Penticton writer Adam Lewis Schroeder has traveled widely and published stories in more than a dozen journals and anthologies. In 2001 his short fiction collection Kingdom of Monkeys was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award. His novel Empress of Asia was published by Raincoast in 2006 and Thomas Dunne in the US in 2008; a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award. His most recent novel, In the Fabled East, was selected by Amazon.ca as one of the best books of the year and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Regional Writers Prize. In addition Adam is a columnist for CBC Radio One and a Creative Writing instructor at UBC Okanagan.
Okay, here’s my hard-to-arrive-at orphan. The backstory: My inital draft of Empress of Asia was a nice neat 400 pages, but reader feedback was that even though the WW II-era plot (bookended by moments concerning his wife’s death in 1995) crackled along nicely, the protagonist/narrator Harry Winslow felt unapproachable. So for the second draft I started the chronology back in 1938 so we’d know all about his home life and teenage foibles, rejigged WW II with all of that in mind, expanded the 1995 sections and added a cocktail party in 1966, a vacation in 1986, and a heartbreaking (I think) homecoming to Vernon BC with his Singaporean-British bride in 1945. The editor recommended cutting the resulting 800-page monster in half — the WW II stuff was now working well enough that it didn’t need so much garnish. My Word file “orphan cuts March 06” is 263 pages long so I confess it wasn’t easy to pick a couple of paragraphs. The novel opens with 70-year-old Harry’s dying wife telling him to go back to Thailand to find an old friend, so the following bit describes him riding a Vancouver city bus to a travel agent a couple of days after her death.
Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself because I’m finally doing what you told me to and riding the city bus. I know, I could’ve asked Laurie or Rudy for a ride, but I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it while I had the momentum so I walked down to Broadway and caught the #9 bus. A lot of inmates from one of those houses for the handicapped are filling up the benches in the back, and two of them, they look like older guys but you can never tell exactly, they keep saying, “Abby Horseshoe! Abby Horseshoe!” Like they’ve discovered the wheel. Honest to God, the docs should prescribe a ride on the bus to every sad sack like me – I mean, I know I’m hard up, but not as much as these guys. At least I know I’m hard up. Anyway, it’s a different perspective for the sad sack.
We go west right past Cambie and I look down the length of the bridge at downtown. What used to be the skyscrapers, the Hotel Vancouver and Marine Building, a guy can’t even see those any more. They’re buried behind concrete. I get off right before Oak Street and all those handicapped guys get off at the same stop so anybody watching would probably assume we were all together. At least I’m wearing a belt, these guys all have jogging pants pulled up to their chests. It looks like a young girl is in charge of them, she’s got three backpacks over each shoulder.
“We’re turning left, everybody,” she says. “Where’s your partner?”
And away they go down the sidewalk, bumping along. That only encourages me. I look around for Grace’s Travel and here it is, next to a Chinese restaurant. Lot of Chinese restaurants along here. They must have had some kind of migration up from Hastings Street, I guess not too many people go down there anymore – I know we hadn’t for years, and that used to be our thing to do on a Friday night, Saturday night. That was funny as heck, we had that one waiter who could never understand your accent and I had to be the translator, an egg foo young, that’s right, a number 53.
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