Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Have book, will travel

Barbara here. Work vacations are some of the great perks of being a writer. In a recent post I talked about my obsession with authenticity and realism in my stories, to the extent that I trekked all around the Great Northern Peninsula for FIRE IN THE STARS and endured a five-day winter camping expedition for THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY. After that particular research trip, I vowed my next book would be set in Hawaii. Or on a Greek island.

I couldn't quite work either destination into my Amanda Doucette series – which is set in various iconic locations across Canada, alas – but I did the next best thing. I picked the beautiful islands of Georgian Bay in the sunny, warm summertime. Georgian Bay is a misnomer. It has sometimes been called the sixth Great Lake, but because of a quirk of geology it is not sufficiently separated from Lake Huron to be eligible for its own lake status. But at 15,000 square kilometres, it is no mere "bay". It is a UNESCO world biosphere reserve and home to the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. It has 2000 kilometres of rugged granite shoreline and at least 30,000 islands, which makes it a paradise for cottages, camping, boating, and especially kayaking. I did a kayak trip there a few years ago and always wanted to capture its wild beauty, powerful weather, and changeable moods. A perfect setting for drama, struggle, and escape.

Georgian Bay is about a 600 kilometre (375 mile) drive from Ottawa, so I had to plan my trip carefully. I could not jaunt back and forth each time a question arose, to double-check my facts or refresh my memory of specific locales. But since I don't really outline or plot my novels ahead of time, I don't really know what I need to know until I need to know it (if you get my meaning). This is the challenge of writing about a setting that is far from home. Another challenge is that Georgian Bay is a far different place at the height of the summer, when it bustles with tourists, adventurers, and cottagers cavorting on its sparkling waters, than it is in the icy grip of winter. I needed to see the area in the exact season I was writing about.

So my preliminary musings about PRISONERS OF HOPE were based on my memory of my kayak trip, and last summer, while I was actually still writing THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, I made a quick three-day trip out there to scout locations. This past winter, when I started to write, I used my memory and my notes; I used that writer's great friend, Google; and I relied on maps, books, and friends. What I didn't know and couldn't find out, I made up. Along the way, I kept a running file on all the questions that surfaced. What does the hospital in Parry Sound look like? What do the cottages around Pointe au Baril look like? What does a Massassauga rattlesnake sound like and how fast does it move? How hard is it to paddle in the open bay? How big are the waves?

At the beginning of July, with about three-quarters of the first draft written, I set out to answer those questions.

Accompanied by my ever-patient sister and my less patient Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retreivers, I booked a little cottage for a week on the shore of Georgian Bay north of the town of Parry Sound, which, with a population of about 6500, is the regional hub for the area. Armed with my checklist, my iPhone camera, and a notebook, I drove north and south in and out of the coastline and talked to people along the way. By kayak and canoe, I explored the inlets and islands. I experienced sunny days, moonlit nights, misty mornings, and crashing thunderstorms. I took a three-hour lake cruise through the islands, I rented a kayak to trace part of the route Amanda would take, and I hiked along the shore cliffs and through the bogs and crags of the forest. I saw rattlesnake, deer, mink, turtles, frogs, toads, herons, ducks, gulls, geese, whippoorwills, woodpeckers, and more bugs than I cared to. But that too is part of the Georgian Bay experience.

I answered my questions and found new ones. I made notes about the changes I would have to make to the manuscript and mentally added the rich detail that will bring the final version to life. But all the while I had fun as I learned more about the beautiful jewel that was my setting. I watched my dogs interacting with the environment, playing in the water and reacting to the rattlesnake. Role models and inspiration for Kaylee, Amanda Doucette's lively Duck Toller.

It made a great combination of work and play, and at the end, after I've polished this novel over the coming months, I hope readers will feel as if they have stepped out of the pages and into the Bay, dipping their paddle in the sparkling water and clambering over the smooth pink shores. I hope they will feel the wind in their face and hear the waves slapping against the boat. I hope they will become travellers too.


Donna S said...

Hi Barbara:
Found your post about Georgian Bay so fascinating. In particular, because I live in Penetanguishene, just south of Parry Sound and my husband and I boated for years in the Bay and up around Honey Harbour. Loved the photos you have on the post as well. I will look forward to reading your book.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Hi Donna,

It's a lovely part of the country, and I wish I'd had more time. I especially wanted to explore Massassauga Park more, because the climax of the book takes place there, but that required more kayaking time than I could afford. Hope you enjoy the book once it's out next fall.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Boy, I just have to get out more.