SOME ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Watermark is set on a fictional island in Lake Huron. Is this story related to your own personal history?
I grew up on Manitoulin Island, in Lake Huron. The fictional Mikinaak Island from Watermark is in many ways a thinly veiled version of Manitoulin, and people familiar with this magical place in Northern Ontario will likely feel that resonance. However, while the setting is drawn from my childhood, the story comes purely from my imagination.
2. How is Watermark a uniquely Northern Ontarian story, and why did you choose that setting?
Since I was a teenager, I have wanted to write a regional Canadian novel—I dreamed of having a crack at the ‘Great Northern Ontarian Novel’ if you will. :)
In my late thirties, when I finally began outlining ideas for the rough draft of my first novel, I got really excited about all the very Northern Ontarian activities I could weave into such a story—gathering morels, deer hunting, ice fishing, the smelt run, snowmobiling, boating, the juxtaposition of local kids and wealthy tourists in the summer, etc. It was so much fun to revisit these activities of my youth and work them into the story. My hope was that it would touch a place of recognition for Northern Ontarians, but also be an interesting peek into Northern Ontario culture for readers from other parts. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Northern Ontario in the 70s and 80s, and in a way, this book was a love letter to that time and place. Although quite a dark love letter at times!
3. In Watermark, the main character Marina is deeply influenced by the Anishinaabe stories and people that permeated the island’s culture. What can you tell us about your own experiences growing up on Manitoulin Island among several Anishinaabe communities and how that shaped Marina's story?
Manitoulin Island has a large Indigenous population—about forty percent of the people who live on the Island are Anishnaabe. In this way, Manitoulin’s demographics are similar to Watermark’s fictional Mikinaak Island, with its European-Canadian and Indigenous communities living side by side.
I grew up surrounded by Indigenous classmates and friends, and I learned a lot about their way of life, their stories and beliefs, as you do when cultures co-exist in a small, isolated place. In high school, my best friend was an Anishnaabe girl who lived on the reserve next to my town, so my own history as a young person was influenced a lot by her. Not that I really thought about it as learning about her culture. Basically, I just loved hanging out with my friend Candy.
Canadian literature is currently experiencing a major shift in how non-Indigenous writers include Indigenous characters and culture. In my own personal history, as well as in Marina’s, the line between what is acceptable exploration of a neighbouring culture and what is appropriation is somewhat indistinct. How do we make space for acknowledging the geographical relationship a person has with a culture? How do we make room for respectful literary exploration of different cultures while still recognizing the boundaries these groups would like to be respected?
Considering Canada’s history of colonisation and genocide of Indigenous people, it is understandable that there is tension around the issue of who gets to tell stories with Indigenous content. I genuinely understand the need for a marginalized group to protect their culture from being disrespectfully represented, or trivialized, or having certain elements of their culture misrepresented outside of its cultural context. Putting a cultural limit on what kind of characters and stories fiction writers can craft creates a tricky situation, however, as it is the job of a fiction writer to explore voices of people of different races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and abilities.
Canadian fiction is going through a process of redefining its boundaries, of deciding what types of cultural exploration in the name of artistic freedom are acceptable, and I think this will continue to shift for some time. We’re constantly evolving as a country—I’m curious to see how fiction evolves as a result of this increased sensitivity within storytelling. I admit I have some nervousness as a white writer at this particular moment in Canada, with my main character in Watermark exploring her relationship to Indigenous stories. Yet I am primarily hopeful that readers will connect and empathize with this story of island life, knowing that I have done my absolute best to write it from a place of understanding and respect.
4. Do you do author visits for book clubs? And what are your expectations?
Yes! I really enjoy doing visits for book clubs, either in person, or via Skype or Facetime. Please contact me if your bookclub would like to book a visit. At this point I don't charge for my time for this, but I do ask that people buy and read the book in preparation for the meeting.