Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mountain City Bronzes by Madeleine McLaughlin


 Kevin learns about the evil in his town and how his father is a part of it. But he still needs to learn what is behind the locked door.

I tap my head and wonder how could jail have been so much fun when I was a child? Back then, I remember noticing only good things behind the solid stone walls where my dad worked.

Those idyllic times in our small North BC community shine with magic in my mind. Not like the vast, evil prisons I visit in the metropolises I now live in. Following Dad's path into prison guarding, I still learn from experience how criminals take advantage of each other's inadequacies and how much violence resounds through the walls.

Yet I'll never forget those years I spent with my dad in his jail, having a ball. If I close my eyes, I can still feel the cool stone walls against my hands...

The jail was a great refuge in June, but even in the winter, I found it pleasant to play in. There was so much fun imagining the structure when it was full, back in the gold rush. I could almost hear the walls and floors resounding to the voices of the thousands of lawless men that lived back then. In the large, empty vastness of our jail, I loved pretending I needed to find escape routes.

One day after tramping through the halls for an hour, I found a locked door. Why is it shut tight? What is behind that door? I pounded and twiddled the lock until my hands turned red, but it was large and solid. I even once tried a bit of lock picking, but ran away when I considered how criminal my actions were.

I just couldn't bring myself to break the law and lose Dad's respect. It wasn't even possible for me to miss a day hanging about, as I just wished to be with him. Every day after school, I rushed to see my dad, the jailer for our community. My feet would bang along the path I had beaten down between the school and the jail. I needed to be able to hear his laughter when my breath puffed after landing on those granite legs, as he always let his good boy do.

Even in my struggles over homework, Dad laughed. Especially when he caught me rushing through my loathsome sums. His gentle heart allowed a boy the freedom to be imperfect. When all was done, I played as I pleased.

When paperwork about the jail took Dad's time, I was banned from the office. Exploring the narrow corridors became a favorite pastime as I leaped and smashed the stone walls, proving how tough a mere boy could be. My eyes widened at each corner because mad trappers lurked in my imagination. Of course, as the hero of my own stories, every confrontation became a victory for me. In my dreams, Dad congratulated me, and I became a big man like him. At the end of my play, I wound up in the same place. The door that was always locked.

Why lock that particular door? Sometimes I concentrated on the depth behind my dad's brown eyes and asked, “What is in there?”

A pained look would cross his face, a type of hurt I couldn't understand. His gaze darted away from mine and focused somewhere in the distance behind me.

“Kevin,” he answered once, “you do not want to know. It would not do you any good.” A few more times I pressed my dad.

“The room,” he said, “has been locked since my childhood.”

Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
I have read the book Wuthering Heights at least fifty times. All the characters stand out even if some think they're caricatures. I believe all the characters stand for traits that Emily Bronte saw in people in society, for instance, Isabella stands for all the women who blind themselves as to the worth of their love interest, Heathcliff explains why these women do this when he states that 'she pictured me a hero of romance' There are still women today who do this. Heathcliff draws me in the most, I think because he seems to have this power. I believe Emily Bronte is saying that negative traits are easy to acquire and create a kind of dependency on bad behavior. It's hard to be good when it's so much fun being bad. Of course, Heathcliff does not get his love-interest, Catherine while Hareton and Cathy get each other through being good. I think it's hard to make good people interesting in fiction and liars and cheaters move the story right along but I take Wuthering Heights to be an explanation of why things happen in society and as I think she got a lot right, I'm drawn to the characters because of it.

What was the scariest moment of your life?
My family liked the outdoors whenever we went of vacation. I was about two, I think, when my parents rented a cabin in northern Ontario. There was a long dock and I immediately ran down it and promptly fell in the water. I looked up, the water was not deep, and saw, under the dock, the biggest spider I have ever seen. I'm willing to believe that as I was small, I thought it was bigger than it was but I'm not sure. I was terrified of that thing and cried and cried and couldn't sleep. My mother said, no matter how big a spider is, it's not as big as you, but it didn't help.

Are the names of the characters in your novels important? How and why?
Sometimes a name just grows on a character and sometimes you get the name and once in a while you write a story around the name. I know some writers, if there character is cold-hearted, they'll give him or her the last name of Snow or something but I like to just think up names. I am writing a full-length novel and I have named all the characters after one set of ancestors who came to Montreal, Canada in 1874. They were a big family and I got interested in them because they all worked for the railways. The daughters all married men who worked for the railways, too. So it made me think there must be quite a culture of railway workers. Strangely, both my grandfathers also worked for the railways. My mom's dad as a section foreman out in the wild of Alberta and my dad's dad in Montreal and Nova Scotia. One thing, if you're writing historical fiction, you need a name that would be in use back then. Kesia for someone in the nineteenth century wouldn't work.

Say your publisher has offered to fly you anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book, where would you most likely want to go?

Lytton, BC and then onto Vancouver, BC. I am very interested in the story of the Asians in British Columbia. I have done some research from Ottawa about a crime in Lytton in 1885 or thereabouts and I'd like to go there to search the old newspapers about the people involved. The perpetrator and victim were both Chinese and I'd like to know something about how the Chinese were treated in Lytton. One had a store and seemed to get along with the whites, the other was a gold prospector. I would learn something about Chinese culture so that I would know why they reacted the way they did during the crime and during the trial. The trait of losing face I'd have to look into and for that, I'd need to go to Vancouver to the museums there and ask what they could tell me about Chinese culture in Canada at that time and also if the courts would have treated them differently because of their race.

Have any of your characters been modelled after yourself?
I use a bit of myself for everything I write. I find the darkest fears can be used in dark characters and the positive traits can be played off them. It's like having an argument with yourself sometimes but that's good, it makes things clearer in my mind. But also, I use handwriting analysis to create characters. I mentioned my ancestors above. I have their signatures and although a professional would not just use a signature. I find that signatures are a good way to understand and come up with conflicts. Say if the signature of the husband shows generosity and the wife shows thrift, there is a great deal of conflict that can be imagined.

Describe what it's like to be an author in three words.  It's the best.

I was born in the cold north of Canada but grew up by the Pacific Ocean. I spent a lot of time wandering up and down the beach, picking up sand dollars and turning over rocks to find baby crabs. In my twenties I moved to Vancouver but really felt like I wanted to live out east. First, I went to Toronto and lived there for six months but found it too big for me. So I came to Ottawa and have lived here ever since.

For money I've had varied jobs, none of them government jobs which 80% of Ottawans have, but in the private sector. I enjoy swimming and walking and genealogy. I have found many nice cousins from my family research, one of whom invited me to Winnipeg where she paid for my whole stay there. I had a fabulous time with her.

I've written throughout my life but only got serious in the 1990s. I have many short stories and flash fiction and a couple of begun novels that I can work on. I like to visit with my friends and family and hope to do a bit of traveling sometime in the future. I enjoy also, hearing from readers and other writers.

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