As I sit here watching the snow fall—yet again—in Vancouver, I’m hopeful. Spring is coming, and I’m gearing up for another Writer’s Conference. Every year, I go to the SiWC at the end of October, and then I wait and wait and wait. Writing is a solitary activity—just me and my dog and my laptop, and the odd online writing sprint I can manage in between. But this year, I’ve discovered a new local conference at half-time!
Creative Ink is only a few weeks away—the last weekend in March! Hurray! After a winter of rain and snow and cold, the promise of writer camaraderie injects me with inspiration.
I’m feeling green and ready to grow!
Several writers, I met at SiWC will be there and many are presenting. I’ve been hanging out with them online doing writerly things at The Creative Academy, and am excited to make a physical connection (AKA sharing stories over a glass of wine;). I also have some very excited meetings lined up.
Kelley is a prolific CANADIAN writer who writes in my genres, more or less—mystery, thriller, and urban fantasy. I’m thrilled to be in her master class and can’t wait to hear her speak. Check out the ad below—you can still sign up for her master class! I also have a Blue Pencil Session with her, meaning she will sit with me, read a couple of pages of my work, and give me some tips. I’ve reviewed her first three Rockton thrillers for the Ottawa Review of Books and I’m reading her latest, Watcher in the Woods, right now!
I also have a Red Pencil Session with thriller writer, Jonas Saul. It’s red, rather than blue, because I have to send three pages ahead of time. Jonas will take his red pencil to my writing and inject it with blood? passion? error marks? Oh my! Red pencils conjure all kinds of images.
I’m also sitting down for a chat with Sylvia Taylor. There’s just too much to write about Sylvia Taylor. Read her “about” page to get some inkling of what she does.
I think it’s incredibly generous of authors to give their time and expertise to other authors. It’s something that makes conferences like this GOLDEN! The presenters are all writers who volunteer their time to make it happen. Creative Ink is held at the Delta Hotel, Burnaby, and there is still space.
Here’s the full scoop on Creative Ink!
As I’ve said before the best research is hands-on. That way, you can indulge your senses.
Last Saturday, we enjoyed a day cruise from Gold River (on Vancouver Island, British Columbia) to Yuquot at Friendly Cove. This is Nuu-chah-nulth traditional territory. The term, Nuu-chah-nulth means “all along the mountains” and refers to sixteen tribes from Alaska to Washington state that speak different dialects, but collectively are sea-faring people.
Uchuck means healing waters. “The Uchuck III can move along at twelve knots, and carry up to 100 day-passengers and 70 tons of general cargo including three or four cars” (Get West.) We watched from the upper deck as the crew loaded supplies using a crane for the folks at Yuquot. This included a new red ATV that was immediately put to work when we arrived. When we were underway at last, the two-hour cruise took us through Muchalaht Channel past controversial fish farms and logging swaths, around Bligh Island (named for a young Captain Bligh of Bounty fame), and through Cook Channel into Friendly Cove.
It was a perfect day of sun and fair breezes and the calm waters certainly felt healing. The captain said that humpback whales often come into Muchalaht Channel. All around Nootka Sound, salmon fishermen were hoisting their catch to show off their prizes.
In 2014, I lived at the Nootka Light Station for two months, while working as a relief lighthouse keeper. Although it was a short stint, catching sight of the white and red Coastguard buildings felt like coming home. We had three hours to explore the Yuquot site, which includes an amazing pebble beach, a portion of the Nootka Trail that leads past a graveyard and rentable cabins at Jewitt Lake, the old church which has now been reclaimed by the Indigenous community as a cultural centre, and of course, the light station.
But I am setting a murder mystery here, so was most interested in locations where one might kill someone without being seen and hide something precious. This landscape is not new to killing.
In 1788, Maquinna (the Mowachacht chief) sent his people aboard The Boston to repay many insults—including the murder of his brother-in-law—by European sailors. The entire crew was murdered and decapitated except for the blacksmith John Jewitt, and the sailmaker who hid below. Maquinna needed Jewitt’s skills so kept him alive, and Jewitt convinced Maquinna that the sailmaker was his father. Jewitt lived three years as part of Maquinna’s family, wrote his story on the dead captain’s paper, and eventually returned to Boston where it was published.
The long pier was teaming with people as the Mowachaht/Muchalaht community was holding their annual Spirit Summerfest campout in the grassy area near the church and many friends and relatives had come out aboard the Uchuck III to visit. There was also a celebration in the church as this year marked the 240thAnniversary of Captain James Cook’s arrival at Nootka Sound.
As the story goes, Cook arrived in what he first called King George’s Sound in the spring of 1778 with the Resolution and Discovery. Making the usual European blunder, he named the people and the place based on his suppositions. The Indigenous people—who’d been living here for thousands of years—called out and told the captain to go around to avoid the reefs. More precisely, it happened like this:
“Captain Cook’s men, asking by signs what the port was called, made for them a sign with their hand, forming a circle and then dissolving it, to which the natives responded ‘Nutka’. No.tkak or no.txak means “circular, spherical” (Sapir and Swadesh 1939:276) in The Whaling People.
Though the village was teaming with people, Cook claimed the land for Britain. The British soon called all the people there, the Nootka, though there were 1500 Mowachacht people living in villages in the area. Yuquot was the summer home of Maquinna’s people and they wintered down the channel in Tahsis. The Mowachacht—“people of the deer”—began a lucrative (especially for the British) trade in sea otter pelts.
Captain Cook’s claim on Yuquot set the stage for later conflicts between the Indigenous people as well as the Spanish, who built Fort San Miguel on the rocks beside the lighthouse. Sadly, within forty years, the sea otter disappeared. Fortunately, they are now back in the area. I remember seeing them playing near the pier when I lived there. This charming sea otter photograph was taken by my friend Ivan Dubinsky, principal keeper at Scarlett Point Lightstation north of Port Hardy.
On our return voyage, we sailed through the more turbulent waters of Zuchiarte Channel. I went up to the wheelhouse to ask about the ship, but Captain Adrien said that he’d only answer my questions if I took a turn at the wheel. So, under his direction, I steered the Uchuck III through King’s Passage.
The wheelhouse is beautiful and it was a thrill to turn the wheel two spokes starboard and then back to port to straighten her out while keeping my eyes on the bow.
The fabulous photo below was taken by Low Light Mike, August 28, 2010. One of the crew had just polished the engine-telegraph (to the left of the wheel) a piece from BCCS’s Princess Victoria,a River Clyde vessel that sailed around Cape Horn in 1904.
We arrived back in Gold River at 5:30pm. It was a long glorious day, and I recommend taking a voyage aboard the Uchuck III so you can get a taste of history firsthand. For more photographs, cruise and booking information, check out Get West. Below is a site map of Yuquot and a directional map to Gold River.
All maps Friendly Cove and Map to Gold River
The weathered church that stands today in Friendly Cove was erected in 1956, for the purposes of “educating” the people of Yuquot. In the vestibule, old plaques and photographs are displayed, memories and keys to the significance of this place. One article in particular captured my attention. It tells a familiar story; one of loss, and betrayal, and exploitation.
In 1904, the entire Nootka Whalers’ Washing House, a 5×6 metre building, plus its contents was “purchased” from two elders and spirited away under cover of night. It was whaling season, and most of the community was off at work. A shady deal, no doubt, that the whalers would have objected to had they known. George Hunt, working under the famous anthropologist, Franz Boas, orchestrated the deal, which reportedly gained two men $500.00 but lost a community something sacred and precious. It ended up in the American Museum in New York, and has stayed there, in the basement, for the past century. This is an image of the contents:
What follows is a partial transcript of a framed article hanging inside the church. “Reviving Dark Forces” was written by Mark Hume and published in the Vancouver Sun, Saturday, May 25, 1991.
The shrine includes 60 carved human figures, 25 human skulls and two wooden whales. Native legend says the prayers and rituals practised by shamans gave hunters the magic they needed to find whales; it also made the sea send dead whales to the beaches around Nootka Sound.
What the magic was, and how it worked, may be beyond comprehension today, but Inglis says that looking on the faces of the shrine it is easy to believe it once had immense power. [At the time of writing, Richard Inglis was Head of Anthropology at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.]
The people of Nootka Island who used the shrine believe it still has that power. One of the native concerns now under discussion is whether such dark forces should ever be brought into the open again.
“It’s incredibly powerful stuff,” says Inglis of the magic attributed to the shrine.
“One of the issues is whether you want to bring that power out again.”
The shrine, a magic house that was considered “a great treasure” of the Nootka people, was in continual use for 300 years before it was collected by the American Museum in 1904.
Generations of Nootka whalers performed rituals at the shrine which at times drew its black magic from human sacrifice and grave robbing.
Inglis, who has been researching the monument for several years, says the native community has mixed emotions about the shrine.
Some want it returned to Yuquot, to be shown in a museum or cultural centre. Others think it should never be put on public display again.
European mariners turned whale hunting into a deadly, highly mechanized science that brought world populations to the verge of extinction. But in the native world, during the shrine’s centuries of power, killing whales was a dangerous job that required the help of spirits.
Anthropologists say the Nootka developed the most spectacular sea hunting techniques on the entire Pacific coast. Travelling in large, ocean-going canoes, they killed whales with harpoons that had cutting heads made of mussel shells; sealskin buoys were connected to long lines made from animal sinew.
The techniques for hunting—and the magic—were cherished family secrets passed down from chiefs to their sons. In addition to the hunters, the Nootka had whale-ritualists, shamans so powerful it was said they didn’t have to hunt whales at sea, but magically drew to shore those that had died from natural causes.
Tsaxwasap,a man with great shamanistic powers, was one of those who first used the shrine. He intensified the power of the magic house by bringing dead bodies to it, and live infants stolen from their mothers. When Tsaxwasap inherited the shrine it had only four human skulls.
In her book, From the Land of the Totem Poles, Aldona Jonaltis, of the American Museum, says Tsaxwasap kidnapped infants and robbed graves to build the shrine’s power.
“He began removing from graves the skulls of men who had been long dead and then placed 40 skulls on the right-hand side of the shrine, 40 skulls on the left-hand side, eight skulls atop sticks on the right side, eight skulls atop sticks on the left, and four in front of the house to serve as watchmen. Then Tsaxwasap found 12 dried up corpses of people and placed them in two rows in the centre of the structure facing the door. After this, he kidnapped 120 more infants and placed them, in their cradles, in his house. This magical house served its purpose well, for many, many whales came to Tsaxwasap.”
The shrine, which dates back to 1700 and could be much older, was used by at least eight generations of whale ritualists. After the third generation of use, wooden figures were substituted for human skeletons.
There were only 14 skulls at the site when it was collected in 1904.
The wooden figures appear in the photograph above. I suspect the 25 human skulls may be all that remains of the crew of The Boston
, killed by Maquinna’s warriors in 1803, but who knows? Friendly Cove was once the most important point of anchorage on the Northwest Coast.
As far as I know, the items in question are still housed in the American Museum. An article in the Vancouver Sun
, April 2013, states that the museum has tentatively agreed to repatriate the shrine. One challenge is financial; moreover, what should the community do with the shrine once it is returned? This is a complex issue. The Nuu-chah-nulth people hope to build a Cultural Centre here, but to do so takes a great deal of money. Also, the cove is only accessible by boat or floatplane. Still, it makes no sense to me that this powerful, sacred treasure should be crammed in the basement of a New York museum. What do you think?
Hands-on research is the best way to begin a book. It’s real. It’s kinaesthetic. It’s inspiring. And it will help you discover whether what’s in your mind will work logistically, and on the page.
I visited Saltspring Island seven years ago and loved the energy, beauty, and people here. So when I decided to set a new book on the West Coast, this island began to flicker. I’ve been here now for almost twelve days, walking the beaches, talking to people, going to markets, and scene-searching. It’s like being a director. You have to decide where specific scenes will be set. Among the things I’ve discovered are these:
The House: (Refuge)
In my mind, I saw an old family home on the northwest side of the island, with a large porch, lots of natural wood, board and batten, cedar-shaked, surrounded by pine and arbutus trees. It looks something like this and fits well with the history and culture of this island. But, I also wanted it to overlook the sea and have a dock where one of the characters could keep his fishing boat. The other day, after much beach ambling, I found one similar enough to work for me and make it viable.
Another one of the key characters is a potter, so Refuge will have a summer-kitchen/pottery studio. Yesterday, I visited a potter on the island and she showed me her kilns, her wheel, and we talked a little bit about the process of making pottery. I also bought two exquisite pieces. My potter is also a yoga teacher. The Saltspring Centre for Yoga is known for its teacher-training programs and retreats—I came to one several years ago. This character’s pottery business is called Dharma Designs and revolves around her beliefs as a yogini. The name Refuge describes The House well, as the main character, Gracelyn Lassiter, will leave her place of refuge to travel into the past and the unknown.
As I said, sometimes you think something will work but when you actually see it and walk it, you realize it’s all wrong. When I first came here, I wanted to set the first scene in an old Anglican Cemetery. I researched churches and cemeteries and visited two. Neither felt right. Neither had cemeteries where someone could be buried in 2017. And then I realized that the person who died wouldn’t choose an Anglican Cemetery anyway. Walking through the graves I understood that this character was a very different man than who I thought he was. He began to take form. To speak for himself.
What Have I Accomplished Here?
I don’t want to say too much, as things change between the musing and the actual writing and then again during revision. But, these are some of the things that have come to light while I’ve been working here:
- Names and descriptions of most of the major characters
- Backstory (names, dates, and connections) for the major characters along with the emotional wounds that drive them—thanks to The Emotional Wound Thesaurus for help with this. Most of this never shows up in the story but it’s vital for the writer to know.
- How my character lives in her Ordinary World before tragedy strikes and she must venture out on her journey.
- The first few scenes: where they are set, what happens, and why (cause and effect)
I’m wondering if I should call the island Saltspring or perhaps make it a fictional place and call it, say, Pepperpot Island. Personally, I like to read about real places that I can visit. But, what do you think?
See Ya Later, Saltspring!
Tomorrow, I’m off to Vancouver Island to revisit the lighthouse at Yuquot/Friendly Cove where I stayed for two months in 2014. This is where Gracelyn must go to unravel her mystery. So, I will tread in her footsteps because that is where the magic happens.
A newly printed box of books arrived from IngramSpark. I am delighted with how they look. I did all the re-formatting myself and it was a steep learning curve. But they are beautiful and I love them. Book design is an art.
When I published To Charm a Killer, I sent it out for formatting and it came back looking clean and professional. But I thought: I can do this myself. I have a fair knowledge of desktop publishing. How hard can it be?
It was hard. But I persevered, and I’m quite proud of this edition of To Sleep with Stones. Here’s how it looks with the changes I made to last year’s printing.
I added more white space to the top and bottom (margins), eliminated the chapter number, changed the position of the page numbers, and added a drop cap in the same font as the chapter head—this font is Celtic Garamond and I love how it fits the book. My cover designer used it, and I was able to purchase a commercial license for it. I also found a free-use Celtic icon to use for scene breaks that I really like. These are things a reader might not notice, but when you’re designing a book, they’re all important. You can read about my formatting experience here.
The beauty of being an Indie publisher is that you make all the decisions. Yes, it is a steep learning curve that I’m still climbing, but there are times like this, when I can sit back and hold my baby in my hands and just feel good.