We built small blazes at first. Built them for the smell of fire nibbling at straw, for the thrill of the sudden flare. And for the drama of the miniature world we imagined down in the grass, burning up. The fires were tragic for the tiny people who lived there. Now they must run from their minute homes and travel for a day to set up camp four feet away in a fresh forest of unscorched grass.
That’s the opening to the first story I ever featured in as a fictional character. It’s the beginning of “Powers of Sight,” the story that opens Sightlines, the first book my author L published, back in 2000. Long before I became the protagonist of her current novel in progress, I was narrator of the first and last stories in Sightlines. Taken together, the thirteen stories in the book make a portrait of the fictional town of Flat Hill, where I grew up. (Not to be confused with Bredenbury, where L grew up.) After a good twelve-year run, the traditional, paper edition is out of print. I’m proud and happy to say, though, that Flat Hill lives on as an ebook. You can read it on your Kindle, you can read it on your iPad or your Mac or your PC. You can “look inside the book” to read the remainder of that first story at Amazon.com (the “look inside” feature doesn’t seem to be turned on at Amazon.ca). L didn’t have the rights to use the original cover art, lovely as it was, and so she designed a new cover, which was fun, she says, but took her many, many hours. Many, many, many. So we sure hope you like it. She began with a detail of a photo her cousin took at a family reunion in the fifties. That elbow you see is the elbow of L’s Dad.
In earlier drafts, “Powers of Sight” did not begin with the paragraph you see at the top of this post. It began with something else, something necessary to the story but not quite so engaging. The astute Elizabeth Harvor was writer in residence at Saskatoon Public Library at one stage in the development of Sightlines, and she read a draft of the opening story – neither she nor L knew at that time that it would be the opening story – to give L some editing suggestions. Her main suggestion went something like this: You’ve buried your beginning a third of the way in. And she circled that paragraph, on page three I think it was, and she set it in front of L and she said, “This is where the story begins.” I was a little shaken up. It was the first time I’d been edited by a pro. Elizabeth was right, though, and I’m glad my author listened.
Sightlines was originally published by Coteau Books. It will appear in other ebook formats – Sony, Kobo etc. – in spring 2013.)
Expert photographer Margaret Phillips, helped L prepare the cover photo, removing a utility pole that appeared in the original. The original photograph was taken by Leonard Anderson. It’s L’s favourite picture of her dad. Here it is:
“Leona Theis writes of the accidents of small rebellion, courage and kindness that have the power to change who we are. With a spareness, clarity and elegance of style, Leona Theis knows what wants to be large and small. Like the name of the town, Flat Hill, these stories are a study of opposites, mature and intelligent observations that show us ourselves, and our own points of departure.”
— Sandra Birdsell, author of The Russlander, Waiting for Joe, and other wonderful works