When Adam Garnet Jones’s film, Fire Song, debuted in 2015, it immediately garnered the screenwriter and director (who is of Cree-Métis and Danish descent) accolades and festival awards. But the Canadian indie – about an Indigenous teen named Shane, whose sister has died by suicide and who’s hiding his homosexuality while dealing with a demanding high school girlfriend – also caught the eye of a children’s publisher. Annick Press’s Rick Wilks saw its potential as a YA novel.
Jones liked the idea, as long as he could write the adaptation. Even though he’d never written prose, handing off a story that grew out of his own history of depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as his feelings of isolation as a queer Indigenous man, didn’t appeal. Not surprisingly, Jones found the reality of working in unfamiliar territory challenging and blew his three month deadline. (It took 18 months to complete.) But the change in medium was liberating, too. Free of the logistics of filmmaking, Jones found himself able to concentrate fully on the story itself and go beyond what he could explore onscreen, including some boundary-pushing sex scenes between Shane and his boyfriend.
He also put a greater focus on secondary characters such as Tara, Shane’s unsuspecting girlfriend, whose fate comes as a shock to both the other characters and the reader. “I knew that if the book were to focus entirely on Shane’s point of view, then there would be two [tragedies involving] young Indigenous women that were totally unexplained, and that felt like a huge oversight and a missed opportunity as a writer, and also for the community.”
Feeling drained by the experience of making the movie and going through a subsequent “dark and dry period, creatively,” Jones says that delving back into the world of Fire Song to do the adaptation was harrowing but also a pleasure. And it’ll all be worth it if his debut novel (released this month) speaks to young readers. “I think most people can identify with those feelings of loneliness and isolation,” he says, “and trying to find yourself and grow into the person that you want to be.”