Fred Madryga’s A Pathway to an Ending – Q&A

Author Fred Madryga, a man of many stories with a wealth of different careers to his name, shares with us these and more enlivening experiences in his new book A Pathway to an EndingIn this interview today you will hear extras from our author’s life, ideas around certain messages and the fortifying experiences and memories gathered along the way which lead to his book’s creation.

Q: In all the things you have achieved in your life: career, activities, or something else, what have you regarded as the most challenging but most rewarding? 

A: There have been achievements and challenges, and some people do seem to have concentrated on a central aspect in their lives. In fact, in the extreme, they may even be definable by that fact. We have our billionaires–it used to be millionaires–and supreme athletes, brilliant scholars, and even great travellers. But most of us do not reach such pinnacles in our lives, and I am one of those. Reaching such heights, takes enormous talent, dedication and, I suspect, something beyond just good genetics, though that does count. 
    My view is not intended to put me, or anyone else with a different pattern of life down, or to suggest that we are lesser. In my private heart, I am suspicious of the idea of greater or lesser. The divine right of kings, and queens I suppose, and the things that they did, were my first clue in studying the issue. It isn’t that I don’t believe in excellence, you will find it in such places, but you will find a human being, too. No, those of us with different life patterns have our moments and our lives can be meaningful. They just aren’t popular in the moment of time that we exist. 
    My view of my own life began during the egocentric period we all experience while passing through early puberty. Up until that time, I see myself as having things happen to me. Oh, I was engaging in a lot of rudimentary thoughts, but it was during early adolescence that I realized I would not be a Bob Cousy. He was five foot ten and probably the only guy of that height to play in the NBA. I was five foot eight. In the end, I found that I would not be a professional athlete, and certainly not a professional basketball player. Indeed, I would have to play sports for the intrinsic value of playing. So, I tried quite a few sports and became good at some of them. A competitive spirit remained, but that, and how to deal with it, is another story. A corollary to my thinking about sports was finding out that one had to search for where one fit and what one was good at. The realization developed an interest in developing myself. And I have been interested in doing so ever since.
    Developing oneself as a human being is not a simple process. One has to go beyond egocentrism and include other people in it for one thing. There were also a lot of interesting problems that emerged along the way, and some were very challenging. A few that were especially tough for me were learning to think for myself, learning to build on strengths as well as correct errors, learning not to need approval from others too much, learning not to be too defensive, and learning to remain open to others and their ideas. When I am at my strongest, I can satisfy those requirements, and I am happiest as a human being. That has been my greatest challenge and my best reward.

Q: What was the process leading up to your decision to write A Pathway to an Ending and what helped you make it a reality?

A: There were decisions along the way, but writing Pathway does not seem like a decision. In fact, as I have said to others, it was a bit like Kurt Russell stumbling through the movie Big Trouble in Little China. Like him, I kept bumping into things that I did not see coming, and I did not know that I was writing a book until very late in the game.
    One day I found a story that I had written about 35 years before buried in my papers. Its title was “The Change.” As I recall, I gave it to David Reiter to read back then, and, after reading it, he said something like; “Hmmm you’re a poet.” My wife and I liked to read to each other. So, I read the story to her, and she liked it. After hearing her comments, I went on to edit it. She read it out loud to me, and I followed up by writing another story. We repeated the process with that story and all the ones that followed. 
    Somewhere along the way, friends began reading the stories. They liked them and suggested that I publish them. I was shy about the idea, but I eventually sought out someone to help us with editing them. Publishing a book was now a vague thought in my mind. More time passed and some pressure came on me from talking about what I was doing with my friends. There were now 16 or 17 stories and they covered much of my lifespan. It took a while, but, at some point, I came to think they might be a memoir. I now accepted that I was preparing a book. As you can see, I wasn’t burning up the decision-making process at any point.
    As your question implies there were many things that helped make the book a reality. Reading out loud with my partner and hearing her comments helped a great deal. I am grateful that we still do it. Another thing that helped seems so darned simple that it feels like one should not have to mention it. I continued writing each day whether it was easy to do or difficult. The best time for me was early in the morning. Life situations could intervene, but I came back every time. Writers must write. It seems so simple and yet it can be so hard to do. 
    There were many other things that helped me along the way. Having friends read and comment was a good idea. The only thing I didn’t do to get someone to read my stories was walk down the street and grab them by the arm. And that was only because I didn’t think of it. Hiring an advanced student to comment and do a preliminary edit of the stories helped, too. The person I chose was very concerned about preserving my voice, which I found encouraging and instructive. I believe this to be a primary requirement for someone reading your work. Buying a good editing program helped, though it was not a substitute for the other things.
    The next stage involved approaching publishing companies for their initial comments about the book. Eventually, David and IP introduced help at an advanced professional level. He, and his assistants, did the final edit and formatted and published the book. 
    Another huge step came from Sibell Hackney who created the cover and spine designs. She and her partner Stephen Burles read many of the stories, and she created three designs on the basis of them. Stephen helped all three of us decide what the final design would be. Sibell carried the design forward, while Stephen wrote the author’s description. They both did a beautiful job and took the pressure right off me. Of course, David was in the background assessing the product and providing information so that the designs would fit the publication formatting. He and I both edited the final product. Sometimes it feels like everyone else did more to create the book than I did, and I am truly grateful for their efforts.

Q: Is there a chapter of yours that you like the most and can you expand on why?

A: I do not have a favourite. I like something about all of them. Some were harder to write than others. “Jonesy’s Gyppo” was the toughest to write from a technical point of view.

    Some readers I have talked to still find the details concerning logging hard to follow. I really tried to make sure this would not happen. Maybe next time.
    The story that was the most fun to write was “Rex.” Though I still feel sad when I recall looking at him in that boat at the end. On some days, I feel that “Feeding Time in Camp” was as much fun to write as “Rex” was. The story does have the presence of good memories for me about the cook and pearl diver. The further I get away from writing about meeting the bear, the funnier the story feels. In reality, the event wasn’t all that funny at the time it was happening.
    The most difficult stories to write on a personal dimension were the “Offender Learning Curve” and “Ending.” The dead goose experience in “Ending” still makes me cry. And artist Emily Carr’s passage still causes tears, though for a different reason. Geese calling as they fly over is still a bittersweet sound. I am glad that I wrote all of it. “The Dog Ran” and “The Raptor Came Back” were difficult to write, but very personally satisfying. They were originally one story, and I split them up. I’m still not quite sure that it was the right thing to do. 
    Thank you for asking the question Emma-Clare, there are few things I like more than talking about my stories.

Q: There is a large amount of emphasis on the environment, land, and country in your book. How would you describe its role and importance in whom you became and the life you lived?

A: You are right, Emma-Clare, country plays a large part in my life. Sometimes it surprises me how central and important nature is to me. This seems especially true when considering how many years I spent growing up and being educated in big cities. I did start in a one-room school in Yale, British Columbia at 5 years of age with eight grades and a wood heater in the same room. And my early experiences and moving in and out of the country to work, learn, and hunt and fish over the years have kept the country in me. One set of my grandparents was in the country. And that is where my parents moved to upon retiring and living out the last part of their lives. Up until then, they always visited it in one way or another. Then, when my partner and I retired about twenty years ago, we moved back to the country much as my parents had. She told me that she found a home when we moved here. It was a simple truth and may not be surprising for a person who was bombed out as a child during WWII and saw her first sunrise at 15 years of age. But how she felt surprised and pleased me. Early experiences are important in one’s life and they can be hard to overcome if one needs to.
    Nature can be a hard teacher. She is amoral, and if she decides to drop a rock on you there will be no emotion while she is doing so. If we destroy our world and ourselves, she will continue while hardly missing us. So, I guess that is where my faith is – in nature. It doesn’t matter to me whether a god created nature or a mysterious single cell that physicists haven’t described yet. For me, she sets the order, and she will have the last word. Or the last laugh. It depends on how I am feeling at the time I am thinking about the issue. Nature will always exist and will always be larger than us. What would we have to do to prove this to be wrong? Destroy her? We would destroy ourselves and everything else.
    I feel humble in the face of nature. The feeling of humility came while looking at the sky at night from the roof of our two-story house with my brother, and realizing how small we were in comparison to what is out there. How small our world truly is. I respect mother nature’s ability to throw rocks, too, it tempers the humility a bit as I duck. Yes, nature is female, in case you balked at my using the term. Sexual dimorphism is very, very old. And, to me, nature is a female mother and surrounds us all. 

Q: As you explore the ideas of an ending, a close to a final chapter, what takeaway message about this theme did you intend to give readers, and has that changed your outlook since you finished the book?

A: Hmmm…takeaway message, kind of sounds like going to a drive-in restaurant, Emma-Clare. 
    Oddly enough, I wasn’t thinking very much about what the reader would take away from the end, other than what my experience was. “Ending” was the only valid finish to the book that I could think of, and writing it took much of my concentration. I did hope that a reader might use the fact that their life would end to temper their judgments in some ways and to appreciate the beauty in life more. I also hoped they would prepare themselves for it. 
    I don’t believe my outlook has changed all that much since writing the ending. One thing that has happened, is that I have returned to the medieval idea of instruction manuals for dying properly. I was aware that such were written in the West from a Christian point of view during those times. The idea concerning denial of death in the West described by various authors made me assume such writing had died out. Writing the ending in my book led me to Google the topic. It looks like there are such books being written in the present day. It is an area that I might explore further if I get the time, and change could come from it.
    I have tried to prepare for death with mixed success. I believe that things go dark after dying, and one won’t be conscious, thinking or feeling after it happens. That is what being knocked out has been like, though the experience can have some interesting precursors. A general anaesthetic does the same thing.
    The last time I had that experience, I told the nurses around me that I loved them because they help people. Then I said “goodnight” and got up to a count of 4 or so. There was nothing after that. I’m pretty sure that pain ends and is a blessing for many. And I am saddened by the loss of beauty that I experience while I am alive. I don’t believe that I will miss the pain. 
Q: And lastly, if you could navigate and experience the world as an animal for a day, what animal would you choose and why?

A: I would choose a large bird of some kind; a Heron, or a big Raptor, something that could take me long distances at a decent elevation. The bird would fly north to see if the man and his dog were still around and whether there were any bones in the snow blowing over the rocks on the divide. The bird would be prepared to avoid a fight with the man. Such preparation would be necessary because it would be meeting a raptor. Such creatures can be aggressive, and I am not sure how the man’s transformation would affect his self-control. It would be enough to see the dog running free below me. No danger there. There would not be the time in a single day to do much more. If I was allowed by the creator, I would take my partner and a few friends with me on the trip. 

Click here to buy A Pathway to an Ending now!

Interview by
Emma-Clare Daly
Editorial/ Promotions Consultant, IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)

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