Andreas Schroeder: Photo Credit Laurie Sawchuck Heading: Andreas Schroeder



I was born in the tiny village of Hoheneggelsen, West Germany, in 1946, during a stopover on my Mennonite family’s war-time odyssey from their ancestral lands in West Prussia (now Poland) to Canada. We had planned to settle on a farm in southern Manitoba, but my father took one look at that endless expanse of gumbo and hustled us back onto the train. We carried on to Abbotsford in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, where my parents worked for two years as indentured servants to pay off the cost of the passage.

We then moved to Agassiz, B.C. where a considerable number of my relatives had already settled. Since the nearest Mennonite church was across the Fraser River in distant Chilliwack, we formed our own impromptu congregation, led by my grandfather Heinrich Bartel. Since each of its 67 members was either my aunt, uncle, or cousin, I was effectively saddled with an additional 25 mothers and 25 fathers -- each one of whom considered it their God-given job to monitor and correct my behaviour at every opportunity.

Disaster struck in 1957 when the cows on our small dairy farm became infected with brucellosis by a neighbour’s heifer that had broken through our perimeter fence. Government inspectors arrived with shotguns and destroyed both herds. Nobody had insurance for that sort of thing in those days, and we didn’t have the money to start again. We sold what was left of the farm and moved to Vancouver, where my father found work as a labourer in a Velvet Ice Cream factory.

My family’s loss was my personal gain. Vancouver had a lot fewer Mennonite spies per square block, and astonishing cultural facilities like public libraries, theatres and even nightclubs. Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and then the full impact of the Sixties followed, glorious in acid-bathed Technicolor. There’s little practical difference between re-inventing the world and simply discovering it; while my “English” friends were doing the former, I was doing the latter. Fortunately, the two dove-tailed surprisingly well.

I’d been writing poetry in German for years; now I enrolled in UBC’s Creative Writing Program and switched to English. Life re-set and began again. My first three books (THE OZONE MINOTAUR; FILE OF UNCERTAINTIES; uniVERSE) were collections of poetry strongly influenced by the European Surrealists. So was my first collection of modern parables, THE LATE MAN. I was writing like a maniac: a weekly literary column in The Vancouver Province, radio plays and documentaries for CBC Radio, feature stories for the national weeklies like Weekend Magazine and The Canadian, plus a deluge of book and film reviews for anyone who’d print or pay for them. That, plus a full course of studies at UBC. I’m not sure when I slept, and it didn’t matter.

After graduation, I spent most of 1971-73 travelling, to Australia, Europe, India and the Middle East. In Lebanon I was adopted by a nomadic Bedouin family (the Jaafars) and drifted around the Syrian desert with them for half a year, riding camels and eating matua, a seagull-like bird. Like many Bedouin in this part of the world, they spent half the year living in a stone village near the Baalbek growing hashish, and the rest of the time in the saddle distributing it. (Shortly after I returned home to Vancouver, the family was trapped in Israeli-Syrian cross-fire near the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War, and everyone was killed.)

In May of 1973 I was busted for what remained of the four pounds of hashish the Jaafars had given me. In the year between my arrest and my trial, I bought a small piece of land on a mountaintop north of Mission, B.C. and  built myself a cathedral-arched house, made totally of local cedar. During my 8 months in prison, some of it in solitary, I went over the whole construction again in my mind, changing and updating it until I had it exactly right. Once I was paroled, I repeated the work in real time, nail for nail. It produced a very odd sense of deja vue.

In prison, I found a lot of inmates interested in writing, so I formed an impromptu creative writing group which met every day in my cell to workshop poems. Once it became known that I was working on my own book about prison, my cell was raided several times and my manuscript confiscated. Eventually I resorted to writing my notes in German, which the guards couldn’t read. Once I was transferred to Stave Lake, a prison logging camp northwest of Mission, I was able to pay the driver of the camp’s fuel truck to smuggle out my manuscripts and hand them off to friends in the Fraser Valley. The resulting book, SHAKING IT ROUGH (Doubleday, 1976) became a bestseller, was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award, and reviewed as far afield as the New York Times Review of Books. Though it was my fifth book, nobody had heard of my previous four, so everyone thought I’d scored bigtime first time out of the gate. Well, why not? Life re-set once more, and began again.

Things got pretty busy after that. I met and fell in love with my future wife Sharon Brown in 1974, and we moved to Toronto together in 1976. That year I was also elected Chair of the Writers’ Union and took over the Union’s PLR crusade, assuming we’d achieve it in a year or two – it took thirteen, and I ended up serving as the PLR Commission’s founding chair and then member of its Board for a further 22 years. I finally wrapped it up in 2008 when Sharon pinned a sign above my desk that read: “Just Because It’s A Good Idea, Schroeder, Doesn’t Mean You Have To Do It Forever.”

Sometime in 1988, I was interviewed on CBC radio by Arthur Black on his Saturday morning variety show called BASIC BLACK, about my just-published novel DUSTSHIP GLORY. It was based on a true story about a homesteader who had built a great ocean-going ship in the middle of the bald Saskatchewan prairie in the Dirty Thirties. This led to a discussion about larger-than-life characters, which led to my admission that I’d always been fascinated by some of the world’s most daring and imaginative hoaxers and scam-artists. Arthur promptly offered to buy a “six-pack” of such stories, and the next thing I knew, I was the show’s official “Shyster-Meister”, and a regular contributor for the next 14 years. By the time Arthur wrapped it up in 2002, I had researched and contributed 147 on-air broadcasts of such stories for the show.

My fascination with this topic, and the opportunities presented by the radio show, resulted in my writing and publishing half a dozen books on the subject, mostly collections of my radio scripts but with each story re-researched and expanded to five or six times its original length. McClelland & Stewart published the first three for the adult nonfiction market (SCAMS, SCANDALS & SKULDUGGERY; CHEATS, CHARLATANS & CHICANERY, and FAKES FRAUDS & FLIMFLAMMERY), and Annick Press followed with three similar collections for the Young Adult market (SCAMS!; THIEVES! and DUPED!) Translations of these titles also appeared in Korean, Chinese, and German editions.

All this preoccupation with scams & hoaxes eventually threatened to typecast me, and I backed off the topic and returned to writing fiction, autobiography and freelance journalism. However, though I’d been managing it with reasonable success for the past 26 years, freelancing in Canada was becoming steadily more competitive and less profitable. Sharon and I, by now, had two daughters, Sabrina and Vanessa, and our living costs were rising. So when UBC offered me a teaching position in their Creative Writing Program in 1993, I was pleased to accept. It was a part-time arrangement, and still is, but it removed the pressure (though not the pursuit) of my freelance career and added medical/dental coverage for the whole family. It felt like a lucky break at the time, and it still feels that way, even though teaching at a university can also have its challenges. But I enjoy teaching, and this way I can do that and keep writing books at the same time.

The most recent major development in our lives has been our move from the Fraser Valley (where we lived for 27 years) to the Sunshine Coast, about an hour’s drive and a ferry ride northwest of Vancouver, B.C. We moved to the tiny village of Roberts Creek to allow us to take advantage of an excellent Special Needs program in Sechelt for Vanessa, which proved as good as we’d hoped. (The fact that the super-twisty highway from Sechelt to Earl’s Cove on the Sunshine Coast just happens to be one of the highest-rated motorcycle runs in B.C., and that I’ve been a motorcycle enthusiast for most of my adult life, didn’t officially factor into our decision.) Hardly a day goes by that we don’t look out across the waters of Georgia Strait and congratulate ourselves for having moved to this wonderful place. The Sunshine Coast is home to a great variety of artists and writers, galleries and theatres, and one of the finest literary festivals in the province. It’s also got a full complement of classic West Coast mountains, fir & cedar forests, and seascapes. I think our moving days are over.