Thursday, September 24, 2009

Q&A With Cathy Marie Buchanan

Amy: The Day the Falls Stood Still is a love story set in Niagara Falls in 1915. Bess Heath, a privileged young woman falls hard for a not-so-privileged young man, Tom Cole, who has an uncanny ability to predict the often erratic behaviour of the Niagara River and Falls. Why did you choose to write a love story?

Cathy: In writing the novel I wanted to go beyond the traditional love story of boy meets girl, boy gets girl. I was

interested in what happens after boy gets girl, after the pair settles down to daily life. Almost always there is conflict, and such is the case with Bess and Tom. One source of friction is the massive hydroelectric development that is, true to history, taking place on the Niagara River. Tom Cole is against the development and the diversion of water away from the river and falls. Bess isn’t so sure she agrees. She sees how cheap, abundant electricity can better people’s lives. Tom and Bess struggle, and I wanted that struggle to be part of the love story.

Amy: In the Author’s Note at the end of the The Day the Falls Still, you tell us the novel was inspired by the life of William “Red” Hill, Niagara’s most famous riverman.

Tom Cole, the riverman central to the book’s plot, is loosely based on him. Can you tell us a little more about that inspiration?

Cathy: Growing up in Niagara Falls, it was pretty difficult to escape the lore surrounding Red Hill’s heroics. There’s a rusted-out hull of an old barge still lodged in the rapids a short ways back from the falls. I grew up knowing he rescued the men marooned there in 1918. I’d see the plaque commemorating the ice bridge tragedy that took place in the winter of 1912, when loads of people were blithely crossing the river and the ice suddenly broke up. And I’d know he’d risked his life to save a teenage boy. One of his sons was alive in my lifetime, and I’d open the newspaper and read a story about him carrying on the Hill tradition and rescuing a stranded tourist. All of these stories were percolating for years before I became a writer. When is came time to write my first novel, the lore of my hometown was a natural place to find inspiration.

Amy: The Day the Falls Stood Still is a novel, but it explores the very real subject of progress and its

environmental implications. By writing the novel, were you hoping to draw attention to the impact of the diversion of water for hydroelectricity on Niagara Falls?

Cathy: At the book’s opening in 1915, true to history, the engineers of the Hydro Electric Power Commission were working on a scheme to put an end to the power and money running to waste at Niagara Falls. Tom Cole is deeply reverent of the Niagara River, and he is dismayed as evermore water is diverted away from the falls to fuel the powerhouses.

I don’t think many tourists know that what they’re seeing tumbling over the falls is only 50% of the natural flow of the river. Sixty years ago, the Niagara Diversion Treaty was passed. The treaty set the minimum flow over the falls at about 50 percent of the natural flow during the daylight hours of tourist season and 25 at all other times. Today the largest diversion tunnel ever−it’s about 6 stories high−is currently being dug under Niagara Falls, Ontario. When it becomes operational in 2013 more water than ever before will be being diverted away from the falls. I can’t help but think Tom Cole would be preaching conservation rather than more diversion of water. I do think it’s important that we recognise the tradeoffs we make even for clean energy, and, yes, I do hopeThe Day the Falls Stood Still draws attention to the compromises we are making at Niagara Falls.


Beth F said...

Excellent interview. I'm really looking forward to reading this book soon. I can't imagine even more water being taken from river.

bermudaonion said...

This interview has made me even more interested in the book because of the environmental aspect involved.

The Tome Traveller said...

I loved this book! Thank you so much for this great interview, I always like to hear more about the story behind the story!

Anonymous said...

History, love story, environment, war and faith are but to name a few of the intertwining storylines in this book. It is a beautifully written story that had me captivated. Thanks for the insight behind the real facts of Niagara Falls and the trade off for hydro-electric power.

Tara said...

Great interview - thanks!

Jemima said...

Thanks for the interesting interview. I really enjoyed The Day The Falls Stood Still because it was a perfect mix of themes and ideas. Not too overdone like some other books I have read lately. It was nice to read a love story that had the continuing life of the couple with its ups and downs.

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

Thanks for hosting the Q&A, Amy. Nice to see that people are interested in the environmental aspect of the book.

Jenny Girl said...

I did not know about the water diversion thing. That really stinks! I haven't been to Niagra since I was a kid, but I can still remember the power and awesomeness I felt at seeing that close up.
I really should go there again. The book sounds lovely. I'll be adding this to my pile. Thanks and great interview Amy.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Great interview, Amy! You touched on a lot of things that interested me about "The Day The Falls Stood Still."

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