Today, like every other Monday recently, I have an author interview. My third, to be exact. Today, I am posting an interview I had with Gerry Fostaty about his book, As You Were: The Tragedy at Valcartier.
This is a non-fiction book, and what happened isn't for the faint-hearted. But it is suitable for young adults who love history and you may just learn something very valuable in the book.
On with the interview!
1. Can you tell me about the Tragedy at Valcartier?
'As You Were: The Tragedy at Valcartier is a true story. I have to
mention that off the top, because some people find it impossible to
believe. Six fourteen and fifteen year-old cadets were killed, and
fifty four were seriously injured when a grenade accidentally exploded
at a Canadian Forces army base in 1974. The cadets were attending an
explosives safety course. They were being shown inactive explosives,
which are sometimes called dummies, so that they were aware of what
explosives looked like. The idea was that in the unlikely event that
they might find an explosive, they would know not to touch it, but
report it to a superior. Somehow, a live grenade got mixed up with the
dummies and exploded in the lecture. Ironically, this was a lecture to
keep them safe from what actually happened. There were one hundred
and thirty eight people in the room when the explosion occurred. I was
on my way into the room when it happened.'
2. What sort of emotions were you feeling at the time?
'In the immediate few minutes after the explosion there was no time to
think. All of us just immediately reacted to the emergency. There were
about eight or nine of us who were able to react. A surge of
adrenaline fueled us and kept us focused on what had to be done, which
was to get the injured boys out of the room before another explosion
could happen. We had no idea what had caused the first blast, and we
were sure that another one would take place at any second. It was only
later, that I began to realize how deeply this was affecting me. We
all like to think that we are immune to the effects of trauma, how we
are so much stronger emotionally
than everyone else, but the fact is,
we are all terribly vulnerable. I was in shock for a good portion of
the day, and sometimes in a state of confusion. I was eighteen and
responsible for about fifty of those boys; I had tasks to perform to
make sure they were accounted for and safe. Sadly over thirty were
missing, and that created a feeling of panic in me until I could
account for my whole group. I would be repeatedly thrown into
situations throughout the rest of that day that I had never before
encountered, nor even thought possible. The body and mind have very
sophisticated systems for dealing with acute stress of this kind.
These systems depend on a large surge of adrenaline. We've all
experienced some type of adrenaline rush, like when we ride a
roller-coaster, or when someone jumps out from behind a door to scare
you, but the type of massive surge I am talking about focuses the mind
on the threat, and allows us to decide in one twelve-thousanth of a
second, how we will deal with the danger. This helps you to deal with
the immediate danger, and helps you to get to safety, or get those you
are responsible for to safety. But once the panic is over, and the
situation has returned to normal, it may take some time for the mind
to realize that the danger is gone. In many cases, the effects can
last up to a month. In some cases, it can last years.'
3. What made you want to write a book about it?
'I wanted to let my family know what had happened to me so many years
ago: what had changed my life. It was impossible for me to speak about
it. It was a very complex day, and there were so many questions that
arose when telling the story. The answers to the questions became
their own stories and I realised that the only way to tell the story
was to write it down. I realised, too, that If I was having such a
difficult time telling the story, the other boys who were with me
would undoubtedly be having a similar challenge. So, I wrote it for
them, too: so they could pass it on to their families.'
4. Did you always want to be an author?
'No, I always wanted to be an actor. And that's what I did for twenty
years, doing stage, television, commercials and some film. I had a bit
of luck with some playwriting, too, so when I began writing As You
Were, I realised that I was still engaged in storytelling, only now I
was telling my own stories. It seemed to be a natural progression for
5. How did you feel when your work was passed for publication?
'I was thrilled of course. There are scads of people who will tell you
that writing the book is the easy part; getting published is the hard
bit. So, I was over the moon when the publisher contacted me to say
they wanted to publish As You Were. But I was nervous, too. I
suddenly became aware that this story I had been keeping under wraps
for so many years would be public. It would no longer be my secret
6. Have you got any plans to write another book?
'I already have one written. I am in the process of editing it right
now, before I sending it to a publisher. This one is fiction and is a
complete departure from As You Were. It is not autobiographical, but I
did draw on my experiences in the theatre to create the story and the
characters. A third book is also in the works.'
7. What type of books do you like to read?
'I read everything. Ok — not everything. I can't quite read romance
novels, although I have tried. I have tried to read something from
every genre, although the lines of the genres are getting blurrier. I
have a friend (Howard Shrier) who is a mystery writer, so I am reading
his books right now. I like the way his plots move like a freight
train. I like to read some non-fiction, too, like Margaret Visser's
Much Depends on Dinner, where she disassembles — no,
reverse-engineers, a simple meal in a way that's fascinating.'
8. What was the last book you read?
'That is tricky. I like to read books that I have read before, to
cleanse the palate between new books. I know it sounds kooky, but
I've always done that. The last new book was The Bishop's Man by
Linden MacIntyre. It is a great book. The in-between book was a few
chapters of The Mists of Avalon.'
9. Did you enjoy it?
'I loved the Bishop's Man. It is about a priest who does the Bishop's
difficult work of resolving potential Church scandals quickly and
quietly. To give him a low profile, the Church assigns him to a remote
parish, where we see him struggle with the effects of his work, and
see the man beneath the Roman collar.'
10. What advice do you have for any aspiring authors reading this?
'Read everything you can, in as many genres as possible. Then write,
and keep on writing. The most important thing, though, once you have
decided to publish, is to have an editor: not just a friend who likes
to read, or someone with a degree in English, but an editor. Nothing
can substitute for the critical eye of an experienced editor.'
If you want to contact Gerry of learn more about the book, his website is linked here: http://www.gerryfostaty.com and you can find him on Twitter @gfostaty.
Have a great evening!