Success Story with Michelle Good
Michelle Good is of Cree ancestry, a descendent of the Battle River Cree and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. She has worked with indigenous organizations since she was a teenager and at forty decided to approach that work in a different way—by obtaining her law degree from UBC at 43. She has practiced law in the public and private sector since then, primarily advocating for residential school survivors.
She graduated from UBC with a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing in 2014. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in a number of publications. Her first novel, Five Little Indians, won the HarperCollins/UBC Best New Fiction Prize and her poetry has been included in Best Canadian Poetry in Canada 2016 and Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in Canada 2017. Michelle is currently working on her second novel.
Not leaving enough to the reader’s imagination. It is a challenge to find the balance of telling and showing and just hinting. I think the best writing is nuanced writing as it engages the reader as a participant in telling the story. For example, in Five Little Indians, it was a huge decision about how much detail of the abuse to include. In the end, it was about deciding whose story was being told. This was the survivors’ story. In the end I decided that the abusers and abuses were like furniture in a story—it set a stage but didn’t populate it.
For me, the biggest breakthrough in getting the manuscript to a place where it would be considered for publication was knowing where the story started. This is a structural issue and I think one of the major challenges in creating the book the way you want to it be is understanding where the story begins and ends. I think all writers are a bit haunted by structural issues and deciding which structure best frames the story. At one point I cut the first five chapters of the book and reintegrated them in different places. This edit took me almost a year!
Regardless of whether your novel is plot based or character based, everything must serve the story. The element of balance is critical in terms of what vehicles you use to tell the story, be they characters or plot intricacies. Sometimes I read things and wonder, why is that here? How does it serve the story? There might be a passage that is just so beautiful but it doesn’t really serve the story. Cut it! Save it for the story that is dying for it.
And, it might seem contradictory, but, get your head out of the story! I think that you get to a place in the writing of a novel where the whole story is already written in your subconscious. Go there. Let it rise to the page.
I am currently working on a novel set both in the late 1800s and in the post Second World War era. It follows a young Cree woman as she lives through that terrifying time of resistance as Sir John A. Macdonald made his best efforts to clear the plains and defeat the Metis. It chronicles this time in history, including the experience of having the Northwest Mounted Police chase her Cree band across the border into Montana and the epic journey of making it back home. It also follows this character’s granddaughter as she reaches for her best life in spite of the intense limitations indigenous women were subjected to. The book explores the relationship between the grandmother and her granddaughter and how starvation, persecution and dispossession changed and didn’t change them.