“Writing can teach you a lot about who you are, if you are willing to listen”.
After meeting Eden Robinson, I am left smiling as I recall her infectious, hearty laughter which filled the lecture theatre as she discussed her newest novel, Son of a Trickster. She generously shared insight into her writing and into herself which will add to my experience when reading my signed copy of her novel. This event, at Laurier University, was part of the Canadian Women Writers Speaker series and combined the energy of students of the Reading Fiction class with avid readers of the general public.
The event began with a traditional thanksgiving address shared by Bonnie Whitlow, member of the Bear Clan, Six Nations. She encouraged the audience to be thankful for the natural world which takes care of us and allows us to flourish as human beings, to be humble, to be thankful for all things that refresh the air, earth and water, to remember that the creator loves us and to acknowledge that we may make mistakes but we do the best we can. The address was translated to English and was an inspiring beginning to the reading by Eden Robinson.
Eden acknowledged that “all characters are me, they’re all little bits of me” and shared that her writing is dependant on what is happening in her personal life. While she described Traplines as grim, she was going through goth phase where she “felt things deeply and painfully” and described the character as being stuck, without a lot of options. This character had a love for the interior world and this spirituality was a part of her cultural experience growing up. She noted that rereading this book is like “revisiting old highschool journals”, a time of awkward transition with rich and experiences for writing.
She openly talked about her challenges quitting her 2 pack day smoking habit (sometimes ranging up to 5 packages as day) and how she was so cranky that her cousins would throw cigarettes over the wall at work. She shared that it was her 17th try at quitting and attributes a 40 page torture scene in Bloodsport to her “depths of withdrawal”. She needed to quit due to her asthma and emphysema and notes that she could not write for 3 months after quitting since her writing process had been so tied to nicotine, caffeine and sugar.
“You are the light speed of your characters”
Before beginning her reading, she noted that she, herself, does not swear much. Her writing is heavily based in dialogue and she lives vicariously through her characters and the grandmother has a wide range of cursing and vulgar vocabulary. She grounds her writing in her history and culture including the character of the trickster whas often been used to teach people about protocols by breaking the rules and setting a bad example.
Son of a Trickster originally started with the main character being older. Robinson noted that the backstory was becoming so cumbersome that when the editor suggested streamlining the timeline, she ended up writing Son of a Trickster as it’s own book, becoming the first in the trilogy which has a complicated structure based on some dances. It is set in her hometown of Kitimat, BC.
Robinson is an avid reader (across genres) and noted that she had a list of “touchstone books”. I was able to ask her a question about these books and she rhymed off a few but agreed to send me a list via email. The books she shared at the event included:
- Brown Girl in the Ring (Nalo Hopkinson)
- When Fox is Thousand (Larissa Lai)
- Kiss of the Fur King (Tomson Highway)
- Celia’s Song (Lee Maracle) – I have to admit, that I was thinking of this novel as Robinson spoke of shapeshifting and the since these two vibrant women share similarities with their enthusiastic, positive demeanours and infectious laughter that stays with the audience after the event (Robinson shared that she had been captivated by the mink character).
- The Last Neanderthal (Claire Cameron) – she was lucky to read an advanced copy and notes that she “devoured” it in one evening. This author of The Bear (not to be confused with Marian Engal’s Bear which I recently reviewed) is coming to A Different Drummer Books in Burlington on May 15th and I hope to met her.
- The Break (Katherena Vermette) – she described this novel as “bleak, grim and dark” but enjoyed the connection with 11 narrators circling around a trauma and how the text artfully spiralled from this central issue. This book is being defended by Candy Palmater (I am a big fan of Candy’s after being interviewed by her on the CBC last summer) for the Canada Reads debates. I am looking forward to reading The Break and hoping that it may be one of the last 2 books on the day I attend the Canada Reads finale at the CBC.
- Blackwater (Joyce Carol Oates)
One of the students asked what she hoped readers would take away from her novels and she said that she resists telling people what to think. Growing up, she had been encouraged to read a lot of books with morals which may lead to unsatisfying endings. She appreciates how “the way your experience interacts with the materials that I have written” and how the “realizations you take away from everything I write are thinks you already know”.
“I am a ‘cook with abandon’ writer. I throw everything in, research as I go, restructure and reshape after the first draft”.
Robinson shared her wisdom to new writers – to be gentle and know that it is a steep learning curve. Translating ideas onto paper can be difficult and it is important “not to beat yourself up”. She prefers novel writing to the condensed space of short stories where “every sentence is essential to the narrative” and described “short stories are a little drop and a novel as a river”. She laughed that she knows a novel is starting “when I start to tune other things out, like driving” and said that it is helpful to pick a certain time of day to write – and stick to it! She wrote Son of a Trickster in the early morning hours, squeezing in the hours between 0400 and 0500 hours since she was too busy marking papers during the day. For me, the most helpful advice was “don’t edit yourself as you are writing, shut of the critcal part of your brain that makes you hesitate”. She was asked how she knows the story is done and said that “I know a story is over when it is not the first thing I think of when I wake up”. Her stories are often running in the background of her thoughts “like an app that won’t turn off” as she is writing.
The event was thought provoking, inspiring and punctuated by hearty laughter. The audience was captivated and the questions kept coming. It is fantastic that Laurier shares events with Canadian voices and I will be watching for future author events in this series. Eden took time for chatting and pictures during the book signing and I am happy to have a copy of Monkey Beach and Son of the Trickster signed to add to my special bookshelf!
Looking for more?:
if you are wondering about Eden’s signature laughter she was described in a Quill and Quire article, A Lighter Tone in Eden Robinson’s New Novel Parallels a Positive Uptick in the Author’s Life by Sue Carter as “If there was a prize for the best author laugh in CanLit, Eden Robinson’s would be at the top of the list. Her unrestrained guffaw is so spontaneous and unselfconscious that, even as a stranger, you can’t help but be drawn in.”
CBC article on Why it took Eden Robinson 8 Years to Writer her Novel
The Canadian Encyclopedia: Eden Robinson