"As fate - or the schedulers - would have it, the first game of the 1907 season..."
Manuscript notes: Chapter begun "Sept 3, 1997 Walpole Kitchen Table Coffee going (an arrow) coffee stains (no sugar"). Continued enroute Atlanta-San Francisco, enroute Atlanta-Boston, enroute Minneapolis-Edmonton, Mt.Morris,IL, and Kansas City, MO. Margin notes include, "Careful with putting all things in perspective. If followed out far enough, you're in danger of deducing nothing matters", "9-11-97 Mt. Morris, Ill. Happy birthday, mom. Coincidence - Mt. Morris - Georgie May Morris...I love you, mom."
Of course all the correspondence with editors and Paul Kitchen involve a working manuscript, and not precisely what you now read. I take all advice seriously, and determine whether the comments and complaints are legitimate or not. And I react accordingly. I tell anyone willing to listen that I learned more from working with Laurel Boone in six months than I had in the previous ten years on my own. (I also told Laurel, after she had apologized for making some recommendation during the editing of DC7, that she should never feel bad about suggesting improvements. “ If drinking wine out of paper bags will make this a better book,” I told her, “ I’ll be on Boston Common tonight with the winos…”)
Paul Kitchen is such a valuable friend and adviser. Not only is he the real deal as a hockey expert and historian, particularly about Ottawa, but he is the definition of the Victorian gentleman, intelligent, sophisticated, gentle, and wise. His willingness to read the manuscript in its various stages proved instrumental in its final distillation, and to use a well-worn but accurate expression, he is responsible for none of the books failures and much of its success. I thanked Paul for his help twice in this book, first in the official Acknowledgments, and second in a bit of Kinnear dialogue.
Paul had provided me with actual military papers from his father Percy, who had coincidentally served in the trenches of WWI. Excellent source material, release papers, records, etc., the little details that prove so interesting and necessary in a historical novel. Paul illustrated to me another aspect of the trench-warfare veteran when he told me that it was only after his father had passed away, and he was going through his father’s private papers, that the family discovered that Percy Kitchen had been wounded in action in the trenches. His whole life lived, and never uttering a word even to his own family about what must have been a tragic, harrowing experience…and I asked Paul if I could acknowledge his father in some way in the novel, perhaps in some dialogue, and Paul assented. And so, when Kinnear is talking with his girlfriend about those other young men from Sackville who are joining the army, Percy Kitchen is mentioned as one of them…
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
I began to work with editor John Stevens on the manuscript, initially explaining much of my reasoning on why I had kept McGee somewhat vague, and illusive. Remembering the problems I had with Norman Watt’s family, I decided that I did not want to create a personality of Frank McGee that was merely my own making. I explained to John that McGee died a bachelor, leaving no family. Because he died in the war, he was not talked of much by the rest of the family after his death. In talking with several nieces and nephews, none of them recalled their fathers or mothers discussing Frank McGee. Much like Paul Kitchen’s father, who like many trench veterans would not talk of their experiences, so did families generally not talk of those that never returned.
Thank you for your message. I sympathize with your several dilemmas, and I hope I haven't exaggerated the work that I feel needs to be done to address the problems in the manuscript.
The two suggestions I made that seem applicable given the limitations and intentions you describe were:
1) Insert (or develop) a key incident or incidents that got McGee behind Smith's defenses. Smith's response to McGee's death suggests heartfelt loss. Where did that come from?
2) Give Kinnear a greater gift of description so that he can compete with Smith's intensity. As I said, if Kinnear's part of the story must be told, it must be told as compellingly as Smith's part of the story.
I suggest give these two a try before you make any decisions about fabricating a McGee persona.
As to the publishing process, I sent Tim Gordon at General Store Publishing a copy of my comments when I sent the manuscript back to you. I can't speak for him, but I suspect he will want a verdict on a new draft before proceeding any further. If I were you, I'd discuss it with him before investing more time and effort.
All the best,
"Up over the earthen walls and into the open fields we scurry..."
Manuscript notes: Chapter begun 1/14/97 in Greencastle, PA, continued in Columbus, MI, and completed in Long Prairie, MN. Margin notes include, "1/20/97 Columbus Mississippi Just heard from a Neil Earl that he wants to make Dawson City movie!!", "(False alarm - just a screenwriter)", and just before the words '...And for some reason you think your day complete, your job done...' is "NOTE: The following is a rather compelling run of words - accomplished by drinking 6 Old Milwaukees prior to starting".
I am a huge fan of Jack Kerouac's. When I was young, On the Road was my Bible; not only did it encourage a slew of cross-country drives as it did to countless others since its publication, but it's signature stream-of-consciousness writing, learned from his side-kick Neil Cassady, has always beguiled me. And I have found in my writing there are certain moments which benefit from such a run of words, scenes of emotion, or extreme action, such as I have in this chapter. Editor John Stevens mentioned to me that he felt some of it was purple prose, but I like this chapter, feel it conveys the unrelenting horror of trench warfare, which is all I wanted to do.
And although I don't recall, from the notes it appears I also fortified myself with alcohol to complete the preparation. I have done this sort of thing other times; when writing one scene of high emotion, I watched Terms of Endearment beforehand to instill a raw emotion in myself before I tried to write it down on a piece of paper. I have mentioned my sinking six beers before writing the drunken tavern scene in which Kinnear loses himself in his memories, to grasp the feelings intimately so that I may write them as well as I possibly could.
This is my favorite chapter in the entire book. Virtually all described is true (see below), the Germans running toward the road and being shot down, the assaults on the Sugar Factory and into Courcelette, the Germans surrendering under Red Cross flags, worrying the Canadians with their huge numbers. The attempts to hold the sunken road beyond the Sugar Factory. The endless counter attacks, and the shelling are all accurate. One event occurred of great interest that, to my chagrin, I could not seem to include. It seems some Germans staged a surrender, only to shoot down the Canadian officers who rose to accept them, infuriating the Canadians. Although there was no indication that German prisoners were killed as I have portrayed, the Canadian Expeditionary Force had a reputation for doing so, and after the murder of the Canadian officers, I took the liberty of deducing that this was a situation in which this kind of atrocity could occur.
Again, I wanted to show the fear, the helplessness of trench warfare. I wanted to portray the events of September 15, 1916, setting up the events of the following day, when Lt. Frank McGee would enter the battle.
NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND
I trust the enclosed is what you were looking for.
1. Typed version of daily war diaries of 21st Battalion for September 15 and 16
I wrote these out by hand anticipating that it would be faster than to order a copy. These nine pages contain everything in the document you described. It follows immediately after the handwritten version. I have been faithful to spelling and abbreviations, and as much as possible to the typed format.
2. Order for battle for the Canadian troops that day
I did not find the exact citation above. You referred to wanting to be accurate in describing the battle and what occurs in it. The enclosed document "Operations of the 4th Canadian Infantry..." does describe the battle in detail and makes references throughout to the 21st Battalion. I hope this is what you wanted. If not, I can look again. (When I got to this place on the reel, I realized there was too much to write down by hand afterall and so asked for a copy, which took a couple of days.)
Let me tell you something else you will be interested in. My business is a parliamentary affairs monitoring service. Customers include the National Archives and the National Library. I have recently been monitoring the parliamentary committee hearings on revisions to the copyright act...at the hearings this week, I ran into Roy Macskimming, a very well known Canadian literary figure who has written successful fiction and more recently two hockey books - one on Gordie Howe and the other on the Canada/Soviet series of 1972. Roy has also been the editor of the literary section of the Toronto Star and is now the policy director of the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP).
Naturally, we were talking hockey as the committee hearing droned on. I mentioned to him the Dawson City project and the Dey's rink project. He asked me if I had seen the novel on the Dawson team. He praised it. I said the novel was wonderful but the author is a miserable son of a gun...
Message and attachment received. I sympathize with your predicament. I'm dashing this off before leaving for British Columbia for a week. I'll have more thoughtful things to say, no doubt, when I get back into the manuscript.
It seems Frank's elusiveness will have to be more of an issue in the story. If it is not to be a flaw, a hole in the narrative, it will have to be an issue for a character or characters, Alf Smith, for instance. I think he has to notice that he doesn't know much about him, or at least justify withholding what he must know; we can't afford to evade the issue.
You said Frank's family knew nothing about Courcelette or how he died, and that they did not speak much of the war and of Frank's part in it to the next generation. This suggests that, from our point of view, they are implicated as much as the war itself in making him disappear. Someone among your characters should be in a position to observe this. Our friend Alf again?
Of course, to make things easy for you, this all has to be accomplished without overdoing it. Frank doesn't seem to have been a man of mystery during his life, so that impression has to be avoided.
I'll be digging right in as soon as I get back (June 30).
All the best,