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. 🙂