By Venta Rutkauskas —
Stories, like song, lie deep in the consciousness of our humanity. The storyteller opens up to the world of imagination and crafts a tale to suit the time. Some stories teach while others entertain; each author’s style is a unique fingerprint. When the storyteller chooses the novel as a form, the breadth of the tale grows, and it requires a great vision and dedication to see the story through.
Big Lake author Steven Hunter has two novels under his belt, the 2013 release The Cameron Ridge Conspiracy and his latest novel, Strings, released this summer. The craft of writing came later in life to Hunter, really a second career after 30 years in the public service as a social worker, supervisor, and manager. At last, he took early retirement and vowed to reclaim his muse. “When you leave a career like that, you can lose track of your creativity,” Hunter explains.
Born into a highly creative and musical family, where both parents were professional classical musicians, the house was full of music. At age 18, the author took up the guitar, something he enjoys to this day.“We’d sit around in our old farmhouse each Sunday, and my parents would duet on cello and piano,” says Hunter. His father was busy playing cello for all the major orchestral groups in Vancouver, Toronto, Victoria, and Winnipeg, later becoming the head of the cello program at the Victoria Conservatory. It is his father’s cello that lies at the heart of Strings, Hunter’s second novel.
After his father’s death, Hunter took on the sale of his father’s prized instrument. Once the decision was made to let it go, the author discovered the world of fine instrument trade was fraught with fraud, not to mention some very high stakes. “It’s common to find that the label on the instrument does not match the actual make of the piece,” he says. This leads to instruments being bought and sold under false pretences and instrument authenticators are treated like celebrities. With this experience, Strings was born. Hunter created a world surrounding a San Francisco violin shop, full of some colourful craftspeople, an eccentric instrument authenticator, and his main character, a Cariboo native who is at a crossroads on his creative path.
In his first novel, The Cameron Ridge Conspiracy, the protagonist is a Secwepemc female at the time of the gold rush. It was a real leap to tell the story from this perspective, notes the author, though Hunter’s background in social work added to his understanding of the effects of colonization on the Aboriginal population. The novel is an historical fiction, whereas Strings is a modern day action thriller. The protagonist in Strings, Beckett (Beck) Trumaine, hits closer to home for Hunter. “There’s a lot of me in Beck,” he says. Like the author, Beck retired from the public service early and imagined he would dedicate himself to musical composition. The character’s personal journey through the uncertainty that arises when the creative juices just aren’t flowing and the path seems unclear stem from Hunter’s own search for his creative identity. What happened for Hunter was truly unexpected: he began to write stories, not music.
His first piece was a short work of humorous fiction, published in BC Outdoors magazine. In fact, he keeps that gig going: look for “A Canadian Tale on Last Light,” the publication’s last page, in the September/October edition. Then, somehow, a larger story began to come through. By 2013, Hunter had written and released his first novel and was well into the writing of his second, Strings.
The author feels the characters in Strings are stronger than in his previous work. There is a vibrant feel to the ensemble, with rich backstories for each character and a depth that is supported by the quaint violin shop and high-stakes trade in which Beck finds himself. The contrast of the Cariboo’s natural texture and beauty with the city scenes in the novel sharpens the sense of the friction as Beck finds his way and wrestles with his conscience. “The title, Strings, is really a play on words,” adds Hunter. It describes the instruments featured in the story, but also the theme of attachment: to our past, our roots, and the relationships that define us. Beck and the whole cast of characters are faced with the necessity of change, and it isn’t always a comfortable or graceful place to be.
For Hunter, the writing process allows for exploration and play. “What I like the most is writing about seemingly ordinary people being challenged by extraordinary circumstances where they rise up and succeed against all odds,” describes Hunter. Writing leads to observing people, a favorite pastime for the author that enriches the characters he imagines. His attention to detail sets the scene, while the colourful locations draw the reader into his world.
As a self-published author, there is much more to do than craft the tale. Once the final draft is complete, an editor is hired. For cover design, Hunter hired local artist Simone Benjamin. Another designer is hired to create the book’s layout, page by page, and finally a printer is chosen. With book in hand, the self-published author then moves into the marketing world, navigating the regional bookstores and the electronic publishing realm, as well. It is a time consuming aspect of the game, often cutting into the author’s writing time.
While Hunter publicizes the release of Strings, another novel is already in the works. It’s another historical fiction set in the time on Canada’s Confederation. With the promise of a cross-country railway and the Metis Red River Resistance looming in the prairies, Hunter is again exploring the world of Aboriginal issues through the Metis in context of the expanding development of Colonial Canada. Hunter describes the story: “An Aboriginal child falls into the care of a white couple because of the decimation of her village by smallpox. Her father arrives on the scene and rescues her mother, but the child is long gone by then. Her mother and father promise each other they will find their daughter. The story follows their quest across the country from the Cariboo to Manitoba and finally Montreal during the 1870s.”
The Community Arts Council of Williams Lake would like you to consider supporting your local artists and artisans this holiday season. We have such a wealth of talent in our region. Have a book-lover in your family? Strings is available in Williams Lake at the Open Book and Save On Foods.You can also purchase Strings for your e-reader on most digital book sites. Both Hunter’s novels are available through the author’s website www.stevenhunter.ca.
Venta Rutkauskas is currently the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts, and since moving to the Cariboo ten years ago she has taught drama and written plays for young children, helped co-create a small gathering called Pollination, written down her dreams, and grown a baby and a garden. She is also passionate about the healing arts. To see more of her articles on local artists, and to learn about CACWL, check out www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com