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2019 BC Book Prizes Shortlist Nominees
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2019 BC Book Prizes Shortlist Nominees

By 49thShelf
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The West Coast Book Prize Society is thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2019 BC Book Prizes. Congratulations to the authors, illustrators, and publishers! Winners will be announced at the BC Book Prizes Gala on Saturday the 11th of May, 2019, at the Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront in Vancouver.
Dear Evelyn
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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Sodom Road Exit

Sodom Road Exit

also available: Audiobook (CD)
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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That Tiny Life

From “Valley Floor”

The sawbones squats, his satchel by his knees, his back to the cart and the mules and their feedbags. He runs his forefinger along the tourniquet around Roy’s leg, rubs the pus between his fingertips and thumb, sniffs the lot, and says he’s taking Roy’s leg.

“Like shit you are,” I say. “What’s he left with it gone?”

The sawbones pushes his specs up his disjointed nose and says that if he leaves the leg attached, Roy’ll be gone. Roy’s girl, just three, explores her mouth with her fingers. Her eyes big and gold as coins. She squats in the dirt in front of some thorny shrubs, a whelp in piss-stained trousers, the night growing fathomless above the hills behind her.

Girl’s new with us. Roy fetched her from the mother less than a week back. Don’t know why he picked her up when he did, since, one, he knew the child’s age from the letter, and two, he already had that crushed toe sending stripes up his foot.

The sawbones’ specs shine flat-lensed in the light from the firepit. I suspect they don’t so much alter his vision as give him a look. He bends over Roy, who’s laid flaccid under the cactus. Roy’s hair and skin and clothes are tacky with basin dust. The firelight blinks over his silhouette, pretties his discoloured leg and cracked lips. His cocky flip of curls thrown back from his ridged nose and cheeks and spread over the dirt. His eyes closed. Been passed out a while. I grab his good foot and jostle and release.

“Might go anyway,” I say.

The sawbones rocks on his haunches, eyeing the mule I promised him for the trip. One of a pair. Sorrel, sturdy—three hands short of draft—and recently acquired, though Roy and I have been hauling supplies through the valley good on seven years. That’s seven years of spiny fruit and sunburn while carting basics to men batshit enough to have settled this particular desolation. Brutes searching gold, coal, oil midst the saltbush and boulders. The work gives Roy and me a nice, healthful pay, but only because not many want the job. Heat’s hard on the mules and water takes up half the wagon.

The girl pulls her fingers from her mouth and wipes them across her shirt. Sawbones removes his specs, holds the lenses to the light, then plucks his hanky from his coat and polishes. His kerchief’s done-up old style—stitched around the trim with cream dashes—same era as the jacket, which has buttons top to bottom, but hangs wide open. Plush fabric, carpet-like, worn thin down the back. Like he’s spent his life sitting. He settles his specs back on that crooked nose and loops the wires around his ears.

Roy, flat-out, chest hardly lifting each breath. I put a hand on my lips and jaw. All the grit there, in the lines and loose skin—the valley sucks away fat. Seems to have aged twenty years though it’s only been those seven, and we were both young men when we acquired the route. He and I been partners too long now to know who owes who—though I suspect at this moment it’s him who owes me. We have a friendship. Which is why I said nothing when Roy kept the girl.

I recline against the wagon and set a knuckle to the forehead of the nearest mule, and the mule leans into it. Soft-nosed beast. “Take the leg then,” I say.

Sawbones opens his satchel and reaches out a pan, a leather roll, and a hard-cased cautery set. Kicks the logs and exposes the coals and balances the pan. Unsnaps the cautery case and sets the long-handled irons into the fire.

“Water,” he says.

I uncap a jug and fill the pan. The sawbones fiddles with the knot and unrolls the leather wrap. Tools inside flash blade to spine: tongs, scissors, various knives. He thumbs the clasp on a worn medical bag. Vials strapped to the underside of the lid. The interior’s full of glass flasks and spools of silk and gauze. He tips a vial of iodine into the pan, then opens a jar of alcohol. Wipes down each blade with a soaked bit of cotton and sets the equipment ready on top the leather sheath.

Sawbones removes and folds his coat and lays it on the bow of the wagon. He steps to Roy’s side and snips the torn pant leg. Twice the normal size below the knee, and two of the black toes sport open sores.

“Lift.” Sawbones waves at the foot. I lift. He slides a sheet of oilskin under the thigh. “Down.” He and I loop rope around Roy’s wrists and good ankle, then tie the rope onto stakes and pound the stakes into the dirt. Sawbones pulls a cotton swab from the bag and wipes Roy’s leg.

“That high,” I say. “Christ almighty.”

“Sit on him.” Sawbones tests the tourniquet already around Roy’s upper thigh. I take my spot kneeling on Roy’s shoulders, and the girl comes up beside me. Kid’s already kicked off and lost her shoes and stands barefoot in the cooling sand.

“Turn round,” I say, and when she won’t, I grab her. Press her face into my chest.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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Trickster Drift

The clouds finally broke into a sullen drizzle after a muggy, overcast day. Jared Martin flipped up his hood as he turned the corner onto his street. His mom’s truck was in the driveway. The house he’d grown up in was two storeys high, white with green trim. The large porch was littered with work gear. His mom rented out two of the rooms and the basement to pay the bills. Most of her tenants were sub-subcontractors, in Kitimat for a few weeks and unwilling to shell out for a pricey furnished one-bedroom or a motel room. Or they were hard-core smokers who wanted to be able to light up in their rooms and found a kindred spirit in his mom, a dedicated two-packer who hated being forced outside.

He paused on the sidewalk, listening. Things seemed quiet. Which didn’t mean it was safe to go in, but Jared went up the steps and opened the front door. Not visiting his mom before he took off for Vancouver would save him a lot of grief, but it would be such a douche move. She’d never let him forget it.

“Mom?” Jared said.

“In here,” she said, her voice coming from the kitchen.
The kitchen windows were all open and moths fluttered against the screens. She was frying a pan of meatballs, her cigarette tucked into the corner of her mouth.

Her hair was in a ponytail. She wore her favourite ripped Metallica T-shirt over jeans and flip-flops. He could see all the little muscles working in her face as she inhaled. She was losing weight again. He hoped it was just coke.

Jared put his backpack down by the table and then hopped up to sit on the counter. His mom salted a pot of boiling water and cracked in some spaghetti.

“Nice of you to show up,” she said.

Jared swung his feet, staring down at them. “Where’s Richie?”

“He is where he is.”

Her boyfriend sold the lighter recreational drugs. They used to get along, but Richie seemed suspicious of Jared now that Jared was sober, like he had suddenly turned into a narc. When they were forced together by his mom, Richie wouldn’t talk to him for fear of incriminating himself.

Jared watched her resentfully making him dinner. She hated cooking. He wished she’d just ordered a pizza. He tried to think of a safe topic of conversation. His Monday night shift at Dairy Queen was normally dull, but his new co-worker had kept stopping to sob into her headset. “Work was nuts. I had to train my replacement. She does not handle stress well.”

“Not many people survive the soft-serve ice-cream racket.”

Ball-buster, his dad called her when he was being charitable. His adoptive dad? His dad. Philip Martin, the guy who had raised him when his biological dad turned out to be a complete dick.

She stirred the pasta. “What? No snappy comeback?”
“I’m tired.”

“Yeah, looking down on all us alkies and addicts must be exhaust­ing.”

“Are we going to do this all night?”

“Get the colander.”

Jared hopped down and grabbed the colander from the cupboard above the fridge.

When he handed it to her, she stared at him a moment. Then her lips went thin, the lines around her mouth deepening. “I don’t want you staying with Death Threat,” she said.

Death Threat was the nickname of one of her exes, Charles Redhill, a low-level pot grower who said it would be okay if Jared bunked in his basement while he was going to school in Vancouver, if he didn’t mind working a little security detail in exchange.

“People aren’t exactly lining up to let me sleep on their couches,” Jared said.

“He’s a fuckboy with delusions he’s Brando.”

“Stel-la!” Jared said, trying to make her laugh.

She ignored him as if he wasn’t standing beside her. She took the cigarette out of the corner of her mouth and let the pasta drain in the colander in the sink and then dumped it back in the pot. She poured in a jar of Ragú spaghetti sauce and stirred and then added the meatballs. She crushed the last bit of her cigarette out on the burner and tossed the butt in a sand-filled coffee can near the sink. He carried the pot to the table. She pulled some garlic bread out of the oven.

They ate in silence. Or, more accurately, Jared ate in silence. His mom smoked and picked at a meatball with her fork, slowly mashing it into bits.
“Where’s Death Threat’s place?” she said.

Jared shrugged. He was hoping against hope that Death lived near his school, the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Didn’t matter, though. Nothing beat free.

“Nice. I’m your mother and you don’t trust me enough to know where you’re fucking staying.”

“He’s away in Washington State right now. I’m booked at a hos­tel for the first week. Just text my cell.”

“He told you where he lives, right?”

“He’ll show.”

“He’s a fucking pothead. He’ll forget you exist. He forgets where his ass is until someone hands it to him.”

“I can handle myself.”

His mom sucked in a great impatient breath.

“Can we just have a nice supper?” Jared said.

“Can you not live with the spazzy fucktard who calls himself Death Threat?”

“Chill, okay? I just need a free place until my student loan comes in, then I’ll find a room or something.”

“Buttfucking Jesus on goddamn crutches.”


“Don’t Mom me, genius. This is a crap plan.”

“It’s my life,” Jared said, pushing the plate away.

“Jared, you can barely manage warding. What’re you going to do if you run into something really fucking dangerous?”

His mom was a witch. For real. As he had found out definitively, just before he swore off the booze and the drugs. He’d always thought she was being melodramatic when she told him witch stuff. Then he was kidnapped by some angry otters and his shape-shifting father/
sperm donor stepped in to save him, along with his mother. He only lost a toe. Her particular talent was hexes, though she preferred giv­ing her enemies a good old-fashioned shit-kicking. Curses tended to bite you in the ass, she’d told him, and weren’t nearly as satisfying as physically throttling someone.

“Who’s going to bother me?” Jared said. “I got nothing anyone wants.”

“You’re the son of a Trickster,” she hissed.

“There’s a billion of us.” On one website he’d found 532 people claiming to be the children of Wee’git. Either Wee’git couldn’t keep it in his pants or a lot of people wanted to appear more exotic.

“You think you’re so fucking smart,” his mom said.

Jared recited the Serenity Prayer in his head. She shook another cigarette out of the pack and lit it off her butt before crushing it out on the full ashtray in the middle of the table. The TV went on in the living room. The recliner squealed.

“I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow,” Jared said. “You can forget you ever had me and party yourself to death.”

“You are testing my patience.”

It was always a bad sign when his mom stopped swearing. Jared focused on the tick of the kitchen clock to stay calm.

“You think I don’t love you,” she said. “Is that it?”

“I don’t think I’m high on your priority list.”

She got up and stood over him. She took her cigarette out of her mouth and he half-expected to get it in his face. He must have flinched, because her eyes narrowed dangerously.

She grabbed his chin. “You shoulda been a girl. Wah. Mommy doesn’t fucking love me. My feelings. My feeeeeelings.”

He shoved her hand away. “Get off me.”
“Are we done emoting?”

“I am.”

She backed up a step. “So I asked my sister if you could stay with her.”

Holy crap. Jared was stunned. His mom hadn’t spoken to her sis­ter since . . . forever. God. She really didn’t want him to stay with Death Threat.

“I dunno,” Jared said.

“Mave’s willing to put you up,” his mom said. “But be careful. She’s deaf to magic. Don’t bring it up around her. She’ll think you’re nuts and try to get you on antipsychotics.”

“I thought you hated her.”

“I do.”

She took a piece of paper out of her jean pocket and handed it to him. His throat tightened when he saw the name and number. His aunt, Mavis Moody, had tried to get custody of him when he was a baby, figuring her sister would be bad for any baby. His mom had married Philip Martin to avoid losing Jared. He couldn’t meet his mom’s eyes knowing how much of her pride she’d sacrificed to find him a safer place to crash. He dropped his head.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” she said.

Jared reached down, rifled through his backpack and gave her his grad picture.

She frowned. “Are you throwing it in my face? I only have grade eight and you’re a fucking high school graduate? You think that makes you special?”

“It’s just a picture,” Jared said. “Toss it if you don’t like it.”

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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We All Need To Eat
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
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A Matter of Confidence

A Matter of Confidence

The Inside Story of the Political Battle for BC
also available: eBook
More Info
Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
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Jan in 35 Pieces

From "One: Arlequin"


Down London's Baker Street, Jan and his mother, Elf, pick their way around shards of glass and pieces of masonry on their way to Jan's cello lesson. As they pass Madame Tussaud's, Jan notices that a landmark building has disappeared; the skyline beyond Marylebone Road looks different. Instead of the building, there's a gap through which Jan can see a cluster of barrage balloons like giant ears, straining on their ropes.

He walks with his mother in silence. London is often quiet after a bombing. Petrol is rationed and there is little traffic apart from the double-decker buses. They always catch the six a.m. workers' bus from home-the village of Radnage-to High Wycombe. Jan sits with Elf and looks out the window. If his father, Colin, takes him, they sit upstairs where smoking is allowed; the fumes of Woodbines always make Jan's eyes smart. He follows Elf out of the bus and onto the platform, past the poster of a ship sinking under the words "Walls Have Ears", past the old, red machine on the railway platform that reminds Jan of a tomb standing in mute testimony to those golden days of pre-war Rowntrees Chocolate Bar sixpence, then into the 7:15 train from High Wycombe to Marylebone: "Please shew your ticket".

Then they arrive in London and search for breakfast. Jan always makes a game of seeing which café in the district cooks the best dried [powdered] egg. Lyons Corner House is the preferred eatery with their scrambled egg on toast. Once the cashier is paid, Elf and Jan continue on the journey, passing the Royal Academy of Music and turning down Nottingham Place.

Now after Baker Street's gaps and shards of glass, this street is untouched-the same dreary row of townhouses, except the metal railings which used to guide you to their black front doors have been removed to be turned into guns. Jan knocks on 34-the London Cello School.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
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Just Let Me Look at You

After decades without, I finally bought myself a boat. My dad would approve.
Because of him I grew up on boats. When I was young I fished from them with passion. In my late teens and early twenties I lived most summers on a boat, in small marinas up the coast, starting with Egmont. On Cormorant I fished and guided. I also played lots of soli­taire, partied, and wrote my first two books on board, clunking away on the typewriter as a fluid world moved underneath.
I loved sleeping aboard, likely for what are narcotic or even return-to-the-womb reasons: a dark enclosure and softly rhythmic motion. After we met, my wife Dede, who knew none of my past, saw me fall into a trance if we happened near a marina. I’d have to study the boats, eyeing their features for those I’d like, wondering if they had a writing table or much of a galley. Lately I check to see if they have downriggers, winch-powered cables that send your cannon ball-weighted lure down to the deeps to troll for salmon.
Boats are magic. That metal or fibreglass can float is a marvel, one your life depends on. It’s not a romantic thought, I feel it in my body. It’s easy to find bygone power in the word vessel.
Sylvan is an old fibreglass tub with a big back open cockpit for fishing. Its twenty-six feet include a miniature bowsprit, a railed plat­form shooting off the bow where, if someone else steered, I could teeter onto and declare myself king of the world. It has a small cabin with V-berth, tiny sink and enclosed bathroom, or “head.”
I’ll avoid nautical terms. At marinas you run into people with boats smaller than mine who say “helm” and “starboard” and, of course, “she.” My boat’s an it. Sylvan is its brand name, painted on the stern, like a big Ford. Its navy canvas top highlights the seagull shit. It’s powered by a big, gas-gulping inboard, plus a small outboard, or “kicker,” for trolling. Both motors are old and the big one has begun burning oil. Many of the switches—for instance the horn, running lights, inside heater, windshield wipers—don’t work. I’ve duct-taped rips in the canvas.
I bought the boat on a whim, but one that felt fated. Out of the blue, after forty years, I was contacted by an old high school teacher. I’d had a crush on her, a Texan who’d moved north for political rea­sons. She had prematurely greying hair, wore serapes and went bare­foot. It was she who’d implanted the idea of writing. In any case, she apparently liked my books, and after I blamed her for inspiring them, her next envelope contained a cheque for ten thousand dollars. I tried to decline it but she insisted, explaining that it was something she did every year, sending this amount to whomever she felt like, from Patch Adams to Obama to unknown poets. She told me to use it on “some­thing missing in your life.” After I had two downriggers installed, Sylvan cost exactly ten thousand dollars.
The boat is decent in moderate waves, and once the motor gets going it tends not to quit. I keep Sylvan in Silva Bay (how fitting is that?) at the cheapest marina and the only one without a waiting list. Reportedly my berth bottoms out in extreme tides, but I’m assured it’s soft mud down there.
The transaction that brought us our place on Gabriola felt fated too. When our father and then mother died, my brother and I sold their condo and, not seeing a wiser investment, bought a place here for the exact amount, to the dollar, we got for the condo. Our two families share it. Somehow it felt right, and also practical, both of those. When I sit on the cabin’s sundeck and view the small orchard and pond, or when I walk the hushed trails through the woods, there’s a palpable sense that this is the fruit of my father’s hard work. His imagined link to this land keeps him alive in ways I can feel. Less poetically, I know I bought this place with his money, feel like a spoiled brat, and imaging him liking it here eases the guilt a bit.
I have an image that catches him perfectly. Not an image really, but a mid-eighties Japanese comic book. I came upon it again a week ago, digging through his stuff. Not knowing how to read Japanese, I think of it as The Big Bob of Mystery Beer Fishing Art Book.
I’m about thirty, still living in Vancouver and over for a morning visit. My dad is late-fifties, newly retired. Morning is the best time. I find him at the dining-room table flipping through what appears to be a comic book he’s just got in the mail. Unlike our comic books, this one is thin, fragile paper, including the cover. And it’s in Japanese. My dad looks befuddled.
The captions are all Japanese characters. Every page or two has a sidebar or sometimes a full-page drawing, rough but artful, of various fish. The cartoon boxes depict a young man, an artist, on a fishing trip, sketching everything he sees.
“Hey,” I say. “This is that trip you took last year. That charter out of Egmont.”
“Right. Right.”
“I remember you telling me about some Japanese artist guy? Drawing everything? He got stung by a rock cod?”
“Right, right. Drawing everything. I remember that guy now.”
I recall it was a business perk, my dad and some other executives wooed with a freebie aboard a forty-foot aluminum houseboat. He’d come back from the weekend with stories about “this funny little Jap” who didn’t fish at all but got all excited when a fish was caught. He’d lay tracing paper on the fish and run charcoal over it.
“It was really something,” he’d said. “It showed all the scales.”
Always instructive, I said, “A ‘rubbing.’”
“He sure was a funny little guy.” My dad had sounded almost affectionate.
It’s too perfect that the comic is Japanese. He still hated them. They were sneaky, they weren’t to be trusted. I didn’t blame him for these feelings. He’d been in a war, he’d had friends die. If I occasion­ally wondered aloud that they couldn’t be all bad, that some were forced to fight, he’d turn away. Fine. I’d never been in a war. An American, my father joined up right after hearing the radio broadcast about Pearl Harbor. He tried the air force, was too tall to be a pilot, so he joined the navy.
But he hated whoever he thought was Japanese. Koreans and Chinese and Inuit were “Japs.” It was sadly funny that for decades he lived beside Layton Wing, a shy family man who was unfailingly friendly to my father, who was only reservedly friendly back. After a few beers, in private, my dad would rail against “that Jap” next door. He’d settle down when I explained again that not only was Mr. Wing Chinese, but that the Chinese hated the Japanese probably more than he did. But he’d forget, and he’d grumble about “that Jap” whenever Layton appeared to be trying to keep up with the Joneses, like when he installed a pool. I actually thought it a good thing that Layton’s pool was a bit smaller than ours. Again, I found it more funny than sad. It was the big, American stupidity, that of not learn­ing who your enemies really are.
I can’t say I believe in the more colourful kind of karma, the one that says if you’re a pickpocket you’re bound eventually to get your pocket picked, if not in this life then the next. But I have to wonder about my dad and his hatred of Japs and those he mistook for them. Near the end, when he broke a hip and suffered a stroke in surgery, he could no longer walk or talk and ended up in a facil­ity where he was tended almost exclusively by Asians. Most were Filipina, some Vietnamese. I never saw a Japanese caregiver, but I did see a certain look in my father’s eye as they spooned him his food, plumped his pillow, and all the rest, bantering in halting English. He wasn’t all there but I know his pride remained, and I can’t imagine how he felt when, chirping, “How you today Bob, you look good,” they washed him and changed his diaper. It would have been an odd hell.
And now we’re looking at the oddest comic book. It’s part graphic novel (though I don’t think they existed yet in the West), part natural science guide to Pacific Northwest fish, with those cool charcoal rub­bings. The story boxes show the artist landing at the Vancouver airport, lugging his art supplies, tongue sticking out with effort, cartoon sweat shooting off his brow. It shows a bus ride, a first meal with clumsy knife and fork, mishaps with mysterious money. Egmont scenery in the back­ground, it shows the houseboat, and him stowing his gear. A seagull wanders close, begging. Overleaf the gull is rendered, full-page and fine art. It really is bizarre. It gets more bizarre when, early the next morn­ing, he wakes up as the houseboat lurches, nearly tipping. He rushes out to encounter a giant climbing aboard. In one hand the giant clutches a beer and the other he holds out to be shaken, “I’m Bob!” emblazoned in caps on his T-shirt in such bold lettering I can hear my dad’s basso profundo voice in the letters. In the next box the artist suffers a crushing handshake and falls to his knees under the giant’s shadow.
The only English in the entire comic book is the “I’m Bob!” on his shirt. The artist has nailed my father’s likeness, though exaggerated: twice the height of everyone else, he wears a skewed cap, and loudly gets in everyone’s face. He appears to lurch like John Wayne. His nose is red. It’s hilarious.
Turning pages, my dad chuckles nervously.
The story shows the men fishing, eating, drinking. My dad is never without a beer. Now he wears the captain’s hat, a ball cap with gold braid, and the captain wears my dad’s hat and doesn’t look happy about it. One box is just my dad’s face, his eyes closed and stars and birds circling his head, passed out. But he is also helpful, showing people how to fish. Near the end he’s battling what appears to be a whopper, and then, chagrined, holds up a minnow.
My dad closes the book, snickers insincerely and flicks it so it spins and slides three feet across the dining-room table. Partly he doesn’t recognize this version of himself, this Bob the rest of us have known for years. And partly he just doesn’t remember that weekend, not a thing.

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Why it's on the list ...
Nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize, Nominated for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize
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