Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Interview with Gary Sim, author of Railway Rock Gang

An interview with the hard-working Gary Sim


SSJL Tell us about yourself. 
GS: I was born in Vancouver BC, but graduated from Steveston High in 1969. I dabbled in quite a few different jobs and activities along the way, including working for the phone company, and for BC Rail. I've written numerous published articles, and have published (and keep updating) the digital project BC ARTISTS. I also draw, paint, and produce limited edition prints and etchings. By day I work for DGBK Architects, Vancouver, as a Construction Administrator, specializing in healthcare construction. 

Tell us about your book
Railway Rock Gang is a compilation of memories and photographs of projects that were done during the nine years that I worked for BC RAIL on the Rock Gangs, from 1978 to 1987. I was always taking photographs of interesting projects, and after many years decided to put them together with chapters describing the projects. From this grew an 800-term glossary in which I describe all of the tools, equipment, terms, techniques, and slang used by the rock gangs on a daily basis, that might not otherwise be familiar to the reader.

How did you get starting writing this book?
About 18 years ago I was volunteering at the Writers Festival. Every year they held a volunteer thank you party, with an open mic. Any volunteer who wanted could sign up to read. I decided to write the short story "Patrolling the Budd" for the event, and did the reading as planned. When I finished, a guy came out of the audience and introduced himself as one of the characters I'd written about in the story. He was the BC RAIL Lillooet Station Operator that day, and remembered the events vividly. He was quite excited to hear the story, and it really showed me how our history is relevant and important.

What did you learn during the writing process? Can you give us any tips?
I was lucky in that I have hundreds of photographs taken during the time I worked for BC RAIL, so many of the stories came from simply looking at the pictures and describing them. I think that telling personal stories about "the old guys" (as one of my readers put it) makes the stories more interesting. My main difficulty in writing was managing all of the images that I wanted to use, and a rigorous filing system is highly recommended, and a way to link the images to their desired location in the book. Outside of that, I actually had fun writing the stories, especially since I didn't have to make anything up. In production terms, the computer gives endless freedom for writing, hacking, hewing, proofing, writing alternate tries, listing things to do, doing research and fact checking, and making ongoing sequential backups. Otherwise, my main "tool" is to read everything aloud to myself (or to anyone who will listen). You can find and fix lots of funny wording if you read your writing aloud.

Tell us about your previous books/projects.
I have self-published a number of pamphlets over the years, starting with the "Sim Family Goodie Recipes" book, and continued with compilations of drawings and limited edition prints. I've issued historical chapbooks on Ruiter Stinson Sherman (1865-1941), Maud Rees Sherman (1900-1976), School Days magazine (1919-1931), and John Kyle (1871-1958).

What is it that you like about your particular area of history?
A lot of the information on our history is being lost, literally as we speak, and I think that anything we can do to save it is important. As well, the time and places that I'm researching are often places where I too have lived in BC, and it is interesting to see the changes over time.

What books are you reading right now?
Charlie Hill at the National Gallery sent me a copy of "Artists, Architects & Artisans: Canadian Art 1890 - 1918", which I am working my way through (it is a hefty 340 pages).

Tell us about your next project.
I seldom have just one project on the go. I keep adding information to my main project BC ARTISTS. I'm working on a catalogue raisonné of my artwork, and a biography of early Vancouver/BC artist Maud Rees Sherman. I'm writing another autobiographical volume to fill in the early and later years that Railway Rock Gang doesn't include.

How can people buy your book ?
I created a website, which has links to the BLURB onlinebookstore. I can also ship or deliver a copy locally, email me to order at

Thank you, Gary!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Blog Hop

I was asked by Matt Posner, a novelist and teacher and friend of mine, to participate in a blog hop by answering four questions about my writing. Though they seem simple, they're actually quite thought provoking. 
Hello! Is it me you're looking for?
Here are the questions:
1) What am I working on?
So much. Maybe too much? 

My main project right now is a non-fiction history book. It's about a mule train packer called Jean Caux, who was originally from France, and came to British Columbia in 1858 for the Fraser River gold rush. Jean Caux, whose nickname was Cataline, is a sort of folk hero in British Columbia history. Click this link to a bit more about the book and to a very cool photograph of him.

Cataline was just a regular, every day sort of guy. He worked hard in his new country, he was a kind man, he was a good friend, he was a reliable and honest person, and was true to himself. Eventually, because his career was so long--it spanned from the 1850s to the 1910s--he became known throughout the province as a unique and almost mythological character. Due to the nature of his occupation, and the length of time he spent at it, he was often at the forefront of major events in British Columbia, and met many famous historical figures. In the end, he became a rather historical figure himself. I found myself intrigued and charmed by the man, and hope readers will be too.

I've recently branched out into fiction writing.
I am working on a bunch of different short stories. Some of these are stories I've already written, and am now revisiting them and revising them. Others are new, just fresh off the branch. Yet others still are stories I'm writing for the two fiction-writing courses I'm taking. And still more are stories I'm writing to enter into contests. This is my year for learning how to write fiction. Or so I tell myself, anyway.

My fiction is usually dark, gloomy and death is usually featured in some way and probably it will be winter. Right now, I'm also a little bit obsessed with Mars, so that's been working its way into the writing as well.

I'll be the first to admit it's a little gloomy
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My non-fiction is always about every day people doing extraordinary things. I don't know if this is different from others in this genre, but it's what I like to read and therefore, what I like to write.

I am not sure if my fiction is different from others in its genre, mostly because I don't know what genre I'm writing in. I mean, yes, it's mostly about death, but they're not mystery stories, or gothic stories, or goth stories. You tell me! A sample of my fiction can be found here.
3) Why do I write what I do?

Non-fiction: I like to see how these folks fit into their society, and how they interacted with others. It also makes me understand history a lot more when I can read about one regular person and seeing their lives can be put into context by how they lived through major events in history. 

Fiction: I only recently that I discovered that pretty much everything I write has a death of some sort, whether it be a character that dies, or discusses someone who died in the past, or someone's experience is so devastating that their soul dies, or the environment dies. I'm not all that gloomy in real life, so I don't really know how to explain this, except that without death, there is no life. And that death is an integral part of life on earth. So I write about it in order to understand it, I guess.
I wrote it, and you can buy it!
4) How does my writing process work?

It alternates between agonizing, painful, and snail-like punctuated with wild ideas that couldn't possibly be workable. Somehow, the two poles come together in a glorious mess. 

My non-fiction ideas come from reading. When I read about some aspect or event that I want to know more about it, my first instinct is to see if there's a book I can read about it. If there isn't, I start researching, and sometimes, I write a book about the subject. 

That's what happened when I wrote my book about Lillian Alling. Lillian was a young Eastern-European immigrant who was living in New York. Like many immigrants, she missed her home in the old country and wanted to return home. But she chose a different method than most. She figured she could walk to Siberia and head home from there. Starting in 1926, Lillian walked across North America, and was in Nome Alaska by the late summer of 1929. She was extremely eccentric, and an extraordinary woman.

When I first heard of Lillian, I figured the story was just a folk tale. But a bit of research proved me wrong. By then I was so intrigued, I wanted to read a book about her, but couldn't find one that fit the bill. So I wrote one myself. Wanna read it? American readers, click here for the e-book. Click here for the paperback. Canadian? Click here for the ebook. And here for the paperback.

Well, that's enough from me. But, next week, March 17 , check out the following three authors who will continue the blog hop over on their own blogs:

Amalia Dillin is the author of the Fate of the Gods Trilogy.
Find her on these sites:

Jenna Willett is a native of Denver, Colorado. Currently, she's working as a Lead Copywriter for a Denver ad agency, while pursuing her ultimate dream as a traditionally published author. 
In 2011, she optioned one of her young adult manuscripts to Envision Media Arts, a film, television and commercial production company based at Paramount Studios. She also enjoys writing the occasional short story or flash fiction piece, including her most recent, "Chasing Monsters". 
Besides writing, Jenna is proud to call herself a book lover advocate. It's rare to find her without a novel in her bag, especially one from the ever expanding YA genre. Through her blog and her own words, she's determined to instill a great passion for reading in those around her. 

Find her here:
Twitter: @jenspenden

Robin Diana Ashe is the author of Empire State Vamps and dark faerie tales.
She can be found here:
Twitter: @VampWriterGRRL

And thank you to Matt Posner, novelist and teacher, for introducing me to this blog hop. Here's how you can find Matt:
Twitter:   @schooloftheages

And me? I can be found on Twitter @susmithjosephy and at the links on the top right side of this blog.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Someone Borrowed my Toilet Plunger and Did Not Return it So I Wrote this Poem

Tomorrow never comes
Only today exists
In our minds, and in our future
Let us realize this forever
Everyone is the same, but so different
Take the time to understand this, it's not so hard

Ponder the deepness of the universe
Lead the way with your thoughts
Understand you're not the only one who thinks this way
Never feel alone in the universe
God may exist, or not
Even the simplest of man realizes that

Remember, remember

The Mind of a Writer

Robert DeNiro - Academy Awards 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Short Story Challenge Round One Heat 39, Historical Fiction/a Widow/Sworn Enemies

Title: Claim Jumper
Synposis: The Widow Chapman, proprietor of The Sporting Saloon in Richman’s Valley, ponders past relationships while considering marriage to Judge Williamson.

Six-Feet Murphy didn’t have six feet nor did Pock Mark Davis have any visible pockmarks. Nellie loved both men equally. Or, as equal as she could under the current trying circumstances.
She kicked her mud-caked skirt away from her ankles and got back to work.
“Never mind all this jawbowing. Drinks, boys?”
“Don’t mind if I do.” “Yes, ma’am.” “A round for the house.”
This last comment was greeted with rough cheers and a general shoving towards the bar.
Nellie handled it all. She always did.
“Whisky for you, Sam. A fine ale for you Doctor Wilkes. A shot of brandy for you, Monsieur?”
As the winter night progressed, the fug in the bar got worse. Smoke curled from uncountable cigars, and the black iron stove churned out a bilious concoction made from coal, wood and the occasional splash of kerosene.
The piano churned out tune after jingly tune and the hurdy gurdy girls kept up a brisk business. They allowed themselves to be twirled and swirled around the dance floor, their red woolen skirts adding to the heat of the evening. At the end of every dance, strong-armed miners would heft their dance partners to the ceiling so the girls’ skirts swung like bells, exposing their off-white petticoats and black culottes underneath.
“A dollar a dance, and no foolin’ around,” the hurdy gurdy girls chimed, their German accents thick and their voices sweet with youth.
The men had stripped to their shirt-sleeves, the sweat pouring down their foreheads.
It was good for the drinking business, all this dancing, sweating and virtuousness, thought Nellie.
Of all the miners, the dreamers, the doctors, the lawyers, the brewers, the thieves and the general populous that lived in Richman’s Valley, about all of them were in Widow Nellie Chapman’s Sporting Saloon that evening.
Except for Six-Feet Murphy and Pock Mark Davis. These two fellows never left each other’s side, like a pair of mangy dogs scrapping and growling over one gnawed-up bone. Once the best of friends, and now sworn and sullen enemies, they eschewed the party at The Sporting Saloon, and swore off the drink and the dancing. For they had their claims to watch over, and neither man trusted the other not to jump.
With a whoosh and a bang, first the inside swinging saloon door opened, and then the outside log door struggled against the wind and the banked snow and finally groaned to a gap of two feet wide. That was enough. Just wide enough for a drunk miner to take a piss off the frozen boardwalk. Not only was it cold outside, it was damn cold. Cold enough so when a man spit, it turned to a slough-filled icicle, then crumpled on the ground in a disgusting yellow plop. Cold enough so that Old Man Chapman’s nose hairs were white with hoar frost when he stomped his way down the frozen mud of the main street.
“You bally fools!” shouted Old Man Chapman to Six-Feet Murphy and Pock Mark Davis, who couldn’t be seen at present, but Old Man Chapman assumed the men to be in the frozen stiff canvas tents propped up on top of the men’s adjoining claims.
Old Man Chapman pushed his stubby body through the two-feet opening of the log door of the Sporting Saloon and pulled the door shut behind him as best as he could with just one arm and a hook for a hand. He could tell those young idiots a tale or two about stubbornness.
He didn’t bother with a dancing girl, just headed straight for Widow Nellie Chapman, behind the bar in the Sporting Saloon.
“Well, daughter, you’ve got a full house tonight,” and pulled his custom-made ale tankard to his mouth. Not a drop spilled, not a drop wasted.
“Almost closing time,” she smiled. “Coffee’s on in back, if you want.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” said her father-in-law, gallantly.
He narrowed his eyes at his daughter-in-law. Married young, widowed young. Worked hard, canny business woman. Nice looking gal.
“Your fellas are still camped out, girl.”
“They’re not my fellas, and you know it.”
Nellie had her eye on Judge Williamson for betrothal, and it appeared that the feeling may be mutual. She gave a glance out of the corner of her eye, and sure enough Williamson bowed slightly towards her.
“Daddy, you’ve got it all wrong. Those fellas aren’t after me. They’re after gold and neither likes the other’s face.”
Daddy gave a cackle, followed it up with a bout of phlegmy coughing, and then lit a cheroot. After puffing on it for a minute or so, and contemplating what Nellie had said.
“I miss my son.”
Nellie stopped. It was as if the music suddenly quietened, and the room faded away and it was just Daddy and herself, back on the ranch, waiting for Billy. William Chapman the Third, now deceased, but then very much alive but no longer, due to a bucking horse and Billy having quite an ego about being a horseman. Stubborn is just another word for stupid, thought Nellie.
“As do I, Daddy.”
“You going to marry the judge?”
“I believe so.”
William Chapman the Second, took another puff of his cheroot and removed it from his mouth with his hook. A fair feat, but one he had much practice with. Stubborn, like he said.
“My blessing to you, then.”
“You’re a good man, Daddy Chapman.”
She looked away, then down. The counter could use a polishing, she thought. Not many more months in this place. A Judge’s wife. Well, it was all right for a Judge’s wife to have a past. Everyone did in this place, in this town, in this region, in this territory. In the whole damn place, everyone had a past. The marriage vows would take care of it, and she’d sell The Sporting Saloon for a tidy profit and she’d have her own nest egg plus a judge’s wife’s life besides.
As she mused on her future, she didn’t realize at first that the saloon had become quiet not just in her own head. It was silent in real life, too. No piano, no dancing, no shouting, no singing. A few creaks when someone’s boot caught a chair leg. A hiss when a drop of sweat hit the hot stove. An intake of breath when people realized that Six-Feet Murphy and Pock Mark Davis had pushed their way passed the thick log outer door, onto the small frost-covered square of wood that led to the saloon door that led to the saloon itself.
“Whisky,” croaked Six-Feet Murphy. In reality, it sounded like “whzhh” because his vocal cords were a little rusty having not been used for a few months now.
“Brah,” gasped Pock Mark Davis, and the Widow Chapman guessed correctly he wanted a swig of brandy.
Both men sucked back their drinks soon enough, and demanded a second and a third.
In the past, Six-Feet Murphy and Pock Mark Davis coming in together to the Sporting Saloon would not have raised a hairy eyebrow. The two men had come to the diggings together after they left California, and had shared a cabin for many a year. They also shared a gold claim and some people said they had shared a woman or two but that’s another story entirely. But years of poverty, scraping to make ends meet, and eventually, a bad case of cabin fever, had led them to this moment.
Their drought over, Murphy and Davis, both professional Irishmen, got up on cold-stiffened legs and headed to the piano.
Mr. ‘Jingles’ Coxenburg, the piano player, had been dreading this moment. To think he had studied at the Royal Conservatory in Belgium. He imagined his father, The Marquis, and how shocked he would be to see his son playing the piano in the Widow Chapman’s Sporting Saloon. Or any saloon, for that matter. Still, no one in Belgium wanted to pay him to play, and here he was, with an ale glass full of coin, bills and cigar butts, if we’re being honest. But oh how he dreaded the Irishmen and their…
“A jig!” shouted the former friends and former enemies and currently friends again. “Play us a jig,” they cried, and began to dance a drunken, bent-legged, rather obsequious jig.
Gone were the memories of dividing the cabin in half, complete with death threats and booby traps if the other man dared to pass into the other half of the cabin. Gone were the accusations of claim jumping, gold stealing, and horse thieving.
“Let ‘er rip!” shouted someone in the crowd, and The Sporting Saloon was soon hopped up with energy, liquor and stale sweat oozing from the unwashed. It had been a long winter, and only a few establishments offered baths. Most men would rather put their dollar towards a dance or a drink rather than wasting it on cleanliness.
“A reel!” and sure enough Mr. Jingles obliged, and Old Man Chapman waved his cheroot, and Widow Nellie Chapman polished the counter, and silently counted the take for the night. Heavy-booted feet pounded on the floor boards, and dishes and bottles rattled as the rhythm got louder and faster.
Judge Williamson, who had been playing cards all this time looked up idly. My, that Nellie Chapman surely is a fine looking woman. Good cook, too, I’ve heard. He looked back to his cards, and then to Murphy and Davis. As the judge was 6 foot five in his silk socks, and a successful amateur pugilist, he thought he might get called in for assistance if Murphy and Davis regressed to old behaviour patterns.
Six-Foot Murphy, was known as thus because he cleverly found a six-foot no man’s land between two high payout claims, and staked it for himself. He believed himself to be the intelligent one of the pair.
Pock Mark Davis, who did have one pock mark, but not on his face, and truly, only someone who’d shared a bed or a bath with him could tell you the location of that pock mark, considered himself the good looking one.
Neither was much of a dancer. But the entire saloon was so relieved that a drunken, bloody argument hadn’t broken out, that they received much more accolades than they deserved for their dance.
Nellie loved both men equally. Or, as equal as she could under the current trying circumstances.
She remembered when Six-Feet Murphy had been Doctor Murphy, five maybe six years ago. His blonde hair and beard neatly trimmed and how he’d doffed his hat when they’d met at the ranch. Her husband William Chapman the Third had been alive then. Her husband had been a stubborn man, and had died as a consequence.
Nellie knew where Pock Mark Davis’s pock mark was. It was on his behind. His beeehind, as her former father-in-law Old Man Chapman would say, his cheroot lit and hanging out the side of his mouth. She’d seen that pock mark, one day when she was bringing in some fresh hot water to the bath she kept in the room behind the bar. Davis was a clean man in those early days, and insisted on a weekly bath. An Irishman from Boston, he came from a wealthy family that sent him remittances ‘til this very day. And on that bath day when she’d seen his pock mark, he’d been naked, his white buttocks almost glistening, as he bent over to fiddle with the water taps. He hadn’t been a stubborn man then.

“A jig!” and Mr Jingles, of the Belgian Royal Conservatory obliged, pounding out yet another jig for the two men that Nellie, soon to be the Judge’s wife, loved equally. Or as equal as she could under the current trying circumstances.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book review: Barkerville and the Cariboo Goldfields by Richard Thomas Wright

The book Barkerville and the Cariboo Goldfields by Richard Thomas Wright is one of the standard works for understanding history of this region. Now in its fifth printing, Wright's book has been updated and rewritten. The first four editions of the book sold more than 35,000 copies in the 30 years since it was first published. I have confidence that this version will also sell very well.

I first read this book many years ago, when I was in university and getting a degree in history. Now I live very close to Barkerville, and write non-fiction British Columbia history books. So a new edition of Barkerville and the Cariboo Goldfields is a great addition to my already groaning bookshelves.

Not only is this an excellent introduction to the history of Barkerville and surrounding regions, it puts the region and its people into the greater context of British Columbian history. The Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s, in which Barkerville was one of the main players, was just one of many gold rushes that spanned the globe. Miners from as far flung places as Australia, India, Europe, China and as close as the United States all formed a tight-knit group of men and women who carried friendships and feuds from goldfield to goldfield. Here you'll find engaging tales and anecdotes of eccentrics, land barons, merchants, miners, murderers, and much more.

As well as being a keeper as far as my bookshelf goes, I liked the volume because it also included "A Visitor's Guide to Williams Creek." Wright is well-positioned to give advice to visitors. He has worked at Barkerville Historic Town for many years and now, in addition to research and writing, manages Barkerville's Theatre Royal with partner Amy Newman as Newman and Wright Theatre Company. Barkerville is one of the Cariboo region's greatest treasures, and this book is a must-read for people love the place as much as I do.

Barkerville and the Cariboo Goldfields is published by Heritage House, and is available where ever fine books are sold.


I review books about British Columbia and about Nordic Noir. Please contact me directly if you want your book reviewed. I am on Twitter a lot. Drop by and say hi. I'm writing a book about Jean Caux, aka Cataline, the famed packer of British Columbia. It's almost finished. I'm typing as fast as I can.