Blackwater: Back to the Beginning
This material is from the Back of the Book section of The Darkening Archipelago: A Cole Blackwater Mystery. You can listen to me read this material and the rest of the back of the book by clicking here.
The Cole Blackwater mysteries were conceived during a rain-soaked trip to Costa Rica in the fall of 2003. Before the metaphorical ink for the plot of the first book had dried, I began to think about what other kinds of trouble Cole might find himself in.
Cole Blackwater is, in the words of his drinking buddy, Dusty Stevens, an environmental crusader — a champion of lost causes. But the greatest compliment anybody gave me after The Cardinal Divide was released was that the environmental message was “subtle.” Because, first and foremost for me when writing the Cole Blackwater series is the plot. If the book is to be just a thinly disguised polemic on environmental and social justice issues, then I may as well just write essays. That said, the Cole Blackwater mysteries are an avenue for bringing important issues facing the future of our society, and our planet, to a new audience. As I continue to develop this series, I find no shortage of subjects to choose from.
In 2003, when I first pieced together The Cardinal Divide, I was working for a small national conservation organization called Wildcanada.net. One of the campaigns we championed was called “Farmed and Dangerous.” On behalf of the Living Oceans Society we helped people take action to ensure a future for wild salmon and stop massive new salmon farming operations from being developed along the bc coast. I began to wonderwhat the illustrious/altruistic Cole Blackwater might have to say about salmon farming, and how he could get involved in the effort to rid the province’s coastal waters of these death traps for wild salmon.
Before I even had a plot, I knew the title: The Darkening Archipelago. The archipelago in question is the Broughton — ground zero for the explosive growth of salmon farming in bc. From the very beginning, I knew that this book would relate an ominous story indeed. The Darkening Archipelago maps out a race against time and overwhelming odds to keep both human souls and wild ecosystems from falling into unending darkness. But it is also a story about redemption. The three protagonists in the story — Cole, Nancy, and Archie Ravenwing — all contemplate their belief at some point in the power of redemption. None of them reach any conclusions.
That is the “what” of the story process. Here is the “how”: during the summer of 2006 I received the gift of time from my friend Joel Solomon. He helped me spend a week at the Hollyhock Retreat Centre on Cortes Island, away from ringing phones and petty distractions, like the need to feed myself. There I sequestered myself in the tiny upstairs library. On massive sheets of butcher paper I drew out a twenty foot long storyboard for The Darkening Archipelago. In the afternoons I would sit on the beach and review what I had written, and work on character development and narrative. The whole story took shape before my eyes. The three converging plot lines featuring Cole, Archie and Nancy formed separate chapter “bubbles” which, two thirds of the way through the book, coalesced into one nar-rative arc.
Because of this preparation, I was able to sit down and pen the first draft of The Darkening Archipelago in January and February of 2007. During a paroxysmal period of scribbling I wrote 310 pages and 90,000 words in 28 days. As winter slowly ebbed on the “wet coast,” I took advantage of the pivot towards spring and the burst of energy it brought, and sometimes rose as early as 4 am to write.
There are many factors that contribute to such voluminous outbursts. It would be another six months before I heard from NeWest Press that the first book in the series, The Cardinal Divide, would be published. The creation of a second book in a series that was yet to have its first volume accepted for publication was an act of pure faith.
But having just received some excellent feedback on The Cardinal Divide from Victoria bookseller Frances Thorsen, I spent the first couple of weeks of the new year editing for the eight or ninth time the entire manuscript. That got me pretty excited about the characters — Cole and Nancy in particular — and I wanted to see what might happen to them in the second book of the series.
While the first draft of The Darkening Archipelago took shape very quickly, it took two more years to finish it. The version I finally submitted to NeWest for publication was draft number nine or ten — I lost track. But every single time I sat down to work on the manuscript was a pure joy.
I owe a lot to Joel Solomon and Hollyhock for the time and space they have given me to work on what I think is important and helpful in this troubled world. You can support other artists, writers, activists and business leaders by donating to the Hollyhock Scholarship Fund held by The Tides Canada Foundation. This fund makes it possible for many individuals to visit Cortes Island and Hollyhock every year.
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