IFOA: Where did the idea for Smoke River come from?
Krista Foss: The idea for the novel came from a convergence of many things, including my grandfather’s struggle to claim his native ancestry, my experiences as a journalist and teacher, my interest in the land disputes of Oka/Kanehsatake and Caledonia/Six Nations and my own anchor to the geography in which I was raised. I wanted to write about the idea of land, and how it’s invested with history and identity and the complexity of our interconnections.
IFOA: You worked for many years as a journalist. How has that experience informed your fiction writing?
Foss: Journalism taught me to pay attention; to watch for the singular, concrete detail that telegraphs many layers of meaning. The discipline of constant deadlines also made me push past my natural inertia and write even when I didn’t feel like writing.
IFOA: What has been your most unlikely or unusual source of inspiration?
Foss: Field guides. I am a bug and botany nerd. My mother passed down all these wonderfully evocative folk names for everything in the woods and fields: purple boneset, Campion’s bladder, dog strangling vine among them. As children, there wasn’t a berry that we didn’t pick and eat. So I never got over the romance and sustenance of wild plants, nor the desire to name them. Plus I was that weird girl who was into insects—both enthralled and secretly terrified by everything that crawled and flew. I allayed my fears by being able to identify them.
IFOA: What are you reading right now?
Foss: I’m on a CanLit bender: I just finished Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. Currently, I’m reading both David Adams Richards’ Crimes Against My Brother and Nadia Bozak’s El Nino, so I can ask them pithy questions! Next up: Richard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk.
IFOA: What’s next for you?
Foss: I am taking notes and planning for another novel. I have some short stories I would like to pursue, too.
Krista Foss is a former journalist whose short fiction has twice been a finalist for the Journey Prize and longlisted for CBC’s Canada Writes contest, as well as published in several literary journals. Foss presents her compelling debut novel, Smoke River, alongside authors David Adams Richards and Nadia Bozak on May 21.