John William Rice (1942-) was born in Iroquois Falls Ontario to parents of Scots/Irish/Welsh ancestry, spent his public school years in Charlton Ontario, and quit school after completing grade eight. In the spring of 1968, he returned to school under a government upgrading program, completed high school and studied electronics at Northern College of applied arts and technology where he earned the nick name, “The Whisky Poet.”
After graduating in 1971, he began a 34-year career as an instrument technician at International Nickel Company. Along the way, he married and fathered two sons. His wife Patty died from cancer in 2003. John retired in 2005 and after completing a book of verse, From the Heights to the Enchanted Places, he plunged head first into his fantasy novel, Keeper of the Sword.
My Journey to the Misty Lands
I lie on my bed, let Return of the King, the last volume of Lord of the Rings drop from my hands, and close my eyes. My mind drifts far away from my small room in the Piccadilly Hotel, far away from Vancouver, and far away from my job as a sheet metal helper at Humble Manufacturing, to Middle earth, where I march with Frodo and Sam toward Mount Doom.
The sounds of feet shuffling outside my door bring me back to harsh reality. I prop myself up on the pillow, rummage around in the rickety dresser drawer for a pen and scribbler, and write, “Keeper of the Sword” across the top of the page. Images of a completed epic poem dance through my mind and I bend all my thoughts to the first word, the first line, but nothing comes. I struggle for a while, still nothing comes, and it seems my muse, such as it is, eludes me once more. “Someday,” I whisper, “Someday I’ll write it.”
I put my writing utensils away, snuggle under thin blankets and let my mind drift over towering mountains, across the endless prairie, through the rugged Cambrian Shield, to the village of Charlton Ontario, to the house where my sister, mom, and dad live. For a moment, I wish I was there, instead of in this city by the sea, thousands of miles away.
I kick the homesickness out of my mind, and go back, back into my past, back to my first attempts at writing verse. I remember finding a love poem my brother wrote for some high school girl, remember thinking if he can write poems than I can write a song.
I remember the name of the piece, “There once was a horse named General Jim,” but little else of my first plunge into writing, and most of all I remember sending it away to an address I found in Popular Mechanics, to a person that promised to turn it into a hit record.
Days, each one seeming like a year, passed while I waited for my first of many checks, and at last one day after school, my mom handed me an envelope. I took a deep breath, and taking care not to damage the contents tore it open. A piece of folded paper fluttered to the floor. I bent over, scooped it up, and unfolded it. “We don’t think this subject matter is suitable to become a commercial song,” burned into my eyes.
“What’s wrong,” mom asked.
I turned away, hiding my tears, hiding my disappointment.
For years I never wrote another thing, but at last my bitter disappointment slipped deep into my mind. One day a cousin of mine wanted to know if I had any songs he could sing to the girl he was courting, and over a couple of hours I managed to write a piece he liked. This adventure sparked a creative flurry and dozens of lyrics tumbled out of my mind onto paper.
My alarm clock’s strident ring drags me out of my dream of home and to the reality of a new workday.
Forty-six years have come and gone since I first read Lord of the Rings in that small dingy room, since I first came up with the title, “Keeper of the Sword.” Over those years, I’ve completed high school, completed two years of electronics at Northern College of Applied arts and Technology, worked thirty-four years as an Instrument Technician, fathered two amazing sons, and lost my wife to cancer.
During that span I had periodic spurts of writing verse, most notably while attending college, where I earned the name, “The Whiskey Poet.” Of course I didn’t deserve the title because at that time of my life I could only afford to drink beer.
While at northern college I believe I let an opportunity slip away, an opportunity that might have changed my life in a dramatic way.
I always sat with my peers from my Man Power retraining days, where I completed high school, for lunch, and often wrote poetry during the hour-and-a-half. One day our English teacher joined us and asked if he could see the poem I was working on. I finished the last line, and handed it to him with a degree of trepidation.
He took several minutes to read the short poem, nodding several times. He handed the poem back and said, “Not bad, as a matter of fact it’s quite good. I know someone in Toronto that might be able to help you, but before I put you in contact with him, I want you to learn ten new words every day for two weeks. You not only have to be able to spell them, but you need to be able to use them correctly in a sentence.”
I folded up my poem, “Waiting,” and placed it in the binder.
As the years have speed by on the one way train of time I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I’d taken his advice, but I preferred to spend time in the bar with friends instead of taking the time to improve my vocabulary.
The dream of becoming a writer and completing at least one novel has always lingered in the deep recesses of my mind, and in the winter of 2007, I decided it was time to make my dream come true. I started off by attempting to write a play. About half way through, “Music Box Dancers,” the concept for another play, “I taught a Mocking Bird to Sing,” came to me.
After completing two plays, and feeling confident, I wrote several short stories, a book of poems, and remembering that title from long ago, I plunged into Keeper of the Sword.
I still live and write in Sudbury.
And here is a free excerpt from John’s novel:
In the beginning
Morgan Connelly, stunned, unable to move for the moment, feeling a warm wetness dripping down her skin, fluttered violet eyes open and stared at the growing red stains on her blouse, the amber feathers attached to a long slender egg yolk colored piece of wood jutting out from under her collarbone, and whimpered, “Josh. Josh. Josh. Help meeee.”
Something crashed to her right, and screams sounding like a cat in pain filled the air around her.