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…
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.
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.
While I was in Montreal for a day last week, I sat down with Bill Brownstein of the Montreal Gazette. A photographer was also there, just to add a little more stress. Anyway, Bill was wonderful and the resulting article/review in today’s Gazette is faithfully reproduced below. (Breathing a little easier now…)
Terry Fallis didn’t follow a typical strategy for success
MONTREAL — Terry Fallis is fast becoming a master of fiction writing. But the Canadian author’s life story would read as even more far-fetched than the wildest fiction he has penned.
Fallis, a Torontonian, is actually a mechanical/biomedical engineer by trade, although he never practised. Instead, he became a political strategist, having worked on the campaigns and legislative staffs of Jean Chrétien, Jean Lapierre and Michael Ignatieff. Then he left politics to co-found Thornley Fallis, a public relations and social/digital media agency.
Then ennui set in. So he began writing a blog and doing a podcast by night and on weekends. Out of this came Fallis’s first novel, The Best Laid Plans, about the angst of a burned-out strategist who figured his only out from politics would be to manage the career of a seemingly unelectable candidate. And, natch, even the best-laid plans don’t always pan out.
Fallis was unable to lure a publisher into releasing his satire on the Canadian political system. So he published the opus himself.
And go figure: Fallis went on to win the literary lottery. Against all odds for a self-published novel, The Best Laid Plans snagged the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2008, was republished by McClelland & Stewart, was the 2011 winner of CBC’s Canada Reads, was transformed into a six-part CBC TV series this year, and is slated to become a musical on the Toronto stage.
Fallis proceeded to write The High Road and Up and Down, both finalists for the Leacock award. And his fourth novel, No Relation, has just been released.
Once again in No Relation, Fallis employs his understated whimsy and sense for irony, in a hilarious chronicle about a hard-luck fellow who loses his wallet, his copywriting job and his girlfriend one fateful day. Though he wants to become a novelist, the young man is getting pressure from his father to help run the family’s underwear business.
On top of everything else, the fellow is forever haunted by his name: Earnest Hemmingway. A hard name to live up to for a wannabe writer. It matters not that he is actually Earnest Hemmingway IV and that EH I was born four years before the literary lion who was Ernest Hemingway. To be fair, EH I was also quite the pioneer: a cross-stitching underwear icon who is reputed to have put the wedge in wedgie.
To kill time between avoiding his family and the workforce, Earnest Hemmingway — or Hem, as he prefers to be called — embarks on a project to recruit others cursed with the names of the famous but who are not related to them. Hence the book’s title.
And so it is that Hem hooks up with a Mario Andretti who is a terrible driver, a Mahatma Gandhi who has anger-management issues, a Marie Antoinette who has a pastry shop called Let Them Eat Cake, and a Diana Ross who is a terrific crooner, but only when she’s drunk.
Hem also conscripts a Jesse Owens, Clark Kent, James Moriarty and Jacqueline Kennedy to the club. So pumped is this crew that they go on to form their own baseball squad, with Gandhi in right field and Jackie as team cheerleader.
What delightful lunacy Fallis has concocted here, with a dollop of intrigue and even romance.
Fallis is in a buoyant state, having just learned that No Relation is climbing the sales lists like a bullet and that it has been optioned by the same producers who turned The Best Laid Plans into a series. But unlike his Diana Ross character, he chooses to celebrate with a cola at a downtown bistro.
As was the case with his other books, the seed for No Relation was sown from an actual encounter.
“In 1989, I had a client meeting in downtown Toronto,” Fallis recalls. “The client was having a labour dispute, so we also met with a labour lawyer, who introduced himself as Brian Mulroney. But not the Mulroney who was Canada’s prime minister then.
“I remember thinking: This poor guy — what must his life be like? He can’t go to his son’s soccer game or a client meeting without having to endure comments which would surely be elicited whenever he announced his name. That’s obviously a thin premise for a whole novel, but it made for a solid foundation on which to build this family saga.”
Fallis, 54, is abundantly aware that he has been on the kind of hot streak that is rarely played out in these increasingly difficult times on the literary front.
“I don’t take it for granted ever,” says the affable writer. “I pinch myself every 20 minutes or so. I just can’t believe what has happened. I feel that I’ve exhausted my lifetime allocation of good fortune.”
Luck can only go so far. Talent helps. So does experience. Fallis’s days as a strategist certainly put him in an excellent position for a parody on Canadian politics. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that he was unable to land a publishing deal for The Best Laid Plans.
“The challenge was that I had written a satirical novel on Canadian politics, and every agent said: ‘Are you crazy? Why would you do that?’ Then I was checking around the bookstores and couldn’t find any Canadian political satires.
“So even though I was racked with doubt, I decided to pursue it. I’m a member in good standing of the write-what-you-know school. I like to make sure I’m writing with authenticity and conviction.
“People have often said that I must have had such belief in that story to self-publish it. That wasn’t it at all. I just wanted to find out whether I had written a real novel. But I became so close to it that my sense of perspective completely abandoned me.”
Winning the Leacock award gave Fallis the necessary confidence. His ensuing good fortune motivates him to continue on his path. He’s at work on his fifth novel, Poles Apart, “my feminist comic novel about the leading feminist blogger in the world — who happens to be a guy.”
Still, he has no plans to give up his PR day job just yet.
“Doing that makes it easier for me to do this,” explains Fallis, who is married to an assistant deputy minister in the Ontario government and is the father of two grown-up children. “I can’t complain, but it’s tough to make a living as a novelist in Canada. When I think I can, I will.”
And that time should be coming real soon.
Montreal Gazette, Wednesday, June 4, 2014
I was surprised and delighted to see that No Relation had climbed from number five on last week’s Globe and Mail Bestsellers list to number two this week. Only Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda is ahead of No Relation, and I suspect always will be. I’m honoured to be on the same list with my friend Joseph and his blockbuster book, let alone right next to him. Fingers crossed for next week. My deep thanks to all of you who have kept the buzz and the sales going on the new novel. Onwards…
It was thrilling to learn yesterday that just three days after being published, No Relation debuted at number five on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list. I well remember when Up and Down was published, it opened at number seven. So this feels good. Of course, it happened because so many friends, family, and yes, perfect strangers, pre-ordered the novel or bought copies this week. I’m blessed and grateful. Thank you, all. Let the touring begin! It’s Creemore today, Thornbury tomorrow, Toronto Monday, Lindsay Tuesday, Toronto again Thursday, then Montreal on Friday. And that’s just the beginning…
This was shot a few weeks ago but aired today on CBC Television as we get ready for episode 1 of The Best Laid Plans miniseries tomorrow night, Sunday, January 5th at 9 p.m. on the CBC national network. The more Canadians who tune in, the more likely it will be that the series will continue beyond these initial six episodes. (Yes, that’s a shameless request for an hour of your time Sunday night. Hope you enjoy it.)
Here’s a very cool mini-documentary offering a behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Best Laid Plans miniseries airing on CBC Television in January 2014.
I am feeling very lucky. I may just pick up a lottery ticket on my way home from the office. I found out late last week that Up and Down had been named the winner of the Ontario Library Association’s 2013 Evergreen Award for the best in fiction or nonfiction as voted by library patrons across Ontario. I’m honoured and thrilled. When the finalist list was announced last February, I was chuffed to have been included among so many wonderful writers. So I really wasn’t expecting to win (hence my lottery ticket purchase plan).
I do want to pay tribute to my fellow finalists and thank them for their wonderful books. I encourage you all to read these fine works. As well, I’m grateful to all of the library patrons who voted in the sixty different branches participating in the Evergreen Award.