Robin Riopelle was kind enough to write a gorgeous guest post for Bibliotropic that goes into more detail about the ghosts and nomads in her novel, Deadroads (which I just started reading today and am enjoying so far). Definitely an interesting post, and thanks, Robin, for writing it!
Early on in my debut novel, Deadroads, a mother is killed in a car accident and Sol Sarrazin, paramedic and Cajun traiteur, rushes her little girl to the hospital. He hasn’t even had time to clean his rig before the girl’s ghost appears, and he makes a deadroad, opens a path for her, from our world to the next. To take her back to her mother. To take her home.
The idea of home—and why we desire it or reject it—plays big throughout Deadroads. Of the wanderers who find themselves on the road, two particular groups fascinate me, two bands of travelers that look similar at first, but who are, in fact, totally different: rootless nomads, and uprooted exiles.
Nomads take their home with them, or utterly reject the idea of home as a place. Exiles, on the other hand, have been put on the road unwillingly. For them, home has been taken from them. Same planet, different worlds.
As a way of being, both figure in Deadroads, particularly within my central characters, and in the ghosts, demons, and angels that metaphorically and actually haunt them.
But let’s back up a bit. How did these ideas come together to make my family-drama-disguised-as-a-ghost-story? A number of years ago, I read the fantastic American Nomads by Richard Grant. It covers the yearning many people have had historically to leave “civilization” behind—to reject the known for the unknown. Some were looking for riches and adventure. Others had a solitary bent, were looking to escape something, were seeking solitude. Each chapter introduced a different group: mountain men, truckers, and carny workers. But most especially, rail riders.
The rail riders of the 1930s totally captured my imagination: why does someone leave, what is the call of the rail? The lure of the open prairie, dissected with lines of iron that followed the trails of nomadic aboriginal peoples, led me to set most of my story in Nebraska. The whistle of a train, the speed and ferocity of locomotion, the solitary skies and lands seemed so different from the secretive and changing topography of rural Louisiana, where the family had come from.
In Nebraska, Sol and his siblings hunt down a demon that is killing people up and down the rail lines. The demon’s ghostly henchman was formerly a railroad cop who hated rail riders, and mercilessly beat them to death. What the ghost really hates is that some people—nomads, hobos, rail riders—can leave. Some people can. They just do. They leave.
But most importantly, they leave people behind.
So, yes, hold the idea of nomad in your head while we think about exiles. Our histories are filled with them, the diaspora of the Jews, the Roma people, countless First Nations forced from their ancestral lands. For me, the story of the Acadian expulsion had hummed under the surface of my obscure family history. The expulsion—le grand dérangement—makes a good story, one that Henry Longfellow exploited to full dramatic effect in his epic poem, Evangeline.
In a nutshell: when the British won concessions from the French before and during the Seven Years War (a.k.a the French and Indian War), one of their new territories was Acadie, a distinct area of what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Mistrustful of the French inhabitants, the British dispersed them, put them on ships, chased them out, took over the farmlands the Acadians had carved out of the salt marshes along the Bay of Fundy. One large group sought refuge in French Louisiana, and their descendants are now known as Cajuns.
End of history lesson. I wondered what connection still existed between Acadia and Louisiana, what family ties still bound. Where home was, if it was traceable, like veins under the skin. Can exiles truly ever go home?
Despite his reluctance to embrace either his Cajun or Acadian heritage, Sol appears grounded, dependable, especially in contrast to his feckless brother Baz. Deep down, though, he has resisted putting down roots anywhere—after all, he hasn’t changed the address on his driver’s license, even though he’s been living with his girlfriend for close to two years. Is he a nomad, or an exile, or something else? Part of his story is working that out.
The characters of Deadroads are exiles and nomads—both on the road, and looking over their shoulder at what’s been left in the rear-view mirror. The ghosts that Sol takes care of are on their way to someplace new: as the minister Henry Ward Beecher once said, “On this side of the grave we are exiles, on that, citizens; on this side, orphans, on that children.”
But of the living characters that populate Deadroads, Sol alone recognizes the nomads’ ceaseless movement for what it is, a way of avoiding hard truths. Eventually and finally, he longs for a place to be home, and this quest defines him.
Born in Ottawa and raised on Canada’s west coast, Robin Riopelle’s life has been marked by adoption, separation, and reunion. Like many of her characters, she has a muddy past and a foot in (at least) two different worlds. Robin Riopelle is the author’s birthname. She currently lives on the border between French and English Canada with her criminologist husband, two seemingly delightful children, and an obstreperous spaniel. She is a great supporter of the Oxford comma. She can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.
And now thanks to Robin’s generosity, I have a giveaway to announce! She’s kindly donating a copy of her novel, Deadroads, to a lucky winner here!
~ Open Internationally!
~ 1 entry per person
~ Just leave a comment on this post to enter
~ Contest closes at 11:59 PM, PST, on Sunday July 6, 2014. The winner will be announced on Monday, July 7.
Many thanks to Robin Riopelle for writing this amazing post and for providing a copy of her novel to give away!