Marsha Qualey shares the story behind her story …
Thin Ice is set in a small town in northern Wisconsin. The main character is a teen girl, Arden, whose brother has disappeared as a result of a snowmobile accident on a frozen river; he crashed through thin ice, and the body has yet to be recovered from the water. Arden’s parents had died long before, and the brother’s accident means that now she’s alone.
That’s the dramatic situation for much of the novel. I wrote a lot of Thin Ice when on a few writing retreats, often to a lake cabin in northern Minnesota and once to a cabin on Madeline Island on Lake Superior. As I wrote I imagined Arden newly alone in her house at the edge of town, and when I did, the darkness outside those cabins where I worked suddenly seemed alive and threatening. When I wrote the scene where she’s hiding inside as some visitors try to gain entrance to the house, I imagined unseen people outside my cabin windows watching me through the curtain-less windows. I had to go to a back room where the windows were covered. To this day, when writing at the cabin, I can only work at night in the back room.
And the fish phobia? Prior to writing this book I’d never been freaked by fish. Heck, I’d spent plenty of time in a boat and on the dock fishing; I’ve unhooked my own catch since I was young. But now? I can’t even look at a fish (photo or the real thing) for a second without turning away. Even a slab of salmon in the grocery store cooler gives me shivers. And that’s a result of the research I had to do for Thin Ice. Because Arden’s brother’s body disappeared in a river, I had to ask the questions I thought Arden would ask: What happens to bodies in cold water? How long does it take before a body might resurface? What factors would prevent resurfacing? What critters would be lunching on bodies in winter?
That latter question is what started the fish phobia, of course, as I began picturing the activity underwater. Researching and finding the answers to the questions didn’t help things either.
And in case all of this has made you fearful about reading Thin Ice, let me add that there’s a lot of non-scary stuff in the book too as my research and writing went beyond cadavers and fish and included geology, muscle cars, juggling, jewelry making, and pompadours.
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