Fact: there is a DC-3 at the Whitehorse airport. But it wasn’t involved in the Kennedy assassination. And there is a statue of a prospector and his dog outside of the Elijah Smith building on Main Street. But the prospector isn’t Zak Halloo from Dawson City, and the dog isn’t his companion Big Bopper.
But will tourists rub the dog’s nose, hoping for prosperity and happiness?
“I’m hoping that they come to do that,” said David Thompson. The Whitehorse building contractor-turned published author closes his second book, Haines Junction, with a tale about the statue’s origins and a statement about tourists rubbing the dog’s nose for good luck.
“(The statue’s) got nothing to do with my story. I don’t want to say I stole it, but I borrowed it,” said Thompson.
But here’s an undisputed fact: now, with two books of fiction to his name and another on the way, Thompson finally considers himself a writer.
“Once the second book come out, it really boosted my confidence,” he said. “That’s when I really started to think of myself as a writer.”
The statue on Main Street may be dedicated to people who follow their dreams, but becoming a published writer was never one of Thompson’s. He only started writing seriously a few years ago. From the beginning, he knew he wanted to publish a novel, he said.
And while Haines Junction, released this year, is that, it’s not the story he imagined telling.
For starters, he didn’t even know it was a novel until his editor at Caitlin Press told him. Haines Junction tells the story of Joshua Waldo Lake Shackelton. He first appeared in Thompson’s 2011 book, Talking at the Woodpile. That work was a series of connected short stories, and Thompson figured this one was the same.
But his editor told him it was really a novel. That surprised the author. He’s not a trained novelist; he doesn’t sit down and plot out the story’s dramatic arch before he begins working on it, he said.
“A lot of my writing is idea after idea. I just develop the ideas as I go along,” said Thompson.
When he first wrote about Shackelton, he had no idea how his character ended up married to Missy Halloo in Dawson City, said Thompson.
Turns out, Shackelton came to Dawson City in the early 1960s after falling in love with Angel Featherstone, a woman he met while living in Haines Junction. But she already had a boyfriend and later moved away from the Klondike town with him. Shackelton stays, meets Missy and settles down.
Shackelton spends most of the book looking for a family, and he finds that with the Halloo clan, said Thompson. Most of the book details his travels: first from his home in New Mexico to California, then through Vancouver Island, up to Atlin, B.C., and finally to the Yukon. On the way, he discovers the DC-3 and meets a host of characters from Buddhist monks to old prospectors.
“I was going to write the great Canadiana novel,” explained Thompson of his original ambitions. Like his main character, he moved to the Yukon in 1960s. He originally came to Whitehorse, but did live in Dawson for a few years. He wasn’t looking for adventure or love. He came as a child, because his father found work here. Originally, his family lived in a small town near Ottawa, the region where Thompson originally planned to set his novel.
“It was going to be about this small town with these flowering maple trees and apple pie, and everybody was happy. And that’s actually what I started out writing, and I changed it to what it is today.”
Granted, not everything changed. His characters still live in small towns, just not ones where maple trees line the streets. Instead, they call the towns and villages of northern British Columbia and the Yukon home. They search for gold. They sing Robert Service poems. They shop at Hougen’s Department Store. They respond to job ads in the Whitehorse Star. Their vehicles fall through ice on Pine Lake.
Thompson’s writing has prompted one reviewer to compare him to CBC’s Stuart McLean, of Vinyl Cafe fame. And while Thompson is glad he can make readers laugh, his tales aren’t always happy. Case in point: Shackelton’s dog is named Angst. (The dog’s first owner, who dies on a beach, is named Lennon, after the Beatles’ John Lennon.) Some characters find gold, others go crazy trying and still others steal gold.
Most of Thompson’s stories focus on large families. “Having unity in a family is such a basic component, building component in society,” he said. “And I’ve always admired families that got along.” By marrying Missy Halloo, Shackelton finds this large community.
But not all families are so simple. Shackelton’s father is a drunk, and when his wife dies from cancer, he drinks even more. So he sends his son off to California. They’re not the only characters with strained relationships. A father shuns his son because he believes he stole money from the Salvation Army – only to find it later. The McKans, featured in Thompson’s previous book, jump the Halloo’s gold claim and become infamous in Dawson. And when the story ends, there’s still conflict between the two families.
It gets resolved, said Thompson. But readers will have to wait to find out how. He’s already hard at work on his next book of stories about Dawson City, The McCrankys.
“I keep on thinking, ‘Well, that’s the last story that I have there,’” he said of his stories about Dawson City. But they keep coming. “The other day I wrote another 4,000-word story to go in with the third book,” he said.
This book has been a little harder to write than the other two, he said. So maybe he’ll be rubbing the Main Street statue, even if tourists don’t. Even if these works don’t bring him prosperity, at least he can say they’ve brought him happiness.
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