David Alexander Robertson

Here comes 2016, there goes 2015.

New Year’s Resolution: write more blog posts. I say that a lot. So, I think it’s reasonable to endeavour to write one per month. That’s what I’m going to shoot for.

The whole resolution thing is funny to me, although I do take part in it, so I don’t have enough of an issue with it so as to be hypocritical. But why do we wait until a new year to make changes, and why don’t we follow through (often)? That might make an interesting story, just delving into that mentality.

That being said, in terms of writing, I have made a resolution (aside from blog post writing). I always like to challenge myself. As writers, we need to do that. If we aren’t challenging ourselves, we aren’t getting better. In 2016, I should have four books out, and all of them are different. Different topic. Different genre. Different audience. I used to think that I have a good thing going with the YA graphic novels on Indigenous issues, why change? But that thought was fleeting. You need to switch it up to keep building skills. So, I wrote short stories. I wrote children’s stories. I wrote novels. I wrote screenplays. And what I found was that working at one discipline helped improve my writing in other disciplines. So, I’ll get into what books I’m putting out this year, but my resolution is to challenge myself further. In that vein, I’m going to submit pieces to contests, journals, and magazines at least once a month. I’ve already done it in January. Get this: I submitted a sci-fi flash fiction piece to a contest. Yeah. Weird. But, you find new and unique ways to tackle these genres and disciplines to make it your own. I’ll see how it goes and let you know (perhaps in February’s post?), and maybe if it doesn’t “win place or show” I’ll post it here.

I want to look back on 2015 for a minute. I thought 2014 was good. I think that would make 2015 great. I don’t much like to address things I’ve accomplished, but in my case, my work getting out there, for the most part, means that more people get educated on issues that I feel are important. So, for that, I’ll share. Totally unexpected was that I got four nominations for the Manitoba Book Awards (best fiction (The Evolution of Alice), best graphic novel (The Peacemaker: Thanadelthur), Aboriginal Writer of the Year, and Most Promising Manitoba Writer. I ended up winning the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. That meant a lot to me, and after losing the first three maybe I was a bit of a sentimental favourite, haha. I will say, though, I was quite happy to lose to my friend GMB Chomichuk for his book, Cassie & Tonk.

Soon after, I received an award from the Aboriginal Circle of Educators under Research & Curriculum Development. My dad and mom were there (as they always are), and I loved having them there for an award like that because, as educators themselves, their influence is really what led me to get involved in educating people.

My thirteenth graphic novel came out in 2015. It was called Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story. It was an opportunity for me to readdress Betty’s story, and contextualize it against today’s epidemic of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Now, this blog could go on forever talking about this issue. It’s very important to me. But I will say this, to save time: we need to be better. We need to recognize this isn’t an Indigenous problem, it’s a Canadian problem, and we all need to do our part to protect our women and girls. And I mean all women and girls, of every race and culture, but in particular, let’s be real here: Indigenous women are, what, up to eight times more likely to be murdered. That’s a problem. And it isn’t, contrary to what information is out there, happening in our communities, inside our own families. It’s everywhere. In fact, it’s more likely an Indigenous women or girl is murdered in an urban area, and by a stranger. The message of “Betty,” which I am very thankful gained a lot of media attention in the fall (check an article out: Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story), is to share knowledge. If we do that, we are winning part of the battle. Betty has done very well, and that means people are gaining and sharing knowledge themselves. That’s my part, a small part, but now hopefully you can ask yourself: “What is my part?”

The Evolution of Alice had a good year, again. I’m glad it’s not going away. I love the book, and the characters, and I love that the most positive reviews I read about the book are that people love the characters too. This year, it was short-listed for On The Same Page, a provincial reading initiative by the Winnipeg Public Library and the Winnipeg Foundation, that tries to get all Manitobans reading the same book (wouldn’t that be nice!). I was up against some stiff competition. Kiss of the Fur QueenDetachment: An Adoption Memoir, and All My Puny Sorrows. Now, let me just say, I am a huge fan of Toews. I have been binge-reading her books for the past year and a half. I thought there was no way I was going to win. But I did! So, in 2016, I’ll be doing a number of events for On The Same Page in and around Winnipeg to support The Evolution of Alice once more.

As a side note, Alice also was short-listed for the Burt Award this year. It’s a big award for Indigenous literature in Canada. I am not ashamed to say that it finished near the bottom of five finalists. It was, indeed, an honour to be considered, and Frank Busch won for Grey Eyes. Congrats to him!

Well, that’s the summary of my writing in 2015. Now, what’s to come??

As I said, I really wanted to challenge myself this year, 2016. Here is what I have on tap:

When We Were Alone

There is a lack of resources for younger learners in Indigenous studies, and in particular concerning the Residential School System. You can see why. It’s a difficult subject to address with young people. But it can be done, and should be. I have three graphic novels that address the RSS: Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, Sugar Falls, and 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga. But none of them are appropriate for probably a k-4 grade level. I wrote a script this year to do just that, to bring the story into a kindergarten classroom, and up to grades 1-3. Highwater Press (Portage & Main Press) loved it, and we snagged an amazing illustrator to work with me in Julie Flett. She’s one of the best out there. This might be the book I am most excited about in 2016.

Mistahimaskwa: Big Bear

A seventh book in the Tales From Big Spirit series, which is planned as an ongoing series, will tell the incredible story of Big Bear. This one is being illustrated by my most frequent collaborator, Scott B. Henderson. The artwork is almost done, and I’m looking forward to continuing this series. It’s been a great way to bring the stories of Indigenous people in Canadian history to learners of all ages.

Will I See

This is really my first stab at an adult graphic novel, and it came to me via one of the most exciting artists in Canada today in Iskwé. She, myself, and Erin Leslie are collaborating on the story for Will I See. Iskwé and Erin wrote an amazing concept for the graphic novel, and made it so easy to write an amazing script. Will I See addresses the epidemic of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in an amazing, beautifully tragic, poetic way. One of the most exciting things about this project is the graphic novel will accompany Iskwé’s powerhouse song, “Nobody Knows” in video form. We do have an illustrator for this project, but it is a big secret right now so my lips are sealed.

The Reckoner: Strangers

Probably the biggest creative risk I’m taking in my career is this Young Adult Supernatural Mystery series. That’s right. Young Adult. Supernatural. Mystery. Trilogy. But I am looking forward to the challenge, and am working hard on the first book, which hopefully will be about late this year. I don’t want to give away much about the book, suffice to say it’s something I haven’t tried before, but it is turning out incredibly well. And, as I tell new writers, reading a lot helps the writing process. For me, reading books in a similar genre (as unique as this book is) helped in the writing process, as well as picking the brains of some amazing writers at Calgary Wordfest in the fall of 2015. Brief nugget: “A mysterious stranger arrives in the neighbouring communities of Red Sky First Nation and Bridgedale on the eve of the first murder in years. Has he come to save them, or destroy them?” We hope to have a book in the series out each year until it’s done (2016-2018).

Well, that’s about it. Thanks for reading, and I wish you all the best in 2016.

D

 

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