Mountain Blues

Mountain Blues

by Sean Arthur Joyce

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Welcome to Eldorado, a small mountain town in the Kootenays, chock-a-block with aging hippies, eccentrics, loggers, and protestors. When Roy Breen moves to Eldorado after over a decade of working as a journalist in Vancouver, he is impressed by the soaring glacial vistas and the friendliness of the townsfolk, as well as the quality of the coffee they pour. Unfortunately the threat of cutbacks is looming over the local hospital and Roy must find a way to balance his journalistic integrity with the need to join his new neighbours in fighting to keep the hospital open.

In the vein of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, poet Sean Arthur Joyce’s debut novel Mountain Blues is a tale of warmth and joviality.

Praise for Mountain Blues

"Joyce cannot hide the love he has for his characters. He loves not just their strengths but their flaws, their best intentions, their sweet humanity."
~ Brian d'Eon, Lunatic Writer Blog

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Mountain Blues:

"Mountain Blues is rich with characters and setting. Joyce's fresh voice gently reels you in, hooking you with delicious humour, eccentric characters and insights into what it means to live in the Kootenays."
~ Garry Ryan, author of the Detective Lane mysteries

"Joyce has written the kind of novel that makes you want to locate his ideal community and move there immediately. And the kind that keeps you reading to see what happens when local solidarity pits itself against government penury and intractability. Poet, author and journalist, Joyce brings a unique toolbox of writing skills to bear in Mountain Blues that makes for crisp, lyrical prose, an engaging narrative, memorable characters, including an emotionally articulate cat, and a lightness of touch that is as surprising as it is delightful in a début novel."
~ Gary Geddes, author of Medicine Unbundled and The Resumption of Play

"Sean Arthur Joyce captures perfectly the contrast between the stunning landscapes of BC's West Kootenay region and the struggle to construct and protect a community."
~ Tom Wayman, author of Helpless Angels and The Shadows We Mistake for Love

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781988732312
Publisher: NeWest Publishers, Limited
Publication date: 05/15/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 1 MB

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Read an Excerpt

The building was unimpressive. A long, low rectangle that stretched back from Eldorado's main street, with a simple roof and a western-style wooden façade on the front, painted bright green with yellow trim. Several of the buildings on the main street sported this conceit, a tip of the hat to the town's frontier beginnings in a mining boom a century ago. A boom that went bust in about ten years, setting off echoes that reverberated for a century in local culture. Some of the façades were just rectangular, giving the illusion of a second story where there was none. Others were more obviously decorative, shaped as a great scallop over the business door. On this building I could read a small brass plaque on one corner: "Original Eldorado Firehouse, 1907." Firehouse. Not even big enough to have been a Firehall. The entry door in the centre of the façade had an inset window running from top to bottom. Essentially the door was just a frame with glass in it. On the glass were painted letters that read: "Mountain Echo. Props. Lance Robertson and Donna Kelly. Est. 1992." The whole main street could be a set on a Hollywood backlot, with the critical difference that the view at the end of the street here was no plywood scenery but the glittering Eldorado Glacier looming above Sapphire Lake, the Valhallas receding in the snowy distance.

Pushing open the door I was confronted with a counter just steps from the entrance. Behind it was a small warren of desks with computers and a door leading to a back room. I could see a man in his forties with a thick head of hair showing only a few traces of grey, leaning back from a computer screen. His beard had grown out a little bushy from what had recently been close-trimmed and the screen was reflected in his glasses. He looked mildly annoyed that he might have to tear himself away from whatever he was doing. I got a glimpse of some freeware video game. Before I could open my mouth, he shouted: "Jane! Front counter please." The office was small enough that I could hear a chair being rolled away from a desk in the back room. An elfin-looking woman of fine features and a shock of grey in her thick, short hair poked her head out. She too looked mildly annoyed.

"Yes? What is it Lance?"

"Can you help this gentleman please?"

A disgruntled sigh was stopped short when she transferred her gaze from Lance to me. It was as if some flicker of recognition had lit in her eyes when she saw my face. It was odd. I'd never seen her before. The smile in her eyes was bright enough to banish a thunderstorm, the smile on her lips more subtle. She walked briskly to the counter.

"Uh, what can I do for you?"

"Well, I'm a reporter just new in town. Looking for work."

She smiled involuntarily, as if pleased by that information. "Oh! So what experience do you have?"

"Trained at College of the Kootenays journalism program. Worked in Vancouver the past fifteen years, mostly at the Vancouver Daily, doing the works—hard news, profiles, reviews, investigative pieces occasionally. Less and less of those lately though. Damn corporate mergers." Over her shoulder I could see a smirk cross Lance's face but he pretended not to be listening, intent on his game.

"So what brings you here?"

"In the last corporate merger they put a cap on all promotions except senior management staff. That meant my seniority went out the window in one fell swoop. They hired a Journalism 101 grad fresh off the turnip truck to do the City Hall beat I'd been hoping for. Decided I'd had enough. So I quit. Besides, I'd had enough of the Big Smoke after fifteen years. And anyway, I'm originally from the Kootenays."

"Oh? Whereabouts?" The rise in her voice was noticeable.

"Born in Newcombe but grew up in northern bc. Finished high school in Newcombe. Small-town boy."

She laughed. "Small-town Newcombe. Around here, that's a big city."

I could hear Lance's chair shift as he pushed back from his console and finally turned in my direction. "Thanks, Jane. I can take it from here."

A slight shade of dismay crossed her face. "Okay, Lance."

Jane scooted sideways as Lance stepped up but otherwise she didn't move. His face spread in a Cheshire cat grin—if you can imagine a bearded Cheshire cat. "Lance Robertson— publisher of the Mountain Echo." He stood slightly above my height, both of us in the medium range.

"Roy Breen."

Jane caught me noticing her stare. "Well, uh—better get back to my editing." She put out her hand—delicate and pale as a porcelain doll. I took it gently. "Jane," she said. "Jane Bordeaux."

"Really, like the wine?"

She flushed a little. "Yes, like the wine. My ancestors were among the first French soldiers to come to Canada in the seventeenth century. The family story goes that our paternal ancestor, Jean de Bordeaux, arrived without a last name, so they just asked what province in France he'd come from. Hence the name, ever since."

"Great story. Know if it's true?"

She shrugged delicately beneath a light, bird's-egg blue sweater. "Who knows? Makes a good story though. Just don't ever call me Jane Chardonnay," she joked. "Well, I better leave you two to it."

"Well, nice to meet you, Jane Bordeaux."

Lance took a cigar from a small box in his desk drawer and motioned toward the door. "Looks like the sun's still with us. Care to step outside for a smoke?"

"Never touch the stuff, but thanks."

Robertson stood outside the door, legs athwart like the captain on the deck of his ship. He had the grace to blow the thick cloud of smoke away from me. "I take it you're not a shirt and tie man," he grinned.

"Nope. Ever since the corporate bean counters took over, journalism's been going down the tubes. They don't seem to get that doing a decent job costs money. They cut and cut—except of course for executive salaries—until even the bone hurts. 'Til they cut their own throats, producing such crap no one wants to read it anyway. Or no one believes it."

Robertson was savouring the taste of the cigar in his mouth. "Yep, I get it. More stories cribbed from the wire services, more celebrity gossip, less local reporting. Shorter and shorter stories. Most newspapers aren't trusted anymore. We don't hold with that approach here at the Echo. People look to us as their community newspaper. If they want to read about the latest earthquake in China or the latest scandal in Ottawa they can get that on the Web. Or they can read it in one of the big-city dailies. No point us repeating it."

I shuffled, moving a pebble around with my toe. "Well. A true community newspaper. No celebrity gossip then?" I flashed him an arch smile.

He grinned back, laughing. "Not much call for it around here."

"I take it you're not part of the Interior Media Corp chain of so-called community newspapers?"

"Nope. One hundred percent locally owned and operated. My wife Donna and I run it together. She's the editor."

"And Ms. Jane Bordeaux?"

"Our proofreader and copy editor. She's in doing a little extra editing work to lighten Donna's load on the slew of media releases. She's very good at it."

"You still employ a proofreader? My God, I thought they'd gone extinct, judging by the sloppy copy in everything from the Globe and Mail to the New York Times these days."

"We have a surprising number of retired English professors who live here part-time, not to mention an overall high rate of literacy. And one or two grammar Nazis. You should read our letters page sometime."

"So you're backwoods but not backwards, then."

Robertson guffawed. "I like that. If you're not careful I may just use that as a slogan."

"Feel free to. In exchange for some work."

Robertson evaded this one. "So you finished school in Newcombe? Spend much time in Glacier Valley?"

I could tell he was sizing me up as a potential employee. I could have lied for advantage but it's just not my style. "Not really. The odd day trip up the Glacier River in the lower valley to go inner tubing. But that's about it. Surprising how insular you can get living in even a small city like Newcombe. But I'm a quick study. So tell me: Why 'Eldorado'?"

"You'll have to brush up on your local history." His face-cracking grin with its tobacco-stained teeth seemed mischievous, as if he were testing me.

"Well naturally I'm aware of the mining boom in the 1890s here—the ghost town of Silverado tucked into the Lowery Pass. I remember that much."

Robertson shrugged. "Well it seems some legacies live on, although in much mutated form. In the 1890s, it was folks coming here in search of Eldorado, the City of Gold—or in this case, silver. Then it was lumber. Briefly it was orchards. Then after two world wars it got pretty quiet around here 'til the sixties."

"And then it was the draft dodgers and back-to-the-landers."

"Yep. Another kind of City of Gold—or the anti-city, as the case may be. People came here to get away from cities and the wage-slave economy. The reverse of a century ago—not seeking wealth but avoiding it."

"Or seeking a different kind of wealth."

"You are a quick study."

"Sure, but I'm not quite up to date. I've been away for fifteen years."

"Well in that time it's been another kind of lifestyle seeker— the spiritual fortune hunter. You can't swing a dead cat in the village of Applegrove in the south valley without hitting a half-dozen Tarot card readers, aromatherapists, and UFOlogists."

"I'll forgive the dead cat metaphor on behalf of my own feline. I take it you don't approve?"

A shrug accompanied his jaw-splitting grin. "I neither approve nor disapprove. We have our fair share of crystal gazers in the north valley too. As long as they take out ads in the Echo I don't really care."

"Fair enough."

"Then to complete the picture you have the grow-ops and the neo-Rastafarians, the white kids with dreads."

"I seem to remember something about that from my high school days here. I was a bit of a teenage hippie myself."

He flicked some ash from his cigar. "Our mayor once said if the cops ever shut down the grow-op industry the whole economy of the valley would collapse."

"Interesting culture."

"My sister Nicole once described it as 'Norman Rockwell with dreadlocks.'"

I had to chuckle. "I'll remember that one. That might even make a better slogan for the Echo than 'backwoods not backwards.' So what have you got for me?"

The grin subsided to an enigmatic smile. "Well as you might have guessed, with a circulation of only 9,600 we don't have a big-city budget or a big-city staff."

It was my turn to laugh out loud. "Yet you employ a proofreader!"

"Some things are worth it." He stubbed out his half-smoked cigar on the sidewalk, stuffing it into a breast pocket. "Are you busy tomorrow night?"

"You mean besides communing with Mount Pyramid outside my kitchen window?"

"My wife Donna has to drive over the pass to cover a council meeting in Lowery. But there's a big meeting at Eldorado Hall with the fat cats from the Provincial Health Authority about proposed cuts to our hospital emergency ward. We need somebody there to cover it. Our regular stringer is away for a few months—Bolivia. She told us she may not come back."

I laughed. "Regular stringer eh? So no salaried positions at the Echo?"

Robertson guffawed. "Nope. Not even for Donna and me. We just take what we need to stay alive and feed the kids. Some months that means fried chicken every other night and some months it's Kraft Dinner. Whatever it takes to keep the newspaper coming out."

I was starting to like this guy. "Fair enough. I've got some savings left over from the Vancouver Daily so I can hang on awhile. But I'd appreciate it if you can throw as much work as possible my way."

Robertson grinned. "Let's see what you're made of first, but yeah, sure. Happy to."

I had to chuckle. "So this is your idea of a big news story here in Eldorado? A public meeting with the Provincial Health Authority?" I'd forgotten how deliciously sleepy these valley communities could be.

"Trust me, if they shut down our hospital emergency ward, it's a major story. We lose that, the whole community starts to die."

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