Eden Robinson was born to be a writer, which is fortunate. “One of my aunties is a traditional herbalist. She taught me how to do it, and she was hopeful that I would take over,” she recalls. “And then she saw me in action and said, ‘Yeah, writing is good. It’s good you have writing.’”
The Haisla and Heiltsuk writer is prone to misadventure when outdoors. She has “a boatload” of seasonal allergies. Her father once took her trapping in winter; she took off her snowshoes to adjust them and found herself sunk in snow up to her armpits. “You wouldn’t want to see me in the woods,” she says, before breaking into her famous laugh.
So, she writes. And how fortunate for her readers too, who have been eagerly awaiting the final volume of her Trickster trilogy, Return of the Trickster. Released on March 2, the book concludes the (literally) transformative journey of Jared, a teenager with an inescapably magical inheritance.
That puts Robinson in the midst of a book tour, albeit the chill COVID version of one. “If this was like a normal year, I would be hopping across the country, running for planes, trying to find taxis, losing my chargers in different hotels, trying to do interviews on bad hotel Wi-Fi,” she says. “So this has been a really relaxed book tour. I can take a nap, I can make myself snacks.”
She can also spend time with books written by other people. Trees, pandemics and the perks of cave dwelling all feature in her recent reads. Learn more about what she’s into these days.
The Tyee: What do you like to read?
Eden Robinson: I love novels that get right into character studies. I love complex characters. Lately I’ve been trying to expand my own repertoire — every book up to this point has been told from a single point of view, whether it’s first-person or third-person limited. So I’ve been reading a lot of novels with multiple points of view. There There [by Tommy Orange] has 12, The Break [by Katherena Vermette] has 11.
When I read to try and understand someone’s technique, I make a photocopy of the book and then pull it apart by the page, and then by the scene, and just try to figure out how they did it.
Are you working on anything right now?
This is the weird hangover part. There’s a feeling of let down at the end of a novel, because it’s over. But since it’s a trilogy, it’s been about 10 years, so it’s really hard to move onto the next book.
I’m just giving myself some space to, you know, sit with the ceiling for a bit. It’s like after you’ve broken up with someone, but you still share the same apartment, and you can’t move until your lease is up. So I’m roommates with my book. I’ll know it’s done when I don’t think about it when I wake up, and all the magic is gone. But I haven’t started dating yet. Anything I write right now would be like the mopey poems I used to write when I was a teenager.
So, I’m still processing. I think I’m going to do a lot of weeding this year — the garden is looking particularly snarly, because I ignored it for the last two years. And I’m trying to enjoy books without, you know, having a goal — like, not reading books to steal.
What else have you been reading?
I’ve filled my Kobo with books! There’s a lot of tree books — The Overstory [by Richard Powers], Braiding Sweetgrass [by Robin Wall Kimmerer].
I’ve also been interested in developments with the fish farms, so I’ve been reading an advance copy of Not on My Watch [by Alexandra Morton].
Were you a big reader growing up?
Oh yeah. Mom and Dad were huge readers — they always read to us, and they were always reading something. Mom liked reading true crime, romance, and the Second World War and Vietnam books. Dad liked Popular Mechanics, Scientific American, anything that told you how things worked. When he read to me as a kid, they would be things like articles about gravity engines or instruction manuals. Mom had the same grim sensibility as me, and we’re from a fishing community, so she would tell me stories about the different ways people had drowned.
There weren’t a lot of rules in our house — there was no curfew, we didn’t have to eat at the table, and I could read all night if I wanted.
What kinds of books kept you up all night reading?
I read the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy one weekend. No sleep! And later I wished I had savoured it, because you can never read a book for the first time again. I just couldn’t let go of the story and didn’t want it to end. But now I try not to rush through my books.
I was really into nerdy stuff — sci fi and fantasy. I didn’t really get romance. I’m from the Beaver Clan and we’re very pragmatic. I would give wool socks for Valentine’s gifts, which apparently people think aren’t very romantic? But they’re really warm! What could be more romantic than that? I do think I could write a trashy band council romance, though.
I read in an interview with Prism that you were thinking about writing a romance. Is that what’s next?
Well, that was actually what I was working on before I started procrastinating by writing a Trickster story. The trashy band council romance demands to be told by a community and not a singular voice, and that wasn’t a skill that I had yet.
Was there an author that made you want to be a writer yourself?
When I was a kid that would have been Stephen King. I loved him. I remember the first time I read Carrie, I was like eight or nine. Like I said, there were no rules in my house about what we read! So I read Carrie and Cujo. I was just like the biggest Stephen King fan, and everyone knew for my birthday to get me multiple copies.
Oh, there was also a weird book I found at the library called The Cat from Outer Space. It was the tie-in novel from this Disney movie. I would just be following mom and dad around the house, reading my favourite parts out loud.
Do you have any books you return to over and over?
One of my comfort books is Pride and Prejudice [by Jane Austen]. I remember when I hit a bad spot in Monkey Beach, I had to stop reading it because [my character] Frank was starting to sound like Mr. Darcy. Which would have been weird, in a rez book.
Your books are very funny. Do you have any favourite books that make you laugh?
Right now, I’m in a serious phase. I was just reading about how the Neanderthals might have gone extinct because of the flipping magnetic poles, and how that opened the Earth up to radiation, so the people that survived were the ones that lived in caves. I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I don’t know where I would ever use that. But you know, I love living in this time just for all the amazing things that we’re learning. Like it’s a scary time, and we’re facing extinction, but my god, all the things we’ve learned about black holes!
In this apocalyptic COVID era, do you want to read stories about the apocalypse? Or are you looking for distractions from it?
You know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s a lot more Netflix than I would have thought. I was expecting the toilet paper run, that was on-brand for the apocalypse, but not Tiger King. Now that was surprising!
At the beginning of the pandemic, that’s all I wanted to read — pandemic stories. Station Eleven [by Emily St. John Mandel], Songs for the End of the World [by Saleema Nawaz], The Marrow Thieves [by Cherie Dimaline], Moon of the Crusted Snow [by Waubgeshig Rice]. I have a top 10 somewhere in my head, but those are the ones I can remember right now.
But now, you know, it feels like it’s been a decade in a year? So lately I’ve mostly been watching the Perseverance rover, the little guy on Mars. He’s cute! I loved the pictures and live streams, seeing all the people who worked on that mission so relieved and happy. Also, a lot of cat videos.
Are there any emerging writers you’re excited about?
Jessica Johns, who is coming out with her first novel, Bad Cree. And Brandi Morin. Also, Lisa Bird Wilson. She isn’t so much an emerging writer, I guess, but I think she’s primed to have a breakout book. I read a manuscript of Probably Ruby, and it’s so good. Just stunning.
I’ve also been listening to Canada Reads and wow, it’s a double hitter for Arsenal Press! That’s amazing. Joshua Whitehead and Francesca Ekwuyasi, I loved both their books. I’m so nervous! (Editor’s note: Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed was crowned the winner on March 11.)
I’ve also been ordering a lot of books I’m excited about from the United States, ones that friends have recommended. But they all seem to get lost in the U.S. postal system! The tracking just ends in Washington. So hopefully they make it here someday.
Of those books being held hostage by the U.S. postal service, which one are you most looking forward to reading?
Stephen Graham Jones’ upcoming book, My Heart is a Chainsaw. I’ve been a fan for a long time, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what this one is. I might just have to Kobo it!
Oh, I just finished The Idiot [by Elif Batuman] before the book tour started. It was hilarious reading details from when the internet first started. And the main character is so gloriously awkward at love. I was like, “Oh, yeah, she’s a writer.”
Would you ever write another Trickster book?
Oh no, I think the Trickster part is done. I’ve been getting a lot of requests for Chuck and Wee’git in the ’70s. That would be a lot of acid and mushrooms. But if anyone wants to write fan-fiction about that, I really encourage you to do it.
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