An Indies Introduce Q&A with K. A. Cobell

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K. A. Cobell is the author of Looking for Smoke, a Summer/Fall 2024 Indies Introduce YA selection and a July/August 2024 Kids' Next List pick. 

Kromeklia Bryant of Solid State Books in Washington, DC, served on the bookseller panel that selected Cobell’s book for Indies Introduce.

“This book is a powerful and thought-provoking read that skillfully blends the narratives of four distinct characters," said Bryant. "It is a story about the importance of community, the search for belonging, and the heart-wrenching realities of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). If you’re looking for a book that will leave you on the edge of your seat, challenging you to see through the smoke and discover the killer, this book is a must-read.”

Cobell sat down with Bryant to discuss her debut title.

This is a transcript of their discussion. You can listen to the interview on the ABA podcast, BookED.

Kromeklia Bryant: Hi, this is Kromeklia Bryant. I'm a bookseller at Solid State books in Washington, DC. And I'm here with K. A. Cobell to discuss her new title, Looking for Smoke.

A little bit about her: She is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she spends her time writing books, chasing her kids through the never-ending rain, and scouring the inlet beaches for sand dollars and hermit crabs. Looking for Smoke is her debut novel, and goes on sale June 4, 2024, from Heartdrum/HarperCollins.


K. A. Cobell: Hey! Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to talk to you about Looking for Smoke.

KB: So am I. I really enjoyed this novel. I don't read a lot of YA, but I was excited to. I read a lot of mid-grade.

KAC: Okay. Yeah, that's my sweet spot. YA, that's what I love to read and write.

KB: That's great. My first question is: This is your first novel. Did you intend to write about the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women?

KAC: Yeah, so, when I first got the idea to write the story, it was because I wanted to write Blackfeet characters. Because growing up I didn't see a lot of Native American characters in popular media, and I don't think I ever saw a single Blackfeet character. So it was really important to me to write them into a story. And because I'm a thriller writer, writing about murder and Native American characters, that just automatically brings in the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, which is a prevalent issue in the US where Native American women are the victims of violent crime far more often than any other group. So it was really important to me to use my story to help raise awareness for that issue. And hopefully it helps readers to learn more about the issue, and to want to learn how they can help.

KB: Yeah, I was in Alaska in June of last year, and I saw one of the stickers with the red hand marks over the mouth, which is a symbol of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

KAC: Yeah, it is getting out there a little more, which is great. And I just really wanted to help get it out there even more.

KB: Yeah. You mentioned wanting to have increased Indigenous stories out there. So that leads perfectly into my next question, which is, are you excited about the trend of increased diversity in storytelling with more authors representing people of color and disabilities?

KAC: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really exciting that we're seeing more, and I really think that reading stories from other perspectives, it helps us to learn more about other people, but also more about ourselves. I think that these stories really are windows into, you know, different experiences and cultures. And that's fun. I think that that's what brings a lot of the joy of reading is just experiencing different things.

KB: Are there other Indigenous authors that you read?

KAC: Yeah, I just recently read Danica Nava's book The Truth According to Ember. And that was so fun. It's the first traditionally published Native rom-com, and it was so cool to read that just seeing two Native characters falling in love. And I think it's just really exciting, seeing more of that.

KB: I gotta look for that book.

KAC: Yeah, it's fun.

KB: I used to have a diversity romance book club. And so, yeah, that would definitely be on our list.

KAC: That would be perfect. It's really a fun read.

KB: Yeah. My next question is, why did you choose to write in the voice of teenagers?

KAC: Well, I just love YA books. It's what I read most of the time, and so I love to write it as well. I think there's just something about that time of life when you're discovering yourself and who you want to be, and figuring out where you fit into everything. And I just I guess I feel like, in my heart, I'm still in that stage sometimes, just figuring myself out. And so I just love writing from the teen perspective and, yeah, I didn't even think of writing it from any other age group, just from teens.

KB: And the use of multiple voices instead of just one primary character?

KAC: Yeah, I think I got inspired to do that from Karen McManus. One of Us Is Lying was like one of my all-time favorite reads. I just loved how she switched between the four characters and we got to see all the mysteries from different angles and the secrets they were keeping from each other. It just made for such an intriguing read that I wanted to do that.

And I think also for this particular story, for Looking for Smoke, I thought that it would be good to see a lot of different angles into this trauma that my characters are experiencing: of a missing sister, murdered best friend. Seeing how it affects different people. We've got the new girl who's sort of looking in as an outsider, which is kind of how the readers are looking in. They're coming from a different place and observing these characters they don't know yet, and that's kind of what the new girl is experiencing.

And then we've got a sister who is deeply impacted; she feels the loss, you know, very intimately from her own family. We've got a friend who is kind of grappling with the changes that come from this missing girl — his friend group has been turned upside down. And we've got another friend who is trying to protect his own sister; he sees what's happening outside of his family, and he's trying to just keep his life and his sister secure as well as he can. I think just all those different angles from one scenario add a lot of interest to the story.

KB: It does. There were so many secrets.

KAC: Yeah, that's the secret to a thriller: secrets.

KB: It is, it is. Was Mara's character modeled on your life experience?

KAC: I think I modeled all of the characters in my own experiences as much as I could. You know, they were all drawn from a real place, and I took from my own memories, my own experiences, growing up, family stories. I tried to integrate all these things into each of the characters, so that they would feel authentic, and Blackfeet, and just real.

I do think that probably more of myself came out in Mara, because I am part Blackfeet and part white and I do sometimes doubt my identity like she does. So I don't think I planned for that to come out necessarily, but I think it naturally did. And I think that is common with Natives who are bicultural or multicultural, and that we do sometimes question like: am I Blackfeet enough? Am I Native enough? And where do I fit in? So yeah, I think that did come out from me a bit.

KB: Yeah, I think that's a universal experience for multicultural people. Yeah.

KAC: Yeah. I hope people can relate to that.

KB: I think so. I think so. I have, multiracial nephews, and I always try to make sure that — and I have so many multicultural people — that I'm always making sure that I find stories that reflect their experiences, because lived experience is really important.

I think representation in those experiences is also important, so that everybody kind of sees representation, but also can understand — when we talked about earlier — that reading about others’ cultural experiences can increase your empathy or understanding of those other cultures.

KAC: Yeah, that's so true. Yeah. Well, I hope people see themselves in this book in that way. They see — if they're dealing with the same things, then they can feel some support there.

KB: Yeah, I think so.

KB: Are you excited — I've already read that one. Huh! Are you working on anything new?

KAC: Yeah, I have a lot of irons in the flame, I guess you could say. I have a couple of different rough drafts I have finished and I need to edit that are both young adult thrillers, and they also continue to explore the MMIW epidemic and shine that light. I'm not sure how much I can say, but I'm excited about both of them.

KB: I'm excited about those too. What else can we expect from you in the future?

KAC: Probably more books for teens. I can't see myself writing in any other age groups yet, maybe someday, but I just love writing YA and I'll probably stick to it for a while.

KB: Okay! Well, congratulations and thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.

KAC: Thanks so much for having me!

KB: You’re welcome!

Looking for Smoke by K. A. Cobell (Heartdrum, 9780063318670, Hardcover Young Adult Thriller, $19.99) On Sale: 6/4/2024

Find out more about the author at

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