I’m in the process of writing a third novel which, like the second, has action set in two countries. This time, I have detectives working on parallel cases without realizing they’re related. It’s raised some interesting challenges because I wanted to use the same chronology. While an investigator in one country is at an autopsy, for example, the other is being informed about a body. The reader will know that the information from the autopsy in Cuba is relevant to the murder in Canada long before the police have any idea that the two are connected.
In both The Beggar’s Opera and The King’s Indian, the plots are tightly compressed into one short, intense week. Same with this one. It requires me sitting down with a calendar and a daytimer, to keep track of what the characters are doing. (Along with moving them in and out of various scenes, I need to make sure that I don’t forget to feed them or let them sleep. Kind of like those digital toys the Japanese put out, the Tamagotchis, that require their owners to feed them and clean them and turn off the lights at night so they can sleep, or else they could get sick and die. )
This book is tentatively entitled Manomin Bay, which is the name of a fictitious First Nation community (‘manomin’ means wild rice in Ojibway). The first book flowed like water, if I can use that analogy. The second was a bit like wading through a slightly rockier stream. In this one, I feel like I’m slogging through mud. I keep getting stuck.
Last night, I deviated from the plot a little, and decided to let my lead Canadian character, an Aboriginal detective, go to a sweat lodge. I thought that maybe whatever he discovered there would be useful in promoting the story I was trying to tell.
I’ve worked with First Nations peoples for almost thirty years in different capacities, but I’ve never been to a sweat myself, only various smudging ceremonies. I’ve certainly heard about them, though, and the tremendous healing power they have.
For a few hours last night, I read through online accounts of what happens inside. Then it occurred to me that like other spiritual/religious ceremonies, the sweat lodge probably hasn’t changed much over the decades, and I decided to check some historical accounts from early explorers of what they’d seen and been told.
Gold mine! George Nelson’s ‘The Orders of the Dreamed’ was written in 1823, and it’s all about the religions and myths of the northern Ojibway. For a book that, like the others, strays into religion and the supernatural, it gave me something to work with. For the first time in several weeks, the words flowed again: I wrote two new chapters.
It’s taking me in a slightly different direction than I had in mind when I started, but I’m going with the current. And that’s what I’ve found, in this business of writing: that you have to go with the flow. Your characters take you to places you’ve never dreamed of. Places only your characters can know.
Perhaps, as Nelson’s book suggests, we write on ‘The Orders of the Dreamed.’