If you’ve never taken the family on a trip to Niagara Falls, you’re really missing out. The sights and sounds of the roaring water majestically flowing over the falls are like none other. Not to mention, crossing over the Canadian Border is an adventure all in itself. We tend to forget about this natural wonder which lies well within our reach.
This month’s Jen’s Jewels Cathy Marie Buchanan takes us back to 1915 in her beautifully written debut novel THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL. With the Niagara Falls as her backdrop, she creates the perfect love story filled with tragedy, redemption, and pure delight.
As part of this interview, Hyperion Books has generously donated five copies for you, my lucky readers, to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question after the interview. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.
Jen: As a Canadian, your life experiences attribute greatly to the unique voice in your writing. So that my readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background prior to becoming a novelist.
Cathy: I spent my teenage years disgracing myself in English, often getting upwards of 20 percent deducted for spelling mistakes on high school English exams. When it came time to head off to university, I picked my courses using the criteria that I wouldn’t have to write−that is spell−a single thing. I ended up at
Jen: Describe for us the defining moment when you finally decided to take a leap of faith and follow your dream of becoming a writer.
Cathy: With my husband, Larry, and me both from families of seven, the original plan was to have a brood of five. By the time we got around to talking about a fourth child, I’d kept up the regime of demanding full time work by day and a bit of crammed in writing in the evenings for four years. And I was still astonished on a daily basis by the wildness, loudness, and messiness of the three boys we already had. That conversation went something like this:
Me: “I’ll go insane.”
Larry: “Quit your job. Slow down. Write.”
I quit my job, and I’ve have been writing five days a week when my boys are at school ever since.
Jen: In your debut novel entitled THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL, you chose to base your fictional story on a true historical event. How did you arrive at the premise?
Cathy: When I set out to write my first novel, setting is where I started. Not character. Not plot. I do think starting with setting was the result of me being born and bred in
Jen: In terms of historical information, approximately how much research was needed in order to create an accurate backdrop for your novel? And, what was the most fascinating tidbit you learned along the way?
Cathy: Before I put pen to paper, I spent four months researching The Day the Falls Stood Still, a wonderful experience for me, and then throughout the writing and the rewriting, I was continually turning back to the history books. I was fascinated, daily, but doubly so by the story of Charles Stephens, who went over the falls in a barrel with an anvil as ballast in 1920. To minimize the thrashing he would surely take inside the barrel, he tied his feet to the anvil and strapped his arms to the sides of the barrel. After his disastrous plunge, only his severed arm was recovered, tattooed with the words “Forget me not, Annie.” I couldn’t resist including this bit of lore in The Day the Falls Stood Still.
Jen: I was truly fascinated by the original photos used throughout the novel. Why did you choose to incorporate them into the book? And, which one is your favorite and why?
Cathy: While I was researching, I kept coming across extraordinary pictures. I sent a handful to my agent, thinking she would get a kick out of them. When she sent the manuscript out, looking for a publisher, she had the foresight to include the pictures. It was a great pleasure for me to learn that the publishers, who bought the manuscript, wanted to include the pictures in the book.
Jen: The main character in the novel is Bess Heath, a student at the
Cathy: Archbishop John Lynch deeded the Loretto Sisters six acres of land overlooking
Jen: Let’s talk about Bess. From the get-go, the reader quickly learns that she is a strong young woman overshadowed by her beautiful, older sister Isabel. How does their relationship affect Bess’s view of her own self-esteem?
Cathy: At one point in the story, we hear from Bess, who has just watched Isabel brazenly flirt with a boy.
“I envy Isabel. I envy her nerve, her get-up-and-go, her readiness to shape her world.
I only watch for Tom. For over a week. From the veranda, from the yard, from the window of the sewing room.”
Bess longs to be more like Isabel and is critical of her own lack of pluck. Later in the story, Bess’s best friend tells her she is getting more and more like Isabel and it’s true. Bess does develop a resolve in keeping with Isabel’s.
Jen: On her way home from school, Bess meets Tom Cole, a simple river man as well as her future love interest. Despite being from different social classes, Bess senses a strong, physical connection with this young man. In what way is Bess’s choice to openly defy her parents by pursuing a relationship with him a cry for independence? In what way is she is striking back at her sister as well?
Cathy: Until the summer of 1915, Bess had lived a sheltered life, mostly between the walls of a prestigious convent school. That summer, her world turned on its ear, she grows up more quickly than she would like. I see the independence that gave her the courage to defy her parents as being born of necessity rather than rebellion. In a way that she had never before experienced, she was suddenly making all sorts of decisions for herself. Was she striking back at her sister? I don’t think so. By the time Bess turns to Tom, she has seen her sister’s good match fail and knew all too well the wreck her life had become. I do think those experiences would have added to the courage that choosing Tom demanded of Bess.
Jen: In order to make ends meet, Bess’s mother becomes a seamstress and shortly after, so does Bess. How does their sewing business become a source of comfort for these two women in times of trouble?
Cathy: On the surface, the sewing business allows Bess and her mother to make money and keep their families afloat, which would surely be comforting. I think the sewing would have brought them serenity in their newly out-of-kilter world on another level, too. Contributing to the putting right of a situation, even in some small way, can brings us a measure of comfort, particularly in situations we have little power over. I think it’s partly why we recycle and bring meals to friends who are suffering.
Jen: One could say that the river (or falls) is truly the main character in this book. Tom Cole has lived his life as one with nature. In what ways does the water’s ebb and flow accurately portray the misfortunes in his life as well as the tranquility in his relationship with Bess?
Cathy: The river is turbulent and unpredictable, and I suppose the same could be said of the misfortunes in Tom’s life. At one point in the book, he describes the river as “something that would cause a man walking by to stop, and maybe fill with wonder for a bit and be lifted up from the drudgery of his day.” The river and his reverence for it are the constants in his life. The ease and comfort he experiences on the river does mirror his relationship with Bess.
Jen: Politics play a huge role in the future of the falls as Tom and Bess quickly come to learn. How does Bess’s decision not to tell Tom her involvement in the process test the strength of their marriage? At what point does she realize that her husband’s happiness is worth more than his monetary gains?
Cathy: Tom could have interpreted Bess going behind his back as a betrayal, but, because of the trust in the marriage, he is able to accept her actions as a heartfelt effort to put his life back in order. A few days before Bess goes public with the information about the havoc the power companies are wreaking on the river, Bess’s best friend confirms that the power company had been concerned with Tom keeping his mouth shut about their negligence in the scow becoming marooned. Bess chides herself for not piecing together the facts about the severity of Isabel’s situation and intervening. She draws a parallel between her culpability in that situation and the one at hand, and resolves to take action.
Jen: There is so much we can’t talk about without giving the plot away, but I do have to briefly touch upon the ending. It’s not what I expected. (Bravo!) Was the ending firmly planted in your mind from the novel’s conception or did it slowly evolve along the way?
Cathy: The ending evolved as I wrote. Initially I thought the story would more closely parallel that of Red Hill and his family. In additional being a hero, Red Hill was a daredevil, a trait handed down to his sons. He shot the Whirlpool Rapids in a barrel as did two of his sons, Red Junior and Major. Both attempted “the big drop” as well. Major’s trip was cut short when his barrel was tossed ashore in the rapids above the falls. Red Junior was not so lucky. In 1951 he plunged to his death in a barrel constructed of inflated rubber tubes, canvas and fish nets. Corky, another of the Hill brothers, died in an accident while working in a hydro-electric diversion tunnel. Once I made the decision not to incorporate the daredevil side of Red Hill into Tom Cole, the story I was telling changed dramatically.
Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your promotional plans. Do you have a website? E-mail notification of upcoming appearances? Will a reading group guide be available for book clubs? Will you be participating in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?
Cathy: My website is https://cathymariebuchanan.com. It’s a robust website with lots of features that will give readers insight into The Day the Falls Stood Still. For instance there is an interactive map with landmarks from the book that users can click on to read a relevant excerpt or history or see historical pictures. Upcoming events are listed through fall 2009. As for a reading group guide, a Q&A with me appears and a list of discussion questions. I am also offering author phone chats for book clubs and can be contacted on Facebook and twitter https://twitter.com/CathyMBuchanan.
Jen: Are you currently at work on your next novel? If so, what can you tell us about it?
Cathy: I am working on another historical fiction novel. This time it is set in and around the Paris Opera in 1880.
Jen: Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with my readers. Your debut novel is like a breath of fresh air. Not only is it a good old-fashioned love story, but also it takes the reader back in time to an era filled with hope and love. I wish you only the best!
Cathy: My pleasure, Jen. And thank you to all Jen’s Jewels readers for their interest.
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Cathy. Please stop by your local library branch or favorite book store and pick up a copy today! Better yet, how would you like to win one? Just be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at email@example.com and you‘ll win! Good luck!
What is the name of the lead character in THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL?
In October, I will be bringing to you my interview with Julie Buxbaum, the author of the sensational story AFTER YOU. You won’t want to miss it.
Until next time…Jen