole idea of, I was very in a very Christian home. I was, I went to church camp. I was raised to believe, I think I brought the Lord into my heart every single year because like you, I was like, what is this supposed to feel like? While also for me, it was also struggling with the fact that I think coming to terms with my sexuality and knowing that this is clearly wrong and goes against all these tenants that I'm learning, but And I chose to be immersed. I remember having getting immersed in the church and all of that kind of thing. And the kind of the pageantry and the I almost like the spectacle of it but it's a weird, it's a strange, it's a strange thing.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, we, we had people getting slain in the spirit. I don't know if you, if yours was that hardcore. But this was this was where they would touch your forehead and people would fall backward and, One time I lined up in front of the church. This was probably the hardest I ever went at I'm going for it. If you're gonna do something, then do it. Jesus. And I was just lined up in front of the church and the pastor went by knocking on the door. People down along the row and he came to me and I was like nine and I was legitimately like, do whatever you're going to do like I, and he came up to me and tap my head while I'm watching people drop like one at a time leading up to me, he tapped, he's tapped me and my head went back and it came forward And he just moved on and just kept knocking people. That was like my last legitimate effort at do your thing if you're gonna do it.

Jason Blitman:

You, you say you didn't know what it felt to let Jesus in, but it was books that filled that part of you, fiction and writing. And it was, so it was very interesting to learn that you're actually a relatively late in life reader. I'm a very late in life reader. You were working at a bookstore and that suddenly turned into you reading more. Is that correct?

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, so I, I got a, after college when I realized I wasn't gonna be able to somehow get on a fast track to film scoring or sound design in a studio, independent studio or something like that. I just needed a job, I think I found it classified. I think there was a for a used bookstores part time. And at the same time, I started working at in data entry at the Native American Health Center. So for the first time, becoming part of the Oakland Native community, because other before that, it was just my family and going back to Oklahoma to see my dad's side of the family. But we didn't, I didn't know about it. So becoming a reader and becoming part of the Native community was very influential in thinking about and making, their, what it ended up being. I, if I wasn't working in the Native community while becoming a reader and then a writer I think I would have wrote a different book. I don't know what that would have been, but those two things happened at the same time.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. Do you remember some of those first books that you were reading?

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, so the first two novels that I was like, oh, this is what a novel can do, was Confederacy of Dunces and The Bell Jar. Um, and I think the fact that they both killed themselves was like a part of, it drew me, the gravity of the act. of somebody who had the passion to write a novel, but also the sort of tortured spirit to kill themselves. I think that it was, there was something that drew me into that, the urgency of the voices. But then I started reading a whole bunch of world literature, a lot of works in translation. And I went all over the place from there, but those were the first two novels where I was like, I had never really read a novel. Like in high school, I was, I would just skim books. To pass tests but I wasn't like into, I wasn't into reading at all before that

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. Fascinating. And now, Pulitzer Prize finalist, NBD, totally fine. It's funny, I was looking at my notes, and there's a quote that I pulled that sort of goes back to exactly what I was talking about, about forgetting my nightmare as a kid. There's a quote from the book that says he has forgotten that he has forgotten things on purpose. And it's interesting, it's a very interesting trauma response, in how we compartmentalize things. The things that we don't want to remember, and I think perhaps in talking about dreams, I forgot that I forgot those nightmares on purpose.

Tommy Orange:

until might be ruined.

Jason Blitman:

until this podcast. I know, Tommy, I think

Brett Benner:

He's going to get off the phone and call his therapist immediately.

Jason Blitman:

Speaking of quotes from the book and themes from the book

Brett Benner:

First of all, wait, there's just, let's just say there's so many because you can't even see this because I'm blurred. My book is so tabbed right now because I found myself So many great quotes, so many beautiful quotes in this book. It really, it's it sounds almost cliche to say it reads like poetry, a lot of it. It's really stunning. It just.

Tommy Orange:

Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

So one of mine is that make believe can make life into whatever you want it to be. What do you want it to be?

Tommy Orange:

The whole thing of life or my,

Jason Blitman:

don't, however, whatever you want, however you want to answer that question. Or In your make believe world even.

Tommy Orange:

I think I've, there's a lot of things I wish the world was because it is obviously so many things wrong. I think I, I want it to be I think I've wanted my family life to feel more normal. I have this weird desire for norm normality? Normalcy? I don't know which one. And I don't think that's what I really want, and that's certainly not it's like the most boring thing I could have said to make the world whatever you want it to be. I want a normal life. But I just, my family life has just been really heavy, and sometimes I just want to like, be able to just go over to, one of my parents house and just have dinner. And our, my family's like completely broken right now. And a lot of like stuff from childhood is coming up. And so I want some kind of peace for my family life. And that feels like a big ask. It in terms of just on a personal level. But, I don't know how to answer what do I want life to be? I think I really liked writing about Lonnie and the innocence of childhood and how much we believe life can be. And I think there's something really beautiful and innocent About where Lonnie's coming from and that childhood magic that sort of gets broken by What our families end up doing to us as kids So I really liked writing about writing from that place because I think we all know that magic still I think we still have it somewhere inside And we remember I think even like The heartbreak of losing it.

Jason Blitman:

for me, that's something that art does so well. You can make believe in books, in movies, in TV shows, in theater, exactly what it was designed for as, I think, escapism is An unkind word for art, because it sounds like it's frivolous, but it in fact, I think is what helps save us.

Tommy Orange:

Dreams, I think, I think it's what our unconscious, which is like where a lot of our creative energy comes from. And a lot of our vision for what we end up creating comes from this place that's beyond us. Sometimes it can sound like really like woo woo to talk about this, the unconscious, but there really is like a part of us that we don't have access to unless we do certain things. It's Trying to make art and trying to make it better over time and trust in the process. I think dreams essentially are trying to have us escape from what conscious reality is or waking life is. And I think dreams and art I think a lot of it comes from the same place. Not to stare too hard. Back at dreams, but I feel like the escape quality of at night you like, some people have mundane dreams. Some people just dream of like scenarios that are like, that fit tightly within their daily routine. But I think one of the functions of dreams, just like one of the functions of art is escape, is escapism because we need to leave. We need to, we need reprieve.

Jason Blitman:

yeah, absolutely. And, thank you for uh, sharing a little bit about your real life stuff, because I think it's um, I think just good in general for us to all hear that, you know, that we're all sort of not okay. And knowing that we're not alone is uh, very beneficial. I'm also a lot of family stuff broken right now. I very much feel that. And so just appreciate you sharing that. Speaking of family, there's another big theme in the book is about belonging and finding your people. And I think as gay readers, thinking about my experience growing up as a gay person It's not always easy to feel like you belong to find your people and frankly, understand how you fit in under an umbrella, right? The G in LGBTQIA plus is one very specific thing. And so then navigating those relationships, did you ever feel that way too? In terms of other tribes, other native communities, where, just relating it's an element of same but different, it's oh you're the same, but no, I'm not, I don't have the same experience.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, absolutely. Being biracial is it's very, like in white spaces, like I was never really treated like a white person. And in native spaces, I'll often, I'll be assumed white or not native enough or like one of these people who claim that they are, but they're not feeling. And that's not it. But for instance, in high school guys that I hung out with, I had a nickname, it's probably not the right word for it, but it was, that was a racial slur for being Asian. It was like a really awful year and a half of, all of high school was bad for me. But this idea that I can't even be, called the right racist thing. Like just the absolute not belonging to the thing that I am like being the only native family in most of my school situations very much had me feeling like, Yeah. But then becoming part of the Oakland native community and understanding the diversity that exists in urban native families, urban native people are largely intertribal because it's a story about all these people that come from different reservations and start families in the city. And you don't always end up with somebody of your same tribe or even another native person. So you have a lot of mixed families. And so I have the experience of very much feeling like I don't belong to any, Group, but also of finding belonging in Oakland and, starting up my own family and I have a lot of found friends that I call family. And, speaking of the broken family stuff, you have to find people that you can call family and that you can love like family, if you don't, if you don't feel like you have it and I've been very blessed to find people that I consider family. And that treat me like family back.

Jason Blitman:

I always say there's a big difference between relatives and family and that's something I've leaned into a lot as I've gotten older.

Brett Benner:

Like religion and spirituality.

Jason Blitman:

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. And talking about finding your people and finding the local Native community, so much of the book too talks about really understanding yeah. Your legacy and that the stories of your, the stories of the past are what you're made of, and how do you grapple with that reality? Did that, did you feel like there were things that that uncovered for you?

Tommy Orange:

finding out about this prison castle piece and that my tribe was like at the heart of the origin of the boarding schools, which is an awful piece of history, but a really important part of history for people to understand, I think, Understanding that we were being assimilated from 1875. Let's just pick a date because that's when the prison castle started. And that's when the boarding school started in 1879 and essentially, all the way till, even me growing up, like my dad my, I was just thinking about this this morning, this idea of assimilation. It's easier to see with boarding schools and like cutting the hair and and Making them wear uniforms and Christianizing and it, but assimilation continued on for until my generation, my dad raised us in Oakland, even though he's a fluent language speaker. He's one of the only five living language speakers of like of the Southern Cheyenne dialect. He didn't teach us Cheyenne. He spoke it around the house, but my mom didn't speak it, so there was no conversation happening. He, and a lot of people of my generation the idea was that assimilation, like not being, not standing out was the stronger choice for your kid. And the idea that there's no value in being, a Cheyenne person or whatever people are being assimilated from, there wasn't. I think there is now, and I think this newer generations look back and wonder why things weren't passed on, but you have to look at, I'm trying to answer this thing about did I just, what did I discover? There's this huge extent of time where, like we were, Native people were dehumanized. And the, our cultural and our cultural systems and life ways were not valued. And then we did not value them and we did not end up passing them on. There's an extent that we made it through that I didn't realize before doing this extensive research.

Brett Benner:

You think it's finding, do you think these tribes, do you think, how do I say this, are finding their way back? Do you think that in these collective groups, you're able to, how do I say reconnect and regrow?

Tommy Orange:

I think certain people are. I think There's also there's a lot of new stuff coming out of I think there's an importance to rebuilding and reconnecting and and reviving languages that are at risk of dying. But I think there's also a newer generation of of young people that are having pride. In ways that they didn't before and making really cool art. And there's a lot of visibility right now and, voices that are, we haven't heard the nuance of before from native groups. We've been so much like Pilgrim Indians or Cowboys and Indians. That's basically what we've seen. And we're getting like all these books and all this representation in unprecedented ways. And I think the new representations of us. That's really exciting to me and there's lots of people that, it's, there's five million of us and there's like almost a thousand nations, if you count the not federally recognized tribes. There's so much diversity. And so it's exciting for there to be this much representation because we were just a flattened image and a sort of monolithic story. And to get like this explosion of voices is a much needed moment for us.

Brett Benner:

If you watch True Detective,

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, I did.

Brett Benner:

I was so blown away by it. I was so blown away by it. And I was saying to my business partner, what I loved about it so much is it was so steeped in culture and in a way that hadn't been done before on that show. That was just, and first of all, that, the cast, the whole thing. But and talk about dreams and that whole idea. I, I just thought it was incredible and so exciting. And I'm so happy that she's continuing on and doing the next season as well, which I think is really cool.

Tommy Orange:

Oh, I didn't know that. And I loved the show. And you can just feel there's a realness to the way Native people are being allowed to act on screen, that I really appreciated. You can tell they're, the writers or whoever they're consulting is they're being treated as humans. And there's like humor and, depth that I, that is I feel like it's unprecedented.

Brett Benner:

Yeah. It's exciting. Cause I was thinking like, In a way, it's, and I don't know if you like this mantle, but because of there, you suddenly seemed like you were the front face that they were putting out for this kind of wave of so much of the stuff that there's been so much with, Oscar Hokia, and then I, it's funny because you're popping up even as blurbing books, and I just read Adnan, and that was fascinating to me, and I know that, you had read that as well, which was something that, I went into it just knowing, oh, this is a book and it's written in verse and knowing nothing else about it. And then I was like, oh my God. So it's really interesting.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, and even finding unification with indigenous communities from all over the world because the, our stories are so similar and I think there's, there's a lot of opportunity for us to unify around certain things.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. So talking about learning about yourself in the community a quote from the book is, you are from a people who survived by making their surviving mean more than surviving who did their best to stay together. And I think that's learning the history. And then there's another quote that I think is what you're talking about now. Surviving wasn't enough to endure or pass through endurance test after endurance test. only ever gave you endurance test passing abilities simply lasting was great for a wall for a fortress but not for a person and there's such a huge difference between Surviving, lasting, and thriving, is, there's something else that might mean to you.

Tommy Orange:

No, I mean, that's, that is when you asked me about What do I want life to look like? I think that's it. I think it's thriving. It is living a full life that is, that has joy and it has love and it has laughter and And it can't just be about making it through. That's not living. And, I was wanting my characters to grapple with this idea of it cannot just be about making it through by the skin of your teeth or whatever. Even though that's very much, the story that gets told in Wandering Stars. There is this sort of like barely making it quality, but ultimately I wanted the arc to have this bigger hope to do more than survive.

Jason Blitman:

Do you practice anything to try to achieve that?

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, I

Jason Blitman:

I'm asking for myself.

Tommy Orange:

I run, I running is my if fiction became a religion of sorts, then running is the other side of it for me that the sort of active side of it. I also Started playing roller hockey again, which is something that I, that was what I did before. And maybe I went at roller hockey with a certain religious fervor as well because I started playing when I was 14 and I played on a national level and until I was like 26. And yeah, that was like my main passion for many years was this goofy sport from the 90s that does not exist anymore.

Jason Blitman:

Did it come back into your body?

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, it was it's, I play Thursdays. It's just like a 35 and older league and it's, people mostly just having fun.

Brett Benner:

Everyone has their knee pads on and they're right there, wraps wait and explain. I don't even know what is rollerblading.

Jason Blitman:

Roller hockey?

Brett Benner:

hockey is it's hockey or just on roller skates. Is that literally what

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, you're on roller, rollerblades. and

Brett Benner:

Now I can show you my age.

Tommy Orange:

it's in, it's on indoor courts. So there was actually a prof, there was a professional team in the 90s in Oakland. We would go to games like at the same place where the Warriors play, used to play. So it was like the real sport. And it was, there was like a, it seemed like a plausible thing that I might one day go pro, like I had friends that went pro in Europe and it's still a professional sport in Europe and in like France and Italy and a few other places. I think Spain. Yeah, so it's basically the same as hockey, but you're on rollerblades and it's four on four instead of five on five, but everything else is the same.

Brett Benner:

I wonder why I died out.

Tommy Orange:

I

Jason Blitman:

I maybe want to get into roller hockey. I used to love rollerblading.

Tommy Orange:

It actually died. It died in Southern California on ESPN. Like it, it was still big enough to be on ESPN, but they changed. They made it the goofiest thing possible. So it was taking place at Huntington beach. They had everyone wear super bright colors and and short shorts and all the pads were like super neon y and they put

Brett Benner:

the village people.

Tommy Orange:

They put ramps in the back of the nets, and they had them stop using a puck, and they went to a ball, and just like they were trying, I think they were trying to make it more entertaining, but it just became this spectacle, and it, the sport completely died. But I think it had more to do with rollerblading dying. Everyone realizing at the same moment, somewhere in the early 2000s oh, rollerblading is like super dorky looking, let's stop doing it.

Jason Blitman:

I feel personally attacked,

Brett Benner:

yes, let's create a thing called pickleball.

Jason Blitman:

Seriously. Oh my god, I was such a big rollerblader. That says a lot about me. Now I know.

Brett Benner:

But so many people were like, I remember moving to LA 25 years ago and that was the distinct image of seeing like this blonde girls and their short shirts with rollerblading along the beach. and like actually with the Pretty Woman soundtrack playing in the background, exactly.

Jason Blitman:

You're like a Renaissance man. You're sound guy, roller hockey guy. Oh, cool.

Tommy Orange:

Well, I did just finish writing a screenplay for a feature film.

Brett Benner:

Amazing.

Tommy Orange:

that's with, it's actually with the studio. They paid me to write it. I don't think I can share who it's with right now. Um, But right now it's like fully with them and they're like, they have to do paperwork for the director and producer.

Jason Blitman:

You should say to them, can I also be this music supervisor?

Brett Benner:

you really, there you go.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

this thing today.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, it's this job title. I just learned Also, there there is being adapted for TV. So there's those two things are really cool I'm not adapting it, but I'm like involved as a consultant so we're at the, we're at the place where they've written the pilot and I think they're trying to get it into production.

Jason Blitman:

Very exciting.

Brett Benner:

That's amazing. Congratulations.

Tommy Orange:

Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

Like this, the journey that you're on. Very cool. Who would have thought? Sound engineer.

Brett Benner:

The funny thing is, and you already have a whole built in for seasons three and four with the next book and the spinoff, which is all the prequel stuff. So like you're so good. Like you've got at least seven years out of this.

Jason Blitman:

From your mouth, Brett.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, come on, let's wheel a deal. It's Hollywood, baby.

Jason Blitman:

In our last few minutes together, is there, there's so much in the book. You talk a lot on other things about the title and all the fantastic serendipitous things that came along with the title and the characters in the book. And you talk a bit about addiction and the opioid crisis and other things. Is there anything that you don't ever get to talk about that you want to? That no one ever really asks you?

Tommy Orange:

I think there's a lot of there's a lot of like historical, I don't want to call them Easter eggs, but there's really cool stuff that like, that I pulled from research and put in that I just think is super fascinating and weird. I, I'm, here's a question for you. In there, there, I directly have. One of the characters listening to the Radiohead song while he's on the train. So I'm directly nodding to the thing. For Wandering Stars, and the Portishead song is Wandering Star I don't directly reference it, but did you catch the moment when it happens in the book?

Jason Blitman:

Oh, of course.

Tommy Orange:

You did. I guess if you know Beth Gibbons then, then you immediately know it,

Jason Blitman:

I think I also was just doing a lot of research as I was reading, because there was, you could see that there were these like little things along the way, and that's where all the tabs are coming in, and I think because I had just read There There, I was like, really, I was looking for connective tissue. And I feel like that sort of came along that journey.

Tommy Orange:

oh, very cool.

Jason Blitman:

It was a very interesting experience to really read them back to back again. Mostly because they're two separate books that there are some overlapping people obviously, and some overlapping storylines. But, like I said at the beginning, the vibe is super different.

Tommy Orange:

think there's a way to read it and I hope it ends up like this one day, maybe, as a, as just one big book. I think there's a way for it to be the prequel part first there, there, in the middle, and then the aftermath part and features part. So there, there being the sandwich meat.

Brett Benner:

I think this is what you have to go back to the studio and pitch. This is how you say it. And each section would take three seasons each. um,

Jason Blitman:

Here trying to make you deals.

Brett Benner:

Most things are only eight episodes anyway, so that's easy to get to Yeah, just enough to get you enough episodes, just a little bit of pocket cash so you can keep writing and open your own music studio. This is what we're going for, Tom.

Jason Blitman:

Tommy, this has been really lovely. Congrats on on this book.

Brett Benner:

so great. It's so great. Congratulations for all your success. It's so well deserved and your continued success, frankly. We know you also, I think you're, you've also, you're, I know you're working on another book, correct? Which I know you didn't really want to talk about and you don't need to talk about, but that's exciting to know.

Tommy Orange:

Yeah, it's and it's completely separate from these two books, and it's a contemporary thing. And, I'll talk a little bit about it. the theme, and I don't know how much. You two know about this. It feels like some people definitely know about it, and other people are like, what? You've heard of pretendians. I talk about that in There There a little bit. But basically there's this of ethnic fraud that is affecting native communities here and in Canada on a pretty wide scale level. Do you know, you don't know about this?

Jason Blitman:

Sure, of course.

Tommy Orange:

You do. Do you know about the recent Buffy St. Marie thing?

Jason Blitman:

No.

Tommy Orange:

Buffy St. Marie? She's like our most famous, she was our most famous native musician.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, yes. I wanna say some version of this came up in your interview with Kirkus.

Tommy Orange:

The CBC did a full like investigation. There's like a 25 minute long episode of this show. I can't remember what it's called, but if you look up Buffy St. Marie, CBC basically she's been faking it this whole time and she's like a very prominent. Native musician. The third book goes into this whole world of ethnic fraud. And I can't, I don't want to talk about the specifics yet and the plot, but but I'm excited and I'm deep into it already.

Brett Benner:

Rachel Dolans of the native community.

Jason Blitman:

Dolezal Yeah.

Tommy Orange:

except it's still like very, unsettled, like everyone knows that it's true, but there hasn't been like, those are all like a joke. And she's been completely like, I think she has a podcast actually. Did you know

Brett Benner:

I think she does. Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

What the hell is she even talking about? No, I know. I want to look

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Kevin

Tommy Orange:

a whole community? Are you serious?

Brett Benner:

No, but I'm just like, no, it's like gross people doing gross things. Repeatedly gross.

Tommy Orange:

she's part of a community of people that are calling themselves trans racial. That's, I think the type of audience that she, It's people that want to like, anyway,

Jason Blitman:

difference really is that Buffy was like a figure of the community, which, Rachel was never

Brett Benner:

No. I understand that.

Tommy Orange:

she has an academy award. Buffy has an academy award. For that one song, love lift you up where you belong. That song

Brett Benner:

Will the

Jason Blitman:

from Moulin Rouge.

Brett Benner:

No. Love

Jason Blitman:

not from. No, it's there's a clip of it in Moulin Rouge. 100%. Love lives just up where we

Brett Benner:

This was Joe

Jason Blitman:

fly, na na na

Brett Benner:

was Joe Cocker and Jennifer Whatsherface.

Jason Blitman:

I know, but Moulin Rouge pulled from songs, there's

Brett Benner:

yes, you're right. You're right. Yes. Yes. Yes. You're right. You

Jason Blitman:

Younger Than You, that's how I know that song, from Moulin Rouge.

Brett Benner:

Yes. I remember it now. It's in the elephant medley on top of the elephant.

Jason Blitman:

Yes, thank you. Wait, Buffy wrote that song? Oh

Tommy Orange:

Yeah. Yeah. So all this acclaim for being like the first indigenous person to do all these things is now she's the first fake indigenous person to do these things. Yeah. They have like her birth certificate and like certificate of live birth. Her whole family, her white family is we don't know what she's doing and we don't know why she's been doing this.

Jason Blitman:

Wow.

Brett Benner:

said anything previously that no one in the family ever came out and was like

Tommy Orange:

her brother did. And this is in the thing. Her brother did and she threatened him with these lawyers and there was like, this idea that he had sexually abused her when they were younger and she was threatening to come out in public against him if he said anything. So it's a whole mess. It's a whole mess.

Jason Blitman:

An indigenous icon for 60 years, right? Oh my god, her birth certificate is on the CBC thing. All right I'm gonna, we're, I'm about to go down a

Brett Benner:

morning, right? Jason, your morning set up.

Jason Blitman:

And so you're saying your next book is inspired by this thing?

Tommy Orange:

It's not I'm not writing about Buffy at all, but it's, it's It's just the world of that this exists and characters in it that, that are dealing with this. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

that's insane. I can't wait.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

Tommy, thank you so much for being here.

Tommy Orange:

Thank you both so much. This has truly been a pleasure.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, thanks a

Brett Benner:

us as well.

Jason Blitman:

Everyone. Make sure you check out Wandering Stars, Tommy's new book. You could find it in our bookshop.org page, in our show notes

Brett Benner:

yeah, And you don't need to have read there to have read this.

Jason Blitman:

We'll see you next time.

Brett Benner:

We sure will.

Jason Blitman:

Bye.