Sunday, November 23, 2014

First draft of Cataline manuscript is DONE

Jean Caux, Cataline.
 Famed mule-train packer of British Columbia 

"Image A-02038 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives"
I should have written this last month, but I was so excited to go away to New Mexico, that I saved the news until today.
Before I went on my holiday, I managed to get the first draft of the Cataline manuscript done and off to the beta readers. For those of you who aren't familiar with Cataline, he's also known by his real name: Jean Caux. Monsieur Caux, for he was from France, came to British Columbia in the late 1850s for the Fraser Gold Rush. 
Before long he realized that he could make more money running a mule pack train, so he took up that occupation. He was very good indeed at his job, and kept at it until he was well into his late 70s. 
He became a folk legend of sorts in British Columbia for a number of reasons. First, he was an old timer and knew all the tales from the past, and knew all the famous people like British Columbia Governor James Douglas, and Judge Begbie, and Simon Gunanoot, and pretty much everyone. Second, he was absolutely unique. He had a strong Bernaise accent, and used colourful language peppered with profanity. He was particular in his dress and habits, and as years went on he became known for his idiosyncrasies. Third, he got the job done. New packers sprung up all the time and not all were reliable. Some went on 'sprees' and got drunk and never came back. Others didn't know how to handle animals (Cataline was famed for his knowledge of horses and mules). And some of the packers lost goods or were terminally late. Fourth, he was physically tough and seemed almost indestructible. He slept outside, no matter the season or the weather. He woke up at 2 am, and worked all day every day spring, summer or fall. Sometimes he rode a horse, but many times the packers walked. Fifth, he was well-loved by families, friends and foes. Everyone respected Cataline (except perhaps the Hudson's Bay Company, but we'll get into that a little later). 
Anyway, right now the manuscript is way too long. So I'm depending on the beta readers to tell me what to cut and keep. Once I get their feedback, I'll work some more on the manuscript and get it to the editor's early in the new year. Then, once she's waved her magic wand over it, I can send it off to the publisher. A long, slow process, but one that is the best for me. I want the book to due Cataline justice. He deserves it.

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

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.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Book Review: "Campie" by Barbara Stewart

It seems that everywhere you go in Canada, you hear of people leaving for the oil fields in Alberta or Northern British Columbia to get a job. Some of these jobs are paid very well indeed. Others, not so much. Especially if you're the campie.

I've had this book for a while, and just got to reading it a few days ago. I wasn't expecting to like it, given the description on the front of the book which gives one definition of campie (the main character of this memoir) as "a sober, celibate, bankrupt vegetarian" because that doesn't sound like much fun now, does it?

But I was wrong. This is a very good book indeed. Barbara Stewart has given us great insight into not just the lonely slog work of a campie (a camp attendant in an oil-rig camp...a cleaning lady, a janitor), but also allows us to witness a searching insight into the soul of the writer. For some oil patch workers, their experience in the north turns into their own personal Heart of Darkenss. For many, it may be the only choice they have. What seems to be a quick way to accumulate some ready money, turns out to be much more.

Stewart looks into herself and sees how she ended up where she did, and how she was going to get herself out of that place, both emotionally and physically. Campie is beautifully written and constructed, with a smooth flow from one event--and thought process--to the other. The book is 190 pages long, and I read it quickly in one evening. That says a lot for the quality of the words, and the deep emotional connection that the author conveys. 

For an interesting insight into how she incorporated her religious faith into the book, read this great blog post.

Campie is published by Heritage House and is available anywhere fine books are sold.

I review books on British Columbia , and on Nordic Noir. I can be found on Twitter @susmithjosephy I'm writing another book, so check out my website.