Don Reddick The Killing Frank McGee Companion


"My old man used to say we're all the carpenters of our own cross..."

Manuscript notes: This chapter begun 1/19/98 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Continued enroute Boston-Chicago, Lancaster, PA, enroute Boston-LA December 22, 1998, Fresno, CA. Margin notes include, "we're the carpenters of our own cross", "Dec 23 Fresno Cal. Holiday Inn. Merry Christmas Terry, Beck(star) Sabby & Allie!"


You never know where you'll come up with a line of dialogue. The sentence that begins this chapter, "My old man used to say we're all the carpenters of our own cross..." came from Michael Lydon, whose father, he once told me, used the phrase frequently. I am always writing down phrases and expressions that strike me as off-beat or unique. Once in Las Vegas, sitting at a blackjack table, a man turned to me and said, "I know a guy who came to America across the Pacific in a wooden crate." In Portland, Oregon, I overheard a guy tell the bartender, "Hey, Jeff the deaf mute told me to say Hi." In Ripon, Wisconsin, a worker turned to me and blurted, "Did five years for blowing up a gas station, you know."

I was with co-worker Paul Frigo in Missouri when he uttered the familiar 'Didn't have a pot to piss in' phrase, except he added another line I'd never heard: "I didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of." The line made it into this book. Sitting on a curb one evening in rural Indiana with co-worker Harvey Shankman, watching a small town mid-summers festival with a couple of Budweisers in hand, he remarked that someone had once "threw up everything but the bones in his right leg." Wrote it down as soon as I was back in my room, and now a member of the vaunted Ottawa Silver Seven, celebrating Ottawa's first Stanley Cup, now throws up everything but the bones in his right leg in a snow bank on Sandy Hill.

No matter how you come by the words and sentences and paragraphs and pages that ultimately result in your novel, there will be no universal agreement as to their quality. Already I've had several people tell me that '...or a window to throw it out of' is common, and well known, and not so unique as I believed it to be. For an official look at the conflicting results words may have, consider the two paragraphs below, both from reviews of Dawson City Seven:

by Matt Hartman, 1994

"Mason's story is told in one lengthy flashback that tells of a life filled with adventure and danger. The heady blend of historical fact and invention keeps the story moving at a steady clip. The author has a gift for dialogue, especially for the rhythms of Canadian speech."

by Don Morrow, University of Western Ontario

"It is a story well told. Its only weakness to me is the author's strained use of dialogue among characters when he tries to re-create scenes from his narrator's recollections in 1962."

Who's right? Who cares? Writing a novel is a long, arduous process, and when you finally let it go, you let it go. You've labored over it for days and months and sometimes years, defended it against the onslaught of editors, combed over it with a magnifying glass again and again to eliminate errors, mistakes, triteness and anachronisms, until finally you just sort of shrug and say the hell with it. It then goes to the printer, gets printed, bound, and delivered. And then, hopefully, it is purchased and read, and reviewed. You take the reviews and thoughts of friends and professional colleagues, and never look back. You only learn forward.

This chapter documents a truly historic hockey game. It is one of the greatest games ever played, and is historic for more than one reason. Not only was it the dethroning of the hated Ottawa Silver Seven, it was Frank McGee's last game in Senior hockey. For years McGee had threatened to retire due to the constant possibility of losing the sight in his good eye. It seems apparent - there is no record or testimony to this - that he simply could not bring himself to retire before the Cup was lost. This must be considered a tribute to the man, that, in true Victorian fashion, he could not let his teammates down until the run of Cups was over. But the game was significant for another reason - it is the absolute worst game ever played by a team who won a Stanley Cup as a result.

This was only made possible, of course, by the by-gone era option of a total-goals series. The Montreal Wanderers were up by eight goals entering the game, meaning Ottawa had to win by nine goals to retain the Stanley Cup. Nine goals! To read the newspaper reports of the game, furnished to me by Paul Kitchen from the Ottawa archives (see Notes from the Underground after Chapter 13), one is transported into a hysterical, heart-wrenching scene. The early score by the Wanderers, and then the incredible assault on the Wanderer goalie is marvelous to imagine. Goal after goal after goal Ottawa scored, until tying the series total-goals. And then - can you just imagine?! - Ottawa scoring the goal to put them ahead, only to have it called back... I cannot imagine the scene this must have produced, a pounding, delirious, eruption of noise at the goal, only to be followed by stunned silence when it was disallowed... I can only hope I did the game justice in my description.


Laura Boone:


"We rise from our mud lair in the Brickfields, the rustle of thousands shouldering rifles..."

Manuscript notes: : This chapter begun 1/9/97 at McGee's Inn, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, continued in Greencastle, PA. Margin notes include, "McGee's Inn, Ottawa, Ont (can you believe this?)"


I've been blessed in my writing career with experiencing a couple of remarkable situations. One was actually reliving the great journey from Dawson City, Yukon across Canada to Ottawa via snow machine, dogsled, ferry, and train about which I had written in Dawson City Seven; the other was writing a portion of this novel in the very house in which Frank McGee lived his entire life.

On a research trip to Ottawa, after I had ascertained the McGee homestead at 180 Daily Avenue up on the Sandy Hill section of Ottawa, I determined to drive across the Rideau and take a first hand look at the old place. I remember meandering along the street checking the numbers, formulating a plan where, once I located the house, I would knock on the door and politely ask the current inhabitants if I could enter for a moment just to have a look around. Noticing a house coming up in just about the right location with a long, green awning over the front door walkway, I craned my neck to see the number. And sure enough, this was it, 180 Daily Avenue, and for a moment I thought my luck unbounded in that it might be a restaurant, until the words 'McGee's Inn' came to view, and I pulled in front, ecstatic at my fortune that not only was it a house I could get into, but could stay in! I jumped from the car, raced to the front door and was met by one of the foreign help.

"Do you realize who lived here?!" I blurted, the poor girl staring at me, confounded by the gibbering, excited American before her.

I went inside and looked about, ranting and raving like a lunatic. And so, every time I again went to Ottawa I would stay at McGee's. In January, shortly before the great Dawson reenactment, I stayed there, where I wrote the first nine pages of this chapter. And what an amazing feeling this was, to sit upstairs in a room which, for all I knew, could have been Frank's bedroom, scribbling away just above the long front room with the fireplace and rosewood pillars, the very room the poor McGee parents received the incredible, heart-wrenching news of their children's demise.

How many books about famous individuals have been written in their own home? Just a stunning, wonderful experience...which only got better. For it was at McGee's that I stayed the following year when I received the fighting McGee's military records, and finally discovered the truth about Frank's end...

I like this chapter. Make no mistake: it was written to build the tension, the excitement of what lay in store for all our characters. I particularly wanted to show the fear these men bore; in reading book after book on warfare, one of the most impressive realities is that war is nothing like the movies, or at least until The Deer Hunter and Saving Private Ryan were filmed. Growing up in the fifties and sixties my generation was showered with John Wayne-esque films where soldiers were emotionless tough guys who killed and died without flinching. We watched Hogan's Heroes. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. And it is this that I wanted to convey, the utter helplessness, the mounting fear when entering the trenches, the complete inconceivability of throwing oneself over the top of a trench, and assaulting entrenched machine-gun positions. And I got the phrase, 'Ducky', from my father.


Officially released from Goose Lane Editions, Paul Kitchen and Jim McAuley provided me with some leads on potential publishers. One of them was General Store Publishing House, to whom I sent a manuscript which was then forwarded to their editor/reader John A. Stevens...

John A. Stevens: