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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

The Chat with Nadine Sander-Green


Debut novelist Nadine Sander-Green has written a deeply compelling novel about a young woman named Millicent, who has travelled to the Yukon for a job as a local reporter and ends up in a troubled relationship. Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit (House of Anansi Press) is a harrowing story of sorting through toxic relationship dynamics and is a stirring portrait of life in the North.

The British Columbia Review praises Sander-Green’s deft handling of character and plot, stating "Sander-Green’s complex characters in Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit strive for new lives with meaningful art, happiness, and a purpose just out of reach as they etch their own bylines into the Yukon’s epic geography."

Nadine Sander-Green grew up in Kimberley, British Columbia. After living across Canada—in Victoria, Toronto, and Whitehorse—she now calls Calgary, Alberta, home. She completed her BFA from the University of Victoria and her MFA from the University of Guelph. In 2015, Nadine won the PEN Canada New Voices Award for writers under 30. Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Grain, Prairie Fire, Outside, carte blanche, Hazlitt, and elsewhere.



Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit is your debut novel and it tells the story of a young reporter trapped in a toxic relationship with an older man in Whitehorse. How does it feel to have this first book out in the world?

It feels both wonderful and vulnerable. I’m proud of myself for working through the slog of getting a first novel out into the world and I’m so grateful this story is now with readers, but I was also surprised how raw it feels to have the novel off my laptop and in bookstores. The novel took almost a decade to write, edit, and finally publish. The story consumed such a large part of my 20s and 30s and I’m now working on letting it go and making room on my brain for a new novel.

Whitehorse only rarely seems to appear in Canadian literature. As someone who’s spent a few summers working in the Yukon, the physical descriptions of the city—the river, the clay bluffs and the sense of the overwhelming beauty of the land—are so viscerally real. What was it like for you to write about the culture and geography of the Yukon?

Writing about the land and people of the Yukon was one of my favourite parts of working on this project. I’ve lived in a lot of different rural places in Canada, but there is something so rich—in the land and the light and the intensity of the people— about Whitehorse in particular.

I lived in the city, on and off, for eight years. In the summer, you can go for a walk at midnight on the bluffs and the sun will just be setting and the smell of wild roses will be everywhere; it’s intoxicating. In the winter it gets so cold that the little hairs in your nostrils freeze the second you walk out the door. I have never met a culture so in tune with the land and I think that’s what draws so many people to the North.

In the summer, you can go for a walk at midnight on the bluffs and the sun will just be setting and the smell of wild roses will be everywhere; it’s intoxicating.

The intensity of the Yukon also lends itself so well to narrative. I think readers are naturally curious about what it’s like to live in the extremes. People want to know what happens to a person’s body and psyche under these conditions without necessarily having to live through it themselves.

You also explore what it’s like to write for a small community paper at a time when print journalism is in dire straits—with the long-venerated Whitehorse Star closing only just recently. How did you capture the daily trials and rhythms of being a print journalist?

Being a print journalist for a small-town, daily newspaper in a capital city like Whitehorse is both an exercise in humility and bravery. One day you’re writing about a cat being stuck up in a tree or a school parade, and the next you’re at a press conference with the premier who is announcing some sweeping change to land use planning or affordable housing that will affect the territory deeply, for better or worse. On top of that, you’re writing these stories in the span of one or two hours every morning, hoping your sources get back to you and that your fingers can keep up to your brain while you’re bashing out the words before they go to print.

Long before I started writing Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, I worked for a year as the legislative reporter for the Whitehorse Star, which closed in May after 124 years in business. It was probably the most fascinating and gruelling job I’ve ever had. I never knew what each day would bring, what stories I would be covering and if I would finish them by deadline. It’s a type of work fuelled by adrenaline and a desire to dig for the truth. Like the extremeness of the northern landscape, I think readers are curious about how a traditional newsroom operates. There’s a certain romance in it and it was fun to capture that.

At heart, the novel explores what it’s like to be stuck inside a deeply toxic relationship, alone and isolated from family and friends. Why were you drawn to telling this story?

Many, many people—including myself—have found themselves in toxic relationships. Yet, I think there is still little dialogue about what it’s like to experience this terrifying feeling of being “trapped.”  I was interested in exploring this in the psyche of Millicent, the novel’s main character. She moves into a renovated school bus with an older, emotionally abusive man and is obviously incredibly unhappy, so why doesn’t she just leave? Why doesn’t she just walk off the bus? That was the crux of what I was exploring with this theme in the novel: what happens to our sense of self-worth and agency over our own lives when living inside a toxic or abusive relationship? Why do we return to partners that hurt us? What does it actually take to find a way out?

And of course, setting the story in the North, where the conditions are harsh and people are often isolated from their family and friends (especially when they first move there) helped heighten the drama of the story.

Finally, I’m curious how Yukoners (in particular) are reacting to the novel?
The reaction has been wonderful from Yukoners. I mean, if someone didn’t like the novel they probably wouldn’t tell me, but the Yukoners who have spoken to me about it seem to be connecting to the descriptions of the land and the wildness of living in the North in your mid-20s. A lot of people I know who live in Whitehorse have settled down and bought houses and started families now. I think it’s nostalgic for them to remember the good old days of coming-of-age in the North, when life was intoxicating and uncertain and fun and lonely, all at once.

Excerpt from Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

The lie had just slipped out. But once the words were out, she couldn’t take them back. She knew what she was doing was risky. And she knew Sophie was protective. She’d ask Millicent to text her every half hour. She’d make her feel embarrassed about going. So are you actually into this guy? But he lives on a fucking school bus! Millie, I can’t believe it!

On either side of the highway horses roamed the barren hills. Maybe it really wasn’t a big deal. She would eat ptarmigan for the first time in her life, have a glass of
wine and be home in a few hours.

Her excitement had turned into a thrilling dread by the time Millicent spotted the bus, at 15.3 kilometres on the odometer. She turned off the highway and into the pull-out, then killed the ignition. Nobody, she realized, had any idea where she was. Not Sophie, not anyone at the Nugget and not her mother. Hands still clutching the wheel, she waited for Pascal to emerge from the bus. Surely, he must have heard her engine. He must be waiting for her. Millicent checked her reflection in the rear-view mirror. Then, in what felt like slow motion, she took her seatbelt off and reached for the wine bottle.

She slammed her door and walked around to the front of the bus, noticing that the graffiti had been painted over in a slightly lighter yellow tone. The smell of wild sage, spruce needles and diesel filled the air. The curtains on all the windows were closed. She knocked on the door. A semi-truck passed on the highway and then there was nothing, a silence so intense it rang, like a mosquito lodged in her ear canal.

An outhouse with green, peeling paint perched on the edge of the pullout with a sign nailed to the door that said Closed for the Season. Millicent circled to the back of the outhouse. From here she could see the Yukon River, glittering like a snake basking in the sun. Maybe he was down by the water, somewhere she couldn’t see. She thought about calling out his name, but she couldn’t muster any sound.

Millicent turned around and walked stiffly back to her car. He hadn’t read her email. He hadn’t thought she would actually take him up on dinner. Why had she? How embarrassing to be clutching a twenty-four dollar bottle of wine like this was a formal date. He wasn’t even here! Millicent wanted nothing more than to be back on the highway, driving home. Sophie would drink the wine with her. She would tell her the whole story. Millicent didn’t bother with her seatbelt, just started the car, the tires spitting gravel towards the highway as she remembered Sophie’s words. You can’t just trust everyone. She didn’t know Pascal, not at all.

She sensed his presence before she saw him, a clamping in her gut. His body grew larger in the rear-view mirror. Pascal was jogging after her. He was shirtless, with a towel draped over his shoulder and something in his hand. As he drew closer, she saw that it was a beer. Millicent did not think. Her body behaved on impulse. She left the engine running and the car in neutral and lifted her hand to her eyebrows to block the sinking evening sun.

“Where are you going?” he laughed, coming to a stop by her door.

She had forgotten his face: the grooves in his forehead, the grey in his beard, his teasing eyes. “I don’t know,” she muttered. Millicent tried not to stare at his bare stomach, at the thin line of hair that ran from his belly button to the top of his shorts.

“Weirdo,” he said. Pascal took a swig from the bottle and, mouth full, held it out to Millicent. She got out of the car once more, closed the door and grabbed the bottle. She took a sip, allowing the beer to slide down her throat. The cool liquid calmed her. She handed the bottle back to Pascal.

“Thank you.”

He stared at her as if he knew something about her that she didn’t. Like why she was here.

Reprinted with permission.


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