Monday, April 22, 2013

A view from the river

In Stone and Silt, Nikaia and her family live in a cabin alongside the Fraser River - the longest river in what is now British Columbia. The Fraser is central to their lives in many ways... and even plays a part in the murder mystery that Nikaia finds herself swept into.

The sound of a river has always triggered thoughts of home for me. Like Nikaia, I was born in Lytton - the place where the Fraser is joined by its largest tributary, the Thompson River.

First Nations people called the town Camchin, or the Great Fork. It was also known as the Meeting Place - fitting, because not only did the rivers meet there, but so have thousands of people through the ages as they followed the ancient trade routes of the two rivers. An old postcard from Lytton gives it the cheery motto "Where Old Friends and the Rivers Meet."

The Fraser is home to one of the world's largest salmon runs. Local First Nations fishermen would come to our home in the fall, offering fresh sockeye - caught by dip-net and still dripping with river water. Mom would refuse fish that hadn't been gutted, but if the fish was cleaned I'd come home from school to find Mom hovering over a silver-green sockeye salmon on the kitchen counter. Mom would soak it in cold water and finish the cleaning. The fish were huge and had to be bent to fit in the sink.

In the book, Nikaia and her sister Klima are warned by their parents to be careful around the water. As a child, I never swam or boated in the river - even though the soaring summer temperatures of Lytton made that a temptation. I finally got to know the river more intimately when at the age of fifteen I started working as a guide for the local river rafting company.

For seven summers I guided whitewater trips down the Thompson gorge and the Fraser River. Our Fraser River trips started in the north, near the old Cariboo town of Williams Lake. Seven days later, we reached the take-out in Yale. We landed our boats in the same back-eddy where Nikaia sees the sternwheelers dock and unload their cargo.

The rapids on both rivers are thrilling - especially Hell's Gate on the Fraser, and the long stretch of whitewater on the Thompson known as the Devil's Gorge.

But my favorite times were drifting downstream in the calmer stretches of the Fraser, where the guests and I would lean back into the sun-soaked pontoons, and talk about the layers of history unfolding as we passed the canyon walls. Our musings would be interrupted by the sight and sound of hydraulics - boils and surges of water - that always gave an impressive display of the river's power.

Occasionally the drifting raft would get caught by a small whirlpool, and get launched into a sudden spin. The panorama would rotate around us, giving everyone a new position for viewing the canyon. I always enjoyed the guests' reactions when they felt the great boat - a couple of hundred pounds of wood, rubber, and steel - being tossed about by the river like a child's toy.

In the quiet moments, when the breeze subsided, a gentle but distinct hissing sound could be heard. More often than not I'd be approached by a worried-looking guest, asking if the raft was leaking air. But the sound was the whispering of the Fraser River silt, as it scrubbed against the banks and the bedrock below. If you're ever near the Fraser, take a moment to sit by the banks and be still. You'll hear the river whispers.

A year ago I was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. When one of my old rafting friends heard the news, he sent me this note:

"Life is a river, Harv, sometimes there are obstacles that you have to get around, and a few bumps along the way.  But the energy of the river always finds its way through.  You may feel like you've fallen out of the boat, a bit out of control, but your family is your life jacket, they will help keep you afloat and your head above water.  So face downstream, follow that flow, maybe close your eyes and hold your breath a bit through the bumps and splashes, and you'll come through fine.  We'll see you in that deep, green pool below the rapids."

Thank you, friend, for that bit of river wisdom.

Stone and Silt is scheduled to be published in Fall 2013.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fathers and Daughters and Coming-of-Age

Stone and Silt is, at its heart, the story of a family. One that has tender moments, shares joy, faces peril, and experiences loss. In other words, it's like every family I know, to one degree or another.

Nikaia, the main character, is a sixteen-year-old half-native, half-white girl. She's coming to grips with becoming a woman while in the midst of the worst jeopardy her family has ever faced. 

As a father of three daughters, I can empathize with the feelings of Nikaia's Papa. Seeing your girls mature and stretch before your eyes is at once heartwarming and terrifying.

A few years ago, my oldest daughter graduated from high school. I thought about these coming-of-age passages, and wrote down some thoughts:

It's a common sight every June. Auditoriums, gymnasiums, city centers, and hockey arenas everywhere fill up for countless cap-and-gown ceremonies.

I don't think much about it. Even my own graduation didn't leave a particularly strong impression with me. But last night, I see my little girl walk alone down the runway. Eyes shining, diploma in hand. Amidst the frenzy of my shutter, I hear the proud applause, the cheering of her classmates.

And I know I'm witness to a cleaving. With every step, her high school life - her life with us - retreats ever so slightly behind her.

I think briefly of all those steps, from her very first uncertain ones, to today. She embraces her teary Mom. In a moment, her little sisters run up to give her congratulatory hugs.

While she leaves high school with awards and accolades, I'm most thankful for less showy things. Her kindness to people and animals. How she calls me "Papa". Her beautiful smile, and loud laugh. The respect she shows me and her mother. Her ability to make jokes at her own expense. The way she charts her life, unapologetically and head-on. I describe her as fearless, but I know that's not true. She does have courage, and determination well beyond her years.

So now she has graduated. I will never hear the horns of "Pomp and Circumstance" in the same way; it's burned into the soundtrack of my life's memories.

In a few weeks, she'll be off for the big city. More "big girl" steps. Moving her into her dorm. Watching as she meets the new people entering her life. Driving away.

Sometimes life comes at you gently and lazily. Other times, like this week, it leaps at you and pulls you hungrily into new places.

Congratulations, Celeste. May you always walk with angels overhead.

Stone and Silt is scheduled for release in the fall of 2013. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Stone and Silt" - the owl call scene

In one scene in "Stone and Silt," Nikaia's father tells a story from his days as a trapper in the Stein Valley near Lytton. Papa's ability to make an owl call comes into play in the story.

What's an owl call?

Well, when I grew up in Lytton we called them "loon calls." It's a sound you can make by cupping your hands together into an airtight bowl, then parting your thumbs to form an aperture. You blow across the aperture, just like you might with a beer bottle, and - with some practice - a reedy or hooty sound will result.

The cool thing is, while you're making the call you can flutter your fingers to vary the pitch, producing a sound similar to the call of a loon. You can even play out a melody.

(The video below has my attempt at playing a song from Les Miserables, accompanied by my younger daughters on violin. I don't know why we all look so serious! We were cracking up in between takes.) 

This is one of the very useful skills that I learned from my older sister Lyn. (Nose-cracking was another one.) My daughters were about the age of Klima - Nikaia's younger sister in the book - when I showed them how to do the loon call. They practiced diligently until they got it - and now they can produce a piercing owl hoot or a haunting loon call at will. That's my girls!

Just thought I'd pass on this bit of trivia. There are reasons owls are important in the story... but I'll save that for another time.

Stone and Silt is scheduled for release in Fall 2013.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beginnings of a novel

I should probably be shame-faced to say this, but I started writing the novel Stone and Silt about, oh, thirty years ago.

In my first year at UBC in Vancouver, I sketched out a chapter of the book. (It's the scene where Nikaia's mother gives her a lesson in persevering over adversity, by dragging her into the waters of the Fraser River, and... well, you'll have to read Chapter 1 of Stone and Silt to get the picture.)

Over the years, when a creative mood would hit me, I'd pull out that chapter, written longhand on foolscap. I'd re-write it. And re-write it again. For a long time, I never advanced beyond that scene. It just stayed with me as a simple, touching moment between a mother and daughter. 

I dreamed of expanding the scene into a novel, but it was daunting to think of creating a 60,000-word story. Then, this past fall, four things coalesced that made me get serious about it:
  • The author community I'd come to know on, the Kindle user forum I started several years ago. The authors there represent every level of the craft, from neophyte writers like me, to NYT best-selling authors with multiple successful books - and I've found good advice and encouragement from many of them.
  • My cancer diagnosis of a year ago. Writing has been a good creative outlet for me in between the rounds of chemotherapy.
  • Many scenes in the book are inspired by my three daughters, who are interesting, caring, thoughtful, imaginative, and joyful. 
  • My girls have developed a passion for reading. And that has made me enthralled with the notion of writing a story they might enjoy.
I outlined the story around a mystery, and then fleshed it out with coming-of-age elements and a dash of young romance. It took a month to storyboard it, then three months to produce the first draft. At that point, emboldened, I sent the draft to Red Adept Publishing (RAP), and they were gracious enough to accept the manuscript. Now it's under review by a professional content editor from RAP, which has benefited the book immensely.

The whole writing process has been a joy, and has resurrected for me many vivid memories of growing up in British Columbia. The novel is my homage, my love letter, to the people of the Fraser Canyon, past and present.

Stone and Silt is scheduled for release in Fall 2013. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stone and Silt... and the real-life town of Fort Yale

In the mid-1800s, the future province of British Columbia was changed forever by the allure of gold.

Nowhere was this felt more than the small settlement of Fort Yale, perched within the sharp canyon walls of the Fraser River. A community of native peoples since ancient times, Fort Yale was established as a trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1848.

Ten years later, a remarkable pivot-point in North American history occurred. American miners dug up gold at Hill's Bar, a half day's trek north of Fort Yale. Word of the discovery spread quickly - across the colony and worldwide. The northernmost point of boatable waters on the Fraser, Fort Yale instantly became a nexus for incoming miners, as their northward journeys transitioned from river boats to wagons.

The newcomers and fortune-seekers were not all miners. Suppliers, wagon-train drivers, barkeepers, hotel owners, and government men swarmed like ants to Fort Yale. Along with the well-intentioned, the newcomers included an assortment of outcasts, outlaws, and prostitutes. 

The novel Stone and Silt takes you into this raucous swirl, and imagines a daughter born to a quiet native Indian mother. The father, a caring Welshman, had left his livelihood as a trapper in Lytton, in favor of the more domestic trade of wagon repair. It was an occupation well-matched to his patient ways and skilled hands. They named the girl Nikaia, after a glaciated mountain beloved to her mother's people.

The map below, courtesy of the excellent B.C. Heritage website, shows Yale in 1859... three years before the events in Stone and Silt take place. The yellow lots are the saloons and gaming houses of Front Street. Chinatown is marked in the light orange color, and the native Indian reserve is in green.

Stone and Silt is scheduled to be released Fall 2013.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Title reveal! "Stone and Silt"

My publisher has just announced my new book! 

The book, a Young Adult historical mystery, will be titled "Stone and Silt." 

Here's the blurb for it:

A ruthless murder and a stolen shipment of gold.

At school, sixteen-year-old Nikaia Wales endures the taunts of bullies who call her a “half-breed.” At home, she worries about how her family will react if she reveals her growing feelings for the quiet boy next door.

Those are soon the least of her troubles. Nikaia discovers a hidden cache of gold, and when police find a corpse nearby, her father becomes a suspect. Worse, Elias Doyle is circling, hungry to avenge his brother’s death.

Nikaia desperately searches for clues to save her father. In her quest to find the killer, she learns about the power of family, friendship, and young love.

It's on schedule to be published this fall.

You can see the announcement here:


Hello, all, and thank you for stopping by this blog. I'm Harvey Chute - husband, father of three daughters, and author of several technical guides and a historical novel.

My current project is a Young Adult mystery, set in 1862 British Columbia. It's near and dear to my heart as I grew up in the Fraser Canyon area of that province.

The research phase of that book has been fascinating. Currently I've completed the drafting of the manuscript, have had it reviewed by about a dozen beta readers (thank you!), and am going through a professional content edit with a publisher.

You can read more about me and my books through the tabs at the top of the blog. And, an announcement will be coming soon about the publication of the book. Stay tuned!