Blood Tithes: A Primer

“‘When you were born you were the apple of everyone’s eyes,’ Mother said. I could never tell whether she was pleased by this or not. A is for almost, as in almost died. I was born premature, and spent my first days of life behind the glass of an incubator. While I struggled for breath, my family collectively held their own. They wondered, would I live? Which side of the coin — maternal/paternal — would my racial ambiguity land on?”

Rowan McCandless – The Fiddlehead – Winter 2019

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Elderly, Confused, and Under Arrest

 
Alison Motluk – The Local – October 2019

How circus arts helped me deal with body shame

 
Dana Baitz – This Magazine – December 2019

Growing Pains

“A month later, as the first snowfalls of the season were blanketing the roads, the electrician finally had time to check over the building in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. The smell from the sidewalk should have been their first clue. The tenant visibly panicked when they said they needed to enter the basement, and for good reason. After descending the staircase, they found not four but 244 cannabis plants lined up “like a vineyard” under heat lamps.”

Chloe Rose Stuart-Ulin – Maisonneuve – October 2019

The Snowman

“In the darkness the engines sputtered and the boat shuddered and then there was only the lapping of the waves. The refugees on board, crammed to the brim, knew that many had died on that stretch of the ocean between the Colombian coast and the Darién Gap. The smugglers inspected the engines, made phone calls, shrugged. They shared no language with their cargo. In the silence the refugees began to pray, the Muslims, the Christians, the Nepalese, lifting their voices in a jumble of aspirations, when from under the surface of the waters a beast with an enormous back – some kind of whale or snake? – brushed against the side of the boat. The refugees let out one countryless scream.”

Stephen Marche – Tortoise – August 2019

Best of 2019 Q&A: Zander Sherman

Zander Sherman appears on our Best of 2019 list for his piece “Forged by Fire.” You can read it at Report on Business Magazine.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Zander’s answers:

1. How did you start working on this story?

I originally started working on a story about Trump and the steel industry. My background in steel made me something of an authority, I thought, but I wasn’t thinking of the story as a memoir. At some point, I realized Dofasco and my family should be the main focus, and the steel industry and Trump were just the backdrop. So it was quite a flip.

2. How long did it take to write this piece?

I work pretty slowly, mainly because of the amount of research I do for each story. This story was relatively quick. I started in 2016, and was basically finished by 2018. For the reasons I mention in the piece itself, I chose not to publish it until 2019—three years later.

3. What was the most challenging part of writing it?

Just before the story was supposed to come out in 2018, my family suffered a terrible loss. It’s nothing I want to get into here, but I mention it in the postscript. Anyway, if I had been at an earlier stage of the story then, I wouldn’t have gone through with it. I couldn’t focus on anything, let alone writing.

4. What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

When my brother and I were growing up, our father would tell stories about how we were predestined for success, almost like a divine bloodline. Joshua loved those stories, but they disenchanted me, and I became skeptical not just of the story but of the storyteller. Working on this piece, I started to understand my father better.

5. What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

People have been very good about this story. I was honestly expecting some form of criticism, because it happens with every story. But everyone’s been nice, and that’s good feedback to have as I consider doing more of this kind of writing.

6. For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

Keeping a journal really helps for me. The ultimate goal with writing is to be a good person. The more mature, well-reasoned, and compassionate you are, the more people will want to listen. And I find that writing things down, and paying attention to what happens, develops those qualities.

7. What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’m working on a new investigative series (I did a CBC podcast in 2019 called Uncover: The Cat Lady Case.) I’ve been doing more of that kind of work, though I’m not sure I want to do it forever. I started in creative writing, and I’d like to go back to it at some point. But investigative journalism is keeping me busy, and that’s fine with me.

8. There’s been some discussion recently on the outlook for Canadian non-fiction. How does its future look to you going into 2020?

I think one of the consequences of the war on the press, in the U.S., is that it’s giving a lift to journalism here. I’ve seen new Canadian media companies spring up in the past couple of years—I’m actually working for one right now—and that’s nice to see. Something good has to come from all this awfulness.

Find Zander on Twitter: @ZanderSherman

 

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

The Alberta town that’s at greatest risk of losing jobs to automation

“A radio disc jockey interrupts the country music playing to an empty room at Ricky’s All Day Grill in Brooks, Alta. He wants to take a minute, he says, to recognize Gissela Ramirez, a recruiting supervisor who left her corporate law gig in Guadalajara, Mexico to work at the slaughterhouse and beef-packing plant in Brooks. The facility, owned by the world’s largest beef-processing company, Brazil-based JBS, is the biggest employer in town.”

Catherine McIntyre – The Logic – December 2019

Boar War

“By the time Greg Gilbertson became a provincial fish and wildlife officer for the Alberta counties of Woodlands and Lac Ste. Anne in 1998, calls for help in dealing with wild boar were part of the job. Ever since Eurasian boar farms were approved in Alberta in the early 1980s, the wily swine had been making a break for it, knocking down fences, tunnelling beneath them or simply finding openings made by outsiders hell-bent on establishing a wild pig population to hunt.”

Niki Wilson – Alberta Views – October 2019

Best of 2019 Q&A: Leah McLaren

Leah McLaren appears on our Best of 2019 list for her piece “The $500-Million Family Feud.” You can read it at Toronto Life.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Leah’s answers:

1. How did you start working on this story?

It was an assignment in October 2018 from one of my trusted longtime editors at Toronto Life, Emily Landau. She emailed and asked if I wanted to take on the inside story of the ongoing succession feud among the Stronachs. “I think it could be quite the family epic,” she said. As usual she was right.

2. How long did it take to write this piece?

The reporting took ages. I didn’t properly get cracking on it until December 2018 due to other commitments, but once I was able to dig into the Statements of Claim I was overwhelmed at how much material there was: literally thousands of pages of legal documents, not to mention press and research materials.

The Stronachs are obviously a very famous Canadian family—in particular Belinda—and in many ways their lives have been well-documented. But what surprised me most was how many truly bonkers details about the case hadn’t been reported by the Canadian business press at all. It wasn’t like I was digging up stuff that was hidden, it was all a matter of public record. It was just a bit difficult to comprehend and explain in all its weird complexities. It took time and space which is the luxury I had writing for a magazine like Toronto Life.

As a reporter I felt like I’d struck gold, so I mined it. It’s a very complex business story involving webs of companies and complex deals, so I spent a good deal of time calling up experts in such matters and getting them it explain it to me in plain English.

In terms of sources there were dozens. Several family members were involved in the case, all of whom have teams of employees, reputation managers, publicists, lawyers, friends, exes, etc. In total I spent 3-4 months calling around talking to sources, most of whom were off the record with a few notable exceptions.

I wrote the first draft in 48 hours over Easter last year and it came to over 10,000 words (the assignment was for 5000). I sent that, with a lengthy timeline outlining the family and business history of the Stronachs in Canada to the long-suffering Emily, who then helped me winnow it down to size.

Normally I’d never send a draft that long to an editor but in this case I wanted Emily to be really familiar with all the material (even the stuff we weren’t going to use) so she’d be as up to speed as I was. Also I completely trust her judgement.

3. What was the most challenging part of writing it?

Probably just turning my attention to it in the first place. The statements of claim sat in an enormous toad-like pile on the sofa in my writing shed for over a month before I could bring myself to actually read them. But once I did I was hooked—it was like reading a Russian family epic written by Canada’s finest corporate litigators.

Unlike many of the stories I work on people were largely happy to talk. Everyone loves to talk about rich people destroying each other—a lot of my interviews segued into conversations about the story’s parallels to the HBO series Succession and King Lear.

4. What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

Reading Frank Stronach’s self-published book The Question of All Questions which reads like the deranged political rantings of a tin pot despot was an eye-opener, especially from a man who holds the Order of Canada.

Also the much-reported fact he spent $55 million on a pair of giant bronze statues of a pegasus defeating a dragon, one of which is housed in a warehouse in China. I mean, you literally couldn’t make this stuff up.

5. What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

I think it’s been largely positive? I know my editors were happy because the story was widely read. I don’t get to talk about my Canadian work much because I live in the U.K.

6. For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

For me, with any long piece there always comes a moment in the process where I feel completely overwhelmed and uncertain and absolutely convinced it will never come together.

Eventually, after many years, I had the realization that this moment of doubt—both the experience of it and getting past it—is actually a part of the process.

I almost welcome it now, like a deeply irritating old friend. I’m like, “Oh hey, there you are Moment of Doubt. Come on in, I was wondering when you’d arrive! Would you like a cup of tea?”

7. What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’m working on another story for Toronto Life on the Muskoka boat crash civil suit involving Kevin O’Leary and his family as well as a story for Air Mail, Graydon Carter’s new magazine based out of New York about a very strange and nebulous AI startup run by a North American couple in Notting Hill.

I’ve also recently signed a book deal with HarperCollins US to write my first non-fiction book, but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet.

8. There’s been some discussion recently on the outlook for Canadian non-fiction. How does its future look to you going into 2020?

As someone living in the land of Brexit peering across the Atlantic at Trump, I feel like the outlook for anything Canadian is pretty bright these days, comparatively speaking. If being the last politically stable, rules-based western liberal democracy isn’t enough to get over the cultural cringe I’m not sure what will be.

Find Leah on Twitter: @leahmclaren

 

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.

Y2K: The strange, true history of how Canada prepared for an apocalypse that never happened, but changed us all

“On Dec. 31, 1999, Canadian leaders were preparing for the possibility that civilization would break down. The fear that electricity, phone lines and the financial industry could freeze up at the stroke of midnight because of a simple coding glitch in the world’s computers that had come to be known as Y2K. Michael Guerriere, who ran one of Toronto’s most important hospitals, prepared like a doctor: He went to bed early.”

Eric Andrew-Gee – The Globe and Mail – December 2019