The Evolution of a Story – Author Guest Post

The Evolution of a Story – Author Guest Post

The following is a guest post from debut author Jeff Pinkney. Soapstone Signs, part of the Orca Echoes series, is the story of a young Cree boy who is visited one spring by a master soapstone carver. The carver gives him four pieces of soapstone, and teaches him to listen to the signs and whispers from the world around him as to what to carve. The book was inspired by Jeff’s own travels through the James Bay Frontier region.

An Idea Like Uncarved Stone

Moose River (and snowmobile tracks) in the winter taken from The Polar Bear Express train, at Moose River Crossing which is just upriver from the communities of Moose Factory and Moosonee.
Photo credit: Doug Cheechoo.

As a tourism consultant living in South Porcupine, Ontario, I traveled my James Bay Frontier route by train and by plane. I fell in love with the landscape at Moose River Crossing where the train tracks cross the mighty Moose River before the train rolls into Moosonee. It was there that I would dream of opening a birder’s lodge. These wonderful memories provide the setting for the story. I am also a soapstone carver, having learned the art from a Cree elder, with roots in Moose Factory. He gave me lessons and provided me with my first piece of stone. I carved a bear cub. As well I am a conservationist and someone with a deep appreciation for the northern landscape and the people who call the James Bay Frontier their home. All of the above came together and the result is my story Soapstone Signs.

Moose River in the summer. There are no roads to get you here – just the train (or plane or snowmobile). This picture shows the beautiful vastness of the water, land and the sky in the Mushkegowuk area. These are world famous birding lands!
Photo Credit: Doug Cheechoo

My family and I moved to Peterborough in 1999. Prior to that, the James Bay Frontier was my home for just over ten years. I still have friends and contacts in the area and I called upon a few as the story formed.  I am especially grateful to Rick MacLeod Farley for his careful critique and Greg Spence who provided guidance on use of Moose Factory Cree (or the L dialect).

 Soapstone Signs has been alive in my head as a story since 2007. I wrote chapter one as an assignment in a creative writing program, headed up by Professor Orm Mitchell, at Trent University. I was there working toward my english degree. I had enjoyed the course segment on writing for children with Professor Joanne Findon, herself a popular children’s author.  She suggested that I might consider pursuing publication. Buoyed with this newly instilled confidence I entered the story in The Writers’ Union of Canada Writing for Children Contest and won in 2007. I remain forever grateful to both Orm and Joanne for the education received and the encouragement to go for it. It was at this point that I wrote the other chapters and turned the story into a novel. Next, I was  ‘discovered off the slush pile’ at Orca, and the adventure continued.

9781459804005Being my first novel, this has also been my first editing process. Amy Collins is my editor at Orca, and she has been methodical, detailed, sometimes grueling, persistent, yet always calm and considerate. With her guidance the story has been patiently refined and polished and made ready for publication. Amy has set the bar high, and my expectations of an editor will be at a very lofty place, should I get this privilege again.

It was a wonderful and emotional day when sent the mock up for the cover design, and there he was, my little character who had lived only in my head and only in print for so long. To see the work of Darlene Gait becoming part of the story has been a rare and special delight. She has captured the magic of the story in her incredible illustrations.

The Orca team has been awesome to work with. The launch is coming up shortly, and I am very excited that this book will soon be in the hands of so many readers.


For more information or to find out more about his book launch and other events, visit Jeff Pinkney’s website at


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