Author Tags: Fiction, First Nations
LITERARY LOCATION: Former residence, #1607, 1188 Howe Street, Vancouver
W.P. (Bill) Kinsella lived here in a condominium in the late-1990s. His short story called Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa was the basis for his novel, Shoeless Joe, which, in turn, became the basis for the 1989 Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. He is credited with giving the world the phrase, “Build it and they will come.” In fact, the phrase in the movie is, "If you build it, he will come."
Kinsella often ate at the nearby A-1 Café on Granville and he liked to hang out at the Vancouver Public Library where he wrote parts of several books. The promoter Garth Drabinsky used to send him tickets to preview nights for his productions, so Kinsella often attended the theatre. Kinsella had three one-act plays produced at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island while he was living in White Rock: Thrill of the Grass, The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record and The Valley of the Schmoon, circa 1988.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, on May 25, 1935, William Patrick (Bill) Kinsella invoked the assisted dying provisions of Bill C-14 and died at Hope, B.C. at 12:05 p.m. on September 16, 2016. He had been a type 2 diabetic for most of his adult life.
Kinsella was born in 1935 as the son of John and Olive Kinsella. His father was a plastering contractor and he was home-schooled by his mother in a remote Alberta homestead near Darwell, 60 km. west of Edmonton. Without other children around, he used his imagination to entertain himself and took correspondence courses until Grade Five.
"I'm one of these people who woke up at age five knowing how to read and write," he said. His family moved into Edmonton when he was ten. He was an avid reader who developed a keen interest in baseball, although he himself was never much of a player. At age 14, he won a YMCA contest for a short story called Diamond Doom about a murder in a ballpark. At 18, he published a sci-fi story about a totalitarian society. He married in 1957 and raised a family.
In 1967 he moved to Victoria where he drove a taxi and operated a pizza restaurant called Caesar's Italian Village. Other 'vile occupations' included selling Yellow Pages advertising, managing a credit bureau and selling life insurance.
In 1970 he began taking writing courses at the University of Victoria, mainly benefiting from the tutelage of W.D. Valgardson. He received his B.A. from UVic in 1974. He began selling his stories in 1975. He received an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1978. He taught English at the University of Calgary from 1978 to 1983.
Kinsella's work ethic remained consistent and he was stubbornly persistent about re-submitting material that had been rejected. In 1983, while living with his third wife, Ann Knight, in a White Rock apartment, he made his decision to try making his living as a writer on a fulltime basis.
W.P. Kinsella's popular "Indian stories", mostly set on the fictitious Hobbema reserve of Alberta (based on the Ermineskin Reserve and the indigenous community of Hobbema that changed its named to Maskwacis, meaning Bear Hills, in 2014) resulted in a remarkable string of highly entertaining tales that have been superficially attacked as racist. They feature a Cree narrator Silas Ermineskin, a would-be writer, and his outrageous entrepreneurial sidekick Frank Fencepost, as they invariably outwit white authorities. Despite the widespread appeal of these stories, Kinsella didn't receive the Leacock Medal for Humour until 1987, ten years after he made his debut.
Kinsella flatly rejected criticism that he had demeaned Indians by resorting to stereotypes. Dance Me Outside, a superb story in his first collection, was made into a Canadian movie by director Bruce McDonald, but Kinsella abhorred the result. "I gave him plot, geography and characters and he chose to ignore them," he said. The main characters resurfaced in the TV series called The Rez.
Kinsella was also perturbed when director/actor Christine Lahti and co-producer Jana Sue Memel won a best live-action short Oscar for Lieberman in Love, based on a Kinsella short story, but the author was not mentioned in their acceptance speech. "They thanked everyone and their dog but me," Kinsella told Kerry Diotte of the Edmonton Sun. "I later got a full-page apology in Variety. I think it was just carelessness more than anything. They buy these projects, work on them 18 months and then consider them their own."
Kinsella was better known around the world for his baseball-related fiction, often incorporating magical or supernatural events. One of his best stories, The Thrill of the Grass, recounts how a retired locksmith reclaims the energy and purpose of his youth by secretly replacing artificial turf in a major league baseball stadium with real turf.
After a young American editor in Boston named Larry Kessenich saw a brief synopsis of W.P. Kinsella's short story called Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa in Publisher's Weekly, he contacted Kinsella and asked for a novel, Shoeless Joe, that became the basis for the 1989 Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams, for which Kinsella only received $250,000. The phrase 'Build it and they will come' has entered everyday speech from this story of an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who erects a baseball field in his cornfield to attract bygone baseball stars from the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Audaciously, the central character kidnaps J.D. Salinger as part of the plot. Kinsella decided to use Salinger's name after discovering Salinger had used the name Kinsella for the main character in a story Salinger had published in Mademoiselle magazine in 1947 called 'Young Girl of 1941 with No Waist at All.'
Plans were long afoot to mount a musical version of Shoeless Joe.
A Member of the Local Nine: Baseball and Identity in the Work of W. P. Kinsella is a study of his baseball writing by Willie Steele, who later began work on a biography of Kinsella.
Non-Indian and non-baseball books include his collection of short stories, Red Wolf, Red Wolf, his nostalgic Alberta novel called Box Socials, some poetry in The Rainbow Warehouse and a non-fiction book Two Spirits Soar, about Saskatchewan Cree painter Allen Sapp and Sapp's mentor, Allen Gonor.
Kinsella believed some of his best work could be found in Red Wolf, Red Wolf.
Not entirely ignored by the CanLit establishment, Kinsella won the $10,000 Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Canadian Authors Association Fiction Award and Leacock Medal for Humour. He also received the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and he was inducted into Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a baseball writer.
Kinsella strongly supported the Reform Party in federal politics and was a member of American Atheists. He taught briefly in Calgary before relocating to White Rock, B.C.
In 1997, Kinsella was stung by a vengeful portrait in Vancouver magazine by his ex-lover Evelyn Lau, with whom he had a relationship from 1995 to 1997. Kinsella sued for the detailed account that exposed him to ridicule; and the case was settled out of court. Vancouver magazine published an apology.
On October 11, 1997, Kinsella was struck while walking on a south Surrey sidewalk when a vehicle driven by Rupert Sasseville backed out of a driveway. He claimed injuries suffered have made it impossible to write, giving rise to a lawsuit. Formerly based in White Rock, Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, Kinsella became "unintentionally retired" and subsequently lived in relative seclusion in Yale, B.C. for many years following his accident as a pedestrian. A similar traffic accident befell American writer Stephen King when he was out for a walk.
Also like Stephen King, Kinsella has had his work denigrated by some who are envious of his popularity. Kinsella remains B.C.'s closest equivalent to King in terms of adaptations for television and movies. In addition to Field of Dreams and Dance Me Outside, movies were made of his short stories The Job, Lieberman in Love, John Cat and Caroline. He has published more than 30 books of fiction, as well as hundreds of short stories, articles, stageplays and screenplays.
"Inspiration is hard work," he said.
Following his civil suit, Kinsella veered increasingly towards playing competitive Scrabble but eventually resumed writing.
He collaborated with a Japanese journalist to produce a book in Japanese about the right fielder of the Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki, the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year, but Kinsella provided his content via interviews. His fanciful baseball novel Butterfly Winter in 2011 [see below] is a fusion of previous work.
As a big fan of traditional country 'n' western singers such as Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard and George Strait, Kinsella wished he might one day have some song lyrics recorded.
Throughout Kinsella's work, there has been a consistent sympathy for the underdog. In The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt, for instance, an unathletic boy wins the approval of a star school athlete when he draws a comic strip based on the star's exploits. "My life is not interesting," he told Maclean's in 1993, "What you can invent is much better than anything that's actually happened to you."
At age 77, in March of 2012, he celebrated his 13th wedding anniversary with Barbara Turner Kinsella, who he met as a neighbour in White Rock 29 years earlier. She died in 2013.
W.P. Kinsella was survived by his daughters, Erin Kinsella, who cared for him in his final years, and Shannon Kinsella, stepchildren, Scarlet and Aaron Gaffney, and Lyn Calendar, grandchildren Dennis Christopher Gane, Jason Kirk Kinsella, Kurtis William Kinsella, Max Knight Kinsella, as well as his best friends Lee and Maggie Harwood. In accordance with his wishes, there was no memorial service.
A posthumous novel by Kinsella set in 1979
Vancouver, is called Russian Dolls (Coteau Books $21.95)
According to promotional material, the Russian Dolls protaganist is “Wylie, a struggling author who lives in a rooming house occupied by an assortment of losers and hangers-on. A girl named Christie takes a room and eventually they move in together. Wylie believes that Christie is his Muse, and believing it makes it so; his stories begin to sell. Christie tells him dark, dangerously inconsistent stories of her past. Are any of them true? Or is the enticing but erratic Christie simply the better storyteller of the two?”
Dance Me Outside (Oberon, 1977)
Scars (Oberon, 1978)
Born Indian (Oberon, 1981)
The Moccasin Telegraph (Penguin, 1983)
The Fencepost Chronicles (Collins, 1986) winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour, 1987)
The Miss Hobbema Pageant (Doubleday, 1989)
Brother Frank's Gospel Hour (HarperCollins, 1994)
Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (Oberon, 1980)
The Thrill of the Grass (Penguin, 1984)
Shoeless Joe (1982)
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (Collins, 1986)
The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt (Collins, 1988); published in the USA as Go The Distance (Southern Methodist University Press, 1995)
The Dixon Cornbelt League (HarperCollins, 1993)
If Wishes Were Horses (1996)
Diamonds Forever (HarperCollins, 1997)
Magic Time (Doubleday, 1999)
Japanese Baseball and Other Stories (2000)
Ichiro Dreams: Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners (Kodansha, 2002) - non-fiction, Japanese only.
The Alligator Report (1985)
Red Wolf, Red Wolf (1987)
The Rainbow Warehouse (Pottersfield, 1989) - poems, reflections. With Ann Knight.
Two Spirits Soar: The Art of Allen Sapp, the Inspiration of Allan
Gonor (Don Mills, Ontario: Stoddart, 1990).
Box Socials (HarperCollins, 1991)
The Winter Helen Dropped By (1995)
The Secret of the Northern Lights (Thistledown, 1998)
Butterfly Winter (Enfield & Wizenty / Great Plains Publications, 2011) 9781926531168
Russian Dolls (Coteau 2016) $21.95 9781550506952.
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2016] "Movie"
Magic Time (Doubleday $16.95)
Appearing as the baseball season swings into high gear, W.P. Kinsella’s 24th book Magic Time (Doubleday $16.95) has already been optioned by producer Barry Levinson. College all-star Mike Houle is in his junior year when he turns down a fourth-round Montreal Expos draft offer at the urging of his father to finish his business degree. His chances of being drafted again dry up in his final year when his average falls from .331 to .270, his stolen bases go from 45 to 19 and he is caught stealing nine times. So when Mike’s agent calls with an offer to play in the Cornbelt League of Iowa, he takes it – along with a pitiful salary, a day job and a room with a local family. As a choke-ridden second baseman, Mike falls for the charms of Tracy Ellen Powell. Everything is going his way until he begins to suspect baseball isn’t the only game being played in Grand Mount, Iowa. 0-385-25767-8
[BCBW AUTUMN 1999]
W.P. KINSELLA (1985-86)
W.P. KINSELLA was born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1935. He passed his first ten years as an only child on a remote homestead near Darwell, Alberta. His bestselling collections of stories about Indians from Alberta's Hobbema reserve are Dance Me Outside (1977), Scars (1978), Born Indian (1981), The Moccasin Telegraph (1983) and The Fencepost Chronicles (1986), for which he earned the Stephen Leacock Medal for humour. His equally popular baseball fictions are two novels, the Houghton Mifflin Prize-winning Shoeless Joe (1982) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986), and a short story collection, The Thrill of the Grass (1984). Other collections include The Alligator Report (1985), Red Wolf Red Wolf (1987) and shorter works published in limited editions by Vancouver antiquarian bookseller William Hoffer. W. P. (William Patrick) Kinsella was interviewed in 1985 and 1986.
T: Who were Rags and Sigs?
KINSELLA: Where did I ever mention that? Rags and Sigs were my imaginary friends when I was around four or five. They were my first fictional characters. I was an only child. I was raised out in the backwoods of Alberta. There weren't any neighbours who had children. So I had all kinds of make-believe playmates. Rags and Sigs were the two that I talked about.
T: Did your parents approve?
KINSELLA: I suppose they had to. I didn't have anybody else to play with! "Go out and play with Rags and Sigs!" It was better than talking to the hogs.
T: And the Star Weekly was your big literary influence?
KINSELLA: That's true. The Star Weekly was the only thing we got. It came every Saturday. I used to devour it. The fiction particularly. I had learned to read by the time I was five. Sometimes I could read it all and sometimes it was too complicated. I remember "Hugh B. Cave" was one of my favourite writers. And I remember a serial called "Wild Lilac." That was my only contact with the outside world, the Star Weekly.
T: Do you re-use the terrain around Lac Ste. Anne where you grew up for your Hobbema stories?
KINSELLA: No, I've never been on the reserve at Lac Ste. Anne. At least not to my knowledge. We were ten miles from it. It might have been ten thousand. We didn't have anything but a horse and buggy for getting around. The home place was very isolated. Forty years this August it's been vacant and nobody's got in there yet to bum it down.
I've never been to Hobbema either. I don't want to go. Because everything I write is fiction. I don't want to be confused by fact.
T: Why did your family move to Edmonton when you were ten?
KINSELLA: Ostensibly so I could go to school. I had taken the first five years by correspondence but my mom didn't feel qualified to teach me anymore. But also I think my parents were sick to death of the farm. They had only gone to the farm because of the Depression.
T: Did you have an adverse reaction to the formal school system?
KINSELLA: I suppose so. I don't suffer fools. And I don't take orders. As immodest as it may sound, it has to do with intelligence. That's why I've always been a lousy employee. I have always worked for people who were only about half as smart as I was. So you automatically become suspect. Stupid people have an innate fear of anyone smarter than they are.
T: What about baseball? Did your dad take you out to the ballpark in Edmonton?
KINSELLA: It was a school friend who introduced me to the Big Four League. I went a few times with him. Mostly I used to go on my own. It was a five-cent bus ride from the East End down to the flats where the baseball park was. My dad talked a lot of baseball. He had played in the minor leagues. He used to drag the St. LOUM Sporting News home once in a while and it was he who told me first about Shoeless Joe Jackson. But I think he only went out to a couple of Sunday afternoon games with me.
T: Have you still got a copy of your first story? The one about a murder in a ballpark?
KINSELLA: That vanished somewhere when I moved from Victoria to Iowa. I would love to have it. That story was written in grade seven. My mom, I think, still has some of my early efforts. She always threatens to drag them out. I was writing all through high school. I always knew that's what I wanted to do.
T: When were you first published in any form?
KINSELLA: I was about eighteen or nineteen. I'd gone to work for the provincial government. I used to get my work done by ten in the morning so I could write the rest of the day. I should have stayed there. I went into private industry after that and I had to work a great deal harder. I wasn't able to do any writing for several years. From '56 to '63, I think it was. My kids were little and I was struggling like hell to keep food on the table. I did some writing in Edmonton in the mid sixties, but it was mostly journalism.
T: Did you ever get deeply discouraged?
KINSELLA: I was too busy to get discouraged. I hated everything I was doing. Then in '67 I left Edmonton.
T: You opened up a pizza parlour in Victoria without ever having cooked a pizza. That strikes me as something Frank Fencepost might have done.
KINSELLA: Frank has a lot of chutzpah and I guess I did too, at the time. But I did know the economics of the business and that's by far the most important part. I had a friend in Edmonton who owned several pizza places. I sat down with him and saw how I could make a living doing it. So I set it up. There was only one other pizza place in Victoria at the time and I'm a real good financial manager. We were successful from the day we opened the doors. But it's funny you should mention that. I have a story half done at the moment about exactly that. It's the first time I've ever written about the restaurant business.
T: What was the first Silas Ermineskin story?
KINSELLA: "Illianna Comes Home," the first story in Dance Me Outside. That was written three or four years before any of the others. It sat around for a couple of years until I took it to Bill Valgardson's class at the University of Victoria. He said,
"You've got something here." Over the next summer I got a couple more ideas so I wrote "Panache," "Horse Collars," "Dance Me Outside," "Caraway," "Linda Star" and a couple of others. I gave them to Billy that fall. He said they were great. That was the start of it all.
T: Because those stories are written in sly pidgin English, the reader hardly notices the amount of crime and violence in them. Do you think those stories could be told without that style?
KINSELLA: I don't think so. But that style is deceptive. I don't actually do that much with the diction. It just appears that I do. And of course Silas is getting more literate as a narrator all the time. The sentences are getting longer and the language is getting clearer.
T: I took an inventory of the subject matter in Dance Me Outside. There's murder, prostitution, child prostitution, racial discrimination, gambling, a lost baby, rape, suicide, drug dealing. ..
KINSELLA: That goes back to Valgardson's Law. "Short stories are not about events but the people that events happen to." The murders happen offstage. The guy is castrated offstage in "Dance Me Outside." the suicide-murder takes place offstage in "Caraway." Those events are peripheral. You have to have conflict of some kind. But it's the people that those events happen to that the stories are about.
T: Do you agree that your stories would be ideal for a television series?
KINSELLA: Yes. It's absolutely inconceivable that these stories have not been bought for television. There are ninety-some stories ready-made. I write visually. And I write very visually intentionally. But the people in television are at least ten years behind the times, probably closer to twenty.
Nothing can be done for a couple of years now because Norman Jewison has the characters tied for a movie deal or for TV.
T: Do you still run into people who assume you are a native Indian?
KINSELLA: Occasionally. Last fall a woman came up from the Lummi Indian Reserve just across the border. She taught at the college and wanted me to come and read. She was flabbergasted when she discovered I wasn't Indian. And also very angry. It used to happen more often. When Dance Me Outside came out I had all kinds of people phoning around Wetaskawin and Hobbema trying to find out where I lived.
T: Do you generally know the ending of your stories before you begin?
KINSELLA: Well, the ideal way for me to write a story is to get a good opening and then somewhere before I've written three or four pages I want to know the ending. And I want to write it. If you've got a good opening and a good closing there's not much more you need. Any journeyman can fill in the middle. It's just a matter of whether it's eight or ten or twenty pages. But sometimes I do start with an ending. The "Black Wampum" story in Scars, for instance.
T: You mention the tradition of deus ex machina in "The Mother's Dance." How often do you directly incorporate Greek traditions? How important is that to you?
KINSELLA: I'm doing much less of that now. I'm not writing anything for the academics to grab hold of.
T: So initially you thought you should appeal to them?
KINSELLA: Oh, sure. Originally I wanted to get a teaching position. I was writing to impress the critics and the snottier little magazines. There's a lot more conscious symbolism in my first books. Now I'm fortunate I don't have to do that anymore. But I still throw in symbols. Or I'll retell a Greek legend somewhere. I still like to make their little wooden hearts beat faster.
T: Why do you have such a hostile attitude towards academics?
KINSELLA: It's so fraudulent. This business of taking a book and applying incredible psychological and sociological and symbolic meanings to it. It's a game. An elaborate mind game. It has no validity at all that I can see.
T: Okay, for instance, let's say I was setting out to examine the role of the Indian in Canadian literature. ..
KINSELLA: You'd have to get off this academic hoopla to do it. I read something in a reputable journal not long ago about Hiebert, this guy who wrote Sarah Rinks. Now if there is anything that is fun reading and harmless, it's Sarah Rinks. But this guy was saying how Hiebert hated the Indians because of some statements he made in Sarah Binks's poems. It's insane!
T: But you can find stupidity everywhere. There are stupid garage mechanics. It doesn't necessarily follow that all garage mechanics are useless.
KINSELLA: Every once in a while there is some good critical work done, but it's very few and far between. Most of the effort is totally wasted. Again, when I see the stuff that's written on my work, it's incredible. It's such pretentious shit. They see things that not only I had no intention of writing in the work, but nobody in their right mind would see.
T: For an atheist you have numerous religious concepts repeated in your work. Redemption, faith, resurrection and even reincarnation.
KINSELLA: Oh, sure. Just because you don't believe in something doesn't mean you don't write about it. I don't believe in the Bible but I read it occasionally and I use biblical references. I have retold biblical stories. We're so inundated with Christian mythology that if you're going to write quality work I think it will probably be an integral part of it. Critics could legitimately write about the religious symbolism in Shoeless Joe. In fact it is taught in religious studies courses in the US.
T: When the Houghton Mifflin editor called and asked you to expand your Shoeless Joe short story into a novel, did you have any qualms about your ability to do it?
KINSELLA: I knew I could write that length. I'd written one unsuccessful novel before. I wrote to him and said I had never written anything successful longer than twenty-five pages. If I was going to do this I wanted to have a good editor working with me. I assumed that would be the last I would hear from him. Most editors don't really want to work with people. They want the finished product on their desk. But Larry Kessenich was right out of editor's school. He was hot to trot and ambitious. He said he'd be happy to work with me.
T: How did you evolve such a strange plot?
KINSELLA: I always knew I was going to write something about J.D. Salinger. And I knew I was going to write something about Moonlight Graham. And also something about Eddie Sissoms. I thought, well, alright, what if I do all this together? I went and reread all of Salinger. I dug up unpublished stories and found a story with Ray Kinsella in it. I thought, this is the entrance to my Salinger material. He's used my character in a story. I'll use his.
T: Was it hard bringing everything together?
KINSELLA: Shoeless Joe was the easiest thing I have ever written. It was just like a baby. It took nine months. And it was virtually not revised at all. About five or six pages were cut, that was all.
T: Have there been any Indians who have played pro ball?
KINSELLA: Allie Reynolds. Chief Bender. Daryl Evans is half Indian...
T: I ask because it seems an obvious idea for a story. Frank Fencepost signs with the Cleveland Indians.
KINSELLA: I've written a story about the Montana Magic. That was a hockey team that the Hobbema Indians actually bought. Afterwards apparently they found out the team was deeply in debt. I took the idea and made the Montana Magic into a baseball team. Frank and Silas end up managing it. And I've written a hockey story recently that I've been doing at readings. Mad Etta ends up playing goal for the Hobbema Wagon burners.
T: If you were commissioner of baseball, what changes would you make?
KINSELLA: I would institute the designated hitter rule in the National League. I would also make them put in grass in the outdoor stadiums like Kansas City. And I loathe mascots. I also object to them playing music. I
would absolutely ban music from the ballpark. They should play ten seconds of, America the Beautiful" and that's it. None of this anthem shit. And I'd make sure whoever has the concession for food at Dodger Stadium was awarded the concessions for all the ballparks.
T: Do Americans have different reactions to your work than Canadians?
KINSELLA: Americans are much more effusive. If they like something they say, “Bigawd, this is good. Let's tell people about it." Canadians, if they like something, say, "Well, I like this. There must be something wrong with it."
T: Certainly there's more of a tradition in American society that anything is possible. There's probably a greater freedom to be imaginative.
KINSELLA: Whereas in Canada we have this goddamned English tradition. And there is no one less imaginative than the English. Our Canadian literature is still dominated by a lot of asshole Englishmen who have the nerve to try and tell us what our literature is about. John Metcalf, of course, is the main offender. The very idea that this man, who has no background in our literature whatsoever, should try to tell us what Canadian literature should be about just makes me absolutely furious. There are ten or fifteen of his ilk floating around.
T: You've married an American and you've described Canada as "a nation of docile and gutless people beset by an accountant mentality." Why don't you move to the US?
KINSELLA: That statement was made specifically in connection to our acceptance of metric conversion. However, I would say that if it wasn't for medical insurance I would likely live in the States. It's a much more exciting place to be. Even the politicians aren't quite so stupid. All politicians are stupid and corrupt but ours are not even corrupt. Bureaucracy is so much worse here than it is in the US.
T: When you say you knocked your head against Canadian literature for twenty-five years, does that mean Canadian literature was at fault for not accepting you?
KINSELLA: No. I think I got published about the time I was ready to be published. That statement just means I didn't have the opportunity to pursue my writing. There's a story I frequently tell about my high-school counselor in grade twelve. I had taken these stupid aptitude test which are easily rigged, of course, so that I was able to rig the test so that I showed a ninety-eight percent in the writing column and zero mechanical aptitude.
Which is pretty close to the truth anyway. His advice to me was that I should get a degree in accounting or engineering and then write for a hobby. That still makes me furious to this day. You tend to take that kind of advice semi-seriously. I actually wasted ten or fifteen years of my life. So there's a special place in hell for him.
T: When you were in a position to advise young writers as a teacher, what did you try to pass on to them besides Valgardson's Law?
KINSELLA: I always say to students that writing consists of ability, imagination, passion and stamina. Ability, of course, is the ability to write complete sentences in clear, standard English.
That usually eliminates seventy to eighty percent of the people who want to write right there. Imagination is having stories to tell, not autobiography. We have a number of writers who do nothing but write autobiography.
T: Norman Levine?
KINSELLA: I can't tolerate his stuff. There is no story, no imagination involved. That is what fiction writing is all about. Imagination. Imagination is my stock in trade. I have to keep coming up with new things. That's my occupation. We are storytellers. Fiction exists to entertain and for no other reason. If you want to write something preachy or autobiographical, you should write non-fiction.
T: Do you sense a prejudice from some quarters that your work is too enjoyable, too entertaining?
KINSELLA: Oh yes. Of course. These snotty academics are not going to give any credit to anything they can understand that doesn't have twelve letter words in it and isn't dull. But the stuff they praise, in the main, is poor. Every once in a while they will take a liking to a good writer, like Alice Munro, but it doesn't happen often enough.
T: Let me make a snotty academic observation. I think one very important reason your stories are so popular is the connecting thread of loyalty to the genuineness of his own people from Silas. It makes even the sad and tragic stories inspiring.
KINSELLA: I've described that as being an attempt to inject some humanity into situations which are inherently lacking in humanity. To give an academic answer to an academic question. I use all the tricks of the trade to make Silas an endearing character because he has to be in order to carry the weight of all the stories.
T: I'd go so far as to say you're not writing about Indians and whites. You're writing about those who are willing to be true to their hearts and those in the majority who can't or won't be true.
KINSELLA: I write about people who just happen to be Indians. It's the oppressed and the oppressor that I write about. The way that oppressed people survive is by making fun of the people who oppress them. That is essentially what my Indian stories are all about. Silas and his friends understand the absurdity of the world around them. They survive by making fun of the bureaucrats and the dogooders and the churches and all these idiots who have absolutely no idea what is going on in the world but who are in positions of power. Nine out of ten people in positions of power are hopelessly incompetent. It's that one person out of ten that keeps the country running. Silas sees the absurdity of all this. And that's what I have always done. I know the mentality of the oppressed minority. As a writer I am certainly an oppressed minority.
T: Really? Don't you think that is rather a privileged minority to be in? To live the life of a writer?
KINSELLA: For whom? The twelve of us in this country who make a good living from our writing?
T: So you're looking at being oppressed in strictly economic terms.
KINSELLA: Are there any other?
T: But you and Silas are certainly not one and the same person.
KINSELLA: No, Silas is not nearly as bitter as I am. He's not nearly as angry either. Consequently he keeps it fun. Whereas I would like to be out there with a machine gun.
[STRONG VOICES by Alan Twigg (Harbour 1988)] “Interview”
The Rainbow Warehouse (Pottersfield $8.95)
JOHN & YOKO. MARK GASTINEAU &: BRlGITTE Neilsen. W.P. &: Ann.
B.C.'s hottest author, W.P. Kinsella, is turning intimate relations into public relations. He's teamed up with his wife, Ann Knight, to release a book of poetry. Following the success of Field of Dreams, the Kevin Kostner film based on his baseball novel, Shoeless Joe, Kinsella has published The Rainbow Warehouse (Pottersfield $8.95) containing intimate love poems and some "East Hastings" reflections. The cover illustration is by Leo Harwood of Prince George, an old friend from Kinsella's days in Victoria, prior to the publications of his 17 books, 'when Kinsella owned a pizza parlour and drove a taxi. W.P. Kinsella has previously taken pride in his ability to write stories with minimal autobiographical content, from pure imagination. Will true love, Hollywood and success spoil W.P. Kinsella? Will his cantankerousness and deep empathy for the underdog be turned to mush by the introspective flutterings of his poetic heart? Stay tuned. Yet another collection of Kinsella's popular Indian stories, The Miss Hobbema Pageant (Harper &: Collins $10.95), is available this fall, with the title story appearing in the inaugural issue of the Globe &: Mail's highly touted "West" magazine in September. BookWorld Enquirer.
[BCBW Autumn 1989]
First Nations entry for Literary History
Known globally for his baseball-related fiction, including a novel that give rise to the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams, W.P. Kinsella is equally well-known in Canada as the author of a string of comical "Indian stories" set on the Hobbema reserve, near to where he was raised in Alberta. Born on May 25, 1935, William Patrick Kinsella was an only child on a remote homestead near Darwell, 60 km. west of Edmonton, until his family moved to Edmonton when he was ten. Although the Hobbema reserve was nearby, Kinsella has claimed he had limited access to it and his stories about Cree Aboriginals are based on his imagination. In 1967, Kinsella moved to Victoria where he drove a taxi and operated a pizza restaurant called Caesar's Italian Village. After taking significant writing courses from W.D. Valgardson at the University of Victoria, he was stubbornly persistent in his efforts to making his living as a writer. Eventually he published Dance Me Outside in 1977, featuring the likeable Cree narrator Silas Ermineskin, himself a would-be writer, and his outrageous entrepreneurial sidekick Frank Fencepost. Superficially attacked as being racist, the Hobbema stories invariably feature his Aboriginal characters outwitting whites authorities. Kinsella flatly rejects criticism that he has demeaned Aboriginals by resorting to stereotypes. Dance Me Outside, the superb title story in his first collection, was made into a Canadian movie by director Bruce McDonald, but Kinsella abhors the result. "I gave him plot, geography and characters and he chose to ignore them," he says. The main characters have resurfaced in the TV series called The Rez. Kinsella has published ten books related to baseball and seven other books not related to the Hobbema reserve, including Two Spirits Soar, his appreciation of the life and work of Cree artist Allen Sapp.
Kinsella, W.P. Dance Me Outside (Oberon, 1977).
Kinsella, W.P. Scars (Oberon, 1978).
Kinsella, W.P. Born Indian (Oberon, 1981).
Kinsella, W.P. The Moccasin Telegraph (Penguin, 1983).
Kinsella, W.P. The Fencepost Chronicles (Collins, 1986). Winner of the Leacock Kinsella, W.P. Medal for Humour, 1987).
Kinsella, W.P. The Miss Hobbema Pageant (Doubleday, 1989).
Kinsella, W.P. Two Spirits Soar: The Art of Allen Sapp, the Inspiration of Allan
Gonor (Don Mills, Ontario: Stoddart, 1990).
Kinsella, W.P. Brother Frank's Gospel Hour (HarperCollins, 1994).
DON’T KILL THE UMP
For five straight years, W.P. Kinsella, the outspoken author of Shoeless Joe (aka Field of Dreams, the movie) has adjudicated all rookie novelists from sea to sea to sea for the Amazon/Books In Canada First Novel Contest. “I haven’t seen any Fifth Businesses or Stone Angels,” he says, “but previous winner Martin Sloane by Michael Redhill is world class, as is this year’s Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden which was passed over for both the Giller and the GGs.” There are two main national awards for fiction in Canada—the venerable Governor General’s Awards and the swanky, Toronto-centric Giller Prize. Kinsella—who never received either—views the Governor General’s Awards as “a farce” but suggests, “until this year the Giller people have shown uncommon good judgment in picking winners.” Now that Bill Kinsella is opting out of his gatekeeper job for the First Novel Contest, we thought some questions might be in order about the state of fiction in Canada.
BCBW: On a provincial basis, where have most of the new novelists in English come from?
KINSELLA: Over five years Ontario writers produced 46% of the first novels submitted to the contest, followed by B.C. with 19%, Alberta with 10% and Newfoundland with 8%.
BCBW: What’s the average age of first-time novelists in Canada?
KINSELLA: I’d say it’s late 30s.
BCBW: Has the gender ratio for novelists changed since you published your first fiction book in 1977?
KINSELLA: The female-to-male ratio of published novelists has increased. The novels I’ve read in the past five years were equally divided 50/50.
BCBW: Does the old maxim ‘Write about what you know’ still apply?
KINSELLA: I don’t think ‘Write about what you know’ has ever applied. The best novels are works of imagination, the worst are full of autobio-
BCBW: Do you sometimes ask yourself if there are too many books?
KINSELLA: I think there have always been too many books. Unpublished writers may whine otherwise, but nothing, absolutely nothing even remotely good goes unpublished.
Literally hundreds of books both fiction and non-fiction are published each year that should never see the light of day, are read by virtually no one, and would never be missed had they not been published.
BCBW: The pop music industry has been ruined by the music video. Do you detect any corresponding trend towards publishing novelists who ‘look good’ rather than write well?
KINSELLA: I don’t see any correlation. If looking good meant anything there would be far more well-designed covers. There are only two or three good covers a season, the rest often appear to be designed by artsy-craftsy incompetents who have no knowledge of lettering, and probably just got their first computer.
BCBW: Are the first novels from larger publishing houses any better, or different, than the first novels from smaller publishing houses?
KINSELLA: I’d say the novels I see from Knopf Canada, Random House and Doubleday are usually quality ones. They are more consistent in quality than [ones from] the smaller publishers, possibly because they have money for better editors and proofreaders.
BCBW: If you were writing a first novel today, what small press would you send it to?
KINSELLA: I would go with Great Plains Publications, a relatively new firm out of Winnipeg. Their books are all beautiful and they give the impression that they really care about their product.
BCBW: And what large press would you send it to?
KINSELLA: I’d first try Knopf Canada.
BCBW: Can you explain to me how anyone writing or talking in Canada can pronounce, with complete confidence, that the novel they have just read is somehow the ‘best’ novel of the year when that person has likely read less than 10% of the novels published?
KINSELLA: Something like that is a judgment call. What it means is that the novel compares favorably with many excellent novels of the recent past, therefore it must be one of the best of the current crop.
BCBW: You’ve already cited Susan Juby as a ‘writer to watch.’ What other emerging first novelists have impressed you?
KINSELLA: The first year I picked the short list I was very disappointed that Lydia Kwa’s beautifully poetic yet tough-as-nails story of lesbian love and sacrifice, This Place Called Absence, did not win. I felt it was the best novel of that year by a wide margin.
I very much like Open Arms by Marina Endicott, Blue Becomes You by Bettina von Kampen, The Beautiful Dead End by Clint Hutuzlak, and Stay by Aislin Hunter. These people are very talented and could become major players in Can-Lit.
However, my favorite first novel of all time was a runner-up in 1976 to something long forgotten, The True Story of Ida Johnson by Sharon Riis. It was summed up by Margaret Atwood as “... a flatfooted waitress caught in the eerie light of the Last Judgment.” It is a novel I re-read several times a year, always finding something new.
BCBW: Do you sometimes think we should place a moratorium on publishing novelists under age 35?
KINSELLA: Definitely. It got so bad that for a couple of years I added my own Bottom Drawer Award for novels whose manuscripts should have remained in the bottom drawer with orange peels, cracker crumbs and condom wrappers.
The worst offenders are the publishers trying to qualify for future grants by publishing a certain number of books each year. They end up publishing anything with a pulse.
BCBW: So should everyone attending Creative Writing courses be encouraged to get jobs delivering pizzas instead?
KINSELLA: No. I’m a graduate of the University of Victoria Writing Department and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
When I went to UVic I was like a baseball pitcher with a wonderful fastball who threw every third pitch into the stands. Bill Valgardson, Robin Skelton, Lawrence Russell and Derk Wynand coached me until I was publishing regularly by the time I graduated.
Iowa gave me two years of freedom to write, and I was beginning Shoeless Joe when I received my MFA. Only one or two bad novels came from graduates of writing programs, while several very good ones emerged, especially from the UBC Writing program, which has a phenomenal rate of published novelists.
It has always been that in a class of 15 writing students, on average only one will ever achieve any success. I do think Writing Departments should be more diligent in weeding out the obvious non-performers, but the problem is age-old; the departments get paid by the student, so anyone with diligence and a smattering of ability can get a degree, which ultimately cheapens the degrees of the talented writers.
That was my chief complaint with Iowa where I saw students use the same 60-page, unrevised manuscript they used to gain entry to the workshop as their Graduate Thesis Project.
[BCBW 2006] "Fiction"
George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award
from WP Kinsella
“British Columbia has always been the right place for me.” – W.P. Kinsella
Publishing is much like the movies; no one has a clue as to what will be successful, and when something is successful it is immediately imitated by twenty copycats.
I have had great good fortune in my writing career by, time after time, being in the right place at the right time. I am really happy that I am not starting out as a writer in today’s climate, for I don’t see any way I could break into the market and make a good living as I have done for the past 30-some years. While my novels have been successful, I favor the short story because I feel it is a much more complex and interesting form of expression.
My first experience of being in the right place at the right time was enrolling in some creative writing courses at the University of Victoria in 1970. I was raising a young family, managing my own business and writing madly in all directions—my first creative writing instructor, Derk Wynand, had one huge folder for the 20-page stories I was churning out each week, and one small folder for the remaining 15+ students.
The very under-appreciated poet Robin Skelton was the first to recognize that buried deep in my meandering stories there might be seeds of talent. He told me about the great poet Stephen Spender who would write 100 lines a day and be delighted if two of then eventually became usable. I got the message.
Then W. D. Valgardson came to teach at U-Vic. His story collection Bloodflowers influenced me greatly. From it I learned about great opening lines. Valgardson would take one of my 20-page run-on sentences and tear off the first page, then scissor off half of the second page. He would then tear off the final two or three pages and say, “You warmed up for a page and a half before you started your story, you wound down for three pages after you finished it. Don’t do that.”
I’m a quick learner. Suddenly, in 1974, I had five stories accepted by literary magazines in a single week, and I’ve published virtually everything I’ve written since then. If it hadn’t been for Bill Valgardson I might still be driving cab in Victoria, with several suitcases of unpublished manuscripts under my bed.
It wasn’t just having my talent recognized, it was the fact that short stories, which were considered a second class art form in Canada, suddenly came into vogue. My slyly funny and subversive Silas Ermineskin stories were considered daring and groundbreaking and became in great demand by virtually every literary magazine in the country. Some editors expected me to lavish praise on them for daring to publish my stories. My first collection, Dance Me Outside in 1976, published by Michael Macklem at Oberon Press, had no advance, no publicity, but became a best seller with a few good reviews and a whole lot of word-of-mouth, and still sells well 33 years later. I know people who bought 25 copies and sent them to their friends. A young assistant at Longhouse Books in Toronto, Jan Whitehouse, made me a personal project and touted my book to everyone who came into the store. All through the 80s and 90s my multiple story collections sold very well. Was it the chicken or the egg? Did my stories make the short story form acceptable again, or was I just in the right place at the right time?
British Columbia has always been the right place for me. I’ve been here since 1967 except for two years at graduate school in Iowa, and five horrible years, each one longer than the one before, at Desolate U. in Calgary, where anything creative was regarded with suspicion if not downright hostility, and where my time was wasted teaching bonehead English to students so unprepared for university that 90% of them should never have been allowed on a campus unless they were bussing tables in the cafeteria.
I was also in the right place at the right time when my novel Shoeless Joe was published in 1982. With that publication I discovered that there was a market for baseball fiction. Precious little had been done in the genre: Malamud’s depressing The Natural, and the difficult-to-read Great American Novel by Philip Roth. There was no one taking advantage of the baseball short fiction market. This revelation was like a prospector finding a large vein of gold. The prospector would work the vein until it was exhausted. I worked the vein of baseball writing successfully for the next 20 years.
I chose to stop writing fiction about 10 years ago, partly because of the market conditions. For example, my novel Box Socials sold about 70,000 hard cover copies, but when the sequel was ready the publisher not only didn’t want to publish it; they didn’t want to read it. Not enough sales. Go figure!
Short stories were out of fashion again, and the market for non-trash novels was shrinking monthly, besides I had said about all I had to say, and I have seen far too many writers scribbling on into their old age, Updike, Mailer and Anne Tyler come to mind, turning out inferior and repetitious parodies of their earlier brilliant work.
I have drawn criticism for touting myself as a professional writer whose income should match that of other professionals such as doctors, lawyers or engineers. I have no time for the “writer living in a garret mentality,” with art coming first and income second. Book sales have always been the bottom line with me. A manuscript is nothing until it is published, a published book is nothing unless it is widely read.
In that vein, I’ll close with a favorite epigram from Hilaire Belloc: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: ‘His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”’
-- by WP Kinsella
W.P. KINSELLA AWARDED 15TH GEORGE WOODCOCK LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Press Release (2009)
(Vancouver, B.C.) – W.P. Kinsella is the next name to be inscribed onto a commemorative plaque in the Writers' Walk at Vancouver’s Library Square honouring recipients of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kinsella is the 15th established writer to be honoured for an outstanding literary career related to British Columbia. He will receive the award on June 9 at Vancouver Public Library’s Central Library where Mayor Gregor Robertson will read a proclamation in Kinsella’s honour. The award also includes a $3,000 cash prize.
He is a recipient of the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Canadian Authors Association Fiction Award and the Leacock Medal for Humour. He has also received the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.
In proclaiming June 9th Vancouver Author Appreciation Day honouring Mr. Kinsella, Mayor Robertson commended Kinsella’s extensive and impressive body of work which includes the novels Shoeless Joe, Dance Me Outside, The Moccasin Telegraph and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.
“Bill Kinsella now lives in the Fraser Valley, but he has called Vancouver home,” said Mayor Robertson. “As a province we are fortunate that he left his native Alberta for British Columbia.”
“In addition to the numerous awards and accolades for his work, Mr. Kinsella’s expression from Shoeless Joe, ‘If you build it, he will come’, has become part of our every-day speech.”
The City of Vancouver, Vancouver Public Library and the non-profit Pacific BookWorld News Society sponsor the annual George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.
“W.P. Kinsella is one of our few writers whose work requires little or no introduction,” says BC BookWorld publisher and Woodcock Award founder Alan Twigg. “Like Alice Munro and Douglas Coupland, he has earned his reputation beyond the stratum of self-elected literary aristocrats. People read and enjoy his work around the world.”
The Woodcock Award celebrates an author whose enduring contribution to the literary arts in British Columbia spans several decades, said Library Board Chair Joan Andersen.
“Bill Kinsella’s writing has had a significant impact on the North American literary landscape. His talent and dedication has ensured his place as one of the most successful and prolific writers in Canada. He has published more than 30 novels and collections of short stories, hundreds of articles and reviews, poems, stage and screen plays. His work has been translated into a number of languages and widely adapted for television and movies,” she said.
“Throughout his career, Mr. Kinsella has inspired and encouraged emerging writers and his work is taught in numerous writing and reading programs. He is a most-deserving recipient of this prestigious award.”
In 1993, Mr. Kinsella told Maclean’s magazine: "My life is not interesting. What you can invent is much better than anything that's actually happened to you."
In 1994, in the aftermath of civic events held to recognize the literary career of celebrated Vancouver writer George Woodcock, BC BookWorld, the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Public Library and the non-profit Pacific BookWorld News Society jointly sponsored and presented an annual prize to a senior BC author whose enduring contribution to the literary arts spans several decades. The initial corporate sponsor was BC Gas, later renamed Terasen. In 2007, the Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award was renamed the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.
Previous recipients include Joy Kogawa (2008) bill bissett (2007), Jack Hodgins (2006) and Alice Munro (2005). Further information is available at http://www.georgewoodcock.com.
- 30 -
Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award
Kinsella adds another trophy to his case
By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun, June 9, 2009
Author W.P. Kinsella has revealed the secret that made him the success that he is today: Get to the point and stop when you are done.
"The man who turned my career around was Victoria author W.D. Valgardson," Kinsella told the Sun.
A struggling graduate of UVic's creative writing program in 1975, Kinsella turned to his mentor when he could not sell his stories.
Valgardson read his work and ripped off the first page and the last page-and-a-half and handed Kinsella's manuscript back to him.
"He said, 'Look, you warm up for a page before you start your story and you wind down for a page and a half after you finish it,'" Kinsella recalled. "'Don't do that.'"
Kinsella stopped doing that and has sold nearly every word he has written since.
"Without Bill Valgardson, I would be a retired taxi cab driver with 33 unpublished manuscripts under his bed," he laughed.
As it turns out, Kinsella is a celebrated author with a case full of awards and is an officer of the Order of Canada.
After today, Kinsella will just have make a little extra room in his trophy case for the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kinsella will receive the award from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in a ceremony at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library tonight at 7 p.m. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe and numerous novels and short stories, will give a reading and reflect on his life as an author.
"I think a lifetime achievement award sounds pretty final, but I'm always happy to see my work recognized," Kinsella said.
"I have helped a lot of young writers over the years but I have had a lot of young writers come up to me over the year -- ones that I have never met -- and say that I influenced them," Kinsella said. "That always makes me feel good."
Kinsella will read his favourites tonight: pieces from The Alligator Report, an excerpt from a Frank and Silas story and passages from the novel Box Socials.
White Rock legend honoured for his life's work
By Alex Browne - Peace Arch News
Published: June 09, 2009 12:00 PM
Told that he just may be White Rock’s most famous non-resident resident, author W.P. Kinsella chuckles.
He’s read so many poorly-researched online biographies that still have him living in the city, he’s resigned to the fact it’s part of his legend.
As spouse Barbara Turner Kinsella notes, “People still think Bill is sitting there in his apartment over Cosmos Restaurant, tapping away at his 1957 Royal typewriter.
“He still has it, but it’s in our basement now. Would anyone believe that Bill has an iMac?”
In truth, Kinsella moved from White Rock 11 years ago, and now lives in a house in a 150-year-old orchard in the Fraser Canyon.
The retired author, now 75, made a very rare excursion from home to Vancouver Tuesday to receive the 15th annual George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Library and the Pacific Book World News Society.
In a ceremony at Vancouver’s Central Library, Mayor Gregor Robertson delivered a proclamation for Vancouver Author Appreciation Day honouring Kinsella.
The award also includes $3,000 and a commemorative plaque installed in the Writers’ Walk outside the library.
“I’m very pleased,” Kinsella said Monday. “It’s nice to have your work recognized, especially as a body of work over the years.”
A prolific novelist and short-story writer before retiring almost a decade ago, Kinsella has a reputation for plain speaking – and not suffering fools gladly – that was later reinforced by a stint as a newspaper columnist.
In his fiction, he’s stayed true to two basic themes: the game of baseball as a form of magical metaphor, and his wryly comical stories about Frank and Silas, First Nations residents of Hobbema, Alta.
“When a writer finds something that people like, it’s like a prospector finding gold – you work it for all its worth,” he said.
Kinsella is probably most famous for his novel, Shoeless Joe, which was filmed as Field Of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner.
“That was wonderful – they couldn’t have done a better job with it than that,” he said. “I’m one of the only writers I know who has liked a major movie made from one of their novels. Usually movie makers screw it up.”
He’s also one of the few writers he knows who can stand to re-read his own writing.
“Many writers say that when they go back they want to change things,” he said. “I’m happy with what I wrote. I laugh out loud when I read them. I don’t want to change anything.”
y go back they want to change things, but I’m happy with what I wrote. I laugh out loud when I read them. I don’t want to change anything.”
Two factors led to his retirement – shortly after moving to the Fraser Canyon he was in an accident in which he was struck by a car, which left him “ with a certain amount of damage,” he said.
“But I’ve also seen so many writers write on into their old age and end up parodying themselves – Norman Mailer and John Updike come to mind. I pretty well said all I had to say.”
Although he rarely returns to White Rock – the last time in 2007 – Kinsella has fond memories of his 15 years in the city.
“From my place above Cosmos, I used to like walking down the promenade, or to the end of the pier,” he said. “But Sandcastle Day was horrible – we had every drunk in the country pissing in our parking lot.”
Press Release (2011)
Butterfly Winter, Kinsella's first novel in 13 years, is the story of Julio and Esteban Pimental, twins whose divine destiny for baseball begins with games of catch in the womb. They mature quickly and by the age of ten they leave their home in the fictional Caribbean country of Courteguay for the American major leagues. Julio is a winning pitcher who will only throw to his catcher brother, much to the chagrin of the team that employs him, which must keep mediocre Esteban on the roster. Events in the brothers' homeland, including regular coups and the outlawing of baseball, continue to shape their lives. They are monitored by the Wizard, a mysterious figure who travels by hot air balloon and controls events behind the scenes. In his last years he tells the story of the twins and their family to a skeptical ;gringo' journalist. Butterfly Winter is entertaining, funny and magical, and includes a diabolical chiropractor, a great love blessed by butterflies and a deep political undercurrent that unites the wealthy north with the baseball-loving and oppressed south.
Butterfly Winter by W.P. Kinsella (Enfield & Wizenty $29.95)
from Cherie Thiessen
Evidently the head trauma from a 1997 car accident has not inhibited W.P. Kinsella’s imagination.
Unable to concentrate after being injured as a pedestrian, Kinsella did little for five years and considered himself to be retired—but has since become one of the country’s top Scrabble competitors.
After a 15-year hiatus from publishing his work, the wizard of diamond lit and magic realism has rebounded with gusto for Butterfly Winter, another baseball novel.
“Butterfly Winter came about because I read an article about the migration of monarch butterflies from Canada and the USA to winter in Mexico,” Kinsella told BCBW. “I made that into a short story. I had another short story about twins who play catch in their mother’s womb. I combined the two stories for a novel, then rewrote it several times, changing narrators, and making the novel more of an interview.”
Two chapters were previously published in a slightly different form, as short stories. “Butterfly Winter,” appeared in Red Wolf, Red Wolf, in 1987, and “The Battery,” in The Thrill of the Grass, 1985.
Kinsella told BCBW his primary literary influence for Butterfly Winter was What The Crow Said, a novel by Robert Kroetsch. Quirky and convoluted, Kinsella’s long-incubated novel offers cabbages waltzing, herons bayoneting villains and butterflies punishing evildoers.
The story is largely set in a fictional country called the Republic of Courteguay, located between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“When I started the novel,” Kinsella says, “I thought Courteguay was a real country in Central America, but it isn’t, so I moved it to Hispaniola.”
[A Latin American dictatorship called Corteguay was first imagined by novelist Harold Robbins in The Adventurers, a trashy novel that became a trashy movie in 1969.—Ed]
Life in Courteguay changes with the arrival of a baseball missionary named Sandor Boatly who brings the word of baseball to the masses. There is an extremely unreliable narrator named The Wizard who says, “The word chronological is not in the Courteguayan language, neither is sequence.”
The considerable cast of characters in this novel turns out to be shorter than it appears. We realize the wizard and prime narrator is also Sandor Boatly, The Old Dictator, Jorge Blanco and Octavio Court, the founder and namesake of Courteguay, rolled into one. And could the wizard also be the villain, Dr. Lucius Noir, responsible for banishing baseball, for untold slaughters, and any number of despicable acts?
There’s nothing our sleazy narrator can’t do. He’s as often the
villain as the hero. He rescues the
kidnapped Julio from the guerillas
by buying them off with colourful uniforms, descending grandly from the sky in his beloved hot air balloon.
The novel’s protagonists are the pitching battery of Julio and Esteban who start playing catch in their mother’s womb. These
miraculous twins are born to an impoverished and astonished couple, Hector and Fernandela Pimental.
As toddlers, the dashing Julio and plodding Esteban amazed international tourists who came to watch the diapered pair play baseball in their nursery. At ten, they were off to America to play on the “only major league baseball team in the True South,” apparently the Atlanta Braves. Super star Julio will only pitch to his sibling, even though Esteban falls far short of his brother’s brilliance.
The beautiful Quita Garza, Julio’s true love, could conceivably also be an Alpha butterfly, or a heron, or exist in the retinue of one night stands to which Julio eventu-ally succumbs.
While much of the narration belongs to the wizard, a gringo jour-
nalist also elbows his way onto the
page, and, unlike the wizard, he does not shift shapes. He’s just trying to do his job, attempting to sort out fact from fiction, past from present, and villain from champion.
The intrepid journalist has been over four months on the story, untangling the wizard’s stories, and he’s no longer on an expense account, but he is determined to write the history of Courteguay and its famous baseball twins.
Logic and time wobble about like the proverbial Jell-O on the wall; we have first-person segues into third-person narration in the same chapter, and people don’t necessarily stay murdered.
The book’s division into three sections, each with a myriad of short chapters, seems as whimsical as the plot. Each chapter is titled by a name: usually The Wizard, or The Gringo Journalist, occasionally Julio Pimental, Hector Pimental, (the twins’ father), or Quita Garza. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that chapter is delivered from that character’s point of view, or that it will even have anything to do with that character.
With its time bending, shape shifting and death defying zaniness, Butterfly Winter kicks magic realism up a notch. The main thread of consistency is wonderful writing:
Properly played, baseball consisted of mathematics, geometry, art, philosophy, ballet, and carnival, all intertwined like the mystical ribbons of color in a rainbow.
Kinsella has been asked countless times by interviewers, ‘why baseball?’ He puts part of his answer into Sandor Boatly’s excited revelation: “The field is not enclosed. The possibilities are endless. There is no whistle to suspend play, there is no clock to signal an ending.”
So the possibilities in Butterfly Winter are likewise endless.
“Magic is only something you haven’t seen before,” the wizard says to Julio.
So how come Butterfly Winter was released by a little-known imprint in Manitoba? That’s almost as bizarre as the novel.
As the man who wrote Shoeless Joe, the basis for the movie, Field of Dreams, surely Kinsella can get published anywhere he chooses. But no way, Julio.
“Let’s face it,” Kinsella says, “the offer to publish from Enfield & Wizenty was the only offer. So I’m happy they decided to award me their Colophon Prize and publish the novel.
“Major publishers want huge sales. Something like 60% of all books are sold in Canada within a hundred miles of Toronto. I have never been a big seller in Ontario.
“My novel Box Socials sold like 70,000 hardcover copies in the USA, but when my next novel was ready they not only didn’t want to buy it, they didn’t want to read it. Reason? Not enough sales in Canada.” 978-1926531168
Cherie Thiessen reviews fiction from Pender Island.