I’m often asked how much of Thirst is real, and each time I’m delighted with the question because it means I’ve done my job!
My story ideas are inspired by newspaper headlines, real life events over which I overlay a simple question of “what if”. For Thirst, it was the Columbia River Treaty, a remarkable agreement between Canada and the United States signed in the sixties, that stirred my imagination. The treaty is an exemplary model of international co-operation, and so are the more recent agreements on joint U.S.-Canada security that arose in large part because of 9/11. However, times have changed and with less than ten years left in the treaty’s term, people on both sides of the border want the treaty renegotiated with environmentalists, Native American Tribes, Canadian First Nations and residents of the Columbia River Valley pushing to have their voices heard. So far, the peaceful process has barely made a blip on the newsworthiness radar, but what if it changed? What if slow simmering tension erupted into violence?
They often say that truth is stranger than fiction, and the intriguing history of British Columbia’s Slocan Valley, an idyllic location just north of the Montana border provides a rich background for Thirst that I could never have imagined. The Valley has long been considered a sanctuary for those seeking refuge or solitude including the Russian Doukhobors, American draft dodgers and war veterans alike, but it has also been at the heart of violent Sons of Freedom protests and a silver rush that drew thousands of hopeful miners.
Much more than a realistic scenario in a good location is needed though for a believable story – characters are a key element. I work to create characters who might be people you encounter in your every day lives, and I want their actions to seem reasonable. Whether it is revenge, greed, or something as basic as the need to protect ourselves, motives drive us forward and dictate our actions. So, in Thirst I ask a second question: What would it take for someone to kill or turn their back on their ethics or values?
While our values and beliefs hold us to a certain behaviour, there is more to each of us, aspects of our personality that contribute to our actions. How do we explain why someone might run into a burning building while everyone runs out, for example? You might expect bravery from a firefighter, but often it’s a stranger passing-by who will fight to save a victim from a burning car or house, an action they later explain as instinct in a split second decision made without thought of their own safety. Most of us don’t know exactly how we will react to a situation until we’re faced with it.
I’ve had readers say that they feel for one character or another in Thirst, that they aren’t sure what they would have done in the same situation. That’s where I want to be – in the gray area, that uncomfortable spot between right and wrong where we all find ourselves from time-to-time, those spots where a single clear answer isn’t available.
I’ve raised the stakes of course, to make those decisions even more difficult, especially for my RCMP officer Nathan Taylor, but no one gets off easy. Geologist Alex Graham makes more than her share of choices in tough situations, and so does Dr. Eric Keenan, and just like real life, some of those choices are wrong.
For me, this is what makes writing interesting and why I’ve chosen to write suspense thrillers. They give me the room to explore the world around me and meet fascinating characters on complex journeys. I can well imagine sitting down over dinner with Alex Graham and having her share this story while I sit on the edge of my chair, wine glass in hand. I can’t wait for her next adventure!