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Providing for a multi-media extravaganza

Providing for a multi-media extravaganza


Yo! Hey! Can anybody hear me? I’m shouting out from deep in this rabbit hole on website-building. I hate to say the C-word, but it’s happening. No more a swashbuckling writer, I have become a lowly CONTENT-PROVIDER. Tell the truth, I am having a blast. I’ve been contemplating the traditional Author’s Website. You’ve got the books, with clickable elaboration. That’s the backbone of it and rightly so. You’ve got a brief, professional biography, some contact information, a few hi-res images of the guilty party . . . and that’s basically it. Utilitarian, right? Sell those books. But down here in the rabbit hole, poking around, I find a world of possibilities that I, for one, have failed to investigate. I’m dreaming of a website, dare I reveal it, that is less a marketing tool than a rough-hewn work of art – a multi-media extravaganza in cyberspace. Many authors, I know, have passed this way. Bear with me: I am a slow learner. But as content for my new website, along with the usual, I am providing short videos I've made and songs I've written, one photo-gallery of adventures and another of paintings by Sheena. Yup, she has been with me all the way and deserves to be acknowledged. What’s that? Who would want to spend time exploring such a site? Well, maybe nobody. I can live with that. But the same question pertains to any book you write: who will want to read THIS? Bottom line: I’m going with Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come.
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Ken McGoogan
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Celebrating the Indigenous contribution

Celebrating the Indigenous contribution


Season’s greetings and hats off to the folks at the John Rae Society in Orkney. They’re the ones driving the restoration of the Hall of Clestrain, original home of Arctic explorer John Rae. Having purchased the Hall and the lands needed to build an access road, they’ve both broadened and refined their original concept. They’re creating not just a museum but an international heritage centre celebrating the peerless Rae and the contributions of Indigenous Canadians to Arctic exploration. Yes, I’ve been banging on about this since 1998, when I first visited Clestrain while researching my book Fatal Passage (2001). But look: it’s finally happening. Having secured the backing of key Scottish agencies and been accepted into the Repair Program of Historic Environment Scotland, the Society is forging ahead to make the centre a reality by 2025. This is not the place for a detailed breakdown, complete with “estimated timetable and cost (excluding VAT).” But I’ve laid hands on the project manager’s development plan. In a nutshell, the Society aims to renovate Clestrain – a Palladian villa completed in 1769 – into a world-class heritage centre “celebrating the memory of John Rae and providing a window into the world of Arctic exploration in the past, present and future.” The centre “places the John Rae story at the heart of the interpretation, connecting the stories of the Hall, Hudson’s Bay Company and Canada/Arctic exploration.” It will highlight the manner of Rae’s achievements, built upon “respecting other cultures [and] learning from the way of life of the people who lived there.” The interpretative plan is to “challenge views on who writes history; the role of indigenous peoples in Arctic exploration; climate change and the importance of the Arctic ecosystem. People’s changes in perception and intended future actions will be captured using state of the art digital feedback monitors at the end of the exhibition.” There’s a whole lot more. But as the Society’s Fiona Gould writes, the aim is “to create a centre which looks as much forward as to the past, and which will ensure a truly accurate historic perspective is compiled for future generations." Is this worth backing? You betcha.
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Ken McGoogan
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Building a Citadel in Cyberspace

Building a Citadel in Cyberspace


When every day you receive an email from a different website developer offering to design a new site for you, complete with razzle-dazzle graphics and up-to-the-minute Search Engine Optmization (SEO), well, then you know it's time to act. Time to build a new home in Cyberspace. How hard can it be, right? What you don't expect are these existential questions. What IS a website, anyway? If you're an author, is it just an engine to sell, sell, sell your books? For some, maybe. But for most, I think it's a heckuva lot more than that. I remember back in the day, when the Internet was in its infancy, how after publishing a book a writer-friend discovered a review online . . . a nasty, negative piece of work. Search her name and that review was the only thing you would find. Was she upset? I drew one obvious conclusion: I needed a website to defend against the hostiles. Trust me, they are out there, now in far greater numbers than ever before. A redoubt, then. A bastion, a fortress, a castle. And while you're building this castle, and going beyond the utilitarian, why not try to create something beautiful? Maybe think of it as a citadel -- as a glorious citadel that commands and defends a city. Too much? Am I getting carried away? Of course, I've heard the nay-sayers. A website? they say. Why bother? A website is so yesterday. Well, maybe for some. But not for writers it's not. Not for those who have stories to tell. And so after poking around, investigating author sites, I decided to call in the pros at AuthorBytes. What you see above is a wireframe -- part of a siteplan, if you will. What else can I tell you? A citadel is nothing without a populace -- not just to defend but to celebrate. So, yes, helping to populate this site will keep me out of trouble for the next while.
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Ken McGoogan
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Leonard Cohen Volume Two

Leonard Cohen Volume Two


It's equally compelling. Impossible to put down. Yet harder to read than Volume One. That's because, through the 1970s and into the '80s, our hero's narcissism becomes more egregious, harder to overlook. Yes, the anxiously awaited Volume two is here: Leonard Cohen / Untold Stories: From This Broken Hill, the stupendous oral biography by Michael Posner. Toughest example of what I mean: Gabriela Valenzuela. Never heard of her? I hadn't either. Color her elided. Fact remains: she was one of the most important of the countless women in the life of Leonard Cohen. Originally from Costa Rica, Valenzuela helped him translate, understand, and build music out of the lyrics of his all-time favorite poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. In 1980, when she met Cohen, she was 20 years old. He was 46. In 1982, after a torrential, white-hot correspondence, the two became lovers. In 1986, when having been abandoned while pregnant, Valenzuela was driven to abort his child, she was 26. Between those events, to hear her tell it, the two shared some extraordinary days and nights . . . mostly nights. Put it this way: Cohen does not emerge looking his best. In fairness, I can't imagine any brilliant contemporary songwriter whose life could stand such intensive scrutiny without taking some damage. With regard to Cohen's relations with women, this portrait is warts-and-all. But we also see many, many examples of his kindness and generosity. For some readers, a second area of concern might be his sporadic admiration for right-wing politicians -- though here, as elsewhere, Posner relays conflicting testimonies, leaving the reader to decide when, where, and whether Cohen is working one of his cons. A special bonus in this volume (full disclosure) is that Posner twice references my own magic moment with Cohen, albeit briefly. Full treatment, click here. For the rest, Posner gives us a superb epilogue in which he whets our appetites for Volume Three. Say what you will, I, for one, can hardly wait.
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Ken McGoogan
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Creators calling on Ottawa

Creators calling on Ottawa


Hello, hello? Ottawa? I'm sorry but there's no nice way to say this. For a decade now, educational institutions have been ripping off writers who tell Canadian stories . . . writers like, well, me. They have been using our work and flat-out refusing to pay for it. They're stone-walling. We're tired of it. Will you please fix the broken Copyright Act, please? @JustinTrudeau, @pablorodriguez, @FP_Champagne, #IValueCdnStories, #cdnpoli, #creatorscallingonottawa.
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Ken McGoogan
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Celebrating an early champion of the Inuit

Celebrating an early champion of the Inuit


Arctic history buffs around the world are today celebrating what would have been John Rae’s 208th birthday. Born at the Hall of Clestrain in Orkney on September 30, 1813, Rae became a doctor in Edinburgh and then entered the fur trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company. After learning from First Nations and Inuit hunters, he became the foremost overland traveler of the age. Rae discovered both the fate of the 1845 Franklin expedition and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. In England during the Victorian era, when Charles Dickens and others thought fit to slander the Inuit, Rae emerged as the greatest champion of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. In 1999, I was with the late Louie Kamookak when he led the way to the cairn that Rae built in 1854 overlooking Rae Strait.In Orkney, the John Rae Society is working hard to restore the Hall of Clestrain and turn it into an International Arctic Visitor Centre. Happy birthday, John Rae! And Louie, wish you were here!
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Ken McGoogan
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Let's resolve Canada's non-fiction crisis

Let's resolve Canada's non-fiction crisis


Canada’s non-fiction crisis is the focus of this week’s SHuSH by Kenneth Whyte. That crisis is the absence of support in this country for research-based non-fiction – biography, history, and science. Whyte, publisher of Sutherland House, is spurred to comment by the recently announced five-book shortlist for the $60,000 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust prize for non-fiction. He laments -- rightly in my view -- that all five books are memoirs. Dan Wells, publisher and owner of Biblioasis, writes in support of Whyte. Wells notes that writer Elaine Dewar worked solidly for more than a year to produce On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years – and he could afford to pay her only a modest four-figure advance. Few Canadian authors can afford to self-finance a research-heavy book. So countless books don’t get written. Canadians get swamped with biographies and histories from, ahem, other countries. “We’ve got to figure out a way to fund this kind of writing,” Wells writes, “whether it’s through private funders or through public funders.” Funnily enough, or maybe not so funnily, the Writers’ Trust of Canada was once on track to solve this problem. I know because in 2001, my book Fatal Passage won the Writers’ Trust Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize. That award was discontinued after 2006 in favor of what is now the Hilary Weston Prize for Nonfiction. That was the fatal wrong turn. True, the Drainie-Taylor was awarded for works of biography, autobiography, or memoir. And, also true,
in any given bookstore, you will find biography situated with autobiography. Still, the Drainie-Taylor pointed the way forward, and that is to split Nonfiction into the two streams Whyte and Wells have identified. An excellent place to begin would be to offer two different awards in nonfiction: one for Memoir and Autobiography, the other for Biography, History, and Science (research-heavy works). How hard can that be?
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Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.