How did this story come about?
I first wrote this story in January 2017 (it’s been a long and winding road). 2017 was Canada’s sesquicentennial, and this story was largely my way to work through some very, very conflicted feelings about “Canada 150.” At the time, I worked in heritage/tourism, and there was a lot of soul-searching involved in balancing the demand for “FUN HAPPY MAPLE SYRUP PARTY, EH?” and the reality that Canada’s colonial settler history and present are pretty terrible.
But Canada 150 prompted lots of dialogue. What is Canada? How do Canadian? How can we reconcile the ideal (nice, tolerant, multicultural) with the actual (~4000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls since the 1970s; water crises in Indigenous communities; three English-language universities in Montréal alone but not one French-language university in all of Ontario—thanks, Doug Ford)?
There was a lot of reading and listening and inner wrestling.
In the two years between writing the story and writing this response, I read and listened and learned even more, which led to changes. And I know: I still fall short, my story falls short. The conversation continues. There’s always more dialogue to have and work to do, so we have to keep trying.
The ending is so, so nice: Did you start with the end in mind?
. . . kind of? Not necessarily the specifics. Without giving away spoilers, Raccoon genuinely surprised me. But I knew generally how the story had to end. It had to end with the narrator handing the mic over and listening.
It’s a hopeful ending. I think it’s a plausible ending. If there is a very good chance that one of this year’s national bestsellers will be an Indigenous-language children’s book, I think the game is slowly changing . . . though there’s more work to do!
P.S.: That book is Bear for Breakfast, a collaboration between Robert Munsch and Jay Odjick, who is an absolute creative powerhouse. The book is in English and Algonquin, and you can learn more here: amzn.to/2F05702.
What are your favorite folk tales?
Oh, there are so many! My favourite fairy tale has always been “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon.” It was the first fairy tale I read where a plucky young woman goes off to rescue her prince, and I love the imagery: the bear and girl travelling over sea-ice, the girl riding the four winds . . .
“King Herla” has always stuck with me, too. King Herla attends a faerie wedding and as he leaves, they place a dog in his arms and warn him not to dismount his horse until the dog jumps down. One of his party doesn’t listen, dismounts, and promptly turns to dust. So King Herla and his band keep riding on, waiting for the dog to make its move—but chillingly, the dog hasn’t jumped down, not even yet.
That story’s also on my list.
Which modern retelling/re-interpretation of a folk tale is your favorite?
I’m a huge fan of Angela Carter; she was a game-changing author for Wee KT. In her collection The Bloody Chamber, my favourite is probably “The Erl-King,” for its sheer beauty of language and hypnotic quality.
For other favourite re-interpretations, can I just point to the entirety of The Starlit Wood, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien?
Any upcoming projects/news to share?
Sometime this year, I’ll be releasing Coxwood History Fun Park: Season Two. This mini-season of my podcast audio drama was a stretch reward in last year’s GoFundMe for the stage adaptation of Six Stories, Told at Night. This podcast has been long asked-for, and it is finally coming!
And I’m poking at a novella, which is a first for me! Expect more fairy tales, for sure.
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