Books·How I Wrote It

Why Waubgeshig Rice wrote a dystopian novel about the collapse of society from an Indigenous perspective

The CBC host and author discusses his novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow.
A composite photo of a book cover, featuring a snowed in car in a field, and the book's author, a 40something man with two long braids.
Moon of the Crusted Snow is a book by Waubgeshig Rice. (ECW Press)

Waubgeshig Rice is a novelist and host of the CBC Radio show Up North. His latest novel, Moon of the Crusted Snow, is a dystopian drama about a northern Anishinaabe community facing dwindling resources and rising panic after their electrical power grid shuts down during a cold winter. While the community tries to maintain order, forces from outside and within threaten to destroy the reserve.

Rice spoke with CBC Books about how he wrote Moon of the Crusted Snow.

Real world dystopia

"It's a world that I'm familiar with. It's set in an Anishinaabe community that's dealing with the impact of being displaced and the effects of colonialism. It's a dystopia that's already here. I could draw the personal experience of growing up in a community like this. But there's still some knowledge of being able to live on the land and use the resources of the natural world to survive."

Fade to black

"I wanted the events in this story to slowly unfold. In a community like the one in the book, a catastrophe like this isn't going to come on as quickly as it would in the city. Things wouldn't be as hectic immediately; it would be a slower burn. I didn't want the story to be dark immediately. I wanted the darkness to build."

Putting past and present in context

"In my work as a journalist I deal with a lot of context, especially when you're reporting on Indigenous issues and communities. There are a lot of things you have to explain to people about why things are the way they are today.

"By nature, some of that came out in the actual writing of this book. A lot of non-Indigenous people might not be aware of what's happening with Indigenous communities, but a lot of Indigenous people are still learning about how things have come to pass, even given their own personal experiences. These are things that we're still teaching ourselves and learning about in order to understand our place in Canada."

Making time to write

"Basically my creative writing process, since I've been working as a journalist, has been writing fiction in the early mornings or on the weekends. I would get up a little earlier to try to spend at least an hour writing. I had to devote however much time I could on the weekend to getting things written.

"I started writing this in September 2015, and this is after spending a few years imagining the story and thinking about the characters. I was at the Banff Centre recently and took the Indigenous writers program for two weeks which allowed me to focus on writing the book."

Waubgeshig Rice's comments have been edited for length and clarity.