A Longing In Our Hearts
He is gorgeous.
Every woman in the village looks on him with that overwhelming amalgamation of fear and longing and wonder that inhibits all thought and action. He is the strongest warrior, the kindest man in word and deed. The other women look on him and dream. You look on him and blush, for your glances are the only ones he returns. You are the one who fills his heart.
But “they all lived happily ever after” is not in the cards for you. Everyone in your village conspires to distance him from you with a cruelty no one should have to endure. A powerful government, far away across the vast ocean, moves to keep him in its clutches. An enemy state captures you and makes you its slave. For endless months and years that turn to decades you never see his face.* * * * *
Such is the beginning of my first novel, “Cartier’s Ring.” The romance between Myeerah and her beau is a sub-plot, but it is important to the final resolution of the novel. I started “Cartier’s Ring” in 2007 as an experiment in writing. I coupled a very forceful first-person narrative with something rarely attempted in fiction: present-tense storytelling. I knew authors hardly ever used present-tense structures in writing, but I didn’t really understand why until I began my experiment. Quite simply, it’s hard to write in present tense! The past tense provides an anchor for both author and readers. Present tense is only slightly more difficult in casual situations, but conveying a sense of peril is an order of magnitude easier in past tense. The author can invoke the detachment that past tense allows, methodically going about painting a verbal landscape of a scene, taking her time to convey ten seconds of intense conflict over the course of five pages. When the novel is rendered in real time, no such detachment is possible. Authors get around this problem by slowing things down. The character may think to herself, “It was as if time stopped, and everything happened at once,” giving the author licence to spend five pages discussing those critical ten seconds. That is an artificial construct, though, and one that really defeats the entire purpose of writing in present tense, which is to force readers into the world the author has created. An alternative is to avoid intense conflict, but this again defeats the purpose of providing direct and raw appeal to the reader. It took three years to write the novel—and now I know why! In my foolish stubbornness I refused to compromise present tense immediacy. I think the novel is stronger for it, but it was a long time in the writing.
“Cartier’s Ring” is Myeerah’s story. Enslaved at the age of eleven, circumstance forces her to a resourcefulness few people ever achieve. She learns the healing arts, her fiancé gives her archery lessons, and she teaches herself to hunt. She wins her man not by beguiling supplication, rare wit, or unequalled beauty, but through raw courage and tactical prowess: Myeerah becomes a warrior.
I tried to write “Cartier’s Ring” to appeal to just about any well-read person interested in seeing vivid conflict and spectacle play out before her. Four conflicting cultures are personalised into the lives of Myeerah and her co-protagonist, François. Theirs is the most intimate relationship depicted in the novel, but they are not lovers. Myeerah’s journey is completed not when she finally gets her man, but when she passes on to her great granddaughter the legacy of her people, symbolised in the gold ring she entrusts to Yandessrha’s care. Myeerah calls it a promise. In reading the novel, you will come to understand the full significance of the ring to Myeerah. As you read, you will face slave traders and heartless leaders, but also saints and women of vision. There are personal conflicts, clashes of culture and personality, and epic battles that level entire cities. The fast pace and the stormy backdrop should appeal to any fan of action-adventure stories. The philosophical depth and historical authenticity should find resonance in the minds and hearts of the most discriminating readers of historical fiction.
I researched “Cartier’s Ring” beginning in 1998, and continued my research through the first draft in 2007 and completion of the novel in 2010. I enlisted dozens of historical figures as minor characters, including Jacques Cartier, Francis Drake, Samuel de Champlain, Michael Lok, Deganawida, Martin Frobisher, Hernando de Alarcón, and many others. Intensive research in primary sources, including original-language voyage logs of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and Francis Drake, as well as the Jesuit Relations from 1610 to 1649 and original source documents in French, Spanish, and Nahuatl provided the background I needed to construct an historically accurate backdrop. But it is the emotional depth of Myeerah's story that brings the novel to life. You will feel her pain as she is beaten and enslaved, touch her tear-streaked face as she witnesses the ritual torture and execution of her brother, share in her joy as she overcomes deprivation and starvation, and cheer when she vanquishes her enemies. My hope is that the story affects you personally, at a deep level. You see, “Cartier’s Ring” is about the birth of a nation, and every nation begins as a hope in our souls and a longing in our hearts.
In the Auschwitz death camp, a single word brought hope even to the starving and those who had lost their family, their pride, and their dignity. Those who should have been without hope instead invoked the name of the one place in which they would find deliverance from slavery. The inmates had a code word for freedom. The word expressed not only physical freedom, but freedom from the horrible spiritual torments of Auschwitz. They expressed freedom as a place—a place where people were free in mind, body, and spirit. When the inmates wished to console each other, when the torments became unbearable, they told each other this: "We will go to Canada." My novel, “Cartier’s Ring,” is about that place. I invite you to begin the journey to hope, to freedom—to Canada.