I was writing as soon as I could read. In Kindergarten, I wrote a story about dragons. It was all of eight lines long, but it was my first story.
How does it feel being published?
The aspect of being published I most enjoy is finding connections with readers. When a story is complete and published, it is in its final, mature form. I am continually surprised at the dramatic variation in reader response to a finished work. I learn so much from the emails and messages I receive, and especially from interviews and podcasts. It is not at all uncommon for me to get the impression that readers have a bigger stake in the work than I do, and that is quite a humbling realization.
When did you decide to be a writer?
I knew I would be writing even before I finished high school. It was not until late in my career that I decided to attempt fiction. I began outlining my first novel in 2000 and completed it in 2005. "Cartier's Ring" is actually my third novel, though it became the first one published earlier this year.
Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?
There is always something to write. If I can't punch my way through a scene, I'll go to work on television analysis or a current events essay. If I just can't seem to get my fingers to work the keyboard I'll spend a couple hours reading, or do physical exercises. It's usually not too long before an idea pops up and then I can finish the scene or continue the analysis.
Where do you write? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?
I often outline longhand, but I write scenes and put together television analysis using my computer.
Tell us about your Latest Book.
"Cartier's Ring" is action-adventure historical fiction set in 16th century Canada. Though the novel is the result of painstaking research over twelve years, the novel is really carried on the strength of the protagonist, Myeerah of Hawk Clan. She is the most headstrong character in any of my novels, and she really brought life to the story. Readers have told me they've cried in the middle of the book. That's the type of praise writers love to receive, of course, but the credit really goes to Myeerah.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read as much as you can and be sure you understand the rules of spelling, grammar, and composition. Most wannabe writers these days believe that Spell Check can repair any deficiencies in basic knowledge of the language. For good or for bad, though, the software has not yet been created that can transform leaden words into golden prose. When you no longer use Spell Check, you are ready to attempt writing, but you are still years away from publishing. You will spend the next few years learning, and this means a lot of work with several critique partners over long months and years. When an honest reviewer gives you a thumbs up, you're ready to publish.
The women will laugh at me. Only men have dreams such as this, not girls. Not the daughter of a slave.
I paddle the canoe upwind toward the berry patch, tacking as Tsiko taught me. He says our birch bark canoes are lighter than the elmwood craft of the Hodenosaunee, but with the wind howling in my face and the waves pushing me back, I feel I’m paddling a heavy log upstream. The water splashes onto my skirt and my belly—cold but delicious. I look down to see a drop hit my chest, and I laugh.
I grab the bow and quiver and jump out into the shallow salt water at the shore. Water penetrates my moccasins and leggings, a pleasant shock. Grasping the bow in my right hand, I pull the canoe onto shore, toss the quiver over my shoulder, and run into the meadow.
Panting, I sprint over to the great sugar maple and touch the two horizontal lines I carved yesterday in the bark, three hand spans apart. Today I will stay here until I hit it. The women won’t understand. I don’t understand. But dreams are always true.
I take five long strides toward the meadow, another five, five more, and I turn around, my long black hair batting my face in the wind. The tree is three counts of five paces away, and the two lines on the trunk seem impossibly close together. But today I will hit it.
The arrow is light in my hand as I level the nock and draw back, feeling the string taut in my fingers. I concentrate on the broad trunk of the maple, thinking of what Tsiko said: ‘Aim high and you’ll hit the deer.’ I raise the bow three finger widths toward the sky and—
Lightning fear courses through my arms, the arrow shoots out of the bow and past the tree.
I pivot and see him: Domagaya, standing not four paces away.
I know he will laugh. The women’s laughter is as nothing. But Domagaya’s laughter will slice deeper than seashell.
“You missed.” Domagaya’s voice is deep but playful.
I look up and see the mirth in his eyes. But he's not laughing, only smiling.
“Only because you scared me.” I stare at him, my eyes taking in his broad chest and thick arms, the deep scars of proof on his forearms and thighs and chest. He is the Grand Sachem’s second son. He is our best hunter, and the warrior who saved us last summer. But most of all, he is tall and beautiful, and I adore him.
He pulls his eyes away from me and squints at the maple tree. “Why is a girl of not yet twelve winters using my little brother’s bow? You’ll hurt your arms, and you won’t harvest corn when we return to our kanata.”
“It’s—” I stare into his beautiful eyes, but the feeling is too strong, and I look down.
"You used to run out into the forest in Stadacona—out to the big maple tree near the river. You were shooting arrows there, too? In Stadacona?"
I nod, keeping my head down.
I raise my eyes. “It's my dream.”
"A dream of black snakes," he says, smiling. "An Iroku dream—from the girl of Hodenosaunee blood."
"I'm not Hodenosaunee." He makes me angry with his words. "I'm Myeerah, child of Aataensic. Mine is the dream of a Wendat girl."
He smiles no more, but his eyes are hypnotic. “Dreams are always true—truer than life. But dreams of bow and arrow don’t come to little girls, only to men.”
“I'm not a little girl.” I stare into his face, and his eyes wander over my body. I feel a sudden and strange thrill radiate through me.
“No, you’re not.” He gazes into my eyes, smiling. But it is not the smile of his face—it is the smile of his heart. A cool wind penetrates my leggings, but I feel warm all over.
“Tell me your dream.”
The smile has left his face, but his eyes are intense, as if the wind and the tree and my arrow no longer have significance to him. He needs to hear my dream. I shudder for a moment, then begin.
“A red snake comes to the kanata as the sun sets and wraps around a woman’s leg. As she struggles, the snake's scales fall off, and underneath it's black. Her husband runs to her, bow in hand, but a white wolf comes from behind, sinks his jaws into the man's leg, and pulls him toward the forest. The man throws his bow to the woman, and she shoots an arrow, wounding the white wolf.”
“And the wolf releases the man?”
Domagaya picks up the bow and strides toward the maple; I follow. He knows exactly where to find the arrow, and draws it from the brush. He walks behind me, placing his warm hand on my naked back as he pulls the quiver over my shoulder. I wish for him to continue touching me, but he takes his hand away. I cannot have him, anyway; I am not yet a woman. We walk back out to the meadow.
“You didn’t draw properly.”
I frown. “That’s not why I missed. You startled me.”
“No.” Domagaya nocks the arrow and draws out the sinew. “You need to pull out straight. Watch.” He draws the string back almost to his cheek, his eyes dead on the target, and releases. The arrow flies like lightning and hits the tree with the sound of an axe splitting wood. The point is embedded deep in the tree, right between the horizontal lines.
I run to the maple. With great effort, I pull out the arrow and turn toward Domagaya. Far behind him, past the meadow, on the shores of the Great Salt Water, five canoes approach from the north, farther than the arrow flies, but closing fast. They are not birch bark, but a dark wood of some kind, except for the last canoe—it is pure white. Their paddles are strange.
Domagaya says, “You didn’t tell me what happened to the woman in your dream.”
I see the men in the boat, their markings. My heart skips a beat, and I cannot get my mouth to work. I know who they are, and what they will do. I fall into a crouch.
Domagaya turns to the shore, sees the canoes, and ducks into the grass. “Iroku! Black snakes. Get down!”
I dive into the grass. My heart beats wildly in my ears, louder than the wind, louder than the waves on shore. I hear them now, though I dare not rise up to look. As fast as I can manage, I crawl over to Domagaya.
“They’ve come to take me back,” I whisper. The blood is pounding in my ears, my hands shaking.
“No, you were born here,” Domagaya whispers. “You’re one of us now. You’re Myeerah, daughter of Aataentsic.”
I feel heat on my cheeks and warmth in my heart. He cares about me. He will protect me. He will protect all of us. I huddle close to him, rubbing his arm in affection.
“Through the berry patch.” Domagaya points to the bushes behind the sugar maple. “Take the path to camp. Hurry!”
On my knees, I scurry over to the tree. I look back, and stop breathing. Domagaya, bow in hand, rises to his feet, opens his lips and squints, looking out toward the shore.