Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A rucksack warrior hits the Psychedelic Sixties in Kerouac's Ghost

OK, so we're away Into the Northwest Passage. Before sailing, and so going incommunicado, I offer a brief excerpt from my novel Kerouac's Ghost.  This newly revised ebook edition publishes on Sept. 16, but is now available from Bev Editions at the advance price of $2.99.

Again it was 1966, Thanksgiving Day, and I had just arrived in California. Nineteen years old, a yea-saying rucksack warrior in blue jeans and a turtle-neck sweater, I had crossed a continent and stumbled into what we all took to be a social revolution. A few days before, while driving me into San Francisco in a Volkswagen bus, a sociology professor from Berkeley had raised his eyebrows: "The Haight-Ashbury? You've never heard of the Haight?"
He rhapsodized for twenty, twenty-five miles, describing the Haight as the most interesting social experiment America had ever spawned. "But you've heard of Timothy Leary and LSD?"
Before leaving Montreal, I had read the famous Playboy interview with Leary, found it fascinating and said so, and when the professor dropped me off in downtown San Francisco, he not only directed me to the Haight-Ashbury but reached into his shirt pocket and extracted a ball of tinfoil. "This is all I've got with me. Just half a tab, but it's pure LSD—primo acid." He handed me the ball. "Wait for the right moment."
Now it was Thanksgiving Day, free turkey dinner in the Haight, and I stood in the middle of a dirt-floor garage, the original Free Frame of Reference, grinning and nodding, unable to believe my stumbling good luck, a turkey leg in one hand, a cup of wine in the other, the half-tab of acid safe in my wallet.
The feast was courtesy of a group called The Diggers, self-proclaimed Merry Men who regarded the Haight as a contemporary Sherwood Forest. Beautiful people were everywhere. A guy wearing a W.C. Fields mask and an old top hat hovered over a turntable playing Visions of Johanna, the same verse, over and over again, Bob Dylan observing repeatedly that little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously, but nobody seemed to mind. A girl wearing a see-through American-flag and nothing else climbed onto a piano and made like the Statue of Liberty. Nobody minded that, either.
I stood nodding, guzzling red wine, stuffing my face with turkey. People were jostling me, climbing back and forth over a Mad-Hatter type stretched out on the floor, his arms crossed on his chest. Reaching for another cup of wine I took an elbow in the ribs. Turned to see an older guy, mid-thirties, chubby, with a light-bulb nose, pale blue eyes and thin brown hair that hung lifeless over his ears.
He said sorry, I said no problem. Was I new to the Haight? Yes, I said, and suddenly I was talking, telling this guy that I had hitchhiked and ridden freights from Montreal, that I was chasing experience, gathering material for a novel.
"Experience you want?" He held out his hand. "My name's Oscar."
We both laughed. Turned out Oscar, too, was a writer, and more specifically a poet, and that got me babbling particulars: "I call my latest story A Piece of Wandering Orgasm. It's like my hero is --"
"Sorry, a what?"
           "A Piece of Wandering Orgasm. It's like my hero is so alive, he's experiencing orgasm all the time. You know, just walking around. It's an advance on Kerouac."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Northwest Passage Voyage Begins Among Icebergs in Greenland

So we're less than one week away from sailing Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. Are we excited yet? We're reversing the voyage I described below, starting among the icebergs of Greenland and wending to Kugluktuk . . . with history all the way! We head north into Smith Sound, and who knows? May yet discover that archaeological site on Butler Island!

by Ken McGoogan

None of us expected our voyage to make history, not when we boarded the Clipper Adventurer in Kugluktuk (Coppermine), near the west end of the Northwest Passage. True, our cruise was billed as an expeditionary adventure. But we numbered roughly one hundred and twenty, most of us were over sixty, and we were sailing in comfort if not luxury: white linen tablecloths in the dining room, a well-stocked bar in the forward lounge, and a staff of expert presenters that included scientists, Inuit culturalists, and authors Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood.
Hundreds of ships had plied these northern waters since the early 180s, when the British Admiralty began to chart the Arctic archipelago while seeking a trade route across the top of North America. So nobody even dreamed of achieving a first of any kind. We forgot that climate change has made a difference. We did not anticipate that this year, the Arctic would have the second lowest extent of sea ice in recorded history. We did not expect that, according to the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the pack ice would reach its least extent just as we arrived in northwest Greenland.
But on September 10, one day after it did so, we sailed into Rensselaer Bay, where in the mid-1850s, explorer Elisha Kent Kane spent two terrible winters trapped in the ice. And three days after that, as on Day Thirteen of our voyage we approached the island town of Upernavik, I went to the bridge. As the staff historian, I needed to announce the surprising news.
By now, everybody on board knew that we had reached a latitude above 79 degrees. We had achieved a “farthest north” for Adventure Canada, which regularly runs voyages like this one into the Arctic. Everybody knew that, although a number of explorers had travelled by dogsled in this region, very few ships (if any) had entered Rensselaer Bay since 1853, when Kane got trapped there in the Advance. And everybody knew that in 1855 -- decades before Ernest Shackleton made his name with a spectacular, small-boat voyage in the Antarctic -- Kane led sixteen men in an extraordinary, 980-kilometre escape along the Greenland coast.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kerouac's Ghost delivers 'unrepentant blast from the past'

Author's Note from the new ebook edition, available here from Bev Editions . . . .

“The secret Canadian life of Jack Kerouac.” So said the headline in Maclean’s magazine. A subhead elaborated: “Reading Kerouac’s lost French writings reveals the travails of a Canuck in America.” The date was June 2016, and I could only scratch my head. Secret Canadian life? I had published a novel highlighting that life in . . . would you believe 1993?
When I laughed about this on Facebook, a couple of friends asked if my novel was available as an ebook. I had to say no. In 2007, I did publish a revised, Satori Magic Edition via Print on Demand (see Introduction below), but that was it. My people said, hey, there’s a whole new audience out there.
In recent years, I have written mostly non-fiction. But early in my writing career, after completing an MFA at University of British Columbia, I published three novels. Kerouac’s Ghost is the only one I still like. It’s a first novel, a coming-of-age novel, a bit rough around the edges, but I find it playful and inventive and technically entertaining. Jacket copy describes it this way . . . .
Jack Kerouac, legendary King of the Beats, turns up raving in this kaleidoscopic novel about an obsessive survivor of the Psychedelic Sixties. Set mostly in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco and atop Mount Jubilation in the Canadian Rockies, the narrative shuttles from Quebec to New York City, and from California into the Timeless Void of the Golden Eternity. It juggles time-lines and narrators, asserts that Jack Kerouac is BIGGER than Beat, and celebrates Great Walking Sainthood.
The novel is resolutely unfashionable. But it has survived several incarnations, and a couple of different titles, and it arrives like a message in a bottle from another world. Because the main story-line plunges us into 1966, this digital edition marks a 50th anniversary. I have revived the better title, Kerouac’s Ghost, and poked away at the Satori Magic Edition (introduced below).
For the rest, we have here A Novel of the Nineteen-Sixties, Psychedelic San Francisco, Dharma Bums in the Rockies, the Jungian Self, Too Much Drinking and Drugging, the Quebec-French Complication, Also Known as the Secret Canadian Life, and the Quest for Great Walking Sainthood. . . . 

Pay just $2.99 if you pre-order in any format:

Friday, July 29, 2016

Artist John Hall is Travelling Light with a spectacular retrospective

Here we see Canadian artist John Hall at work in his Mexico studio in 1989. I fell in love with his work, and then met the man, a few years later. For years, Hall shuttled back and forth between San Miguel de Allende and Calgary, six months each. These days, the artist is based in Kelowna, B.C., though his reach is international. You can read all about it in a dazzling new retrospective called John Hall: Travelling Light. The book includes insightful essays by Liz Wylie and Alexandra Haeseker. But what makes it great is the spectacular work. See for yourself.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Whirling away to the Northwest Passage, Halifax, and Port Dover

We're gearing up to go voyaging Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada, departing from Greenland on August 26. Above, we see the three musketeers who figure in Passage, the docudrama based on my book Fatal Passage. Two of them -- Inuit leader Tagak Curley and myself -- will sail aboard the Ocean Endeavour. The third, Orkney-based historian Tom Muir, won't make it this time . . . but he did just get back from rambling around Iceland, and we have our fingers crossed for AC's next voyage around Scotland. Meanwhile, Tagak and I will join an A-list gathering of staffers that includes Cam Gillies, culturalist David Pelly, photographer Dennis Minty, filmmaker John Houston, seabird biologist Mark Mallory, archaeologist Robert McGhee, and (are you ready for this?) Juno-winning musician Susan Aglukark.
Before that voyage happens, starting in fact on July 31, Our Hero will spend two weeks in Halifax, serving as a mentor in the MFA program in Creative Nonfiction at King's College -- the only such program of its kind in Canada. Our writer-in-residence this year is the peerless Charlotte Gray, whose biography of Alexander Graham Bell, Reluctant Genius, is in development as a TV mini-series.
A couple of weeks after he returns from the Arctic, on September 30, Ken will travel west from The Six (as the hip and the handsome now refer to T.O.) to entertain at the annual gala of the Norfolk Historical Society. He'll talk about Chasing Canada's History at the Port Dover Lighthouse Theatre. You know you want to be there!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Narrative nonfiction is what's happening at U of T summer school . . . .

 In recent weeks, I purchased two books written by emerging writers who had passed through one of my University of Toronto workshops. And I had long since collected The Monks and Me by yet one more: Mary Paterson. I would like to say that all of these publications are down to me. But I don't dare. People would call me out. Put it this way: at least I didn't get in the way! And here we are again, scarcely more than one month from starting (July 11) my one-week intensive course in narrative nonfiction (aka creative nonfiction) at the U of T summer writing school. A number of folks have already registered, wisely bent on securing the $50 discount offered for early-bird registration. 

As you can see, I do ask for submissions (up to 1,500 words) so we can hit the ground running. Below, we find a nutshell description and an image of the official "me." Dr. Jekyll. We do have a good time. And I do believe that this workshop can move you forward. Click here for Course Details. And come on down!
Meanwhile, here's that nutshell description: Anyone looking for today's most exciting writing should check out Narrative Non-Fiction, an emerging genre in which writers apply literary techniques to factual narrative. This course will orient writers within the genre, which includes both personal streams (memoir, autobiography, travelogue) and impersonal ones (true-crime writing, biography, historical narrative, immersion reporting). The workshop focuses on craft, and will include lectures, discussions, exercises, and workshopping student writing.
You have to register before submitting material.  Please submit a story--maximum 1,500 words: scs.writing@utoronto.ca  Note:  these pieces will be uploaded so that students can read each other's work before the start of the course.
Required Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda, ISBN-13: 978-0684846309--available at the U of T Bookstore.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ken and Sheena's Excellent Adventure in the Scottish Highlands

  • In Perth, we had dinner at the Hightower Hotel with my long-lost, DNA-found cousin Jim McGugan.
  • In Sutherland, we visited Dunrobin Castle, the most politically incorrect edifice in Britain.
  • In Helmsdale, by about an hour, we missed coincidentally encountering our Orcadian pal, historian Tom Muir . . . and so failed to meet his new wife!
  • We almost got killed when, on a narrow two-lane road, with a rock wall on our side, the driver of an oncoming camper-van decided to pass a group of cyclists and swung out into our lane. I managed to slow just enough . . . .
  • At a bank machine in Stornoway, while withdrawing funds, we encountered Toronto writer Heather Birrell, who is sojourning on the Isle of Lewis. 
  • While staying at Fort William, we made our way to the top of a mountain in the Nevis Range. All right, all right: we rode a gondola
  • At Waterstone’s Books in Oban, in a section called Recommended Reading, we came upon five copies of Fatal Passage. This was after we found two copies at a bookstore in Portree. Hats off to Bantam Books for keeping the work alive after fifteen years -- and to my agent, Beverley Slopen, for bringing that team aboard.
  • In Helensburgh, we visited a National Trust property, Carisbrooke House, and got inside an addition created by William Fraser, Sheena’s architect grandfather.
  • Along the way, somehow, we amassed an unconscionable pile of obscure books.
  • As to how it all fits together, well, that will emerge in due course.