I hope your summer was wonderful. Mine was. It’s almost a year since Poplar Lake was released, and I haven’t posted here for months, at least on the subject of writing. I’m no longer New Release but Back List, and I’m writing again. The project I’m working on is one I’ve been working on, on and off, for fifteen years. It’s an historical novel set in the Pacific Northwest in 1792. That year, British mariner George Vancouver, on a voyage to chart the last unknown stretches of the North American coast, met Spanish commodore Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra in Yuquot (Friendly Cove), in remote Nootka Sound. For a month that autumn, they wined and dined and played gunboat diplomacy while trying to convince the other to withdraw and cede his country’s territorial claims within the region. Neither asked the local Indigenous people what they thought. “Yuquot,” by the way, in the language of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht who lived there (and still do) means “the winds blow from many directions.” During those weeks of genteel pageantry and tense negotiations, the name of the places was particularly apt. And as the discussions became deadlocked, there was a murder, a murder that was never solved.
True story, so far. When I came across that nugget, buried in footnotes to primary sources, I knew there was a great story there and that I had to tell it. I went to work, researching and imagining the place, the time, life aboard a ship, life on the coast, the characters, the fraternization, the conflicts. I wrote a novel, which I called The Wind From All Directions, in manuscript and it simply didn’t work. In fact it sucked. It wasn’t alive. It didn’t breathe as it had to do. So I wrote it again. TWFAD v2 kind of worked, enough to convince an agent to take it (and me) on. While he circulated the manuscript to publishers in Canada, the US, and the UK, I worked on other projects, projects which crystallized into A Person of Letters (published in 2015) and Poplar Lake (2018).
The Wind From All Directions never found a home with a publisher, and I didn’t look at it again until 2017, after I’d signed a publishing contract for Poplar Lake and was wondering what I’d work on next. I blew the dust off my now-ancient manuscript and read it cover to cover. And was horrified. It needed work. It needed A LOT of work. I’d been too close to it; my reach had exceeded my grasp. I’ve developed a modicum of craft since I first launched down this path (rabbit-hole?), and a clear awareness of what readers truly want. Plain and simple, they want a good story, well told. In TWFAD, I had the former, not the latter. That was a humbling realization.
I decided to rewrite Wind. I started from scratch, re-imagined the story and re-invented its characters. I spent a lot of time puzzling over what I see as the central challenge, which I failed to solve in TWFAD v2: that is, of how to relate a story about a time so far removed from the modern, one that has British, Spanish, and Indigenous characters, and that captures their drivers, their motivations, their truths, while connecting with modern readers who know nothing about the period. The key, I realized, lay in the narrative voice, and I came up with a novel (so to speak) solution for that; and I’ve finally worked my way through the story from start to finish and produced a first draft. Call it TWFAD v3 d1. Now I begin the process of kicking the crap out of d1 to produce d2. That’s what the writing process entails—at least my writing process. I’ll say more about the narrative challenges and the voice I’ve chosen and the project in general in future posts. Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing board.
Yuquot remains a beautiful and unspoiled place, not much changed from the place where high drama and diplomacy played out in 1792. I’ve included photos of it as it was and as it is as a teaser for those interested.