I was recently invited by The Miramichi Reader to review Diane’s latest novel – Northern Survival. It was a compelling story and I enjoyed it tremendously. You can read the review HERE.
When you visit Diane’s website, you’ll find this:
“Writing feeds my soul, fills my heart, keeps me wild and gives me freedom few other occupations can give. Why would I do anything else?”
Diane has graciously accepted my invitation to be our featured guest this week. A 4Q Interview.
Diane McGyver write stories; sometimes they’re short; sometimes they’re long, very long, 160,000 words long. She lives in Nova Scotia on the East Coast of Canada. Her people have always told stories, so it’s no surprise she carries on this tradition, sharing their stories and telling her own. Some of her best memories are sitting around a campfire or on the tailgate of a truck and shooting the breeze, listening to stories of family and friends. They’ve not only inspired her written stories, but some of the characters in their stories have made it into hers.
4Q: When we visit your website, we find a wonderful collection of fantasy novels. What inspired Northern Survival and the other romance titles?
DM: While I’m a fantasy-writer at heart, there were several stories begging to be told that didn’t fit that genre. Some stories nagged at me for years before I wrote them down. Others, such as “Northern Survival”, came to me in mere seconds, and the need to record them was stronger than writing my fantasy series.
I also believe stories that include romance as an added feature appeal to me greatly. I enjoy seeing the interaction between would-be couples and their struggles to become one. While my fantasy novels are all about forces trying to conquer one another, mystical creatures, magic and adventure, there’s a lot of romance going on. The attraction (or lack of) between characters often drives them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise.
This romance weaving through stories is what I loved most about “Star Wars” and the “Indiana Jones” movies. It kept me turning the pages of “The Wizard’s Ward” by Deborah Hale and “Under the Same Sky” by Genevieve Graham.
4Q: Please tell our readers what to expect when they pick up their copy of Northern Survival.
DM: From my personal knowledge of the book and from what others have shared after reading it, readers will expect a fast-paced story they could easily read on a rainy weekend. It’s a story about survival and while I didn’t intentionally provide tips on how to survive in the woods, readers have said they had learned a few basic things. I guess because I grew up surrounded by woods, these things are second nature to me.
Readers will find two characters, Olive and John, who challenge each other at every turn until they find common ground, put aside their differences and work together. I worked hard to provide snappy, realistic dialogue between the characters, one that not only slowly revealed their hurts and wants, but their sarcastic sides. I’m naturally a sarcastic person, always looking for that one line to bring a smile to someone even when the situation is serious.
Here’s what one Amazon reviewer wrote: “Thoroughly enjoyed this book……. kept me on the edge the whole way. What a great story showing the strength you can exhibit when necessary. Loved the progression of the feelings of the characters. Shed a few tears near the end……. will remember forever.” ~ Judy Greene
Another reviewer wrote this: “It is not all hardship as moments of humour and a thawing of hostilities bring out the best in both Olive and John.” ~ Sally Cronin
4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.
DM: Unlike many I’ve talked to, including my many siblings, I remember a lot from childhood. I was an adventurous soul, always running away from the housework my mother had planned for me and to my brothers and male friends, who hiked into the woods to fish, build forts and hunt. I was into everything, curious to see what the experience would feel like. Living in a small neighbourhood surrounded by woods and making frequent trips to our camp in the community in which my father was born and raised that took me deeper into the words and onto the Atlantic Ocean, provided many opportunities for adventure.
I recall one summer while staying at my father’s ‘hometown’, we hadn’t yet had our own place to stay. This was in the mid-70s. My uncle offered up his place, which was a long building divided into two halves. One part was a tool shed that may have once housed a horse, and the other side was one large room crammed with all sorts of stuff he had gathered over the decades. Paths were left open to walk around the room, and amongst this stuff were a few make-shift places to sleep. I think only one was a real bed, a double bed. My parents slept in that. I slept on a flat surface, as did two of my brothers, who made the journey with us.
My uncle didn’t live in this space. He had a camper, what people today would call a tiny home. It was a wooden structure on wheels, no more than 8 feet wide and 16 feet long. Inside was a small wood stove for heat and everything he needed to be comfortable. Given his age (he was born in 1911) and mine (born 1967), if he lived anywhere else besides his parents’ home (which was across the dirt road), I never knew it.
The memories of staying in my uncle’s large building of sundry items are scattered, but some parts are remembered with a smile. The smells inside were unique. It wasn’t bad, just unique. A small counter surface provided space for preparing meals and my parents made a make-shift table to eat at.
What I recall most was waking up. While I slept in a room at home with three other siblings, it was still a room. Waking up at ‘the camp’ meant sitting up and stretching my neck over my uncle’s collection of stuff to see if anyone else was awake so we could get to fishing or boating. For a kid, knowing my family was just a neck stretch away was neat. I’ll never forget the feeling. It helped that along the front of the building, which faced east, was a long string of windows, and the sun shined in early in the morning to light-up the place.
To me, it was magical. I imagine others would think it horrible, but, oh, the wonderful times we had there because we had a place to stay that kept us warm and dry.
4Q: The latest release is a new novel from the Romance collection – the Salvation of Mary Lola Barnes. Can you give us a brief outline and what inspired this story?
DM: This might sound crazy. Many things inspire me to write a story. Sometimes it’s an idea, something unique I’d never heard of before or an image. This time, I was inspired to write a story because of one word: salvation. That’s right. I wanted to write a story with that word in the title. I had thought, “Who needed salvation today?”
Not grappling over the answer for too long, I used the first scenario that popped into my head. Being a woman nearing 50, I thought I’d give a try at writing a story with a main character that age. I needed a story to write for NaNoWriMo 2015, so without hesitation, I jumped in and “the Salvation of Mary Lola Barnes” was recorded.
I wanted a ‘plain jane’ name as the first name, and something adventurous for the middle name. It represents who Mary is: she seems plain on the surface, but under all that properness is a woman who loves adventure.
The story opens with Mary lamenting over the last piece of her 50th-birthday cake. Personally, I don’t consider my age and I often forget it. However, I’ve known some women who have a hard time getting over milestones such as 50. I’ve seen some almost lose their minds turning 30. I don’t understand because in my mind, age is nothing more than the number of trips made around the sun.
Mary falls between the two extremes. While she doesn’t want to be 20 again, she doesn’t want to believe the best years are behind her. After living more than two decades in a routine of raising kids and keeping house, she’s looking forward to enjoying her new-found freedom of an empty nest. This sets off little changes that eventually turn into big ones. These changes expose the flaws in her life. While she’s thirsty for change, her husband is not. He’s happy with his routine. Their ideas clash and create problems for Mary, who wants her husband to be a willing participant in their marriage.
4Q: Can you tell us about your Castle Keeper series.
DM: The Castle Keepers started in the early 1980s when I was still in high school. It wasn’t called that back then, but the book I wrote at that time turned out to be the first book in the series, “Shadows in the Stone”.
The series follows a few main characters (Bronwyn, Alaura, Isla and Liam), several supporting characters (Tam, Rhiannon, Kellyn, Farlan, Lindrum, Euan) and a cast of other characters. They each have their own problems and as the series progresses, most of these problems will be solved.
Tying all these characters together is the town of Maskil on the Shulie River. Decades beforehand, a disgruntled wizard tried to overthrow the ruling lords (which are appointed, not assumed by blood). While he failed, he escaped and has been working ever since to gain a foothold in the town, disrupting society and pitting one race against the other to cause chaos. He believes in the philosophy of divide and conquer.
While this story takes place in a fantastical realm called the Land of Ath-o’Lea, readers from the Maritimes may recognise a few place names. I love repurposing things in real life and in fiction. That means places in the story like Shulie, Wyvern, Titterton, Quoddy and Glen Tosh exist in Nova Scotia. I stumbled upon Moonsface while doing genealogy research in Newfoundland. The place no longer exists, but it did in 1825. Now it exists in my books.
I grew up on Atholea Drive, Cole Harbour, NS, and to pay tribute to that wonderful place tucked into the woods, my fantasy world became the Land of Ath-o’Lea.
4Q: And your Mystical series?
DM: In 2018, our writers’ group presented members with a challenge: write a novel during our meeting season (from September to June). We were going through the three acts of storytelling and each month, we were to bring a sample of the next chapter or next act. I was already writing a novel (Revelations Stones, book 3 in the Castle Keepers series) that needed to be finished by the end of the year, but decided to commit a half hour each day to this new book.
Brainstorming for something to write about, I thought about doing a novella about a character in the Castle Keepers series. This would provide interesting backstory material and allow me to get to know the character better.
I chose Willow. This woman was a stranger to me, and she had forced her way into the Castle Keepers series, appearing in a very short scene. She left a great impression, and she rattled around in my brain for about two years, whispering secrets in my ear.
Once I chose to write about her, the land she lived in was revealed: Knavesmire. This mythical place existed beyond the myst. When I created the map for Castle Keepers many years ago, I had unknowingly created a river near that area called Blue Myst River. That’s how stories fall into place for me. I often don’t plan it; it just appears.
A nagging feeling told me Willow was not human. But she wasn’t dwarf either. I kept digging into my memory and after a few pages of writing, I discovered her race. She was newlin. It turns out, this is a cross between a dwarf and hauflin, one that was created naturally after many generations of interbreeding.
I learned quickly that this was not going to be a novella as planned. It was going to be a 100,000-word novel and the first of four books. The Mystical series became a series within a series. If readers don’t read it, they will still fully enjoy the Castle Keepers series. But if they do read it, they’ll have insight into some of the history and events not covered in the main series.
Cothromach, the ruling city in Knavesmire, is modelled in the style of the lost city of Atlantis. There’s a centre mound where the most important people in society live. It is surrounded by water, connected by bridges to a band of land. Another ring of water is followed by a second band of land, then another water barrier. Crossing this water course leads into the Outlies.
A dangerous myst that few survive separates Knavesmire and the Land of Ath-o’Lea.
4Q: Favorite authors or novels?
DM: One of my favourite books that I haven’t read since I was a child is “M for Mischief” by Richard Parker. The mixture of kids discovering magic in an old oven and baking resurfaces in my thoughts often. I’d love to write a story that kids decades later remember fondly.
As an adult, one of my favourite books is “Call of the Wild” by Jack London. Others that rate high are “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, “Wizard’s Ward” by Deborah Hale, “The Winds of Change” series by Mercedes Lackey, “One” by Richard Bach and “Impact to Contact – the Shag Harbour Incident” by Chris Styles & Graham Simms (not a novel, but a fascinating read).
4Q: Tell us about your writing room and habits.
DM: While I wish my writing room was a secluded location, tucked into a place where I could gaze out the window onto the shoreline of the ocean, it’s not. I do all my creating in a small space in the corner of the kitchen where interruptions happen a lot. However, I am close to the teapot. One day in the not-too-distant future, I will have that window overlooking the ocean.
My favourite time for writing is the morning, just after I rise and my thoughts of my novel are still fresh in my mind. When I am in the zone of writing a story, the last thing I think about when I fall asleep is the story. Scenes, characters and dialogue playout in my mind and solve problems that I may be stuck on. The first thing I think of when I wake is my story and what I want to write that day. I write for an hour in the morning to capture this energy.
I commit to writing at least 500 words a day to a new novel or short story. Once winter sets in, I’m a 2,000 to 5,000 words a day writer. While I’m writing one novel, I’m usually editing another, one I wrote months or years before. I do what I call Leap Frogging: write A, write B, edit A, write C, edit B, write D, and so on. This way, I’m always producing something new, and I’m always reviewing something that has been written at least four months earlier, giving time for that story to ripen before I take a second look at it.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
DM: My hobbies are many, and they often inspire scenes in my stories. I write about these hobbies and share information about my books on my blog (https://dianelynnmcgyver.com). A few of the topics I write about include hiking, boating, camping, gardening, growing food, herb preservation, history, genealogy and baking (with recipes).
When I want to get away from it all, I launch my boat and paddle around Liscomb Harbour for the day where I meet interesting people, find lost buoys, gather shells and stones, strengthen my self-reliance and collect my thoughts.
A sincere thank you to Allan for inviting me onto South Branch Scribbler.
You’re most welcome, Diane, and thanks for being our guest. Wishing you continued success in your writing journey and finding the window to your ocean.
For anyone wanting to discover more about Diane and her novels, please follow these links:
The best links to connect with me and my books are:
Diane McGyver author page (https://dianelynnmcgyver.com)
Amazon Author page (https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0083WOOHW)
Author Instagram page (https://www.instagram.com/dianemcgyver)
Author Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009087971535)
While you're here, why don't you take a peek at our new contributor's page - The Editor's Edge with Karin Nicely. Questions and answers about editing. Go here.