Tag Archives: Thunder Bay

The Light Keeper’s Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol

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You can’t beat a local story by a local author and this novel excels in all departments. I literally could not put this book down as it drew me into the story of the lighthouse keeper on Porphyry Island and his two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. It is not possible to say much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are enough twists and turns to keep you fully engaged right up to the last page.

The story is also told by another key character, Morgan, whose urban life in Thunder Bay is intimately connected (but unknown to her) with the light keepers daughters. I have noted that while English literature is shaped by history, Canadian literature is dominated by the natural environment, and the point is well proven in this novel. The real star of the show is the landscape, dominated by Porphyry Island, which is almost magical in its appeal. Silver Islet, the Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior also feature strongly.

Jean E. Pendziwol pulls you into her compelling narrative which contrasts the slow pace of an idyllic life growing up on Porphyry Island, to the fast pace and perils of modern city life. Porphyry was the second lighthouse constructed on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, and first lit the waters near Black Bay in 1873. Andrew Dick, the keeper on Porphyry Island from 1880 to 1910, left behind several personal journals that recorded his time at the light with his Indigenous wife Caroline and their ten children. These journals were the inspiration for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters which is a testament to the Canadian men and women who served as Great Lakes lighthouse keepers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

John Pateman is CEO/Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.

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Interview with Amy Jones

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Amy Jones photoAmy Jones won the 2006 CBC Literary Prize for Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2005 Bronwen Wallace Award.  She is a graduate of the Optional Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and her fiction has appeared in Best Canadian Stories and The Journey Prize Stories.  Her debut collection of stories, What Boys Like, won the 2008 Metcalf-Rooke Award and was a finalist for the 2010 ReLit Award.  Originally from Halifax, she now lives in Thunder Bay, where she is associate editor of The Walleye.  Follow her on Twitter @AmyLauraJones.

Her debut novel, We’re All In This Together, has been chosen as the Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community title.  Be sure to check out tbpl.ca/onebook for more information,  and for details about our upcoming events and reading challenges!  She will also be participating in the International Festival of Authors‘ Lit on Tour event in Thunder Bay November 1st.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write We’re All In This Together?

Amy Jones: I always knew I wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay, ever since I moved here. I had been working on a few ideas, but nothing really stuck. We had visited Kakabeka Falls quite a few times, and every time I was there I would always wonder if anyone had ever gone over, either on purpose or accidentally. We would come up with scenarios, like, if you fell in here, would you be able to swim to shore? Do you think anyone could survive this? And one day it all just came together and I was like, this is it, this is what I need to write about. It just made sense, that this place that inspired me so much in life would provide me with the inspiration for my first novel.

You always knew you wanted to write a novel set in Thunder Bay – why is that?

For a couple of reasons. One, I really believe in the importance of representation, and I feel like the more books and movies and art that are set in Thunder Bay, or recreate the artist’s experience of Thunder Bay, the better understood Thunder Bay will be. It’s also important for people to see their own experience reflected back to them in art, and the number of people who have come up to me since the book has been published, so excited to read about a place they know, just proves that to me even further. Two, one of the themes I really wanted to explore in the novel is the idea of “home,” and that whole push-pull it exerts on all of us. One thing about Thunder Bay that stands out to me is how rooted people are here, how strongly they are connected to their families, and yet how many people have to leave in order to find work, or for school, or whatever. People want to go out and make their own way, but also the north always seems to draw people back. So it was the perfect place to explore those themes.

That’s very true! When reading We’re All In This Together, one of my colleagues noticed that you name some Thunder Bay restaurants (like Norma Jean’s and Nippers) but not others. Was there a reason for that?  Did you have to get permission to use the real names?

I use real names for places that don’t figure as prominently in the story, but I make up names for places that I don’t want to be beholden to reality when describing. For instance, Barkley’s is based on a specific bar but it’s not exactly that bar, and by naming it something else I can make it fictional, and therefore do what I want with it (no one can argue, for instance, about how “at the real bar, the bathrooms are on the OTHER side of the room!”)

I sure hope I didn’t have to get permission! I think my publisher would have told me.

I’m sure they would have! How many of the houses in your book are based on reality?

Most are based in some reality. I set the Parker’s house quite near my own for the same reason I made Finn and Nicki close to my age: laziness (it’s much easier to figure out years or distances that way!) But their house is not a specific house on Victor Street, it is more an amalgam of a few houses. Same with the house Katriina buys. I take elements I like from each house and put them together.

Remaining true to the way Thunder Bay people speak, your characters say things like “camp” instead of “cottage.”  Why did you decide to use this distinction, especially since your book is being read by people who may not be familiar with Thunder Bay colloquialisms?

It was really important to me to get things “right” about Thunder Bay, especially the feel of the place, the atmosphere, the certain culture. I don’t think any of the references I make are so obscure that people who are not from here wouldn’t understand what they were (or if they are, I make sure they are explained somehow). I remember during the editing process my editor asked me about a character saying that her friend moved “down south.” She thought it meant, like, Florida or the Caribbean (as I did, before I moved here!) But when I explained to her that this is how people from Thunder Bay refer to Southern Ontario, she was like, okay, it should stay.

We’re All In This Together has ten different characters who all get chapters as the narrator.  Why did you decide on so many narratives?

I didn’t really decide on it more than it just kind of happened. The novel began as two short stories, one featuring Finn and the other featuring Katriina. When I realized that there were similarities between the two, I thought, okay, this can be a longer narrative. Then as the story progressed, it became important to me for Kate to have a voice, because I didn’t want her story to be told only by others. Then London pretty much insisted on having a voice, too. After that, it became important to have the others in order to balance out the story, in order to show things from many perspectives. So much of the book is centred around perception, and how we all (especially within families) remember things differently, have different views of the same event. Having the multiple narrators allowed me to explore that further.

Did you have a particular character you identified with more than the others?

A lot of people tell me that they pictured me as Finn, maybe because she is the one who moved away from her family. And I definitely had a lot in common with London when I was younger. But if I were to pick a character I identified with the most, it would be Katriina—her constant over-thinking of things, of wanting to keep everything together for everyone. I find it hard to read over her scenes sometimes, because of that.

Okay, I have to ask – was the idea of the shark in Lake Superior based in reality at all?

Haha, no, it wasn’t! It’s just another of those things we always talked about, whether or not the possibility existed, if it had ever happened. I think I might have seen something on television about it once, probably on Shark Week. It became a joke between me and my boyfriend, because he is really afraid of sharks. And then, like everything else in my life, it just became fodder for fiction.

So what are you working on now?

A new novel! It’s in the very early stages right now, so I don’t want to jinx it, but I definitely feel like I want to keep up the momentum with the novel writing.

Good luck!  Let’s finish up with a little bit about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I don’t think it was just one… when I was a kid I loved to read, and would often invent new endings for books that I felt didn’t end the way I wanted them to (in fact, until I was an adult I always thought the blank pages at the end of books were there so you could write your own endings). When I first decided to try to write as a profession, I read a lot of contemporary Canadian and American short fiction: Lisa Moore, Barbara Gowdy, Annabel Lyon, Lee Henderson, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Aimee Bender, Rick Moody, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley. All of them inspired me in different ways.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I don’t think so, actually. Reading is such a personal thing, and it really breaks my heart when I try to match up someone I love with a book that I love and it doesn’t work. I don’t think there is one book out there that will speak to everyone, but as long as there is one book that speaks to you, that’s what matters.

And what are you currently reading?

I’m on a huge mystery kick, so I’ve been reading a lot of Laura Lippman, Tana French, Megan Abbott. I’ve just started the new Megan Abbott, You Will Know Me. I’m also really looking forward to the new Louise Penny at the end of the month!

We're All In This Together cover photo

We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones

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We're All In This Together cover photo

Most of us have watched a viral video online.  But what happens if that video involves someone from your family?  And you first hear about it on the news?

That’s what happens to Finn Parker in Amy Jones’ debut novel We’re All In This Together.  Finn sees a video of a woman go over Kakabeka Falls in a barrel and survive.  That woman just happens to be her mother, Kate.  Finn finds herself pulled back to a life, a town, and the family which she had abandoned.  Her twin sister, Nicki, doesn’t want her back in Thunder Bay.  Their dad, Walter, is mostly absent, out on Lake Superior rather than facing his family.  Their adopted brother, Shawn, is trying to hold the Parkers together while his wife, Katriina, is slowly falling apart on the sidelines.   And Nicki’s teenage daughter, London, is more concerned with meeting the marine biologist she has a crush on than having anything to do with her stupid family.

We’re All In This Together is written from multiple viewpoints, which lets you see the same events through often drastically different perspectives.  This was most evident between Finn and Nicki, who are identical in looks but totally different on the inside.  These viewpoints reinforce how real the Parker family is.  Sure they are dysfunctional in their way, but what family isn’t?  The story, while sometimes a bit crazy, will keep you reading.  We’re All In This Together gives hope for how even a splintered family can come back together in a time of great need.

We’re All In This Together is The Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community book.  For more information and to get involved in our fall events for this book, please visit tbpl.ca/onebook.

 

Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

Teaser Trailer for Pineville Heist by Lee Chambers

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pineville still

Local writer and director Lee Chambers has released the first teaser trailer to the movie, based on his hit novel, “The Pineville Heist”.  We did a great interview with him on the blog and are expecting the movie to be a success. The movie which was shot in and around Thunder Bay and features a number of local actors as well as a well known Australian cast. Check out the trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z81JGqHrMFQ

Life in a Thundering Bay: Voices from Thunder Bay’s Past edited by Tania L. Saj and Elle Andra-Warner (River Rocks Publishing, 2007)

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I’ve been on a history kick lately.  My main focus is Native North American history, especially around the Great Lakes.  Because of the time period and the rapid growth of North America in the last 150 years, I’m also interested in non-Aboriginal history from the same time periods.  Life in a Thundering Bay contains stories from the late 1800’s and very early 1900’s – a time when European and Native cultures really began to interact.

And you know what?  It wasn’t always bad.  There’s a story of a man who very much wanted to find a lost silver mine (which, incidentally, is usually related to the legend of the sleeping giant, though that wasn’t covered in this particular book).  He needed a guide, so he asked a Native guide who took the man and his business partner to various locations to find the mine.  The guide even introduced the silver-hunter and his partner to a prominent Chief who welcomed the business-men; including them in sacred ceremonies, one of which was to give the men names.  “Silver Eagle” was the one given to the man.

Another story is actually a letter from Catherine Vickers, from whence we get Vickers Park today.  Ms. Vickers took a trip up the Kaministiquia River to Kakabeka, a journey that couldn’t have been done without a team of Native guides in a birch bark canoe.  The trip took a few days to do and after a hard day’s work, Ms. Vickers rewarded the guides with glasses of whiskey!  Hmmm…

Interestingly, around that time, Thunder Bay had a cornucopia of watering holes.  Something like one tavern, bar, saloon, hotel, etc., to every 25 people.

What’s also great about this book in addition to the local history lesson are the pictures that are within.  Fantastic pictures of a nascent port town with impressive brick and mortar buildings surrounded by untouched wilderness.

A good book, and I was touched by the notion that Native people and newcomers didn’t attack each other on sight, but rather worked together in a mutually alien environment to come to some common understanding of mutual growth.  Too bad that this isn’t universally accepted today!

With books like this, though, it is easy to remember the past and to learn from it!