On Location At The French

The pathway to the west.

I visited the French River because it is the setting of my novel River of the Stick Wavers.  I wanted to experience first-hand what it felt like to be there, but what I gained was far more
than I could have ever imagined.

Being a woman alone in a setting that is more isolated than I am used to in the town of 100,000 people gave me new insight into how my character Grace might have felt being alone at the French River after the death of her husband John.  I felt strange walking into a restaurant to eat by myself.  It made me more aware of the couples and families vacationing together as I sat at my lonely table.  Even the men didn’t travel alone preferring to enjoy their fishing vacation with a buddy.  I quickly learned to bring a book to read so I wouldn’t have to see the wondering glances in my direction or watch as others enjoy the kinship of family and friends.

Mornings were the hardest when I had to get up in my lonely motel room and start the day.  The first thing I did was put the TV on so I could be surrounded by noise.  I had so expected to enjoy the peace and quiet of the French River, but I was also afraid of the voices in my head that would remind me of what could befall a woman alone far from her family.  But what I found out was you truly can “count of the kindness of strangers.”

The caretaker of the Beausejour, Dennis and I began our acquaintance over the weather when I poked my head out the door one morning wondering what to wear.  We later talked, and when I told him I was researching a novel set at the French River he told me about Melanie, who worked at the restaurant and bar, who knew about the history of the area.   She, in turned told me where the local library was where I could find out about residential schools in the area, one of the two pieces of information I had yet to confirm for my book.

The proprietor of the Beausejour, Wendy was also very helpful when I had trouble with my cell phone.  I had planned on going on a Champlain cruise at Wolseley Bay, only to find out the owner had died the previous winter and they were no longer doing cruises. Wendy set me up with another cruise at the Lodge at Pine Cove, which turned out extremely well.  I was introduced to the owner Alex Strachan who is friends with people on the Dokis reserve.  He, in turn, connected me with Norman Dokis who also had information about residential schools that was very enlightening.  I not only had the pleasure of meeting Alex but he took me on a tour of his beautiful resort, and I found out that they have a writing retreat in May of each year that looks interesting.

On the cruise I met a lovely couple who teach at McMaster University in Hamilton.  Grace teaches literature (what were the chances?) and her husband, Travis teaches religious studies.  They were curious as to why I was visiting the French River and when I told them I was researching for a novel, they were very interested.  That got me thinking that it might be a good idea to send a copy (or many copies) of my novel to the lodge when it is published.  Surely people there would be interested in reading a novel set in the area.  From there it was a small stretch to think that perhaps the Trading Post at the French River would also be interested in selling copies of my novel.  So you see, my world was opening up past my expectations.  I hadn’t thought about promoting my book beyond my small world.  Now I could also consider other places where there might be an interested market.

On a cruise around Four Mile Island.

This brings me to Alan and Fiona.  They are the son and daughter-in-law of my friend Helen, whom I spent an afternoon with on Four Mile Island at the French.  They are from Ottawa and suggested I promote my book there as well.  And if there, then why not Toronto?  My daughter and my editor both live in Toronto.  How hard could it be to ask indie book stores to support a new author?

Speaking of Helen.  It is her families camp at Four Mile Island that I settled on for the temporary home of my character Grace.  Helen’s love and knowledge of the area opened my eyes and added much to my book The River of the Stick Wavers:  Its history, its people, and its mythology, and its landscape were integral to my story.  I just had to see all the places I had only heard about and read about. I visited Recollet Falls, where Friars died in its turbulent waters.  I went to the French River Visitors Centre where all I knew about the history of the area was confirmed.  Then there was the Trading Post where I placed a minor, but important character, in my book.  Although I must add that the trading post of my novel is much more rustic and sells grocery items as well as other much needed goods to the locals, the trading post of today is a wonderful place to buy books, prints, jewelry, leather items, and many other mementos of the area.

All the places I visited I had to drive to alone on country roads, but I did it and it was worth it.  I overcame loneliness by learning to take each day as it came without expectation.  So on my final day when it rained non-stop, preventing me from venturing out, I decided that it was OK to stay inside and lay low for the day.  I opted to start writing about my stay at the French, I watched a movie and did some reading and the day passed in no time.

After the six hour drive home (not counting stops) I found myself tired for days afterward.  It took me a week to get back up to speed.  I later came to understand that travel changes you.  There was much information to process in my mind. I was thinking about the best publishing process for me.  I needed to follow through on the contacts I had made while at the French in order to determine how the results might affect my characters.  But most importantly I needed to assimilate all that I had learned and seen and experienced and that takes time and self-care – something else I learned.

I’m glad I went to the French River.  I’d go again in a minute.  But next time I think I’d like to just go and sit on a rock overlooking Wolseley Bay and just relax.

NEXT WEEK:  My trip to Recollet Falls.

Categories: Memoir, Writer's Notes

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