Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An interview with Don Rearden author of "The Raven's Gift"

Don Rearden is here today answering some of my questions and talking about his recent release (and debut novel) The Raven's Gift. Thank you for being here, Don! If you haven't read The Raven's Gift yet, you can view my thoughts on it here. You can also find out more information about Don at his website located here. Suffice to say, I think this is a phenomenal book that should be read. It's such a good read that I've already added it to my favourites list for 2011. I know it's only March, but this book is THAT good. Check it out. 
What was the inspiration behind "The Raven's Gift"?

My inspiration for this novel came in the form of a simple question. What if? What if you lived in a remote place and something bad happened and no one came to help? That idea haunted me for a while and then news of birdflu in Asia broke and then my "what if scenario" became much more real. See, the migrations of large numbers of birds from Asia and the South Pacific all point north in the summer, this means Alaska and Canada are ground zero for an outbreak of birdflu, should the virus mutate and go "pandemic."

Where I grew up in Southwestern Alaska, we had this oral tradition of the horror stories from early epidemics like influenza, measles, and diphtheria striking the Yupik villages, and news stories about a possible birdflu epidemic made me begin to move beyond that "what if" to a more immediate and compelling story about people trying to survive after a devastating pandemic struck rural Alaska and no one comes to help.

That is really the "germ" that started the story. From there I just dove into what I know best, characters and their struggles. So while the inspiration for the plot comes from a possible and plausible pandemic, the true inspiration for me came as I wrote the story and first met John and the blind Yupik girl. I don't think inspiration created them so much as I got to know and love them, and they inspired me.

Would you ever be able to make the decisions that John has to make?

That's a crazy question that I can't answer. Okay. I'll answer it. But don't tell anyone. Yes. I think I could make the decisions that John makes in the story, but only because I have been in survival situations out on the tundra and I understand a little about how those moments and decisions define you. Sadly, where I grew up one learns to deal with death all to frequently. You build up a sort of tolerance for the bad that happens. Someone falls through the ice or freezes to death, or commits suicide (which is all to common) and you lose some of your ability to grieve and you become a bit hardened. John is thrust into this world and also becomes hardened by it, but there is hope for him, and I think his decisions reveal that. Just like I think there is hope for all of us. Kids shouldn't have to grow up coping with constant death in their communities. They shouldn't have to make tough decisions like the ones John faces in the novel.

What song would best describe his personality? Does the book have a theme song?

This is the best question ever! While writing I usually play music. I have an eclectic taste, and often try to pick music to fit the mood of the novel at the time. While writing much of The Raven's Gift I listened to original music written by my good friend, Kevin Morgan. Kevin is Yupik, a musical genius, and one song, "Anyways" is the song that fits John and this book perfectly. If you listen to it, you'll see how the song fits the theme of what John is looking for and what Rayna is looking for in the book. 

If you could meet any character from any book ever written, which book and character would you choose and why?

This is a tough one. Of course I would like to meet Ishmael the gorilla from Daniel Quinn's Ishmael. That character has already influenced my life and my own work, but I still have much to learn from him as a writer and teacher. So yeah, as odd as it sounds I'd love to sit down with that amazing silver-back gorilla and pick his brain about how to save the world. 
If I was to meet one character purely for my own selfish reasons? Well then I think I would probably join Cutuk, from Seth Kantner's Ordinary Wolves for an expedition across the tundra looking for fossilized mammoth ivory. I'd never met a character that I really identified with before Cutuk. My experience of growing up as a white boy on the tundra isn't unheard of or maybe not even all that rare, but in terms of characters who understand what that world is like to a young white boy in a Yupik or Inupiaq world, Cutuk knows.

If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be, and why?

That's funny. Ask someone from the tundra what kind of tree I would be? We don't have many choices. One tree that we have, that I'm not a huge fan of, are alders. In Alaska we have these thick groves of alders, nearly eight to ten feet tall, and they are gnarly and nearly impossible to walk through. They are resilient and never seem to be bothered by the incessant winds. Still, I don't think I would be an alder. Though that answer probably fits me best. I am partial to the big old growth hemlock in my yard up here on the mountain above Anchorage. These tall twisted trees are ancient; I can only imagine what changes they have seen and will see long after I have left this land.

Thank you for stopping by and answering my questions, Don! I love how informative your answers are! 

Here is the book trailer for "The Raven's Gift." It aptly pulls together the elements and the feeling of desolation that is sensed throughout the book. Doesn't this make you want to run out and read it right now?

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