Archive for January, 2009

CPRS “newperspective” reviews TBLP

Saturday, January 24th, 2009


Newperspective, the publication of the Canadian Public Relations Society (Toronto), offers up a review of TBLP in their Fall 2008 issue.  I hadn’t actually seen this until a colleague mentioned it to me.  While the review features the cover of the self-published, iUniverse edition of TBLP, I’m grateful for the profile and the positive words. Every little bit helps.


The Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto

Friday, January 23rd, 2009


This past Thursday, I spoke at the monthly gathering of the Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto.  What a wonderful group of interesting women from all walks of life.  This club has been serving its members and the community for over 100 years having ccelebrated their first century anniversary in 2008.  I found their mandate to be inspiring, even noble:

“The aim of the Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto is to promote Canadian identity, encourage Canadian unity, foster an interest in public affairs, and cultivate an attachment to Canadian institutions.”

I was warmly welcomed by 60 or 70 members before I was invited to the podium.  I talked about my rather unorthodox journey to the published land and read a couple of passages from TBLP.  We had a few laughs and there were even a couple of audience questions at the end.

Afterwards, Allison from Book City, a wonderful independent bookstore in the area, sold about 20 or so books, which I dutifully inscribed.  The passionate bibliophiles at Book City, particularly the Yonge and St. Clair location, have been very supportive, even when I was peddling the self-published version of TBLP.  Thanks to Chris and Allison and the rest of their team.

I have several speaking gigs coming up in the next few months ranging from book clubs to public libraries.  If you have the slightest interest in where and when I’ll be talking about TBLP, you can check out the Appearances page.

Many thanks to Sandra Connery for inviting me to speak at the Women’s Canadian Club of Toronto.  I had a great time.

My Leacock winner collection is complete…

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

All 61 Leacock Award winning books (1947-2008).

My Aunt Nancy is rare book dealer who operates Thornley Point Books out of Iroquois, Ontario.  Shortly after the Leacock shock last April, she wisely suggested I collect all of the Leacock winning books from the inauguration of the award in 1947.  I thought this a wonderful idea and she set to work hunting down high quality editions of Leacock winners.  As it happened, I already owned about a third of the 61 books that have won the Leacock Medal.  Well, nine months later, the project is complete.  The last four books needed to complete the set arrived from Nancy this afternoon.  I’ll continue to add the winning books to keep the collection current.

In the photo above, the top shelf and the bottom left-hand shelf hold the complete collection of Leacock winners.  (If you strain your eyes, you can just see half of the green spine of the iUniverse edition of TBLP at the far right end of the bottom left-hand shelf.)  The bottom right-hand shelf features other “Leacockiana” including The Letters of Stephen Leacock.  Not shown in the photo, because it’s still sitting on my desk where I’ve been thumbing through it, is a first edition of Feast of Stephen, an anthology of lesser-known Leacock writings compiled and introduced by one of my CanLit heroes, Robertson Davies.

Thanks to Nancy Edmonds for initiating this rewarding exercise and for securing the books.  It was exciting to have boxes arrive in my office every few weeks or so bearing the fruits of her labour.  I’m grateful.

Library blog promotes TBLP

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009


Welcome to My Crystal Blog, a blog associated with the Burlington Public Library was kind enough to recommend TBLP as their Wednesday Pick this week.  Many thanks for the plug!

I’ve lately received a number of speaking/reading invitations from public libraries, which is wonderful.  I’ll try to keep the “Appearances” page of my blog up to date but it was confirmed today that I’ll be at the Port Hope Library on April 18th.  I’m also working on dates in the fall of 2009 for the Pelham Public Library down Niagara way.  Keep ’em coming.  It should be considered an honour to spend time with folks who have actually read your book.  At least that’s how I look at it…

How I write: Outlining

Sunday, January 11th, 2009


I’ve just this past weekend finished outlining the sequel to TBLP.  Hallelujah!  It’s a relief to have it done.  So I thought it would be a good time to write the first of a few posts under the heading “How I write.”   I focus on outlining in this first installment.

I listen to a lot of author/book/writing podcasts, so I’m beginning to learn how other writers go about the task of writing a novel.  There is considerable variety in approach.  I’m struck by the number of authors who have no real plan before they put finger to keyboard, or in the rare circumstance these days, pen to paper.  I often hear authors say something like “I have no idea what’s going to happen.  I just create characters and let them take me on their journey.”  To me, this writing method is almost unfathomable, although it is certainly not uncommon.  I simply could not write that way.  It also seems to me that writing without a plan often leads to heavy rewriting and umpteen drafts.  I don’t think I could bear to write several chapters and then discard them at the end or worse, write new ones. I just don’t have enough time.

I fall into that other category:  the outliners.  It may be the engineer in me or a desire, given my hectic family/job life, to maximize efficiency.  I feel the need to know exactly where the story is going, what my characters are doing,  who will do and say what to whom next, etc.  So I develop a detailed outline of the novel, chapter by chapter.  The outline for  TBLP was 21 pages of bullet points, about one page per chapter.  For the sequel, the outline is more extensive.  It’s 64 pages in length, or about 3 pages of bullet points for each of the 20 chapters.

So what exactly is covered in the bullet points for each chapter?  Well, each of the two to four or so scenes in each chapter is briefly described.  Often I’ll create these scenes in my head complete with some idea of the dialogue.  So, I’ll often write some rudimentary dialogue to capture the essence of the scene.  It’s likely that very little of the actual dialogue quickly scrawled down in the outline will appear in the novel but sometimes that happens.  It’s really to help remind me when I come to write that chapter what tone to try to strike.  The amusing elements in the chapter are also outlined, whether it’s a funny bit of dialogue or a zany situation of some kind.

When I start the actual writing of the sequel (any day now), I’ll be working on my trusty Fujitsu Lifebook notebook computer.  I’ll work in Microsoft Word and split the screen vertically with the chapter outline document opened on the right hand side of the screen, and the in-progress novel manuscript on the left.  In this way I can keep one eye on the chapter outline while I write, edit, and polish the manuscript.

Because of the time devoted to developing the detailed outline, the actual writing seems to go rather smoothly and reasonably quickly (at least it seemed to with TBLP).

One valid question to ask about this rather methodical, even mechanical approach:  Does it rob the writing and the story of its spontaneity?  What do I know?  But I really don’t think so.  Even with TBLP being fully outlined in advance, there were several modifications made to the plotline as I wrote the manuscript.  The outline is important to me, even critical, but I’ll still make changes that emerge from the fog in my head as I’m writing.

By the way, while the outline for the entire novel is in a single Microsoft Word file, I write and save each chapter in the manuscript as a separate file.  I also back up everything onto a USB flash drive after every writing session.  I’m paranoid about a catastrophic hard-drive failure and losing everything.  I cannot think of anything quite as heart-breaking as losing your manuscript and having to start over.  The wife of Ernest Hemingway once left the only copy of one of her husband’s completed manuscripts on a train.  They never recovered it.  I think of that sad tale whenever I’m feeling too bored and tired to back up my files.

Anyway, I’m feeling good that the outline for the sequel is now completed.  I’m using the working title, The High Road, but that may very well change.  Now it’s on to writing Chapter One…

Who was that mystery guest on The House?

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Just before Christmas I had a call from the producer of CBC Radio‘s wonderful public affairs program, The House.  It was time for their annual book show and I was asked if I would be their “mystery guest” for the show.  She went on to say she would record me over the phone giving some clues as to my identity.  (You never suggest to a podcaster that you’ll be recorded over the phone!  I immediately offered to record my clues and the big reveal message on my own and forward her the MP3 — much better audio quality than a phone recording.)  I followed the instructions and dutifully recorded my two segments.  The “clues” aired on December 27th (you can hear it here if you scroll back to the December 27th show).  In a curious twist of fate, my amazing editor/publisher Douglas Gibson was interviewed in the program about his experience editing the memoirs of three Canadian Prime Ministers, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and most recently, Paul Martin.  As usualy, he was witting and thoughtful.  You can hear Doug’s interview here (just scroll back to the December 27th show and then jump ahead to the 37:40 mark in the show). The second clip wherein I reveal my identity just aired this morning.  Lots of fun.

Book Lovers’ blog worth reading

Friday, January 9th, 2009


Thanks to a blurb in the Quill blog on the Quill and Quire website, I discovered a cool blog for lovers of Canadian literature.  Roughing it in the Books appears to have started up in October (so I’m three months late to the party) and is written by two CanLit fans, Melanie Owen and Alexis Kienlen.  Their goal?  To read and review the more than 260 books published in the New Canadian Library series.  A noble endeavour to be sure, but having seen the list of books, not, I suspect, without its rough patches along the way.  Their latest reviews of, As for Me and My House, Sinclair Ross, were just posted earlier today.  Interestingly,though both Melanie and Alexis read each book, they don’t confer with one another on their respective reviews.  They each read the book and post away.

Of course most Canadian high school graduates, at least of my vintage, will know that Roughing it in the Books is a clever twist on that CanLit classic by Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush.  I confess that I barely endured it in grade 10 but I suspect I’d enjoy it more today.  Check out this great blog and follow along as Melanie and Alexis churn through the CanLit canon.

Where I write…

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

I’ve always been interested not only in how, why and when writers write, but also where.  I know I need a quiet space to write where I can close the door and feel very comfortable.  I’ve always loved being surrounded by books so it’s been a longstanding dream to have a library in our home where I can write and where all of our books can be together (or most of them at least).  We have a beautiful book called At Home with Books that features wonderful photographs of home libraries.  Over the years, my wife and I flipped through that volume endlessly as we planned our long-avoided home renovation.  Well it was eight months of  frustration, stress and about 436,349 decisions (all of them abolsutely critical) but we moved back into our renovated home this past May.  We love it (although, if you can believe it, it actually took longer than expected).  The highlight for me is our new library and deck on the third floor, overlooking the backyard.

Because I”m a disaster with a camera, these shots don’t really do it justice but you get the idea.  This room has become my sanctuary and it’s where I write.  In fact,  this blog post was written right here in the library…





New Year’s Resolutions…

Thursday, January 1st, 2009


Tis the season for new year’s resolutions.  For many years, a mainstay of my annual list of resolutions had been “get started writing the novel.” I took that one off my list in 2006 as I tweaked and fiddled with what was essentially a completed manuscript for TBLP.  But here we are on the eve of 2009 and I’m finding myself resurrecting “get started writing the novel” for this year’s list.

So here, in no particular order, are a few new year’s resolution I’ll be trying to keep:

Write the sequel to TBLP. I’m nearly done the rather detailed outline for the sequel to TBLP so it will soon be time to start the writing.  I’m excited yet filled with trepidation at the prospect.  I’m not sure how long it will take, but I’m on it!

Add more meaningful content to this blog rather than just littering it with every minor new development in the life of TBLP (I may find it interesting that libraries are ordering TBLP but I’m hard-pressed to expect anyone else to find it compelling reading!).  So, with this in mind:

  • I’ll blog a little about how I approach the task of writing.  I’m always interested in the how writers actually tackle the act of writing.  And I really mean the more practical aspects of it.  Do they write in the morning?  Do they write in long or short time spans?  Do they write in the kitchen?  How do they start?  Etc. etc.   I’m still feeling my way on this but I think I’ve learned a couple of things from writing TBLP.
  • I may also offer some observations on the broader topic of writing in general, and humour writing in particular. This will likely veer into questions of technique rather than just dealing with the more practical issues like  laptop versus pen and pad, kitchen versus home office, etc., noted above.

Continue to do whatever I can to promote TBLP. Since the Leacock shock in the spring, I’ve been quite busy with readings and speaking gigs at various writers festivals.  It’s been a new but very fulfilling and enjoyable experience for me.  And, I think that book sales are higher because of those events.  Even though M&S published TBLP in September, I think there are still appearances and talks and readings that I can do keep the name of the novel out there.

Spend more meaningful time with my wife and two sons,  despite returning to a heavier evening and weekend writing schedule.  We’re a very busy family.  But being a busy family doesn’t mean we can’t be busy together.  It takes planning and patience, but nothing is more important.

Make 2009 a strong year professionally (i.e. my day job!). I derive great satisfaction from my work as a PR professional.  I work with some wonderful people, clients and colleagues alike.  We have a great PR firm in Toronto and Ottawa and we’re doing some very interesting and innovative work for our clients.  I want that to continue and grow even more.

So here’s to a wonderful and memorable 2008 and a happy and healthy 2009.