Please welcome Cherie Dimaline to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews for her US Debut. Empire of Wild is published on July 28, 2020 by William Morrow.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Cherie: I used to get in trouble all the time during class because I would write stories on the back of math tests… and forget to do the math. This started in grade 2 and 3. I’m sure they were short and terrible, but I remember in those moments when the classroom was quiet and there was an hour stretching in front of me, all I could do was write. I remember one story about some kids who find a dragon in the woods behind their house after school one day.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Cherie: Total hybrid. Usually I start with a seed of an idea, or a voice and then I plot once I have a bunch of pages teetering on the edge of my desk.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Cherie: It’s tough to shut out the public before it’s time to let them in. I lose myself in the story and it’s so beautiful. But then I start to think about the readers who are my partners in the project and my confidence falls. So I have to try to build walls in order to write, which then makes me feel like a bad partner. Maybe anxiety is the biggest challenge then.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Cherie: Other writers like Omar El Akaad and Jesmyn Ward and poets like Gregory Scofield inspire me and anger me- how can they write so damn well?!. And always, my grandmother who was the first person to tell me stories, is my main inspiration. She told my stories about the rogarou who plays a huge role in this book. And, full disclosure, I binge watched True Blood to de-stress and that sulky, supernatural-ness may or may not have seeped in to the prose here and there….
TQ: Describe Empire of Wild using only 5 words.
Cherie: Gothic, lush, magic, sex, survival (Oh, sex survival sounds like a good reality show)
TQ: Tell us something about Empire of Wild that is not found in the book description.
Cherie: I started writing it on the back of a barf bag during a redeye flight. I still have that bag. Thankfully there was minimal turbulence so it didn’t have to be used for anything other than story notes.
TQ: What inspired you to write Empire of Wild?
Cherie: On that same flight, I read an article in a magazine (Walrus magazine) about these new well-funded missionary churches that were going into Indigenous communities to bring the people in off the land and to god. They were headed by Indigenous preachers, at least publically. It made me wonder about a lot of things like why now, and who was funding the missions, and what did this mean for traditional people and the community overall.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Empire of Wild?
Cherie: I really thought about wolf culture globally, which surprisingly brought me to the Inquisition in Germany where they tried werewolves along with witches.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Empire of Wild.
Cherie: We really wanted to find an image that spoke to the magic and fear and seduction of the woods and all the things that could be lurking there. So the trees and the stars in one image really gives the idea of possibility and adventure.
TQ: In Empire of Wild who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Cherie: Joan was the easiest to write because she is based on so many strong women who I love dearly, real badass, beautifully flawed and remarkable women. Cecile was the hardest because she was a villain and started off as such a cliché. She had no nuance, no rationale that you could connect to. And a villain without nuance is a paper doll. So I sat down to write her backstory and it ended up in the book.
TQ: Does Empire of Wild touch on any social issues?
Cherie: Everything I write end up having social issues embedded in them. This one has resource extraction, cultural survival and colonization. You know, just the small stuff.
TQ: Which question about Empire of Wild do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Was it fun to write the sexier scenes in the book?
Oh hells yes it was!
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Empire of Wild.
Old medicine has a way of being remembered, of haunting the land where it was laid. People are forgetful. Medicine is not.
He had generous lips and a wide smile. But his teeth? It was like God put a bunch of potentials in a Yahtzee cup and tossed, thinking Fuck it, let’s just hope for the best.
TQ: What's next?
Cherie: I’m working on the TV adaptation to my YA book The Marrow Thieves. And researching souvenirs, road trips and witchcraft for a new project. Oh yeah, it’s going to be a wild one!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
Empire of Wild
William Morrow, July 28, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
“Deftly written, gripping and informative. Empire of Wild is a rip-roaring read!”—Margaret Atwood, From Instagram
“Empire of Wild is doing everything I love in a contemporary novel and more. It is tough, funny, beautiful, honest and propulsive—all the while telling a story that needs to be told by a person who needs to be telling it.”—Tommy Orange, author of There There
A bold and brilliant new indigenous voice in contemporary literature makes her American debut with this kinetic, imaginative, and sensuous fable inspired by the traditional Canadian Métis legend of the Rogarou—a werewolf-like creature that haunts the roads and woods of native people’s communities.
Joan has been searching for her missing husband, Victor, for nearly a year—ever since that terrible night they’d had their first serious argument hours before he mysteriously vanished. Her Métis family has lived in their tightly knit rural community for generations, but no one keeps the old ways . . . until they have to. That moment has arrived for Joan.
One morning, grieving and severely hungover, Joan hears a shocking sound coming from inside a revival tent in a gritty Walmart parking lot. It is the unmistakable voice of Victor. Drawn inside, she sees him. He has the same face, the same eyes, the same hands, though his hair is much shorter and he's wearing a suit. But he doesn't seem to recognize Joan at all. He insists his name is Eugene Wolff, and that he is a reverend whose mission is to spread the word of Jesus and grow His flock. Yet Joan suspects there is something dark and terrifying within this charismatic preacher who professes to be a man of God . . . something old and very dangerous.
Joan turns to Ajean, an elderly foul-mouthed card shark who is one of the few among her community steeped in the traditions of her people and knowledgeable about their ancient enemies. With the help of the old Métis and her peculiar Johnny-Cash-loving, twelve-year-old nephew Zeus, Joan must find a way to uncover the truth and remind Reverend Wolff who he really is . . . if he really is. Her life, and those of everyone she loves, depends upon it.
Cherie Dimaline is a Métis author and editor whose award-winning fiction has been published and anthologized internationally. In 2014, she was named the Emerging Artist of the Year at the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and became the first Aboriginal Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of the young adult novel The Marrow Thieves, which was a Canadian bestseller and won several honors, including the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Kirkus Prize in the young adult literature category, and was a fan favorite in the 2018 edition of CBC’s Canada Reads. She lives in Christian Island, Ontario.