Writing About an Iconic Man by Elaine Cougler

Historical fiction author Elaine Cougler turns her talents to a book about Ron Calhoun — the man behind the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope and other successful cross-Canada runs. In this book, Elaine has captured Ron’s incredible dedication to causes such as cancer and the complex organization involved in supporting such inspiring events.

Writing the Book About an Iconic Man by Elaine Cougler

About three years ago word came back to me that a long-time friend, Ron Calhoun, was considering a book about his incredible life. He suggested me as the author. At that point I was in the final throes of writing the third book in my Loyalist trilogy—The Loyalist Legacy—and had no time to take Ron’s suggestion seriously. I put it out of my mind.

A year or so later, in the middle of June 2017, Ron brought up the topic again, this time directly to me. I went home and thought about it, talked it over with my husband and a week later called Ron to say I would accept the challenge. We started the next week.

Ron Calhoun and I had been friends for most of my adult life and all I knew about him was good. My husband and I had been on the sidelines when he masterminded the Marathon of Hope with Terry Fox. We knew about his struggles running Steve Fonyo’s Journey For Lives a few years later. Ron had made Ken McColm’s Incredible Journey happen for this blind man afflicted with diabetes to walk across Canada. And we had watched him help with John Davidson’s walk (Jesse’s Journey) pushing his wheelchair bound son, Jesse, across Ontario and then John’s walk across this great wide country of Canada to establish a charity to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

We had worked on Ron’s campaign for a federal seat in parliament and we’d even been on the sidelines as he started and led Partners in Research and VROC, both organizations concerned with scientific testing to discover cures in the health field. Ron was known far and wide within Canada but also across the world through the organizations in which he volunteered, some of which he helped found.

Writing his story would be a dream, I thought.

On the appointed July morning Ron drove from London to my home in Woodstock and arrived on my porch laden with boxes. That day we started what would become our procedure for the next year and a half. I set up the small recorder, placed it between us on my dining room table, poured us what would be the first of many glasses of water, and we started. I had a list of questions to get the story moving and interjected now and then for clarification or because Ron’s words had affected me. We talked for about an hour and a half.

After Ron left me that day, I uploaded the audio file into my computer and used Dropbox to send it to my book interior designer in Paris, France. She transcribed the audio file and sent me back an MS Word file. Then I printed the file and started the actual research for this new book.

Every week or so, Ron and I met again, most of the time at my house. I had him sign an agreement that the book was mine and I told him that I would pay for all of the costs associated with preparing that book. Lovely man that he is, he wanted to pay the costs but I insisted. I wanted to make clear from the outset that the book would be mine. It would be about him but I, as the author, would own the rights to the book.

The first cost was the transcription and was considerable—we ended up with many hours of interviewing and all of that had to be transcribed. Ron always brought with him more memorabilia from his life and I was delighted to get it all.

This whole process was vastly different from the research I had done for my Loyalist trilogy which is historical fiction. With that series I researched libraries, online sources and museums, forts and battlements. Once I had the actual history straight, I went to work creating a fictional family who interacted against the historical framework. I used my own ancestors’ names, where they lived, and events in the American Revolutionary War, but—as I’ve often told audiences—the rest was lies. I simply imagined what my characters might have done faced with the enemy at the door and no help at hand.

I knew from the outset that the Calhoun book was different. I was pretty sure Ron didn’t want me making it up. This was to be an accounting of his life and it had to be truthful. Details had to be exact. Names had to be correct or changed to protect the privacy of the individual. While Ron’s recollection of facts was prodigious for a man of his age (84, when we started), he sometimes came back the next time and changed details or he would call me a day or two after our taping and set the record straight. The man worked really hard on this story of his life.

The book struggled to get out of my head, and I wrote three complete drafts, all quite different. I had Canadian author Barbara Kyle read my second draft and point me in the right direction on so much of what I had written that I started again. Money well spent. As I was writing the third draft, I realized that I could use some of what I had written in the first draft. These were conversations between Ron and Fran Calhoun which were fictional but very much what they might have said. I knew both of these people, so the voices were not too difficult to achieve. This allowed me to beef up the narrative/creative parts in what I was now calling creative non-fiction.

What a learning experience the whole writing of this book has been! I stretched my writing craft and I learned a lot about science and research, virtual reality and fund-raising for charities, interpersonal relationships and the indomitable human spirit—things that my artsy leanings for most of my life did not include. I’ve joked many times that I’m warding off Alzheimer’s every day by learning new things which stretch my brain.

Of course, the best known of Ron’s behind-the-scenes activities is the Marathon of Hope. He invented that iconic phrase in 1979-80 when he was convincing the Canadian Cancer Society to back Terry Fox and his dream. Ron is the only surviving member of that CCS team he chaired in 1979-80. The Marathon of Hope ultimately made world news and continues to do so, almost 40 years later.

Today the Terry Fox Foundation raises millions of dollars and Terry’s dream of raising $1 for every living Canadian in 1980 has been surpassed many times over (close to $800,000,000 at this point). Ron Calhoun was there when it all started. He and Terry sat in Ron’s Thamesford, Ontario home and Ron told Terry about the inner workings of the Cancer Society. Terry decided he wanted the money raised to go to new research, not existing research or ‘bricks and mortar’. They also decided then to increase their expectations to $24,000,000, one dollar for every Canadian at that time.

As I mentioned in The Man Behind the Marathons: How Ron Calhoun Helped Terry Fox and Other Heroes Make Millions for Charity, the Marathon of Hope was a Canadian Cancer Society project. After that event a Toronto man, Isadore Sharp, helped the Fox family create the event and organization that exists today, separate from the Canadian Cancer Society. The Terry Fox Foundation oversees the September runs and donates the money raised to cancer research around the world, much of it going to Canadian projects.

The writing of this book has taught me never to underestimate the strength of someone if they just forge ahead with their dreams. Ron Calhoun is one such person, and he has made a huge difference in our world.

Elaine Cougler is the award-winning author of historical novels about the lives of settlers in the Thirteen Colonies who remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution. She uses the backdrop of the conflict for page-turning fictional tales where the main characters face torn loyalties, danger and personal conflicts. Her Loyalist trilogy comprises The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luckand The Loyalist Legacy, all available on Amazon.

The Man Behind the Marathons: The Story of Ron Calhoun and How He Helped Terry Fox and Other Heroes Raise Millions for Charity. Byron native, Ronald G. Calhoun, was the chair of and is the last surviving member of the Canadian Cancer Society team who managed the Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox’s run in 1980. Ron also managed the Jesse’s Journey walk across Ontario and later across Canada, as well as Steve Fonyo’s Journey For Lives and Ken McColm’s walk across Canada. Ron’s honours are many and well deserved. Elaine is delighted and humbled to be writing this important book.

My brief review:

The Man Behind the Marathons is the remarkable story of what one person can achieve as a volunteer. Ron Calhoun is such a person. With Ron’s zest for innovative approaches and his superb and persuasive fundraising skills, tens of millions of dollars have been raised across Canada to fight cancer, muscular dystrophy, diabetes and other causes. Readers will be inspired by Ron’s life and by the incredible marathons of individuals such as Terry Fox, Steve Fonyo, Ken McColm, and John and Jesse Davidson. Their efforts have made our world a better place. ~~ M.K. Tod

Thank you, Elaine, for being on the blog today and for your important contribution in highlighting Ron Calhoun’s life story. There will come a time when some future generation will incorporate Ron’s life and those of Terry Fox and others into historical fiction. Won’t that be amazing!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  … and other inspiring books … FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Loyalist Legacy by Elaine Cougler

the-loyalist-legacyPlease welcome Elaine Cougler author of The Loyalist Trilogy who has just launched the The Loyalist Legacy, novel three of the trilogy. After exchanging Facebook comments for many months, Elaine and I met at the Historical Novel Society conference in 2015 and found that we are kindred spirits.

Setting the Scene for a New Novel by Elaine Cougler

We writers think long and hard about those opening lines to our books, so long, in fact, that sometimes we just can’t get started. That would be the famous blank page phenomenon. We struggle and strain, write and rewrite, all to start the story in a way that will “hook” the reader with the first lines.

I was no different with The Loyalist Legacy. I wanted to show immediately the plight of my heroine left alone on an isolated piece of land where danger was the closest neighbour and back-breaking work was all that kept her and her children alive. You can see what I did with some of the details below to emphasis the danger.

Her anger was another feature needed for the opening of the story. What better way to introduce that than with her slapping a huge mass of dough on the table? If you’ve ever kneaded dough, you know exactly how heavy it can be. That worked to set the scene physically as well as setting up tension between Catherine and her missing husband, William.

Here’s how it all came out:

Catherine stood against the wooden table and pounded the grayish dough into a glutinous sticky mass. With each stroke her anger rose. She picked the bits of batter from her fingers and pushed them into the dough with more force than usual. And heeled her hands into the ball once more. Slapping it into the meager flour bits on the table, she saw the loaves begin to take shape and, in spite of herself, breathed a little easier.

William Junior glanced up from his numbers at the other end of the table. She felt his eyes on her and the question he dared not ask. Not until she simmered down anyhow. The loaves slipped easily into the greased pans and she smoothed the tops before spreading a cloth over them and lifting the whole lot to the warming shelf above her great black beast of a stove. William’s stylus scraped on the slate. She turned to face him, this child who would rather perfect his letters than play jacks in the corner with his brother and sister.

“Go ahead, William. Ask me.” She forced a smile and was rewarded with a softening of his features.

“Why did Daddy go? Who is Uncle Robert? What will we do if the Indian comes back?” He took in a quick breath. “You’re so angry, Mama. Why?” The stylus dropped to the table but he paid it no mind. His head tipped up toward her as though the very angle of his holding it could slice into her thoughts and make her answer.

“Slow up, my son. One day all your questions are going to get you into trouble.” She tousled his dark hair and felt his tension ease. Her own did, as well. “Uncle Robert is your father’s brother who lives far away. In the United States. We told you that, William.” He didn’t need to know why she was so angry. Only a child, even though he was her eldest, he didn’t have to shoulder the worries of their world just yet. Far be it from her to pass her burdens and fears to his thin shoulders even though he was almost eight years old.

“But Mama, I saw you punching that dough. The whole table shook. I couldn’t make my letters straight.” He stood before her, up to her chest, his green eyes wide. He needed an answer. She reached for him but he edged back.

“Come outside with me, away from your brother and sister.” She brushed past him and grabbed the door handle.

Sunlight swept across the expanse of the lowlands on either side of their river making a golden path right up to their porch. Thames, the river was called, named by Governor Simcoe after the main shipping channel in London far across the ocean. John, her father-in-law, had told her about his trip to Detroit with the Governor so many years ago. She could see him now sitting in the rocking chair by that giant stove in the house by the mill. His face shone and his voice rose and fell with each new detail in the story. She shook her head and tucked a stray strand of hair under her cap. What had happened to them? No word in almost two years.

Excerpt from The Loyalist Legacy.

When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

Praise for Elaine Cougler’s writing:

“….absolutely fascinating….Cougler doesn’t hold back on the gritty realities of what a couple might have gone through at this time, and gives a unique view of the Revolutionary War that many might never have considered.” Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews.

“….an intriguing story” A Bookish Affair

“I highly recommend this book for any student of history or anyone just looking for a wonderful story.” Book Lovers Paradise

“Elaine’s storytelling is brave and bold.” Oh, for the Hook of a Book


Elaine Cougler can be found on Twitter, Facebook Author Page, LinkedIn and on her blog at http://www.elainecougler.com/blog/

You can also check out the VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR for The Loyalist Legacy on Elaine’s website.


book-tour-logo-finalMany thanks, Elaine. Wishing you great success!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.


The Creative Blogger Award

Yesterday, Elaine Cougler, author of The Loyalist’s Wife, nominated me for The Creative Blogger Award and I’m blushing with pride. (Can you blush with pride?? In any event, you know what I mean.) MANY THANKS, ELAINE!!

The Creative Blogger AwardElaine and I met at this year’s Historical Novel Society conference and had no trouble diving into conversation about writing and historical fiction in particular. And, as fellow Canadians we had other things in common!

The Loyalist's Wife by Elaine CouglerThe Loyalist’s Wife is part one of a trilogy set during the Revolutionary War between Britain and the United States.

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.