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Behind the Page: Larry Verstraete on 'Dinosaurs' of the Deep

Whenever I write, I draw upon a memory. Sometimes I do so consciously. More often than not, though, it is without any real awareness. I just know it’s there, like a ghostly spectre looking over my shoulder.

In this memory, I am drawn back to an episode from my youth. I am 13 years old, perhaps 14. It’s Saturday morning, and I am at our local library, stalking the non-fiction stacks, plucking books off the shelves, doing quick scans, then putting them back. Nothing quite grabs my interest. Then one book with a yellow spine catches my eye. It’s a National Geographic publication, thick with photographs and articles about the Institute’s expeditions. I flip through the book. One item stands out from the others, an article about a mountain-top discovery in Peru. In the high Andes, a centuries-old tomb has been found. Photographs show the interior and the haunting image of a young boy sitting inside, frozen in death, one arm across the other, his head resting on his knees, his eyes closed as if asleep.

I sit on the floor by the stacks and read, lost in the story of the boy-mummy and the tragic circumstances of his death. An hour later, I surface from the fog, suddenly aware of my surroundings. It’s a magical feeling, as if I’ve been transported through a portal that links past to present.

Whenever I write, I write to that transported young person. Whether I am conscious of it or not, I write for the me of long ago, a reader so entranced by a story, so enveloped in facts that time slips by unnoticed. I try to recreate that feeling by crafting compelling yet readily understood material, and by blending facts with explanations that keep the momentum moving.

My favourite subjects lie at the intersection of science, history, and adventure. All three ingredients can be found in 'Dinosaurs' of the Deep, which is one of the reasons why I jumped at the chance to write the book. It was a rare opportunity to write about my home province, one of its treasures—Morden’s Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre—and a fascinating period in the uncharted past when colossal creatures ruled the waters above the ground where I now live.

I knew the book would offer its share of challenges, but that, too, was part of its appeal. Writing the book would stretch my scientific understandings, force me to tread on unfamiliar ground, and conjure up some way to parlay complex concepts into language that kept readers moving forward, captivated by what was on each page while eagerly anticipating the next. In the end, I wrote—as I always do— to that memory from long ago, for that reader who hangs over my shoulder, guiding my every word.

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Turnstone Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Province of Manitoba through Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage.

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