When the writing wins

BookAuthor Brian Payton, the writing mentor for the 2012 nonfiction writing group at the SFU Writer’s Studio, of which I was one of nine members, has just released, to wide critical acclaim, his novel, The Wind is Not a River. 

It’s an entirely different experience reading a book written by someone that you know, however superficially, than it is to read the book of an author you’ve never met.

I know the tone of Brian’s voice, the rhythm with which he speaks and his dry humour. I can hear that voice in the book. I know the most minimal details about his life (because he is such a private person) and when I read things in the story that resemble the most minor of facts that I know to be true about his life, I wondered which small details in the book might represent some aspect of his life as well – if at all.

I could feel his inner strength, the peace with which he carries himself in the world and how faith, a faith that has had prominence in his life, finds a place as well,  in the story’s telling.

At SFU, every second Tuesday, we’d sit at the end of three tables pushed together in that horribly cramped room on the second floor of SFU’s downtown campus. Ten people would squeeze in to workshop the writing of four of our classmates in the three hour, biweekly sessions.  Halfway through the session,  Brian would provide snippets of insight during short talks that focused on some aspect of craft, as well as his own wrap on each of the pieces submitted that week, after we’d each taken a turn at providing our own.

I’m thinking back to late November 2012 when we were celebrating our wrap-up party at Saskia Wolsak’s fabulous old family home just up from Jericho Beach. Brian was there that night and on the high of having just discovered that a manuscript that he’d been working on for 12 years – on and off – was being bid on by New York agents.  We were in the tiny alcove that Saskia uses as a library as he told us what was transpiring, me peppering him with questions. He’d never once mentioned this manuscript in the preceding year.

So, to finally sit down yesterday, a day when January’s monsoons pelted down horizontally, and hold,”The Wind is Not A River,” in hand, has to rank right up there as one of life’s small but soul satisfying pleasures.

Sure, you might think I’m biased. I’m willing to admit, that might be a very small part of it. But, I also know that more often than not I have trouble reading fiction. More often than not, I’m not drawn in and I don’t finish a book. I rarely sit down and after the first paragraph continue inhaling the words on a page, disappointed that I can’t stay awake any longer or that other life necessities are impinging on me getting to the end of the story unfolding in my hands. I felt that way reading, The Wind is not a River.

First of all, I’m partial to islands.  Sure, I’ve heard of the Aleutian Islands but the name is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Then there’s the history: a historical battle of huge significance, the only one fought on American soil during World War II and yet, so little wide-spread awareness about the facts.  There’s the secrecy imposed by the U.S. government about what was taking place there. Add in the tragedy of the small population of Aleuts and the ruin to their lives.   And, if that’s not enough, there’s the love story, well, actually, not to give things away,  but there’s more than one love story. The writing is so fluid that it runs off the page in the same way a wind or a river envelops everything that gets in its path.

The journey compelled me to keep reading as fast as I could. What would become of the main character, John Easley, who had already survived the impossible? Who doesn’t love a saga of physical endurance? Add in the courage and improbability of love pushing a wife to act, as only true love can, way beyond the limits of her comfort zone, especially after the regret of words that can’t be taken back.

The tenacity it took to craft this story, the research involved, the writing and re-writing, surely must be on par with that required by the book’s main character and his fictional quest.

Finally, there’s Brian’s ability to call up feminine sensibilities as required. Our almost all-female writing group surely helped with this part. I jest.

The audience for this book is so all encompassing how can it not fly off the shelves?

Buy one. I’m not lending you mine.

Learn more about Brian Payton and his other books off his website.

Watch this six minute interview with Brian on Global Toronto:   http://globalnews.ca/video/1078230/author-brian-payton


  1. Hi Christine,
    Well, it’s possible that he mentioned it. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I do recall him mentioning that he lived in Alaska for a while. I’d lend you the book but I’ve developed a new steadfast philosophy around the books written by those who were previous students or mentors in the Writer’s Studio. I feel like if I’m interested enough in the book to want to read it, then I will buy it. Just doing what I can to help starving artists you know and encouraging my friends with jobs to do the same. Everyone who’s already famous and had no association with The Writer’s Studio, I put a hold on those at the library! 🙂

  2. Perfect Gayle. That’s just how it was on those Tuesday nights in that tiny room. But I do recall some inkling about the book earlier in the year, some comment lightly tossed out about a book he’d been sitting on for years unable to get published. Remember him mentioning living in Alaska as a teenager and garnering bits of information that would stick with him, but whether that was in class or in one of my one-on-one sessions with him, I can’t recall. Anyway it’s all fabulous and I should get my own copy of the book so I can whip through it like the wind.

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