Earlier this year, I was invited to give the closing address at the Ontario Writers’ Conference. It was not one of the standard talks I often give about one or another of my books or my strange journey to the published land. So I was a little nervous about it. Anyway, for what it’s worth, you can watch it here if you’re interested or suffer with insomnia…
Yesterday, at the Vancouver Writers Fest, I had the honour of participating on a panel discussing the adaptation of my first novel, The Best Laid Plans to the stage as a musical. This has been underway for over two years, now. But it’s really happening. It will premiere in September of 2015 at the York Theatre, here in Vancouver. On the panel yesterday were Katrina Dunn, the Artistic Director of Touchstone Theatre, Peter Jorgensen, the play’s Director and head of Patrick Street Studios, Vern Thiessen, the Governor General’s Award-winning playwright who is writing the play, Ben Elliott and Anton Lipovetsky, the award-winning composers, and yours truly. It was quite an afternoon.
I had met Katrina before when we’d done the initial negotiations for the stage rights to the novel, but I’d never met any of the others beyond a few emails with Vern and Peter. I was thrilled to meet them all and get an update on their progress. Then we hit the stage for the panel discussion in front of a sellout audience. Katrina was the ring leader. I offered a general overview of the novel. Peter described a bit about the history of adapting novels as stage musicals. Then Vern talked about what he considered when adapting TBLP to the stage. Then the fun started. I read three excerpts from the novel that led beautifully into three scenes and three songs from the production performed by the two composers and a wonderfully talented local actor/singer. Remember, I had never heard these scenes or songs, so I was taking it all in for the first time while on stage in front of a large crowd. My heart was pounding. All of the songs and the dialogue leading to them were wonderful, compelling and powerful. At one point in the middle of the second song, I very nearly burst into tears. It was a love song sung by Angus to his recently deceased wife, and it was beautiful, haunting, and very moving.
Music is important to me. I’ve played guitar, written songs, and sung (not particularly well) since I was 17 years old. I played in a band in university. I think I have a sense of what makes a good song, largely because I’ve written quite a few bad ones. Ben and Anton are incredibly talented songwriters who seem to have a magical collaboration. In less than a year, when the show opens in Vancouver, I think you’ll agree that these songs will be with us for a very long time.
Much more work lies ahead, but this is really going to happen. And I think it’s going to be something special. And by the way, the hovercraft will part of the play!
My friend and fellow writer Farzana Doctor ‘tagged’ me for this CanLit blog hop challenge. No ice bucket is required. I’m to answer the four questions below (check), and then ‘tag’ two other writers (still working on it) to take the challenge. So here goes:
1. What am I working on?
I’m about 20,000 words into writing my fifth novel, tentatively called Poles Apart. It’s my pro-feminist comic novel. You can see feminist themes lurking in the background of my first four novels, but they’re front and centre in my fifth. Feminism has been a long-term interest of mine. If all goes well, we expect publication by McClelland & Stewart in the fall of 2015.
2. How does my differ from others of its genre?
Well, I’ve yet to unearth any other feminist comic novels, but I’d love to find one. (Drop me a line if you know of others I should be reading.) Beyond that, I’m at a loss to describe how my novels are different from other funny novels except perhaps that I wrote them and they’re in my voice. Kind of a thin response to this question, I know, but there you have it.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I’m a member in good standing of the ‘write what you know‘ school of writing (except for the S&M scene in my first novel). There are pieces of me and pieces of my life strewn about the pages of my novels. Not so much in an autobiographical sense. But I just find it easier to write with authority, conviction, and authenticity if I’m writing about things I know about, or care about. In short, it’s easier for me to “feel” the story, and then write it.
4. How does my writing process work?
How good of you to suggest that my writing process works! I’m an engineer by academic training. Engineers don’t build bridges without blueprints, and I don’t write novels without blueprints. I’m a big time planner or outliner. Writing the manuscript is the very last stage in my so-called process. By that time, I know nearly all there is to know about the story. It’s captured in a 40-70 page chapter-by-chapter outline that guides the writing of the actual manuscript. A nearly-fulltime day job means that I don’t write everyday. I write when I can. In writing mode, I can usually sustain a pace of one 5,000 word chapter each week until the novel is written.
I’ve reached out to a couple other writers and I hope in a few weeks you’ll see their responses to these questions.
Now, back to my manuscript…
Update: The great writer Patrick Bowman has accepted the challenge. One down, one to go. Stay tuned…
Looking back through the archives of this blog, I seem to have a tradition of announcing when I’ve actually started writing the manuscript for each of my novels. You see, the writing is the very last step in the process for me. I spend a long time, many months, concocting the story, mapping it out, and finally developing a full, chapter-by-chapter outline. This means that when it’s time to write, I really only have to focus on crafting sentences. I know the story already.
Well, I’m pleased to report that I have officially started writing the manuscript for my fifth novel, tentatively called Poles Apart. I’m about 10,000 words in, with about 90,000 more to go. It’s always a good feeling when the actual writing starts. The story and characters instantly feel more real to me, which makes it easier to put words to my outline. Poles Apart continues the exploration of family dynamics I began in No Relation (though the two novels are not connected in any way), and also indulges my long-standing interest in gender equality. Feminism has lurked in the background of my four earlier novels, but takes a more prominent role in Poles Apart. I tend to write about what I know, or have experienced, or care about. This new novel is no exception. Gender equality has been an important social issue to me since my days in the student movement in the early 1980s. As in my first two novels, both political satires, I’ll try not to veer over the line into preaching and proselytizing, but I may not always succeed. Rather, the plan is to let the funny story and the quirky characters carry the social message, I hope with a light touch. So I see this novel as satire, not pure comedy. But in the end, you’ll be the judge of the that.
The hope is that I’ll finish the manuscript by early in 2015 so that McClelland & Stewart can publish and release the novel in the fall of 2015. Now, back to writing…
Well, it’s official. Last week, we inked our first foreign publishing deal through the international network of my wonderful agent, Beverley Slopen. The respected publishing house Shui-Ling Culture and Books will translate the novel and publish it for the Taiwanese market. They hope to use the same cover design. My heartfelt thanks to Beverley Slopen who has worked tirelessly to take my humble novels beyond our borders. And now those efforts have paid off.
I often hear other authors being introduced as being translated into 23 foreign languages and sold in 34 countries, etc., etc. Well, now we can say that we’re translated into ONE foreign language… and I couldn’t be happier!
Here’s hoping this is the thin edge of the wedge and that other foreign publishing deals will follow. And if they don’t, well, we’ll always have Taiwan!
Here’s a Taiwanese book site that is already promoting No Relation and, as far as I can tell, discussing my strange publishing journey.
No Relation has now been on the market for ten weeks. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that for the tenth straight week, it’s still hanging in there on the Globe and Mail Bestsellers list. Honoured, humbled, and grateful.
Book trailers are all the rage these days in the publishing world. My great publisher, Random House/McClelland & Stewart has just produced this book trailer for No Relation. I think it captures the spirit and tone of the novel very well.
I think this may be the first time a novel of mine has occupied the top spot on the bestsellers list. I doubt it will happen often, so I’ve commemorated it here for posterity’s sake. The source is the official bestsellers list of the Canadian Booksellers Association (part of the Retail Council of Canada). No Relation is number one in Paperback Fiction and in Canadian Fiction. Onwards!
Here’s Chapter 17 of No Relation, the final chapter in my new novel published by McClelland & Stewart. In this closing episode, we jump ahead a year and tie up all the loose ends from the preceding 16 chapters.
Thanks so much for hanging in for the entire novel. No Relation, already a national bestseller (thanks to loyal readers/listeners like you), is available in bookstores across the country.
You’re invited to follow me on Twitter (@TerryFallis), leave a comment here on the blog, or drop me an email to email@example.com. Your feedback is always welcome.
The voiceover that opens the podcast episode was provided by my good friend, Roger Dey.
Here’s the review of No Relation that will appear in the National Post on Saturday, June 14, 2014. My stomach is always in knots when I know a major media outlet is reviewing one of my novels. But those knots are untangled now.
By Terry Fallis
McClelland & Stewart
395 pp; $22.95
Only once, ever, has someone pronounced my last name correctly on the first attempt. Most people, instead, say Roo-ba-cha. (It is pronounced Rue-bach-a.) Over the years, the thing I’ve most enjoyed about my unique last name is that there just aren’t many of us; there are two others that I’m aware of, and none of us is famous — yet. When I was younger, and introduced myself, people usually thought I was saying “Rebecca.” To fix this, I figured I’d just go by Nicole — like Cher, or Madonna.
Our names are important; they help shape who we are. Sometimes you meet someone and when they tell you their name, it doesn’t seem to suit them (“You don’t look like an Emily … ”) while others seem to fit their names perfectly, like a well-worn pair of jeans. We ascribe personalities to names — all Lindsays and Victorias are rude, while all Megans and Charlottes are nice. Some people change their name, believing the original just wasn’t right. We name our children, of course, and our pets, but also boats, sometimes our cars, sometimes a house. Some families ascribed so much importance to a name that they pass it down from generation-to-generation, like an heirloom. But what do you do when your name happens to already belong to someone famous?
That’s the problem facing Earnest Hemmingway, a middle-aged ad copywriter living in the Big Apple. He feels that any other famous name would be more bearable than the one he’s been saddled with by his father, Earnest Hemmingway III (EH3), who is pressuring him to take over the family business. He understands Hemingway was, and is, greatly admired, but he just can’t stand the man’s writing. He goes by “Hem,” instead.
When the teller at the DMV doesn’t believe his name is Earnest Hemmingway, Hem loses it — yelling and banging on the glass partition. The whole incident is recorded, uploaded to YouTube and, of course, goes viral. Among the commenters, Hem notices a small group of nine people come to his defence. Coincidentally, all of his defenders share a name with someone famous. This gives him an idea. Hem decides to track down others who share his unusual problem. He posts an ad in The New York Times seeking people who share famous names in hopes of establishing a support group, of sorts, where those saddled with famous monikers can help each other with the problems their names cause.
Hem’s problem is that he isn’t just a copywriter, but an aspiring novelist suffering from writer’s block, which he believes is being caused by the ghost of Ernest Hemingway. To exorcise the ghost, Hem sets out on a geographical tour of the real Hemingway’s career, travelling to Toronto (where he was a reporter for the Star) then Paris, Pamplona, Key West, and, lastly, to Ketchum, Idaho, where the writer took his own life. Considering Hem doesn’t like the guy, you can rest assured there are going to be some bumps along the way.
As with his past novels, which include The Best Laid Plans and The High Road, Fallis employs an easygoing yet compelling writing style . The subject matter turns serious, at times, but Fallis keeps things light, finding humour in dark situations.
I once had a job where a client’s file listed her name as Julia Roberts. I wondered if she resembled the famous actress and what it must be like to walk around with such a famous name. Why didn’t she change her name to Julie? Was this her married name or was she born into it? My mind wandered repeatedly back to this curious situation while I was reading No Relation. So what’s in a name? When it’s Terry Fallis, you know it means a good book.
Nicole Rubacha is a freelance writer and screenwriter.