Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Eden Robinson on her musical afterlife and dream CanLit Trivial Pursuit Partner

The 2018 CBC Short Story Prize juror answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Eden Robinson is the author of the novel Monkey Beach. (Chris Young)

Eden Robinson is a Haisla/Heiltsuk author who grew up in Haisla, B.C. Monkey Beach, her first novel, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award in 2000 and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Robinson's novel Son of a Trickster is shortlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Below, Robinson answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Colleen Murphy asks, "What is the book you read that changed your life, and why?"

So many. I remember reading Stephen King forever because his horror seemed to encapsulate my teenage experience. I was hell bent on writing horror and then, for a class, I read The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. I didn't know language could do that. I didn't know the silences and pauses could be as important as the words. For the next three years I wrote bad copies of it and it changed what I wanted to write and the way I wanted to write it.

2. Andrew Pyper asks, "Have you ever been surprised — deeply and honestly shocked — by the violence of a reader's reaction to your work, whether positive or negative?"

Yes. A few times. Such a strange responsibility, right? On the one hand, it's fantastic that your writing has resonated with another human being. On the other, when they meet you at the signing table and start to cry and blame you for their bad day at work because they have a book hangover, things get awkward.

3. Peter Robinson asks, "How important is the sense of place in your work?"

Vital. I tried setting my novel, Monkey Beach, in an imaginary town to avoid the weirdness that comes of writing about home, but once the story lost its physical context, it lost its punch.

4. Charlotte Gill asks, "What does your afterlife look like?"

In our culture, ghosts speak to you in the bits of music that get stuck in your head. So if you hear your grandfather's favourite country song, he's visiting. I've warned my family that I only remember one or two lines of most songs and can't keep a tune. So if you hear a line or two of pop songs repeated endlessly, that means I'm visiting. My family has, in turn, promised to 'send me into the light.' I really can't sing.

5. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "If you were to have a dinner party, which two characters from everything you've created, would you like to have sit at your dining room table and chat with?"

Lisa and Jared. Because they're both so young and committed to bad choices and I've become the bossy aunty everyone rolls their eyes at.

6. Jane Urquhart asks, "Is there a difference in the way that male and female writers are valued by the literary establishment and by society?"

We're more aware of the difference, but that doesn't mean I get told any less that what I'm writing isn't important, that the domestic subjects I'm interested in will relegate me to kitchen-sink drama. Which speaks loudly to how the emotional work of women is valued. Our society is sentimental about wives and mothers and daughters, but not willing to give their invisible work any literary credibility.

7. Tracey Lindberg asks, "Who, from literary Canada, is your dream Trivial Pursuit partner?"

LOL, well if it's the CanLit edition, Hal Wake.

8. Dianne Warren asks, "How do you feel about the term 'CanLit'? What do you think it means?"

I wish we had sexier acronyms. CanLit sounds like a nuclear power station. We also have AbLit which is now IndigLit. Ugh. CanLit has been great to me, otherwise. I think there are very few places that would embrace my darker vision and consider it light humour. Maybe Iceland. IceLit.