A bizarre illness, mysterious fossils, and professional rivalries combine in 1872 North Ontario in Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler's Wrist (Kegedonce Press), an Indigenous monster story. A hundred years later, the illness appears again, driving main character Church and his family to delve into their Wiindigo history and discover secrets that have remained buried for decades. A captivating debut from a talented young writer, Wrist heralds the arrival of a strong new Canadian voice, showcasing a natural gift for storytelling in this haunting, mesmerizing tale.
We're thrilled to have Nathan on the site today as part of our In Character interview series, where he introduces us to Church and the rest of Wrist's cast of characters. He tells us about rational characters being confronted with the inexplicable, the character who surprised him the most, and identifying with a character who isn't entirely human.
Tell us about the main character in your new book.
Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler:
The main Character in Wrist is named Church. He tries to figure out if there is truth to the stories about their Wiindigo family. He also has scars that he keeps hidden, from trauma that he’s experienced in the past. He’d be depressed and hopeless if he wasn’t so distracted by his hunger, which pretty much eclipses everything else in his life.
Harker Lockwood is the main character in the historical time-line, he is a medical doctor working on a dissertation on Wiindigo Psychosis in the late 1800’s. He believes in science and rationality but questions these when he comes into contact with the inexplicable.
Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
After you construct your characters and the situations in which they find themselves, they only have a certain number of ways in which they could believably react/or respond to that situation given the circumstance and their character. So not all that different from real life. There is a limited range of possibilities, and the more tightly the characters and situations are woven together, the less choices you as the author will have to make — because it only makes sense for the character to say or do one or two things. Like the video game Sim City. Or the theory that the universe is Holographic, playing out an experiment of physics inside a super computer. Can free-will exist in such an experiment? It’s sometimes fun to take your character, and throw them into a situation without any pre-planning and just see how they will react on the page. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Bagonegiizhig is one character that sort of surprised me though, I don’t know if she took on a “life of her own” but I certainly don’t remember planning to have her as a character, she just kind-of appeared out of nowhere and hijacked the story a little bit, demanding that her story get told too.
How do you choose names for your characters?
Some of the names are based on Anishinaabe words from my grandmother, that I write down so I don’t forget them. Kind of random. I also have a list of names in a notepad, any time I come across an interesting name I add it to the list. I think of the character and try to come up with a name that I like, or that suits the character somehow. If I’m stuck I’ll consult the name-list. I’ll consult baby-name books too. Just let it mull around in my brain until I come up with something that feels right. Very scientific.
I think with Church, his name started out as “Yorick” but that didn’t sound quite right, and somehow it morphed into “Church.”
Harker Lockwood is a conflation of Harker (from Dracula) and Lockwood (a framing-device/character from Wuthering Heights).
Drinker and Marsh were based on real historical figures of the same names.
Inri is named after the Latin sign hung above the crucifixion, Marie rhymes with Inri. Bagonegiizhig is an Anishinaabe name.
What is your approach to crafting dialogue, particularly for your main character? Do you have any tips about writing dialogue for aspiring and emerging writers?
I only recently learned not to be so repetitive in terms of “he said” or “she said” and character tags. That wherever possible, it’s better to describe a character action, or leave out the “they said” if it’s already clear who is speaking. Since I didn’t know about this rule, I probably didn’t follow it all that well in Wrist.
Do you have anything in common with your main character? What parts of yourself do you see in him or her, and what is particularly different?
Well, my main character isn’t entirely human, that makes him sort-of an outsider, which I think a lot of people can identify with (the not-fitting in, not the not-being-human part). I haven’t experienced anywhere near the same level of trauma that Church has. He’s pretty messed up.
Who are some of the most memorable characters you've come across as a reader?
I really love Clyde a.k.a. Roberta Rohbeson from Lynda Barry’s book Cruddy, who’s this teenage kid surrounded by messed-up people in messed up situations, and it’s just so dark and comedic seeing the world through her eyes. George R.R. Martin also does this really well with Arya Stark.
I also really love stories written from the monster’s perspective, like Louise and Lestat in The Vampire Lestat/the Vampire Chronicles. That whole Frankenstein concept of the monster as anti-hero.
I’m a Sookie Stackhouse fan. I’ve also started reading Irvine Welsh’s Filth and some Gillian Flynn who has great characters.
Harvey from Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. Also Jakabok Botch from Mr. B Gone. Lisamarie in Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. Larry Sole from Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed. Zach and Trevor in Poppy Z. Brite’s Drawing Blood. Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Duffy from Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers. Richard from Wizard’s First Rule/Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind. Rand al’Thor and Nynaeve from the Wheel of Time series. Garion and Polgara from the Belgariad Series by David Eddings.
And many more! Too many to name!
What are you working on now?
I’ve been writing a collection of inter-related short stories set in Ghost Lake, with some new characters, and some characters that appear in Wrist. I wrote a short screenplay adapted from one of those stories called Hydrangeas. I also have another novel I’ve been working on, with a lot of the same characters that appear in both Wrist and the short stories — I have a rough plot outline for the novel, and a good chunk of it written, but it still needs a lot of work. The working title for the short story collection is Ghost Lake, and the working title for the novel is; The Wiindigo’s Daughter.
Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler is the author of Wrist, an Indigenous monster story (Spring 2016). He is a writer and an artist who works in many different mediums, including audio, video, film, drawing & painting, as well as glass. He is an MFA candidate for Creative Writing from UBC, currently works as a glass artist, and is working on a second novel and a collection of short stories. He is a member of Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation, and currently resides in Mono, Ontario.
Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.
For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.