Author Jim Lotz inspired many Atlantic Canadian writers. In advance of his memoir’s launch, we asked friends and colleagues to share their memories of him
Humourous, curious and opinionated are words that describe Jim Lotz. Community development educator, author and researcher are just three of the 25 different jobs he held, ranging from farmer to university professor, in England, Africa, Canada and places in between.
Jim Lotz was an inspiration and source of encouragement for many writers in the Atlantic region. Author John Boileau first worked with Jim in 1999 on a book commissioned by The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo paying tribute to the country’s armed forces over the previous 100 years, titled A Century of Service: Canada’s Armed Forces from the Boer War to East Timor.
“It had always been my intention to try my hand at writing when I finished my full-time military career,” says Boileau. “While Jim would write the text, a ‘dogsbody’ was needed to carry out image research, have appropriate maps prepared, conduct fact checking, perform general editing tasks. I viewed this as an excellent opportunity to see a book through all the phases of its preparation: idea, research, writing, editing, layout, design, printing, distribution, sales.
“My decision proved to be a good one. Over the next few months I saw the creation of a book from gem of an idea to finished product, witnessing firsthand many of the steps that most writers simply don’t get the chance to. Throughout the process, Jim—who knew about my writing aspirations—could not have been a better or more helpful mentor. He was always encouraging and supportive and had a marvelous ability to cut through the chaff to get to the heart of a matter. The book was completed and published on time and—following Jim’s advice—I started writing on my own.”
Readers may not realize that Atlantic Books Today is here in part thanks to Jim Lotz, a, founding member of The Atlantic Provinces Book Review, the first publication to showcase Atlantic Canadian literature, the first of its kind in the country in fact and which has evolved into Atlantic Books Today as readers know it now.
While doing the study for the Canadian Booksellers Association, I found a marked lack of media coverage of Canadian books, especially regional titles. I persuaded the president of Saint Mary’s University to put up $500 to start The Atlantic Provinces Book Review. As the university issued a newspaper, I suggested the review could be an insert in it. The APBR, the first of its kind in Canada, morphed into Atlantic Books Today, now a glossy periodical published by the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association. George Melnyk, a writer from Alberta, threw his arms around me when we met at a conference: “Until I saw The Atlantic Provinces Book Review, I never thought of doing something like that on newsprint.” He founded The Newest Review, a tabloid, which became Newest Press.
–Jim Lotz, Sharing the Journey
Pottersfield Press will publish a memoir by Lotz called Sharing the Journey later this month. Diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Jim died on January 2, 2015,* while his book was at the printers.
Atlantic Books Today recently sat down with Pottersfield Press publisher Lesley Choyce to talk about Jim, his biography and his contributions to publishing.
How did you come to know Jim?
I first met Jim Lotz, I believe it would have been around 1978 or 1979, when I moved to the province. The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia was really important to me at the time to get connected to writers and to think about starting a little publishing company. Jim would have been one of those people I would have probably had a good heart-to-heart talk with to find out what was going on here and what advice he had.
Can you tell me a bit about him?
He had the most amazing sense of humor, really right up to the end. I visited him the day before he died and he was still making some jokes about his condition. We had this funny little publishing situation because his book was actually at the printer and we were hoping to have it published before he passed on, but didn’t quite make that. It was scheduled for spring and we pushed everything up to try and get it out sooner.
He has this strong spirit, very, very independent-minded. And opinionated, which was part of his charm. I always really liked his opinions. He didn’t necessarily always go along with the crowd. He was an intellectual who thought for himself, who had a really curious sensibility, had a fascinating way about him.
Why did you feel it important to publish this latest book?
I honestly think this is Jim’s crowning achievement here. This is his best book. I’ve published I think five of his books, and of course he has lots more with many other publishers. But it’s the way that he tells his story. He’s very humble, yet he has this interesting great adventure which went from growing up in England, working in Africa, spending time in the North in the 1950s, way up north, Ellesmere Island, and getting involved in community development, finding his way to Halifax. It’s really not so much the story but the way Jim tells the story. His spirit really shines through. He’s alive and well in terms of the book and the story that he leaves behind.
Can you tell our readers what the book is about?
He grew up in post-war Britain after World War Two, he actually lived through the Second World War, and he has stories in the book about seeing houses in his neighbourhood bombed and all that sort of thing, and then capturing this time period in the late 1940s and 1950s in Britain, which was in many ways not a very happy place to be. He rose above it and went out to find his adventure in the world.
He had a crazy job working in Africa for the United Africa Company, buying and selling goods. Then returning to Britain he was looking for his place on the planet for sure. He moved to Canada and worked for Department of Northern Affairs for a while, and ended up in Halifax as a very independent person who had insight into how to improve the world, really. That’s what Jim was all about. ‘What can I do for you next,’ he’d say. ‘What kind of advice can I offer, what services can I do?’ He volunteered for a lot of things and just had that strong, strong independent spirit that he offered generously to people.
Who should read this book?
Aside from this great adventure that he had and all the wonderful things that he did, in some ways Jim was self-effacing and probably somebody who should truly be a famous Nova Scotian. I’d like people who never met him to discover who he was. I’d love people who have heard of him or know of his books to rediscover who he is and what he was really about by reading the book about him. Sharing the Journey it’s called and that’s what he’s offering here, to go along and see what Jim did in his life.
You’ve published a few of his books, what was it like working with him?
He was always really easy to work with… but… he still wrote on a typewriter. He modernized himself to get to an electric typewriter. But he never got on to the computer, which was fine. We ended up scanning his manuscripts and things like that. I kind of understood that. I moved along, I wasn’t quite fastened to typewriters but Jim was still pecking away, from a manual typewriter to an electric typewriter. But it was a manuscript where phrases were whited out and retyped in.
To talk to younger writers about such a thing today, that seems like really going back to almost medieval times, but it worked for him. That’s just sort of the person who he was. He didn’t want computers to be part of his world. But aside from that of course, he was a great guy to work with, who understood the nature of the editing process and went along with things well.
What kind of writer was Jim?
Stylistically I really liked his prose because it captures the way that his mind works. Some people jump around to a lot of different things and you say oh, that person is really scattered. Well, Jim jumps around to a lot of different things but there’s always this very interesting thread that goes through there, that you’re seeing through his eyes and those intellectual leaps always make sense.
Jim was a founding member of The Atlantic Provinces Book Review, which of course is now evolved to Atlantic Books Today, are you able to speak to his participation in that?
He’s written a little bit about that in the book. It was somewhere around the early 1980s, and I know it was an association between Jim and some people at St. Mary’s University. I think it was very, very much, I don’t know if he was alone, but I think it was pretty much his brain child to get something going simply because there wasn’t a tool like that, there wasn’t a magazine, a publication about Atlantic books. He was recognizing that in the world of Canadian arts and letters this is how far we’d come. By the 1960s there was such a thing as Canadian literature, and not just a few historical books from the past, but Canadian literature, serious contemporary writers and there were many of them. So by the late 1970s, early 1980s there now, almost for the first time, was contemporary Atlantic Canadian literature. It was a body of work instead of just a few scattered writers. Jim would have been one of the first people to recognize if we’ve come that far then we need something on a regular basis to say these are our new writers, these are the books that are being written and published and they’re darn good and certainly of not just regional but national caliber.
How would you describe the kind of impact his publishing contributions have made?
I think he has inspired a lot of other writers. That same way I arrived here, 1978, had not published a book and I’d say ‘Hey, Jim, look, I want to do two things. I want to start writing my own novels, I also want to start finding new unpublished Atlantic Canadian writers and publish them and I don’t really have any money, but how can I get this done?’ And he’d say ‘Oh, just don’t worry about it. Just do it.’ That’s the kind of thing to Jim, an older guy who’d been around writing and publishing for a while, I’d say ‘You mean you can just do that?’ And he’d say ‘Oh yeah sure, just find out a method and just do it.’ In those days there was no government funding, and it was just a matter of coming up with strategies to be able to finance very small projects and get started and get something rolling. He would’ve been talking to other writers, encouraging them, other people who probably wanted to create magazines, literary periodicals. He was just one of those people that you would seek out for genuine advice and know that you are probably getting the real thing.
*An earlier version of this story said Jim Lotz passed away on January 22, 2015. It was corrected on February 18, 2015.
Top image: Jim Lotz was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. He died on January 2, 2015, while his book was at the printers. Pottersfield Press will release Sharing The Journey later this month. Photo courtesy of Pottersfield Press