Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Ed Butts

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Ed Butts (photo credit: Pond's Foto Source)

The Great Lakes make up the largest system of freshwater lakes on Earth. Though you may not think about it as you stroll Toronto's harbourfront, these lakes can pose the same danger to ships and sailors as our oceans do — and, according to some tales, they are just as rife with sea monsters and other creatures you wouldn't want to encounter! In his new book, Shipwrecks, Monsters, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes (Tundra Books), Ed Butts dives into the history and lore surrounding these incredible bodies of water.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book Shipwrecks, Monsters, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes.

Ed Butts:

The first part of the book is about Great Lakes disasters; ships that have been lost, sometimes with all on board. Some of the shipwrecks, such as that of the Bannockburn, are mysteries, because no one knows just why the ship sank. The second part of the book gives accounts of people who claimed to have seen strange beasts in the waters of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

OB:

What is it about the Great Lakes and their history that so interests you?

EB:

There aren’t many other places in the world where you can stand on the shore of a lake and not see the other side. They truly are inland seas. They lie in the heart of North America, and to a degree they are still a wilderness. They can’t really be tamed, the way a forest wilderness can be tamed by having the trees cut down. All of the historical drama, romance and adventure we associate with the high seas has also happened on the Great Lakes.

OB:

Which is your favourite historical or mythical tale about shipping disasters on the Great Lakes?

EB:

Of the stories that are in this book, I think one of the most compelling is that of the Monarch. When the people were shipwrecked on Isle Royale, if it were not for the determination of Captain Edward Robertson, a lot of people who survived might otherwise have died.

OB:

Describe your writing process for Shipwrecks, Monsters, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes. Do you conduct all of your research first and then get down to writing, or do you prefer to juggle these two tasks as you go along?

EB:

I research and write as I go along.

OB:

How did you ensure that this book — and your other juvenile non-fiction works — would appeal to your audience of children from ages 9 to 12?

EB:

I try to find elements in a story that will appeal to readers of that age group; things that are exciting, mysterious, funny, etc. If there are actually kids involved in the story, that’s a plus, because the readers can identify with them.

OB:

You lived in the Dominican Republic for several years. How did your experience living in such a different culture and environment affect you as a writer?

EB:

When you live in a culture and environment that is different from the one in which you spent most of your life, you have an opportunity to see things from an entirely different perspective. You gain a greater appreciation for things you once took for granted. You can even find yourself re-assessing your old code of values. That is bound to affect the views you have of things when you sit down to write.

OB:

Your previous children's books, X Doesn't Mark the Spot (Tundra, 2008), SOS, Stories of Survival (Tundra, 2007) and She Dared (Tundra, 2005) have also been about adventure and survival. Why do you find yourself returning to this subject, and do you foresee future books with a similar theme?

EB:

The greatest stories, whether true or fictional, are about adventure and survival. We usually associate the word “adventure” with fun, as in adventure parks and things like white water rafting; or with romantic stories like The Adventures of Robin Hood. But adventure isn’t always fun or romantic. If you’re in a shipwreck, an earthquake or a car accident, you’ve had an adventure. It wasn’t fun, but the important thing is that you survived to tell about it. For the second part of the question; yes, as long as someone wants to publish the books that I write, and people want to read them, I foresee future books with similar themes.


Ed Butts is a writer and editor with a special interest in Canadian history. He lived for several years in the Dominican Republic, where he taught English and social studies and wrote regularly for local magazines. He has published several books of fiction and non-fiction and has written for numerous publications in Canada and the United States. Ed Butts lives in Guelph, Ontario.

For more information about Shipwrecks, Monsters, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes please visit the Tundra Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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