January 23, 2010

Not Just Another Night at the Library

"Oh Come on," I say to myself, "you aren't going to win a free book just because you have a feeling you are going to win one."

It is 6:40 p.m. Thursday evening and I am on my way, on foot, in the almost balmy weather we seem to have traded with Northern Arizona, to my local library. The day before I received an email invite to an author's talk, and since this is a rare event in my town and I happen to have a free evening I decide to go.

I am one of the first to arrive and find a seat in the middle of the small room set aside for author readings, children's storytime, workshops, etc. in the library. Up at the front of the room a man leans against the wall. He has fine, dark hair to his shoulders, a graphic t-shirt a little tight in the tummy, and jeans - one of your more casually attired authors, but it seems fitting; he is Mark Leiren-Young who has recently won one of Canada's top literary awards, The Stephen Leacock Medal For Humour.

Just before Leiren-Young begins his presentation, the librarian hands around a few one-page evaluation sheets and pencils and announces that those who complete the sheets will be entered into a draw for one of two books by the author. I put the sheet and pencil under my chair and prepare to enjoy the talk. I am not disappointed. Leiren-Young tells about his nine month stint in 1985 as a rookie reporter in Williams Lake, a place up in the Cariboo that is about as Wild West as a town these days can get, and where he endured enough wild and crazy adventures to fill an extremely entertaining book. Leiren Young tells us stories ad lib, and reads a few chapters from his award-winning book, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen. He also talks about the mockumentary film he made called the Green Chain which is about the demise of the logging industry on the West Coast of British Columbia. He tells us about the international film festival tour he took with the film, and how people believed it was a real documentary until they saw Battlestar Galactica actress Tricia Helfer giving a monologue in her character as a Pamela Anderson-type activist.

Leiren-Young speaks at top speed and packs a lot into his one hour presentation. By the time the Q&A is over my face hurts from laughing, and I notice the two piles of books-for-sale at the front of the room, wondering which one I should buy and if Mark will take a cheque. After the applause dies down, the librarian reminds us about the evaluation sheets and the book prize. I have already handed mine in - it was easy to answer five questions about an event I had enjoyed so much - but have neglected to put my name on it. There goes my chance, I think. The librarian shuffles the papers and hands them to the author to pick from. He averts his eyes, pulls one from the fan of white sheets and hands it to the librarian. After a few quiet seconds she announces, "I'll have to hold it up, and if anyone recognizes their handwriting, they can speak up and win a copy of Never Shoot a Stampede Queen." I can't be sure...it sort of looks like my writing, but it is a bit hard to be sure from back here...the ladies on either side of me say, "Isn't that yours?"...it is. "That's mine!" I call out. I admit, there is a small disconcerting moment when I realize that the librarian is showing everyone what they will know is my evaluation. Fortunately, I have assessed the event favourably and have written only one slight criticism:

"The author spoke too quickly, but I got used to it."

The librarian hands me my prize, I wait in line for Leiren-Young to sign it, chatting with a few people I know, and then step out into the warm night air. I feel strangely connected to my sister-in-law, Lea, as I make my way home. Twenty-seven years ago I attended the wedding of Lea and my brother Francis in Williams Lake, where Lea grew up. As far as I know, Lea was never a Stampede Queen, but she certainly could have written about one, or played a song about one on the piano; she was intelligent, funny, and extremely talented. Four months after my own wedding, Lea died after her transplanted lungs became infected. I think, if she had been with me tonight, she would have had a few stories about Williams Lake of her own to tell Mark Leiren-Young. I am happy to have won the book, but it feels a little 'otherworldly' to have my premonition come true. I guess it was just meant to be.


  1. What a fun night! I love things that go on at the library. And I'm glad you won the book. It sounds like a lot of fun. I wonder if I can get a copy down here. Though I suppose you can get anything on the internet.

  2. A cool story - a writerly description of your evening I thought!! How very very sad about your sister-in-law. Life is brutal.

  3. Congratulations on winning the book and how wonderful that you were able to connect with your late sister-in-law not through tears but laughter.

  4. Marianne forwarded this to me Rebecca.
    I have read the book; having been employed with the Tribune for over 30 years I had the pleasure of working with Mark. It was fun trying to remember who all the characters are. A few of us still work there.
    Your comments about Lea brought tears, but in a good way.

  5. Tracey: I'm sure you can order a copy through Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. I get a lot of books from there, and their service is great in Canada, at least!

    Kate: Thanks for your thoughts! It was very sad when Lea passed away, but after so many years I am left with such fond memories of her. She was a wonderful friend to me, and the best mom she could be to her three children, who are now all grown up and doing well.

    Diane: It was wonderful and took me completely by surprise!

    Anne: Welcome! That is so cool that you got to work with Mark. He told us that he usually says no one he worked with at the Tribune works there anymore - just to save them any possible trouble!
    I sure love(d) Lea alot, Anne xo.

  6. On his first day in the town there was a robbery at the bank. I did not think there was any of that type of messing in Canada ;).
    Does he write with something of a Wobegone wryness, eh.

  7. Vince: Yes, he told us all about that - arriving in town to see 4 police cars outside the gas station, and waiting 1/2 hour pretending to be on the phone outside in order to wait for the police to leave so he could interview the checkout person who said, proudly, that W.L. had the highest per capita crime rate in Canada!

  8. P.S. Vince: You mean you've actually read this book, that wasn't promoted outside our province until it won the medal because the publisher thought the title too regional???

  9. Nothing so good, Rebecca. I wiki-ed the town, thinking that it was up in the far North.

  10. Vince: I have a new follower also called Vince. Isn't that a coincidence? He's also following Tracey :D

  11. Now you need to read it and post a review. It sounds like it should be a good one.

  12. Yep, I've finally worked out how. Mind you I'm not certain about the epithet 'Follower'.
    And for that matter I definitely do not like 'submitting comments', posting or publishing is way better.

  13. Jen: I just have to finish the book I'm reading and then I plan to start Stampede Queen.

    Vince: How did I know you were going to say something about the work 'follower'? It is a bit odd, but I wonder what would be a better epithet? 'cyberfriend', 'reader', 'person publicly willing to admit they read this blog' ???
    As for 'submitting comments' that is standard publishing language, as in 'submitting for approval'. Cheers

  14. Regarding your comment of January 25, Rebecca: it wasn't the publisher who considered the book "too regional"; it was bookstores outside of BC, especially in the Toronto area. Heritage House, publisher of Never Shoot a Stampede Queen, entered the book for the Leacock award because they believed the story had a far wider appeal than those retailers believed.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!