How I Wrote It

Why it took Eden Robinson eight years to write Son of a Trickster

The acclaimed author of Monkey Beach on the complicated genesis of her long-awaited novel, Son of a Trickster.
Eden Robinson is the author of the young adult novel Son of a Trickster. (Chris Young/Knopf Canada)

If you've ever felt like you've bitten off more than you can chew, Eden Robinson can relate. Her long-awaited novel, Son of a Trickster, started out as a very, very short story... and now it's the first book in a trilogy. 

Son of a Trickster is on the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist.

In her own words, the acclaimed author of Monkey Beach talks about finding the perfect voice for her Trickster story in a teenager named Jared. 

From 10 pages to trilogy

"I started writing what would become this novel in 2008. When I first conceived the Trickster story, I was thinking I would write a very short, 10-page story. The Trickster is also known as Wee'git. He's a transforming raven and he has a very specific role in our culture. We tell our children Wee'git stories to teach them about protocol, or nuyum. But he teaches people this protocol by breaking all the rules. He is the bad example, the example of what not to do. So his stories are always funny and he's a very lively character. As a writer, I assumed that he was going to be narrating my story, but I quickly discovered that it was a lot like having Sherlock Holmes telling the story. It was pretty braggy from his point of view. I needed a Watson.

"It was a real search to figure out who this Watson would be. I knew that Wee'git would go to the all-Native basketball tournament. He has a crush on a girl who has a crush on someone else. Wee'git transforms himself into that crush and they have a kid. I tried telling it from basically every point of view, and it wasn't working. At the same time, I was also writing short stories about an urban dance group in East Vancouver. One of the characters I was writing about was coming down on the Greyhound late at night. That scene haunted me, and I realized that the kid coming down to Vancouver was Jared — who was the baby that resulted in the Trickster hookup at the basketball tournament. Once I found Jared's voice, everything started to move. 

"Then I thought, well, maybe it will be a novella, rather than a short story. But it turned into a novel and then it kept expanding. I was hopping back and forth in time, which was getting really confusing for early readers of the manuscript. So I went back and started ironing out the timeline. Usually when I do that, my stories kind of lie dead, so I was very nervous about it. But this time, it helped me realize that I had a trilogy on my hands." 

Teen beat

"Jared's in his teens in this book, and so we spend a lot of time with his friends and schoolmates. The novel takes place in a very teenage world. I don't have teenagers of my own, but I spent a lot of time with teenagers thanks to Monkey Beach. It got on the Grades 10-12 curriculum in B.C. and I toured through schools with the book. I learned so much, so a lot of the details of current teenage life come from those workshops. You should have seen when they were trying to explain Snapchat to me, I felt so old. They had to demystify everything for me. They played around with my profile. 'Now you have wings!' They also gave me a butterfly crown. It doesn't really fit in with my serious literary author image. And then they made me look like a manga figure with giant, sad eyes. That just creeped me out. When I was explaining that my character was chatting with his gran on Facebook, they were like 'Yeah, that's why we don't go on Facebook. We don't want to talk to our grans.'" 

Trickster forebears

"When I was growing up, we would sit around the kitchen table after supper and have coffee and cigarettes and just tell stories; many of them were Wee'git stories. Those really founded my writing, but when I was writing Son of a Trickster, I also read a lot of books as touchstones. Because I was working with Tricksters, the books that I was working with all play with the concept as well. Here are five that I found very, very helpful: Celia's Song by Lee Maracle, Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson, Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor, One Good Story, That One by Thomas King and Tracks by Louise Erdrich.

Eden Robinson's comments have been edited and condensed.

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