Fort Victoria depicted by Photographer/Artist Sarah Crease (1826-1922). An idyllic outpost of empire built – like most other settlements in Canada – on First Nations territory.
In preparation for writing Uphill From Here I have begun some deeper study into First Nations cultures and the deplorable colonial record of attempted annihilation perpetrated against indigenous people’s in Canada. Most of us in this day-in-age condemn that disastrous effort and accept the need and mutual responsibility for reconciliation. But I don’t believe EuroCans by-and-large are at the place yet were we can comprehend the full scope of the tragedy.
My understanding about this blight on our history is probably average, perhaps a little better than, which is to say, I have much to learn. Even at this early stage, though, I see that the descendants of the colonists (and the colonists themselves) could have learned so much from the original inhabitants of this continent about living in community and harmony with the land, if only our ancestors had substituted for the motivating mindsets of greed and conquest perspectives of curiosity, open-mindedness and adaptation.
All is far from lost, however. The resilience of First Nations cultures, and their resurgence in modern modes, means there’s still a chance for EuroCans and other ethnic groupings in this country, to learn more harmonious, less barbaric approaches to community in nature than were imposed by the 17th Century settlers, who began arriving in numbers from Europe about two centuries after the so-called ‘discovery’ of North America.
A good starting point for me, I hope, is the University of Toronto online course Aboriginal World Views and Education.
Part of my search for understanding is connection with real people, whose life experiences overlap with those of my characters. Writing at its best is a transformative process. Points of awakening, of brilliance, shine through when I as an author am amazed at what I’m discovering as I get to know my characters. Only then can I convey that sense of wonder to readers, passing along new and fascinating insights into the cultural and social milieus of my story.
I call the process of reaching out to develop characters ‘adoption’. By that I mean participants adopt characters, whose social and cultural responses they understand, and who can guide me as a write the story. Adopters will be in a very real sense co-writers.
Three characters in particular would benefit by having adopters work with me:
- Devlin Smith, who is setting out to achieve his dreams of becoming a Paralympian and lawyer;
- Marie Gilbert, who is defining herself as a First Nations activist, woman and artist in the 21st Century;
- Debbie Smith, Devlin’s mother, who is grappling with her addictions, dysfunctional history, and terminal illness.
Devlin, as the protagonist, will be the focal point these various perspectives converge on. But the characters in his life have to be real, three-dimensional, imposing, and to achieve that presence, I need help to deeply appreciate their stories.
So what am I asking of the people I hope will adopt these characters? I envision ongoing dialogue as episodes are written, conversations about how or why a character might react the way he does to a given event; the emotions that would be triggered by an incident. Most of all, I am looking for descriptions of what ‘reconciliation’ looks like to them.
In other words, I want adopters to experience what’s happening in the novel and express their cultural and social reactions. I see them as collaborators and friends, who will feel safe opening up from their points of view so that I can represent my characters with depth and integrity.
A description of the ‘inspiration’ and process for my work in progress, Uphill From Here
For the most part we learn by experience. Events are analyzed, compared and absorbed as they happen, life’s meaning effervescing like the tantalizing flavours of a simmering stew.
But as a novelist that sequence, the acclimatizing passages of growing up and growing old, is frequently reversed, or inverted. In an ‘inspired flash’ I have been given Devlin Smith’s life-story in my current novel in progress, Uphill From Here. Now I have to examine the events in that skeletal outline, giving them breath, life, meaning, all the while asking: ‘ Why have I been given this responsibility?’
At the beginning of that process for this novel, I’m reaching into my communities to discover experiences and perspectives that will make an inspiring story compelling, or what I like to call ‘real fiction’.
Join me on Devlin’s long, hard climb up a short, steep hill in Ladysmith. Let’s find out more about how he got to the foot of Symonds Street and his struggle to get to the top of that challenging grade. I’m looking for: ‘adopters’, ‘enactors’, ‘beta readers’… anyone interested in helping me tell Devlin’s story.
Read the outline to Uphill From Here, and find out how you can get into the story as it’s written.
Literary Fiction: Post 2 of 3
I recently came across a Facebook post in one of the writers’ groups I have joined in which a fellow member lamented the frustrations of a ‘wannabe’ writer.
I responded, “Writing is not about writing. That’s the paradox of our vocation – a quirk of soul that keeps writers at it for decades, whole lifetimes, sometimes without ever being published or making money at it.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘wannabe writer’, only a ‘hafftabe’. Yes, the craft is important; true, we must pay attention to promoting and selling books if we want society to provide an income that allows us to write more; of course we want our stories to resonate beyond the closet shelf, into the greater consciousness, to be reimagined in the minds of readers.
(This post is echoed from my Boy From Under blog. If you want to see what my version of a Direct-to-web book looks like visit BoyFromUnder.ca)
Back in November, when I relaunched this web-book, I posted a blog explaining why I believe ‘books’ as we know them have to morph into new forms. expanding the boundaries of what we consider to be literature. Two months isn’t a lot of time to forge ahead with an experiment to that end, certainly not enough to prove so ambitious – perhaps audacious – a point. And if the financial fortunes of writers were the only, or even the most important measure of success, I would certainly not be posting about my progress so far!
But I can say without hesitation, I am excited at the prospect of continuing the project into 2018.
It’s hard to write speculative, dystopian fiction without sounding alarmist, preachy or inauthentic. Am I overstating the concerns people should have about the future as it’s unfolding? Making the narrative too abstract and detached for the sake of the all-important message I want to deliver, and thus defeating the very purpose of weaving complex themes into fiction? Or – worst of all – am I exaggerating for the sake of adding dramatic tension and effects to a novel that doesn’t really have anything socially relevant to say?