Serial: Among the Wounded

I’m trying something different. Over the next ten weeks (or so) I’m going to post serialized segments of this short story. Every week, in celebration of #fictionfriday, I’ll post a segment of the story Among the Wounded. I wrote the first draft of this story in the late 1990s. I wanted to find a story that would capture my teenage experience losing a place that was precious to me. This is part of a collection of stories by the same name that I’ve been trying to publish, half-heartedly, for more than a decade. Give this a read and follow me on twitter @stephenlegault to get notification when a new segment is posted. If you have feedback, please post a comment; I’d like to know what you think. My purpose is to work with readers to make this story stronger.

Among the Wounded, Part 1

Brenda Wilson closed the textbook with a sharp slap and the class quieted like crickets on a summer night when a snake passes among them. She looked out over her Grade 11 Biology class with a frown. “Jeffrey,” she said sharply.

Jeffrey Patterson looked up from the book of M.C. Escher illustrations he was reading. “Yes,” he said after an uncomfortable moment, his tone exasperated.

“Please leave.” A murmur, faint as a morning breeze over silver maples, rippled through the class and was gone.

Jeffrey sat still, his hands holding the book. “Pardon me?”

“Please leave. You are disrupting the class.”

“I don’t understand. . .”

“You were talking. Don’t bother coming back until you can respect this classroom.”

Jeffrey looked down at the book, at his hands covered in paint from his previous class. He hadn’t said a word since arriving ten minutes late. It would be a very cold day in hell before he respected any classroom, let alone this one. He opened his mouth to protest the summary judgment of culpability, but thought again. Conscious of his classmates looking at him, evaluating him, wondering what he might do next, he considered his options. Behind him Shawn Bradley looked down, trying to conceal a grin. A second before he had been talking to his lab partner Jonathan Waters about tonight’s party at Mary Grady’s house.

“I’m waiting for you to leave,” Wilson said again.

So wait, bitch, thought Jeffrey. He turned his head and looked at the clock above the door. It was shortly after two. For the rest of his class, the day would not end for another hour. Gazing out the main floor windows at spring’s ephemeral pleading beyond, Jeffery considered the sunny afternoon and the faint breeze rustling the leaves of the birch trees. It was hot and humid. Jeffrey smiled and scooped up his books and walked slowly toward the door. Passing behind his teacher he couldn’t help but grin and say, “Have a nice weekend.”  He let the heavy door slam behind him. He walked down the hall, still smiling.

* * *

Stepping into the woods the silence broke over Jeffery like waves on a rocky coast. With each step it grew more complete until the sound Cavanaugh Road’s four lanes all but vanished. The density of the air in the woods hushed the roar of the world.

Despite the mid-day humidity it was cooler in the forest’s shade than on the roadway and sidewalk. The leaves of the giant trees caught the sunlight’s free-fall, then bounced and reflected the calmed glare towards the forest’s floor.

Jeffrey followed the pathway through the trees, jumping across a tiny rivulet that fed the larger creek emerging from the culvert beneath the townhouse complex where he lived. Since moving to the south with his mother and younger brother William a year ago, he had taken to walking to school and home each day through the forest. It cut five minutes off the travel time, and at first that was all that mattered. But as Jeffrey walked the path day after day he began to recognize something in this tiny wood-lot, not much more than a kilometre across at its widest, and surrounded on all sides by housing and roads.

Above Jeffery the world was a rush of iridescent green; below the earth wore a muted cloak. His feet crushed the dried husks of last year’s foliage, ankle deep once he stepped off the beaten path. He dragged his feet through them, and flicked them with his toes. With the side of his feet he pushed a growing pile of the leaves before him, then kicked them high into the air. He felt like a kid horsing around in fresh snow. The leaves, dry and dark, cascaded back to earth, filling the air with the rich aroma of decay—the pungent fragrance of spring.

Jeffrey smiled. “What do I care if I can’t go back to biology class? This is where I belong. . .” he said aloud.

The creek appeared; wide enough to provide an opening in the dense ceiling of green overhead so sunlight fell to the forest floor. Willows and alder grew in clumps along the verge. The water was shallow and pooled on the inside of a bend where the brook had undercut the earthen bank. Jeffrey heard the muted symphony played as the water passed over stones, and as was often the case with music, it conjured memories.

* * *

Frank Patterson warned his son of the danger. The man and the boy stood on the banks of the Nighthawk River, the river flowing fast and hard at their feet. They both held fly rods. From downstream Jeffrey could hear the rapids.

“Watch your step along the bank,” said Frank, starting to feed out line, preparing to make a cast. Jeffrey nodded.

“Can I walk downstream a little?”

Frank looked at the boy a minute. “Sure you can. Just mind your footing.”

“Okay, Dad.”

Jeffrey stepped back from the bank and began to thread his way downriver through the thick growth of birch along the shore. Picking his way along a game trail, he soon came to the source of the white noise.  The boy found his way to the very brink of the river where he stood on a granite promontory, its polished dome dry in the afternoon sun. He faced the water without the confronting barrier of the trees. When he had inched, and then crab-walked, as far onto the rocky peninsula as his legs would permit he sat down, his hands pressing against the solidity of the stone as if it might disappear. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the moist air of the crashing river, the world around him filtered through tiny rainbows.

Just ten feet away the water appeared dark and oily as it poured over a ledge deep beneath the surface, then piled against a rock in the middle of the river and boiled and fell backwards— frothing white—churning downriver, folding into more rapids.

Tossing a stick upstream he watched it float past him, hit the smooth tongue of water, then disappear into the froth. He spent the morning this way.  Later his father joined him for lunch and afterwards they walked upriver together where his father showed him how to cast the delicate fly; how to hold the rod and roll his wrist. He caught on quickly.

More than anything that day, though, Jeffrey enjoyed simply sitting and watching the palate of colours in the forest, the deep blue sky above, and the rushing of the river. The sensation of closeness to his father, and to the earth, was mesmerizing.

* * *

That was two years ago.

From his pack Jeffrey pulled a sketchbook and a hand-made pencil box and let his gaze roam over the shapes and textures of the forest. He closed his eyes and listened. Soon he would hear, beyond the forest’s edge, the pulse of rush hour traffic on Upper End Line. But here he was invisible. The other high school students who used the network of trails that crossed the woods never strayed from the path. Only he followed the curving bend in the creek. His secrets were safe.

Jeffrey laid the sketch pad open across his knees and rested his back against the hulking mass of a red maple log that was several feet thick. The leaves that blanketed the forest floor stirred as he made himself comfortable, the scent enveloping him like a fog. He slid the top of the wooden box back and let his hands feel the smooth glide of the groove that held the top in place. He read the inscription there: “For Jeffrey, Happy Birthday, Love Your Pa.”

From the box he pulled several oily pastels and set to work rendering the scene before him on the finely textured paper. His face held only a foot and a half from the paper, he studied the forest and the creek before him, and then the drawing. Each was done with equivalent intensity. He failed to notice the time when school finished, or hear students cross the woods behind him, or note the swelling sound of the traffic half a kilometre away. He was confined to a funnel of time, space, light and texture. His concentration was both narrowing in its singularity, and expansive in how it opened an entire universe.

When finally he did look up he was aware of two things. First, he was hungry. Second, the afternoon light was fading fast, which meant that it was after seven o’clock, maybe as late as eight. The woods were growing dark, the shadows lengthening and swallowing the forest floor. Jeffery put his supplies away, stood and stepped toward the creek and looked into its trickle of water, listening to its gentle murmur.

He walked upstream, towards his home, but before reaching the chain-link fence that separated the woods from his subdivision, he discovered that someone had dumped half a dozen bundles of newspapers into the creek. He jumped down onto the gravel bar where they choked the creek. Jeffrey felt anger swell inside him. More than the ignorance and callousness of the person who dumped newspapers that they had been paid to deliver into a creek, what he hated was the invasion into his own personal sanctuary. It was as if someone had dumped the papers into a church. With the daylight slipping from the woods he reached into the cool water and lugged the sodden papers out of the brook and onto the shore. He would return on the weekend and haul them away. He thought he might also call the newspaper and make a complaint.

As he pulled the last of the bundles from the creek – his hands, arms, face, and chest soaked with rotten leaves and soggy newspaper – the creek was released in a rush and began to flow freely.

* * *

Paul Winters’ classroom was more like a medieval maze than a high school art room. Every semester the eccentric teacher simply hung new artwork over the previous season’s efforts and if a student did not retrieve his or her work before the end of the term, the art was destined to become a permanent part of the classroom. The clusters of tables, random assortment of art supplies, and the two decades of artwork that was fastened to every surface including the ceiling, exuded bedlam. Winters’ office was known throughout the school – throughout the entire school district – as “the hobbit hole.” Winters had erected a wall down the centre so that students or other instructors, seeking out the recluse, had to weave through a corridor lined with books, ceramics, paintings, paint, boxes of clay, sketches, records, stereo speakers, and rows of overflowing shelves and cupboards. They finally came to the man, propped up like any other piece of art, on a small stool, his head bowed as if in sleep, his eyes likely fixed a piece of student work. A cold cup of coffee rested near him on any almost flat surface available, most often a Muddy Waters record or a student’s painting.

Now Paul Winters looked up from the sketch he was marking. The music had stopped. He stood and stepped carefully over the pile of grading and rounded the tight corner to where he kept the stereo. He inserted a Robert Johnson CD and then made his way into the classroom, which at lunch hour was empty. He passed the clusters of tables and moved toward the back of the room where more plywood dividers sectioned off several small studios. Through the long row of windows spring light streamed into the space, alive with colour. Winters knocked at the opening of one of the small studios.

“Come in.”

Winters stepped into the cubical where Jeffrey Patterson was standing. Jeffrey’s hands were at his sides, he wore a white painter’s smock covered in greens and browns and blues. The boy had his back to Winters, his head tilted to one side. He stepped back and the teacher could see in the natural light of midday the painting the boy was working on.

To Paul it felt as if he had stepped out of the classroom and into the woods. He could swear that mixed with the pungent odour of oil paints he could detect the smell of water when it pours over rocks and into deep pools. Neither student nor teacher said a word.

* * *

Follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault for the next #fictionfriday post from Among the Wounded.

The Prayer Tree

There is a tree on one of the grassy benches above my home that is sacred. It’s a stalwart Douglas fir that rises up just a little taller than the other fir and spruce that surround it. From its base there is a standard tremendous view of the Bow Valley, the Three Sisters, Mount Peter Lougheed and Wind Ridge. It’s both easy to find and a surprise when stumbled upon. It’s like a thousand other Douglas fir that dot the sunny south-eastern side of this deep mountain vale, and singular in every way.

It is a prayer tree. Around its roots are a circle of stones with an entrance that allows access to the tree’s circumference. Approach the tree as I often do from the path that winds by its bottom and soon all manner of offerings appear: beads and glass bobbles scattered in the dust among its roots; hand written notes, an empty vile of homeopathic medicine, coins and a key are wedged in its thick bark; notes and pouches are suspended from its branches by string. A spiral of twigs is laid out in a neat pattern on the bare earth below the spreading limbs.

I found this tree by accident on one of my first runs through the woods above my home more than a year ago. I’ve had other such companions throughout my days on the trail over this lifetime. In high school I named a spreading American Beech ‘Phaedrus’ after a character in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and mourned it’s lose when my precious woods were cut to make way for the 427 toll highway. When I lived in Harvie Heights for six years in the 1990’s I named a massive Engleman Spruce Issrigill, one of the pillars of the earth in Roman mythology.

By the time I worked at Royal Roads University a few years ago I had stopped naming my favourite trees, but found them never the less. On a campus full of extraordinary trees – 16 of the largest Douglas fir left on the Vancouver Island were on the upland slopes of the grounds – there was a massive Norway Maple that at its base was six feet across. I found a way to run by that tree almost every day I was on campus and it never failed to fill me with a sense of magical wonder.

But never have I come across a tree that is so obviously important to so many other people. Despite the conspicuous adoration felt for this particular tree, I’ve yet to meet anybody there on my dozens of runs past it. And that’s just as well, because the sort of druidic reverence I and others evidently feel for this tree is best practiced in private.

A few days ago while running in the warm afternoon sun I came upon the tree as I usually do: by accident. On my circuitous routes through the woods and meadows along the slopes of Grotto Mountain I often let whimsy decide my course, so I’m always pleasantly surprised to find myself at the base of this tree.

I stopped running and walked through the opening in the stones that circled the tree. For some reason I have it in my head that the offerings left at this tree have been done so by young people. I figure most adults have lost the sense of wonder and suspended judgment that is required to leave a prayer in the form of a note, a coin or a key in such a place. I wanted to offer something but didn’t have anything to leave: somehow I didn’t think the wrapper from a Cliff Shot could be interpreted as anything but garbage.

But I did have something I needed to take with me. I circled the tree a few times, trying to quiet my racing mind. There has been a lot of pain in the world of late; a lot of pain in my family too. Several dear family members are sick. Two of the people I love the most in this world are facing the end of the journey. I do not want them to leave just yet. A friend is passing through dark times. And on the same day I was saying my prayers at this tree the father of friends I grew up with – a man whose presence when I was a child seemed like it would last forever – was being put to rest after a massive heart attack.

There were other prayers to offer. Last week a child was born to friends who are love incarnate, and this little boy will grow up deeply cared for and cherished. They named him Isaiah and recalled the Words: Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed. (Isaiah 54:10)

When we need something that we believe is beyond our control we sometimes pray for it.

More money.

More health.

More choices.

More time.

I do not believe there is a supernatural being to pray to, and nobody will respond to my supplication except the wind and the sun. So why do I find myself praying when I run past this tree?

Because all life is a prayer. Because every moment, every word, every breath is a prayer. Prayer focuses our intent, and calls together the sometimes magical and often mundane coagulation of hope and belief and the power of our thoughts to create reality.

And because sometimes prayer is all we have. And sometimes prayer is all we need.

And so, at the base of the tree where others have left gifts I leave love and courage for my family and friends who are struggling to hold onto life, and offer the gift of hope and peace for baby Isaiah. And then, the afternoon sun warming my face and the wind speeding my steps, I keep running through the prayer filed woods.

The Three Treasures: 3) Love

In Carry Tiger to Mountain I wrote this:

No matter what propels us to become activists in the first place, it is love that sustains and nurtures us over the long term. Hatred burns too hot to last, and fear has an insidious way of burrowing into our hearts and souls and stealing from us our ability to act out of courage. Only our love for the places we are trying to protect, our love from one another, can provide the fuel to sustain a lifetime of effective activism.

Jonathan Star translates the third treasure of The Tao te Ching as love. According to Star, many Ancient Chinese characters have multiple meanings. In his Definitive Edition of the Tao te Ching he translates the character for “tz’u” found in verse sixty seven as being “loving/affectionate/compassionate/merciful.”

These are difficult times to allow love to guide our work as activists. In Canada the environmental movement is under assault from our own government. It has been this way in the United States for many years. So much of what we love is disappearing. But fear, which is the root of anger, cannot save us. Only love can.

“To meet hatred and force with love and yielding

This is the way of the Tao

(Tao, 40)

To read more about Carry Tiger to Mountain: The Tao of Activism and Leadership please click here.

I’m posting regular(ish) thoughts from this book on Twitter at #carrytiger. You can follow me @stephenlegault.

10,000 down

This morning I hit the ten thousand word mark of The Glacier Gallows. This book will be the fourth instalment of the Cole Blackwater mystery series.

Two weeks ago I started the story outline process, as noted in the first installment of Deconstructing Draft One. That process went faster than I thought it would, due in part to some extensive notes I’d made about the book almost two years ago. I finished the story-board for the novel last weekend, and have been rising at 5am every morning for the last week (weekends I sleep in until 6 or so) to write.

A good story board is essential to my writing process as are several other key pieces of background information.

  1. A story board usually comprises a chapter by chapter outline of what happens, including key pieces of the mystery puzzle, location and setting, important weather information and character development. Each chapter usually fits on a third to a half page, and sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly creative I draw them in call outs or bubbles connected my arrows, to indicate the flow of the story. They’re optional.
  2. In the case of The Glacier Gallows, I’ve developed a fairly extensive (maybe too extensive) list of characters. In addition to Cole Blackwater, the protagonist, there are at least a dozen and a half other characters in the book. That might be too many for a reader (or the writer) to keep track of, so it may be winnowed down.
  3. I have a four page hand written explanation of what actually lead to the murdered man’s death, including an extensive history of his actions leading up to his demise. This is important as it informs some of the substantive details of six or eight short chapters that look at the murdered man’s trajectory leading up to his killing and highlights his intersection with key suspects. I hope it will also create a connection between the reader and the murdered man.
  4. Finally, there’s a list of red-herrings. Each red herring is linked to a character and has its own connection to the background on the murdered man, and the story board. To keep the reader guessing, these red herrings have to be built in a way that suspends belief. A solid background sketch for each makes this easier.

All of this material sits in a file folder or is scattered across my desk as I pen chapter after chapter of the book. It makes the writing process much easier: each morning I can concentrate on dialog and plot rather than trying to think about what happens next. As I’ve said before, usually by the end of the first draft I’ve strayed a little from the outline, but what’s important is that I know I’m straying, and not just careening wildly.

One thing I’ve noticed in penning The Glacier Gallows is how easy it is to be back visiting with Cole Blackwater. It’s been six hears since I wrote the first draft of The Vanishing Track, due out in March (I actually opened a case of my author’s copies this week while writing the next instalment of the series). When I wrote the first draft of The Vanishing Track, I had yet to hear from NeWest that they wanted to publish The Cardinal Divide. Writing the third book in a series was a leap of faith.

In the fall I wrote a book called The Third Riel Conspiracy, which is a historical mystery set in 1885 around the events of the North West Resistance, a pivotal moment in the history of Canada. I blogged extensively about this first draft process. It was really hard. Matching my plot with the actual events of those months of open warfare across the North West Territories was challenging. Writing about Cole Blackwater’s misadventures requires no such attention to historical fact. I can make just about everything up without worrying if the events match the day to day occurrences of the Battle of Batoche or the trial of Louis Riel.

So The Glacier Gallows is well underway. I’m working on chapter six of what will likely be a forty chapter book. I’m enjoying being back with Cole, working on dismantling the fragile peace he has found by the end of The Vanishing Track, and introducing a very new twist on the series as he descends into the dark world of the energy and climate change politics.

Follow along with my progress on the first draft of The Glacier Gallows by checking in on Deconstructing Draft One from time to time. Follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault for regular updates on this and other writing projects.

Heisenberg, relativity and precious little time

Walking the kids to school is one of my favourite things to do. They don’t need it. Both boys can easily find their way there and back on their own. But I need it. On the mornings when they are with Jenn and I, it gives me an excuse to take a 30 minute walk early in the day, and it provides an opportunity for connection.

This morning’s walk was extraordinary. I said something about “time flies when you’re having fun” and Silas picked up on this and wanted to know what that meant.  I asked him instead. He said it that when you’re doing something that you like, time doesn’t seem to take as long. The three of us discussed this: how could that be so? I thought one second was one second and one minute was one minute.

It just seems that way, said Rio. Again I pushed back. Rio responded that when you were doing something that you really loved, you could lose track of time.

So time is relative? I asked.

What does that mean? Silas’ face twisted into a 6-year-old question.

It means that sometimes time seems to go fast and sometimes it feels to drag on forever.

Like when you’re not having fun, Rio added.

That’s right. It’s a matter of perception: how we experience something can change it, and us, I said. That’s why our attitude about things is important. Having fun, I said, is a choice, and if we can choose to laugh, have fun, then we change the properties – the physical make up – of things.

I should point out that our morning conversations aren’t always this philosophical. Just yesterday we had a long discussion on if you combined fire and lightening would you get a laser, and if so, just how much damage could you do with it? This morning I threw in a bit on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, but that was taking things a little too far.

We circled back to time flying as the school hove in view. Rio was up just after 6 and wanted to write. I had been up for an hour doing the same, so I know how it was to wake up with a story banging at your head, trying to get out. Rio said to me: this morning when I was writing, it felt like just a few minutes.

That’s right, I said, but it was in fact an hour.

Is that what you mean? He asked.

That’s it exactly. When we’re doing something we love, time seems to disappear. I told him that’s how I felt every single morning. That’s why I got up before five each day to write novels, before getting him and his brother ready for school and then starting my day job.

I told him he had learned an important secret: do what you love and you feel the sense of bliss that accompanies having discovered your Dharma. But I think I made it simpler for the ten year old: do what you love and it feels so good time flies.

The boys went to school and I walked home. Every single moment is a choice between bliss and boredom; between time flying and time dragging on and on. Choose wisely; this is the only time we have; there is no other time.

Follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault.

Read more posts like this one here.

For your listening pleasure…

The Vanishing Track arrived back from the printer this week. I haven’t seen a copy yet, but I sure am excited. Conceptually The Vanishing Track has been nine years in the making, and in practical terms, in development for more than six. Before I release the Kraken on the unsuspecting public, however, I thought we might take one last look at The Darkening Archipelago, the previous Cole Blackwater Mystery.

To do so, I’ve recorded a special audio excerpt from the book for your listening pleasure. Please have a listen, and if you like what you hear, consider buying the book and giving it a read in advance of the Vanishing Track’s official launch date of March 6th.

The segment that I’ve chosen for this sixteen minute recording is the Epilogue of the book. Strange you might say to give away the ending of a mystery. True. But the epilogue is probably my favourite part of the book, and others have told me that they like it too. And here’s why: its prose. In part it concludes the mystery, but in doing so it weaves a tapestry of language and story. Or so say I. And you can listen to it without giving away the whodunit. Promise.

I always thought that I would be an essayist, not a crime writer. I dreamed of being Edward Abbey, not Tony Hillerman. So when given a long leash (too long, some would say) to pen a bit of purple prose (too purple some would say) I took it. I found a way to do the same with the Vanishing Track, but that’s another story.

The piece in question was written, uncharacteristically, in the middle composing the first draft. Uncharacteristic because I usually write books from beginning to end.  But I was inspired. I was penning a scene were Archie Ravenwing, looking back a number of months from the start of the book, is sitting on the sea wall in Victoria after a disappointing day at the Legislature, having been brushed off by Ministerial staff. He’s thinking about his beloved salmon and their perilous journey to the vast open ocean. It dawned on me then that Archie could take that journey too. He’s dead, after all. Killed in the opening chapter, his body dumped overboard from his boat the Inlet Dancer, he too could find his way to the waters beyond the tip of Vancouver Island. I wrote the epilogue in a great frenzied spasm of keyboard pounding right then and there, and I love it.

And here it is for your enjoyment. (Click to open in a new window: Epilogue, The Darkening Archipelago )Let me know what you think. And stay tuned for the release of The Vanishing Track in the next few weeks.

Keep in touch by following me on Twitter @stephenlegault.

Letter from Jail

As some of you know, in addition to being a writer, I work full time on conservation issues in the Crown of the Continent. One of the campaigns I’ve been helping with for the last year is the effort to the protect the Castle Special Place. This 1000 square kilometer wildland north of Waterton Lakes National Park is crucial for the future of grizzly bears in the province, and is a vital part of the local tourism economy. Now logging has started in the Castle, but not before brave local residents protested for three weeks straight, holding the equipment at bay. Last week four people were arrested and the stand off came to and end. Below is a letter they wrote to Alberta Premier Alison Redford from the Pincher Creek Jail.

LETTER TO THE PREMIER FROM THE PINCHER CREEK JAIL February 1, 2012

Mike Judd, one of four authors of this Letter from Jail, speaking to a rally of 150 people in the Castle Special Place

Dear Premier Redford;

Around the World people have been fined and imprisoned for rejecting industrial clear-cut logging and the ecological devastation that it eventually brings to a nation. Here are a few examples: 1200 arrested at Reedy Creek, Australia; 800 at Clayaquot in B.C.; over 100 in Chital, Pakistan; 22 women at Grant’s Pass in Oregon; and over 60 First Nations People in the Great Bear Forest in B.C.; and today, four in Pincher Creek, Alberta.

In his book Collapse, Jerad Diamond delineates how deforestation is one of the major factors that lead to the disappearance of many past civilizations, and Global Forest Watch reports that 13,000,000 hectares of forest disappear annually around the World. Do you need to add this thin belt along the Eastern Slopes of Alberta to that statistic?

We’ve already seen over four decades of industrial logging in the Oldman Watershed and particularly in the headwaters of the Castle-Carbondale part of that drainage. We’ve seen the miles of stumps, windrows of waste wood, eroded skid roads, collapsing stream banks, weeds, escalating off-road vehicle abuse, and of course the 22,000 hectare fire that took place in all of that.

Now you’ve sanctioned removing most of the last small piece of intact forest left in this corner of the province. The place where the Grizzly, the Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Limber Pine and so many unique plants are listed by law, federally and provincially, as endangered. This area is also the study area for Grizzly Bear DNA research to establish how many or how few are left. It is classified as “critical winter ungulate range” where industrial activity is not allowed, by regulation. How have you justified removing those rules?

As you know, 75% of Southern Albertans do not want the Castle logged anymore. You have heard from many thousands via email and telephone messages to your office. Your response to date is to maintain the status quo, which is business as usual. Where is the change in that?

So here we sit today, four old men who have joined the thousands of voices in Alberta and around the World, the voices for wilderness, wildlife, water conservation, forest integrity, sustainability, healthy recreation, and everything that is good and beautiful in the Southern Alberta Eastern Slopes.

Why don’t you make the real change you promised, and that you have the authority to make, and stop this betrayal of the public trust?

Beaver Mines Lake Campground in the Castle Special Place: the new view for campers will be of clear cuts. Welcome to Alberta.

Mike Judd

Jim Palmer

Reynold Reimer

Richard Collier

(If you want to get involved, please call Premier Redford at 310-0000 or from outside Alberta 780-427-2251 and ask that logging be halted and that the Castle be made a Wildland Park.)

My Best Idea; My Worst Mistake

This post originally appeared as a guest blog post on novelist and editor Scott Bury’s Written Words site. You can follow Scott on Twitter @ScotttheWriter. Scott hosts guest bloggers that answer the questions: “what’s the best thing you have done as a writer? What’s the worst?” Scott also provides great editorial advice, which is how I came to know Scott’s blog.

I’ve been writing for more than twenty years, having started with angst-ridden teenaged poetry penned under a street lamp, and proceeded to angst-ridden personal columns for my local newspapers. Five years ago, most of the angst out of my system, I started publishing books on activism and eastern philosophy along with three separate crime-series with an environmental or historical theme.

The best thing I’ve done when it comes to writing – besides developing the discipline to rise very early each morning and pound out a few thousand words before the rest of the world wakes – was to develop a plan for where I wanted my writing to take me.

For a number of years I was a consultant helping businesses and non-profit organizations develop communications and strategic plans, so the notion was familiar to me. If you have a plan for where you want to go, it’s easier to get there. If a business is trying to sell organic coffee, or a non-profit trying to end homelessness would benefit from a plan to achieve success, why not a writer?

A writing plan needn’t be elaborate: for me its takes the form of a couple of charts. What books to I hope to write, and by when? Which do I have publishers lined up for? What do I need to do in order to find a publisher for those I’m not already under contract for?

Most importantly, how many books do I need to sell in order to make writing my day job? I love getting up at 5am to write before the kids are awake and my full time work begins, but sometime down the road I’d like to clear some of the mental clutter and dedicate myself full-time to scribbling. To do that, I figure I have to sell around 25-30,000 books a year. What do I need to do to reach that number? What does my backlist look like, and how many titles do I need to my name to reach that goal?

I plotted this all out in Word, and ran the numbers in Excel, and then went for a stiff drink.

But knowing what my goal is, and what I have to do to reach it, keeps me focused.

The worst thing I’ve ever done as a writer is to not learn from my own mistakes. Over twenty plus years as a writer I’ve made plenty. The one I keep making may seem common-place, but it’s a serious threat to achieving my game plan. I suck at self-editing. In fact, my story editor sent me one of Scott’s blog posts as a not-so-subtle hint to get on top of the editorial process, and that’s how we came to be swapping stories.

I get so caught up in the story, the plot, the dialog, that I miss important grammatical mistakes. I make them again and again. I also use crutch phrases and clichés too often. Finally, I tend to add unnecessary description, such as the 156 times one of my character’s “nodded” in a recent manuscript. I went through and cut 152 of those in the 7th draft. After a while the reader just gets dizzy.

To achieve my goal of writing for a living, I have to write the very best books I can. To do that, I have to be mindful of the mistakes I make over and over again, and keep my eye on my goals.

To keep up to date with my process towards my writing goals, and how I overcome my chronic mistakes, follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault

Deconstructing Cole Blackwater

On Monday I was up at 4 a.m. There was no good reason to be up that early. Despite trying to get another hour of sleep, I could not, so I started to write The Glacier Gallows.

I’m really excited to be working on this book, though it could have waited until 5 a.m when I had planned on rising. I suppose my excitement to start this new project was what got me up in the first place. As I said on Friday, getting to visit with Cole again is like spending time with an old friend that you haven’t seen for years. I needn’t have been worried that we wouldn’t have anything to say to one another: we’ve got history.

So now I’m going to deconstruct draft one again. For The Third Riel Conspiracy – my last effort into this dissection process – I started as I began typing, and after a year where the novel had sat dormant. Not so this time. The ideas are fresh in my mind, so starting on Monday I began my story board process. I’d made some rough notes about where I wanted to the story of the fourth Cole Blackwater book to go over the last couple of years, so I began by reviewing those, and then launched right into the chapter by chapter synopsis.

Often I’ll use large sheets of butcher paper to do this, but at 4am on Monday wrestling with a roll of 3 foot long paper seemed like too much work, so I used a legal pad. My habit is to create compact bubbles or call-outs and pencil a succinct outline of what happens in each.

As soon as I began this undertaking questions arose around characters, motives, time lines, and red herrings. I started a new page called “what really happened” and wrote down everything that led up to the murder in The Glacier Gallows: what did the murdered man do that resulted in his death? Why did he do it? Next I wrote down a couple of pages of red herrings: what would happen throughout the book that would lead my protagonist, Cole Blackwater, astray in his investigation? The dead man was killed for a reason, but there was more than one person who wanted him scratched. This lead to the creation of characters associated with each red herring who would become suspects, all with their own set of motives, along with associated means and opportunities to commit the brutal act.

Brief characters sketches followed, and then a timeline. As with The Darkening Archipelago, I’ve decided to start with the murder scene, and then split the narrative, allowing the reader to look back in time 6 months to watch as the murdered man undertakes the actions that lead to his untimely demise. At the same time, in alternating chapters, the reader can witness the immediate aftermath of the killing and Cole’s furtive attempt to unravel the mystery. In plotting this creates a lot of opportunity for cliff hangers as the reader learns something from the deceased’ past and then witnesses Cole and his friends uncover information in the present that supplements the readers understanding of the crime.

This all took a couple of early mornings. At times I’d find myself staring blankly at the book shelf next to my couch where I was writing and suddenly a whole series of questions would be answered and I’d be left marvelling at the creative process.

This morning I was able to return to the chapter by chapter story board and completed the first six. Referring back to the notes I made about the overall trajectory of The Glacier Gallows, I’m now able to answer questions that I had about the murder itself. In addition, the research that I did for The Slickrock Paradox, about how a murder in a National Park (in Slickrock its Utah’s Arches National Park, while in the Gallows it’s on the border of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park) might be handled by the US National Park Service, the FBI, the RCMP and State and local authorities.

I expect that the chapter plotting will take me another week, and then I’ll be able to sit down and start typing. My goal is to have a first draft of The Glacier Gallows completed by the end of March. That’s longer than it would normally take, but I have less time to write, and my commitment to myself is to slow down just enough to address some of my systemic errors in order to make the overall process of novel writing more efficient and produce a better read.

Stay tuned as I post more blog entries in the Deconstructing Draft One category. Follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault as I post to the hashtag #draftone updates on my progress.