Don Lajoie Talks Haiti

And so, after, what? four years combing through old newspaper clippings, hour after painstaking hour of research, miles of pacing spent trying to dredge up murky memories dating back three decades and then countless more hours writing, rewriting, editing and proofing the resulting stories; I have been informed by the publisher that my first book, The Voodoo Journal, has been sent to the printers and put to bed.

Good for the book. I hope, at least, it sleeps well.

Because, since receiving that exciting news, I have found that, for me, simply going to bed is no longer a guarantee of sleep.

A little explanation may be in order.  Anyone who has worked in journalism, I’m pretty sure, knows this feeling. You’ve worked hard on a story, possibly a big exclusive, one that’s expected to go up front, above the fold, maybe even the line story.

 You have a hard time falling asleep the night before the story runs. You stare at the ceiling, imagining that red light blinking away on your phone at work. How many messages? Will they be the good kind, offering tips and congrats? Or, the other kind? Your story is crap, you’ve libelled someone. There’s an embarrassing fact error. Our lawyers will be in touch.

Well, for me at least, learning your first book is at the printers is kind of like that. I’m not going to lie. It’s quite a thrill knowing you’re about to be a published author. And, at first, that resulted in a warm flush of satisfaction and sweet slumber.

But then, two nights after getting the news, I suddenly awoke at 3 a.m. wondering what would happen if there were a mistake I didn’t catch. It would be in a book, I thought, where it would remain glaring at me with recrimination forever. No chance to write a correction, no follow up story to get it right. The very next night, I was jolted awake again. Was the book, about my travels in Haiti as a journalist, somehow culturally insensitive? I would hate to offend an entire country.

 Ever notice how much more terrifying doubt and anxiety become in the middle of the night? Those niggling doubts won’t let me sleep.

So I lie there telling myself over and that, no, everything will be fine. Relax, the book has come together amazingly well since publisher Marty Gervais first approached me with the idea. Learning that I was working on a novel he asked, why would you want to fictionalize your experiences? These things happened to you. You were there. Write that story, your own story.

I remember looking at photographer Rob Gurdebeke, who had accompanied me on many of my dozen or so journeys to Haiti, and realizing, yes, we’d even have great art. And so I began the process of pulling together stories that would form the book’s chapters. Some were easy. I had written news stories and I could use those for notes. There were dates, times, details and full interviews and quotes that could be gleaned.

But other stories were more challenging. I had never expected to write about many of the people I met or the experiences I had at the time because they weren’t newsworthy so I had no notes to refer to. I had to go back to conversations and events that happened twenty years ago and reconstruct them from memory. As I did, I found I was reliving those stories through the retelling and that made me smile every time I sat down to write, as though I were really back in that strange and wonderful land.

Like that chapter about my buddy the Voodoo drummer Kebyesou. I recalled much of what he said only because he was such a colourful character. But other details had been obscured by time. Gone, I thought, for good.

So why is it that, at 4:45 a.m. I’m suddenly recalling that Kebyesou told me he dreamed of moving to Montreal or Miami one day, finding the girl of his dreams and playing in a band. That should have been in the book, right?

And why is that memory bubbling to the surface only now? Too late. After the book has been put to bed. I wish I had included it. Damn. I fling my covers aside and get up. The sun will be up soon enough.

Be sure to join Black Moss Press on October 2nd at Storytellers bookstore in Windsor, Ont. to launch Don Lajoie’s The Voodoo Journal and other great books. Stay tuned for more details!

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