“My novels have at their core a theme of retributive justice. I design my conflicts to upset the balance of my fictional universes, and my characters to engage and refine themselves in the crucible of these conflicts. Succeed or fail, they are changed utterly.”
I was born in Windsor, Ontario, two blocks from the busy Detroit River, under the arching black shadow of the Ambassador Bridge that spanned it and connected two cities, two countries and two cultures. The bridge and the Detroit auto tunnel were my unanticipated routes into the 1960s, the decade whose events and values would forever influence my life and my writing.
The sixties shaped me: the sex, the drugs, the protests, Detroit’s Motown beat.
Against my parents’ wishes, I attended Patterson Collegiate, the most racially integrated Windsor high school located in the black neighbourhood that grew up around the Windsor terminus of the historic Underground Railroad in the 1840s and meant freedom from enslavement for thousands of African-Americans fleeing the southern slave states.
At seventeen, I was threatened by three knife-wielding black punks, at one o’clock in the morning, in front of Detroit’s Cunningham’s Drugstore, returning home from a date with my Southfield, Michigan girlfriend. I was rescued through the good Samaritan efforts of a black bus driver who stopped his bus, opened the doors and yelled at me to get in and get away. I did. He would accept no payment.
Two years later, I strained to listen to some of Detroit’s best live jazz and rhythm and blues in the once swanky, Art Moderne, Willis Show Bar, seated at the mile-long bar but distracted by topless showgirls who danced around my beer on that bar with American ten-dollar bills in their G-strings.
I hallucinated a giant beating heart, my own, on the wall of the Leddy Library building after dropping mescaline on a dare at the University of Windsor one evening during Frosh Week.
By twenty-two I had survived the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” in a psychedelic haze of drugs and strobe lights at Detroit’s famous Cobo Arena where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I was still shaken by King’s assassination in Memphis just nine months before.
And later, after the My Lai massacre, I supported Vietnam War protests on the Windsor University campus and would share a rundown house with a group of American draft-dodgers and deserters, in Vancouver BC, after earning an honours degree in English, in 1969, and hitch-hiking out west with my best friend on a quest for maturity.
But most disturbing, in July of 1967, when I was twenty-one and working as a summer janitor to help pay my university tuition, I watched from the six-story-high roof of Wyeth Brothers Drugs, near the Windsor shores of the Detroit River, as the fires of racial hatred consumed the Detroit Motor City I knew so well in a five-day race riot.
By the end of the millennium, I’d had a very satisfying career teaching academic English in London, Ontario and earning a Masters in Education from the University of Western Ontario. In 1975, I’d read the most influential book of my life to that point: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig. In it I discovered the truth I live and write by: “It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.” I proudly own, maintain and enthusiastically ride two beautiful vintage motorcycles that I restored, the most telling of which is a 1967 Honda 305 Dream, very like Pirsig’s signature motorcycle in that seminal book.
Besides the novel, The Colour of Pride, based on the 1967 Detroit riot, I’ve written a next-to-be published sequel, Insect Youth, wherein my same hero, Frank D. Phelan, is driven to an act of vigilante justice that will forever change his life when the law fails him after the sexual assault of his first teenage love, Starr Summers. As well, I’ve written a novel sequel to my favourite Sci-Fi movie from 1951, The Day the Earth Stood Still. In it the regenerated Klattu’s alien mate and her band of female enforcers, “The Cure”, are bent on revenge for his shooting and death, and plan to eradicate our human species from the face of the Earth. Unknown to her, Klattu has fathered a half-human, half-alien Earthian son, Rayce Destiny (I love those funky 50’s names), who may or may not be our species’ only hope of survival.
I live and write in Tofino, British Columbia, in the midst of breathtaking Clayoquot Sound, with the support of my wife, Eileen, my friends and fellow writers in The Clayoquot Writers Group and my cabaret group, Performance Anxiety.Share on Social Media