Robin Riopelle

Q. How would you say your past has molded your writing today?
A. The past, or my past? Both are big influence.

Although I wrote (and abandoned) novels from the age of ten or so, I had trouble finding my own voice. I had a good ear and was a decent mimic. I could fake it. But it didn’t feel real. Although I never stopped writing, I figured I’d never be a professional writer.

So I worked at other jobs, mostly banging about museums and historic houses. Then I lucked into a bizarre job for which I was uniquely suited: an adoption reunion intermediary, a rare mix of detective and therapist. I was involved in hundreds of reconnections between people separated through adoption—I had a front row seat to all kinds of joy and pain and loss. That, plus my own experience as an adoptee became my place of power, a place from which the writing started to flow. All my stories seem to be about characters reconciling themselves with their histories. I like that Faulkner quote: The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

Q. What can readers expect from your new title Dead Roads?
A. Ghosts, wounded heroes. Fiddlers and rail riders. Love. There’s a dog. Two dogs, actually. A horrific devil, and what might be an angel. It’s a story about a classic loner who has to bring his shattered family back together while confronting all the ghosts and demons from his fractured past.

Q. Is there an inspiration behind Dead Roads? Which character do you relate to most?
A. When I’m casting about for a new story, ideas often come in threes. In the case of Deadroads, the trifecta was: the French folksong, Les trois hommes noirs, the Acadian Deportation, and rail riders. Yeah. Try putting that together cohesively.

The song is about a trio of devils that steals a bride on her wedding day. The husband makes a deal to get her back, but it doesn’t work out well. The Acadian deportations of the 1750s—when the English took over Nova Scotia and essentially kicked out the French-speaking Acadians, scattering them to places like Boston, the Caribbean, and, most famously, Louisiana—spoke to a different kind of separation. And the freedom of rail riders, whether they’re heading to someplace or running away from someplace, represented a different kind of longing. And of course all this fraught history and longing lead me to one other thing: ghosts.

Lutie Cyr is a character I understand. She’s the estranged daughter of a Cajun traiteur—a healer who also puts ghosts to rest—and an Acadian fortuneteller. She’s prickly and defensive, which disguises a gaping sense of loss. She tests people, straight-arms them, provokes them into either leaving, or loving her unconditionally. People like her brothers, who come back into contact with her after years of silence. She’s got a foot in two different worlds, and she has to figure out how to keep her balance.

Q. Word of advice for aspiring authors?
A. Write. I know that sounds trite, but it was the advice given to me and it’s true. What do writers do? They write. They don’t talk about writing (well, they do, but that’s not what their prime activity should be). They don’t moan about not having a muse, or not having enough time, or not having the right pen. They write.

Everyone has at least one novel in them. Honestly. We all do. The difference is that writers actually write it.

Q. You mentions is a previous article that you do not have any spare time between writing and working your day job; if time permitted, what would your weekly hobby be?
A. I’m lucky I like my day job so much—and I often get ideas for stories from the work I do in museums. I’m also an illustrator of children’s books. But back in my university days, I had a weekly cartoon strip in the student newspaper. I miss making comics, and if I had more time, I’d be spending it in comic book shops, talking to other artists, and filling hours with pencils, inks, and storyboards. It’s a different part of the brain from the one that writes. Added bonus? I can listen to the radio when I draw. I need absolute silence when I write.

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