Who is David A. Robertson?
David A. Robertson is a nationally bestselling author of children’s books, graphic novels, and novels. His books include When We Were Alone (Governor General’s Literary Award winner, McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People winner, TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award finalist), Will I See? (Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award, Graphic Novel Category), and the YA novel Strangers (Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction, Best Indigenous Writer at the High Plains Book Awards). David educates as well as entertains through his writings about Indigenous Peoples, reflecting their cultures, histories, communities, as well as illuminating many contemporary issues. David is a member of Norway House Cree Nation. He lives in Winnipeg.
Here is the synopsis for Strangers, book one in The Reckoner trilogy:
When Cole Harper is compelled to return to Wounded Sky First Nation, he finds his community in chaos: a series of shocking murders, a mysterious illness ravaging the residents, and reemerging questions about Cole’s role in the tragedy that drove him away 10 years ago. With the aid of an unhelpful spirit, a disfigured ghost, and his two oldest friends, Cole tries to figure out his purpose, and unravel the mysteries he left behind a decade ago. Will he find the answers in time to save his community?
You have created written works in all of the major styles – picture books, graphic novels, novels, and poetry – do you have a favourite style? Which style, and why?
I don’t know if I have a favourite style. What I enjoy is challenging myself. So, I want to get better as a writer, and to do that, you need to be able to find ways to develop skills. If you only write poetry, you’re working one writing muscle. If you only write novels, likewise, and so on. I suppose if I had to choose, I would say that what I find most enjoyable, and challenging, at the moment, is children’s literature. It’s just, I write stories to reach an audience with a message. That drives what style I choose.
Who are your top three writing influences?
Oh my. That’s nearly impossible, and I don’t want to leave anybody I love out. So, I’ll answer with the caveat of: I have several more than I am influenced and inspired by. For example, Claudia Dey is one of the most unique and impressive voices I’ve read in the last few years. I don’t know that I could write like her. I’ve always been left in awe of Miriam Toews’ writing. She would be near the top. I went on a two-year (I don’t read much because I’m writing so much) “binge” read of her work a short while back. Her writing floored me. There are so many incredibly talented Indigenous writers in Canada that inspire me, including my dear friends Katherena Vermette and Cherie Dimaline. Again: impossible to choose one, or even three. I’m also influenced by older works, so I’ll say J.D. Salinger, because one of my favourite books of all time is Nine Stories.
What are three works of Indigenous writing that you would like to see more people (of any age) read?
If you mean actual books and not styles or forms of writing, I’ll say: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (but everybody is reading that book already), anything by the gentle and incredible Julie Flett, and a tie between North End Love Songs by Katherena Vermette and Calling Down The Sky by Rosanna Deerchild.
Who, if anyone, would you absolutely LOVE to collaborate with?
Like in any capacity in the writing world? I’ll say Jillian Tamaki.
While reading The Reckoner Trilogy, I think many readers would see that Choch is an homage to many Indigenous legends of trickster spirits. Are there any other references to Indigenous (or specific Cree) legends that may not be as obvious?
Well, Choch embodies the Trickster Spirit. The Cree version of that is Wisakedjack, the Ojibwe version is Nanabozho. Coyote is Salish and some others. It wasn’t a pan-indigenous thing in using Coyote. He actually says: “I’m actually more of a Salish thing, I was just passing through.” Choch is very self-referential, and self-aware. I wanted to write Coyote like he’s never been written before. But, he kind of wrote himself, in the end. Anyway, I think I’d mostly like people to work for that, to figure out references to Cree or otherwise Indigenous mythology or legends. The Northern Lights certainly play a role. There are adapted versions of old stories about coming back from the dead. Obviously, I also deal with the “W” word, which was informed by research that my father, a Cree Elder, provided to me. And the whole story takes place in a Cree community, so I think from a contemporary perspective, there are things to learn there as well.
Who was your favourite character to write in The Reckoner Trilogy?
Choch. Well, I’m not entirely sure I wrote him though. He kind of did his own thing.
I am 31, and I didn’t learn much about Indigenous Peoples in school. What I did learn was very much taught through a white lens, even when I lived in Thompson. We definitely never learned about residential schools, Indigenous culture, or colonization. Today, kids are learning all of that starting as early as kindergarten. While we still have a long way to go, how does it make you feel to know that you have had a direct impact in making that happen in Manitoba?
I mean, I don’t want to take credit for anything. I think I’ve found my role in the process of reconciliation and education, and I’m glad that The Reckoner Trilogy can have a part in that process. But we have a lot of work to do, and everybody needs to think about what their role is. Sometimes, it’s reading a book. But that’s just the start. What’s next?
What is your favourite part about being an author?
Meeting people, and hopefully, through literature, connecting with people, or fostering connections that I’m not even involved in. Stories bring people together. That’s beautiful.
Recognizing that all Indigenous Peoples are not a monolith, are there things that people can do to incorporate daily acts of reconciliation into their lives? For Manitobans like me who didn’t learn much about Indigenous Peoples or cultures in school, are there resources you would recommend?
I just think people need to read as much as they can, to learn everything they can learn. And talk to people, too. You know, part of reconciliation is just sitting down with people and talking with them through the lens of humanity. Being able to do that, without preconceptions, aside from any stereotype, is important. Really talk. Listen. Don’t listen to the media, or popular culture. Listen to people. And read books that are being written through lived experiences. Directly.
What are you reading right now?
I’m not. I’m working on four writing projects at the moment. But I did just read through This Place: 150 Years Retold (because I had to moderate a panel on it).
Most anticipated 2019 release?
Empire of Wild – Cherie Dimaline
Favourite snack while writing?
Rice or Popcorn
Plotter, pantser, or plantser?
That depends on the book I’m writing.
Cats or dogs?
Cake or pie?
Favourite pizza topping?
Green pepper and mushroom
Somewhere you want to visit?
What superpower would you like to have?
Healing Powers – Wolverine or Deadpool like
What song are you likely to listen to on repeat until someone makes you turn it off?
I’ll say album, and probably right now Soup by Blind Melon, or Big Red Machine (song might be something like… Deep Green or The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness)
To celebrate the launch of Ghosts on May 24, Portage and Main Press has kindly agreed to give away one complete set of The Reckoner Trilogy to a lucky winner in the US or Canada.
Please note that these books do contain content that may be triggering to some readers.