Michael Hutchinson is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation, north of Winnipeg. He is the author of the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series for young readers. He has spent much of his career telling the stories of Indigenous peoples and advocating for First Nation families and communities across Canada.
Author Q&A with Michael Hutchinson
Where do you find the inspiration for your books?
I get a lot of questions about the First Nation–Canadian relationship. One of the motivations for creating the Mighty Muskrats was to educate Canadians and Indigenous youth about the history that grew from that relationship and how it has impacted First Nations families. I want to create understanding, not just on the level of knowledge and the mind, but also the level of empathy and the heart. Through education, a better relationship can be built, and today’s young people have the right hearts and minds to make it happen.
When it comes to the characters and stories themselves, they are often a reflection of my family and First Nation, the Misipawitik Cree Nation, as well as my Canadian hometown, where I graduated high school. I hope Indigenous youth can see their families and experiences within my stories and characters.
What were your favourite books when you were a kid? As a young reader, did you see yourself in the books you read?
Growing up in rural areas, my family only had one fuzzy TV channel, so we read a lot. I enjoyed sci-fi and mystery books. My grade 5 teacher introduced our class to the mystery series, The Three Investigators, so I added the super cool fort in the Mighty Muskrats mystery series as an homage to those characters and their hangout.
I also really enjoyed the Hardy Boy books; however, I often did not see myself in those books. They had a wealth that I did not experience in my adolescence, coming from a big family, with my Dad at the start of his career. The Hardy brothers both had motorbikes and they lived in a mansion. One reason I was inspired to create the Mighty Muskrats was so that children closer to my life experience might have representation.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned when creating your books?
The writing process can be very enjoyable, but it can also be painful. It feels so good when the ideas and words are flowing, so bad when they don’t. However, the most surprising thing I have learned is how characters can take on a life of their own. Their life develops its own internal logic that may become separate from the writer’s original ideas for that character. At times, it almost feels like I am just describing their actions and feelings, rather than creating them.
What is a challenge you have faced as a writer?
The past year has been a difficult of one for myself and my family. Not only have there been work and location changes, but also the loss of close family members. With all that, it was difficult to find the inspiration to sit down and write or, even harder for me, to do the detail work necessary to plan out the story and the minutia of characters’ motivations, so that the book has a logical and satisfying end for the reader. But deadlines are deadlines and, as a former journalist, they’re practically sacred to me. It was a lesson in motivating myself to write, beyond the joy of being inspired by a good idea for the story or a character interaction.
What advice do you have for kids who are interested in writing?
First, I always say, if you want to be a good writer, you have to read. When you read, you’ll experience genres you’ll like, the flow of sentences you like, writing styles that keep you interested, and a mix of dialogue and description that you enjoy. All this reading experience will become the palette that you draw the colours from when you do your own writing. By reading a lot, you are filling your colour box with a lot of different hues.
Second, writers write. Make sure you are sitting down and using your pallet to bring out the ideas and feelings in you. If you need to, get a timer and make a weekly schedule that you force yourself to maintain. Commit to, for example, sitting down for 15 minutes every second day to write something. Set a timespan and schedule that meets your ability. But then, work to make it grow. Using the above example, work toward writing for 15 minutes every day, and then lengthen the time. But get that butt in the chair and write!! It doesn’t matter how brilliant the ideas in your head are, they need to get written down if they are ever going to reach an audience.
Third, once the idea gets out of your head, you need an editor who will become your first audience and help you create the effect within the reader that you were hoping to make. Sometimes, the steps in the logic of our ideas don’t all make it into the writing. An editor will help ensure that the product reflects your goals. Find someone who understands you and your intent with the piece, and whose criticism you can take without getting defensive.