INTERVIEW: Author Joseph Boyden talks book sequels and film adaptations

Since winning the Giller Prize in 2008, author Joseph Boyden has been working steadily on numerous projects, including his latest publication, a contribution to Penguin’s ‘Extraordinary Canadians’ series.

Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont examines the lives of these two legendary Métis leaders and it’s already garnered a lot of attention.  Of Métis descent himself, Boyden has two highly successful novels to his name, Three Day Road (2005), and its sequel, Through Black Spruce (2008).

Recently, MEDIA INDIGENA’s Martha Troian spoke with Boyden about his latest projects, what’s next for the characters in his two novels, and the upcoming film based on his first book.

What’s the status of the film adaptation of Three Day Road?

I’ve been working with Edward James Olmos for a number of years now. He’s a Latin American director and actor and he’s amazing.

He and I have been working on a screenplay. He approached me two years ago wanting to write a movie and I said sure. My wife Amanda and I are writing the screenplay for it.

It’s been a slow process mostly because we have other projects in our lives underway and this is our first major screenplay. It’s been a big learning curve for us, but the screenplay I’m going to have done by Christmas. We’ve got a number of drafts under our belts and now the final draft, which we’re all excited about.

He (Olmos) said, ‘Just give me a great screenplay and I will make the movie.’ And when he says things like that he’s not like these Hollywood filmmakers blowing smoke up your butt, he seems like he’s really excited about making this lifelong project a reality.

He’s got people who are very interested in working with him, money-backers, and the reason I went with Eddie, the number one reason, is that he wants to film as much as possible in Canada and he wants to use all Aboriginal actors. The screenplay is actually going to be in Cree with English subtitles. The one thing he really wants to do, he wants Aboriginal actors, so we’re going to be putting out a casting call in Canada. We also discovered two new young actors to play Xavier and Elijah. It’s all very exciting.

Will the arrangement of the film be same as the book?

It follows the same kind of ordering the novel does because that’s what makes most sense to the story. But we had to very quickly learn that there are so many scenes in the book that clearly can’t make it in the movie.

It’s a three-hundred-plus page novel which we have. We had to take out a lot of things but keep the skeleton of the story and allow the directors and actors to take over. (Eddie) really wants us to be involved. He is really inclusive. He wants us to be involved in all stages, from the production, meeting the actors, and going with our gut feelings. He really respects new artists. That is one thing I truly respect about him is that he respects the artists. So he wants them to be involved in all the steps really.

Is there a book following Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce?

Yes, there is one more, it’s a trilogy.

When can readers expect to see it hit the shelves?

I know what happens in this book, but I just haven’t started writing it yet.

I’m working on another novel actually, one that I don’t really talk about too much, but I’m really excited about. I wanted to give the Bird family a bit of break and work on this other novel that I’ve been working on for years. So it’s going to be a little while. Hopefully we will hear from the Birds when its finally done, but it will be a few years, I think.

Any small insights you can give MEDIA INDIGENA about this (secretive) new novel?

Yeah, it deals with contact between First Nations in Canada and the United States with Europeans. It’s a historical novel. I’m trying to figure out how to push a few boundaries with what is considered a historical novel.

You live in New Orleans. Is there an ‘Aboriginal scene’ down there?

Outside of the city, not in New Orleans itself. But there certainly is the Houma Indians, in the Houma community. I’ve become friends with them. And they got really just trashed by Katrina; it just destroyed the Houma reservation, and that went under the radar.

So I try to put the word out that there is an Aboriginal group down in Louisiana that needs help and assistance.  They’ve lost so much.

Tell us about the ‘Extraordinary Canadians’ Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont project.

I thought that was going to be a one-year project but it ended up being three. There is a lot of information about Louis Riel — and misinformation as well — but not so much about Gabriel Dumont. This is the first book that actually looks at the two of them with equal weight and we thought that was very important.

It’s a book I’m quite proud of and I’m hoping readers will enjoy it. I’m trying to inject the excitement and passion of this incredible part of our Canadian history but unfortunately most of it was plucked out by academics. And academics do what academics do, and I respect them highly, but so many academic texts on Louis Riel plucked the life out of it, and I tried to re-inject a little bit of it back into this incredible story.

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