The Spawning Grounds has been a decade in the making. I’d like to share something of that journey with you, but first, you may have wondered where I disappeared to.
In 1996, Knopf published my first novel, The Cure for Death by Lightning, in the inaugural year of The New Face of Fiction program, along with the hugely talented Yann Martel, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Dionne Brand. That program launched all our careers both nationally and internationally. Knopf went on to publish each of my novels in the years that followed: A Recipe for Bees, A Rhinestone Button and Turtle Valley. I’m proud to say that all of the books were bestsellers.
Then, the year Turtle Valley was published, my mother, Irene Anderson, died after having a stroke. She was also a writer and had been my first mentor, offering inspiration for many of my stories. So when she passed away, there was a hole not only in my personal life, but in my writing life as well. You’ll see something of that loss reflected in The Spawning Grounds. By the time of her death, my father was already gone. I had just had two children of my own, then remarried and took on two wonderful step-children. Now mom to four, I had also just begun a teaching position within a creative writing MFA program. As is the case for so many of us, my forties had roared in like a lion. I had very little time or energy left over for my writing life. Even so, I published six short novels for adult literacy learners, and through that whole tumultuous decade I found at least an hour a day of sanctuary within The Spawning Grounds.
The seed of this novel sprouted around the time I remarried, as my husband, Mitch Krupp, volunteered for a river restoration project in the Shuswap, doing GIS work (mapping, data crunching). I realized that here, on a river, I had a situation for the novel I hoped to write, one that explored the fluid boundaries between the First Nations and settler cultures. As I worked through the initial ideas for this project, I witnessed courting eagles, their talons locked together, cartwheel down from the sky and land, with a thud, in the bush. The image of this rather failed courtship dance struck me as a metaphor for the relationship between settler and First Nations communities. We are family – the two cultures are already intimately intertwined -- but that family is deeply dysfunctional. I wanted to write about these complex issues at that family level, rather than at the political level. And largely because I had my own family responsibilities, it took me nearly ten years to do that.
My mother always said that a woman could count on life calming down after the storm of her forties had passed, and she was right. I now understand why women writers so often produce their best work in their fifties. The kids are grown, or well on their way, stepping out into their own lives. The house is quiet. The day is sunny and clear of domestic worry. A clean page awaits, and we have a new story to tell now, one tempered by our own maturity.
Today, I offer you the first novel of my fifties, The Spawning Grounds. The book was born out of everything I love most: family; community; the rivers, valleys and blue hills of the Shuswap; and the stories inherent to that landscape. I hope reading The Spawning Grounds is as pleasurable and as magical for you as writing it was for me.
All my very best,