Archive for the ‘Canadian political novel’ Category

Steve Jobs helped make me a writer…

Friday, October 7th, 2011

In the two days since Steve Jobs passed away, there has been no end of worthy trubutes to an extraordinary visionary. Most of the eulogies have rightly focused on how he changed our way of life and how we interact with technology. He changed our world with the wonders he dreamed up in Cupertino, California, including the Mac personal computer, iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and most recently, the iPad. My debt to Steve Jobs extends a little further. Those who know me will agree that unlike my twin brother, Tim, I’m no crazed Apple fanboy. Tim is all Apple, all the time. But, in 2006, my life took a turn when I bought my first 1gig iPod, and discovered the world of podcasting.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved listening to CBC Radio. I learned so much from shows like The House, Sunday Morning, Morningside, As It Happens, Writers & Company, and of course the hourly newscasts. I was so interested in current affairs and politics back then that music would seldom be heard on the car radio. It was always the substance and depth of CBC. So when I first browsed through the podcast section of iTunes, I was hooked. Not only could I get my favourite CBC Radio shows whenever I wanted, but also podcasts from NPR , The Guardian, the BBC, the New York Times, Scientific American, and many others. For someone interested in books and the world around him, exploring the iTunes podcast directory was like visiting Disneyland. I immediatley subscribed to dozens of podcasts and considered having my ear buds surgically attached.

In the spring of 2006, I was so enamoured of podcasting that a colleague and I created Inside PR, Canada’s first podcast about public relations. My cohost, David Jones, and I recorded a half-hour show about our profession every week. And I mean every week. After more than 200 weekly consecutive episodes (if you do the math, that’s more than four years without missing a show), Dave and I finally surrendered our microphones to a new team of hosts including my friends Joe Thornley and Martin Waxman. So Inside PR lives on.

I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with making me a writer? Well, when I wrote my first novel, The Best Laid Plans, I spent a year in a futile search for an agent and/or publisher. Greeted with a deafening silence, I decided to build an audience for the novel on my own, and self-publish it. So in January of 2007, I began podcasting The Best Laid Plans, chapter by chapter, and made it avaialble for free on my website or through iTunes. In the absence of the very gratifying feedback I got about the podcast, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to go through with self-publishing my first novel. But the podcast version of The Best Laid Plans was very warmly received and still attracts new listeners every day, nearly five years after I began posting chapters.

After miraculously winning the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, I landed a wonderful literary agent and a publishing deal with McClelland & Stewart. Then the novel won the 2011 Canada Reads title and is now in its eleventh printing. M&S published the sequel, The High Road, in September 2010. It was a finalist for the 2011 Leacock Medal and is already in its fourth printing. I podcast The High Road too, just as I had my first novel. Finally, I’m two chapters from finishing the manuscript for my third novel, which M&S will publish in September 2012. I plan to podcast it as well.

Let me remind you of a sentence two paragraphs back. “In the absence of the very gratifying feedback I got about the podcast, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to go through with self-publishing my first novel.” That’s the Steve Jobs connection right there. Without the iPod, iTunes, and podcasting, it’s quite possible that The Best Laid Plans would still be a manuscript safely secreted in the electronic bowels of my laptop.

It’s been a surreal ride so far that may well have started when I bought my first iPod– that tiny perfect device born in the brain of Steve Jobs.

Everyday, I carry my iPod and my iPad with me where ever I go. I browse the podcast section of iTunes at least every other week in search of still more podcasts to feed my mind as I walk to the office every day. And late at night I’ll often be at my computer, working on a novel, as my iPod charges next to me…

Steve Jobs 1955-2011


Lovely Eden Mills…

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

I spent a good part of the weekend in the picturesque village of Eden Mills less than an hour’s drive west of Toronto, for the 23rd annual Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. What a wonderful festival. I drove down on Friday night with the hilarious writer, playwright, and broadcaster Erika Ritter. We both read at the Gala dinner that kicked off the festival. The audience was large, warm, and welcoming. After the after-party, Erika and I drove back to Toronto. This was truly a commuting festival for me as I made three trips in all.

The book table at Eden Mills efficiently managed by the good folks at The Bookshelf.

On the Saturday, I drove back to Eden Mills for the Author Dinner on the beautifully landscaped grounds of a volunteer’s home. Festival founder Leon Rooke spoke, we were serenaded by an amazing guitarist, and we ate until we could eat no more (at least , I did). It was great fun and very relaxing to be among so many wonderful writers and festival volunteers. It was during the Author Dinner that I crossed another threshold in my writing career. All writers hit these milestones as you progress in your journey. You know what I mean, your first book, your first reading, your first prize, the first time you see someone on the subway reading your book, etc., etc. Well at the Author Dinner, I was named in my first ever writer Port-a-Potty tweet. I’m not sure what to make of it but I think it means I’ve somehow “arrived” even though I had just “gone,” if you know what I mean.

On Sunday, it was another enjoyable commute to Eden Mills in the company of Erika Ritter. My reading was at 2:30, at the Mill. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue on the side of a gentle grass slope that runs down into the river. It seemed to go well, although the allotted 20 minutes flew by. I signed books at the outdoor book store afterwards and chatted with readers, which is always a favourite part of any festival.

There was another great dinner Sunday night as the proceedings wound down. They must have served a dozen different kinds of pie for dessert. I may have had a piece of each one but I can’t really remember now. I think it’s possible that I was drunk on pie.

Over the course of  the weekend, I reconnected with lots of other writers and bookish people who I’d seen at other festivals and reading gigs including Drew Hayden Taylor, Robert Wiersema, Clare Hitchens, Andrew Pyper, Bill Deverell, Nino Ricci, John Vaillant and Alissa York. I also spent some time with writers I met at Eden Mills for the first time including the Booker longlisted Alison Pick, Sylvia Tyson, Dan Vyleta, Lorna Crozier, and Giller winner Johanna Skibsrud among others. It was my first time at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, but I really hope I get the chance to go back. My thanks to the more than 100 volunteers who made it all happen. Hope to see you next year…

There’s still space open in my course at U of T…

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Starting next Wednesday evening, September 14th,  I’ll be teaching a course at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies in the Creative Writing program. The course is called How to Build an Audience for Your Writing. It runs for five Wednesday evenings and covers a range of techniques including blogging, podcasting, YouTube, Facebook, speaking gigs/readings, Twitter, and awards. The last session is a class reading, which was really wonderful in the first class. This is the second time I’ve taught the course. Last term we had about 25 writers in the class. It looks like the September enrollment is a little lighter, so there’s still plenty of room if you’d like to register. Click here or on the graphic below for more info on the course and how to register. Why not give it a shot?

I’m back from vacation and back to the blog…

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

My apologies to the dedicated readers of this humble blog, a small but mighty community, for the rather lengthy interregnum since my last post. (Sorry, I’ve always liked the word “interregnum”  although that’s not why I haven’t posted since August 9th.) I’ve been down in Nova Scotia (or in the car driving to and from Nova Scotia) for the last couple of weeks on a family vacation. We had a great time and I confess I rarely thought about what was going on back at the office. When you work with such great people, you can actually go away for two weeks and not worry.

On the writing front, I made great progress on our holiday. While my family slept, I got up every morning, usually between 6:00 and 7:00, and dug in for a few hours on novel #3 (still untitled). I wrote just shy of 20,000 words while I was away and am now nearly 70,000 words into what will probably be a 95,000 novel. My December 1st deadline to submit the manuscript to McClelland & Stewart is not quite so daunting with only five chapters yet to write. We stayed in a wonderful 160 year old house on the south shore of Nova Scotia, about 20 minutes from Chester.

Here’s a shot of the house. It was tough to sneak around inside. Everything creaked. But I guess we’ll all creak at 167 years old.

Here’s the view out the dining room window where I wrote every morning. That’s Little Tancook Island across the water.

After a week on the south shore, we stayed with my wife’s parents in the Annapolis Valley, a second home to us. As I have for each of my previous two novels, I wrote part of what will be novel #3 in the K.C. Irving Centre at Acadia University in beautiful Wolfville. I love writing in this room…

The fall is going to be very busy with quite a few upcoming appearances at several writers festivals. You can check out the heavy schedule here. But I still need to find time to finish the manuscript for novel #3.

Finally, stay tuned for some big news in the coming weeks that I just can’t quite share yet…


The Sunshine Coast Festival was amazing…

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

I’ve just returned from a few days in Brisith Columbia where I presented at the 29th annual Sunshine Coast Festival of  the Written Arts in Sechelt. It was a wonderful trip from start to finish. I arrived in Vancouver last Wednesday and spoke to an audience of about 100 at Simon Fraser University. I actually used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate my talk and it seemed to go over very well. Lots of great questions, and several in the audience had brought their own copies of The Best Laid Plans and The High Road for me to inscribe. Always a great feeling.

On Thursday afternoon, I headed down to the harbour in downtown Vancouver to catch my floatplane for the Sunshine Coast. Yes, a floatplane. How cool is that? When I checked in, I asked what kind of plane we’d be taking and was informed we’d by flying in a six seater de Havilland Beaver. This was serendipity of the highest order. In my third novel, a Beaver floatplane plays a small but critical role. I’ve only watched YouTube videos of the Beaver, an iconic plane that opened up Canada’s remote reaches in the 1940s and 50s. And here I was about to fly in one. What a thrill. At the appointed hour, my fellow passengers, including the Governor General’s Award-winning non-fiction writer John Vaillant, and I dragged our bags across the dock to the Beaver. The pilot asked for a volunteer to ride up front in the co-pilot’s seat. I sprained my shoulder throwing my hand up in the air before anyone else. I crawled up into the co-pilot’s seat and donned the headphones the pilot handed me. What a ride. We flew the 25 minute trip at about 700 feet off the water so the scenery was unbelievable. The plane I was “co-plioting” (which means I touched nothing, but took photos with my BlackBerry and tweeted them the whole trip) was built in 1962. Yes, you read that right. We were flying in a plane that was nearly 50 years old. That’s how good and reliable a plane the Beaver is. Here are few shots.

The festival itself was wonderful. The venue was amazing and the audience of more than 300 book-lovers at each author appearance was very enthusiastic and full of great questions. I gave my hour long talk about my strange publishing journey on Fridayafternoon at 1:00. It seemed to go over well. (They laughed, they cried, and nobody left.) Afterwards, it took about an hour for me to sign all the books the audience had purchased. They sold out of both novels — a very nice problem to face. I got to meet and spend time with some great writers, which, other than meeting readers, is the best part of these festivals. It was so nice to chat with John Vaillant, Robert Wiersema, Zsuzsi Gartner, Sarah Selecky, Margaret Trudeau, Judy Fong Bates, Charlie Foran, Alex MacLeod, Susan Juby, Ivan Coyote, Anna Porter, Wayne Grady, and Merilyn Simonds. I also enjoyed the other authors’ sessions and made it to almost all of them.

Needless to say, I was very sad to leave BC, but eager to see my family after five days away.

While away, I did manage to keep up my writing on novel #3 on planes and in airports, and am pleased to report that I made it past the halfway-point in the manuscript. I’m enjoying the story and hope to write a few more chapters while we’re on our family vacation in Nova Scotia starting  next week. Stay tuned…

Writing update…

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Sorry for the long stretches between blog posts lately. It’s been so busy at the office and with readings, talks, and festivals that I haven’t been able to post as often as I’d like. Anyway, I thought it had been a while since I’d updated you on the status of novel #3. I think the last time I wrote about it was back on April 23rd when I announced that I’d finally started writing the manuscript. This came after spending a year or so thinking through the story and a couple of more months actually laying it out using my rather rigorous outlining process. Now, some three months later, the manuscript is coming along, although I’d hoped to be further into the novel by now. As of this past weekend, I’ve finished six of 18 chapters and am up to about 33,000 words. I’m pleased with what’s written so far, but there is still plenty of editing and polishing to do.

My outline for novel #3 is only about 30 pages long, while the outline for my last book was 65 pages long. I decided that there could be two reasons for this discrepancy. Either I’m more confident that I can write a 5,000 word chapter based on only a page of bullet points as opposed to two pages, or I really don’t know my story as intimately as I did the first two times around. I was hoping it was the former, but it turns out it’s the latter! But all is well. It just took me a bit longer to get the first third written. I know much more about the remaining two thirds of my story, so I think the rest of the manuscript should unfold more easily.

As usual, I’m getting most of my writing done on weekends as I’m still working fulltime during the week. Sometimes I”ll get a few hours in on weeknights, but not very often. My aim has tended to be to write a 5,000 word chapter over the weekend. It hasn’t always been possible, but lately I’ve managed to come close. With six chapters behind me, I now feel the gathering momentum of the manuscript and it fuels my motivation to keep it going. I’m away in British Columbia in the first week of August for book-related appearances, and then in Nova Scotia for our family vacation. I’m hoping to get a big chunk of writing done then. In any event, I’ll keep you posted as the chapters pile up. December 1st is my contractual deadline to hand over the completed manuscript to McClelland & Stewart, so I’ll be hard at it straight through the fall. I have not intention of needing or seeking an extension! Fingers crossed, at least when they’re not burning up my laptop keyboard…

The High Road cracks the top 10

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Okay, you know when I wrote in an earlier entry that I would try not to be quite so self-indulgent in my blog posts? Well, I’m still committed to that, but am requesting special dispensation to record the good news that The High Road has for the first time, cracked the BookManager Canadian Fiction Bestseller List, checking in at number eight. Undoubtedly pulled along by The Best Laid Plans, which is still basking in the Canada Reads afterglow. It’s a thrill to see both of my novels in the Top 10.

I promise a humbler writing update on novel number three shortly…

Q & A with The Mark

Monday, July 4th, 2011

I’ve been scanning The Mark ever since discovering that my friend Mark Lefebvre is a regular contributor. Last week, they called and we did a Q&A that went live this morning. We covered a fair bit of turf in the interview and I hope you find something of interest in it. My thanks to The Mark.

Coincidently, the photo they’ve used is from the 2007 launch of the original self-published edition of The Best Laid Plans in the McMaster University Books Store, graciously organized by none other than Mark Lefebvre (who writes and blogs under the name Mark Leslie).

TBLP makes Samara/Writers’ Trust Shortlist

Friday, July 1st, 2011

What a thrill. The Samara Foundation and the Writers’ Trust of Canada have joined forces to find the “Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years.” Over the last couple of months, nominations were sought from Canadians and nearly 200 books were submitted. Yesterday, a shortlist of 12 finalists was unveiled. Canadians are now invited to read the twelve books and vote for our favourite. Early in August, the winning book will be announced. Somehow, The Best Laid Plans made the cut and stands as the only novel among the twelve finalists. There are some terrific reads on the list including my friend John Duffy’s award winning book Fights of our Lives. I don’t know whether being the only work of fiction in a collection of wonderful nonficition books about politics works in TBLP’s favour, but I can tell you that it is a singular honour to be anywhere near the shortlist, let alone on it.

So, veering dangerously close to “pimping mode,” you can vote for the book of your choice here, or click on the graphic below. As always, my thanks for your support…

Speaking gig round-up

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately doing readings and talks. As I’ve noted before in this space, I truly enjoy getting out and meeting readers, talking about my novels and sharing my rather unexpected publishing journey. My dance card continues to be filled nearly to capacity. It seems that as one gig is done, another is put in the calendar. No complaints on my end.  So here’s a quick rundown of the last week:

Thurday, June 23rd, Creemore, Ontario

What a great time I had in Creemore speaking to a group of 100 or so. It’s a lovely, picturesque, and arty little town. Michele and Jennifer from the Clearview Public Library met me at an amazing restaurant called Chez Michel. We had a great dinner and then headed over to the Station on the Green. The kind folks from Curiosity House Books were on hand to sell The Best Laid Plans and The High Road. I gave my talk and then the audience fired some very thoughtful questions my way. Then I signed books for a while and got back on the road for the drive home. My thanks to the Clearview Public Library for inviting me to come. I had a great time.

Saturday, June 25th, Bayfield Writers’ Festival, Bayfield Ontario

I had a blast this past Saturday in the beautiful town of Bayfield, Ontario on the shores of Lake Huron. In the afternoon, I read at the Bayfield Writers’ Festival in the Town Hall alongside some wonderful writers. The event was organized by Mary Brown of the lovely Village Bookshop. Joining me were Anne Perdue, author of the short story collection with the very provocative name, I’m a Registered Nurse, Not a Whore, Emma Ruby-Sachs, author of The Water Man’s Daughter, Sarita Mandanna, author of Tiger Hills, and an excellent local children’s poet, Hilary Gillespie. After the reading, we all had dinner together. One of the many benefits of participating in readings is the opportunity to meet other writers. These were all very nice folks whom I hope to see again on the circuit. Here’s the Town Hall just before we headed up to the stage.

And here’s a shot of the poster promoting the festival that Mary asked us all to sign for the store.

The next morning, I worked on novel #3 before enjoying a wonderful brunch in the Brentwood on the Beach B&B. At the appointed hour, I spoke to 50 or so attendees about my writing and answered questions. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope to make a return visit sometime.

Monday, June 27, McMaster Engineering Alumni event, Toronto

Last night, I spoke at a McMaster Engineering Alumni gathering in Toronto. I have an engineering degree from McMaster even though I’ve never worked professionally as an engineer. My university experience had a considerable impact on the course of my life so I was very happy to be there. I gave a talk about how my engineering education shaped my writing, a topic I haven’t spoken on before. It seemed to go reasonably well (nobody nodded off or walked out in the middle) and I had a great time meeting some newly-minted engineers and some old friends as well.

It’s certainly been a busy few months, and last week was no exception. There are many more speaking gigs coming up. It’s a good thing I enjoy it. Hope to see you at one of them…