The Kickstart Story Part 4: “Cut the Fat, Grasshopper”

February 15, 2008

When Paul returned from Asia, the project really kicked into full gear. Even though publishers still didn’t want to touch a book written by three upstart nobodies, we soldiered on, trying to interview as many people as we could.

On the whole, the response was good. Though most interviewees probably assumed we were naïve simpletons with pie-in-the-sky ambitions, they humoured us and offered more of their time and honesty than we deserved.

When Alex travelled to Regina to visit his grandparents, he managed to meet with former finance minister Ralph Goodale, former lieutenant governor Lynda Haverstock, and provincial Chief Justice E.D. Bayda. Meanwhile, in Toronto, we had an enthralling chat with architect Raymond Moriyama, who regaled us with stories about re-tracing the steps of the Buddha, and Bob Rumball, the former CFL star and evangelical minister who fought to get the deaf acknowledged in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In September, Paul snagged an internship at the now dearly departed Saturday Night magazine, where he had the good fortune to work under then editor Gary Stephen Ross. He took Kickstart under their wing, volunteering to sit down with the proposal we were then submitting to publishers, and give us feedback on how we were progressing.

Gary was the author of Stung, the basis for Owning Mahowny starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a former partner in McFarlane, Walter & Ross. He had been through the ringer, as both a writer and publisher, and had numerous insights into how to avoid being screwed. He also had many things to say about the form the book was taking.

At the point where we showed him our stuff, Kickstart was a very different book. Each chapter was written like a mid-length magazine profile. The form didn’t really work because, not only were we not yet trained magazine writers, but, in a general way, our personalities were overwhelming the real content – the interviewees themselves. Gary rightly pointed out that we were going astray and suggested an alternative.

No one likes to read long raw interviews (unless the interviewer is Michael Ondaatje or something), but they do appreciate the immediacy and authenticity of the interview form. So why not find a middle ground and do what authors of oral histories do? Why not take the raw interview, prune, polish, and shape it, and then work with the interviewee to present the heart of the interview in as clear and precise a way as possible?

Gary had edited a book like this while with McFarlane, Walter & Ross. He thought it would work for Kickstart, but he warned it would take a long time. “Do you really want to be killing yourselves for this?” he asked Paul over lunch one day. The answer was yes. It was worth it. The new form Gary was proposing was worth working to achieve. It would give the reader greater access to the interview subjects. It would be like sitting down for a coffee with the interviewees themselves – minus all the “um”s, “let me think about that”s, and “actually I think it was probably the other way around”s.

In addition to giving Paul time off whenever he needed to run off to an interview, Gary acted as a mentor and quasi-agent in the absence of both. When Saturday Night was shut down mid-way into Paul’s internship, and Gary moved back to Vancouver, he continued the conversation remotely.

Without his help, Kickstart might have taken on a very different form indeed. In fact, it may never have been published. While we didn’t heed all of his advice, we hope he enjoys the final product.

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