Maia Caron is the Métis author of Song of Batoche, a historical novel that was #11 on CBC’s 95 must-read books of 2017 and CBC’s 12 historical novels to read, summer 2018.
Born and raised in the mountains of British Columbia, Maia has had short stories and essays in The Dalhousie Review, The Nashwaak Review, the Women Awakening series, and Skeptic Magazine. Song of Batoche is her first novel and was chosen by Raven Reads as their spring 2018 Read for Reconciliation. Maia lives in Toronto and is a member of the Métis Nation of Ontario.
Ahead of her September 12th appearance, Maia tells us how she learned to write dialogue for the dead.
If you’re drawn to write historical fiction, you’re probably the type who enjoys minding other peoples’ business. You’re irresistibly drawn to the lost inner thoughts of those who lived and breathed on this earth long before you were born. And you’re comfortable with the idea that historical fiction is basically writing dialogue for the dead.
I was recently asked by someone on Goodreads if I could provide some insight into the research I did for Song of Batoche, my historical novel about the Métis North-West Resistance of 1885. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times, a question that I think also asks, in subtext: “What is true in this historical novel and what isn’t?”
To write Song of Batoche, I immersed myself in seven years of research. I still had research books open while working with my editor and copy editor, days before the book was going to print for advance reading copies. Why the obsession over detail when I was writing “a story?”
Early on in my research, I heard the voices of the Métis women of Batoche, some of them my own ancestors. Yet I couldn’t write a novel about the Métis North-West Resistance without including Louis Riel’s point of view. Riel is central to the Métis narrative and one of the most controversial figures in Canadian history. This put a whole lot of pressure on me to get him “right” but ultimately, Louis Riel was the most rewarding part of researching and writing Song of Batoche.
In historical texts, Riel is either demonized or sanctified. Exactly the kind of stereotypes that writers wish to avoid when fictionalizing a historical figure. The Riel whose dialogue I would write was surely not the one-dimensional traitor formed in the minds of Canadians from high school history classes taught by settlers. And not the one-dimensional hero revered as a saint by the Métis.
I read the many books about him and poured over his prodigious writings. Who was this complex man, variously described as insane, a religious zealot, a visionary, and a politically brilliant leader? It was only in curious lines in Riel’s diary or poems (such as this one that he wrote in 1866), that gave me a glimpse of his secret inner life:
I hear funeral dirges inside me.
Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, articulated her own process in writing historical fiction:
“I track the historical record so I can report the outer world faithfully – but my chief concern is with the interior drama of my characters’ lives. From history, I know what they do, but I can’t with any certainty know what they think or feel.”
The historical novelist takes notes from all of these dry historical records and, as Mantel writes, “breaks through the false wall” to connect to the hidden story.
This is an arduous process, not for the faint of heart (or eyes—all that reading!) and it’s why my next book is a psychological thriller. Come hear me read from my new work on September 12th!
Maia Caron visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, September 12, 2018 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Mehri Yalfani, Clementine Morrigan, Emily Sanford , and guest speaker Bardia Sinaee who will present, “How to Read a Poem.”