‘Everything I Own’ strikes local chords
Dec. 19, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
If the story told in the new novel, “Everything I Own” strikes some familiar local chords, it’s because the author, Raymond Beauchemin — born in Holyoke and raised in Chicopee — put much of himself into his book.
Beauchemin’s protagonist, Michel Laflamme, is born in Holyoke and returns to Quebec as a child when his family moves back there.
Beauchemin described the novel as the following: “Some bridges are built to be crossed. Others, we burn. Songwriter Michel Laflamme is about to discover the difference. Hearing his wife singing on the radio, Michel recalls the emotional and political upheavals of his own life and that of his Belle Province, but finds his thoughts turning again and again, like the chorus of a song, to his troubled past with his father.”
Beauchemin explained to Reminder Publications that in some way his novel is a “what if” book. He asked himself the question while writing the book about how different his life would have been if his parents had moved back to Canada. His parents, Julien and Pauline Beauchemin, live in Granby.
“There’s a lot of little bits of me [in the book],” he said.
Speaking from his home in Ontario, he said he was back in Holyoke on Dec. 10 for a reading and signing of his book. He noted he was the last author who would appear at the library building, which is now closed for extensive renovations. Although it has been years since he was in the city, he said that when driving around it became familiar again.
Beauchemin is a graduate of Holyoke Catholic High School. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1984 and worked at the former Holyoke Transcript-Telegram from 1984 through 1985. That job was followed by stints at the Hartford Courant and the Boston Herald.
Interested in exploring his Canadian roots, he applied for dual Canadian citizenship. Wanting to expand his writing skills, he earned a degree in creative writing from Concordia University in Montreal.
He soon learned that writing fiction was a difficult way of making a living. He edited several anthologies of fiction and ran a small publishing house, but he returned to journalism when he became part of the staff at the Montreal Gazette.
Still, writing fiction was part of his life. He wrote three novels that “didn’t go anywhere.”
“There are plenty of people out there with rejected novels,” he laughed.
Meeting his wife in Canada further cemented his ties to that country.
In 2008, Beauchemin took advantage of a buy-out proposal at the Montreal Gazette during downsizing to leave the newspaper. His next assignment was helping to start up a newspaper in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. He stayed for more than three years and then came back home to Canada.
His interest in fiction still stayed with him and “a friend of a friend” liked “Everything I Own” so much that it found a publisher, Guernica Editions, which specializes in literature.
The novel is written, he explained, in a rhythm that reflects his own interest in music and the role that music plays in the narrative. Although he had to research songwriting for the book, he explained there is an artistic connection been him and his hero.
He said much of the book’s actions revolves and reflects the political scene in Quebec and the interest in the separatist movement of the 1960s and ‘70s.
“I didn’t set out to write a political novel. I set out to write a love story,” he said.
He had few intentions, though, of where the story was going when he was writing it. His writing process includes establishing his characters and pushing them in a general direction. He didn’t write his novel with a strict outline. Instead, the way he wrote was “more organic.”
Parts of his novel were ideas that he had developed over a 20-year period that found their way into “Everything I Own,” he added.
He is now busy promoting the book, with readings and appearances at bookstores in Canada and he is working on a new novel that deals more directly with the politics of Quebec.
By day, he now copyedits stories long-distance, thanks to the Internet, for a newspaper in Calgary, but fiction is a big part of his writing life.
“I love doing it,” he said of writing fiction. “There are so many stories in my head. I want to get them out.”
Separatism, family debut novel’s focus
(Dec. 7, 2011)
HOLYOKE – Former Holyoke Transcript-Telegram reporter Raymond Beauchemin will return to the Paper City with a new assignment: Promote his debut novel, “Everything I Own.”
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst graduate, who was raised in Chicopee, will read and sign copies of the book on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Holyoke Public Library.
“Everything I Own” has been described as “a Quebecois blues . . . wise, pungent and funny.” It tells the story of a Holyoke-born songwriter who moves to his parents’ native Province of Quebec as a child and grows up to marry a famous Quebec singer.
Beauchemin’s parents immigrated to Massachusetts from the Drummondville, Quebec, area for economic reasons, and unlike the parents of the protagonist in the book, they did not go back. So the book is a “what if” for the author: What if his parents had moved back and he had grown up north of the border?
The novel’s main character’s coming of age parallels the triumphs and defeats of Quebec political history from 1970 to 1995, when the last referendum to secede from Canada was defeated.
“When you’re developing a character, he’s got to have some kind of back story,” Beauchemin said.
The main character in the book, Michel, is a separatist, but as he grows, he becomes disillusioned with the separatist movement.
“I didn’t set out to write about politics, but it became a natural thing to do,” Beauchemin said. “It’s not just about a songwriter, his wife and father. It does become a story about Quebec and Canada and their relationship together.”
“Everything I Own” is Beauchemin’s fourth book, but the first to be published. “It’s not always your first novel that gets published,” he said, laughing as he noted that the first three “would need some serious work” to be published. “I wouldn’t approach the material in the same way, if at all.”
Beauchemin, 49, has dual citizenship and considers himself a federalist; he does not advocate the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada “for a lot of reasons,” he said, some economic but mostly cultural. “I think Quebec’s strong hand is played as part of Canada. If it were off by itself, it would have a harder go of it.”
Asked what he likes about Quebec, he listed its people, language, music, literature, “all of it.”
Beauchemin, son of Julien R. and Pauline R. Beauchemin, of Granby, grew up in the Aldenville section of Chicopee, attended St. Joan of Arc School and graduated from Holyoke Catholic High School in 1980.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and journalistic studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was managing editor of The Daily Collegian. He worked at the Transcript-Telegram, covering Chicopee fire and police departments, Hampden County Superior Court and religion. He later worked for the Hartford Courant and the Boston Herald before moving in 1990 to Montreal, where he earned his master’s degree in English and creative writing from Concordia University and edited several anthologies of literature.
A longtime editor of The Gazette in Montreal, he recently returned from four years in Abu Dhabi, where helped establish a newspaper. Married to writer Denise Roig and the father of two, Beauchemin now lives in Ontario.
“Everything I Own” is published by Guernica Editions in Toronto and available online and at bookstores.