- Bonnie Randall
First Frost - & Other Stepping Stones That Built Divinity & The Python
Years ago, a literary agent told me not to set my novels in Canada. Canada was not "glamorous" enough. No one in this big, bad world looked at Canada and said "Man, would I love to read a story set there - a place where people say 'eh' and 'sorry' all the time."
(In retrospect, I wonder what Lawrence Hill would think of that? Ahem) My critique group, however, took issue with this agent (and how ironic that every one of them was and is American). They felt my writing soared the highest when it was set in places I knew and loved. They chastised me for being a sell-out when I altered two novels I'd completed, changing their setting (awkwardly and clunkily) to being just over the border from British Columbia where they had originally been, and into Washington state.
C'mon! The Cascade Mountain range still looks like the Canadian Rockies - right?
Maybe. Nonetheless, my critters were displeased.
They goaded me. Challenged me to quit being a sell-out. They wanted me to make my next story "as Canadian as possible."
I was flummoxed. Obey my crit group - a 'family' I respected and loved? Or listen to the literary agent who'd said "Canada, Ms. Randall?! Oh, no...."
So it was with my tongue firmly set in my cheek that, having constructed the concept of Divinity & The Python in my mind, I then set out to weave the epitome of Canadiana into the story. Things like: a winter setting. A French-Canadian sidekick for my heroine. A romantic hero who is a professional hockey star. A brother who is a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
At first it was a lark to play up what I knew most Americans see as "Canadian cliches", yet as the novel grew, the characters deepened, and their arcs became steeper, I found that the iconic Canadiana I'd woven into their story gave the entire project a far more authentic feel (and depth) than would never have existed had I stuck to prescription, as it were, and set it in a place outside where my own heart and soul dwell.
And something else occurred too. As I crafted, re-crafted, edited, then copy-edited D&P, I began to feel the hardy toughness of my own skin and its tolerance for our muscular, unforgiving north-western winters. I could see the beauty of a fresh snowfall and that hoar frost looks like diamonds clinging to the trees. I could hear each character say 'eh' and it sounded familiar - and pleasing - to my ear.
In short the entire challenge - which I initially embarked on as a lark - made me appreciate my Canadian heritage and culture anew, for I could see it; like refracted light shining out of each of my characters. Out of the places they would visit.
I am so grateful, now, for my crit group's direction, for it became my own determination to stay true to my home and my culture - and to celebrate patriotism which looks a whole lot like this: