September 23, 2014

Homespun Horror on a Chilly Day

By Juanita Klassen
It was a rainy day as I walked to the Park Theatre—wholly appropriate to enjoy a satisfying afternoon of murder mysteries. 
The theatre itself is a comfortable space; tastefully decorated, but still with the feel and smell of its past. A shot of Fireball helped warm things up before the show and I was pleased to see others enjoying beer and potato chips while reading their mystery books. I firmly believe that booze and salty snacks are the perfect companions to great reading material, especially murder mysteries.
After introductions by Thin Air Director Charlene Diehl, we heard readings by the two invited authors: Alison Preston and John McFetridge.  Preston read from her novel Blue Vengeance, set in 1964 Winnipeg. Young Danny is the protagonist, bent on avenging his sister’s death by killing the one teacher he holds responsible. McFetridge followed with a reading from Black Rock, an even darker tale about a series of murders set in 1969-70 Montreal against the backdrop of the FLQ crisis. Both writers read engagingly and the stories were a pleasing contrast to one another; one intensely private, the other about two extremely public events.
Following the reading, we enjoyed a discussion between Charlene Diehl and the two writers. I was fascinated to hear each author talk about their different methods for getting their stories out. Preston begins with one sentence and the story unfolds as she goes, whereas McFetridge plots out characters and events before beginning. Preston talked about polishing the tale as she goes, tying up the loose ends, making wee revisions, nudging the story here or there as the book grows, rather than composing a typical first draft. On the other hand, McFetridge, inspired by the 3 Day Novel competition, plows through his first draft until it’s done; he can then relax and work on revisions.
Diehl then asked a question I’ve often wondered about: how do authors who write gruesome material make peace with the grisly and terrifying stories that emerge from their pens?  Again, the difference in answers caught my attention. Preston said that she’s naturally attracted to dark, evil topics, so she enjoys telling those sorts of stories, whereas McFetridge loves cheery topics, hates reading or watching anything about serial murderers, and didn set out to write a book about one of them. For him, the key was his own personal association with downtown Montreal and the fact that his sister fit the description of the victims. Those connections started McFetridge on this tale and he followed it through even though he found the subject matter of his story unpleasant.
For a brand-new writer, this first experience with the Thin Air festival was delightful, and warmed me up on a rainy day. I look forward to hearing other stories this week, and how their creators brought them to life.

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