Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Conversation: Eden Robinson

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
by Ariel Gordon

Eden Robinson is a Haisla/Heiltsuk writer based in Kitimaat, B.C.

In November, she was given the 2016 Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award, which recognizes mid-career writers for a remarkable body of work.

The most recognizable of Robinson’s five books is her Giller-shortlisted first novel, Monkey Beach. The Washington Post called it a "spiritual mystery" for the way it combined the supernatural — based on Haisla culture, of course — with a dark, pop-culture infused murder mystery.

Her latest book, Son of a Trickster, is the first of a projected trilogy. It is the story of Jared, a smart-alecky teenage boy whose emerging supernatural powers are interfering with a home life that includes a single mother with a drug-dealing boyfriend, a flatulent pit bull and a father whose bills he pays.

Robinson will launch Son a Trickster Feb. 12 at McNally Robinson. The event will be hosted by NCI-FM’s David McLeod.

FP: Your books explore addiction and dysfunction; they’re bleak and irreverent while also focusing on indigenous culture and spirituality. They’re also so unexpectedly tender.

Eden Robinson: Our society has such a stigma about people coping with mental trauma. It makes us uncomfortable, so we don’t want to talk about it. We don’t provide affordable, easily accessible services, yet we expect people to stiff upper lip through absolute hell, and then we dump on them when their lives fall apart because the only relief they can find is through drugs or alcohol. You see it with residential school survivors. You see it with soldiers with PTSD. You see it with first responders. The hard work of healing is done by the traumatized and their families, often with no training and no support. Amazing, resilient people rise out of this, but a lot of good people are crushed.

FP: What are your goals, your hopes, when taking on all of these big subjects?

ER: My sympathies are with the people coping with impossible circumstances. But I’m not a big fan of morality tales or telling people what to think. And I miss this TV show called Roseanne. And I love Trickster stories. And I have a random brain. So you mush all that together, and my big hope is that people are entertained by my crazy stories.

FP: What have you learned about your process, four books in?

ER: I pushed myself hard when I was younger and had absolutely no work/life balance. I don’t regret my ambition, but I couldn’t do it again because a) my body would rebel and b) family is too important to put on the back burner. Relaxing about my work habits has led me to enjoy writing again. Darkness still exists in my material because, in my heart of hearts, I’m still a goth girl writing moody poetry in my room. But I hope the sense of joy in creating comes through on the page.

FP: Who are the writers you look to? Who are your influences?

ER: Every book has a different set of challenges, so I look to different writers to use as touch stones and inspiration. For this book: Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson; When Fox is a Thousand, Larissa Lai; One Good Story That One, Thomas King; Kiss of the Fur Queen, Tomson Highway; Tracks, Louise Erdrich; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams; Celia’s Story, Lee Maracle; Lyric Philosophy, Jan Zwicky, Indigenous Poetics, Ed. Neil McLeod; Tales of the Kitamaat, Gordon Robinson.

FP: Your novels are published as literary fiction, but they could easily work as fantasy. Have you ever considered throwing over literary festivals for comic cons?

ER: I would love to be invited to comic cons. I’m a huge indiginerd.

FP: What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

ER: I just finished an advanced copy of Claire Cameron’s The Last Neanderthal. She can write warm and fuzzy, and then breath-taking violence, and then cutthroat office politics. I really enjoyed it. Both her female narrators were warriors in their own ways. Last week, I read Railroads and Totem Poles by Janet Rogers. She was the poet laureate for Victoria and is a mesmerizing spoken-word poet. Powerful and witty.

I’m working on Trickster Drift, the sequel to Son of a Trickster. Having accepted his heritage as the son of a witch and a Trickster, Jared decides the best way to cope is to become a medical sonographer and argue with his friends about which actor made the best Doctor Who. Since he hasn’t got a lot of savings or funding, he ends up couch surfing in Vancouver with his aunt, Mavis Moody, an eccentric writer and activist. Not based on anyone. Total fiction.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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