Sunshine sketches of a northern town

Ask David Thompson what he’s read, and you’ll get a varied list: George Orwell, J.D. Salinger and the adventures of Antarctic explorers.

Doesn’t sound like the stuff of a storyteller whose short story collection, Talking at the Woodpile, reads with the quick humour of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

In this case the little town is a fictionalized Dawson and the characters are its citizens, Klondike old-timers and Rock Creek hippies.

Thompson wrote Talking at the Woodpile over a 10-year period. In the first half, old-timers tell their stories with such a true voice that readers speculate about the veracity of the tales. Thompson swears it’s fiction. But several elements resonate because they’ve been absorbed into Yukon urban legendry.

“Time of Change” opens the second half of Woodpile. From this point on, the old-timers’ stories emanate from the porch of the Occidental Hotel, and tales of zany newcomers, tourists and alien wives are told from the point of view of the eager and curious Toby Godwit, boy reporter.

Throughout the tales, Thompson hints at the eclectic reading tastes of Yukoners. Nearly every cabin is described in part by the books on the walls.

Victor the Gypsy reads Rudyard Kipling and Shakespeare. He even quotes The Merchant of Venice.

Aside from the Bible, spiritual reading includes the Sufi poetry found in the Baha’i books The Hidden Words and Seven Valleys and Four Valleys.

And when the hippie wife Judy “wants the truth, reality or whatever you call it,” she looks to Lobsang Rampa, Kahlil Gibran and Adelle Davis, a 1960s food guru. “Judy was searching high and low,” concludes narrator Godwit.

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, meditating by the river, plays a significant role in the development of both the young Godwit and “Brian, the alien man”.

Real Romance and True Detective provide light reading and characters alternately read or write for the Whitehorse Star and Dawson Daily News.

What readers won’t find in Woodpile is reference to Jack London, Pierre Berton or Robert Service. The trio doesn’t influence Thompson in story or style.

“My influences were personal experiences and a strong motivation to write about here,” says Thompson. “Yukon encourages people to work and be creative.”

Thompson came to writing through his profession as a contractor. During renovations for a local writer and copy editor, Josephine Holmes, they got to talking about writing.

“Josephine’s advice was ‘a writer writes, an editor edits.'” So Thompson wrote, attended the 2009 Yukon Writers’ Conference, and sent 80 queries to Canadian publishers.

Caitlin Press owner Vici Johnstone signed a contract with Thompson in April, 2010, and published Talking at the Woodpile in the spring of 2011.

“Literature in Canada is so regional, so I’m fortunate to get a West Coast publisher,” says Thompson.

Fans of Woodpile won’t have to wait long for a sequel. Thompson has already met Caitlin’s July 1 deadline to submit his next collection, titled Haines Junction. The stories reveal how Joshua ended up at Rock Creek. Uncle Zak gets a higher profile, and a raft of new Rock Creek residents tell their own stories of finding gold, claim jumping and losing it all – Rock Creek style.

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