Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good News about a Sad Story

The annual National Magazine Awards were announced yesterday afternoon, and I was thrilled to pick up a nomination (in the Sports & Recreation category) for my story "A Deadly Crossing", which appeared last May in explore magazine. It's good news but for a story that was based on a sad and tragic event—the death of two kayakers in Howe Sound during a training day gone horribly wrong—that should have never happened. The incident formed the Epilogue to Fatal Tide; it occurred just as I was sending the final draft of the manuscript to my publisher. Over the following months, I interviewed close to 40 people involved in the incident to reconstruct the chain of bad decisions and worse luck that led to two men dying from hypothermia—and two of their friends nearly perishing as well. It was a tough story to work on, and hopefully the honour of being nominated for an NMA will continue to raise awareness about the perils of cold water. An online version of the article can be read here

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Watch your shoulder

Here's a funny picture that my father-in-law passed along to me, taken in Florida, that perfectly encapsulates how too many drivers and road engineers think about walkers and pedal-pushers sharing "their" pavement.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cockpit readers

I was down at Gyro Beach this weekend, taking our kids to the (rainy) Easter festivities there, when I bumped into my colleague, the prolific novelist / short-story writer / hockey memoirist Bill Gaston. We got to talking, and I remembered that Gyro Beach was the setting for an early scene in his novel Sointula. The main character—a suburban mayor's wife who goes off her meds and heads to the West Coast in search of her damaged son—slept on the beach (Bill pointed out the spot where he imagined it happening), hijacked a kayak and then headed up the east coast of Vancouver Island on her quest.

Bill retold a funny story related to the book. He recently sold a pair of kayaks, and the young guy who bought them—a local outfitter—asked who he should make the cheque out to.

"Bill Gaston," Bill said.

"Like the author?" the outfitter asked.

Bill's voice, needless to say, swelled with pride, as he said, "Well, in fact..."

It turns out the young guy had read at least two of Bill's novels, including Sointula. I suggested to Bill that he should have signed the kayak—how often does a writer get to do that?—as its connection to his novel made it an important artifact of Can Lit history.

Last week, I also acquired a funny little kayaking-related anecdote about my own book. My cousin Bernie and his wife had been visiting Victoria from Calgary. He mentioned that his mother—my aunt Karen—had been reading Fatal Tide at her home in Manitoba. When she got to the climactic storm scene on the Bay of Fundy (spoiler alert: the book doesn't end well), she actually climbed into the cockpit of the lake kayak she owns and finished reading the chapter there.

How cool is that? Every author dreams of writing a story that transports a reader so completely. Maybe if Penguin ever prints another edition of Fatal Tide (spoiler alert: highly unlikely!), it can be sold along with a small inflatable kayak, so other readers can share the same "immersive" reading experience.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


It was one of the moments that you can't believe what you just saw. 

Near Oak Bay High School, I was waiting for the bus with my daughter, who was swilling a bottle of milk in her perambulator (yes, it's a stroller but definitely of retro rather than nouveau variety). Suddenly, across Cadboro Bay Road, I saw an SUV lurch through the crosswalk, suddenly stop, and then a woman's handbag land in the middle of the road. 

The driver had just struck a pedestrian.

Fortunately, the woman who had been hit was all right: scratched and bruised, with a twisted ankle and in a great deal of shock. Other witnesses—as well as the driver of the SUV—quickly came to her aid. I called 911 and the police swept in. 

But it all could have been much worse. And from my experience as a cyclist and especially as a pedestrian, it's getting all too common.

The problem seems to be the rising restlessness of drivers caught in traffic—as was that case that morning along Cadboro Bay Road, as a line of cars bottlenecked in both directions while students crossed to get to school—and their willingness to take chances with other people's lives. The Hippocratic Drivers Oath—first, do no harm—gets tossed out the window with the urge to make up minutes and even just seconds on an ever-longer commute. The perceived "right" to get where you're going as promptly as possible overrides the very real responsibility to not put other drivers, and especially cyclists or pedestrians, at risk. Sitting inside the airbagged box of a vehicle makes too many drivers (and I've been one of them) think, and behave, like they're president of the Republic of Me.

Case in point: Even after the injured pedestrian had been helped to the sidewalk. Even after two police cars parked with their flashing lights on. Even as other walkers gathered around what was obviously an accident scene. Even then, two cars approached Cadboro Bay Road from the nearest side street, and then the rear driver laid on the horn because the driver in front of her wasn't making the right turn (through the crosswalk / accident site) as fast as she would have liked. Once that car was goaded into motion, the rear driver then swerved into traffic with the same impatience that had bowled over the pedestrian just five minutes before.

It was one of those moments you can't believe what you just saw.