“It’s not another book about Newfoundland, is it?”

Over a year ago, I launched my website, www.thegoldandsteelsaga.com, and announced to anyone that would listen that I was working on a fantasy series. My first step in getting the word out was to get myself a business card and canvas Sci-Fi on the Rock 9, where I knew a potential audience would be. (I had attended Sci-Fi on the Rock twice before, loved it, and couldn’t wait to go back again) As I began talking to other attendees and briefing them on what the series was about, I found myself answering the same question at every second or third interaction: “It’s not another book about Newfoundland, is it?”

For those of you who have read As Fierce as Steel, (thank you for that, by the way, it means the world to me) you know already that my series is definitely not about or set in Newfoundland and I assured everyone who asked that question of the very same thing. However, what their question highlighted at the time was a growing sentiment among young, adult readers towards the more renowned pool of local writers. They feel as though there is no variety in locally produced material beyond it being a non-fictional account about, or a fictional story set, in Newfoundland and Labrador. To be honest, I felt the same way myself and if a local writer had approached me with the same pitch, my response might well have been the same as the one I frequently got. In fact, until I started going to conventions like Sci-Fi on the Rock, Avalon Expo and Atlanti-Con, I had no idea there was any variety in local writers. Over the past year, though, I’ve met incredibly talented authors like Scott Bartlett, Erin Vance, Matthew LeDrew, Ellen Curtis and Nicholas Morine and somehow, despite their skills with the written word, I had never heard the names of these young Newfoundlanders mentioned anywhere in local media. The question of why, seemingly obvious at this point, was one that I didn’t find a resounding answer to until I was a published author myself.

On April 1st of 2016, at Sci-Fi on the Rock 10, I launched As Fierce as Steel to the literary world. Within a month, one hundred and ten copies were sold and sent amongst the masses to be read and hopefully enjoyed and I am already working at the next instalment. At the convention, I spoke with familiar faces from conventions past and even more readers and as every one of them picked up my book to have a gander at, that same question cropped up again and again, “It’s not another book about Newfoundland, is it?”

What I came to understand from my fellow writers that weekend and what I have been learning through my own experience since then, has highlighted a bleak outlook for all but a few young writers.

This province’s arts and tourism identities have been built on showcasing the beautiful island I call home and our equally breath-taking piece of the mainland that is Labrador. Art galleries in the city are full of colourful, vibrant art pieces featuring dories, saltbox houses, fishing stages, majestic seascapes, rows of colourful St. John’s townhouses, and every other facet of the Newfoundland culture that can be rendered on a canvas. Stores across the province are abound with t-shirts, hats and keychains emblazoned with cultural items and phrases like the Newfoundland Dog and ‘Waddya at, b’y’ and it is all well and good, as after all, we have a unique cultural identity here in this province and we have every reason to be proud of that. As such, alongside that art and merchandise or in its very own local section of the province’s bookstores, you’ll find a selection of books written by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that come in one of three varieties:

  1. Fictional stories set on the island or in Labrador.
  2. Non-fictional stories about local history or news-worthy events of the recent past that took place in Newfoundland and Labrador. (By far the most common)
  3. A book written by a local celebrity/politician.

What you won’t find, though, are books written by people from this province that feel that there is more to being a Newfoundlander and Labradorian writer than writing solely about Newfoundland and Labrador. These are local writers who do great work and are worth celebrating and showcasing as members of this province’s wellspring of creative talent and there is no reason for them not to be among the local offerings. Yet, the powers that be in the writing and publishing world of a province that has built a reputation of communal togetherness, kindness and generosity have almost unanimously shunned the new era of writers into the underground.

It’s a bizarre phenomenon I had to experience for myself to really appreciate and I got my own taste of it just over a month ago when I approached a local distributor. I went to their offices with my personal copy of As Fierce as Steel, the cover art of which (by local artist Christina Hamlyn) grabbed their attention and the initial response was quite enthusiastic. I let them borrow that copy to peruse and a week later the book was unceremoniously cast aside with an email. Why? Because Gold & Steel did not meet their self-imposed standard of having something to do with Newfoundland and Labrador.

On one hand you can almost see the sense in that: their market is generally driven by tourists and Newfoundlanders living abroad who want a taste of home and the foundation of their brand is built on delivering that expectation. However, on the other hand, because they and the local publishers are so intent on delivering only that niche product, they are telling any emerging creative minds that the people with the power to support them in their own home province will do no such thing unless they conform to this relatively tiny, niche market that is already over-saturated. They are telling these young people to either leave or survive on their own, as anything not about Newfoundland and Labrador is unmarketable to the distributors/publishers. Rather than help these young minds break through into mainstream North American (and international) markets, they (and I) are getting cold-shouldered for not meeting an increasingly outdated and overdone standard.

The local market is full to the point of utter apathy with books about local culture and history and that I keep hearing the question in the title of this blog post time and time again reinforces that notion. To that end, there is no reason that Scott Bartlett’s Taking Stock couldn’t share shelf space with Jack Fitzgerald’s collections of historical stories, Victoria Barbour’s romance novels or Alan Doyle’s autobiography. In fact, it absolutely should be sharing space with them and Scott and the others I listed earlier should be celebrated as young, creative talents that are ‘made right here’ as the old marketing campaign from the late 90’s went. What better way to show the readers of this province that our writers can produce more than “Yet another book about Newfoundland”.

This is the only province in Canada with such a distinct self-identity, largely because we were so late coming into the Canadian fold and also due in part to our relative isolation from the rest of the country. That same identity and the stubborn determination of the distributing/publishing community within to not show any diversification, are driving the next generation of readers and writers alike away. Anywhere else, these same young writers would be tasked with providing quality, marketable material to publishers in whatever genre they so choose. If it meets that criterion, it has a chance of being sold and they have a chance of living their dream. In Newfoundland, the dream lives or dies by whether the writer happens to set their story in Newfoundland.

As I said before: there is more to being a Newfoundland and Labrador writer than simply writing about Newfoundland and Labrador. There is a huge world out there to write about and some of us have even created huge worlds of our own. We are from this province, we love this province and we give back to this province and will for decades to come. That alone is just as worth showcasing as anything that happens to be written about Newfoundland. Engen Books gets it and they’re the only publisher in this province that I have seen that does, but the bigger brands seem to be deaf to it and they’re the ones that control the market. What that means is that until one of them takes the initiative, or Engen can gain a larger foothold, the young writers who happen to think outside the Newfoundland and Labrador box are effectively shut out and reliant on the local convention circuit unless we are discovered by an outside source.

As it currently stands, though, I aim to keep supporting the underground community that the fine folks at Engen have helped to bring together and we will continue to espouse the essence of what it means to be a Newfoundlander. It is that communal togetherness I spoke of earlier and it runs deeper than the aesthetic of dory boats and saltbox houses can convey. It is the will of a community to survive against whatever the environment and the times can throw at them and the generosity shown to family and neighbour alike to ensure that they can make it through anything. It’s what has kept the tough and hardy people of this province going for generations and keeps these determined, spirited writers working away at our keyboards and supporting one another.

Until next time, may good fortune be upon you.

Chris Walsh.

Lest we Forget

When we, as private citizens, see footage of the World Wars on TV or in movies, we see grainy, black and white images. In museums we see relics of a world we’ll never know and can’t possibly understand.

Yet, when you hear veterans past and present speak and they recall memories of their past, they see those memories as vividly as they see the sunset this evening. The gunfire, the explosions, the chaos, they were there, they saw it. What we can only imagine through old footage, they lived through.

They fought, they served and they worked to survive through the very worst humanity could conjure up. Today we pay tribute and show our respect to the men and women that fought and sacrificed in wars and conflicts past and to those who continue to do so on behalf of our great country and it’s people.

Thank-You for all you have done.

Lest we Forget.

I’m voting strategically on October 19th.

It’s exactly two weeks until election time here in Canada. We’re into the home stretch of things now. The candidates are gearing up for their final debate and preparing to make their cases one last time before the electorate goes to the voting booths. So, it’s time that we, as the electorate, talk about something they seem to gloss over in favour of waving party flags: Left and right.

It seems like every second day we’re getting a new poll coming out and the results change every time. One day it’s the NDP in the lead, the next it’s the Liberals or the Conservatives. The three of them seem to keep hovering around the thirty percent mark and jostling for the top spot but neither of them is squarely in the lead. In the back of the pack are the Green party and the Bloc scrabbling for a foothold in the political climb. That’s the party numbers. In total, what these numbers keep shouting at us is that every poll shows seventy percent of respondents do not want Stephen Harper or his Conservative party governing Canada. Yet, we’ve had a decade of that remaining thirty percent winning out and handing elections to the party that the overwhelming majority does not want. It leaves one to wonder why things end up this way.

At this stage of the game, that answer should be completely obvious. I, for one, think it’s time the Liberals and the NDP level with themselves and the electorate and face it: They have divided the majority and allowed Stephen Harper’s minority to take over our country. The Liberals, NDP, Greens and Bloc are all left wing parties. Their specific ideologies may differ, but the fact remains that they are all occupying one side of that coin. On the other side is the Conservative party. They stand alone with the entirety of the right wing vote in their corner.

It wasn’t always like this, at one time there were the PC and Reform parties splitting hairs on the right wing side of the coin. Those days are gone and despite Peter MacKay’s promises to the contrary, those two parties merged into Conservative Party.

Even though the right wing seemingly only represents about thirty percent of Canadians, the fact their parties have united has given them sway over the whole country. It shouldn’t be this way. The fact of the matter is that the power players of the left wing will not come to terms with it and election after election we get stuck with Stephen Harper. Never does this become more apparent than when Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau start bickering with one another at debates. Harper sits back and grins away to himself while they work to talk over one another and score proverbial points. All three men know the divisive game being played when the Liberals and the NDP have a spat but Harper is the only one smiling. Because when the left wing fights amongst itself, the left wing loses and the right wing wins.

This is not a new revelation by any means. All the parties knew from day one with the new Conservative Party that it meant a unified right versus a divided left from here on out. The Liberals were naïve about it and they thought they held enough of the left wing vote to still win. The NDP weren’t bothered by it because they were more concerned with beating the Liberals. That was until the Orange Crush in the 2011 election.

It’s an interesting term to use to describe the NDP’s surge I think. The NDP did crush it that year in terms of garnering electoral support. However, it wasn’t the Conservatives they crushed, because the Conservatives won a majority. No, it was the Liberals who were on the receiving end of the crushing. The NDP weren’t sapping away votes from the Conservatives, nor were they giving them votes. Instead, what the Orange Crush proved was that if we split votes between the Liberals and the New Democrats then the Conservatives, with their unified right wing voter base, are going to be the ones who will win.

I still remember when the news stations were carrying news of the NDP surging in the polls and I remember saying to myself. “Well, those aren’t Conservative votes they’re going to be taking away. Canada is screwed if we split the vote and let Harper take majority.”

At that point I was hoping that Jack Layton and the Orange Crush were going to take the whole election. I liked Jack Layton. I thought he was a fine, upstanding man and the prospect of having him as Prime Minister excited me. However, it was not to be and sadly, my prediction came true.

That was four years ago and now we’re soon going to have our chance to cast our ballots again. Harper and his Conservative Party are going to be coming into this with another united right wing voting base. The Liberals and NDP are both promising they won’t support a Harper minority. However, they’re both insisting on contending for as much of the left wing side of the coin as they can until the votes are read.

So, with this in mind I speak to the seventy percent of Canadians who, like me, have said they don’t want Stephen Harper as their Prime Minister. If the Liberals and the NDP will not work together and are willing to gamble the future of this country in the interest of their parties then we need to vote strategically.

We can’t let the votes split here again and the best way to do that is to get informed. Find out which candidate in your area, be they red, orange or even green, has the best shot at winning over the Conservative candidate. Make sure others in your area know who has the best chance and encourage other left wing and undecided voters to also vote strategically.

Canada can’t afford four more years of Stephen Harper. We, the voters, need to present a united front ourselves and vote him and his party out.

This is our chance. Register. Get informed. Vote strategically.