A new book by Richard Doornink; 1967 – a coming of age story has its roots firmly set in Yorkton.
“I was born in Winnipeg in 1958,” relates the author. “In September 1966 we moved to Yorkton where we spent the next three years, and which almost all of the material for 1967 – a coming of age story came from.”
The stay in Yorkton was a short one, the family moving to Toronto in 1969, but it left a lasting impression on Doornink.
“I consider the period in Yorkton my coming of age period, at least in so far as transitioning from a child mostly unaware, to a child somewhat aware of life around him,” he said.
Writing was long an interest for Doornink but it would take years for that interest to result in a book.
“I was originally a high school dropout,” he said. “My career has been split between the creative world and the business world.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 23 when I started my first company Cantesco Corporation, which I successfully grew into a worldwide manufacturer of welding chemicals. I set up an operation in North Tonawanda, NY in the early nineties, hence the Buffalo connection today (he currently splits his time between Buffalo, New York; Venice, Florida; and Lion’s Head, Ontario.)
“As for the creative side, I’ve studied painting, photography, and was involved for a time in independent Canadian film as a production manager and post-production coordinator working with John Martin-Manteiga. John was a big influence for me both from an architecture appreciation aesthetic, as well as a writer.”
In terms of writing Doornink said, “It all started way back in Mr. Kahro’s English class in high school. I still have the stories I wrote back then. Later in life I decided to go to university as a mature student, and went to York University.
“After realizing business classes were not what I was interested in, I decided to study the two things I did enjoy, political science and film. I ultimately graduated with a fine arts degree with a focus on French and Italian cinema.
“The last few courses at York University kind of brought me back to thinking about writing again.
“After completing a long first draft in 2014, I realized I was still far from understanding the craft, so in 2015 I completed the Humber School for Writers post-graduate creative writing program. It was through the School for Writers that my skill set improved immensely, and I was fortunate to work with a terrific mentor, Isabel Huggan, an award winning Canadian author herself.”
But was the germ of an idea for the book?
“The idea for the book stems from a number of things,” said Doornink.
“While going to York University I took a studio class that focused on performance art, and also a film and video production class. I had terrific teachers but the one that heavily influenced me was Brenda Longfellow, an award winning
Canadian filmmaker and York University professor. It was her class from which the genesis for 1967 came about, although at the time I didn’t really recognize it.
“One of the aspects of the class we studied was the focus, particularly from the Canadian perspective, of the role of memory in our history. One of the projects we did was a short, in-camera ‘home movie’. In the making of the home movie a long buried memory I had, surfaced. That’s where “1967 – a coming of age story” really started. From this single, buried memory.”
The book is Doornink’s first, coming from the memory he ultimately had to share.
“I think for me it wasn’t about whether the book was worth writing as much as it was I simply had to write,” he said. “I had always wanted to write, it was finally time to make a commitment to learning how to write, and then write.
“The worth in the book, at least for me, is in talking to people who have read it. Listening to their takeaways. The things they liked about the book. The emotions it provokes within them. The characters they identify with.
“There is a great joy, a pleasure in hearing their reactions to the things I’ve written. I quickly found out how a book becomes everyone else’s, once it’s published, it’s a very powerful, inter-connected relationship.”
As Doornink’s first book, he admits he learned a lot about the creative process in its writing.
“One of the things I’ve learned about writing is to let the story come to you, and that’s what happened here,” he related. “The book initially started with a short story, the birthday story. As I started writing more consistently, I wrote a second short story, and then a third.
“When I stepped back and looked at the stories, what intrigued me was that all three stories were located in Yorkton. This was an eye opener in the sense that this particular time and place had such a major effect on me, at least at a subconscious level.
“Once I had several Yorkton based short stories drafted, I realized I needed a way to sort them out, and at that point I thought, maybe I have a book here. It was a case of writing first and sort of prepping second, which I found not to be very effective.”
But did the book come together as Doornink had imagined initially it would?
“There was a lot of work in terms of flow, it was my first book and you obviously learn as you go,” he said. “My second book, a much larger book, and my third book, have both gotten off to an easier start as a result of working through the first book. I have a better handle on the story outline and plot development processes from the first book experience.”
And what is now the best aspect of the book from the author’s perspective?
“Its simplicity,” said Doornink. “The book has a lot of things going on inside of it, but it was deliberately written in a simple style as I tried to write from the mind of a young boy, as he would have thought and reacted. As a result, many readers have come back and said it’s an easy read.
“I was a bit offended in the beginning when I heard that, but I came to realize the book allows the reader to read the way they want to read, at a pace and depth they want to put into, or take out of, the book.”
Ultimately Doornink looks at the book as a good first foray into the art of writing.
“Considering this was my first book, yes. I know I’m a better writer today and would love to start the book again with the new skills I have, but you have to let that go,” he said.
“As a debut novel I think it’s strongly written, has gotten great reviews and, more importantly, people enjoy reading it. You can’t ask for more than that.”
The next step is finding the right audience.
“The challenge within the book industry, as elsewhere in life, is you need to be slotted into a category for selling purposes,” said Doornink. “My initial target audience was the 50 and up age group in so far as they could relate to the time and place. I tested the third draft with a readers group that fit that demographic, evenly split between men and women.
“I also wanted to see if the book had a North American appeal, and half of the 12 readers I approached were American. The feedback was that the book read as well in middle America as it did in the middle of the prairies.
“Having said that, I also believe there is a young adult audience for the book. I’ve also had positive feedback from a sort of middle age audience (30’s and 40’s). So, at the risk of making the book harder to sell, the appeal is fairly wide ranging.
“The point is, the basic themes, what we know as children, what adults don’t talk to kids about, the experiences of being a new kid, of trying to fit into school, coming of age, are fairly universal, at least in North America. All is to say, the book appeals to a number of audiences for a variety of reasons.”
More will follow from the author.
“My second book Buffalo – A Love Story, a historical fiction set in Buffalo, NY spanning 40-years, is currently in first draft form, and will hopefully be in the editing stages before the end of the year,” he said.
“My third book Twelve Stories About Fire, a fiction about love, is in second draft form waiting for me to get back to it after I finish the ‘Buffalo’ book.”
The author is planning to have a book reading at the Yorkton Public Library in October, as well as a signing at Coles in the Parkland Mall.