Six Nations sisters Sara and Megan (Alyssa) General have grown up with a rich, artistic background. The daughters of sculptor and First Nations art advocate David General, have both linked their love of arts and culture in their own career paths. They have been working together on book projects for more than a decade now.
“Writing is my passion. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. I love stories and I love books. I love to imagine things. It fuels everything else that I do,” says Sara, who credits Megan for being a big part of her writing journey by adding the illustrations to her stories. “Some of [the writings] were terrible but she still found something she liked about them because she’s great at seeing the possibility in everything.”
Starting their own publishing company had been a long-time dream of theirs — self-publishing allows the sisters to be the ones to share their work while maintaining artistic freedom and ownership. That dream had slowly grown throughout the years as both women spent time honing their craft and researching what it takes to start a publishing company.
Megan focused on developing her art, poetry and Mohawk language, while Sara focused on developing the company by researching publishing, copyright, book formatting, copy editing and proofreading, distribution and setting up their website.
“It was an exciting but lengthy process. We’re lucky that there are a lot of independent publishers out there who are willing to share their experiences,” says Sara.
“One challenge I definitely found that might be a bit different from their experiences though—is how colonized the process of publishing is. For example, if you sell books in the U.S. through a company like Amazon, you have to cite the Tax Treaty between Canada and the U.S. to avoid being taxed twice on things like royalties. There is basically no acknowledgement whatsoever of Indigenous People’s sovereignty in this regard,” she says. “It’s something you have to do to conduct business, but at the same time, it’s strange, because you know this is Turtle Island and yet the frameworks you have to work within simply do not acknowledge it yet. So it’s been interesting to observe and think about that.”
Recently, the sisters’ dream had become a reality as they published three books under their new company, Spirit & Intent. The company’s name is also the title of the first book they had finished together — a collection of short stories and other writings.
Spirit & Intent was inspired by research Sara was doing about Niagara Falls and Jikonsaseh, the woman from the Great Law. In February 2014 they received an Ontario Arts Council grant for the project.
Their second book is a children’s book called Treaty Baby, inspired by what the sisters had learned about Treaties and their importance.
The third book is called The Vampire Skeleton — a novel loosely-based on old Haudenosaunee folklore and explores what vampires might be like in a First Nations context.
“It’s a fast moving Young Adult story with hints of romance and a lot of magic. Most of my stories have magic in them. I like a lot of different kinds of books, but the ones with magic have always been my favourite. I’m really excited about the stories I’m writing now and I’m incredibly excited about Alyssa’s art,” says Sara. “It’s very beautiful and very unique. Plus, Alyssa’s an amazing writer in her own right. She’s definitely got stories to tell.”
The sisters look forward to releasing more books this year, including works in Kanyen’kéha, and one day publishing for other writers.
“It definitely requires more research about author contracts and likely more resources—especially because one thing that’s important to me is protecting another writer’s copyright,” says Sara. “It makes so much sense for people to publish independently because no matter what happens, you will always own your work. You can make it available electronically or through print-on-demand. That’s something we can help people with right away and would be happy to.”
The books are available on Sara’s website: www.sarageneral.com
The books plus Megan’s art prints are available on www.spiritandintent.com.