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Lessons from a Trickster: Eden Robinson on Breaking all the Rules.

Trickster is a mythological character that appears in the stories of several First Nations, but for Haisla and Heiltsuk writer Eden Robinson, it's a character that's undeniably Haisla. So much so, she made Trickster a reoccurring character in her latest book trilogy.

"The stories that we tell our children to learn Nuuyum, the Haisla way of doing things... this is where Wee'jit [Trickster] comes in. He was one of those guys that taught you about Nuuyum by breaking all the rules," says Robinson in our interview. She bursts into laughter--a laugh she's known for, adding, "His schemes always went hilariously wrong, he's like Wiley Coyote."

Trickster is a transforming raven, a character who appears in Haisla stories as an example of what not to do, and in Robinson's books, he's the father of the book's protagonist.

Robinson's Trickster trilogy is the coming-of-age story of Jared, who is coping with family problems, ghosts, magic and supernatural creatures, all while coming to terms with the fact that he is, in fact, related to Trickster.

The first two books of the series--Son of a Trickster and Trickster Drift--have now been published, and Robinson is in the process of finishing the third book.

On why she decided to write the story of Jared and Trickster as a trilogy, Robinson says it was the result of "bad planning."

"I decided to write a short story contextualizing our Trickster, Wee'jit, trying to make it appeal to my niece and nephew, and when it hit 50 pages I thought, 'Maybe it's a novella,'" recalls Robinson.

"And then it hit 400 pages, and I think, 'Holy shit, it's a whole novel.'"

As she continued writing the story, it hit 700 pages, and that's when she went to her publisher to see if she could divide it into two books.

"We had a long chat about it. I think I made everybody nervous," recalls Robinson. "And then, when I was writing the second book, I found myself on page 400 and I hadn't even introduced the main antagonist."

It was at that point she assured her publisher the story would end after book three. Robinson might have made her publisher nervous by suggesting a trilogy, but that decision has paid off. The first two novels have received rave reviews, and Son of a Trickster made the shortlist for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

"I thought maybe one of my serious novels would be nominated [for awards], I never thought it would be for Son of a Trickster, which is pretty goofy," she says.

Robinson recalls that after her first novel, Monkey Beach, was met with nominations and prizes, she felt pressure to write something that would get her nominated again. Initially she changed her writing style but decided on sticking to what she knows best--fiction that features First Nations mythology, supernatural creatures and Robinson's wicked sense of humour.

It's obvious that Robinson doesn't appear to take herself too seriously--she's always laughing and making jokes--but over the last couple of years, Robinson has had a few hardships along the way.

In October 2017, months after the release of Son of a Trickster, her father John Robinson passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

"In 1998, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's... and it progressed very slowly. The first 10 years there wasn't a lot of changes he had to make to his life," said Robinson. "But as he entered the advanced stage, I moved home... onto the reserve [Kitamaat Village]."

Robinson describes her dad as "restless and outdoorsy," and she jokes that he was the complete opposite of her.

"The poor outdoorsy guy got my brother, a computer guy, I'm a writer, and my sister works in TV, so he was always bewildered by how he got us," she says. "He was absolutely instrumental in getting me out on the land and seeing it through his eyes and appreciating it in ways I never would have."

In fact, it was her father's outdoorsy nature that inspired Lisa, the narrator of Robinson's first book, Monkey Beach. Even though Robinson never developed the outdoorsiness of her father, it's clear she got a bit of his sense of humour. Her father was fascinated by Sasquatches and was disappointed that there weren't any of the mythical beasts in the Trickster series.

"He loved the Discovery Channel, but he didn't like Finding Bigfoot because he thought it was just harassing Sasquatch," says Robinson. "But they won't find them, [he'd say in jest,] because they have SquatchBook. When a TV team or researcher comes into the territory, they post about it on the SquatchBook and everyone avoids [that area]."

In addition to dealing with the death of her father while promoting Son of a Trickster, Robinson was also dealing with chronic pain.

"Rheumatoid arthritis runs down both sides of my family, so I was kind of expecting it," says Robinson. "It turns out I had an exotic variant of it, polymyalgia rheumatica... which usually hits you when you're 80 years old."

Initially Robinson's doctors had a hard time diagnosing her condition, and it wasn't until her mobility was very limited that doctors figured out what was causing her pain.

"It was in my shoulder joint and then it moved. It made my muscles like hard bumps, so I had very little range of motion," she recalls. "By the time it got into my rib cage, I was having troubles breathing, and it was so painful I couldn't lie down.

"My cousins would have to come in the morning and help me get dressed, and make me breakfast, and then come again at the end of the day and help me get ready for bed."

Even when recalling the excruciating pain she has experienced through the last two years, Robinson still makes light of the situation, joking that her family teased her for having an exotic form of arthritis.

"My family was like, 'La-di-da, you couldn't just have old regular rheumatoid arthritis, you had to have a fancy one.'"

Despite the jokes, Robinson credits her family for being a great support system. At the of time of her diagnosis, and at the peak of daily chronic pain, Robinson was down to editing the second book in her trilogy, Trickster Drift, which was somewhat of a blessing.

"I can edit from anywhere--at my desk, in my recliner, in the tub," says Robinson. "It was just a matter of not being able to do it for too long, just because I was physically limited. I would love to write all day, but my back would not tolerate it."

Robinson recalls that when she moved back to Kitamaat Village to help out with her father, it struck her just how strong Haisla women are.

"I never understood why [the women in my community] weren't more chipper. Looking back, I realized] they had so much responsibility on their shoulders--keeping the community together, keeping the culture together, keeping their families together, [while] holding down a job," says Robinson.

"I grew up with the idea that women are the backbone of the community."

Robinson jokes that she's "kind of a slacker, because [she] didn't have kids." Even though she grew up with strong, inspirational women, Robinson says that outside of her community, this wasn't always the case. She recalls how the Canadian literary scene was once more of a boy's club. Without disclosing any names, Robinson said that back in the '80s when she first emerged in the CanLit scene, she would hear stories about certain male writers who would abuse their power.

"A couple of the [male] writers were eviscerated in the #MeToo movement. As a writer in the same generation... other women would tell me their stories, and I can't share them because they're not my stories. But I would try to warn people that [a particular writer] was not a good person," said Robinson.

Robinson is thankful that things have changed since then. "I'm so grateful for the #MeToo movement, because [those men] got away with a lot."

"I think there's still a lot of work to be done, but just having some of the most brazen perpetrators out of their positions of power--they're not hurting anybody else anymore--that's a big relief."

Despite being a celebrated, strong female voice in CanLit, Robinson shies away from being a role model for other writers, saying that young female writers are already leading the change that needs to happen.

"Right now, there are so many amazing emerging Indigenous writers who've grown up on social media. They have a voice, they have a platform and they're just not interested in that bullshit."

by STEPHANIE CRAM
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Author:Cram, Stephanie
Publication:Herizons
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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