Ol’ grey eyes

Frank Christopher Busch’s debut novel tells of a magical era in pre-colonized Manitoba

Public speaking certainly isn’t a challenge for Frank Christopher Busch; over the years, he’s delivered many talks at conferences on the topic of Aboriginal business and finance. But the speaking tour that’s accompanying the release of his debut novel, Grey Eyes, is a whole different story. Now, it’s extremely personal. Nerves hit every time he presents.

“I’m kind of careful with my diet,” says Busch, speaking from his office in Westbank, B.C. “I’m avoiding red meat and anything too heavy. I avoid eating a couple of hours before the reading. I find that makes it worse: the butterflies turn to nausea if you’re not watching what you eat. Sometimes I’m kind of starving at my readings because I haven’t eaten.” 

That’s not to say that he hasn’t enjoyed the experience. After all, Busch spent two years constructing and refining the tale of Grey Eyes, which tells of the birth and coming-of-age of an exceptional child in a pre-colonial Indigenous community. Specifically, the story takes place in the area of what today belongs to the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, where Busch grew up.

“I was trying to put together pieces of legends that I remember hearing growing up about people born with grey eyes and having special magical abilities,” he says. “I only had the intention of sharing it with my son, who was born with grey eyes. But when I found out that there were a lot of gaps, I began to will them in an interesting way to tell stories to my son.”

The process of creating Grey Eyes began and continues to be a hobby. Given his full-time profession at the First Nations Finance Authority, it’s no surprise that Busch calculated the rough wage from the book: he laughs as he mentions that it’d clock out to about $1.20 an hour if it made bestseller lists. But that’s not to say it’s not being noticed. Joseph Boyden, the author of Canada Read’s victor The Orenda, has already endorsed it.

“When he sent the endorsement, I actually thought it was a hoax at first,” Busch reminisces. “I thought it was one of my friends who knew I was writing a book set up an account and emailed me. And then my publisher frantically phoned me and said, ‘We just got a review from Boyden’s publisher saying this about your book.’ I was seriously stunned for five minutes: out of nowhere, this guy would review an unknown author’s work.”

The accolades aren’t going to Busch’s head. A major priority on his horizon is to get 1,000 copies of Grey Eyes in the historically underfunded reserve schools across the continent. He’s waiving all author royalties for the project to make it happen - a bit over a quarter of the funds necessary to make the endeavour a reality have been donated. Busch is already working on the next novel in the series, this time about missing and murdered Aboriginal women. 

He’s not wasting any time.

Frank Christopher Busch is presenting readings on Oct. 9 at the Millennium Public Library and Oct. 10 at McNally Robinson. Visit fernwoodpublishing.ca for more information.

Published in Volume 69, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 8, 2014)

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