"Jimmy McGee got up one fine May morning, dressed, ate his breakfast, and walked out his back door..."
Manuscript notes: Not well documented where this chapter was written, but parts were written in Jonesboro, AK, and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Margin notes include, "These guys would lie telling the truth."
The Jimmy McGee story struck me as remarkable. I first came across his name in Coleman's Trail of the Stanley Cup, and immediately wondered if he had any relationship to Frank. Nowhere had I seen any mention that this might be the brother of the famous skater, and it was with one of those moments of elation up in the Canadian Archives in Ottawa as I sat going blind staring at reels of Ottawa Citizen microfilm (the first time I used the microfilm machines I didn't know the screen turned clockwise; I stared for HOURS with my head cocked sideways until I had to stop from a broken neck...) and I came across a small statement at the end of an article stating, "The Ottawa Hockey Club also issued a statement of regret on the death of James McGee, brother of Frank McGee of 180 Daily..."
Immediately I sensed the importance of this to my story. A brother on the Silver Seven, a fact virtually unknown to the hockey world, and he DIES during their run of Stanley Cups? This was simply an amazing turn of events, and I focused on finding the newspaper article which would explain where, what, when and how.
I only knew from the small mention in the Ottawa Citizen, which came out in early December, that Jimmy McGee had died sometime during that year. And so I went from day to day, starting after the hockey season ended the previous March or April, searching for the news of Jimmy McGee's death. And I found it.
This is an example of how a historical novelist can interpret the facts. Without any written accounts of the McGee family life, all I knew is that here were two brothers in the family who shared the same love of hockey, and shared the same dream of skating with the Ottawas. I can only believe that they must have been close, and I can only believe that the death of Jimmy McGee must have affected Frank immensely, as all tragic deaths do, particularly to young siblings.
I noticed that Frank McGee came to the height of his abilities after Jimmy's death, and also that his historic, though questionable, achievement of scoring 14 goals against Dawson also occurred after. And so I came to conclusions in this chapter about how much the death influenced Frank McGee. It should be quite clear that I do not know this, that no one does, but it only seems to follow logically. Had I written a biography of McGee, I could have stated the suspicions more succinctly; in fiction, I have to throw it out there as strongly as I can with my own interpretation. I hope I'm right.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
From Paul Kitchen:
Here are the newspaper references to the Wanderers/Silver Seven series. The material makes good reading, and I am only sorry that the microfilm copying is not as clear as one would like. I'm sure you have a magnifying glass for this purpose. I do and use it all the time. I was very pleased to hear from you and am quite happy about your decision to press on with the McGee manuscript. You have put so much creative effort into it that it would be a shame to let the novel languish. If you wanted me to check some sources on Canadian publishing, just let me know. There are a couple of good writers' guides that would be easy enough to go through.
I thought you would be interested in the McGee entry in the latest volume of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography that just came out this past June. You will note with interest the "switching hands" story that I know you look upon with a jaundiced eye. The finger bowl anecdote is fun, but a little suspect, don't you think?
"In the first days it was Mametz, Fricourt, and La Boiselle, quickly followed by..."
Manuscript notes: Chapter begun 11/25 in Bristol, TN, continued in Walpole, MA , Columbus, OH, Oak Lawn, IL, room 407 Holiday Inn Longueuil, Quebec, room 214 Days Inn Woodstock, IL, and again Walpole. Margin notes include, "(I just glanced at clock: 9:16 (day of death)", "916916", "Did Bill Schwartz play baseball for Baltimore?", "Oak Lawn Ill Home of you-know-who", "they wouldn't stab you in the back, they'd say, but they'd run a sword thru your front.", "12/24/96 Merry Christmas girls."
One of the challenges of writing historical fiction is to recreate as well as possible the milieu in which the story occurs. This includes not only the physical environment, but also the manners and speech typical of the time. The physical environment, even if no longer in existence, can be researched through photographs and maps as well as first-hand written accounts. If they do still exist, as, for instance, the Somme battlefield, there is nothing more worthwhile than visiting the place yourself. You will see things that you would never think of, things that will strike a chord in those "in the know," making your story all the more believable. The manners and speech of a time can be more challenging, particularly if no one is alive from that period with whom to speak. I have used expressions I have only heard my long-deceased grandparents use, and this has proved successful, the evidence other older people commenting on the expressions as those they remembered from their youth. The expression "by-and-by" comes to mind, the words very much a part of my grandparents vocabulary, but words that I have never heard a contemporary utter.
During the writing of McGee I stumbled upon another fine instrument, that of reading a biography of an individual who lived during the time-period being written of. This directly led to Wilson's game of reading a book and having the guys guess the subject. I picked up a biography of "Captain Blank" and it proved immensely helpful. Not only did it provide a view into the mindset of the individuals of the time, but I even stole a few good lines. At the beginning of the chapter introducing the village of Sackville, I use the expression "...they guarded their opinions like heirlooms..." which I took verbatim from this book. It is not the first time I have borrowed an excellent line; from Thoreau's Walden I stole for a previous book the simile "...(x) stuck like burrs to corduroy..."
Songs have provided help. The scenes in this novel about the train arriving into the station, and particular words, the "shudder" of brakes, the "events of the day", are blatantly stolen from a favorite Irish song, "Leaving Nancy." But perhaps most helpful in molding the dialogue is to review a book on expressions. In this case, I picked up a book entitled "A Dictionary of Canadianisms," from which I pulled numerous expressions, and sprinkled them throughout the story to add a bit of color and realism. A few examples include the "needle bar" Smith used on the ice in Ottawa; "going York over," which means exhibiting a superior, holier-than-thou attitude; the "gurdy" that Mallet was concerned might take his fingers is a hand-operated winch which winds fishing line on a boat; "oatmeal savages" was an expression used for Scots; and "Old Original" came to be used for the first contingent of the 1st Canadian Division in WWI.
Sometimes you can come across information that cannot be used in your current work, but nevertheless proves insightful. I learned from "A Dictionary of Canadianisms" that the word 'nigger' meant "to burn through the trunk of a tree using a nigger." Quoting 1909 Ross, in History of Zorra: "I've seen those old settlers "niggar" the fallen logs, that is, they would build a small fire on top of the fallen logs...and keep it burning until it was burnt through." Another quote from 1852: "Some twenty or thirty little fires were burning briskly in different parts of the blackened field, and the old fellow was watching the slow progress of his silent "niggers," and replacing them from time to time as they smouldered away." Is this the genesis of the current meaning of the word? I don't know, but it certainly provides a possibility worthy of mention, something I had never heard of before. You never know what you're gonna learn when you open a book.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
My notebook list of expressions taken from Dictionary of American Slang for possible use in McGee: