Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of The Day the Falls Stood Still (Jul 12-25)
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Your characters are well defined as well. Can you please share with us how you were able to develop your characters so well?
I enjoyed The Day the Falls Stood Still very much. I look forward to more good reads in the future :)
I just saw the message that you will be chatting here on LT. I have starred the thread to follow the discussion and will bounce back in a day or two when I have time to formulate some questions/ comments.
When I set out to write my first novel, setting is where I started. Not character. Not plot. I do think starting with setting was the result of me coming for a place with such a storied past. Niagara lore is endless─the Maid of the Mist and her canoe, Sir Isaac Brock and the War of 1812, Blondin and his tightrope, Annie Taylor and her barrel, William “Red” Hill and his daring rescues, Sir Adam Beck and hydroelectricity, Roger Woodward and the miracle at Niagara… Add into the mix, the staggering beauty of the falls themselves, and I don’t think starting with other than the setting of Niagara Falls was ever a possibility.
To begin I turned to books surveying Niagara’s history. I was seeking, as I read, was the time period and narrative that best showcased Niagara’s wondrous and quirky past. The story of William “Red” Hill, Niagara’s most famous riverman, came up time and again. I’d grown up seeing the rusted-out hull of the old scow that’s still lodged above the falls and knew he rescued the men marooned there in 1918. I’d heard about the spectacular ice bridges of yesteryear. I knew about the ice bridge tragedy of 1912 and Red Hill saving a teenage boy that day. As I read, those bits of lore ignited, and I became more certain my main male character would be loosely based on Red Hill.
I remember your lovely review. Much thanks.
Thanks for reading and for your question.
Here's a little about Bess: In the very first bit of the book that I wrote−it’s long since been scrapped−she was an old woman, bitter and hateful of the river. I’d conjured her up from the little I knew of real life riverman Red Hill’s wife, who was quoted as saying she hated the rover, that she was afraid of it. In addition to being a hero, Red Hill was a daredevil. He risked his life shooting the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel three times. In 1951 the eldest of his sons died attempting to go over the falls in a barrel constructed of inflated rubber tubes, canvas and fishnets, and another son was killed in a hydroelectric accident. Cleary, she has cause to hate the river. She is where I started with Bess Heath, but once I decided not to incorporate the daredevil side of Red Hill into my riverman−that his reverence for the river would run too high for that−Bess evolved into the strong, intelligent, supportive woman I hope readers will find between the covers of the book.
I am about 3/4ths of the way through the first draft of #2. I hope to finish the first draft by the end of August. But I a huge rewriter. I'd like to have the book on the shelves Fall of 2012.
It's historical fiction, set in and around the Paris Opera in 1880.
Okay, Librarythingers, you all know who I am. Can everyone else please introduce themselves to the group?
Q. WHAT IS YOUR WRITING ROUTINE?
A. I write every day, sitting down at the computer as soon as my boys leave the house for school. There does not appear to be any rhyme or reason to when I write well. The objective is always the same, to lose myself in the words I am setting on the page. And I have had moments when I look up from the computer, dazed. It takes a second to grasp that I am sitting at my desk, a further second to decide: Is it morning or afternoon? Have I had lunch? My head is lost in another time, another life. That’s when the best writing has come.
Q. TOM'S CHARACTER IN THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL IS MODELED ON THAT OF REAL-LIFE RIVERMAN RED HILL. THAT OTHER ASPECTS OF THE BOOK ARE GROUNDED IN HISTORY?
A. The river stunts (Captain Matthew Webb’s fateful swim, Maud Willard’s suffocation, Walter Campbell’s gondolier-like navigation of the rapids, Charles Stephens’s daring plunge with an anvil tied to his feet) are based on actual events. The accidents (the careening trolley car at Queenston, the collapse of Table Rock) and the rescues (Ellet’s bridge, ice bridge, and scow) are as well. Loretto Academy, Glenview, the Windsor Hotel, the Clifton House, and the power companies are described as they were during the time frame of the book. The story details surrounding the development of hydroelectricity at Niagara Falls are factual. True to history, the term “the day the falls stood still” was coined back in 1848 to describe the day the river became jammed up with ice and ceased to flow. And last, Archbishop Lynch did, in fact, see a picture of the falls as a boy and conjure up prayers floating heavenward with the mist, a notion that years later would lead to the tradition of perpetual adoration at Loretto Academy.
Q. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR?
A. Margaret Atwood with Handmaid's Tale, Blind Assissin and Alias Grace being my favourite books. I also love Carol Shields, Ian McEwan and Michael Cunningham. (I could go on and on here.) The best book I read in the past year was Elisabeth Strout's Olive Kitterage.
DO YOU READ BOOKS, OR USE AN E-READER? Thoughts on e-readers?
I read the real deal - books. I collect them and the bookshelves are all overflowing. I love having them around me. I can't imagine using an e-reader. Guess I'm too old. I do see some advantages though. I have 3 kids and 1 husband, and when we go on vaction, we are sometimes lugging 25 books around.
I feel tremendously indebted to B&N. What an absolutely wonderful way to launch my writing career - with The Day the Falls Stood Still being a B&N Recommends Selection. I had fans of the book sending me pics of stacks and stacks of The Day the Falls Stood Still at B&Ns all over the US. Now that the paperback is out, I hear from my US publisher they are doing an end cap at B&Ns. Yay!
A big thank you to all booksellers for all you do to get books (not just mine) into the hands of readers. You guys rule.
You know, booksellers only recommend good books..you earned it.
Not giving up you favorite reads? How about your favorite recent book? :)
Who would it be and what is one question you would ask them?
My favourite author is Margaret Atwood with Handmaid's Tale, Blind Assissin and Alias Grace being my favourite books. I also love Carol Shields, Ian McEwan and Michael Cunningham. (I could go on and on here.) The best book I read in the past year was Elisabeth Strout's Olive Kitterage. Olive Kitteridge is made up of thirteen stories bound together by brusque, imperfect Olive. Be prepared to marvel, after each story, in quite the same way we do after a really fine novel. It’s that good.
Hmm. Who would I have dinner with? Maybe Carol Shields. Without knowing her, she for some reason, reminds me of my mom. I think I would ask about combining the writing life with family life. She appears to have done it so well. 5 kids and a happy marriage, I believe.
BTW: thanks for taking time out for your busy schedule to answer our questions, it is much appreciated.
I also loved the balance between fact and fiction that I see in the story. My questions for you is related to the historical research that went into this story. As parts of the history of Niagara Falls are well known folk lore for some individuals, including myself, was most of your historical research conducted up front - research first, 'pen to paper/ fingers to keyboard' later approach or would you say it was more of a coordinated approach of the writing and research occurring in tandem as the story developed?
Keeping in mind your earlier post at #9 regarding the background for Bess, did your research uncover any 'unknown to you' gems of background history that lead to a shift in how part of the story was written?
1. Stand at the brink of the falls Stand at Table Rock on the Canadian side of the river April 1 - September 15 (8:00 am to 10:00 pm) or September 15 - October 31 (8:00 am to 8:00 pm) to see the falls at its very best. During these “tourist flow” times, you’ll see about half the natural flow of the river plummeting over the falls rather than a quarter, with the rest being diverted around the falls for hydroelectricity.
2. Niagara Glen Hike one of the trails from the rim of the gorge to the spectacular Devil’s Hole Rapids of the Niagara River. One of my favourite places in the world. More about the Niagara Glen.
3. Maid of the Mist Stand on the right-hand side of the boat to get closest to the falls. More about the Maid of the Mist.
4. Goat Island and Cave of the Winds Take in the falls from Goat Island, wedged between the Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side. Feel like getting wet? Descend to the wooden walkways of the Cave of the Winds at the base of the falls. More about Goat Island and more about the Cave of the Winds.
5. Dufferin Islands These eight bridge-connected islands make a lovely, quiet picnic spot. More about the Dufferin Islands.
6. Butterfly Conservatory Disguise yourself as a flower (i.e., wear bright colours and cheap perfume) to get up close and personal with the butterflies. More about the Butterfly Conservatory.
7. Fort George Visit the reconstructed fort that played a key role in the War of 1812. More about Fort George.
8. Queenston Heights Park and Brock’s Monument Take a self-guided walking tour of the battleground of the War of 1812’s Battle of Queenston Heights or climb the 235-step narrow spiral staircase of the monument to an indoor platform with a view of Niagara Region and Lake Ontario. Now, with everyone tired and hot, cool off in the wading pool. More about Queenston Heights and more about Brock’s Monument.
9. Niagara River Recreation Trail Bike or run or stroll the paved path following the 60 km length of the Niagara River. Pick a section. All of it is scenic, though closest to the falls it’s too congested for more than a leisurely walk. More.
10. The Niagara Bruce Trail section covers the initial 80 km of the 850 km long trail. For a moderately strenuous wooded hike, try Queenston Heights Park to Fireman’s Park. More For a magnificent view of vineyards, orchards, and Lake Ontario from atop the escarpment, try the short Woodend Conservation Area hike. More.
I didn't set out to write a book with an environmental message but I have environmentalist sensibilites so I think it just came out quite naturally in my writing.
Once I'd decided the main male character would be Tom Cole, a riverman loosely based on Niagara's most famous riverman, William Red Hill, it set the time frame of the story as the same period when the Queenston powerhouse was being built. It was easy to imagine the conflict that would arise between the power company and river-loving Tom. So the environmental aspect of the book was there early on but not a something I set out to accomplish.
I think most fiction writers write a book they would like to read rather than trying to write a book that will sell or appeal to such and such a market. (Maybe I am naive.) It's how I approached TDTFSS. I think I tend toward not wanting to read a ton of sex scenes. I cannot think of a case where I've finished a book and thought, "Well, the author should have spiced that up a little," but I have been reading and thought, "Enough with the sex. Too much." I felt this way, most recently, about Reliable Wife, but that book has done extremely well, so what do I know. That said I do often hear from readers that they were happy to find a book that wasn't "vulgar" in terms of language and sex.
Never once did I have any pressure from the publisher to include more sex.
When I set out to write my first novel setting is where I started. Not character or plot, which I think would be more typical. I do think that for me starting with setting was the result of being born and bred in a place of such staggering beauty and such a storied past.
I begin, I read books surveying Niagara's history. What I was looking for as I read was the kernal of a story that I would turn into a book. The story of William Red Hill, Niagara's most famous riverman, came up time and again, and soon enough I'd decided my male male character would be a riverman loosely based on him.
I researched exclusively for about 4 months, and by the time I put pen to paper, I had a thousand tidbits of lore percolating in my mind, all of which I wanted to use. Charles Stephen's tragic plunge over the falls in a barrel with and anvil tied to his feet and Maud Williard's suffocation in the whirlpool when her dog blocked the airhole of her barrel immediately come to mind and tidbits I could not resist finding a home for in the story. I don't think I unearthed anything sweeping that hugely changed the direction of the book. Remember, I grew up in Niagara Falls and had the gist of the history straight in my mind before I started.
While I was writing, I was continually turning back to the history books, multiple times every week. It has been the same experience, again, as I write my second novel.
It is interesting to learn the hows and whys and likes and dislikes of an author you enjoy.
There were no changes inside the book other than a few copyedits. The copy on the cover changed. There was a huge spoiler on the ARC. I gather this is often the case, that more of the story is given away on ARCs, so I warn all you early reviewers to avoid reading the cover copy.
Spin by Catherine MacKenzie
Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
The Bishop's Man by KindenMcIntyre
The Golden Mean by annabel Lyon
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
The Cardinal Family (very old and read for research)
Jessica Z. by Shawn Klomparens
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Anyway, no questions, but thanks for joining in here!
Some of my favorite reads this year:
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
Nicholas & Alexandra by Robert Massie
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
Song Yet Sung by James McBride
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen.
vociferousness about it :)
Cathy, Elizabeth Hay is on my list of authors to read. I have to confess that I fled from the Olive Kitteridge book, despite the many positive reviews. It never called out to me.
Agreed. All that water is mesmerizing. Consider this quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe:
"Oh, it is lovelier than it is great; it is like the Mind that made it: great, but so veiled in beauty that we gaze without terror...I felt as if I could have gone over with the waters; it would be so beautiful a death; there would be no fear in it."
I disagree about the "no fear," but it is interestng to note that back in the 1800s Mrs. Stowe's sentiment was shared by many.
My favourite Elizabeth Hay is A Student of Weather. Loved it.
Keeps the world interesting. When I read someone dissing TDTFSS I aways remind myself that some people hate even Margaret Atwood.
Time to crawl back under my rock....... ;-P
43 Cathy, I will add that one to my list at Ammy~ and have a go at it soon :)
45 Don't do it! remember #41! Sometimes ya like it and sometimes.....no. Atwood is a no for me.
I could not agree with you more Cathy, I find the falls haunting as well as powerful enough to pull me in mmmmmm..... similar to your novel. I was fortunate and brave enough to walk behind the falls from the Canadian side. Oh, the thunderous, rushing water, the cutouts of rock to peak at the water as it cascades from the top brought me a great amount of terror!
Why is it the people of the 1800's were so fearless when it came to the falls?
I went to the Massey lecture where she "retold" A Christmas Carol.
Try Atwood's Alias Grace. Possibly my favourite.
Ah, thanks. Blind Assissin might be my second favouite. I remeber closing the book with real sadness that I would not longer be in Iris's head.
I would like to reread it.
I think many were fearful, using language like "fearful abyss" and "frightful grandeur" and "terrible beauty" to describe it.
Check out this facebook post about the walk behind the falls to termination rock. No longer an option. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=97832&id=99983324209#!/photo.php?pid=2...
The researchon the PAris Opera has been fascinating. My favourite story so far is that of Emma Livery. Check out her tragic story. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Livry
Looking forward to your next book.
I'm impressed that with the amount of research that went into The Day the Falls Stood Still you're willing to chuck it all in favor of a new place and time. Unless it means you have to go to Paris for "research". Then I understand entirely.
Emma is only a side story. But you are right about one of the main characters being a dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet.
Ditto on figuring out how to read twice as much as I do now. Such a wonderful part of my life.
Are you from Ridgeway, ON? I read at From Cover to Cover during Ridgeway's Spirit of Christmas. It was excellent. It snowed and Carolers and Santa appeared.
Uh..yes..to the research in Paris. I'll be going in the fall.
Enjoy Paris, my favorite city. I think you'll have to visit several times to get the full effect.
I will look for your next book.
Thanks. I do love to hear from readers that the book has inspired a trip to Niagara Falls. I do hope you get to go.