So far, Adam Lewis Schroeder owes much of his writing career to his high-school sweetheart, who is now his wife. But the way things are going, the next installment will be due to his kids.
His first three books—the story collection Kingdom of Monkeys and the novels Empress of Asia and the brand-new In the Fabled East—take place, for the most part, in Southeast Asia. Clashes of cultures are commonplace: In the Fabled East (Douglas & McIntyre, 413 pp), for instance, is set during the waning days of French rule in what was then called Indochina, and its protagonist is a widowed and tubercular Parisienne who finds a legendary fountain of youth in an isolated Laotian village. The legacies of empire often play a part, too: Schroeder is a sensitive, postcolonial Canadian, alert to the faí§ades erected by suffering natives and bluff imperialists alike.
But the UBC-trained author found his early focus only by chance, as he explains on the line from his Penticton home. “Growing up in the B.C. Interior, any part of the world outside of English-speaking North America probably seemed equally exotic to me,” he notes. “But my girlfriend was an exchange student in Indonesia right after high school, so she could speak with anybody over the whole archipelago and up into Malaysia; it’s all roughly the same language. We travelled for a year in that area, and that just gave us a real in to the culture.
“So these three books have all been thanks to her,” he continues. “I may have produced three other books, but on entirely different things. That’s the ”˜what if?’. But, yeah, the fact that my career has taken this path is entirely thanks to her.”
Schroeder continues to be fascinated by Southeast Asia. As he notes, his office is so littered with photographs and maps and travel guides concerning the region that it looks like he’s planning another journey up the Mekong River, like the three-week trek to Cambodia and Laos he made while researching In the Fabled East.
“I really had to squeeze that in,” he confesses. “It was totally invaluable, and I had to do it for this book to be worthwhile at all. But at that time I had a one-and-a-half-year-old son, and then another child, who ended up being a son as well, was due six weeks after I got home. So it was a real balancing act in terms of life and writing.”
For now, he adds, his wanderlust is in remission, and his next piece of full-length fiction will be a mystery set in the Okanagan, at the tail end of the 1950s.
“Now that I have these two young boys, writing out of Penticton is much more practical,” he admits. “If I didn’t have kids, and certainly if I was single, I’d be saying, ”˜Oh, this time I’m writing about Siberian oil wells,’ or something. I love the idea of jetting off somewhere to research a book.”
Even so, the newly minted stay-at-home dad isn’t entirely abandoning his interests, or his methodology. Penticton in 1958, he notes, was even more of a colonial outpost than Saigon in 1936, and his next book will depend just as much on his meticulous research habits as its predecessors.
“For the details to really sing, you have to have picked them up yourself,” he says. “So, recently I’ve been interviewing a 100-year-old policeman for this novel. There’s a lot of it I don’t need: I’ve only talked to him a couple of times, yet I’ve heard some of his stories six or eight times, because he forgets. But still, he’s 100 years old!”