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Actions of flawed main character keep readers — and writer — guessing

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Writer EDMONTON







There are a lot of similarities between Leo Desroches and his creator Wayne Arthurson. But thankfully, there are a lot of differences, too.

Leo is the main character in Arthurson’s second work of fiction, Fall from Grace, as well as the title character in Arthurson’s next novel, A Killing Winter. Leo is a flawed protagonist. A journalist with one of Edmonton’s daily newspapers, he is a former street person and a gambling addict, and becomes obsessed with the idea of a serial killer targeting Aboriginal prostitutes. And Leo is full of surprises.

In fact, said Arthurson, the conclusion of Fall from Grace was even a surprise to him. Arthurson didn’t expect Leo to do what he did and has no idea where Leo is going to end up.

“The scenes (of the book) were planned out but it developed as it went along,” said Arthurson.

Like Leo, Arthurson is Aboriginal and like Leo, Arthurson didn’t grow up knowing his Aboriginal heritage.
Arthurson’s father is Cree from Norway House, in Manitoba, and his mother is French Canadian. Arthurson is an army brat, living both on base and in small communities, experiencing first-hand racism and shame.
“On the base, it was very homogenous. We were all western Canadian kids. It was just everyone trying to fit in kind of thing. But there was the attitude of shame of being Native,” said Arthurson. He also recalled that his mother experienced racism because she spoke with a French accent.

Married with a six-year-old daughter, Arthurson said it is important for his child to know not only his Aboriginal background, but also her mother’s Persian background. Arthurson’s daughter has already attended a powwow.
Arthurson tried for two and a half years to get a Canadian agent and publisher for Fall from Grace. It wasn’t until he went to an American agent that he found success.

“Canada publishers and agents do for the most part literary fiction and do an excellent job . . . but when you move out of the literary fiction genre to other things that are different, like mystery or science fiction, they don’t know how to market them,” said Arthurson.

The US has a large market for mystery, including a Native American mystery genre. But Fall from Grace is unique from other Native American mysteries.

Most Native American mysteries take place in rural, reservation settings, but Fall from Grace occurs in Edmonton. Arthurson balances Aboriginal street people with contributing Elders. He also balances dirty cops on the Edmonton Police Service with dedicated officers. Another trend Arthurson bucked was the protagonist getting his final clue from a vision.  For Leo, it’s old-fashioned digging:  legwork, researching old newspapers and some luck.

When Arthurson signed with Forge Publishing in New York it was for a two-novel deal and he included a synopsis of Fall from Grace, which had yet to be written. It was Fall from Grace that was picked up with the thought that A Killing Winter could be a prequel. But after reading Fall from Grace, the agent told Arthurson to continue from that book and suggested Arthurson tie elements of the prequel into the second novel. The second novel is scheduled to come out in spring 2012.
Feedback on Fall from Grace has been stronger than Arthurson expected, both in Canada and the US.

Arthurson, who defines himself as a writer and not an Aboriginal writer, said Edmonton, which has been his hometown since 1991, is a good arts town.

“It’s not weird to be an artist in Edmonton. Arts are deeply entrenched in Edmonton,” he said.