Friday, September 2, 2011

Interview with author Joseph Bruchac, author of ya paranormal thriller Wolf Mark

Wolf Mark is a new ya paranormal thriller that is sure to be a huge hit with both male and female teens. It was a book that I couldn't put down!Don't forget to post a comment either at the end of the interview or the next post down for the book giveaway. I have 5 copies of Joe's book Wolf Mark up for grabs! Win a copy now!

I interviewed Joseph Bruchac via email and he was kind enough to give thoughtful answers. I think teens and adults will learn from Joseph's answers.

Q: What do you find special about the area where you live, the Adirondack foothills?

Joseph: One reason this area is special to me is that my family has been here for so many generations. So it's in my blood and my bones. I live in a house I was
raised in, a house built by my grandfather on the foundation of the house
where my great-grandparents lived before that house was deliberately burned
by a local bootlegger trying to kill them. (Looong story about all that.) There are burial places where many generations of Abenaki and Iroquois people were laid to rest long before my life, places I've fought to protect from developers.
Close to here, only two miles away from my home, are springs that were
sacred to my ancestors, that gave Saratoga Springs its name--Salatogi, place
of healing waters.

I also love this area for its biodiversity, it's a place of old hills and deep valleys and cold streams where native brook trout swim. On our own little 90 acre nature preserve we have more than 60 tree species, deer, fox, coyote, wild turkeys, raccoons, the occasional bear. There are trails within a few miles of me where I can walk or run for hours without ever crossing anything more than a snowmobile trail. I feel right in these hills, love the hollow drum of the earth under my feet, the changing scents of every season, the old stones, the healing plants that offer
themselves, the dragonflies that land on my arm as I sit by a mountain pond, the rain on my face, the sharp chill of the snow and the hawks yawping down at me as they ride the winds above the cabin up in the Kaydeross Range where I go to write.
There's a kind of peace I find here that I find nowhere else.

Though I've been to every state, including Hawaii and Alaska, have traveled through Europe, lived in West Africa, this has always been the place to which I've returned.
Ndakinna. Our Land. Home.

Q: How is the wolf depicted in Native American storytelling and culture? Why do you think it differs so much from the blood-thirsty werewolves of Europe?

Joseph: In general, for us the wolf is not a malevolent beast, but a being that must be respected.
When people live close to wolves, have direct relationships with them--as did our American Indian ancestors--they understand the real animal and not the mythic beast of Europeantales which is a sort of projection--I feel--not of Canis lupus, but of the most rapacious and violent aspects of the human psyche. I've been in contact, direct contact, with real wolves
and in many ways they are big dogs, though belonging to themselves and not to any human.
When you've seen--as I have--the way wolves care for their young ones (as a group, with every adult animal responsible for the pups in their pack), heard them sing together, realized what magnificent, dignified beings they are, you can understand why to be called a "wolf" was, in American Indian cultures, an honor. In many American Indian tribal nations, the men who went out as scouts, to seek the enemy, to help protect the people, were called wolves.

But when people wall themselves off from nature, they lose respect for it and begin to misunderstand or even fear it. That happened in Europe. It's happened to many people in this country. That's why one of the main missions in my life and the lives of my two grown sons, is to bring people back into contact with nature, to help them find that ancient and important link between us and all that pulses with life around us. Not that nature is always safe. There's always danger, from unwise behavior or from chance. But wolves (and nature in general) are not out to get us. The most dangerous creature in the
world is the human.

Q: How are other animals depicted in storytelling?

Animals are usually depicted in ways that reflect their actual nature. Bears, for example, may be shown as nurturing (just as mother bears are of their young), even adopting lost human children, but also possessed of great power, as dangerous beings we must
respect. Creatures such as fox, coyote, and raven are often portrayed as being cunning, crafty, tricksters--which is the actual nature of those creatures. And this comes from direct observation of and long interaction with those beings.

Animals are also depicted as people, as nations in their own right. They are at least the equal of human beings in our stories and in many cases behave better than human people.

Q: If you could tell one story to a group of 5 year old and later had to tell the same story to a group of high school students, what story would it be and why? How would you change it, or would you?

It would depend on the group of five year olds. And high school students. Everygroup, every audience has its own dynamic. I always tell stories in response to the audience--responding to what I feel from them. And I know so many stories that there's not just one that would be tellable to both the very young and those of high school age. Stories grow and change with us as we grow and even a story told in the same words might be heard very differently by the same person at different stage in his or her life.

However, if I were to tell "The Boy Who Lived With the Bears" to a group of five year olds, I would probably tell it with less detail and involve the kids more directly in the story--by having them sing with me a song that the boy in the story sings when he has been abandoned and trapped in a cave. For the high school students, I'd add more of the details that would be better understood by someone of their age. (And in mostcases, I would NOT ask them to sing along.). However, as I said, because I respondintuitively to my audiences, I probably would tell each group a different story. Also, I never tell the same story twice in the same day.

Q: What made you want to write a ya paranormal book like Wolf Mark?

Several things. One is that I have been reading such stories since I was about ten years old--when I first read Dracula. I have been a reader, and even a teacher, of fantasy literature for decades. I really like the genre.

Secondly, I felt as if I had something to add to the mix in terms of the YA audience. Part of it is the American Indian perspective, which aside from my buddy Sherman Alexie's work, is generally lacking in YA books. (Though, Heaven help us, there are some "Indians" in YA books by non-native authors.)

Further, I really was not completely satisfied with the way a lot of writers--without mentioning any names--have produced books for young adult readers that are overly romantic, predictable, and improbable. The best fantasy, for me, always is done in such a way that the impossible is accepted as real. You become lost in the story as you read it. That was what happened to me when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as young reader. I have great respect for the intelligence of young adult readers and wanted to write something that would not insult their intelligence.

Further still, I wanted to write something in the genre that was both serious and funny. I believe in the serious use of humor. And I find the melodrama of some YA paranormal fiction really hard to swallow because it is so overly grave. (But not graveyard.) I wanted to create a character who could laugh--even at himself--and get the reader to be wryly amused
along with him. (By the way, I love The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimon, one of my fave writers.)

There's another thing I need to mention here. I showed an early draft of the novel to another publisher (not Lee&Low) and was told that it wouldn't work as a YA novel.
In fact, I was told that I probably just didn't have the ability to write anything for that age level. Don't feel bad, some people just don't have it in them.

Things like that keep happening to me. When I was in college in my first creative writing course, my teacher told me I didn't have the talent to be a poet. I was the varsity heavyweight wrestler at Cornell University then and I think he took a look at me and figured I had stumbled into the wrong class. But I didn't give up. I just wrote more poems
for him until one day he finally said he was wrong and that I could write poetry. Eight years later, he wrote a blurb for the back cover of my first book of poems in which he said "Joe Bruchac used to be wrestler at Cornell. I haven't followed the wrestling lately, but I have read his recent poems and stories and found them championship material." (By the way, that teacher, a fine poet named David Ray who is a dear friend, claims to this day he was just challenging me because he knew I could do better. Oooo-kay.)

Later on, in graduate school, while I was working on my first novel, I was informed by my fiction teacher that I did not understand storytelling. I lacked the innate ability to be a storyteller. Uh-huh. Right.

My nature is (after the initial urge to commit hari-kari or jump off a cliff) to take such remarks not as discouragement or the final word, but as a challenge.

Rather than giving up, they end up making me more determined.

So I have to thank that editor who didn't publish Wolf Mark for giving me even more incentive to write the book.

Q: Did you know right away you would write about wolves/werewolves?

Yes, from the first word I wrote. I think that is because my character really took over. Luke was telling his story and I was typing as fast as I could to keep up with him while he was telling it. And, to be frank, he kept surprising me.

Q:What is a skin walker?
In some American Indian cultures, reference is made to "skin walkers." These are generally people who, by putting on an animal skin, can transform themselves into that animal. It might be a coyote (often the case in the southwest) or a Bear (among native nations in the Great Lakes region). Unfortunately, in most cases when a human does this, that man or woman does so with evil intentions.
The "second skin" that my main character puts on is a very different thing.

Q: What is the biggest misconception most Americans still have about native populations?

I think the biggest misconception about native people is that they are nothing more than a romantic memory--if not vanished, then irrelevant or quaint and locked in that past. But American Indian people, our cultures, and our traditions have survived, have shown the ability to grow and to adapt to a changing world. As my friend Simon Ortiz, the incredibly talented Pueblo Indian poet puts it, "Indians are everywhere."

Q: Luke is trained by his father at a young age to have specialized talents. What talents do today’s kids need to know?

In very general terms, I believe that today's kids need to learn both true self-reliance and how to work with others, to care for other people and be a useful part of the group while maintaining their own identity. Be comfortable in your own skin.
(First or second, eh?)

I recommend studying one form or another of the martial arts and getting out into nature (not to overcome it, but to feel at ease with it) with people who can be trusted to guide you.

Now for more personal questions:

Q: In five words, describe the meaning of life:

Breathing in, breathing out again.

Q: In five words, describe happiness:
Glad to be your self.

Q: What is your mood at this very moment?
Happy, because of this opportunity to share my thoughts. A little amused at myselfat the same time--don't get too self-satisfied, Bruchac. But life is good.

Q: What characteristic in a friend do you value the most?
Generosity guided by emotional and intellectual intelligence.

Q: What is your worst habit?
Talking when I should be listening.

Q: What is your greatest talent?
Sharing--through writing, storytelling, and teaching.

Q: What is your worst failure?
One of the great blessings in my life is that every failure I've
had has always turned out to be a step toward something
better than that thing I failed at. Honestly. I could give you
example after example. If, for example, I had not been such
a complete and total geeky dork in high school, Striking out in
every attempt to get a girl to go out with me, or even pay
attention to me, I doubt that I would ever have met that
one perfect person for me, my wife-to-be Carol, when I was in
college. What attracted her to me, she told me, was that
I was this big, sweet, innocent guy.

So failing doesn't have to be tragic. In fact, I believe that if we go
too long without failing (and then recovering from that failure),
then when failure does come, we may not be prepared for it. I am
stronger for my many scars.

Q: Any regrets?
That there were times when I could have been kinder,
more patient, more understanding. So I pray that my
memory of those times will help me be a kinder, more
patient, more understanding person to others, to (as
my Buddhist friends put it) all sentient beings from
this moment forward.

Q: What is your greatest advice to a 12 year old boy?
You won't always be twelve. Be patient with yourself.

Q: What is your greatest advice to the same boy, now 18?
You won't always be eighteen. Be patient with others.
That concludes the interview questions.

Olakamigenoka--Make Peace,

Thank you, Mr. Bruchac! That was fabulous! Read more about Joe and his life and storytelling at

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