Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#15)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these reminders form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #15
Every so often the book world erupts in furious argument about whether a new title should be classed as “fiction” or “non-fiction.” My advice here is to follow The Bartender’s Rule: If a drink has any alcohol in it, it’s an alcoholic drink.
So it is with fiction. Even if a book is 99% true, the 1% that is invented makes the book fiction. Consider the horror of congratulating a non-fiction author on a particularly striking fact, or true-life scene, and being told “Oh, that scene? I made it up!” Follow The Bartender’s Rule.

Missed the previous tips? Check out Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3Tip #4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #7, Tip #8Tip #9Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12, Tip #13, and Tip #14.

Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading (#5)

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, Doug reflected on The Golden Spruce by John Valiant, and this he features . . .

Paddle to the Amazon, by Don Starkell (1987)

Paddle to the Amazon brought me in touch with the amazing Don Starkell. I was saddened when Don passed away some weeks ago, in Winnipeg, his home town. Readers of the best adventure travel books know that it was in Winnipeg that Don put an open canoe in the Red River, with his two teenage sons, and paddled it all the way to Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon. Along the way they took on the whole Mississippi, drug smugglers, sharks, alligators, drought, starvation  and sickness, and benefitted from the kindness of strangers.

One of his sons (the sensible one) quit when they were being swamped again and again by incoming waves broadsiding them as they crept along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Yet Don and young Dana kept going, completing the longest canoe trip in history. And the book (assisted by the editorial hand of Charles Wilkins)  still provides very exciting reading. A real classic.

Later Don found it hard to settle back into everyday life, and devised another adventure . . . taking a kayak north from Churchill at the base of Hudson Bay all the way through the Northwest Passage, dragging the kayak across the ice when the sea froze. He almost made it unscathed, and lived to write Paddle to the Arctic, another classic.

I thought that he was super-human, and would live forever. But when he struggled out to attend my show in Winnipeg in October, it was clear that the cancer was winning. Still, he was in many ways super-human. I am very glad that, like all authors, he found a way to cheat death.

For Doug’s tales of Don Starkell see pages 178 and 268-269 of Stories About Storytellers.