The Animal in our Natures

by Chantal Boudreau

Maybe it’s the sunny weather or the more common random encounters with wildlife, but summertime always makes me long to get back to nature – to a simpler way of living where a person had to exist in harmony with nature in order to survive. In primitive times, you had to understand how the world around you worked, develop your skills to match the demands of your environment and adapt to the flora and fauna occurring locally. I still get a taste of that by gardening, trips to the park or camping in some forested area, but it really only is a taste. Living completely off the grid will likely remain one of those daydream fantasies for me that will never be realized.

I think that’s why low-tech tribal fiction, and primitive fantasy fiction in particular, has always appealed to me. Writers from Jean Auel to Wendy Pini (some of her elves, the wolfriders and the go-backs, live primitive lifestyles) struck a real chord with me growing up, their stories involving characters in tune with nature, facing down-to-earth hardships and challenges and seeking solutions in magic, spiritualism and resources occurring naturally in their environment. The protagonists have strong bonds with animals and a profound understanding of beneficial properties of plants and minerals found in their particular terrain.

But Clan of the Cave Bear and Elfquest weren’t my only influences (although they were significant ones). My Snowy Barrens Trilogy would likely not exist if I hadn’t had the opportunity to read such novels as The Reindeer People and The Wolf’s Brother by Meghan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), or The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, tales with hunter-gather backdrops exploring old ways and rudimentary lifestyles (and all of them written by women, for some strange reason.) These are books I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in tribal fantasy fiction.

This is also what generated my fascination in old-world mythologies, ones that have been somewhat abandoned by modern people, although they aren’t completely extinct. It’s why I chose to explore Native American mythology in the Snowy Barrens Trilogy, and Sami, Serbian and Thracian mythologies in my three yet to be published Darker Myth novels. They are all mythologies that explore the relationship between man and nature, between animal and spiritual. I would recommend reading tales from these mythos as well – the Glooscap stories are some of my favourites.

So if the next time you go strolling along a woodland path and find yourself imagining a sprint through the forest, spear or bow in hand, clad in leathers, furs, carved bone, teeth or claws, maybe you should consider adding these books to your to-read list. They all make for exciting summer reading.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I wish I could tell you that I spent my summer breezing around Europe, or at least making a short journey to France (like I did a few years ago – see the lovely pictures) but the fact is my life is a little complicated at the moment, and time and money wouldn’t allow for it. My writing and publishing efforts are only a small part of it. Family obligations are another, but the big thing this summer was having to pay for a new heating system. We chose to invest in a cost efficient combo oil and wood burning furnace, but it came with a higher upfront price and it required some renovations.

Now, I like to say that I can write anytime/anywhere, but that only holds true when I’m away from home with my music cranked so I can ignore the people around me, or when I’m home with my usual chaos. It turns out, when I have friendly invaders working on my home, getting in the “zone” is nigh impossible. I tinkered with a couple of short stories, mainly experiments outside of my regular genre and comfort zone, but made very little progress on my current novel. I’m hoping it’s just a temporary thing and that I’ll get back on track once the wonderful workmen are gone. If not, I’ll be struggling to get this one, Providence, in the bag before I embark on my latest NaNoWriMo attempt, and I’m still undecided as to which of my projects I’ll tackle for that. Right now it’s a toss-up between Wearers of Skin, another myth-based dark fantasy/horror, or a myth-based straight fantasy called Akin to the Wind. I just can’t decide.

With my writing suffering, I’ve been focussed a little more on family activities, like going to the beach, and mundane things like cleaning the basement and walking the dog. Maybe this is a sign that I need a vacation from writing as much as I need one from my accounting work. When you find yourself working the equivalent of two full-time jobs, no matter how much you love them, eventually you’re going to need to recharge.

So that’s where I am right now, refuelling before NaNo and not one but four books scheduled for release over the next few months (three novels. and one story collection). I’ve been submitting like a mad woman, and I’ve gotten a few acceptances and a few rejections back so far. But I’m losing steam on that too, and I think I should spend the next week of my vacation just not even thinking about stories or books. Maybe I can “cleanse” my system and start fresh at the end of the month.

And as far as my lack of travelling this vacation?…Well, there’s always reading stories written by somebody else or just daydreaming of France on the beach —maybe in five year’s time I’ll get back there when the debt for the furnace is paid off.