Of books and bears – Harold Macy launches San Josef

The first time I hiked into San Josef Bay I was wor­ried about bears. Didn’t even see a track. The second time, I woke up one morn­ing and grog­gily wondered why Rick was mak­ing so much noise out­side the tent.

Turns out, Rick had gone to in­vest­ig­ate the sea stacks and a bear was wan­der­ing through camp. Luckily, all our food and toi­letries were safely stowed in an im­pro­vised bear-hang.

I’ve ex­plored San Josef two oth­er times via the prin­ted page. The first was at a week-long writ­ing work­shop at Strathcona Park Lodge. That’s where I met an­oth­er wanna be writer, Harold Macy.

One af­ter­noon, while Harold’s wife and two young sons went for a walk, I sat on the floor of their suite next to a stack of pa­per. Harold poun­ded away on an old IBM Selectric type­writer (com­puters were few and far between in 1986) as I read a draft of his work-in-progress.

I re­mem­ber the evoc­at­ive lan­guage and the strong sense of a wild, wet land­scape and the haunted, hope­ful char­ac­ters that in­hab­ited it. The ma­nu­script began with a man in an oil­skin coat row­ing. For thirty some years I pondered the U.S. civil war deserter’s fate once he reached the strug­gling Danish set­tle­ment on north­ern Vancouver Island in Canada.

This sum­mer I found out when Tidewater Press asked if I’d write a blurb for the back of San Josef. Harold’s story ig­nited memor­ies of my vis­its to the re­mote bay and of the writ­ing re­treat that launched my career.

But most of all, I was struck by the de­vel­op­ment of the plot and per­son­al­it­ies. Both had ma­tured like a boda­cious red wine. Within three pages, Harold cap­tures the soul of a man and the land­scape he finds him­self in.

San Josef is a deep and some­times dark nov­el where hope goes astray but is nev­er lost. The char­ac­ters are as com­plex as a spider’s web, the lan­guage po­et­ic and the en­vir­on­ment a tan­gible force.

Harold Macy is the au­thor of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart. His short stor­ies have ap­peared in PRISM International, The Malahat Review , Orion and oth­er publications.

On Saturday, Oct. 26 Tidewater Press and Harold Macy will launch San Josef at the Courtenay and District Museum at 2 pm. in down­town Courtenay, BC.

Admission is free; stor­ies will be filled with Harold’s trade­mark hu­mour and the his­tory that in­spired this novel.

Preparing to launch Part 3 — guest blog by Rick James

Well, con­trary to Susan and Harold’s exper­i­ences with book sign­ings, I actu­ally looked for­ward to my book launch of West Coast Wrecks & Other Maritime Tales with a good deal of con­fid­ence. Per­haps too much.

For one, I have no short­age of taste­ful, bet­ter qual­ity shirts in my closet. (Christmas presents over the years from Mom and also cour­tesy of Paula’s broth­er who man­ages the fash­ion­able out­door store, REI, in San Francisco). Plus I had just bought a new pair of black jeans. And since I don’t live in Merville like Harold, my fin­ger­nails stay reas­on­ably clean.

But I do make sure I get a hair­cut just be­fore a present­a­tion. Oth­er­wise, my un­ruly, white locks tend to make me look like a de­ranged Albert Einstein.

Also, I cred­it my abil­ity to stay re­laxed be­fore a group to the fact that I’ve giv­en a fair amount of slide shows and present­a­tions over the years. And for some bizarre reas­on, I’ve be­come a more so­cial an­im­al as I age and ac­tu­ally en­joy stand­ing up in front of a group. (This been a sur­prise to Paula who of­ten re­minds me that I used to be a quiet and retir­ing Fanny Bay recluse.)

Last fall I had my book launch at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. And, gad sakes! some 60+ people turned up and they were all out there in front of me!! Man, I was pumped and I think my pub­li­cist from Harbour Publishing was sur­prised too. Turns out she mis­judged the num­ber of people who would at­tend and had­n’t pur­chased enough pastry items; a dis­ap­point­ment for those late get­ting to the good­ies table.

The PowerPoint present­a­tion went over exceed­ingly well. A good indic­ation of suc­cess was the com­ments af­ter­wards and ques­tion peri­od that las­ted for about 15 minutes. The worst thing that can hap­pen at the end of a present­a­tion is that every­one sits there with a dead­pan, bored ex­pres­sion on their faces.

So I was brim­ming with an over­whelm­ing sense of suc­cess and good­will as I made my way to the book sign­ing table where a crowd had already lined up. Then it happened; about sev­en signed cop­ies along.

As I looked up at this big, middle-aged, bald­ing guy with a pony tail I asked, “Who should I make it out to?” And he an­swers, “Rick James!” I did a double take and replied, “No, that’s me, the au­thor, I mean, what’s your name?”

Rick back in the 1970s be­fore he de­veloped his pub­lished au­thor persona.

Rick James!” he de­clared again. “Don’t you remem­ber me from the old days in Victoria? How could ya for­get, I mean, we not only have the same name…” And con­tin­ues in an overly loud voice, “Oh man! We even used to smoke dope to­geth­er at Keith’s place on Burdett back in the early 70s!”

Thankfully most of the folks around the table were old friends or work col­leagues who were prob­ably already aware of my past. Still, I could tell some people were startled. You know, the strangers I had man­aged to con­vince over the past hour that I should be looked upon as a respect­able West Coast mari­time his­tor­ian and writer. Who knows what they thought after the oth­er Rick James fin­ished talking?

So there you go, no mat­ter how well pre­pared – and groomed – a per­son is for a book sign­ing, some­thing totally un­ex­pec­ted can still bring you to back to real­ity with a jolt.

Preparing to Launch Part 2 — guest blog by Harold Macy

Whatever the occa­sion, go­ing to town re­quires thought as to dress, or could re­quire thought if one was giv­en to care. A quick run to the feed store or Central Builders is pretty straight­for­ward. But for such an event as a book launch, espe­cially if it is one’s own book launch, may call for a bit addi­tional consideration.

If it is a high-brow lit­er­ary event, would I wear the tried and true tweed jack­et with suede el­bow patches, pos­sibly over a sweat­er vest? — how time­less is that combo? Or is it so dated to be pathet­ic. Or per­haps I could try the po-mo look — lots of black, maybe even a fake pier­cing and a temp ‘tat.’

My cri­teria are not driv­en by the whims and caprice of the Style Section of the Globe and Mailwhich we buy each Saturday, but rather by neces­sity. Something that doesn’t show dog hair is high on the list. There is enough black hair in the seat crevices and cranny’s of my truck to knit a new hound. Something that relates to the weath­er, usu­ally water­proof, rein­forces the gum­boot archetype.

Harold Macy is the au­thor of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart

But really, I don’t care. I take les­sons from my Grandpa. His long legs were per­petu­ally clad in blue den­im over­alls. Annually, upon Grandma’s ur­ging, he bought a new pair, stiff as boards, which he ini­tially saved for church. After a few months, they be­came his town and house pair. Eventually they were worn in the shop, on the tract­ors and in the calv­ing barn do­ing the chores he loved. After a year or so on this duty, they were fit only for wipe rags. Grandma made quilt squares from any sec­tion that was not thread­bare, grease stained or soiled by the wet but messy mir­acles of anim­als, but there were only few.

But it is not your clothes that are no­ticed at a book launch. It’s your fingernails.

I gave a talk re­cently and was set­ting up to sell and sign books to the good folks in line, money in hand. I glanced down at my hands and saw the half-moon of cargo delin­eat­ing each and every nail. Not only that but there was a stub­born smear of chain­saw oil giv­ing the edge of my hand a del­ic­ate blush of purple, not un­like a fresh bruise. Various scratches. Enough grit in my fin­ger­tips to make cop prints and a dust­ing of Merville Silt, appar­ently a par­tic­u­lar nox­ious ele­ment accord­ing to the Sears Carpet Cleaning Technician who does our rugs once a year.

So, as the first pink-fingered, smooth-handed lady passed me my book to sign, I al­most felt the urge to make some glot­tal grunt to match what really mattered, my hands there on the page. Now her page. Soiled. She glanced down at the vir­ginal page, at my stub­born grime and made a small si­lent “Oh” with her mouth. I felt her gaze, looked up, and gave a wan smile.

Don’t worry about the clothes, check your fin­ger­nails first.

Paula’s note: Harold ori­gin­ally sent the above in as a com­ment to Preparing to Launch, a guest blog by Susan Ketchen. It’s so well writ­ten — and funny — that I de­cided to run it as Preparing to Lauch Part 2

The sub­ject of clothes, fin­ger­nails and po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments that hap­pen to au­thors at book sign­ings seems to have struck a chord for many writers. Check back in a couple of weeks for Preparing to Launch Part 3 & 4



Preparing to launch — guest blog by Susan Ketchen

For the nor­mally re­clus­ive au­thor, one of the es­sen­tial com­pon­ents of new book pro­mo­tion is — un­for­tu­nately — The Launch. Even if a form­al af­fair — at a gal­lery, with of­fer­ings of wine, fancy fin­ger-food from an exot­ic cater­er and nap­kins that look like works of art — is avoided, the ven­ue is but one of many many de­cisions which must be made.

The date should be close to the is­su­ing of the book, but not so close that you’re in heart fail­ure for days be­fore, wor­ry­ing about wheth­er you’ll have stock on hand. You also have to de­cide how and when to ad­vert­ise the event, who to in­vite, how many chairs, how much stand­ing room, who will sell the books, and oh yes, what you’re go­ing to say dur­ing your presentation.

But for me, the first and most daunt­ing ques­tion, every time (and I’ve launched three books) is al­ways and im­me­di­ately: What am I go­ing to wear? Perhaps for most people this is not a dif­fi­cult prob­lem to solve. But I live on a small farm, and spend days on end see­ing no one oth­er than people on neigh­bour­ing farms and some­times the Hydro meter reader.

On the few oc­ca­sions I go to town for gro­cer­ies or chick­en feed, my stand­ard of dress aims not for style but for clean­li­ness. I have no idea what is cur­rently fash­ion­able. Reading the Style sec­tion of the Globe and Mail is ab­so­lutely no help — I’m sure they are ca­ter­ing to people on an­oth­er plan­et, the one called “Toronto.”

For one launch, I threw my­self on the mercy of the clerk in a fash­ion store. I told her I needed to stretch be­yond my usu­al com­fort levels, but in ret­ro­spect I think she was bored and look­ing for someone to play a prac­tic­al joke on. I still can’t bear to look at pho­tos of that launch. I wish I’d tucked in my shirt the way I wanted to and not left it dangling the way I was told I must.

For an­oth­er event, I had my en­semble well planned in ad­vance, some­thing light and airy, to min­im­ize sweat (us farm folks sweat) un­der the hot lights in a small room. On the day of the event, it snowed. This was March, on Vancouver Island, where of­ten a whole winter can pass by with no snow at all. Back to the draw­ing board.

And then there’s the shoe prob­lem. In my closets I have rid­ing boots, rub­ber boots, hik­ing boots and run­ners. When I try on clothes in fash­ion stores, the clerks are known to say, “You won’t be wear­ing those shoes, will you?” They will be look­ing askance at my (new­est) run­ners, which are in­ex­plic­ably dirti­er in town than they were when I left the farm. There is of­ten a piece of hay stuck to the laces, be­cause on the way out the drive­way I had to stop and re­spond to a plaint­ive ex­pres­sion from a horse who thought he was hungry.

It oc­curs to me, re-read­ing this ri­dicu­lous state of af­fairs, that per­haps fret­ting about cloth­ing is a form of pro­cras­tin­a­tion, as I avoid think­ing about what surely is the main point of the event: What am I go­ing to talk about?

Well, I could go on about that too, and I would, but the thought of it is mak­ing my palms sweat, which is not good for the keyboard.

Paula’s note: I also suf­fer from out­fit anxi­ety be­fore a book launch. I won­der if this is some­thing only fe­male au­thors go through?

As for Susan’s book, Grows that Way, I was read­ing it in bed one night and kept laugh­ing out loud and wak­ing my part­ner up. I’m long past be­ing a young adult but the ori­gin­al plot, feisty char­ac­ters and fresh writ­ing kept me read­ing – and stifling chuckles — un­til the wee hours of the morn­ing. You can find out more about Susan at www​.susanketchen​.ca.