Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Robert Feagan Interview
11/1/2010 9:36:32 PM
LTS: For today’s featured writer, I’d like to introduce you to YA author Robert Feagan. With two novels already in print, Robert’s latest title, ‘Arctic Thunder’ is keeping this author busy with appearances and readings.
Let’s begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers.
RF: Thanks Lorna! I was born in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories which at that time was considered quite remote and I guess is still considered remote by some. It is located inside the Arctic Circle, close to the Yukon border. My father was in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and at that time we did everything pretty much by dog team. We moved quite a bit and also lived in Aklavik, N.W.T., Inuvik, N.W.T., Ottawa, Ontario, St. John’s Newfoundland, Yellowknife, N.W.T., Charlottetown, P.E.I., Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. I graduated from Dalhousie University in Halifax. I currently live in Edmonton, Alberta and I have five children.
LTS: When did you begin your fiction writing career and was becoming a published author a life long dream?
RF: Although I always enjoyed reading and writing I can’t say becoming a published author was a life long dream. I was very ill as a young child. I had asthma and spent much of my youth shut-in, making up stories in my head. One day I was a hockey player scoring a winning goal. The next I was a spy saving the world from destruction. When I outgrew my asthma I became a sports fanatic participating in everything from alpine ski racing to lacrosse and boxing. My fiction writing career began roughly thirteen years ago with the publication of ‘Napachee’.
LTS: With your first two novels, ‘Napachee’ and ‘Mystery at Shildii Rock’, these stories unfold in the far north. Can you tell the readers about your latest release, ‘Arctic Thunder’ and how it differs from your other novels?
RF: While Napachee and Mystery at Shildii Rock are primarily about Canada’s North, Arctic Thunder brings together two things I love and feel are under appreciated; the Arctic and the sport of lacrosse. Global warming and sovereignty issues have brought an increased amount of attention to the Canadian Arctic but most Canadians still don’t truly understand this geographically vast part of our country. I have been lucky enough to travel from the most easterly tip of Canada, across the prairies, to the west coast, and extensively throughout the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. I continue to be amazed how little people know about the Arctic and the misconceptions that exist.
Lacrosse was our first national sport. It is the fastest growing sport in North America but in Canada it continues to live in the shadow of hockey. The players in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) have full time jobs such as teachers, firefighters, and policemen. They play box lacrosse because they love it and dedicate their lives to the game. Between January and May each year they travel on weekends throughout North America to pursue this love of sport while juggling their full time jobs and family lives. Box lacrosse is a fast, physically demanding contact sport! The athleticism is incredible and once a person attends some games I find they are usually hooked! With Arctic Thunder I wanted to present an entertaining story that would highlight both lacrosse and the arctic.
LTS: What is the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Mike Watson?
RF: Arctic Thunder is very much about self-discovery. Mike Watson is a fourteen-year-old boy who defines himself by his athleticism on the lacrosse floor. When his father is transferred to Inuvik, Northwest Territories, he looses his identity. An Inuvialuit elder, Victor Allen, takes Mike under his wing and encourages Mike to discover who he really is. Mike’s mother is South African but he knows very little about his racial heritage. As Mike starts to learn about the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in cultures of the Inuvik area, he also starts to recognize the importance of who he really is and what is important to his happiness.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the reader when they crack open ‘Arctic Thunder’?
RF: Arctic Thunder is an entertaining novel that combines the excitement of lacrosse and “Arctic Sports” with the exotic setting and cultures of the Northwest Territories. When Mike Watson moves to Inuvik it is early spring. There is almost twenty-four hours of darkness and the temperatures are between -20 and -30. He makes two enemies his first day of school and although he hasn’t been told, he is certain lacrosse doesn’t exist inside the Arctic Circle. As Victor Allen takes him under his wing, Mike starts to learn about the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in cultures while gaining an appreciation for his own background.
Mike’s first and best friend throughout the novel is a bit of a nerdy fellow by the name of Donnie Debastien who plays a very significant role as the plot develops. Although Mike starts to make other friends, a very athletically gifted girl by the name of Gwen Thrasher despises him and makes a point of showing it whenever she gets the chance. Many of Mike’s new friends participate in “Arctic Sports” and when his father sees how athletically gifted they are he forms the Arctic Thunder Lacrosse Team. The team travels to Mike’s hometown of St. Albert, Alberta to participate in the Baggataway lacrosse tournament where they end up facing his former team, The Rams.
I would encourage people to view the short trailer for Arctic Thunder on YouTube! It starts off with some great lacrosse action and finishes with Arctic Sports highlights and throat singing by Tanya Tagaq, a very talented artist from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The Arctic Sports events such as the one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick and airplane are incredible. You will find these events on YouTube if you search for them as well!
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
RF: I don’t have an agent. My writing career began in a strange fashion and at this point I haven’t pursued any form of representation. I hear varying advice on this and may change my views in the future but right now I am happy dealing directly with my publisher.
LTS: Can you share that moment when you sold your first story to Sandcastle Books?
RF: As I mentioned my writing career didn’t begin in the usual fashion. I always enjoyed reading and writing as I grew up but didn’t pursue writing in any professional manner. When I was living in Inuvik and working for the government in 1996, I traveled south to purchase a vehicle. You can drive to Inuvik via Northern British Columbia, up through the Yukon and across the top of the world, so to speak, into the Northwest Territories. While driving at night in Northern British Columbia I hit a rockslide and was stranded for a week or so waiting to receive parts for my van. That was when I sat down and wrote Napachee. When I returned to Inuvik I tossed this pile of paper I had scribbled all over into my desk and forgot about it. Several months later I was cleaning out my desk and rediscovered my work. I might have thrown it out but a friend of mine asked to read it. They convinced me to submit my work and several publishers responded positively.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
RF: I try to be disciplined but with a full time job and five children that often doesn’t work! Once I finish a novel I tend to take some time off from writing. I keep a journal but don’t really work on any specific material until the rewrites are finished on my latest novel. Once I start a new project I tend to become more disciplined. I will consistently put the time in every evening, usually between 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM. I don’t set a goal for a number of words but I do try to keep the dedicated time for myself.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
RF: Overall I am a pantser! I tend to write down ideas as I get them and end up with a notebook full of notes as well as pieces of paper covered in scribbles. My first chapter is usually out of the air. From there my ideas start to come together and I will plot ahead. The further I get into the story, the further ahead I plot. Once I have two or three chapters on paper the plot has at least a superficial skeleton I can keep building on as I go.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, which you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
RF: I am very caffeine sensitive. I seldom drink it when I’m not writing but boy does one cup go a long way when I want to be creative! I am a music fanatic and it plays a huge role in my creative process. I tend to go for more moody or heavy types of music prior to writing and then shift into classical pieces once I sit down and get serious. It’s not unusual for me to listen to some Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle, Tool, Radiohead or Pink Floyd before I write and then settle into Mozart or Wagner once I sit down. I’ve been told that my musical interests are quite schizophrenic!
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
RF: I don’t know whether I ever encounter writer’s block or simply become so scared I won’t be able to write that I put things off. Even though I may have some ideas bouncing around in my head I sometimes start to get a little worried as I finish one piece of fiction that I don’t have another one in me! One of the most valuable pieces of advice I gained was in Stephen King’s book, On Writing. I really do find that if I want to get myself in the mood to write, reading novels that have the style and “feel” that I want to portray are an incredible help.
LTS: Who is your favorite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
RF: My favorite novel is To Kill a Mocking Bird. I read it at least once a year. My favorite author would have to be Bryce Courtenay. An author whose talent I respect is Stephen King. What draws me to the work of these authors is their ability to make me feel. Bryce Courtenay’s descriptions of Africa and the emotion of relationships is amazing! When an author can make you smell something or feel real emotion you want to go back for more. Although I don’t care for his genre, Stephen King is so talented at describing day-to-day things in such a simple, yet intense fashion, it never ceases to amaze me.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
RF: I often make presentations at schools across Alberta and in other provinces. The first time I was asked to present at a school with a high enrolment of First Nations students I was a little worried that I might not provide anything new or of value. Due to my upbringing a large portion of my presentations relate to Canada’s North and First Nations cultures. I thought I might bore these students because they would know and have experienced most of what I was going to tell them. The response was quite the opposite! Most of the students had grown up in the city and had no idea about their own cultural identity. They couldn’t get enough information and many continue to email me. Teachers inform me that they often see a new sense of pride in many of the students who attend my presentations and go on to read Napachee and Mystery at Shildii Rock.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
RF: Life is full of surprises and my becoming a writer is one of them. If you are a keen observer of life and people, you will always have the potential to be a writer. It is through the continual journey of living and learning that we gain the experiences that other people will want to hear about in fact or fiction.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
RF: I am currently reading Che. I am a fiction hound so this is a departure for me. Che Guevara is one of those real life characters that have attained an almost supernatural status and I always wanted to learn more about him. It’s quite revealing as to how human he really was!
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from YA into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to ‘Arctic Thunder’ in the near future?
RF: I actually started to write an adult novel prior to writing Arctic Thunder. When I had the idea for Arctic Thunder I put the other novel on the shelf and am now ready to go back to it. I also have some great ideas for a sequel to Napachee.
LTS: Thank you so much for spending some time with us to discuss your works and for sharing in your writing experiences, Robert! I’ll see you when your book tour brings you to BC!
For more information about Robert Feagan and his novels, check out:
Follow Robert on Twitter: .RobertFeagan
Where to buy the book: Amazon.com Amazon.ca
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