LM: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Karen McBride (KM): Definitely has to be A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It speaks to so many aspects of grief while also telling such an immersive story. The graphic novel version of the book is just gorgeous.
LM: What would you consider the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?
KM: Has to be my new Secret Lab chair🪑. Lumbar support is such an important thing to have! Especially now that all my time is spent at the computer while at work and then when writing. Such a good investment.
LM: In your opinion, what are the most important elements of a good story?
KM: I think strong characters are the root of a good story. You want your reader invested in them, you want them to care. So great characters, even if they’re nefarious, are so important.
LM: Agreed! Everything else can be amazing, but if I don’t care about the characters, I’m going to have a really hard time finishing the book.
LM: If you could choose any famous author (dead or alive) to be your mentor, who would you choose and why?
KM: I’ve already had the best mentor, Susan Swan💖. Susan has been so supportive and caring with my work since day one of our mentorship (as part of my program at U of T). Couldn’t have asked for a better pairing!
LM: Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, are there any you have particularly enjoyed?
KM: I’ve just recently gotten into them and really loved listening to Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman.” Talk about production value!✨📖
KM: Seriously! The music, the sound effects, the performances. All so good!
LM: Crow Winter is your first published book. What was your journey to publication like?
KM: I was lucky enough to study creative writing during my master’s program at U of T, so that really helped with momentum and brushing up against the industry. Then, I made connections with my literary agent who got Crow Winter out to the world. It’s been a whirlwind.
LM: Crow Winter is set on a real-life reserve in Quebec. Why did you choose this particular location for the story’s setting?
KM: It’s actually fictional, but based on my home Rez. I wanted to set the story on the Rez to show First Nations in the present tense. Our homes are often shown in a negative light, so I wanted to change that and show the beauty, love, and magic of our lands.
LM: Whoops! I swear I googled that and found a reserve with the same name haha. Must’ve been a typo/misunderstanding on my part.
KM: Not a worry! Maybe I just did a good job with bringing it to life. 😉
LM: A continuous theme throughout this novel is the grief of losing a parent at a relatively young age. How did your own life experiences inform the story?
KM: Losing my dad at 23 was extremely hard. I had so many emotions and didn’t know what to do with them or how to process, so I turned to art. I drew and I wrote and eventually I came up with Hazel’s story. Grief is so personal, but still universal. So I hope that, in some small way, my story can help someone else heal.
LM: A beautiful goal for a beautiful book.
LM: What was your favourite scene to write in Crow Winter? Why?
KM: Anything with the Seven. They’re so fun to write because I got to just go full fantasy and magic with them. ✨ Playing with land and earth imagery when writing their voices was the best!
LM: Yes, I loved them! The way you described their voices was really interesting as a reader.
LM: Nanabush, in the guise of a crow, plays a central role in this novel. What kind of research did you do to help bring him to life?
KM: Honestly, not much at all. I grew up with Nanabush stories. I can’t remember a time without them. So they’re innate. As much a part of me as my name.
LM: Would you consider “speculative fiction” an appropriate term for Crow Winter? Are there other genre categories that you feel are a better fit?
KM: I think magic realism is perhaps the “best fit.” But for Indigenous storytellers, these are our lives, our histories, and our experiences. In a way, they’re truths that get written down. Stories and teachings passed down in a new way.
LM: We perhaps need a genre category of its own for Indigenous authors that write this type of story 🙂
LM: What can readers expect to see from you next? What are you currently working on?
KM: Some non-fiction and some more fiction! 😉 I’m currently writing a novel that might lean slightly more YA (which is one of my favourite genres) than Crow Winter, but is still steeped in legends and myths and magic.
LM: Thank you for the interview today! Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
KM: It’s been so fun chatting with you! Instagram is probably the best place to keep up with me (I’m so bad at other social media😖), but I’ve also got a website linked in my bio that I occasionally update. Chi’mîgwetch for your great questions!!
This is a full transcript of an interview that took place live on Twitter on November 7, 2020. It has been edited for clarity and readability.
Tune in to upcoming interviews with the schedule here.
Have you read Crow Winter? What was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments!
Laura McKay is a speculative fiction writer whose work leaves you wondering and your mind wandering. Inspired by the Dresden Files, her current work-in-progress brings fast-paced, thought-provoking mystery and magic to the streets of Winnipeg.
Laura is also an Assistant Editor at Portage & Main Press and freelances on various writing and editing projects.