Maia Caron’s debut novel inspired by her ancestors

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Maia Caron didn’t discover she was Red River Métis until she was in her twenties. Maia later learned that her extended family were among the founders of Batoche, Saskatchewan, who fought with Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont during the North-West Resistance of 1885.

Her historical novel, Song of Batoche (Ronsdale Press) is an epic retelling of the Métis North-West Resistance of 1885, where women are key players. The novel is a love letter to her extended relations of Batoche Métis, women with secrets, and to Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, whom she considers two of the most fascinating men to ever wage war together.

We caught up with Maia to get the dirt on her debut novel and some insight into her writing life—including an exclusive photo of her authorial space.

What was the catalyst for Song of Batoche?

Wallace Stegner wrote in his autobiography, Wolf Willow, that the story of the North-West Resistance was the stuff of an epic, and should be written by a Métis who could see the last years of the Plains frontier with the distance of history and with the passion of personal loss and defeat. I took that as a personal challenge.

But I was also inspired by my great great grandmother Marguerite Dumas-Caron who, according to eyewitness accounts, criticized Louis Riel for not sending help to their men fighting at one of the battles. She said if he didn’t send them, she’d go herself. I wanted to know her story and those of the women who were around Riel and Dumont.

What is your favourite aspect of the book, and why?

It wasn’t easy to write about Louis Riel. He was a complex character and sacred to the Métis. He loved his people and fought for their rights against British colonial rule, yet was haunted by his time in exile and insane asylums. His diaries and writings revealed a man who considered himself a prophet chosen by God to deliver the Métis and First Nations people, his “lost tribe of Israel,” to the Promised Land. I had to go deep inside his beautiful mind to really know him. I think my depiction of him is truthful and also honours the great man.

What was the hardest scene to write in Song of Batoche and why?

Every battle scene. There were three of them during the North-West Resistance and required a lot of research. The Battle of Batoche raged for four days. I relied on multiple resources to write these scenes, including numerous eye-witness accounts from both the Métis and Canadian soldiers. I wrote the scenes in Gabriel Dumont’s and Louis Riel’s perspectives. The joy in it was bringing to life the dry historical facts—with a lot of other things going on with the women—and dramatizing Gabriel as the legendary warrior he was, but the logistics proved daunting.

We’d love to see your writing space! Can you share a photo with us? 

Maia Caron's Writing Space

My office desk converts to standing, which was a relief when I was revising 15-hours a day. My altar is to the left with a sage smudge stick, feathers, and an old tobacco pouch made out of moose testicles that was owned by my Métis great grandfather. My two pugs sleep beside me while I write.

What’s the next project you’re working on?

Because I love research and there are many fascinating historical characters who are almost begging to be fictionalized, I’m drawn back to historical fiction. But I’ve also had a few contemporary novel ideas with thriller elements that I want to explore. I grew up in the Rocky and Purcell mountains of the East Kootenays and still want to set a book there.

What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?

It takes years to research and write a book like Song of Batoche. There were many historical details to keep straight and integrate into the story. The revision was the hardest part for me. When a book is accepted for publication, it becomes the publisher’s book, too. They have a vision and want it to be the best it can be. An editor’s job is to ruthlessly cut what doesn’t work and question a writer on character motivations. They catch the inconsistencies and continuity issues, details you can’t see because you’re too close to the work. I was lucky to have an incredible editor and copy editor at Ronsdale Press during the ten-month revisions process. They made my book better.

What is the one book that you wish you wrote, and why?

Cold Mountain. I admire Charles Frazier’s masterful writing and how he managed to weave brutal battle scenes into a compelling love story.

What is your favourite food or treat to eat while writing?

Trail mix and milk chocolate chips straight out of the bag. In true Métis fashion, I drink a lot of tea.

Song of Batoche is not just historical fiction, it is a timeless story that traces the borderlines of faith and reason, obsession and madness, betrayal and love. In 1884, the buffalo have disappeared from the plains, and John A. Macdonald needs the fertile land along the Saskatchewan River for European settlers. But this raw wilderness has long been claimed by the Métis. The Métis invite Louis Riel, the exiled rebel leader, to help fight for their lands, unaware of his hidden prophetic agenda to establish a separate state with his new church at its head.

Our heroine is rebellious outsider Josette Lavoie, granddaughter of the famous chief Big Bear, whom Riel needs as an ally. In this wild land on the brink of change, the lives of seven unforgettable characters converge, each one with secrets of their own.

Maia Caron will be at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival, appearing in two events: Event 59: Writing Canada (1) exploring Canadian-based historical fiction, and Event 79: Who Am I, discussing identity and being Indigenous.

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