"I have to stand whenever I tell this..."
Manuscript notes: This chapter written out of sequence after the rest of the book was finished. Not recorded where or exactly when.
One of the reasons I chose to write historical fiction is that I felt we have lost touch with these revered figures today. We tend to look back at players such as Harvey Pulford, and Alf Smith and Frank McGee more in an attempt to reconcile their individual records against the records of more recent players, rather than what they really were: real human beings, with wives and jobs and worries and sorrows, who lived lives fully and independently of hockey. Lost in the columns of goals, assists (when they counted) and points is the more human aspect of these players.
I learned from his nephew George Toller that Art Moore, the only member of the famed Silver Seven not in the Hall of Fame, became an insurance salesman, and loved big cars and cigars. I learned that Harvey Pulford's wife died at the height of the Silver Seven's fame, I learned from his grandson Ken Forrest that Albert Forrest was as frugal as a church mouse, and just missed catching the Portland with his family in 1912, and the fate awaiting that ship. Art Moore's son would be killed in action during the Second World War. I learned from D'Arcy McGee's son that D'Arcy once introduced Winston Churchill in the Canadian Parliament, and that Churchill, just before going on, had asked him for a nip of Brandy.
So much of interest that cannot be used without committing some sort of anachronism, which brings me to Laurel Boone's letter.
I knew there was trouble when Laurel refused my phone call a few days before the letter arrived as confirmation. I'm pretty sure I never defended myself, but it rankled not that she would reject the manuscript, but that she would question my research.
I have come to pride myself on my research. And I can and will tell you here what I wouldn't mention to her then: that the harbor in Sackville did not close until about 1914; that the men in World War one swore like pirates, the word 'fuck' their favorite; that the word heterosexual was first used around 1869; and most importantly that country girls would indeed drink with sailors in taverns; any investigation into rural living will reveal the enormous energy with which young people would travel great distances to participate in anything even remotely exciting, to relieve their boredom.
(NOTE: From Fussel's book The Great War and Modern Memory: "Even the unremitting profanity and obscenity were managed so as to achieve literary effects. The intensifier of all work was fucking, pronounced fuckin', and one exhibited one's quasi-poetic talents by treating it with the greatest possible originality as a movable "internal" modifier and placing it well inside the word to be modified. As in "I can't stand no more of that Mac-bloody-fuckin'-Conochie." Perhaps hell was overworked...")
The swearing was removed from the manuscript at both Laurel Boone's and Paul Kitchen's suggestion. You throw it in there as a writer trying to be realistic, but in the end, when you have to endure it, it becomes bothersome, irritating. The original manuscript had Smith swearing like a pirate, and every last swear, I believe, has been removed. And damn isn't a swear. She got me on the knock-knock joke though, and it was removed. But the problems Laurel found with the book transcended mere irritations with alleged anachronisms. The fact is Goose Lane Editions is looking for more refined literature, where this book has leaned heavily toward hockey history. Despite the rejection, I decided to work on the manuscript to her taste, but in my heart I knew now that Goose Lane would not be publishing this book, no matter what changes I made. But I went to work, with every intention of resubmitting it. Nobody has ever written a book on Frank McGee before, and it was too important to let go.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
Suddenly without a publisher, I had to write and send a new query letter:
He was the nephew of an assassinated Father of Confederation, the very first superstar on the very first dynasty in the history of hockey. And he was the only legitimate Hall of Fame athlete of any sport to be killed in action fighting for his country.
His name was Frank McGee.
Contemporary accounts describe McGee's remarkable career, his well-documented scoring ability, and the fact that he played only four seasons before abruptly retiring in March, 1906. Invariably theses articles end with the obligatory, '...and McGee joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and gave his life overseas, in 1916.' Gave his life overseas...a haunting, unexplored line rendered secondary to his athletic exploits, expressed almost as an after thought. And so I have explored this man's remarkable ice hockey career as well as this haunting reality, and the result is my historical novel entitled, Killing Frank McGee.
I am the author of Dawson City Seven, a novel about the group of Dawson City, Yukon hockey players who made the infamous 1905 trek across Canada to play the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup. Published in Canada in 1993, I completed the publisher's longest book tour in their history. I have also published articles in the Society of International Hockey Research Journal, and have appeared in documentaries about the Dawson story.
If you would like to look at the manuscript, please let me know. I thank you very much for your time, and look forward to your reply.
"On July 1st the innocence of an entire empire, lying battered and bleeding for the past two years..."
Manuscript notes: Chapter begun 11/4/96, in Holiday Inn, Longueuil, Quebec, Canada. Continued in Boucherville, Quebec, Toronto, Ontario. Margin notes include, "11/11 Toronto (11/11? What a coincidence, tonight saw documentary about Somme." A note at the bottom of a page of research reads: "You know I hope somewhere far down the line you're reading this thinking about your father, or grandfather or whatever relationship I am to you. How are you? Nice to meet you. Take care of business - do the right thing for yourself. It won't be the right thing for everybody, but that's ok. Don't worry about dying. Hundreds of thousands of innocents died on the Somme - you and I are insignificant in comparison. Have fun. Write your own books. Love well. Do something nice for someone else today. Respect tomorrow. Bye. 10-11-96. DR."
At the risk of sounding old fashioned, I believe if you're going to do something, you may as well do it right. And if you're going to spend a couple of years doing that something, you may as well go to the greatest lengths possible to do it right. Most of the hockey, outside of the specific Ottawa information, is from my experience. But the Kinnear side, the war side, I did not know. And so I turned to my greatest resource, my brother Gordon.
Gordon lives in Mystic, Connecticut, and is a life-long aficionado of all things military. His knowledge spans a spectrum of interests, from tactics to hardware to leadership and more; his single-minded affection of history vividly illustrated one afternoon as we stood on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, where Gordon proceeded to get into an argument with a total stranger about what exactly occurred there. I would venture to say that Gordon's specialty is World War II, particularly the Eastern Front in Germany's war against Russia, where my brother Ken's is the Civil War. But Gordon had what I needed, namely an extensive library of books that included the First World War.
And so I began to read, and read...and read. I would dog-ear the pages that held something of interest, and when finished would go back and record it in my notebooks. I would look for anything that was remotely related to something I knew was in the book, and also things that interested me in general. I figured what interested me would interest others, and from these long, numbered lists I would glean the best to include or insert, improving the manuscript.
What struck me most about the Somme was the casualties suffered by the British on the first day. Sixty thousand casualties - Sixty Thousand! - and most, they believed, within the first half hour. The stories of High Wood and the like were astounding, thousands of casualties in terrible fights over mere acres of useless land. I was overwhelmed reading of these experiences, and tried hard to understand how the men must have felt, their hopelessness, their fear, their growing hatred at their own commanders for throwing them mercilessly against machine guns which annihilated them almost instantly...to read of the trenches of the First World War is to visit probably the worst situation humans have found themselves in, where the advances in technology far outstripped the nineteenth century tactics employed by vain, inept commanders. When you read book after book about this, about the hardship and filth and death, you shake your head at the senselessness of it all, and marvel at the vast numbers mentioned. You develop an appreciation of fate's repeated casting of the die, where some generations are obliterated, while others live in luxury. You begin to realize why some generations accomplish more than others, usually those that suffered in an earlier stage. You begin to sense, though it is an alien experience for the past hundred and forty years on American soil, why countries are reluctant to relinquish border states after defeating armies of aggression. Had the United States suffered twenty million casualties as Russia did in defending itself from Hitler's horde, do you think we might occupy Quebec or northern Mexico to prevent it from ever happening again? Not once in the Cold War rhetoric of my entire life have I seen this argument advanced in defense of the Soviet Union's domination of Eastern Europe.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND The following is a list of books and other materials I read in preparation of this manuscript: