Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Gary and Joanie McGuffin

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Ten Questions with Gary and Joanie McGuffin

Gary and Joanie McGuffin are stars in the paddling world, well known for their wilderness expeditions as well as for their conservation efforts. They are the authors of Superior: Journeys on an Inland Sea, which won the 1996 Great Lakes Booksellers Award, and the bestselling Paddle Your Own Canoe, which set the standard for paddling instruction books. They live on a 300-acre wilderness preserve overlooking Lake Superior. Their latest book, Paddle Your Own Kayak, was published by Boston Mills Press this spring.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, Paddle Your Own Kayak: An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Kayaking.

GM & JM:

A number of years ago we did a book called Paddle Your Own Canoe: an Illustrated guide to the Art of Canoeing. We had a great response from the readership and the paddling community. We were asked if we would consider doing a similar book on kayaking. Paddle Your Own Kayak is a companion to Paddle Your Own Canoe. This book is a combination of a number of passions: kayaking (of course), photography, living on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, just being together working on a “paddling project.” The other thing is that a lot of people want to learn. We felt this was our best way of reaching a large audience to share our knowledge and experience and inspiration. A book is something you could be with at home, in the field, even in the kayak! And honestly, we love books!

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

GM & JM:

The world. If we could get everyone into a kayak, the world would be a much a better place. We wrote it for people of all ages and skill level. Although we grew up with a “canoeing background”, we began kayaking as teenagers and quickly realized the extended paddling experience we could have in a kayak. We thought we could help other canoeists appreciate and experience a kayak or visa versa. Getting out on the water into different environments and appreciating nature, is really what it is all about for us. There is so much more to kayaking and canoeing than the physical pursuit. The first question that we asked ourselves about doing this book was “Does the world really need another kayak instruction book?” The response we received from people was that they wanted to know about our lifetime experience and how we did things. When you have taught people and had children around to teach, you really see how people blossom when they try something new. Great knowledge goes with the sport of kayaking. It is a lifestyle sport that can be done alone or in a group, it is about everything from good nutrition to reading the weather and learning about how to be safe, respectful and appreciative traveling in the natural world. It seemed that we had the capacity to instill the inspiration behind this sport and regain its spiritual essence.

OB:

Describe your research for your book.

GM & JM:

Well, a lifetime of paddling and time spent in the outdoors is the real basis.
We had to go back in our minds trying to express what it was like for us…the very first time in a kayak. The ACA’s instructional program linked us to the accepted nomenclature and the teaching foundation built up over years of experimentation with thousands of students. There are a lot of fantastic kayaking teachers out there who immerse themselves in the day to day interaction with students but they do not have either the time nor the inclination to put it down in a book. We looked at the instructional bodies and what they emphasized and why, and what the roots were to different organizations so that we understood their philosophy. Distilling down only what can be contained within the confines of a book is challenging but we had to stick to our blueprint of double page spreads and tons of photography to teach visually.

OB:

What's the most important piece of advice that you have for someone new to kayaking?

GM & JM:

We live on a planet ¾ covered by water. When you step into a kayak, your are in a craft that has crossed oceans and descended the world’s greatest rivers. You will be touched by a sense of freedom. When you pick up that paddle and step into a kayak, BE PREPARED for Change. It will enrich and change your life more than you can imagine! Start out with good, hands-on instruction.

OB:

What is your ideal writing environment?

GM & JM:

On two three-month journeys where we took a laptop computer and satellite communication, we were writing stories in the field. With only limited time on solar charged batteries, it meant no agonizing over the words and the thoughts were clear. It was truly writing in the Now. The stories were all around us and happening to us.

OB:

What was your first publication?

GM & JM:

Where Rivers Run, A 6,000 Mile Exploration of Canada by Canoe, Firefly Books, 1988.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a "Welcome to Canada" gift, what would those books be?

GM & JM:

Where Rivers Run, A 6,000 Mile Exploration of Canada by Canoe
Half Way Man by Wayland Drew
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

OB:

What are you reading right now?

GM & JM:

Geography of Hope, A tour of the world we need by Chris Turner (Joanie)
The Group of Seven by David Silcox (Gary)

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

GM & JM:

The very first letter was from a woman expressing how her and her father hadn’t paddled together for 20 years. Reading Where Rivers Run got them back out on the water together. The letter was a realization of the power of a good book. Another time a man from Wisconsin, who has since become a friend, came up to us at a show and described how he was on a hiking trip in northern Ontario when he collapsed. He woke up in hospital just hanging on a thread between life and death. He told us he had two books on his bedside table and they were the Bible and Where Rivers Run. Every year we see him at this same show and he is so grateful for the hope, humour and inspiration this story inspired in him to help him recover.

OB:

Where are you going on your next kayaking trip?

GM & JM:

We will be in the north shore islands of Lake Superior’s new National Marine Conservation Area this summer celebrating a place that has become symbolic for a new future for Lake Superior’s North Shore. It is one of the great paddling places on Earth, but it is also a very important place of hope for the future of civilization as we work with the Lake Superior Conservancy and Watershed Council to foster the concept of a developing a community of Superior where life is based on protecting the watershed that sustains our lives. Lake Superior can been seen from outer space.

The Soviet Ambassador Visit the Firefly Books website to read more about Paddle Your Own Kayak by Gary and Joanie McGuffin.

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