My film debut

I am sitting in the Ottawa International Airport (YOW – my favourite airport code!) after a whirlwind trip to my hometown, and am now awaiting a flight to my newly adopted hometown of Edmonton.

Not much would have lured me away from the chaos of my first house and all the accompanying DIY projects, but I can’t turn down an exciting opportunity (by history geek standards). And being interviewed for a documentary on one of the world’s most interesting aircraft trumps tearing down ceramic wall tiles – as fun as that was!

I first heard about this proposed ‘bio-pic’ on Douglas DC-3 “Sister Ann” last June when I was stranded in Regina on my For the Love of Flying book tour. Through the magic of the internet a film production crew from Colorado Springs found my website and contacted me. After all, “Sister Ann” aka CF-POY was registered to Laurentian Air Services from 1971 to 1980.

Since then we have stayed in touch and when it came time to conduct interviews in Ottawa, they asked me to speak to the DC-3’s importance in Canada, the type of work it did with Laurentian, and so on. And while the timing for me wasn’t the greatest – my hairdresser found various colours of paint stuck to my strands yesterday! – it is perfect for the history of the Dakota, Dak or Gooney Bird. This year marks its 75th anniversary and in July 50-odd aircraft will do a mass fly-in at Oshkosh. Gosh!

It will be many months before they wrap up interviews in India and other locations, and piece together the footage they’ve collected. In the end, I’ll be a tiny piece of the puzzle, just one talking head among many in a feature-length documentary. And it’s so cool (in a history geek kind of way).

The Trees in My Mind

It’s a funny feeling, being split between two worlds, but it also seems to be at the core of this writing thing.

The other day I was musing about how living here, in southwestern Wyoming, my physical world is high plains desert: sage brush, antelope, and very few lakes, rivers, and trees. Researching the setting for the first part of my novel, though, I’m transported to northeastern Ontario, a place of mixed forests where bodies of water abound.

Last year while writing For the Love of Flying here, I got to mentally hop from verdant river valleys to the Quebec sub-arctic to Newfoundland and Labrador. But when I stepped out my front door, I felt a weird double-focus where geographies collided.

From what I read of other authors, it seems like we hardly ever write about the place we currently inhabit. One piece I came across recently was by an author who moved to the States 20-odd years ago from the U.K. While her reality has been New York, she consistently makes her characters and settings British, even though it means constantly looking into new trends, slang, etc.

Yesterday while researching my novel, I came across two other such cases: Joseph Boyden, winner of the 2008 Giller for Through Black Spruce. A self-described split personality, Boyden now lives in New Orleans but writes about the James Bay region of Canada where he lived for several years and retains ties.

Giles Blunt grew up in North Bay, Ontario and moved to Manhattan to pursue his dream of being a screenwriter. But then a funny thing happened: he started writing detective novels set in northeastern Ontario. Beginning with Forty Words for Sorrow, Blunt has now penned a series of John Cardinal books with one appropriately called Black Fly Season.

Now Blunt has moved back to North Bay to be up close and personal with the black flies, moose, and winter storms. But I don’t think you need to live it daily to write it. Sometimes when you’re writing in the desert, all you need are the trees in your mind.

Random Roundup

Yee haw – time to catch up on what’s been happening down here in Wyoming!

The last few weeks have been crazy and the next couple of months promise to be as well. First off, the book has officially gone to the printers after a seemingly endless stream of edits, PDF proofs, rewrites, and indexing. I’m sure it felt even longer for my poor editor/designer/publisher Robin Brass. Now we just keep our fingers crossed that all goes well at the printer (which is up the St. Lawrence River past Trois-Rivieres, Quebec) and that nothing goes awry as it’s shipped to the Canadian distributor in southern Ontario.

I can now give you all a sneak peek at the cover design, which I have to say I love, love, love! One of the huge bonuses of working with a smaller publisher was that I got to be involved in pretty much all aspects of layout, design, content, etc. It sounds like the bigger publishers have a “leave it to the experts” mentality with large departments dedicated to covers, back cover blurbs, etc so authors are often excluded. While I’ve definitely bowed to Robin’s experience and expertise, I have my own aesthetic and have heard stories from authors who wanted to throw up every time they saw their book cover! Yikes!

I’m even spearheading my own promotion, which is exciting for me since I’ve always been interested in psychology, marketing, and networking. From what I’ve been reading in books such as The Frugal Book Promoter, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, authors are really the best-equipped to publicize their efforts anyway. So I have been working away on planning my websites, Ottawa launch, Canadian book tour, and figuring out shipping and handling to the U.S. and Canada. There have certainly been hiccups and minor crises already, but so far I’ve got a couple of talks booked in Canada (May 27th in Montreal and May 28th in Ottawa) and I’ve rented a booth for Green River’s Festival in the Park at the end of June with a couple of friends. Stay tuned for official launch and book tour details!

Yesterday I checked out an author event at my local hangout, the Book & Bean. I went for a number of reasons: I’ve been dropping huge hints to the owner, Misti, that I would be very happy to do my U.S. launch party there in June, and wanted to show my support for these kinds of events; I also wanted to check out what folks around here like in a book talk/signing since I’ve been asked to give a talk at the Sweetwater County Library come June-July; and I’d heard that the author, Craig Johnson, was very talented and a great storyteller. Doug went because Misti was serving her famous Cajun buffalo sausages.

It was a great time! Johnson was dressed in his cowboy boots, hat, and a pair of jeans his wife had apparently ok-ed for being cattle poop-clear. He spoke with a western twang and talked about living in a town of 25 on his ranch, and getting up at dawn to do chores before sitting down to writing next to a huge pot of coffee (I’m still not allowed much coffee – see earlier post about “raging out”). He read us a short story called “Old Indian Trick” he had had published in Cowboys & Indians magazine in 2006 after it won a contest. With the name of the story and the magazine I began preparing myself for stereotypical cowboy racism, but it turned out not only to be a terrific story but even challenged racist views of Native Americans. When it was time for him to sign books, I bought his first, The Cold Dish, and chatted with him while he wrote the inscription. Turns out Canadians have been some of his biggest fans – both in the west and the mega-city of Toronto! – and the books are now being translated into French after being picked up by a publisher in France.

Gives me hope that my first novel – which I have started sketching out as a chick-lit mystery set in a Western locale – could have some appeal beyond sage brush country. Hmmm… For now, though, I need to focus on bush flying adventures in Canada’s hinterlands. And how to book a gig in Wawa.

Writing Fever

Forgive me father, for I have sinned, it has been 10 days since my last blog entry…
Ah, but I have so much to show for it: Today is my editor’s official ‘draft is due’ deadline for the Laurentian book, and miracle of miracles, I’m just about ready to send off the final chapters! Of course there will still be editing, rewrites, formatting, and so on, but the manuscript is largely finished, the publisher has all the photos and captions in his possession, and he is confident enough in our May launch date that he has done the mock-ups for the cover and is going to list the book in his spring catalogue (it will be paperback, $30.95 CDN, approximately 225 pages, and have hundreds of photos!).
Can you tell how excited I am? Staring at my double-spaced prose in Word it’s easy to forget that this is not just an extended paper, but that it will actually be a professionally-designed and printed book. Yippee!!
Adding to my excitement is the fact that my article, “Flying away from it all,” appeared in the February/March issue of The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine. I definitely did a little happy dance when my copy came in the mail (and when the money appeared in my account) and it is just way cool to have an article in the same publication as one of my history heroines, Charlotte Gray! (p.s. un gros merci au directeur artistique, Michel Groleau, pour la belle mise en page!)

Here’s the first page of my three-page article in the Beaver, which is available now on Canadian newsstands (unless you’re in the Gloucester, Ont. area, in which case I think my mum and mother-in-law have bought up most of the copies!).

My next article project is a profile of John Bogie, president of Laurentian for several decades, and all-around aviation pioneer. This piece is for the Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and I have a week to write it, which shouldn’t be an issue because I have all the materials at my fingertips from the past year and a half of research, interviews, and photo gathering. Even so, I’ll have to be careful not to indulge my cabin/spring fever too much.

I did make a break for it last week and attended my first ever poetry slam session in Rock Springs. As the newspaper write-up describes it, a poetry slam is “known as the Olympics of performance poetry.” Basically, a few judges are picked from among those present and judge participants’ poetry and performances. Participants must bring three original poems (for a possible three rounds of competition) and are eliminated each round based on their scores. Then there are cash prizes at the end for top finishers!

I didn’t bring anything to read, but I enjoyed myself immensely, made some new artsy acquaintances, and was seriously inspired. So much so that I wrote a couple of rough drafts that night, and another the following morning. Now I just have to polish them up in time (and psych myself up) for the next one…

My friend, Luke, won the prize for “most intense audience member” – no surprise there! Luke is the creator of The Fiddler, a bi-weekly publication that features local businesses and fun stuff like comics, games, etc. He has a background in acting and design. If you want to see how nuts he is, check out “The Farthest Outhouse” on

Writing through it all

I really try to believe in the saying that the universe (or God, depending on your belief system) only gives you as many challenges as you can handle. In Christianity, the story of Job is often used to illustrate this point. I am not a religious person, but this story of God testing the faith of one of his most faithful still resonates.

On a daily basis I find my faith tested, be it my faith in myself or the rest of humanity; faith that life has meaning; or that the world we live in is essentially a decent place. Generally, though – like most people – I’m pretty optimistic, resilient, and do believe that life is not out to get me.

Over the past few years, however, a few events have really rocked this faith and it has taken a lot to get back to my centre. One was my grandmother’s death from an asbestos-caused lung cancer in 2003. She went from a feisty and perfectly healthy 80-year-old woman to a weak shell of her former self in a matter of weeks. Then there was my mother’s diagnosis of an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2006: not only was I scared that I might lose her, but I realized that this was now an ongoing part of my reality – when I turn 30 I need to start getting mammograms because my risk is substantially higher. Grad school rocked my faith in my own abilities as a writer, researcher, and thinker. Even this latest move to Wyoming has caused more than its fair share of instability and frustration.

It’s amazing how much tougher we are than we think, though. With time, and maybe a little therapy, most of us do return to our ‘normal’ selves. I certainly have not come away unscathed from my experiences, but I definitely feel more compassionate, wiser, and more grateful for the life that I have.

My therapy has been my writing. Mostly it happens in journals, letters, emails, and now on this blog. It has also happened in poems, stories, articles, and soon hopefully in books. I channelled my grandmother’s life and death into several pieces, including a children’s book. Some of my struggles with my mother’s illness have made their way into a novel I started in Vancouver and plan to return to soon. Even my non-fiction works are touched by these experiences. This current book on Laurentian Air Services is in many ways a tribute to my wonderful grandfather – a pilot – who passed away a few years ago.

The universe has sent another major challenge my way: my young, vibrant mother-in-law, Dawn, has just been diagnosed with bile duct cancer, something that usually affects men in their 70s. It just seems so unfair and so strange, and has been a terrible blow to Doug and I. In true universe fashion, the timing has also just been rotten. I am thousands of miles away in Wyoming and Doug is now in Scotland for training for three months. We were able to go back for a week-long visit to Ottawa for an early Christmas, because we likely won’t be back for December 25th.

It was one of those wonderful, bittersweet visits. I think we often take for granted the moments with our loved ones – we think they will be around forever and rush through things. I know I am particularly guilty of having wandering-mind syndrome, and am often already thinking about the next activity before the one at hand is done.

Last week I tried so hard to bring my attention back to the present: to feel every hug, to taste every bit of food, and to enjoy every moment. Now that I’m back in Wyoming, it’s hard for my mind not to wander to Ottawa or Scotland. But, with the realization that our days on this planet are numbered – and we don’t often know that number – I am going to try my very best to focus on the book. Not only is it important to me that I keep my promises to myself, my publisher, and all the people who have been involved in the project so far, but more than anything I get the chance to honour the lives of so many men and women in this book. We only truly die when we are forgotten.

Giving Props

In today’s street jargon, “giving someone props” is to give them recognition, often by bumping knuckles. In the aviation history circles I’m running with these days, though, “props” are “propellers” – so it seems kind of fitting to use the term to say thanks to my colleagues’ ongoing support.

As many of you know, I am living in Green River, WY far from Canada’s National Archives in Ottawa or any Canadian library. This makes it really hard to do any additional research for my book, or the air tourism article I just wrote for Beaver, Canada’s History Magazine. Through the miracles of internet and a group of aviation enthusiasts with incredible research skills and resources, however, I have been able to get answers to niggling questions like, “did Laurentian Air Services ever operate a Republic Seabee?” or “did Bertrand Airways ever have a base at Fort Coulonge?”

I just want to take a moment and give “props” quickly to some of these wonderful people: Paddy Gardiner, Neil Aird, Terry Judge, Tim Dubé, Bill Peppler, John Bogie, Dick Pickering, and, of course, my father, Jacques Chenail.

Don’t worry, you’ll still get proper acknowledgements in the book and those pints of thank-you beers I promised!

If any of you are interested in planes or aviation history, you should check out Neil’s website ( and the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (

Not the Busiest Beaver

As of yesterday we are back in Toronto, Onterrible (as my friend, Patricia calls it) for about a week. I had such high hopes for our time in the Ottawa area. Not only was I going to be incredibly productive, but I was going to also take advantage of access to cottages and lakes to have some real fun in the sun.

The sun stayed hidden mostly and while I didn’t accomplish as much as I’d hoped on the book, I did get some work done, mostly around gathering photos. I drove to Beaconsfield (near Montreal) to chat with a gentleman approaching his 80th birthday. In the early 1960s he was working in Schefferville in Northern Quebec and became friends with a Laurentian Air Services pilot. Being a frustrated-would-be-pilot himself (his words), he happily rode shotgun on many a flight, took wonderful photos, and kept letters and documents from the time. I also reconnected with another former Laurentian pilot who provided me with close to 200 scanned photos from the 1970s. Add those to all the other photos I’ve scanned and I’m probably nearing 700 photos at this point!

I also watched a documentary called The Immortal Beaver which first aired this past May on the History Channel. It features actor Harrison Ford, who is a proud Beaver owner himself! One of my new contacts, Neil “Beaver Hunter” Aird, in Kingston, ON lent me a copy when we stopped by his place on our way to Ottawa. Neil has been on a quest to track down every De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver ever manufactured (about 1700) and he’s got a website dedicated to his life’s work: It’s great eye-candy for Beaver aficionados and a great resource for anyone researching the field.

For anyone who doesn’t know what the DHC-2 Beaver is, it is basically the quintessential bush plane and, for many, one of Canada’s major symbols (up there with Maple Leaves, Moose, and Maple Syrup). I’ve been learning about the “flying half-ton truck” because Laurentian was the first commercial operator to use the Beaver back in 1948 and bought many more over the years, putting them to work around Ottawa, in Northern Quebec and in Newfoundland/Labrador. In 1973 they even bought 64 surplus US Army Beavers that were up for auction in Mannheim, Germany – overhauling and reselling the bulk of them in Canada. Laurentian’s president at the time figures they had close to 100 Beavers on the books at one point. That’s a lot of Beavers!

It’s funny, in undergrad and grad school I never dreamed that I would be working in the field of aviation history. What did I know about planes a year ago?! It’s been really interesting and rewarding so far, though. I’ve gotten to meet some wonderful people, and many of the aviation buffs I’ve spoken with seem really keen about the book. I just hope I can put my nose to the grindstone, the pedal to the metal, and all that so that I’ve got a decent draft to give my publisher November 1st!

My father-in-law and his pink Beaver!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.