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 https://www.skippyswell.com/.

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 (www.dhc-2.com) and the Canadian Aviation Historical Society (https://www.cahs.ca/).

The Writing Life in Wyoming

I’ve heard from a few people that it sounds as if my life is full of activities … not to do with my writing.

Alas, that is largely true. It was very hard to stay focused last summer when we were bouncing from place to place, not really knowing when our impending move would actually happen. Then, of course, once we knew we were moving we frantically began preparations, drove across the country, found living quarters, and set about settling in. Again, not the kind of quiet, routine-filled life that I crave when I’m working on a project.

I have been squeezing in writing time here and there. But, in cliched writer-like fashion, I contacted my publisher last week for an extension. I had a good reason, though! The editor of Beaver Magazine asked me to submit a story idea for their upcoming aviation-themed issue (it’s the centennial of powered flight in Canada next year). I couldn’t say no to that! So I dug through my notes and wrote up a story pitch (in the midst of having a sick puppy to tend) last week. It’s been accepted, but the draft has to be in for early November. Hence the extension…

My work on the article is connected to the book, though, so I don’t feel like I’m wandering too off topic. And considering all that’s happened, I’m doing pretty well: chapters 1 and 2 are really polished; the intro and chapter 3 are pretty well done; my rough draft of chapter 4 should be done by today; and chapter 5 by the time Doug gets back from training on Friday. I also have tons of notes already typed and organized for the rest of the book (probably another 6 chapters). All my archival and secondary research is done and I have a wonderful set of colleagues back in Ottawa who are doing an amazing job fielding my nit-picky questions. All that remains is a few telephone interviews and doing a bit more background research into this new article on backcountry air tourism.

With decent powers of concentration I can hack out a rough draft of a chapter in a week. Maybe a week and a half now that I can only write during puppy’s naps 🙂 My mum just sent me a package filled with teas and I have a huge container of coffee. I am ready to fuel-up, buckle down, and get this book (and article) done before December. As long as life doesn’t throw any more curve balls my way, it should all go according to plan!

10 Photos That Changed Canada

Last Thursday The Beaver, Canada’s National History Magazine, launched its August/September issue at the National Archives in Ottawa, ON. This issue featured “10 Photos That Changed Canada” and I was lucky enough to be invited to the unveiling and to meet with the photographers.

The Beaver’s editor, Mark Reid, convened a panel of Canadian photography experts last year and asked them to come up with the top-10 list. As he told the group of people who attended Thursday evening, this panel tried to decide which photos captured a moment or feeling in Canadian history – perhaps, even, instances of a collective consciousness.

The photos they chose included the famous Canadian Pacific Railway’s Last Spike shot taken by Alexander J. Ross; a photo Ottawa-area photographer Rod MacIvor took of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau walking with his son, Justin, splayed sideways over his hip; and Paul Henderson’s winning goal against the Soviet Union’s hockey team during the 1972 Winter Olympics.

As Mark said during his speech, he felt the panel had chosen iconic Canadian photos. Nevertheless, he recognized that not everyone would agree with the selection: defining Canada’s history through only 10 photos would be a considerable challenge and a controversial one at that. After all, there has never been “one” Canada that Canadians agree upon.

I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with most of the photos that made the top-ten. Having been born in 1982, I wasn’t around for Trudeau-mania, the Cold War, the October Crisis, or Terry Fox’s amazing Marathon of Hope. Also, while I’ve studied Canadian history for over six years, it’s different when you can pinpoint where you were and what you were doing at that exact moment. Nevertheless, some of the photos – and the stories accompanying the photos – did give me chills. After all, a good imagination and empathy can go a long way.

One photo really stood out for me. In 1990 Shaney Komulainen snapped a picture of a young Canadian soldier (Patrick Cloutier) almost nose-to-nose with Brad Laroque, a masked Aboriginal warrior, during the Oka Crisis near Montreal, Quebec. While I was only eight years old when the standoff occurred, I have repeatedly seen that photo while exploring the history of Aboriginal/Non-Aboriginal issues in Canada. I was also studying at McGill when the 10th anniversary took place and had a chance to meet Ellen Gabriel, one of the Kanesatake Mohawks’ chief spokespeople at the time.

Shaney was about my age when she took that amazing photo. As she told me when we were chatting, “I was only 27 years old. I was painting the walls in my new apartment when I heard what was happening.” She, along with many other journalists and photographers, quickly traveled to the area. As Shaney told Chris Webb, a Beaver writer, she “snuck through the woods” to the disputed area at the Sacred Pines and “was faced with the hostile showdown between soldiers and natives.”

One of the photo panelists, Michael Creagen, noted: “Sadly, this photo refelcts the deep divide this country still experiences with its aboriginal peoples. It’s simple in its visual construction, but symbolic beyond its immediate news moment.”

Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in this country do still have a very complex relationship with each other and their shared histories. Photos like Shaney’s bear witness to how we continually navigate this minefield – sometimes more successfully than others.
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.