Welcome to the fraternity
Telling some stories won’t win friends; taking flak also comes with being a storyteller
“How does it feel, taking blood money?” the woman in the grocery store snarled at me. She wasn’t looking for an answer. She was stating her opinion.
I bit my tongue to cut off the answer clambering to get out of my head: “I’m fine with accepting payment for the work I do as a storyteller.”
(OK, I wanted to preface that mild statement with some more colourful things, but I won’t go into the details.)
The issue was the first of two books I co-authored on serial killer Allan Legere. He went on a killing spree in 1989. He left three women and an elderly priest dead, and my hometown traumatized.
As editor of the local paper, I was in the middle of the coverage, and when he was caught on a Friday morning I was delighted to put it all behind me. Then the phone rang on Monday.
“Rick, it’s McClelland & Stewart on line one.”
I could guess what was coming. Would I be interested in writing a book about the manhunt? Sure, I said, not thinking what saying yes meant. I hadn’t asked how much they were paying, or when they needed the book ready. Amateur.
The money was settled in a few sentences. They offered one number, I countered with another. They agreed. Clearly, I hadn’t asked for enough. Amateur. Oh, and the book had to be ready to go to the lawyer before Christmas. It was Nov. 28.
The book got done, with the help of CBC TV reporter Andre Veniot, who accepted my invitation to come in as co-author. It sold, well. One week in New Brunswick it sold more copies than the latest work by Danielle Steele. That’s saying something.
Clearly, the woman in the grocery store didn’t approve. Maybe of me. Maybe of the book. Maybe of the fact I was paid for my work. I smiled and moved on down the grocery aisle, my witty retort left unsaid.
So, I could imagine this week when a former Saskatchewan coroner and veterinarian, Barry Heath, made headlines – for all the wrong reasons – for his short book Humble Beginnings of the Humboldt Broncos and the 2017-2018 Team. Telling difficult stories is part of life for serious storytellers. And often you don’t win any friends. Toby Boulet is representative of the reaction to the book. His son Logan died in the bus crash. The families are not ready to talk and they told Heath that, Boulet said to a reporter.
“It’s our story to tell, individually or collectively. My story about Logan Boulet is mine and my wife’s to tell because Logan can no longer tell his story, he’s passed away,” Boulet said. “It’s not for Doctor Barry Heath to tell Logan’s story. All the other families feel the same way.”
Coles and Canadian Tire yanked the book from their shelves in the face of the protests.
None of us can imagine the pain of the families. And Coles and Canadian Tire are free to sell – or not sell – whatever they wish.
But Heath is also free to tell the story, as best he can, if that’s what he wants to do. He’s also free to donate the proceeds to charity, which he says was the plan all along. And he’s free to take the flak that comes with being a storyteller. Welcome to the fraternity. We’ve all been there.
Barry Heath wrote Humble Beginnings of the Humboldt Broncos and the 20172018 Team based on interviews with the families published by members of the media.