Forward to THE HAIDA GWAII DETOUR 2nd edition
My fascination with Haida Gwaii began in my teens. When I eventually went there, I had plans to stay for two months but remained for six years. Sharing such an amazing, exhilarating, challenging, and intense experience through the written word is risky – not trying might have been worse.
After finishing seven novels, I knew that this novel, just like the main character, Ethan, had to break form in every way. But still, I had to build a trust with the reader throughout the narrative. How, otherwise, could I share the impact of incidents and how these incidents shape community? I also wanted to portray the landscape as what it is: character. And what combination of literary format and point of view might serve both the long narrative and this first collection of stories? What collection ensured the hero’s continuation through more volumes that would continue to unfurl surprise and delight the reader’s imagination enough to ignite and then meet the excitement of his and her expectations? The single thing I understood about this work from the beginning was that a commercial approach, taking a rigid point of view and producing a standard three act structure, would not solve these riddles or represent the opportunity for internal affirmations and discoveries. Droning on in the third person, past tense might produce a memoir, but that would not satisfy any true expression of growth or explain why I stayed for six years. My own first expectations demolished, I met, loved, quarreled, worked, and recreated with a vivid and dramatic array of locals, some of whom are, at least in part or as amalgams, characters in THE HAIDA GWAII DETOUR.
Leaving one culture to experience another has become a necessity in a world where media, corporations, religions, and governments are desperate for control, telling people how to perceive each other and themselves. As members of a global community, it is our duty to reject crass consumerism and rediscover our humanity. Life! It is not a symptom. Neither should our lives ever be reduced to a bank account, although life may be a line of spiritual credit. Do we exist as profit generating opportunities for a reckless, bullying commercial system obsessed with unending wars? Are we satisfied with neo-fascist governments intent on careening through freedoms won by preceding generations?
Go! Know the feeling -- your pure right to freedom. Revitalize the innate wisdom with which you were gifted when you first cried to the world, “I am here!” Know we are all different and all the same. Know there are many valid and different views of history, spirituality, and context in this world. Know that we all want a good life and a hopeful future, anticipated with the knowledge that ours was not stolen from someone less fortunate than ourselves. Go! Relearn that people are amazing and return healthy, cleansed, compassionate, and illuminated.
I assigned myself a daunting task and made a pact with my future readers and myself to convey with conviction and honesty my own feelings of a sense of rebirth, make interesting and present in a new context that vulnerability to informal learning, and show character as determined by incident. I had to discover an engaging hero – but how to stay consistent with content? In practical terms, the journey to Haida Gwaii is a wonderful adventure, as spiritual as it is the discovery of a beautiful, terrible, real landscape and community that must never disappear. What would be the effective presentation of that experience? How does one keep the story alive, the reader interested, and the form true to the content of the surprising unexpected, delightful serendipity, menacing skullduggery, and innocent amazement? What device set before the reader would reveal the sense of illumination of the metaphysical aspects of this archipelago without preaching?
Some basics apply: content determines literary form, landscape has character, character is the determination of incident, and incident is the illumination of character. I was also resolved to write myself out of the narration. Still, we had to know the narrator before he left for Haida Gwaii. (Until a certain point in the story, I contribute directly, but eventually the characters take the wheel and drive the narration, relegating your author to participate from the figurative back seat, where I have grown accustomed to this maturation in my characters and their departure from design.)
The content required two narrators to show how the islands affect one. This was a necessity because visiting Haida Gwaii does indeed season the traveler.
At first blush, Ethan is wordy, naïve, and has had the sheen of inexperience rubbed away, but he is not yet so cynical he is invulnerable to the sway of others. Most importantly, he has been gilded, not by gold, but his creativity and originality has been threatened by a one-size-fits-all “education.” Ethan was never going to be cowed and led through the pastures of history or the mountains and valleys of his future by a tethered nose ring. He was foremost an adventurer and a rebel, casting his youth and years with those living beyond enclosures – and expectations. His context was always going to be the real world, the open range… His need was the highest purpose in life: freedom.
The set up presents Ethan labouring within a disarming set of social and intellectual challenges until Dan, his friend, compels him to move to Haida Gwaii. Ethan needs inspiration, and Dan’s insistence, as if a wizard’s wand, excites in him the simple and romantic notion a change of occupation and scenery might rekindle his writing. The notion of a new start is his impetus, his call to action, so Ethan departs for Haida Gwaii. This is the inciting incident in the novel.
Before leaving, Ethan asks his friend, Jonathan, to collect and collate his journals and letters while he is away. The literary function of the friend, who becomes Ethan’s scribe, is an interrupting voice found throughout the first sections of the novel. The scribe halts the flow of the text to provide superfluous or even awkward information. The scribe’s interference is a nagging reminder of the life Ethan left behind. The interjections are meant to lift the reader’s eyes and imagination above the pages, perhaps even to challenge or at least consider the author’s intentions or the novel’s viability. Such a gambit (more commonly found in film, outside of comedy, a narrative interruption in modern novels is rare), but how else to stimulate in the reader the right to expect more than a single-dimension memoir? Is the portrayal of “the most spiritual place I’ve ever been” to be constructed with less of a dynamic? The reader rejecting the scribe is his or her first step toward shared awareness of form and is one of many unexpected aspects of the content. Wanting to present and then narrow this gap between the reader and the narration with some elegance and without injury to the reader’s trust is the writer’s craft. His responsibility is the truth.
The mid-point of the story (construed, perhaps, as within the second act) pivots on a violent incident. Ethan risks everything and wins a clean slate.
The scribe removes himself and his influence and interjections, the narration is liberated, and the point of view changes dramatically, drawing the reader deeper into Ethan’s “new” consciousness. The reader is free, just as Ethan is also liberated by the simple and strongest of human facts that he is still alive. His remarkable escape from death awakens in him an appreciation for every breath he takes in the exhilarating, uncompromising landscape. The incident peels back the last decaying layers of his socialization, leaving him shaken, raw, reborn, and in love again with life.
Having seen his reflection in Death’s scythe, and while still soaking wet with purifying water, Ethan’s catharsis begins, launching a new internal journey. The last filters and narrative obstacles are removed; the reader stands in the sun or rain alongside Ethan to share and feel what he sees, hears, smells, tastes, what he learns, fears, hates, what and who he loves, free of control by any wizard with a wand or author at the keyboard. Each experience is related true to its nature. Each experience reveals another layer of Ethan’s natural connection to the islands and the characters living and who have passed there. Life is an open, radiant source of experience true to its direct connection to the heart and to the soul. Each incident, whether a delight, a horror, or a tragedy is intense and rewarding. Ethan and the reader are linked to the greatest prizes of all: illumination and freedom.
The final twist in the tale is that the paradoxical nature of a discovery quest dictates, however sad it may be, that the hero’s journey can only be fulfilled and therefore fully appreciated after he returns to where he began. If your author has succeeded, it is the quest that remains for the restless adventurer and perhaps the reader, for the end of one journey only initiates the possibility of the next…
 See Henry James and his Theory of Illumination.