Interview with Jennifer Dance, author of Red Wolf

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Interview with Jennifer Dance, author of Red Wolf

Posted on February 3 by Jennifer Dance
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I interview Jennifer Dance, author of the newly released Red Wolf. Today she tells me about her new book, how she likes to go about writing and how much Joseph Boyden likes her book!

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

Jennifer: Red Wolf is the intertwining story of a timber wolf and a First Nations boy. It’s the late 1800s in Ontario, a time when settlers regard both wolves and Aboriginal people as savages. Both are occupying land that is needed for logging and farming. Throughout the story there are parallels between the boy and the wolf. For example the wolf’s family is shot leaving him orphaned at a young age. The boy is forced to attend residential school far from home and the life he knows. He, too, is alone. The pair reunite when the boy escapes from the school, but they are both damaged; neither having learned to be a part of a caring family or pack, neither have learned the skills and ways of their ancestors.

Caitlyn: The Joseph Boyden endorsement of your book is amazing. How did you get it?  Do you know him?

No! I found him on facebook and messaged him. And he replied! We had a few very short messages back and forth, which ended with him saying, ‘Hey ... send me a copy.'

At that point, there was still about a month before the book was going to print. I kept my fingers crossed all that time. Then the night before the deadline, he emailed me this.  "I'm really enjoying the story but I can't finish it in time.  My schedule is so crazy.  I have been reading it, though, and think you're great, a natural.  But I need to finish a whole manuscript in order to properly blurb it.  Please know that this has nothing to do with what's clearly a very strong narrative and characters.  I hope you understand."

I was devastated!  I went to bed, so disappointed. But at 7.00 am next morning there was another email from him!  No preamble, no explanation, just the quote! “With Red Wolf, Jennifer Dance has come howling out of the wilderness ... and I am deeply impressed.” It was SO exciting! I was shaking!

The designer at Dundurn literally had about an hour to get the quote on the cover before it went to print. It still thrills me that Joseph Boyden is deeply impressed with my work! His quote is the highlight of my publishing career thus far.


Caitlyn: Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.

Jennifer: The overarching theme of Red Wolf is the Indian Residential School system and the impact it has had on the lives of Aboriginal people. My own mixed-race family has given me an acute awareness of prejudice and racism. I think the fact that I was widowed when I had three small children gave me a special empathy with other mothers whose children were taken from them by the law of the land. I was shocked to learn that these schools had been run by the churches, notably the Church of England of which I was part. In some small way,  I want to right the wrongs. I want to open hearts and minds to this regrettable period in Canadian history, increase understanding and compassion among non-native readers, provoke thought and dialogue. I want non-native readers to grasp why First Nations are still marginalized, and why the figures for unemployment, incarceration, addiction and suicide are significantly higher than for the rest of the population.

Caitlyn: Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

Jennifer: I wrote Red Wolf for non-native children and their parents. I wanted to use nuances that an adult reader would discern, yet disguise the hardest truths from younger children who could experience the book as a compelling journey of a boy and a wolf. The feedback that I am getting suggests that I have achieved that! In the classroom setting, however, the niche is probably grades 5 and 6. I’m also being told that it has a place in healing the legacy of the residential school system among survivors and their families.

Caitlyn: Describe your ideal writing environment.

Jennifer: I need peace and quiet, no interruptions! Often great ideas come to me in my sleep, so if I wake up at 4.00 a.m. with a good idea, it really is best to bite the bullet, get up and write it down, because it will have evaporated by the morning. I usually write in the winter. I mull ideas over in the summer and write when the weather keeps me indoors.

Caitlyn: What is your new project?

Jennifer: Paint is the story of a black-and-white mustang, born on the Great Plains. Her life takes us through the history of the development of the Plains; the near extinction of the buffalo; the plight of the Plains Indians whose lives depended on them and the struggles of the ranchers and homesteaders who moved onto what had previously been Indian territory. The reader witnesses the degradation of the land, which sets into motion the irreversible journey toward the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The dust storm in this story reveals the mistakes that were made by manipulating the land to suit our needs, rather than working alongside those who knew the land and climate best. In this regard there are many lessons for us today. But at its heart, Paint is the story of a horse.

Jennifer Dance

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
Jennifer Dance photo

Jennifer Dance

Jennifer Dance was born in England and holds a B.Sc. in Agriculture and Animal Science from the University of the West Indies. She migrated to Canada in 1979. With family in the Native community, Jennifer has a passion for equality and justice for all people. Her first novel, Red Wolf, was endorsed by Giller Prize–winning author Joseph Boyden. An avid environmentalist, Jennifer lives on a small farm in Stouffville, Ontario.