Author Tags: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Outdoors, Theatre
DATE OF BIRTH: April 23, 1966
PLACE OF BIRTH: Torrance, California
ARRIVAL IN CANADA: 1982
The Wind is not a River (HarperCollins 2014). Novel. ISBN: 9780062279972; ISBN10: 0062279971; Imprint: Ecco ; On Sale: 1/7/2014; Format: Hardcover; Trimsize: 6 x 9; Pages: 320; $26.99
The Ice Passage: A True Story of Ambition, Disaster, and Endurance in the Arctic Wilderness, Doubleday, 2009
Shadow Of the Bear (non-fiction), Viking Canada, 2006
Hail Mary Corner (novel), Beach Holme, 2001
Cowboy: The Legend and the Legacy, Greystone Books, 2000
Long Beach, Clayoquot and Beyond, Raincoast Books, 1997. With photos by Bob Herger.
Spirit Transformed, A Journey from Tree to Totem, (with Roy Henry Vickers) Raincoast Books, 1996
AWARDS: Two consecutive SATW Lowell Thomas Silver Awards for Best North American Travel Essay. Three-time winner of Northern Lights Awards for Excellence in Travel Journalism.
Brian Payton's writing has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Globe and Mail, Islands, Canadian Geographic and Literary Trips, Following in the Footsteps of Fame.
His first play, Weed, premiered at the 1999 Victoria Fringe Festival, and was produced by the Denman Theatre Conspiracy on Denman Island, British Columbia (Juan Barker, director) where Payton lived for a few years. From the program: "On the road home from a Reno stag party, three friends take a wrong turn near Weed, California, and find themselves trapped in a moral dilemma that threatens their friendship, identity, and ultimately their lives. They discover that sometimes, being in the wrong place at the wrong time "doesn't just ruin your day, it kills you then rewrites your whole stinking history."
After months of preparation, Brian Payton travelled to the western Arctic Archipelago in the summer of 2007 to collect information about climate change. That winter he returned to the coast of Banks Island on the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen. These experiences prompted him to recount the final voyage of HMS Investigator into the arctic in the 1850s when the ship became trapped in polar ice, giving rise to his creative non-fiction work, The Ice Passage (Doubleday $35). 978-0-385-66532-2
He has lived in Illinois, Texas, New Mexico, and Alaska.
[BCBW 2014] "Fiction" "Outdoors"
Hail Mary Corner
Brian Payton's debut novel is a dark and comic tale that leads readers into unfamiliar territory past an emotional frontier we all must cross: the uncertain ground between adolescence and adulthood.
High on a cliff overlooking a pulp mill town in British Columbia, sixteen-year-old Bill MacAvoy and his friends lead cloistered lives when other boys their age run free. It may be the fall of 1982, but inside the walls of their Benedictine seminary they inhabit a medieval society steeped in ritual and discipline—a world where black-robed monks move like shadows between doubt and faith.
On the road to certain expulsion, Bill discovers two secrets: one concerns Brother Thomas, the monk who's been watching his every move; the other involves his best friend, Jon. In Bill's hands these secrets prove dangerous weapons. Handled carelessly, they trigger an event that threatens to haunt him for the rest of his life.
5.25 X 8.25 Trade paperback 240 pp ISBN 0-88878-422-8 $18.95 CDN $14.95 US
Long Beach, Clayoquot and Beyond (Raincoast $21.95)
Brian Payton's love affair with the Long Beach/Clayoquot area began with a surfboard beneath his feet 12 years ago. As a curious UVic student he and a friend arrived in a red Rabbit, hopscotched across a tangled mass of driftwood logs and confirmed, much to his amazement, that surfing was indeed possible in the Great White North.
Payton, now a resident of Denman Island, has been returning with a notebook and a keen curiousity ever since. As a response to water, forests and wildlife, his prose in Long Beach, Clayoquot and Beyond (Raincoast $21.95), with photos by Bob Herger, also serves as an introduction to some of the issues percolating beneath the surface like an island hot spring.
At the southern end of Long Beach sits blue-collar Ucluelet, still primarily a fishing and logging community. By contrast, Tofino, at the north end is a community in transition. It's 1,300 residents absorb an annual tide of 300,000 visitors per year, much to the amazement of some locals.
"One thing us old-timers never imagined was that people would pay $65 each to go out and see a bunch of whales," say Tofino's Ken Gibson, who was born in a trading post near the Tofino government dock in 1935. "Things have really changed.
"During World War II, they trained fliers here. Tofino was the third largest air base in Canada. They used bald eagles for target practice, they practiced bombing runs on grey whales, and the small freighter aircraft strafed Sea Lion Rocks. Now our jobs depend on the wildlife."
The photos by Bob Herger, whose work has appeared in National Geographic and other books, typically highlight sand dollars lying in 'V' formation guiding the eye to the surf or a bicylist in a wetsuit carrying home his surfboard. You can almost breathe in the aroma of huge, centuries-old cedars on Meares Island. It's the next best thing to a daytrip.
The restorative powers of the place are obvious. The last time I camped at Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve it was necessary to sculpt elaborate canals around the family tent to prevent it from floating away. Rainforest indeed. Resisting the temptation to quickly fold one's tent and run for cover is essential to appreciating the mildest and wettest spot in Canada - in other words, make like a banana slug and soak it up.
"You can see a physical change in people when they come back from a trip," says a sea kayak operator, "from their posture to their facial expression. It makes them feel connected."
That wide vista at Long Beach also has a peculiar way of lifting the mind over the horizon line. Payton imagines Japanese and Russian families enjoying similar experiences on their Pacific beaches, likely searching for those green glass Japanese fishing floats, sand dollars and other secrets of the sands. -- by Mark Forsythe.
Hail Mary Corner (Beach Holme $18.95)
The debut fiction from Brian Payton sent me back to my book shelf for a fresh look at a couple of classics. Payton may have given himself a tall order in conjuring two of the most famous coming-of-age stories of the 20th century, James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.
Set in a fictional Vancouver Island seminary, Hail Mary Corner (Beach Holme $18.95) recounts a few months in the life of a somewhat disenchanted young man, William MacAvoy, who is being primed to hear the call to God and live the life of a priest. He is 16, a junior at St. John the Divine, has a best friend with whom he confides all, a girlfriend with whom he is sex-obsessed and a bad case of guilt over his inability to keep his hands off himself in self-exploration. Sound familiar yet?
As the book opens in 1982, young William is on the brink of getting kicked out of school for openly defying the rules, for leading his peer group astray, and for generally exhibiting a poor and unChristian attitude. He discovers two secrets one about his best friend Jon, the other about the ever-watchful Brother Thomas. It all comes to a climactic crux at the Christmas break. Hail Mary Corner's grandest epiphanies rendered in some of Payton's best prose occur in its epilogue when William returns to St. John the Divine looking for resolution and absolution. For 20 years he has carried guilt about the part he played in the accidental death of his best friend at Hail Mary Corner, a treacherous piece of road leading to the Seminary. "I take the last few steps to our pew, genuflect, and then kneel in Jon's place for a while. it is here on tender knees that I realize I'll be bringing back neither forgiveness nor absolution. Instead I will leave something behind."
For me, James Joyce's contemplative Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, along with the more idiomatic Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger shadow every page of Hail Mary Corner. Stephen Dedalus and Holden Caulfield are both in private school with strict academic and religious curricula, and they are typically wayward boys in terms of their burgeoning sexuality.
Most of the action in Catcher takes place at the Christmas break as Holden procrastinates revealing his expulsion to his parents by killing time in New York bars, with girlfriends, and with a bad case of insecure superiority.
Young William mirrors Stephen Dedalus' struggle with his devotion to God, the spiritual teachings, his 'free will' and his attraction to girls. All three wrestle with their inability to control sexual urges, accept doctrine, and stay at peace with their parents. It's not that Payton isn't a fine writer. It's just that his structure is similar, right down to the soccer games; the scenes of awkward and fumbling first sex, the shame-filled confessions about impure thoughts, and the Joycean epiphanies. It was hard for me not to wonder if the similarities weren't in some way intentional. Simultaneously I had a pervasive feeling that this might be a story based on some kind of actual experience. Clearly Payton knows his way around a church, the mass and uses of all the various formal words to describe its elements.
Payton's scenes carry great insights but he too often chooses action over reflection and physical movement over the stream of consciousness that are so vital to the emotional texture of Joyce and Salinger. In the end, these are the necessary ingredients to make any coming of age tale interesting and relevant to readers who may be years older and far wiser.
As well, he often falls prey to Couplandesque pop culture references in place of fully formed descriptions-a late 20,h century literary device that is wearing thin. That all being said, Brian Payton has a keen eye for images, atmospheric details and a talent for bringing his reader directly into his scenes. Stained glass windows are 'a rainbow of cough drops melted together.' The hem of a monk's habit is 'fluttering nervously behind him.'
Though often falling into stereotypes (a monk is caught trying to flush his Playboy magazine down the toilet, one friend is a brute, the other a sensitive type who eventually confesses his homosexuality, another younger seminarian starts out a wimp and turns into a hero) his characters are well wrought and stay true to type.
Payton's non-fiction books are Long Beach, Clayoquot and Beyond and Cowboy. His first play, Weed, premiered at the 1999 Victoria Fringe Festival. 0-88878-422-8 Carla Lucchetta is a Vancouver writer.
[BCBW Spring 2002]
Shadow of the Bear
Brian Payton chronicles his journey across the world to see each of the eight species of bears existent today. This exploration was prompted by a dream, and as such investigates the mythical relationship between man and bear, as manifested in culture and lore. "Shadow of the Bear" also investigates the dangers threatening the world's bear population. Payton juxtaposes multi-cultural legends of the bear's strength and intelligence, with stories of bear poaching and bile farming. - ISBN-10: 0-670-04409-1 and ISBN-13: 978-0670-04409-2
Shadow of the Bear
Press Release (2006)
Throughout human history, bears have been associated with rebirth and renewal, kinship and healing, and have been universally feared, respected and loved. The center of early myth, fairy tales, and campfire lore, bears are also an “umbrella” species.
As omnivores at the top of the food chain, the health of a bear population is indicative of the health of their entire ecosystem. As many species’ numbers sink towards extinction, environmentalists and bear-lovers alike know that the problem is larger than simply vanishing bears.
In Shadow of the Bear, Brian Payton undertakes a remarkable series of journeys to find the world’s eight remaining bear species. His journey is inspired by a dream about teaching a bear to read and a peaceful close encounter with a mother grizzly and her cub in British Columbia. From that beginning, Payton travels great distances to risk a confrontation with the extremely dangerous sloth bear in India, learn about the science of panda sex and the cruel bear bile trade in China, go nose-to-nose with a polar bear in Canada, stalk the shy spectacled bear in Peru, and view with awe the ancient paintings and bear bones in the Chauvet Cave in France. In the final chapter Payton visits a Navajo medicine man in Arizona to make his own peace with all of the bears that he has encountered.
From the widely-discussed documentary Grizzly Man to the worldwide concern with declining polar bear populations, bears are in the forefront of our collective consciousness. A beautiful, thoughtful exploration of the bear’s role in world cultures, Shadow of the Bear captures the power and beauty of these fascinating creatures and provides a warning of their increasingly tenuous existence in the modern world.
Nominated for The Ice Passage
BC Book Prizes (2010)
from BC Book Prizes catalogue
Four years after the disappearance of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his two ships, the HMS Investigator sets sail in search of them. Instead of rescuing lost comrades, the officers and crew soon find themselves trapped in their own ordeal, facing starvation, madness and death on the unknown Polar Sea. If only they can save themselves, they will bring back news of perhaps the greatest maritime achievement of the age: their discovery of the elusive Northwest Passage between Europe and the Orient. But the cost of hubris, ignorance, daring and deceit is soon laid bare. In the face of catastrophe, a desperate rescue plan is made to send away the weakest men to meet their fate on the ice. Drawing on long-forgotten journals, transcripts and correspondence, Payton weaves an astonishing tale of endurance. Brian Payton’s previous books include Hail Mary Corner and Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness. He lives in Vancouver.
The Wind is not a River
Publisher's Promo (2014)
THIS CATALOGUE FROM PAYTON'S PUBLISHER
The Wind Is Not a River is Brian Payton's gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife—separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil—fight to reunite in Alaska's starkly beautiful Aleutian Islands.
Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, he heads north to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government.
While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as “the birthplace of winds.” There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.
Alone at home, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is—and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.
A gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife–separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil–fight to reunite in Alaska's starkly beautiful Aleutian Islands
Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss, to document some part of the growing war that claimed his own flesh and blood. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, after an argument they both regret, he heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government.
While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as "the Birthplace of Winds." There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.
Alone in their home three thousand miles to the south, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to re-imagine who she is–and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.
A powerful, richly atmospheric story of life and death, commitment and sacrifice, The Wind Is Not a River illuminates the fragility of life and the fierce power of love.