BWS 11.11.15: Terry Fallis

Terry Fallis (credit Tim Fallis)

Terry Fallis is the award-winning author of four national bestsellers. The Best Laid Plans won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and was crowned the 2011 winner of CBC Canada Reads as the “essential Canadian novel of the decade”, and The High Road was a 2011 Leacock Medal finalist. Terry’s third novel, Up and Down, debuted on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list, was a 2013 Leacock Medal finalist and won the 2013 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award, and his fourth novel, No Relation, opened on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list and won the 2015 Leacock Medal. McClelland & Stewart published Terry’s fifth novel, Poles Apart, in October, 2015. He drops by the blog this week with a guest post ahead of his Nov. 11 visit to Brockton Writers Series.

The Birth of New Novel

My fifth novel, Poles Apart, hit bookstores two weeks ago. The wheels of publishing grind slowly. It’s almost like geological time. For the last several months, I’ve been consumed with mapping out novel number six and haven’t really given Poles Apart much thought since we all signed off on the final manuscript and cover design. So it’s been a bit of an adjustment now that the novel has “dropped,” as they say, to wrench my mind out of the story in my sixth novel and return it to Poles Apart.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that it’s now “out there” and that I’ve begun to visit new places and talk about, and read from, the new novel, including as part of the Brockton Writers Series. But I have occasionally found myself in the middle of answering a question at a book talk with my mind somehow straddling and conflating Poles Apart and that sixth novel that still fills my thoughts. I’m learning to shut down the part of my brain that has been formulating the new plot, characters and settings so I can try to stay focused on the story behind, and running through, Poles Apart, but it’s hard.

The other consequence of the time span between handing in the Poles Apart manuscript and its colourful, fresh arrival on bookstore shelves is that I’ve forgotten plenty of the details in Poles Apart and where they came from. On more than one occasion in the last two weeks, I’ve had very erudite questions from very deep readers who have speculated on the symbolism of a certain scene in the story, or the noted social significance of a particular exchange between two characters, and then asked me if their analysis is correct. Often, after a long and difficult pause, during which my feeble mind races to remember not just why I wrote that scene, but what the scene actually is, I simply reply, “Why yes, you’ve totally nailed it. Well done.”

Naturally, it’s in the first weeks after publication that the reviews start to roll in. Well, “roll” is a relative term. In this day and age, “trickle” may be more accurate. Okay, for me, it’s more accurate. But one must steel oneself for that first negative review. Or in my case, for the first few negative reviews, perhaps several. We’ve certainly seen some very positive reviews for Poles Apart–some of them from respected journals and media outlets with no connection to my family–but there have been a few clangers as well. It happens. Strangely enough, I tend not to get angry or wonder what book the critic actually read before penning the review. I don’t wallow and whine. Rather, I often find myself nodding in recognition and understanding as they dismember my latest offering, sorry, I mean objectively review my latest offering. I usually see kernels of truth in their less-than-glowing reviews, agree with them on many counts, and then promptly follow them on Twitter. I guess the only thing worse than a negative review is no review at all.

My official Toronto book launch was this past Tuesday. All five of my launches have now been held at the venerable Dora Keogh pub on the Danforth. It’s the one event at which all of the circles in my life collide. I have my family there, along with friends, other writers, ball hockey buddies, work colleagues, clients, my publisher and literary agent, some of my writing students, and even readers, too. It is quite a diverse group. My twin brother Tim is MC. My editor and publisher Doug Gibson tells some stories and says nice things about me. I get nervous, thank a long list of people, talk briefly about the book and then publicly read the first nine chapters. I’m kidding. Doug doesn’t always say nice things about me. Still kidding. He’s lovely and a legend. But I do think the book launch is a fun and fitting way to mark the arrival of another novel. It would seem incomplete without it. I usually have a very good time, but am also somehow relieved when it’s all over.

In a month of so, after many more novels have been launched, Poles Apart will fade into the literary background, slowly, I hope. It will inevitably be overtaken by other, better novels, by better writers, if it hasn’t happened already. Such is the inexorable literary cycle. But I’m not complaining. Far from it. In fact, I’m having the time of my life and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now back to noodling around plot transitions for my sixth novel, so we can do it all again in 18 months or so. The cycle continues.

Terry Fallis visits the Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 – full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC) – along with Loren Edizel, Allison LaSorda, Jess Taylor and a special guest talk by Andrea Thompson, “From Page to Stage: Spoken Word and the Art of Literary Performance”.

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