The following is a Q&A session exploring the writing process with novelist Eden Robinson, her muse Marvin and myself, Fictional Eden Robinson (AKA FicER). We’re all in Kitamaat Village, a small Haisla reserve five hundred miles north of Vancouver on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Neither Eden nor FicER are wearing traditional potlatch regalia, which in this neck of the woods means button blankets and matching aprons, heavy Melton cloth with clan crests in contrasting colors outlined with shell buttons. Instead, the writer Eden is wearing a bathrobe and has her hair in a ponytail. FicER is in a plunging royal-blue ballgown, her hair teased in a shiny updo. We’re all having tea and gluten-free ginger cookies at the kitchen table in Robinson’s apartment overlooking the Haisla Nation Band Office.
Fictional Eden Robinson: I come from a long line of storytellers.
Eden Robinson: Really? That’s what you’re going to lead with?
FicER: I was born in a snow storm.
ER: Right after everyone gets their Christmas credit card bills in mid-January.
Marvin: I find you most disagreeable. Prepare to be disintegrated.
FicER: Pipe down. I’m myth-building here. My dad and my very-pregnant mother were getting into their truck when my grandmother hopped in with a pair of scissors. ‘Just in case,’ she said. They drove through a blizzard to get to the hospital.
ER: You must be my inner drama queen.
Chorus: And I’m the subconscious chorus, the meld of voices in your head that has found a quiet spot, a remote spot, and studies the action from a distance. Here but not here. Invested but not involved. I’m the place writers go to when they’re, to have a nineties moment, ‘in the zone’. This place of focus exists outside of time and space. This is the writer’s version of a runner’s high, creative ecstasy, nirvana. I distill inner chaos into creation. I find the patterns in your random interests. I bake the cookies from your ingredients.
Marvin: I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
ER: God, stop singing.
FicER: I always knew I wanted to be a writer.
Marvin: I hate rabbits. And ducks.
FicER: We should get a monkey. Emily Carr had a monkey. So did Frida Khalo.
ER: I’m not getting a monkey.
FicER: Older, childless female artists get monkeys. That’s just the way it is.
ER: I’m not cultivating a stereotype.
The Transforming Raven, the Trickster Wee’git, enters.
Wee’git: Knock, knock! Can I come in!
ER: No. I’m a serious literary novelist. I don’t fraternize with tricksters.
FicER: He had the chiseled cheekbones of a powwow god. He was all wrong for her but she didn’t care. She had to have him.
Marvin: Running Bear loved Little White Dove.
Wee’git: So. Where’s the good stuff?
ER: It’s ten in the morning.
Marvin: Wa wa whiskey and wild, wild women –
Marvin & Wee’git: They drive you crazy! They drive you insane!
ER: Don’t encourage him.
Wee’git: All writers are tricksters.
Pop. An older white man with a thin, grey beard appears on the stove.
Older white man with a thin, grey beard: What if reality as we know it is just a hologram?
ER: What the hell?
Wee’git: He’s the physicist you saw last night on TV.
Physicist: Information doesn’t disappear in a black hole; it just gets scrambled.
FicER: His eyes were black holes and she was sucked in, powerless to deny his gravity.
Marvin: If you think I’m sexy and you want my body –
ER: Ha. Funny. Yeah, you’re a laugh a minute.
Pop. The physicist disappears.
Wee’git: What do you have against me?
ER: You’re fun, but distracting, and I have a lot of grim, important truths I need to tell.
Pop. Wee’git holds an iPad.
Wee’git: I see from your Facebook status that you need more lives in Candy Crush. Please and thank you. Very polite to our internet friends, aren’t we?
ER: You don’t take anything seriously.
Wee’git: You take everything too seriously.
Chorus: I take you where you don’t want to go, ask questions that you don’t want answered. You are a child playing with dolls – your game reveals the way you think, your experiences, and your take on humanity. You expose your limits, your foibles, your humor or lack of it. I’m a mirror and an oracle. You are a still lake, carved by the last ice age from granite and glaciers. When you write, you plumb your mucky bottom for treasure and instead encounter sightless fish, glowing in the dark, alien and perfect.
Marvin: If you want my assistance, Earthling, I demand Lay’s plain potato chips and chocolate-dipped dried mangos.
ER: Which pretty much sums up my creative process: Long, disjointed conversations with figments of my imagination.
Wee’git: Hey, who are you calling a figment?
ER: Can I please have the last word?
Wee’git: You’re the figment, Figment.
Chorus: Words or language, as they are written or spoken, do not play any role in the mechanism of thought. We can exist without words. But to communicate with others, we need agreed-upon symbols. Which is messy, because language coheres with itself, not reality. A pure poem could not be spoken, much less written.
What we have are these crude tools, you and I, creating worlds with sledgehammers, traveling through time and space with fidgety minds, flooded with hormones and their resulting urges. At this moment, I’m writing this in my apartment and the rain is coming down and I’m playing with my fictional characters and telling you about my thoughts, sending my Voyager 1 out past the limits of the solar system gifted with a golden disk, a Rosetta Stone for aliens.
Maybe you aren’t in search of words. Maybe words are in search of you. Maybe they already exist in your bones, waiting for you to cannibalize yourself, crack open your femur and suck the marrow. Maybe you are a mythical Raven, opening a giant clamshell on the beach to let out the first humans, pale and hairless, wide-eyed and beguiling.
Image © Jarkko Järvinen