Monday, May 27, 2013

Stone and Silt... video trailer!

Today, the video trailer for Stone and Silt was released. Check it out below! And thanks to Mary Fan for preparing the video.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Joyful Noise

Several scenes in Stone and Silt involve voices raised - in anguish and mourning, in praise, and in celebration.

At one point, Nikaia is surrounded by village elders who are crying out in grief. In writing that scene, I borrowed heavily from an unforgettable memory: the funeral of one of my closest high school friends. Tommy was quiet, smart, and kind. He had a subtle, wry sense of humor. He had a remarkable side-launched volleyball serve, full of topspin. He had a girlfriend he loved. And he was killed at age nineteen by a knife-wielding, drunken teenager.

In my grief I was unable to talk about it. The words weren't there. But at his funeral, the heartfelt wailing of his family and the elders put a shape around the loss I felt.

There is something transcendent, almost mystical, about voices being raised in community - whether those voices are lifted in communal agony or in shared joy.

I like to make my own joyful noise around the house - playing guitar or singing with my daughters. And one of my annoying traits is that, if I hear a song, I try to harmonize with it.

I have no particular skill in doing so - but it doesn't stop me from trying. My attempts frequently result in protests from my wife, Carrie. I'll get a sharp elbow-dig into my ribs at church. Or when she has Pandora radio playing from her MacBook: "Don't sing louder than the radio!" She doesn't like to hear a good song ruined.

Unfortunately for Carrie, my daughters have picked up on this habit. Our favorite tune to practice harmonies with is "The One Bathing Suit that Your Grandma Otter Wore." It's from Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas.

The other night we were cleaning up in the kitchen, and Hannah started singing Edelweiss. We are no Von Trapp family, but my other daughters and I joined in valiantly. We sang the lyrics loudly and with poorly-rendered harmonies.

At one point, through pure chance, we all hit the right notes to make a chord with the perfect amount of dissonance. We held the note and looked at each other in surprise. Then we burst out laughing and shared high fives. Carrie rolled her eyes and tried to suppress the smile on her face.

Now that... is harmony.

Stone and Silt is scheduled for release in August 2013.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Improving a story through Content Edit

The past few weeks I've been busy working with Red Adept Publishing (RAP) on edits for my upcoming book, Stone and Silt.

As a new author, I've been fascinated with how a novel goes from initial draft to a published book. With RAP, the manuscript goes through the phases of Content Edit, Line Edit, Proofreading, and Formatting before being released.

For the curious, let me describe my experience with Content Edit.

After I submitted my draft manuscript to RAP, and it was approved by an acquisitions editor, the publisher assigned the book to Michelle, a content editor. She conducted a thorough review, pointing out areas that could be improved in character development, storyline, plot, pacing, and description.

Just how thorough was this?

Well, let me put it this way: my draft at that time was about 160 pages, and after reviewing it Michelle sent me a document of notes that was about 50 pages long. It was incredible, and full of smart suggestions on improving the story. She also marked up the pages of the draft with specific ideas.

In addressing her comments, I added about 15,000 words to the story. It improved considerably as a result.

Here's one specific area in which Content Edit improved the book: POV. In my initial draft, I was inconsistent with how I handled the Point of View of the narration. At times I'd be inside the main character's head. Other times I'd zoom out and offer a historical perspective. In other scenes I'd be writing from some third person's perspective.

Michelle taught me to keep the POV consistent... to tell the story completely from Nikaia's viewpoint. I learned a lot from that. In the draft as it is now, the reader gets to see the story unfold as if they're perched on Nikaia's shoulder through every scene. It's an effective device that helps put the reader "in the moment" through all 30 chapters of the story.

What impressed me most of all was how invested Michelle became in the book. She cared about it, believed in it, as much as I did. The energy that she put into the book was encouraging and flattering. It  motivated me to go through the work necessary to make the story the best it possibly can be.

Content Edit is now complete for Stone and Silt, and I'm now entering into the Line Edit phase. I'll give an update on that in the next few days. Getting closer to release!

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Stone and Silt" - cover reveal..!

The cover has been prepared for "Stone and Silt" and I couldn't be happier with it. Here it is!

Here's the publisher's link:

Thanks to the pros at Red Adept Publishing and Streetlight Graphics for this!

Stone and Silt is on schedule to be released in Fall 2013.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Under the Stars

In Stone and Silt, Nikaia spends a night alone in the wild as part of her spirit training - the coming-of-age ritual practiced by First Nations people. It's a transformative experience for her and marks her passage into womanhood.

While not quite as dramatic, I have my own memories of sleeping under the stars in British Columbia. The town I grew up in, Lytton, is hot in the summers, with highs in the 90s and 100s not being uncommon. Being a town of only 300 or so, with maybe fifteen hundred people on the nearby reserves, it was always a thrill to hear Lytton mentioned as "The Hottest Spot in Canada" on the evening CBC weather report. I was pleased that the nearby town of Lillooet, which I suspected was even hotter, didn't have a weather station of its own to usurp these rare mentions of our town on the provincial newscasts.

Located a hundred miles inland from the coast, Lytton is a place of bone-dry heat - no humidity whatsoever. I took full advantage of those hot summers, with outdoor jobs throughout my teens - mowing lawns, pumping gas, guiding river trips.

Days are long in that northern latitude. It wouldn't be until 10pm or so before twilight settled into the canyon. My four brothers and sisters and I would spread a canvas tarp on the grass. We'd lay out pillows and thick sleeping bags. Trixie, our black sheltie, would sit in the grass nearby, her protective instincts on alert for us. Soon the baking heat would give way to cool night breezes, feeling as fresh as a dewy leaf on our cheeks.

Lying on our backs, the musty smell of canvas in our nostrils, we'd see the first night star appear, then the brighter constellations: the Big and Little Dippers, the North Star, the W-shape of Cassiopeia, and the aligned triplet of stars making up Orion's Belt. The occasional shooting star would cause an excited stir among us. Our town was too far south to see the northern lights - except for one unforgettable night when we were treated to a rare display. Massive white bands of light flashed in the sky, then reappeared in different locations, like some elaborate stage lighting. Each band seemed to be thousands of miles long. We ran inside to wake up Mom and Dad so they could see it with us.

My childhood home was 200 feet from the tracks, and every few hours our dozing would be disrupted by the rumbling of coal trains on the Canadian Pacific Railway. In those days the boxcars were uncovered. We'd occasionally have to spray off the coal dust that accumulated on the siding of our home.

Awakened in those moments by the noise and vibration, I'd look up to see layer upon layer of stars and planets above me. An impossible crowding of faraway worlds. I'd nudge one of my brothers or sisters; it was too beautiful to experience alone. We'd point out satellites to each other, and follow them as they traced their paths over and over, tiny glowing spiders weaving an invisible web between the mountains to our east and west.

Our noses cold from the night air, we'd burrow back into our sleeping bags, and try to snatch little pockets of sleep before daylight.

Now that I live on the coast, finding a dry night to sleep outside with my daughters is a rare thing. Mostly we tent out, with carefully tightened tent flies to keep out the rain and heavy dew. I think it's time to see Grandma and Grandpa, and spend another night out in the old backyard, sheltered by nothing but a canopy of starlight.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Photo courtesy of DFAP
In Stone and Silt, Nikaia's family encounters the deadly peril of smallpox. The story is set in 1862, and in that period an astounding 30% of the Nlaka'pamux nation was killed by the outbreak.

Leaving white settlers largely untouched, the illness hit the Thompson and Fraser River settlements hard. One can only imagine the outrage, frustration, and grief that the First Nations people felt as they dug grave after grave alongside the banks. Ancient bloodlines, going back for millenia, were cut off forever as men, women and children fell to the disease.

Little noted or remembered these days, it is one of the great tragedies of the 19th century - an unrecoverable loss of humanity. Stone and Silt does not go into that historical context, but it does attempt to show how one small family is affected by the disease.

We meet Jonah McLeod, a gentle physician who rides on horseback to serve the people on both sides of the Fraser River in Lytton. "A clean-shaven man, his forehead and cheeks were lined so heavily that they might have served as a roadmap for his recent travels." He does all he can, but the disease has overrun his primitive attempts at healing the ill.

His wife, Caroline, is a healer in her own right. Although not formally trained, Caroline has an instinct for helping a family in need. She draws on what she observes from her husband's work, and the teachings of native Elders, to bring small comforts to the household.

Then we're introduced to the Nlaka'pamux methods - including the Healing Song, the beating of the hand drums, and the tradition of smudging. In the smudge ceremony, the smoky fragrance of burning herbs is washed over the loved one's body.

In the aftermath of the scourge, there are more healing comforts... but I won't spoil the book by saying too much here about that.

I was blessed by a healer of a different sort this week. Dr. Park of the University of Washington Medical Center removed 60% of my liver - a major step in treatment for the metastatic colon cancer that I was diagnosed with last year. A young, compact man with a boyish face and short hair, when I first met Dr. Park I was tempted to ask him whether his father was going to be performing the surgery. In a calm and straightforward manner he explained the procedure and its risks. I was soon convinced of his competence as well as his compassion.

Jonah, Caroline, the Elders, Dr. Park... four types of healers, all with very different approaches. All offering their versions of a salve to the needs around them.

I awoke this morning, back at home in my own bed, to an uncommonly bright sky. I feel blessed. I'm reminded that everyone I encounter today - from random shop clerks to the people closest to me - carries a small quiet place of hurt. It might be physical. It might be spiritual or emotional. Maybe it's just some unidentified desire to see a friendly face.

We can all be healers. Today I challenge myself: How can I be a healer to those around me?


Stone and Silt will be published in Fall 2013.