Friday, July 12, 2019

GUEST POST: How two Canadian’s made me a better writer by Steve Stred.

Today I am excited to have a Guest Post from Author Steve Stred. Steve has 9 books under his belt, including his newest release THE STRANGER, with new work on the way. You can visit his website HERE for loads of info on the author and his works. Steve is from the Great White North and today shares with us some of his writing inspirations.

                                              How two Canadian’s made me a better writer
by Steve Stred

“So you’ve got a direction, but not a destination?” – Biker, One Week (2008) played by Gord Downie.

Hello. My name is Steve Stred and I am Canadian. We may already be friends or acquaintances 
over on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You may just be a fan of my work as a new indie author who writes dark, bleak horror. Or heck, you may even just be a fan of my reviews over on Kendall Reviews.

No matter how we met or became friends, whether in real life or through social media, you’ll more
than likely know that I am a proud Canadian. I grew up in the super small, unincorporated community of Burton, British Columbia. Approximate population - 100 people. Sometimes more, 
sometimes less. We were roughly thirty minutes from the town of Nakusp and three hours from
Kelowna. (Google it – go ahead I’ll wait. Yeah, see how small it is? Now you zoom in – see that
ball field in the middle? My childhood home is the one just to the right of it. When you zoom in as far as you can and it says Burton Main Rd – our home is just to the right of ‘Rd.’ That’s my mom’s car all blurry. She still lives there.)

I loved my childhood. I spent a lot of time by myself in the woods behind our house and really
learned to utilize my imagination to create different games etc. I also loved playing sports and enjoying the outdoor offerings, which has been a big inspiration on my writing. I recently revisited my hometown while at my Grandpa’s memorial and I was struck with just how many of my stories, novels, and novellas are based on places and things from there.

But I didn’t really grow up wanting to be a writer. It was a combination of two other Canadians;
Gord Downie and Andrew Pyper who gave me the confidence to pursue writing.

For those who don’t know, Gord Downie was the lead singer for the Canadian rock band The
Tragically Hip. I discovered The Tragically Hip on Much Music. The song “Ahead by a Century” from the album “Trouble in the Henhouse” blew my mind. It was Canadiana through and through and haunted my brains. To this day, when I hear this song, it sticks in my head for weeks.

The Tragically Hip – Ahead by a Century

Though this came out in 1996, I didn’t explore much more of the Hip’s music until I heard “Bobcaygeon” from the album “Phantom Power” released in 1998. The lyrics to this song are few powerful and allude to a different moments in Canadian history.

The Tragically Hip - Bobcaygeon

Then in 2008, I saw a trailer for a movie that I knew I needed to see. ‘One Week’ tells the story of a man who finds out he has terminal Cancer. So he buys a bike and heads West, across Canada. He leaves behind his job, his fiancĂ©e and family and just drives West. He’s young, doesn’t have much time left and wants to find himself, discover more about himself before he passes on.

One Week Trailer

Not only is ‘One Week’ one of my all-time favourite movies, it also inspired my short story ‘Jim’ from my collection Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery. The premise of the movie and my story – where one day you simply find out you have a terminal disease and don’t have much time left really gets to me. More so now that I have a young son, but I think it’s a frightening thing that could happen. And yes I do dwell on this frequently.

Oddly enough, there is a horrible, strange connection between ‘One Week’ and Gord Downie. You see, Mr. Downie appears in the movie as Biker Guy. Joshua Jackson, yes of Dawson’s Creek and Fringe fame, plays the main character Ben. So Ben heads West and along the way runs into everyday Canadians. One such character is Biker Guy who Ben meets at a motel. That meeting leads to this interaction;

Biker Guy: “You know they’ll approve Medicinal Marijuana for Cancer treatment.”

Ben: “Why did you bring up Cancer?”

BG: “I had an ass-load once.”

Ben: “So you got treatment?”

BG: “Actually... it went away on its own.”

Ben: “Seriously?”

BG: “Nah, I’m just shitting you man. I got treatment.”

On May 24, 2016, Gord Downie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Brain Cancer.
Now you are asking yourself – where does Andrew Pyper fall into this equation?
Great question. Let me tell you.

I’ve been reading horror/thrillers for almost 30 years, ever since my mom’s friend, our neighbour let me borrow some of her Stephen King books. I stuck to the tried and true and mostly read King for many years.

Then, in 2015 I was in a Walmart in Abbotsford, BC and I was looking through their paperback section where they typically have 2 for $15. I’ve told this story a number of times, but it really is a in key moment both my journey as a reader but also as a writer.

In the 2 for $15 section that day, I spotted ‘The Demonologist’ by Andrew Pyper and ‘The Troop’ by Nick Cutter. I read the synopsis for both and was very intrigued. I also saw that both of them were Canadian. I went into shock. I’d been a pretty sheltered horror reader for many, many years and to see that not one but two authors from Canada had books out like this, really threw me for a loop. To see a Stephen King blurb on Nick Cutter’s book and to read that Pyper’s book was an International Bestseller was amazing to my Canadian reader’s brain.

I talked about it so much my wife finally told me to go back and just buy them, so I did. Don’t get
me wrong, I absolutely love ‘The Troop,’ but it didn’t speak to me like ‘The Demonologist’ did.

Pyper embraced being a Canadian and actively includes Canadian locations in his books. I’d
never experienced it before and it left me thrilled (and my wife a bit annoyed at how much I kept talking about it.) I grabbed Pyper’s other books ‘Lost Girls’ and ‘The Damned’ next and when I began reading ‘Lost Girls’ and it was set in Northern Ontario I could have cried. I’d finally found my author.

As I started my writing journey, I knew that it was ok for me to base my stories around my
childhood haunt in Burton. I try not to ever use specific locations as I like to leave some  
ambiguity as well as to allow the reader to use their imagination and place the location somewhere they’ve been, but all of my releases have been based on real places, real locations in and around Burton. I have a few upcoming releases that aren’t, but for the most part – anything wilderness related I’ve released – Burton.

By Andrew Pyper showing that it was ok to embrace Canadiana and use real Canadian locations I was able to write how I wanted to write. After all, if my favourite author (and bestseller) can do it, then why can’t I?

I spent the month of May celebrating my love of Pyper and it’s still ongoing, but I had the chance
to interview Andrew via email. I’ll remember it forever and can’t thank him enough. I even made sure to ask him about any difficulties he’d come across from being a Canadian author and was happy to see that it wasn’t anything major. (Condensing his reply – essentially everyone thinks Canada is really far away.)

But my Gord Downie – Andrew Pyper connections don’t end there. I really respected just how much Mr. Downie spoke out about reaching people and fighting for the rights of the less fortunate. He became an advocate for Aboriginal Rights and spoke out about environmental issues frequently.

After his diagnosis The Tragically Hip announced a farewell tour, which culminated with their last
performance, a home town show that was also aired live on our national television channel, the 
CBC. I had hoped to get tickets for me and my father in law Peter in Calgary, but sadly they sold out in minutes.

On August 20, 2016 the band performed one last time in Kingston, ON. It happened during the Summer Olympics and CBC cut through coverage off to go live and showed the entire concert commercial free. I watched it while my wife puttered around the house (we were only a week
away from our son joining us at that time.) I cried pretty much from the opening song (Fifty-Mission Cap) to the last song from their encore, which you may have guessed was Ahead by a Century.

“I write every day. I walk around in silent conversation with my latest unfinished songs.”— Gord Downie, 2009.

While the quote discusses Downie’s approach to songs, it’s how I’ve always approached my stories. It’s how my brain works and functions.

As I continued writing I kept Downie’s words front of mind and my belief that is was ok for me to be a Canadian Horror Author. I wrote a blog once called “I’ll never be a bestseller... and that’s ok,” and I still stand by that sentiment. I write stories I want to read, stories that I need to tell, stories
from where I’m from. I believed this because Andrew Pyper was Canadian and his books connected with me, which meant just maybe my stories might connect with others as well.

After those first three Pyper releases, the next book of his that I read was “The Wildfire Season.”
The story follows a chief of a forest fire brigade. I smiled frequently while reading this book, as
Pyper mentioned numerous small towns in Western Canada that I’d visited. I was also intrigued 
as the story itself is set in Ross River, in the Yukon, which is very rare to read Yukon based thrillers.

On October 18, 2017, I was in Peace River, Alberta for our regional clinic for work. I finished      reading ‘The Wildfire Season’ as we flew up. Just before lunch that day the news began to trickle out that Gord Downie had passed away at the age of 53. As we always do in Peace River, we ate lunch at Tim Horton’s. The reason Ben decides to ‘go West,’ in the movie – a Tim Horton’s Roll-Up-the-Rim cup has it printed on the inside. When me and my colleague had finished lunch, he drove me up to an overlook so that I could see the town and the mighty Peace River. I’d never been in the town before and wanted to check it all out. As we drove up the winding road the local radio played “Ahead by a Century.” Part of their ongoing tribute to Mr. Downie that day.

Recently, I was back in Peace River for work again and wouldn’t you know – I was reading “Trade
Mission,” by Pyper. This odd Canadian connection continues.

I hope one day to meet Andrew, shake his hand and thank him for inspiring me in a way I didn’t know I needed. I’ve been fortunate now to strike up a casual social media friendship with him, messaging occasionally and getting butterflies when I see that he’s taken the time to reply. I never like to feel like I’m bothering anybody, so I need to keep myself in check from not messaging him every day.

When it came time for me to really look at writing my newest release “The Stranger,” I had the
confidence in myself to pursue the environmental and bigotry story lines because these two            Canadians laid the foundation down for me to be confident. I thought about Gord Downie’s work with Aboriginal rights and people. I looked at Andrew Pyper’s scope of work and his dedication to not being afraid of saying he’s Canadian in a literary world populated with Best Sellers from other countries.

And I looked at myself and thought about the road I’d taken to get here.

They did it before me.

I knew I could do it.

So I did.

And I can’t thank them enough for making me believe in my Canadian-ness.

“I love this country. I love my idea of this country.” — Gord Downie, 2012

* Thanks Jim & One Legged Reviews for all your support and for inviting me to contribute a guest

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