Author Tags: Cariboo, Humour, Literary Landmarks, Theatre

LITERARY LOCATION: Willliams Lake Tribune, 188 1 Ave North, Williams Lake [52°7'46" N, 122°8'18" W]

In 2009, Mark Leiren-Young won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for his book about working as a 22-year-old rookie reporter for the Tribune, Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo (Heritage 2008). Other B.C. authors who have won the country's top honour for humour are Arthur Black, Howard White, Bill Richardson and Eric Nicol. Other authors who have written for the venerable Tribune include Sage Birchwater, Veera Bonner, Gerry Bracewell, Eric Collier, Dan Paxton Dunaway, Diana French, Donald J. Hauka, Karen Piffko, Jean E. Speare and Irene Stangoe. Founded in 1930 by William Percy Cotton, The Tribune was sold to rancher George Renner in 1937, who sold it to Irene & Clife Stangoe in 1950. It was sold to corporate interests in 1966.


Mark Leiren-Young won his Leacock Medal for his true-life tall tales about life in rough-'n'-tumble Williams Lake, home to a famous almost-annual rodeo that reputedly started in 1919. On the night he arrived in town for his new job in 1985, Leiren-Young chanced upon the scene of an armed robbery. Later the fish-out-of-water urbanite finds himself in a courtroom just a few feet away from a defendant with a bomb strapped to his chest. Then there was the news story about a plane that crashed without its pilot on board. The book became the basis for a one-man play he wrote, presented by Arts Club.

As a writer, Mark Leiren-Young is as versatile as they come.

In 2014, Leiren-Young was chosen as Vancouver’s first Jewish Literary Laureate, a new distinction shepherded into existence by cultural activist Yosef Wosk. In 2015, he served as the 2015 Harvey Southam lecturer at the University of Victoria.

A screenwriter, playwright, critic, performer and freelance journalist, he wrote The Green Chain, a documentary-style drama about a dying B.C. logging town. It premiered in B.C. at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas in Vancouver in March of 2009. It received a major prize at the 15th annual FICMA Film Festival in Barcelona as well as a Gold Remi in Houston. Directed by Andrew Williamson, produced by Scott Renyard, the short comedy stars Lexa Doig and Jonathon Young. It has been touted as “a powerful, funny and thought-provoking film about the conflicts between people who love trees—on both sides of the battle—and are willing to risk anything to protect their personal visions of the forest.” With typical candour and humnour, Leiren-Young adds, "it features my niece Emma as a terrified child."

As a journalist Mark has written for such publications as Time, Maclean's and The Utne Reader, and he’s received a National Magazine Award as a columnist. He has been a regular contributor to The Georgia Straight and a humour columnist for The Tyee, where he hosted an environmentally-themed podcast series, The Green Chain, available on iTunes.

His stage plays have been produced throughout Canada and the U.S. and have also been seen in Europe and Australia. His scripts Shylock and Articles of Faith are published by Anvil Press. In 2015, Shylock was translated into French and Czech. The French translation was courtesy of the University of Lyon. The Czech translation was for a production in Prague in the autumn of 2015. His satirical comedy troupe, Local Anxiety, has been featured on CBC and NPR and has played major festivals across Canada. Local Anxiety's TV special Greenpieces received an Earthvision Award for its satirical take on environmental issues. He has released two CDs with Local Anxiety—Forgive Us We’re Canadian and Greenpieces. Both feature the troupe’s hit song “I’m White, I’m Straight, I’m Sorry.”

He’s half of the comedy duo Local Anxiety and has released two CDs—Greenpieces and Forgive Us We’re Canadian. He starred inb his 2012 solo stage comedy, Greener Than Thou. His other books include The Green Chain—Nothing Is Ever Clear Cut and This Crazy Time, written with/about Canadian environmentalist, Tzeporah Berman, as well as his candid, often painful, but always amusing memoir of post-pubescent ambitions for fame and love, Free Magic Secrets Revealed (Harbour 2013).

"Just over twenty years ago one of my heroes, Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson, told me the story of Moby Doll - the first killer whale displayed in captivity," says Mark Leiren-Young. "Ever since then I’ve been chasing this whale’s tale like Ahab chased his great white." Leiren-Young's radio documentary for CBC’s IDEAS, Moby Doll: The Whale that Changed the World, won a Jack Webster Award for “best radio documentary.” Having re-told the story of Moby Doll in The Walrus magazine, Leiren-Young published a book on the subject in 2016. [SEE FULL-LENGTH REVIEW BELOW]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo
This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge

[BCBW 2016] "Humour" "Theatre" "Cariboo" "Whales"

Leiren-Young, Shylock (Anvil)

Commissioned by Savage God Theatre, Mark Leiren-Young’s Articles of Faith (Anvil) blesses same sex unions. Also by Leiren-Young, Shylock (Anvil, 1996) is an award-winning play about a Jewish actor who is condemned by his own community for his portrayal of Shakespeare’s notorious Jew. Born in 1962, Leiren-Young has written numerous stageplays that include Local Anxiety, Blueprints from Space, Jim, Basically Good Kids, Escape from Fantasy Gardens and Exposé: The World's Fair, Sometimes It Ain't. His radio play Dim Sum Diaries was aired nationally on CBC's Morningside in 1991.

[BCBW WINTER 2001] "Theatre"

The GREEN CHAIN: Nothing is Ever Clear Cut
Press Release

The GREEN CHAIN: Nothing is Ever Clear Cut (Heritage House $17.95)

ISBN 978-1-894974-89-9

Raw log exports, environmental devastation, making a living … all are discussed in this exploration of the past, present and future of forestry.

It’s an emotional topic, especially in British Columbia, where Greenpeace and the Raging Grannies were born but where the economy has been fuelled largely by forestry. Both the logging industry and the environmental movement are facing unprecedented challenges, and the world is watching to see how Canada responds.

Leiren-Young discusses the problems and their possible solutions with 22 eloquent, passionate people, including:

· ForestEthics and PowerUP Canada founder Tzeporah Berman;

· activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki;

· author John Vaillant (The Golden Spruce);

· Forest Products Association of Canada president and CEO Avrim Lazar;

· union spokesman Wade Fisher.

Their perspectives show why the battles over forests are so fascinating, and may serve as inspiration for us all to conserve, respect and treasure resource.

The Green Chain also includes the screenplay for Leiren-Young’s award-winning film of the same name.

Press release, 2009

Free Magic Secrets Revealed by Mark Leiren-Young (Harbour Publishing $26.95)
Review (2013)

from Eric Wilkins
At some point in most male teenager’s life, a girl will be the motivating factor for some completely harebrained scheme. For 17-year-old Mark Leiren-Young, that girl was a long-time crush who had placed him in the dreaded friend-zone.

In a candid, often painful, but always amusing memoir of post-pubescent ambitions for fame and love, Free Magic Secrets Revealed (Harbour $26.95), Mark Leiren-Young recalls how he set out to win the heart of—or at least the attention of—Sarah Saperstein, by producing his own rock & roll magic show.

It is established early on that our lanky protagonist is definitely not one of the cool kids in school. While the self-described “built to be beaten up” Leiren-Young fails to achieve the lofty status of jock-dom, or the fantasized Nirvana of rock-dom, he does have one redeeming factor: he can write.

Our nerdy hero manages to become the writer and director of Black Metal Fantasy (the company he dreamed up with friend and magician, Randy Kagna) for a production that a big-name promoter, Rainbow, is going to take on.

Everything is bright and rosy. A prospective financier is in place and, better still, attractive females have been cast for the roles. Fame and fortune beckon from the proverbial horizon. Rainbow promises them a tour.

Meanwhile Leiren-Young is working part-time by dressing up in costumes for children’s parties, often as a gorilla or a rabbit. These bizarre gigs give him a taste of theatre, or at least entertainment, but they border on humiliation He always keeps his rabbit or gorilla head on his shoulders, not wanting to be unmasked. Once he speaks and someone suspects his identity, he makes a hasty exit.

While mounting Black Metal Fantasy, Leiren-Young soon discovers the harsh realities of show business, such as the difference between a promoter and a producer. It turns out Rainbow is strictly a promotion company and they won’t pay the bills. Meanwhile Mr. Rabbit Head’s troubles with the fairer sex continue.

A girl comes to his house, bringing wine and almond oil. Leiren-Young informs her he is allergic to nuts. She tells him the oil is not for eating. A massage session ensues. “I was about to go right there,” he recalls, “when we heard the key in the lock. It was Randy. The only time I’d ever put out the coat hanger and the selfish bastard ignored it.”

Amid other cringe-worthy anecdotes of frustration, confusion and failure, teasing and mixed signals abound. Throw in the unceasing presence of drugs and alcohol, and Leiren-Young perfectly captures the awkwardness of teenage lust and peer-group shenanigans.

None of the humour in Free Magic Secrets Revealed is of the mawkish, laugh-out-loud variety; rather this is a continuously endearing confessional in keeping with the playwright’s preceding memoir, Never Shoot A Stampede Queen (Heritage 2008), winner of the 2009 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

Eric Wilkins is a post-pubescent non-magician who attends Douglas College.

The Killer Whale Who Changed the World by Mark Leiren-Young (Greystone $29.95)
Review (2016)

from BCBW (Autumn 2016)
Review by Jaiden Dembo

Nowadays everyone accepts orcas as beloved symbols of the Pacific Northwest, beautiful and intelligent animals that capture the public’s imagination and adoration. When a B.C. Ferries captain announces there are orcas off the starboard bow, an entire ferry tilts in their direction due to a herd of giddy, camera-toting passengers.

But not so long ago orcas were maritime public enemy number one—feared and hunted as killer whales.

The Haida called them skana or “killer demon.” They ruled the ocean just as humans were rulers of the land. Their scientific classification Orcinus orca can be translated as “of or belonging to the kingdom of the dead,” “bringer of death” or “devil whale.”

Up until the mid 1960s orcas were regarded as ruthless wolves of the sea, as dangerous to men as they were to any other marine creature. In The Killer Whale Who Changed the World, Mark Leiren-Young dispels myths about orcas and shares their tumultuous history, from when they were feared as monsters to their new-found veneration as endangered sea hunters.

It was long assumed there were thousands of murderous whales roaming off the coast of B.C. until Michael Bigg, a marine mammal research scientist for Canada’s Department of Fisheries, closely studied the behaviour of orcas in the 1970s and discovered there were only hundreds.

Thanks to Bigg and others, the ‘southern residents,’ an ecotype of the killer whales, were eventually placed on the endangered species list in Canada in 2001 and in the U.S. in 2005. As of today “the southern residents are considered one of the most endangered populations of any species on the planet.”

Killer whales are not man-eating pests that need to be eradicated. They are highly sensitive and intelligent creatures that need to be protected. The story of how this change in attitude towards orcas took place begins with the inadvertent capture of one young, 15-foot male near East Point, Saturna Island in 1964.

After he was appointed head of the Vancouver Public Aquarium in 1955, Murray Newman hatched plans to hunt and kill an orca in order to create a perfect model replica for the Aquarium’s proposed expansion in 1963. Commissioned to kill a killer whale, sculptor Samuel Burich harpooned and shot at one but it did not die.

In The Killer Whale Who Changed the World, Leiren-Young recalls there was a moment when the Vancouver Public Aquarium’s team could have killed the orca but empathy intervened. Leading the orca back to Vancouver like a dog on a leash, the team nicknamed it Hound Dog, probably after the Elvis Presley song.

Once in Vancouver the only place they could keep it was the Burrard Yarrows Dry Dock. On the one day the public was allowed to see the whale, crowds flocked to see the ferocious beast and soon realized that this apex predator was not the monster they had originally thought it to be.

The captors mistakenly decided the orca was female. Renamed Moby Doll, he/she galvanized the attention of the world. When he/she was eventually moved to a pen at Jericho, some local citizens and the SPCA pleaded for the whale to be released. “The first killer whale in captivity,” Leiren-Young writes, “had launched the first anti-captivity activists.”

Months after her capture, Moby Doll died in captivity, drowning in the brackish waters due to exhaustion and low salinity in the harbour, at which time Moby Doll was determined to be masculine. His death broke the hearts of those he had played with, splashing them and eating out of their hands. Samuel Burich, the man who had tried to kill Moby Doll, had sung back to him and whistled to mimic his chirps and squeals.

The city of Vancouver and the world mourned the whale’s death. Leiren-Young recounts how Moby Doll’s death sparked a desire to learn more about these creatures and a global desire to favour conservation over killing.

Equally witty and entertaining as it is informative, The Killer Whale Who Changed the World is a captivating captivity story of adventure, heart-warming moments between mammals, and ultimately heartbreak. An array of newspaper articles, reports and anecdotes from important figures of the time are supplied to help take the reader back in time.

Moby Doll’s story changed the way we see these animals forever. An obituary in The Times of London stated, “the widespread publicity—some of it the first positive press ever about killer whales—marked the beginning of an important change in the public attitude toward the species.”

This is an important B.C. story and publisher Rob Sanders (in partnership with the David Suzuki Institute) was right to ask Leiren-Young for a book after watching him receive a Best Feature Story prize at the 2014 Jack Webster Awards for his documentary called Moby Doll: The Whale that Changed the World that aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas. He also wrote an article called Moby Doll for The Walrus.

A versatile playwright, critic, documentary filmmaker and humourist, the Leacock Medal winning Mark Leiren-Young is currently working on a feature-length film on the subject of Moby Doll. The film, like this book, will be one more step towards a greater understanding of these creatures in the hope that whaling on the planet will finally be ended and the slaughter of these noble animals will only be a distant memory. 978-1-77164-193-7

Jaiden Dembo is an associate editor of BC BookWorld.