A Road Trip on the Rocky Route to Publishville

Salmon Arm Wharf

The Word on the Lake Festival. Salmon Arm, B.C. May 2014 long weekend.

I peruse the list of presenters. Diana Gabaldon. Gary Geddes. Carmen Aguirre. Anne Eriksson. Gail Anderson-Dargatz. David Essig. C.C. Humphreys and others.

My gaze then passes over two more names: Howard White. Owner of Harbour Publishing. Carolyn Swayze of Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT? Are you kidding me? The two people I most want to talk to in BC publishing? In Salmon Arm! Together.

Where else would I have an opportunity to talk to these two and why, God, must it be there, in that place named after a West Coast fish and a rather useful but wholly mundane human appendage: Salmon Arm.

Now. Let me be clear. Salmon Arm is really pretty. A cute little town. For some people, I’m sure it’s a great place to live. Never mind that Trudeau gave it the finger. You have to have lived there, hated it, and survived to relate to the gesture.

Someone has written, ‘Smile, God Loves you,’ on a building. And that’s the first hint. There’s something creepy underneath all that tidy organized. That subtle crack in the Leave it to Beaver brings a sense of relief to me, reaffirms just one of the reasons I grew to hate the place and here are a few more.

In 1979, I played on a championship high school basketball team ranked No. 1 in the province and we lost to the Salmon Arm Jewels in the final game of the BC Girls Basketball Championships. Years later, when my eldest sister was terminally ill at only 43 years of age; when she lay dying from breast cancer that had metastasized, she went into a coma while spending her last days at Eagle Bay, a nearby area. My first love/hate relationship with journalism began at the Salmon Arm Observer, a sentence that lasted 18 months.  It was also the first place where I lost it enough (the first time) to need to go to counselling and god knows that did not end well–not for me, and definitely not for the counsellor.

I haven’t set foot back in Salmon Arm–on purpose–for more than 14 years and I had no intention of ever going there again in this lifetime.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…” It’s as if the Salmon Arm city limits are my very own fiery gates of hell; a test I must keep passing. Way too many important life exchanges, proportionately, have happened for me in the confines of its geography. Surely, I must have lived a couple of past lives there as the only plausible explanation.

An internal pull of intuition persisted. I knew from experience it was futile to resist.  Just shut up, get in the car and drive.

So I did.

Before I left, however, I made sure I had my query, the first 10 pages of my manuscript, my bio, and just in case there was any opportunity to hand it to either Swayze or White, a manila envelope to put it in.

Five hours later, I arrive. The next day, I miss an appointment with Howard White that some fabulous volunteer had to work really hard to get me. They call it a blue pencil. Might have even involved a sexual favour for all I know. Only one problem. They forgot to tell me. At the end of the afternoon, I hear the sad news. Appointment? What appointment? I missed it? With Howard? Are you kidding me? Damn!

Oh well. Not meant to be. I walk towards the elevator to go back to my room. When I look up he’s standing beside me. I suddenly forget his name. We move into the elevator. I don’t miss a beat. His name comes back to my adled brain.  I introduce myself. I ramble off the premise of my manuscript as quickly as an auctioneer trying to sell antique jewelry. He looks back a little dazed and wholly uninterested.

The festival continues. Mingling and learning abound. Fast forward to Sunday.  Carolyn Swayze’s workshop ends. It’s now or never. I ask her if she’d be willing to look at my query and my first 10 pages. “As long as your contact info’s on it,” she says. She takes the envelope.

It’s not much, but it’s something. I’m happy. I try to imagine the pile it will get chucked onto back at her office on Tuesday.

I proceed to the last workshop of the day. Howard White begins at the front of Room 136, Okanagan College. Next thing I know, Carolyn Swayze enters the room and takes the seat directly in front of me. I overhear a conversation that indicates she’s only there to wait for her ride. She begins to fidget. Of course she’s bored. She’s heard all this before.

She reaches down and takes something out of her bag. Oh my god. Is that mine? Is that my manuscript? She lifts the manila envelope and removes the white pages. She puts it down on the table in front of her, her head bends and she begins to read.

I inch forward in my seat.  I hold my breath. I’m almost close enough to lick the back of her neck. I’m bobbing left and right, past her head, over her left shoulder, straining to see what page she’s on.  I feel like a stalker but, hey, just a minute, I was seated first.

I’m horrified and ecstatic as I watch her turn the pages.  It’s like witnessing a bad car accident and being proposed to in the very same second.  I’m watching Carolyn Swayze reading the first 10 pages of my manuscript to pass the time while Howard White drones on, directly in my line of vision, at the front of the room.

Is she still reading? What page is she on? Why’s she looking up? Is that part boring her? I can fix that. We can fix it together, Carolyn. You can get me an editor. Focus on the potential. I will my thoughts to penetrate her cranium with laser beam precision.

It’s as if my dead sister looking down upon me has intervened. She’s saying, ‘oh, for heaven’s sake, can we just get on with this. Can you just get on with the next chapter of your real life and start living again, not writing? You’re boring me and I’m already dead.’

Howard White’s voice continues to dub over this surreal scene.

It’s too funny.

It’s enough to bring a big fat smile to my face and keep it there – Cheshire cat-like – all the way back down the Coquihalla Highway.

Mission accomplished.


  1. Fantastic! That’s the thing about publishing, usually doesn’t happen unless you get out there and when you do, it’s by chance a good part of the time. Fun times.

    1. Hi Carol, Yes it was fun. Figured it would go either way. I picked up a handout from Garry Geddes for you. The Makings of a Poem: Sound, Sight, Ideas, Things. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Gayle, PS. you should talk to Chef Eric about self-publishing. The man is a self-publishing juggernaut!

    1. Michelle, I know. He really impressed me. He looked like he had quite a wad of cash there. I think he sold a substantial number of books this weekend. I like how he’s created a life that is completely based on his own enterprising initiatives. It seems to be working for him. Did you know he has plans for a five book series? That made me smile. Still can’t believe we met after everything I’ve heard about him.

  3. Gayle Mavor, you are a rock star!! I can just see you sitting behind your potential agent-to-be while she read your manuscript. I love how you capture this experience with your unique combination of insight, humour and humility. I can’t wait to see what happens with your manuscript. And I had no idea how indelible a mark Salmon Arm had left on you. I only knew part of your story there…now I know more and now you have the next chapter in your Salmon Arm memoirs. Keep writing!!!!

    1. Hey it’s not like I chose to sit there. It just happened. But, it is funny, as you so kindly acknowledge.
      There won’t be a Salmon Arm memoir. Bite your tongue!

  4. Gayle, I love this. Congratulations for grabbing the bull by the horns and driving up there, for being prepared (envelope and all!) and for not shrinking in the face of opportunity no matter how scary. It definitely could have been your sister aligning all the pieces or it could have been you aligning all the pieces 😉

    Watching her read your query? Priceless bonus :))

    Fingers crossed for you!

    1. JT,
      You got it. Watching her turn the pages as she read was priceless AND it makes a good story. So much good happened up there including me getting a whole other take on self publishing and that being a viable option. I just read this quote on Twitter that seems so appropriate: If you are not actively involved in getting what you want, you don’t really want it.

  5. Oooh. Fingers crossed. And no, don’t ask if she’s related to Patrick. She’s probably sick of hearing that.

    1. Funny. I didn’t even think of Patrick Swayze. Writing stuff and “dirty dancing” don’t usually have a lot in common (at least not for me) although Diana Gabaldon did do a session on writing sex scenes at the same time as Carolyn Swayze’s session and Swayze did joke that she couldn’t believe anyone would be crazy enough to attend her session when they could be hearing about sex from Gabaldon. Priorities you know.

  6. Looking forward to the next chapter … all fingers and toes crossed and red-hot, positive energy focussed on you, your manuscript, and Ms. Swayze (unusual name – wonder if she’s related to Patrick??? You could ask …. well, maybe not). At least you know she’s read it!

    1. Thanks Anne. It’s a long shot but you never know. The more important part of the trip (almost) was the fact that I had a great time, met some really nice people, got to hear some fabulous presenters and replaced the negative feelings about the place with some really positive ones. That was really great. The volunteers did a great job on the conference, they were super friendly, the experience was intimate, the Prestige Inn was a really nice place to stay, food was great, Diana Gabaldon, writer of The Outlander Series was such an entertaining presenter and it was really professional.

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