Thursday, July 22, 2010

About what's next . . .

In northern Scotland today, here and there in the rolling green hills close to the sea, clusters of stones remain. Once these stones were cottages for crofters. For in the early 19th Century, rich landowners, inspired by the Industrial Revolution, sought to make this land more productive and evicted the people who had lived here in these hills for generations, to make way for sheep.

Mac MacDonnell , a fisherman, with his brothers Dougal, Colin, and Jamie, and his sister, Moira, lived in such a cottage. Suspicious when Lord Gordon took possession of the tiny island they lived on, Mac protested changes first to his fishing boat and then, when sheep were brought on the island and evictions began, Mac led protests to the lord’s manor house. When a child was trampled to death, the MacDonnell’s were evicted and their boat confiscated. Mac was arrested and sentenced to be transported to the penal colony at Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land. As Mac is taken to London to work in the prison hulks on the Thames, awaiting shipment to Tasmania, the remaining MacDonnell’s face the future alone.

Each struggles to decide whether to remain on their island home or to leave. Dougal and his sweetheart Mary Margaret disguised as a man, sign on as servants with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Colin is hired as well. Moira reluctantly takes Jamie, the youngest brother, with her to Inverness, searching for work and for Dhylan, her husband. And Diedre, fearful of leaving her family, yet more afraid of a life without Mac, follows Mac to Van Dieman’s Land, hoping somehow to be reunited.

This is the story of Standing Stones, a finalist in this year’s Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest. Critics called this story “a very promising work” with “excellent plot development” and “wide audience appeal for readers of “action/adventure, historical fiction and possibly romance.” My search for an agent begins as does the sequel.
I’m in the research phase for the next novel.

Should I tell the story of Dougal and Mary Margaret as they cross the wilds of Canada with the Hudson’s Bay Company’s famous fur brigades, perhaps traveling with artist Paul Kane west to Fort Vancouver? There, Mary Margaret’s disguise unravels, she is discharged from service and lives outside the Fort with a mélange of Native Americans, Hawaiians and Scots. Perhaps they’re hired by Paul Kane as he travels throughout the Willamette Valley and north again, documenting the “Great Nor-West” and painting the 1847 eruption of Mount St. Helens. And then in January 1848, gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill. The Great Gold Rush of California begins.

Or should I continue the story of Mac, shipwrecked near Port Arthur, desperate to find Diedre among the survivors, and of their lives in the early days of the penal colony on Tasmania? Does Mac try to escape, past the vicious dog line and north into the bush? Are they befriended by the very few aboriginals or bushmen there? Does Mac survive his sentence? How does Diedre begin a new life in the wild saloon halls of Port Arthur? Is she befriended by the peripatetic Lady Franklin, wife of soon-to-be-disposed Governor Franklin (1843), the ill-fated explorer of the Arctic? And then, in May, 1851, gold is discovered. The Great Gold Rush in the Macquarie River country north of Sydney begins.

Yesterday I spent three hours researching in the Spokane library’s Pacific Northwest Room where materials cannot be checked out. But I will persevere. Each of the stories above is roughly a three-year project: one year to draft, two years to revise. Which story appeals most to you?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Standing Stones a finalist . . .

I'm thrilled to learn that Standing Stones was selected as a finalist in this year's Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest. Over 1100 writers entered with nearly 100 chosen as finalists in 12 categories. Results will be announced July 24 at an awards dinner in Seattle. I'm going!

C. C. Humphreys is the keynote speaker at the dinner. This accomplished writer gives his occupation as "writer, actor, and fight choreographer," so I'm sure to learn something new. He's on my reading list now, along with other research which pulls me in many different directions -- all 19th Century but in Tasmania, China, Hawai'i, and along the fur traders' routes in Canada west from York to Fort Vancouver.

I found a gem in Paul Kane (1810-1871) who, inspired by George Catlin, painted to preserve the culture and images of the great wilderness of the West. Kane gained permission to travel with the Hudson's Bay Company fur brigades west and painted landscapes of Native peoples across Canada.

He left Toronto in May and arrived (after many adventures and misadventures) at Fort Vancouver in December, 1846. That's over 6 months on the road in far more rugged conditions we experience today, even when we go camping. He hunkered down at Fort Vancouver and then travelled throughout the Willamette Valley and north, including a stop at Fort Victoria.

Somewhere along the way, Kane painted an eruption of Mt. St. Helens at night (1847, source Wikipedia). You'll note the eruption comes (accurately) from the side of the cone, so not as significant as the big blow-up in 1980, but this must have had an impact on the peoples living there at that time. I also learned that Kane visited the Whitman Mission just a few months before the massacre there. Ah, the links that research brings!

Thanks to the library, I have Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek's book, Paul Kane's Great Nor-West with its wonderful commentary and diary excerpts to accompany his paintings. Now, back to work . . .