Scary October #28 – Sunday Interview

Hello readers! Today, I thought I’d do something completely different. Instead of an author interview I thought I’d do a character one, so it is with extreme pleasure that I introduce Michelle, the main character of my two YA novels, Withershins and Spirit Quest. It’s been 25 years since the end of ‘Spirit Quest’ and, upon the suggestion of one of my readers (thank-you, Diane), we are joined by her daughter, Kristen. 🙂

Me: Ladies, would you please tell my readers a little about yourselves.

Michelle: Certainly! I am . . . uh . . . 40-something. (Smirk!) I live in a small neighbourhood near the centre of Winnipeg, a community known as St. Boniface. I teach Aboriginal Studies at the University of Manitoba. I’m married with three lovely children (glances at her eldest daughter).

Kristen: (squirms uncomfortably) Mom, are you sure you want all this out in the open? (eyes flick to her mother’s face and sighs) Fine! Hi, I’m Kristen. I’m 16 and go to River East Collegiate. My friends and I like going to school football games because the quarterback is really cute. (blushes)

Me: Michelle, would you mind describing your adventures when you were Kristen’s age? What made you decide to go to the St. Andrew’s Graveyard with Kevin & Jason?

St. Andrews Church on the Red River, Manitoba

Michelle: (chuckles) Wow! That was such a long time ago! You probably won’t believe any of this. Goodness knows, Kristen has her doubts about the stories I’ve told her. (She clears her throat) Well, we had a high school history project to do. We thought, or at least, I thought it would be a good idea to go to the oldest church in the area and check out some of the names on the gravestones to inspire my research. I convinced the boys it would be a fun way to do the research. Jason was able to borrow his Dad’s car, so he offered to drive us. We wandered around the graveyard until it closed, then went to eat. Despite the warnings, we went back and waited until midnight, then Jason suggested we do the withershins.

Kristen: (leans forward, insistent) Mom, you said it yourself, you hit your head! You must have blacked out for awhile. You just had a very complicated dream. (She turns to me)Why are you’re encouraging her?

Michelle: Honey, I thought the same thing, at first – that it was all just a dream. After everything I experienced, it could not simply have been a dream.

Me: Michelle, would you please explain what ‘withershins’ means?

Michelle: According to Jason, it was a ritual where a person runs around a church three times at midnight. He claimed we’d meet the Devil or be transported to the Netherworld. I’ve since discovered, it simply means traveling counter-clockwise or ‘contrary to the sun’, and when you do it with all the right elements, you can travel back in time.

Kristen gives a snort of derision.

Me: Why would you participate in a ritual like that, Michelle?

Michelle: For one thing, I didn’t think anything would really happen. For another, when Jason begged me with those puppy dog eyes, I couldn’t say no. I had such a crush on him back then! I’m just glad I didn’t meet the Devil or go to the Netherworld, although there were times I thought I really was in H-E-double hockey sticks, if you know what I mean. 🙂

Kristen: (rolls her eyes) There’s no need to protect me from bad words, Mom. I’ve heard a lot worse at school, you know!

Me: Michelle, what was your first clue that you’d been transported back in time?

Michelle: Once the swirling portal thing stopped and the fog disappeared, everything was so different. There was absolutely nothing around me – no trees, no buildings, no power lines anywhere. In the back of my mind, I knew I hadn’t run that far from the church, but I really couldn’t believe I had actually time-travelled. Would you?

Me: (Chuckle!) No, I suppose not. What finally convinced you it wasn’t a dream?

Michelle: I’ve had vivid dreams before, but nothing compared to the sights and smells of being back in the mid-eighteen hundreds. When I stepped in that horse poo and tried to get it off my runner, I knew there was something all too real about that place! What really convinced me was when Bear brought me to his grandfather and he started talking about everything that had happened leading up to that spinning vortex. That’s when I knew for sure. After all, no one else in that place could possibly have known, unless it was all some huge practical joke, but I didn’t think Lower Fort Garry would have gone to all the trouble and expense of removing a building and replacing it with a log cabin, all for the sake of a joke.

Kristen: Mom, you’d been doing research. All that stuff must have been in your mind when you hit your head, so you simply dreamed it all. It just seemed real.

Me: (ignoring Kristen’s outburst) It must have been hard to live in a time without all our modern conveniences. How did you manage?

Michelle: (with a rueful smile) Faking amnesia helped a little. Anytime someone questioned me about not being able to do things, I just chalked it up to forgetting. I was also a Brownie and a Girl Guide, so I had been camping before. I knew some basic survival skills and when I first arrived at the Lower Fort, I was thrust into a maid’s position. It didn’t take long to learn how to cook over a fire, how to mend clothing and a whole bunch of other stuff. Bear’s mom, Swift Doe, knew where I was from and taught me all kinds of things native women learned when they were young. Also, Owl, Bear’s grandfather, taught me some spiritual stuff and Bear taught me how to hunt.

Me: Kristen, does your mom do any of those things now or when you were younger?

Kristen: Well, she used to make moccasins for us when we were little. We used to go to Pow Wows. I was given a native name when I was 12. Last year, Mom and Dad prepared me for a sweat lodge ceremony.

Me: How do you think your mom knew about all of these ceremonies if she didn’t learn them from the past?

Kristen: Mom knows a lot of elders. Perhaps one of them taught her all that stuff.

Michelle: Sweetie, I didn’t meet those elders until after I returned from the past. Your Auntie Sherry introduced me to them after I told her what had happened to me.

Kristen: (folds her arms across her chest and scowls)

Me: (turning to Michelle) Tell us about some of the people you met in the past.

Lower Fort Garry, NW turret used for baking ‘hard tack’, a bread used by voyageurs and hunting parties

Michelle: Well, I first met the Reverend Cochrane and his wife, Annie. They lived in the original rectory at St. Andrews. They helped me a lot. I was scared and I’d bumped my head and sprained my wrist falling out of the time tunnel thingy, so the reverend took me to the Lower Fort where there was a doctor. Doctor Buchanan had just come to Red River with the 6th Regiment of Foot and had a little office inside the fort beside the trade store, about where the museum is now. He fixed me up and asked Governor Simpson if I could stay at the fort until my head healed.

Oh, yeah, before meeting the doctor, I was feeling a little light-headed because of the bump on my head and I fell into the arms of a rather handsome Scottish stonemason, Duncan MacRae. He was in charge of the St. Andrews Church construction. There were also a couple of girls I became friends with, the Sinclair sisters, Harriet and Maria. Margaret was sort of a friend, but hung around too much with Elizabeth, who hated me the moment she set eyes on me. I think it had a lot to do with her father being with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was friends with the Chief Factor and his wife, Mrs. Wilson – and a more spiteful woman you’d never hope to meet! There were quite a few others, like Doctor Buchanan’s patients that I helped and Bear’s sister, Fawn, and the store clerk, Ian McNally, but we don’t have time to get into all that, right now.

Me: Now, you went through the withershins ritual not once but twice, is that right? Why would you put yourself through that again?

Michelle: I probably wouldn’t have considered it, as much as I missed Bear – and I missed him A LOT! Missing him, though, was the reason I went to the Manitoba Archives to learn what might have happened to him and my other friends. I came across an old article that talked about a trial that took place after I came home. The article said Owl had been hanged because they thought he had murdered me. You see, when I suddenly disappeared from the past to come home, the nosy Mrs. Wilson claimed she’d seen Owl and I leave the fort late at night, but only Owl returned – with my olden days clothes. She made such a fuss, that the courts decided Owl had killed me. I couldn’t let them hang Owl, so I used the arrowhead talisman that Owl’s spirit guide had given me and went to the church on the night of a full moon. I went back to try and stop them from killing Owl. I had no idea if it would work or not, but I had to try.

Me: Wow! Who would have thought your sudden disappearance would have caused such a tragic event! Did you manage to save Owl?

Michelle: (winks) I wouldn’t want to spoil the story! If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the book!

Me: Oh, you are a sneaky one, aren’t you? From the title, I imagine you learned a lot more spiritual stuff in your second adventure. Care to tell us about it?

Michelle: Well, let’s just say, I found it quite life-changing. There were moments I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the challenges and many times I doubted my resolve would last. If it wasn’t for the faith that Bear and Owl had in me, I don’t know where I would be today or if I’d even be here to talk to you. I owe them my life, body and soul.

Kristen: Mom, don’t you think you’re being a little melodramatic?

Me: They sound like the sort of friends everyone should have. (I turn to Michelle) Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to share with my readers?

Michelle: Only that my appreciation for history has grown immensely because of my adventures. I still don’t like having to memorize dates, but I have a greater love for the people who made up our history, those who influenced changes in our society and helped to make our future better. These are things I hope Kristen will come to appreciate, one day (fondly casts her eyes to her daughter and smiles).

I’m also grateful for some of the progress that’s been made since then, like indoor plumbing, but I have to wonder whether the cost of some of our modern conveniences has been worth the price to our environment. When I consider all the plant and animal species that have become extinct over the past hundred and fifty years, it makes me cry. When I think of all the polluted rivers and landfills that mar the land, these days, I shake my head and wonder whether it’s all been worth it. I see the greed of huge corporations who are responsible for our disposable society and want to shake some sense into them for not finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint and I blame the current governments for not taking a stand and creating a bill to protect the environment from those corporate piranhas. My long talks with Owl and Bear, and all the time I spent in the past, have made me more aware of our shrinking landscapes (shrugs her shoulders and smiles, briefly). Sorry for the rant. I guess I’ll stop now. 🙂

Me: I can’t help but agree with you. Progress does seem to be getting out of hand. What do you think about what your mother said, Kristen?

Kristen: I suppose she has a point regarding the environment. I still don’t see the need to study history, though. A bunch of old dead people – what can studying what they did make a difference to what happened?

Michelle: Sweetie, you don’t get it, do you? There are people in the past who fought for the rights and freedoms you enjoy today. If they had not done what they did, our lives would be very different and much more difficult.

Kristen: People like who?

Michelle: If Chief Peguis hadn’t helped the early Scottish settlers by bringing them down to Pembina before the snow came, your great-great-great-great-grandfather would not have survived the winter and you probably wouldn’t be here. If Louis Riel hadn’t stood up for the rights of the Métis people, you’d still be considered a second class citizen, treated badly just like your great-great grandmother was at the residential school.

Kristen: (sinks lower in her chair and pouts) If you say so, Mom.

Me: (to Kristen) Then you don’t think you’d ever want to go on an adventure, like your mother?

Kristen: Are you kidding me? You believe what happened to Mom was real?

Me: You mother’s adventures were well documented in both ‘Withershins’ and ‘Spirit Quest’. You still don’t think they were real?

Kristen: Haven’t you ever heard of FICTION? That’s all it is, you know.

Me: Then, if you had the chance to do the withershins thing you wouldn’t do it?

Kristen: I may try it, but I certainly don’t expect anything to happen.

Michelle: (smirks) That’s what I thought, Honey.

Me: (I notice something around Kristen’s neck) Is that what I think it is?

Kristen: (touches her chest and groans, then pulls out the arrowhead necklace) Mom gave it to me for my birthday, a few days ago.

Me: That is very cool! 🙂 (I catch Michelle’s eye and she winks at me) Well, I want to thank you both for joining us, today, Michelle and Kristen.

Michelle: Thanks for having me, Susan. 🙂

Kristen: Yeah. Whatever.

Me: Michelle’s adventures can be found in both books mentioned above. Maybe one day you’ll be able to read an adventure about Kristen, too! 🙂

Kristen: Or NOT!

Some of the settings in which Michelle was known to have traveled can be found on my Withershins Facebook page, here. I will also be posting more pictures of St. Andrews Church, the graveyard and Lower Fort Garry on this blog, once I have gone through the hundreds of photos and video clips I took out there this past summer. I can also be found, occasionally, on Twitter and Goodreads.

Hope you enjoyed this whimsical interview, inspired by other bloggers like J. Keller Ford, who have done similar interviews with their characters. 🙂


Scary October – Day #25

Good morning, everyone (or evening, depending on what part of the world you hail from)! Last evening, my nephew and his wife, an awesome photographer, drove me up to the old St. Andrew’s Church. Armed with our cameras, we wanted to capture a few scary night time photos for the book trailer I am trying to compose. I’m hoping to have the big reveal on the last day of this month because it does look pretty spooky, already, without adding in all the shots we took last night.

My nephew has dabbled in movie making for a few years, now, and seems to have a sense of what is a unique photo angle, or what will invoke the most drama. He and his friends have created some pretty interesting home videos that are more like spy movies! His wife knows a lot about how to take pictures in all kinds of lighting challenges, so I definitely needed her help to get the best shots in the dark. Besides that, she makes a great Michelle – my character in ‘Withershins’.

When I first started to see book trailers pop up on YouTube and various blogs, I got very excited and have been thinking about how mine should look for a long time. I dabble in photography and my MAC’s iMovie program is simply wonderful – and the main reason I wanted to get a MAC in the first place! It may turn out looking amateurish, but that’s okay. I have found the perfect music from one of the CDs I love to listen to while writing the native spirituality scenes, mainly because it has no words that I’ll end up unconsciously writing into my story! The opening scenes take place at the old church and graveyard, the perfect place for magic to happen, the sort of place to find a talisman or meet a spirit guide.

To begin creating the trailer, I visualized the scenes based on how I normally describe the book to people who haven’t read ‘Withershins’. This little blurb became my story board, taking elements from it to create the frames of the video.

The first thing I usually have to tell people is the definition of what ‘Withershins’ means, which is basically “to move in a direction opposite the sun; counterclockwise”. That’s what I chose for my first frame.

Next, was the location – in a church graveyard.

Then, the time of day – at midnight.

I followed this with other elements, such as the spirit guide  and the talisman


spirit guide

and then the action – running around the church three times. I ended with some brief clips of life at Lower Fort Garry in the mid-eighteen hundreds, where Michelle ends up after her adventure in the graveyard. The finale is a picture of my book cover and name and, of course, the credits.

Once I had the storyboard straight in my head, I wrote out the captions. Then, I began taking pictures and video clips of things that I thought would fit in with my vision. I took multiple shots of things to make sure I got the perfect photo. I discussed the video with my niece and she was very enthusiastic and willing to help. I trust her photographic expertise as she knows way more about digital photography than I do – and my trust in her was not unfounded. I can’t wait to get my hands on her jpegs so I can incorporate them into what I have of the video so far, because from what I saw through her camera’s lens, the photos turned out way better than mine did!

I am getting very excited, knowing that the video is nearing completion. Even though my book has been out for a few years, already, I hope the video will attract a new group of teens (and adults) who will be learning about the book for the first time.

How many of you have thought about creating your own book trailer, or thought about getting someone to create one for you? If you have decided to embark on this video adventure, I wish you a lot of luck! 🙂

Michelle’s journey

Although it’s been awhile since I’ve been on a school visit, last week I decided to follow the trail that my character took and take some pictures of the old historical sites. Eventually, I want to put together a slide show for the next time I’m in the schools or do a reading, so those who haven’t been out to Lower Fort Garry or St. Andrews Church will get a better picture in their heads about what things looked like. As much as I tried to describe the settings in the books, there really is no better way to show people a place than with pictures. For those of you who haven’t read ‘Withershins‘ or ‘Spirit Quest‘ let me give you a little background: (I’ve put the story line in italics and the historical information is in standard font.)

Michelle heads out with a couple of friends one Friday evening late in October to do research for an upcoming history project. They drive out of town a little way to St. Andrews Church, the oldest stone church in Western Canada.

It is located on the Red River that flows north from the United States and empties into Lake Winnipeg, which is much like an inland sea. At its widest point one cannot see across to the other side.

The first 2 pictures show the graveyard on the south side, where you can see the flowing river. It’s very low this year because of the mild winter we had. Usually, the Red River is much higher and swifter.

The next 2 photos show the north side of the graveyard.

Back to the story: The idea for the evening was to take down the names of some of the earliest settlers buried at St. Andrews and then research their lives. Michelle wanders through the graveyard making notes while the boys sit in an old tree, chatting about sports.

soldiers' gravestone

Although I don’t mention Michelle noticing the newer gravestone above, I do mention the deaths of these young soldiers of the 6th Regiment of Foot later on in the books. I also mention Michelle taking note of this stone coffin. You may recognize it as the Gravatar I used when I first started blogging, although I did crop out the other gravestones). Here is a close-up of the inscription on the sarcophagus. It’s a bit hard to read unless you click on it. You should bring up a bigger version.

When the caretaker tells the teens it’s time to leave, they head out to a local drive-in for dinner.

Skinner’s is a well-known establishment at Lockport, just outside of Winnipeg. It was so popular they even opened another one across the highway as well as a booth in The Forks Market food court. This is the original one, the one I used to go to with my parents as a kid. There used to be a carnival set up behind where the new Skinner’s is now located, about where the water slides are situated. It was a wonderful summer outing with the family – fun houses, carnival rides, cotton candy with a stop at Skinner’s for ‘The World’s Best Hotdogs’. I don’t remember whether they had all the hockey memorabilia lining the walls back then, but I do remember the jukeboxes in every booth. They still have them, although some of the songs have been updated. You can see the steel grid work in the background. That is the start of the bridge that spans the Red River and continues on over the locks.

Michelle and her friends go to the locks after dinner and watch the rushing waters.

In the early days, the Red River was a busy highway to The Forks, where the Assiniboine River joins the Red. Around the St. Andrews area the Red River was shallow (during the summer) and fraught with rapids. Often travelers would have to portage around them.

In the middle of the 20th century, the lock system was constructed to regulate the river levels so that boats could easily travel through this treacherous stretch of the river. It was also around this time that the Floodway was built to divert winter run-off and spring rains so the city would not flood, which has happened often in this ‘flood plain’. The reason for this is most of Manitoba was once covered by a huge glacier which carved out and became Lake Agassiz. Once the glacier  and the waters retreated, it left behind a couple of large lakes (Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba), lots of little ones and a vast amount of prairie. While this is great for farming, when there is a lot of snow and heavy spring rains, the water spills out across the flatlands and floods acres of property, as well as towns or cities that happen to be in the way.

After listening to the roar of the locks, Michelle’s friend Jason suggests they go back to the church to try the withershins, a ritual where one runs around a church three times at midnight. Michelle protests because trespassing on church grounds after hours is illegal.

Her friends convince her to try it anyway. When she does, she is transported back in time. Since she is injured during the ritual, she is not sure what has happened to her. Nothing is familiar, so she seeks the assistance of an older couple living in a wooden house reminiscent of ‘Little House On The Prairie’. As it turns out, the man is the same one who will be buried in the sarcophagus, although he is not an Archdeacon, yet. Reverend Cochrane and his wife Annie, are worried about the gash on Michelle’s forehead.

The Reverend loads Michelle into a Red River cart (above) and bounces her off to Lower Fort Garry where a portion of the Sixth Regiment of Foot is residing along with an army doctor, who will attempt to patch up Michelle’s injuries.

As they approach Lower Fort Garry around dawn, Michelle recognizes the outline of the old historic site, although things aren’t quite as she remembers them. There were no fences around the properties on the outskirts of the fort and there were many more tepees in the space behind the blacksmith’s shop.

This is how it looks today (well actually, as of Thursday last week!). The wooden building in the foreground is the blacksmith’s shop. The house on the right is where the Chief Factor resided. For the purpose of my story, the fictional Chief Factor and his wife, the nasty Mrs. Wilson, lived here. Although the actual building had been demolished, a similar style old house has been moved onto the site so visitors can see what it looked like back then. The same goes for the Farm Manager’s house, shown here:

The Reverend brings Michelle through the river gate on the east side of the fort. Michelle looks up at the flagpole and notices that the British flag with the initials HBC, representing the Hudson’s Bay Company, is flying instead of the familiar red and white Canadian flagInside the gate, a trumpeter plays Reveille below a bell tower. 

The bell tower, I believe, used to be inside the gate to ring visitors in for meals. It is now located behind the museum. The Hudson’s Bay Company, which at the time that Michelle visits, owned the trade rights in the area after buying out The Northwest Trading Company, it’s fierce competitor.

Ruperts Land

At the time of my stories, the HBC owned the area known as Rupertsland (the area that now encompasses Manitoba and parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta and northern Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland). The Governor of the HBC was George Simpson, who was the man responsible for having the Lower Fort constructed. He lived in the Big House, the focal point of the fort.

As with the out-buildings, it would not have had a fence during the time of Michelle’s stay, or the trees, for that matter.

To the left of the Big House stand the trade store and what is now the museum. I have seen old pictures that show a small building beside the trade store instead of the museum, which I use as Doctor Buchanan’s office.

The Reverend drives the ox-driven cart up to the trade store boardwalk, where they dismount. He directs Michelle towards the doctor’s office, but Michelle steps in manure. While she concentrates on the foul-smelling goo on her runner, she bumps into the handsome stone mason, Duncan McRae. Whether it’s her head wound or the effect of those big blue eyes of his, Michelle nearly collapses. Duncan swoops her up and carries her into the doctor’s office.

Little Britain Church

Monument to Duncan McRae in the graveyard at the Little Britain Church just south of Lower Fort Garry

Duncan McRae was the stone mason in charge of building the St. Andrews Church for Reverend Cochrane, who was an Anglican minister. Later, Duncan built the Little Britain Church, a Protestant church, where he and his wife Charlotte are buried. The monument on the right bears their epitaphs as well as some of the generations that followed. The Little Britain Church is just south of the Lower Fort Garry historical site. It was built in 1853, six years after Michelle left the past and returned to the future.

Armory in NE turret

Some of the other buildings in Lower Fort Garry include the barracks on the north side of the fort, the armory in the NE turret, the summer kitchen in the NW turret, the ‘men’s house’ where the voyageurs stayed when they brought goods in their long boats from the northern outpost of Norway House or from Upper Canada in the east. The SW turret is where I had some of the characters detained in ‘Spirit Quest‘, pending a murder investigation.

Summer kitchen in NW turret

Men's House near west gate

Since I was unable to go inside the buildings yet, I have to rely on photos taken with an old 35mm camera (without auto-focus) that were taken before I got my bi-focals, so a lot of them are pretty fuzzy and dark (the flash didn’t work too well, either). The museum is supposed to open on May 7th, so I will post some of the important indoor shots at a later date.

SW turret (jail)

Long boat used by voyageurs

The Lower Fort Garry historical site is one of my favourite places. In the summer, costumed students and Historical Society volunteers play the parts of the former residents. They represent the era when Governor Colville and his wife lived here, which is a few years after Michelle’s adventures.

Hope you liked this virtual historical tour.

Do you have any favourite historic places near where you live?