Remember that refrain from when you were a kid and one of your siblings got a treat or ‘found’ something interesting and unusual that you, of course, wanted? Of course they wouldn’t share, so you went and found something even better and more special. Today was that sort of day, not just for me but for a few dozen lucky people with a passion for writing and reading.
We held our first Writers Community of York Region (WCYR) meeting this afternoon at the Newmarket Community Centre on Doug Duncan Drive. Much as our members enjoyed the Aurora Cultural Centre last season, we couldn’t get a break on the hourly rental cost and, as a non-profit start-up, paying $40 an hour was just too rich for our cash-strapped blood. Our new home is lovely – big and bright. We shared it with a bachelorette party next door (it got awfully quiet suddenly – perhaps the ‘entertainment’ had arrived). Farther down the hall was a gospel church group, praising the Lord with a joyful, forceful noise. We had over 40 people sign up for the meeting and lunch – lots of familiar faces but many new ones as well. An exciting start to our author year.
The featured speaker was Terry Fallis. I’d heard him speak a few months ago at a Sisters in Crime meeting. I knew that he’d make a super contribution to WCYR. Sue Reynolds facilitated the invitation/introduction part. Terry’s not your typical engineer type guy. Why? Because he’s a writer. We ‘writerly’ types are all special in our own way. Despite the fact that it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Terry ventured north to Newmarket and spoke for about 45 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. He was thoughtful, funny, self-deprecating and informative. Very generous with his time, not just for the main session, but afterwards, as he signed copies of his new book, Up and Down. Available soon at a bookstore near you!
Shelley Macbeth, the delightful proprietor of Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge and supporter extraordinaire of writers and readers, was on hand with a table full of Terry Fallis publications for us.
That’s what a select few of us have that you won’t have for a few days. Signed by the author, too. His newest novel, this one about NASA and space travel, is filled with interesting characters, full-bodied, well-drafted people, some of whom you’ve probably encountered in an office somewhere during your career. I’ve been listening to Terry’s podcasts for a while. You can get into that habit, too. He reads each chapter of his three books, posting them online for free access via his website or iTunes. Again, an incredibly generous act.
Someone said, “Life is a comedy to those who think”. Terry is obviously a thinker. A thinker whose novels can make us burst out laughing on the subway. Or in my case, as I’m lying in the dark before I go to sleep, listening to Terry’s voice (it’s as soothing as mellow-roast coffee, actually) and trying not to chuckle too loudly.
As writers, we tend to start out like his character Daniel Addison – naïve, innocent, and excited. Then the reality of the long haul from drafting to being published blunts that excitement. Terry’s story about his own journey as a writer isn’t just humorous; it gives us some insights into the possible. And hope. Terry’s advice was simple: focus on the words. Plan —-> Write —-> Revise. After he completed his first novel, he sent out hundreds of queries and chapter samples and heard back from no one. A comedic work about politics, in Canada? No way. Finally, he self-published in 2007. What next? Because no one told him he couldn’t, Terry submitted his novel and won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. He was not just a finalist in a field of heavy comedy/literary hitters, he won. Was selected for CBCs Canada Reads with Ali Velshi as his ‘champion’). And won again. Once you read Terry’s books, it’s easy to see why. His prose is crisp and the pace is quick.
Just because self-publishing is fast, inexpensive and easy, it’s not necessarily the best thing for a buddy author to do. From his experience, much of what is ‘self-published’ isn’t ready yet. Those essential editing tasks have to be done before the final manuscript sees the sun (my words, not his, but you get my drift).
Anyone who has spent time in Ottawa will recognize the settings for Terry’s books. Thank you, Terry, for giving such a crisp, memorable voice to Canadian characters, places, politics and our history. The people in Terry’s fictional world sound like Canadians, too – decent, quirky folks, with no ‘ehs’ or ‘a-boots’. Thank you, Terry, for ‘keeping it real’- genuinely Canadian.
The Best Laid Plans is being developed as a six-part mini-series to be aired on CBC television. Terry will be ‘story consultant’ for the production. Hopefully he’ll unearth more book material from that experience and we’ll read about it in Book Four. And TBLP is being made into a stage play/musical. Yowsa! It’s wonderful when an author who began by self-publishing, became the man everyone wanted to talk to and hear from. As the fortunate members attending our meeting saw today, Terry’s reputation and recognition are well-deserved.
We at WCYR were privileged to have Terry visit us. And we got to buy his book. In advance. Before the general public. Yes, we are special!