Today Jayne Barnard is visiting Ascroft, eh? to talk to us about Where the Ice Falls, her latest novel in the Falls Mysteries.
Welcome, Jayne. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series?
JB: Where the Ice Falls is the 2nd of 3 in The Falls Mysteries from Dundurn Press of Toronto, Canada. The series revolves around three friends – Lacey, Jan, and Dee – living in a half-wilderness hamlet on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. When crime comes calling, these 30-something women are already struggling with divorce, disability, and the ever-looming threat of financial disaster. In the first book, When the Flood Falls, the rising river threatens the only bridge back to civilization just when Dee is being terrorized by a nighttime prowler. Jan digs into village history and Lacey tackles Dee’s ex, each hoping to uncover the stalker’s identity before Dee gets injured or worse. In the second book, set over Christmas, Dee’s terminally-ill mother comes to visit and Lacey must balance her care with hunting the person who locked a young intern into a woodshed to freeze during a week-long blizzard. In the third book, Why the Rock Falls, well… you’ll have to wait until the summer of 2020 to find out what happens there.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
JB: The idea for the frozen intern came to me over 15 years ago, when a young computer services intern fell foul of an older manager at our company. The manager’s irritation over a quite minor transgression developed into a lasting grudge and, like Marcia in the book, he spared no effort to drive the intern out of the company. The same intern got stuck in a snowdrift the next winter, coming back from snowboarding at Banff. Although he was only out there six hours, it was quite an anxious time for his family, as there have been instances where people set out in a mountain snowstorm and were never seen again. My imagination ran amok over the possibilities. What if he’d never come home. Who would want him to vanish in a blizzard? Who might benefit and who might suffer? Setting the disappearance at a fictional wilderness resort added the constant threat of another blizzard trapping the characters far from aid, and allowed me to showcase our incredible mountain scenery.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
JB: At heart the series is about the friendships that support us as we grow through the upheavals of adulthood. This time, I tackled it through the perspective of watching a parent dying too early, and how that affects Dee. Medical assistance in dying is a quite new law in Canada, with strong feelings on all sides of the issue. I wanted to explore those ideas through the various characters a bit: the daughter, the reverend, the two nurses. I didn’t know when I began writing that I’d soon lose 3 people, including my father, to terminal illnesses – two of them to medically assisted death. My women friends were a tremendous support to me during all that, as Dee’s friends were to her. Zoe, who has been too busy with work and family to keep up her female friendships, provides the contrasting story: a woman at breaking point with nobody to confide in. Marcia’s friendship with the absent Phyl is another strand of that same theme.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
JB: My main characters come from life – not exact copies of people but friends or acquaintances who get into situations that have multiple possible outcomes. Usually the situation resolves with only minor unpleasantness but my imagination leaps naturally to the most drastic solution first. When my high school friend, one of the first female RCMP officers in Canada, retired from policing after a decade, she was quite changed and unable to pinpoint exactly why. Lacey is based on my worst-case thinking about what might have occurred to crush my friend’s emotions to the point that she wasn’t able to fully feel or express them.
Loreena, the dying artist in Where the Ice Falls, is named after my friend who was diagnosed with a brain cancer early in my first draft. Having the character named after her, and seeing some of her artworks and personality traits immortalized in my book, gave her pleasure when she was going through a rather hard treatment regimen and not expected to survive it. I’m pleased to say she’s in remission and I’ll be putting the book into her hands soon.
Like the character Jan, I have ME/CFS, a neuro-immune illness that limits my physical and mental energy (I write lying on a chaise, with a lightweight keyboard and wrist braces). When she is trapped at home in When the Flood Falls, watching out the window while everyone else goes off to the museum gala, her feelings are an amalgam of the many years I spent housebound, left behind when my friends and family were out living their lives. I’m a bit stronger now than when I wrote the first draft more than a decade ago, but I still have to miss a lot of social outings because I need my limited energy to write. As the series goes on, Jan gets to reflect on newer research into ME/CFS and to try out new treatments that give her some small measure of her old life back.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
JB: As you might imagine, it’s rather difficult for wheelchair users like me to get out into the deep wilderness, especially in winter when snowdrifts might be higher than a tall man’s hat. Fortunately, I have a photographer friend who loves any excuse to challenge himself against Nature. When I’ve decided on a setting, a season, and a certain mood for a scene, I send him a map with the particulars. He waits for an ideal day and sets off to take endless photographs for me of the area, the sky, the approaches, any buildings from which someone might see a killer dumping a body… He also records the sounds, smells, traffic volumes, and anything else that might be useful for either a sleuth or a villain.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
JB: I really like talking to people who do the job or live in the area I’m interested in. There are always snippets of purely insider information that add authenticity to a setting or scene. For this novel I needed to research medical assistance in dying, both the procedures and the public attitudes in various parts of Canada; I started talking to older people who had been waiting for the law to change, or who had walked their loved ones along that assisted-dying path. Then I had first-hand knowledge during my father’s final year, which was quite trying at the time but came in useful during the editing process.
I had to learn a bit about dementia care as well as nursing home infection-containment practices. I’d had a roster of visiting nurses for several years when at my most ill, and could call upon them for information about medications and patient management. Additionally I found a retired oil company executive to coach me through the complex processes involved in selling an oil company. Setting the ski resort in a wilderness area meant familiarizing myself with the landscape via Google Satellite and then hikers’ maps. I needed a north-facing slope that would catch and hold the snow, and was far enough from main roads to make the resort being snowed in for a whole week realistic. Even if the intern freed himself from the shed on the first day, he had to be stranded out there with no hope of rescue.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
JB: It’s a cold, dark, Christmas story with a ghost. An ideal read when you’re curled up by a cosy fire with a steaming mug at your elbow.
I hope readers enjoy the location as much as I do, and that they consider visiting this rich natural environment. I’m very interested in what locations they love, too. We have so many unique wildland locations in our country.
Thanks for answering my questions, Jayne, and good luck with Where the Ice Falls, the latest book in theFalls Mysteries. I always enjoy stories that revolve around friendships between women. And I have to admit that the ghost intrigues me. I look forward to reading the novel.
The novel is available online: http://.ly/IpeI50vy6Fc
About J. E. (Jayne) Barnard: J.E. (Jayne) Barnard of Calgary writes award-winning short fiction and the Prix-Aurora nominated YA novellas, the Maddie Hatter Adventures. Her 2018 new release, When the Flood Falls, won the 2016 Unhanged Arthur and debuts The Falls Mysteries, a new psychological suspense series from Dundurn Press. Her work has won the 2016 Dundurn Unhanged Arthur, the 2011 Bony Pete, and the 1990 Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award, and been shortlisted for the Prix Aurora, the Debut Dagger, the Book Publishing in Alberta Award, and numerous short fiction prizes.