The Creationists

Creating The Liquor Vicar with Vince Ditrich

July 06, 2021 Steve Waxman Episode 33
The Creationists
Creating The Liquor Vicar with Vince Ditrich
Show Notes Transcript

Anyone who knows Vince Ditrich probably knows him as the merry mirthmaking drummer of Canada’s wildly popular Celtic rock band Spirit of The West. With the days of long haul touring behind him, Vince has settled into a much quieter life on the West Coast. As you’ll see in our interview, Vince has always had an interest in writing and has kept up the practise with his blog Random Note Generator. But  it was the encouragement from some friends that led to Vince creating wannabe rocker Tony Vicar who lived an ordinary life in the imaginary BC town of Tyee Lagoon until something magical happened that turned his life and his world upside down.

Stick around to the end of this episode to hear Vince read and excerpt from the book.

The Liquor Vicar comes out in Canada on August 17 and in the UK and the US in September. You can order your own copy of The Liquor Vicar now on

You can read the full transcript of this interview at

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Anyone who knows Vince Ditrich probably knows him as the merry mirthmaking drummer of Canada’s wildly popular Celtic rock band Spirit of The West. With the days of long haul touring behind him, Vince has settled into a much quieter life on the West Coast. As you’ll see in our interview, Vince has always had an interest in writing and has kept up the practise with his blog Random Note Generator. But  it was the encouragement from some friends that led to Vince creating wannabe rocker Tony Vicar who lived an ordinary life in the imaginary BC town of Tyee Lagoon until something magical happened that turned his life and his world upside down. 

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Steve Waxman:  How did the idea of this book begin?

Vince Ditrich:  Well, I've been a writer my whole life and when I was a boy, I had initially thought I'd grow up to be a writer. And of course music was right there. I was a musician from childhood. I was just a little boy who played with his dad's band. At age six, I was playing with dad. I'd sit in for two or three songs and then by age nine, I was his full time drummer. And this is Southern Alberta old time. You know, you played the Legion and the Army, Navy and the German Hall and barn dances, that kind of stuff. So by the age of twelve I was fully qualified at that kind of stuff, but I was always writing, writing stupid stories. And like so many kids of that particular bent, I was a stationery junkie and I wanted a certain kind of journal to write in and I was shopping around for books to write things in and I still have some of them today and they're absolutely hilarious, but I just always loved it. And I always wrote the album liner notes. I did all of the publicity that somebody like you would have used back in the day, that was written by management actually came from me, and then you guys would either rewrite it or cull directly from those press releases. And I just kept doing it and doing it. I started up a blog and I have my own e magazine called Random Note Generator, and I just tried to fire out articles constantly to get my skills up and get a base of popularity, hopefully, or at least some sort of helpful criticism. But, you know, that grew into a regular gig with a tiny little local paper here where I didn't have to be too intimidated about writing my humor and I decided I was going to tackle a book. I'd always wanted to do a book. And I was sitting around with some friends one night and we were riffing about the town I live in and they had kind of an Andy from Mayberry kind of vibe, they were talking about, you know, and I thought, it's certainly not my style but I could definitely adapt that into my life on the road all those decades on the road and all those crazy situations and characters that I've run into or participated in, or seen from, you know, a slight distance away. Plus, I'm infamously opinionated, and I'm not always wrong. I say an awful lot of things that other people wish they could find the way to say and I just say it because I'm a curmudgeonly old shit.

Steve Waxman:  Going from the Andy of Mayberry idea that your friends had sort of expounded on what led you to Tony Vicar?

Vince Ditrich:  I wanted to find the right balance of character. I mean, I knew so many guys who were wannabe musicians through the years. So many guys. And where I live, a charming little town on Vancouver Island, the place is bulging with guys who play a little guitar and they put a little band together and they're just wannabes and they're still playing the songs of their youth and they're approaching sixty or seventy in some cases here, and they're still enjoying schwanging along on their guitars and it's just for fun, but they still, even today, they play these songs and they take them so seriously. And it's, I don't know, "Take It Easy" or or some old all old seventies, early seventies song, and they are so absolutely bound and determined to make them sound like the record and I gave that up 40 years ago.

Steve Waxman:  Tony Vicar, was born out of the people in your area that we're still trying to hang on to the dream?, 

Vince Ditrich:  Not just the area, but in my life. I've done so many years of the maximum security saloons in Western Canada, playing with this and that kind of Feldman band. And everybody in the industry was a wannabe. About 10 of us got out of there and went up to the pros, and the rest were just guys with tight pants and poodle hair and Eddie Van Halen guitars and they just regurgitated what they saw on TV or what they heard on a record, and they were dreamers, complete dreamers. And they were incredibly focused on doing it, like they've seen it done, They would never even dream of being original. And some of them were pretty bright people and went on, in life later, to do great things, but they just didn't have the right bent for entertainment or art. And I found them sometimes rather charming. And I remembered them, and I kept notes.

Steve Waxman:  So I would love for you, if you could, to put your mind back into day one, moment one, of turning on the computer, sitting down and going, 'Okay, how does this begin?' Do you remember what it was like?

Vince Ditrich:  Yeah, it was like driving out of the driveway and you're gonna drive from Nanoose Bay all the way to Halifax, a long journey, and you just put her in drive, get to the driveway, turn right, head to the highway. It was that stair step. And I knew it was up there, and I knew if I got it on paper I could rearrange and turn it into an arc.  But quite honestly, I didn't even have a story arc at that point. This was just sticking my finger in the water to check the temperature in a way. I threw up a few chapters to introduce the main character and then I stopped, this being my first novel,  I stopped and went 'What the hell happens now?' And I had to come up with a story and build excitement into this. And I thought, what could be the missing ingredient that Tony Vicar doesn't realize he has and what could be the adventure that results from his discovery of this deeper emotional, spiritual activity that's going on in his head. And that's how I found this Serena character as the femme fatal, and that's how I found his capability to access parts of his brain he did not know he had, his spiritual center and and his capability to give aid at the scene of a big accident, one of the first big rising points in the story, is just an opportunity for him to plumb into that spiritual center that he's just awakening to.

Steve Waxman:  So originally, you had written, I'm presuming, Tony and Jackie and Ross. 

Vince Ditrich:  And Frankie, yeah. 

Steve Waxman:  Are any of the other characters written at that point?

Vince Ditrich:  At that point, no. And then I started with Serena and her gang, and then I realized that Farley had to come into that or he needed a sidekick. So I built the sidekick, and then, of course, when you write a book you write things, chapters or anecdotes or whole passages, and you rearrange them. You know you might write something that's at page 190 and you slide it and it ends up at page 40. Things get moved around like a puzzle. And you have to adjust to make sure the timeline works. But eventually you come up with a narrative that the on ramps happen at the right time and the off ramps happen at the right time and with some overview from a pile of editors and, I mean, I had three editors to help me with this. We all just adjusted the timeline and fiddled with this and that and I fought to keep it as edgy as possible because, you know, if you leave this in the hands of people who aren't quite coming from where you live, they're more tempted to kind of smooth the edges of it and make it slicker, and I didn't want it too slick.

Steve Waxman:  So when did you start writing this book? 

Vince Ditrich:  This book 2017 I would say, 

Steve Waxman:  When did you get your first finished draft?

Vince Ditrich:  I got it at the end of 2018 and started shopping it in January of '19.

Steve Waxman:  What was that process like for you?

Vince Ditrich:  Hilarious. Quite hilarious because I can tell you one thing, although books and recordings are very similar in, you know, building the art and then marketing it, publishers are not that comfortable with old rockstars calling the president and saying, "Hey, hey, me, me, me," you know. They're used to a very polite submission format, where you politely send in your manuscript and then a bunch of gatekeepers read it and go, "Eh." And it might make it up to the president. I just called the president, and they're not used to that, I think it really threw them off their game.

Steve Waxman:  How many, how many publishing houses do you call?

Vince Ditrich:  Oh, probably about 10. And some of them were genuinely helpful. That is one thing I can say they would, in some cases, read what I've sent  and say "Yeah not for us, but maybe you could try these guys or those guys," and I followed those trails, very, very closely, and I eventually found somebody who liked it and liked the idea of signing me. I think a lot of it had to do with my notoriety as a member of Spirit of the West. So I just parlayed that, but there were a few that were really off caught by me calling the president and wanted nothing to do with such a pushy man. 

Steve Waxman:  Was it the presidents that were put off by it or the people that worked under them?

Vince Ditrich:  No, I think the problem is that the publishing industry is not doing as well as it once did so they don't like admitting that the president is also a receptionist.

Steve Waxman:  So what was the publishing company that finally picked it up?

Vince Ditrich:  Oh, Dundurn Press of Toronto. Yeah, I didn't expect that at all but I got a lovely offer from the boss there, Scott Fraser, and he gave me a three book deal. I was really praying for a book deal and he offered three. So I gladly accepted.

Steve Waxman:  Did you have the entire book finished when you were starting these calls?

Vince Ditrich:  Yes. You can't really just say, "I promise you I can write a good book on my first try." You have to finish the book and then pitch it and I did that and, you know, we definitely went through a rigorous editing process and they set me up with a couple of very skilled editors who helped me polish what was there but there was no major change to the shape of the story or the tone of the story so a lot of polishing is what it was.

Steve Waxman:  So is a three book deal for the Tony Vicar story?

Vince Ditrich:  Yes.

Steve Waxman:  

And so do you have the full arc already worked out?

Vince Ditrich:  Ish. Ish. I find that writing a book, it's an animal of its own sort. You have an intention when you start and you clack it down on paper and you say this is where I want to go, this is how I want to end up, and then it has a life of its own. It goes places and sometimes you just got to go with it, and new characters come up and the scenarios are envisioned and you go 'Oh my goodness, I think I could really make something of this little node here,' and off you go sideways and you look back on it later and say, 'That's fabulous, why didn't I think of that when I was writing the outline,' and you keep it. Other times you try something like that and go 'Ew, I just just wasted three valuable days on this. It's very odd.

Steve Waxman:  Given that this is an interview about creativity, one of the things about being fascinated with creativity, for me, is that wonder that the artist, again, whatever the creator is doing, I tend to always call it art but and certainly writing is art, but there's that wonderment of not knowing that day what is going to come of what you're doing. And then suddenly, it exists.

Vince Ditrich:  There is that and that's kind of what propels you along because you become a junkie for the satisfaction, you know. There's a feeling I get when I know the hopper is full and it's time to barf it out in the written form. Some days I know I'm dry and I go, 'I can't do it, I got to go mow the lawn,' or chop wood or whatever it is and I'm always cogitating. I cogitate in my sleep. I sometimes wake up at three or four in the morning and send myself a text from bed so I remember what I was thinking about the next day, and that gets reinserted into the hopper and then, somehow, these things coalesce into a scenario or a little line and you just write it. For example, I was stuck for weeks. I got up to a certain point in Book Two, which I'm writing as we speak, and I just could not get past. I was so stuck as to how the various streams and rivulets would depart from each other and then tie back together at the end. And I just said, the heck with it, I'm just going to write the ending. I know where I have to end and I wrote the ending, and the words came out so quickly that I was actually kind of quaking and my fingers couldn't keep up. And I blew off about 5000 words in, I don't know, two or three hours. I could not believe how fast my fingers were. It was nuts. And I went, 'God, this almost feels like I'm possessed by something.' So, you know, other times you sit there, 'I don't know what to do right now,' or you tweak around, you move back and forth throughout the manuscript and you say, ‘Well, wrong word,’ and you spend 10 minutes on a word. It's very, very odd. I love it, but it's very odd. It's an odd way to make a living. I don't know if you can make a living at that. 

Steve Waxman:  While you were writing the first book, how much input did you have from friends and family as you were going along?

Vince Ditrich:  I did a draft basically, I would say a version one draft and then I kind of timidly asked a couple of trusted readers to to look at it because I really didn't think that it was possible to do that in an echo chamber. You have to have people from without to review. You know, beta read, so to speak. And so I sent out one and then waited for the response and then one, and I just applied all those little things. And then, by the time I had about 10 or 15 people having read certain portions of it or all of it, I had a much better idea of how my thoughts were translating to other people. And that really gave me confidence to keep going in certain directions because I was afraid I was way too edgy. So I'd ask specifically, is this character just way over the top for you and they'd say "No, no, no, keep going, keep going." So I realized that, like music, when you think you're playing too loud in the recording studio, you're probably not. You know, it's never too intense for the microphones.

Steve Waxman:  I was wondering if at any point you were self conscious about how Canadian, you were, especially in terms of the references that you made throughout the book? 

Vince Ditrich:  Oh, early on I just said this is going to be Canadiana, it's going to be my mission to make this full on Canadiana. I can go elsewhere later, when I have more experience under my belt, but I think I'll start with my strong suit, which is my knowledge of Canada. And, you know, we didn't do too bad in Spirit of the West with full on Canadiana as well, and I want to sort of be respectful towards that I'm Canadian. I'm proud of it. I love it. 

Steve Waxman:  I think one of the things that I found really interesting was your description, or your inclusion of, is it called the Battle of Kapyong? 

Vince Ditrich:  Yeah. 

Steve Waxman:  That is a story that I never knew anything about.

Vince Ditrich:  Who does? You know, even us who are pretty well read people, it's a hard one to know about. For some reason it's been buried. But you know, over here on Vancouver Island there's a lovely memorial on the west coast of the island. And it just makes you remember that there were people who did some extremely sacrificial things almost totally forgotten. 

Steve Waxman:  So can you share the story a little bit?

Vince Ditrich:  Well, I only know the Reader's Digest version which is that there was an attempt by the Canadian and Australian troops to hold a hill that was being attacked by the North Koreans in 1952, I believe, and there were about 700 Canadians and about 5000 Chinese, and the fighting was so intense that they were within arm's reach of each other through the night, and somehow the Canadiens managed to hold their position against this massive attacking force. And it was one of the most important and impressive combat victories or defenses, actually, in Canadian military history. You know a lot of people, they really kind of turn away from military history in this country. I don't, I go full on into it, because those old guys, you know, they were the guys who used to wear the purple fezes and buy the kids ice cream after their hockey games when we were growing up. They all joined the Elks or the Moose or something like that, and they became these wonderful guys who built the towns we live in. And you never knew they were veterans, had no idea. So I think a little bit of a salute to them is, it's appropriate, especially when you're talking about somebody who is like Tony Vicar, just getting a little old and feeling it, and referencing, everything from the past, you know, and feeling really awkward about only knowing things from the past.

Steve Waxman:  You mentioned a few minutes ago about being well read, who are some of your favorite authors?

Vince Ditrich:  Well, you know, sticking with Canadiana, I loved Farley Mowatt, I just loved him. I don't know what it was about his piquant sense of humor that I love so much but, you know, I even wrote letters to him. And he sent me back a nice letter and I've got it framed up on the wall. An American historian I liked a lot was William Manchester. I've read a lot of history. Michael Collins, the astronaut, unbelievably talented writer, unbelievable. Norman Mailer. Fantastic. Bill Bryson. Tremendous. Just so many, So many.

Steve Waxman:  One of the things that really struck me early on in the book was how descriptive you are, certainly in the first I don't even know how many chapters, because there are a lot of chapters and that's another thing that I found interesting about the book was how episodic it is, but how very very quickly you get to the point, and get through to the next episode. But at the same time while you're writing certainly in the, you know,as you're setting up the characters very very descriptive writing very, I don't want to use the word flowery in any way that might be perceived as any kind of insult, but it was just you use use language, which was really really nice, because a lot of times people just use words.

Vince Ditrich:  Yeah, I don't know, I have a real love for the language but I'm aware that I overwrite, that people say I overwrite. I do that with full knowledge that I'm doing it because I want to get the tone correct. I want the texture. I want the word to have the right taste, you know, because I spend so much time looking at people and observing situations. I just want to pass that along. This is genuine stuff, it's not just fingers going crazy. And I also write, I suppose with, it's kind of like a television show that I'm trying to portray here. So thus, the episodic bits. It's supposed to be very very quick and very very visual. This is my hope, because the entire concept started as, hey, this could be a TV show. So I wrote it as if it was kind of a TV show on paper. And I kept the chapters very, very short, because I'm aware, after exhaustive study, that a lot of people read before bed and they read five pages, and then they go to sleep. They can't get more than five pages. So if you read a whole chapter and it's four pages, five pages, they're happy, and they'll chew through that book steadily, with the short chapters. But, if it's War and Peace they'll go "Oh, it's too much."

Steve Waxman:  At what point when you were writing this book did you start thinking that Tony Vicar's story was going to be longer than one book

Vince Ditrich:  Pretty early on, pretty early on, in fact, I realized that I had built this little village, this town and this family of people, this cast of characters that had legs, definitely, if somebody would allow me to do that, I was aware that I could turn it into a whole, you know, Molly's Reach (a cafe the Canadian TV show The Beachcombers) with swearing. So, I just realized it had a lot of possibilities for the future so I started aiming towards something that could be resolved in the first episode, but left open ends for the next and the next.

Steve Waxman:  You know, it's funny, I always found when reading books, I don't know if you have the same experience with regards to fiction in particular, that the books build and build and build and build and build and maybe three quarters away through or seven-eighths of the way through the story has been told and then the end of the book is kind of pointless, I mean you could not even bother with the last chapter, you've already read the book, for the most part. With this book I found, I mean, obviously it's nice that these chapters are so short that you can plow through it, but it does get to that point but then you've added another payoff to get us to the end of the book.

Vince Ditrich:  Yeah, I did that, specifically for the reason you note, which is I've read a thousand books where the denouement is just like, oh, okay, you know, it's almost routine. You know, tie up this loose and tie up that loose. And I did want to have something else that was a launching pad for the next book, so I did add in that little bit of hocus pocus at the end. I presume that's what you're talking about.

Steve Waxman:  Yes, but at the same time, after the drama three quarters of the way through the book, there is still a story to be told.

Vince Ditrich:  Yes, and it is a story. I think it ends that book in a good fashion, and then it leaves me a launching pad for the next book and that was kind of why it was placed exactly where it was. I was also very concerned about having just a drab ending you know because I've read a thousand books, like I said, with drab endings.

Steve Waxman:  And tell us a little bit about Random Note Generator.

Vince Ditrich:  I thought that would be funny because you know random note generator being a musical reference but I just write things. And as writers are want to do, I write things. I needed a place to put this, so I bought some web space and I got the URL and put the stuff up there and just said this is my E magazine, These are my photographs, sometimes these are quotes. Occasionally it's serious and editorial, usually completely full of shit because that's how I prefer to be. And I just throw things up there and sometimes I get people really liking things other times I do things I think they're going to love and nobody comments and I just sort of learned what works, what doesn't, I can go back on things and say, Boy, I've missed the mark or other ones I could, that was a strong one, it still stands up. So it's like, I don't know, submitting papers to your professor or something, I think.

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The Liquor Vicar comes out in Canada on August 17 and in the UK and the US in September. You can order your own copy of The Liquor Vicar now on