Romance novels sometimes get a bum rap - denigrated for taking on "trivial" subjects such as love and relationships. And, let's be real: the fact that the majority of their audience is female also earns them a fair amount of disrespect.
I've had enough of this. These so-called "women's issues" - the issues that concern the creation of families, reproduction, and nurturing - are indisputably central to human life. Let's not allow them to be marginalized.
But I digress (slightly).
Not every novel has to be serious. A thriller in which a secret agent saves the world from an evil overlord can be flighty and fun, and that's fine. By the same token, romance per se is not trivial. It can be quite weighty.
Early on in Seeking the Center, Agnes identifies the force against which she will struggle during the course of the novel. She muses:
Dad didn't want her to move to Wapahaska. He was afraid that she would never come back. From Wapahaska she would be lured to Thompson, or some other big city, a place that had mutated, like the cannibal Windigo of the old stories, into a silent, howling flash-freeze, parched and ravenous. But instead of feasting on her flesh, it would feast on her spirit.
Agnes was well aware of the dangers, though, and they didn't lurk in any particular geographical location. Being young, female, and brown-skinned meant that she was expendable, and set her up for the worst anyone anywhere cared to dish out. Huddling in fear at home in St. Cyp was no guarantee of safety, much less of vanquishing Windigo and feeding her own spirit.
Traditionally, Windigo is the cannibal spirit of the Algonquin tribes of sub-Arctic Canada, a place where, during the long, cold winters, starvation often threatened. In that difficult environment, in what must rank as one of the cruelest reversals imaginable, Windigo could possess a person so that, instead of feeding their family, that person would eat their family. Notice that the primary issue wasn't that Windigo could cause death, but rather that it could unravel our most important relationships and interdependencies. It could undermine the very foundation of society itself, and threaten the survival of humankind.
During the centuries since Europeans first came to North America, Windigo has come to represent the greed of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism which, in the words of scholar Grace Dillon, "makes sense because imperialism is cannibalism: the consumption of one people by another." (In my mind, at least, this links up with the longstanding, tragic issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women: these women have simply been consumed.) In Agnes's mind - and in her father's - Windigo is a force that threatens to swallow her up, either physically, spiritually or both.
What I didn't know when I first wrote Seeking the Center was the degree to which, in the traditional Windigo stories, the spirit targets women - often young women - by disrupting their potential marriages and their reproductive and nurturing roles. Windigo was no dummy - it struck at the very heart of the family and therefore of society. But what I also didn't know was that, in those same stories, women are the people most able to defeat Windigo, using tools and attributes associated with their traditional roles: i.e., pots, pans, knives, bodily fluids, and that extra-special something they possess when menstruating.
I bring all this up to say that these northern people put young women and their relationships front and center in the battle for the preservation of society. In Seeking, as in romance in general, the characters are looking to create relationships and, the implication often is, become a family unit, thus perpetuating society and humankind. Male as well as female - people of any gender - these romance characters win their personal battles to the extent that they engage their nurturing impulses, their capacity for love.
As Claude the hockey enforcer says in Seeking, "There's fighting on the outside, but the inside battle is what it's about. You know, taking care of each other."
Which brings us to today, January 21, 2017, the start of a new era. Windigo threatens. Let's get out our pots and pans, and whatever we've got, and march, and fight. Our families and our society are depending on us.