With The Fire Reapers, Yukon author turns to young adult fantasy

In Patricia Robertson's old house on Jarvis Street in Whitehorse, there was a false window. A writer since the age of 10, she did what writers do; she looked at the window and fantasized.

In Patricia Robertson’s old house on Jarvis Street in Whitehorse, there was a false window. A writer since the age of 10, she did what writers do; she looked at the window and fantasized.

“I at one point imagined a child moving in and then discovering a secret room behind the window,” she says, and so was planted the first seed of her new novel, The Fire Reapers.

Since 1994, when she published her first short story collection City of Orphans, Robertson has been a prolific and respected talent. Her poems and short stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines, and her work has been nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, two National Magazine Awards, the Journey Prize, and the Pushcart Prize. Her second collection, The Goldfish Dancer, arrived in 2007 and was critically acclaimed. The National Post said, “each of her stories is a polished gem of unusual lustre.”

The Fire Reapers, a fantasy novel for young readers, presents something of a departure for Robertson but, she says, “My fiction has always had an element of magic and fantasy and characters who had fantasies in it.” Writing for young readers was new, but the craft is the same, she says. “As with all fiction you have to be able to get into the characters. And I found I was writing for the child in me.”

Just in case that childish self was too distant, she honed her ear in the presence of her 12-year old niece. “One of her phrases was ‘holy crap,’” Robertson laughs, “she said that all the time. So my character says ‘holy crap.’ So it was partly listening to kids at that age and talking to them, and partly just writing a story that I wanted to read. I really enjoyed writing it. It was fun to invent a world and invent rules, and tackle bigger themes. I found that I could deal with things like climate change and fundamentalist cults in a way that it seems hard to do in adult literary fiction.”

Having two protagonists who are 12 years old created a different kind of challenge when it came to publishing the work. “It kind of fell between two stools,” she explains. “My agent said it wasn’t really YA (young adult fiction) because YA is supposedly 13 and up and the protagonists are 12. She said why don’t you make them 13, but I said, no, then you get into the beginnings of sexual attraction and so on. And they’re not 13, they’re 12.

“I eventually had it edited by a freelance children’s editor in Toronto, and she said the same thing. She said, ‘You’re going to face challenges (publishing the work) because it doesn’t fit into a niche marketing category.’ So I just got tired of people telling me this. I started the book seven years ago, and I wanted it out, and done.” With all this in mind she came to the decision to publish the book herself.

By getting The Fire Reapers out and done, she clears her decks for several projects, some already on the go. “I’m about halfway through a book of short stories,” she says, “and I’ve started on the first draft of a new YA novel called How to Talk to a Glacier. I’m going to be writer in residence in Kingston starting in January. And I want to write more essays.” Her essay Against Domesticated Fiction will appear in Best Canadian Essays 2013.

The Fire Reapers launches Friday, November 15 at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse. Doors open at 5 p.m. In addition to a reading and book signing, there will be snacks, wine, and a coffee bar.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

During our recent conversation, John Nicholson showed me snapshots of his time working on the Yukon riverboats 70 years ago. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: Yukon man relives the riverboat days after seven decades

John Nicholson took summer work on Yukon steamers in the 1950s

NDP candidate Annie Blake, left, and Liberal incumbent Pauline Frost. (Submitted photos)
Official recount confirms tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin riding

Both candidates Pauline Frost and Annie Blake are still standing with 78 votes each

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. At its April 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved a zoning change to allow a drive-thru at 107 Range Road. Developers sought the change to build a Dairy Queen there. (Submitted)
Drive-thru approved by Whitehorse city council at 107 Range Road

Rezoning could pave the way for a Dairy Queen


Wyatt’s World for April 14, 2021.… Continue reading

Joel Krahn/joelkran.com Hikers traverse the Chilkoot Trail in September 2015. Alaska side.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer

The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail will open for summer Parks… Continue reading

École Whitehorse Elementary Grade 7 students Yumi Traynor and Oscar Wolosewich participated in the Civix Student Vote in Whitehorse on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Yukon Student Vote chooses Yukon Party government; NDP take popular vote

The initiative is organized by national non-profit CIVIX

Yvonne Clarke is the newly elected Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre. (Submitted/Yukon Party)
Yvonne Clarke elected as first Filipina MLA in the Yukon Legislative Assembly

Clarke beat incumbent Liberal Paolo Gallina in Porter Creek Centre

Emily Tredger at NDP election night headquarters after winning the Whitehorse Centre riding. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Emily Tredger takes Whitehorse Centre for NDP

MLA-elect ready to get to work in new role

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Two new cases of COVID-19 variant identified in territory

“If variants were to get out of control in the Yukon, the impact could be serious.”

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

Most Read