Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Tracey Lindberg on her dream moose meat dinner party

The Canada Reads finalist answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Tracey Lindberg is the author of Birdie. (CBC)

Tracey Lindberg's debut novel Birdie entered the 2016 Canada Reads ring with defender Bruce Poon Tip. Birdie tells the remarkable tale of Bernice Meetoos, a Cree woman struggling to recover from an abusive past. 

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

1. Karen Solie asks, "Do you remember who you were reading when you first realized, not that you wanted to be a writer, but that you were intrigued by writing and what it can do?"

This is such a coincidence, I was thinking of it only this morning, Karen. I remember reading Judy Blume as a child (8 or 9?) and thinking, "Here is an adult, writing as a kid, for kids. She has done something hard." I know that I thought it was remarkable to be able to capture kids' voices, fears and joys. Within that, something about possible futures formed, I think.

2. Paul Yee asks, "Do you think it's harder to write funny stories than serious ones?"

Thank you for this, Paul. I think it is harder to try to write funny stories — that stuff, the ribald, fierce inconsistencies, irony and quiet jest are so finely hewn and personally intuitive that they are hard to capture and create with intent. In my work, they have to be either the lid on a pot of fury or a ladle in the stewing angst. In this regard, maybe it is harder for me to write funny because I think the funniest things come out of things happening and mixing up at the other end of the emotional spectrum. Absurdity. Gallows humour. Profundity in pain. In truth, I weigh in on the side of sadness and that might be easier for me as a result.

3. Jane Urquhart asks, "Could you write a novel about two square meters of outdoor space? (urban, rural, or wilderness)"

Oh gosh. That does make you think. Perhaps. Writing about a rich inner life and the collapsing and moving of space and time might allow for some movement that the physical allotment does not. Mental and spiritual traveling are rich, rich pieces of our existence, but there is so much to be learned from place, home, body corporeal. No, on second thought: I could probably not do this well. My attention span could not allow for it. And. No one wants to read anything that the author can't describe fully.

4. Lori Lansens asks, "If you could have dinner with one of your literary heroes, living or dead, who would it be? Where would you eat? What, besides books, would you talk about?"

Big brains and big hearts change the world. If I get to choose the company, I think I would want more time with the late Harold Cardinal (author of The Unjust Society, The Rebirth of Canada's Indians, and co-author of Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan: Our Dream Is That Our Peoples Will One Day Be Clearly Recognized as Nations). His books were some of the most powerful iterations of Indigenous political philosophies and strengths — and outlined the colonial challenges. He was a brilliant intellectual and a good leader. He was also just a repository of stories about life, our people and where we come from. He was flawed, funny and human and a great conversationalist. I would love to hear from him about the rejuvenation of our legal orders and about his ideas and thoughts on the young Trudeau's nation to nation conversation with Indigenous peoples. It would be thrilling to hear what he thinks of the role of artists in changing the conversation and his ideas about our evolving political life as citizens of our Nations.

We would eat at Billy-Ray Belcourt's house because I need an excuse to add him to this conversation. Those two, let alone what I could add to or take from the conversation, would challenge and enjoy each other immensely, I think. Billy-Ray is a beautiful, spectacular intellect whose combination of gentle kindness and hard truth delivery would resonate and stir my late friend, Dr. Cardinal. He might not get Billy-Ray's poetry but he would be actively engaged and challenged by his brain and the many formats within which he lets out his magnificent ideas.

We'd have moose meat, boiled potatoes and bannock. And tea. Lots of tea.

5. Shani Mootoo asks, "How do your closest family members treat you, you the published — hopefully famous — author?"

Well, this makes me think and feel, Shani. My family has always treated me like I am remarkable. Remarkable does come with it a number of other adjectives and synonyms (curious, funky, kooky, peculiar, strange), but in its most adoring configuration, I get lots of time with my nieces and nephews. Book writing is just another odd thing I do. Like law school. Moving to the United States for grad school. Going to Harvard. Getting a doctorate. Singing in a band. They are proud, but they did not get the book until months after it came out or have not seen it yet. No particular reasons, it's just what we do. My extended family are similarly proud of me and my community is exceptionally important. The Kelly Lake Cree Nation held a dinner, let me read, gifted me with gifts exceptionally dear to our peoples, and lift me up and hold me out. I hope I do the same for my family, extended family and Nation.

6. George Elliott Clarke asks, "What literary character would you like to seduce — or be seduced by?"

Seduction to me is one of two things: cheap or meaningful (and therefore, personal). And, I am not having either conversation with the CBC. Sorry, George!

7. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"

Hmmm. I want to know Lawrence's worst job! My answer would have been entirely different until two years ago. I will give you the two year-old answer: my worst job was as a karaoke host in a bar. In a small town bar. In a small northern town bar. Talent was...a gift, when found. Over-familiarity was, however, abundant. People walking around with the microphone in their pocket, into the washrooms and yelling "Beat it! Not the song! You." The material, I suppose was about the impermanence and lack of resonance in public shaming. Mostly, people are just happy it is not them. Also: alcohol has good spirit and bad spirit in it. Oh, and: you don't get to drink on the job just because your job is in a bar.

8. Joan Clark asks, "What part does the subconscious play when you are writing fiction?"

A good story, this one. I am not a Cree speaker. My fluency extends to toddler facilitation of activities: open doors, come here, go away, eat, sit, speak, be quiet, love. So, while writing Birdie, I relied upon the language I know, Cree speakers I know and Cree dictionaries. It was challenging and I struggled here and there, but really tried to open myself to the possibility that the words I did not have would find me. "Blood memories" I think N. Scott Momoday has called it. In any event, I chose names familiar to me, but not necessarily from communities I have lived in. I chose Bernice's last name "Meetoos" as it sounded soft and final, like punctuation. I had done a draft and delivered it to a Cree-speaking elder for review before going to my editor.

"You know Meetoos means tree, eh?" I didn't.

The arc in the book about the tree of life and the tie between women and the land was not merely in my conscious mind when I named Bernice. However, that innermost intuitive voice knew who she was and how she would grow. So, to that degree (and I don't think we get to know what is from our subconscious until someone or some event clarifies it later) I suppose the subconscious enriches and enlarges my work. Time will tell. Thank you, Joan!


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