Q&A with author Terry Fallis

Q&A with author Terry Fallis

The Huron County Library is super excited to welcome author Terry Fallis to the Clinton Branch on Thursday, April 25 and even more thrilled that he took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions from Branch Assistant Nancy Fisher about his latest book A New Season.

I just enjoyed listening to A New Season as an audio book. You have been recording your own books right from the start of your career. I enjoy listening to the author read their own words, but not all do it. I wondered what compelled you to be your own narrator?

When I couldn’t find a publisher for my first novel, The Best Laid Plans, I decided to podcast the novel chapter by chapter and give it away for free on iTunes and other podcast directories, just as a way of building an audience for the story. So in a way, podcasting my first novel was an act of desperation to try to break through. I was already podcasting in my day-job back then so I knew how to go about recording, editing, and producing in the audio format. Even after I secured a publisher for the novel, McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House, I retained the audio rights and continued to podcast my first six novels. After M&S/PRH started their own audio division, I agreed to record the official audiobook for my last three novels. To be honest, I don’t think I do it as well as a seasoned actor might. But on the other hand, I know exactly how I want the sentences to be read, and the tone and inflection to employ to best convey the message in the words. And I quite enjoy doing it.

There is often a strong link to sports in your books – golf, ball hockey, even hovercrafting! How does adding a passion for a sport help to develop your characters?

While I am certainly “into” sports and still play several, I usually write about them as a way to consider deeper issues. For instance, in Albatross, golf is just a convenient vehicle for exploring the tension that exists between success and happiness, the central issue in the story. And in A New Season, ball hockey is simply what I use to examine male friendship, one of the themes in the novel. So I tend not to write about sports as an end in itself, but rather as a means to consider other issues.

This is the second book with a link to Ernest Hemingway, yet I get the feeling that, like Jack McMaster, you are more a fan of the work and not so much of the man. What is it about Hemingway that keeps him popping into your works?

Good question! I’ve been trying to figure that out for years now. You’re right, I like neither Hemingway nor his writing. But no one can question the profound impact he had on literature, particularly in his Paris years in the 1920s. I think it’s really Paris in the 1920s that captivates me, and Hemingway just happens to loom large on that stage. I’ve read a lot about him and he certainly led a fascinating life, though his decision-making, values, and personality were polarizing—read, not to my taste.

Jack has a deep love for the city of Paris in A New Season, is that a feeling shared by you?

Absolutely. I’ve been fascinated and entranced by Paris for many, many years now. As noted above, I’m particularly enamoured of the city in the 1920s when artists flocked to Paris and collectively reshaped the cultural (and literary) landscape. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall on Paris’ left bank a century ago. My wife, Nancy, and I return to Paris every two years to continue to indulge this interest we both share in the City of Light.

Q&A with Author Calyssa Erb

Q&A with Author Calyssa Erb

Ahead of the upcoming Author Talk with Calyssa Erb, Huron County Library branch assistant Shannon O’Connor connects with the author to discuss her book, Maya Plays the Part, the journey to publication, what inspired her to feature an autistic female main character, and more!

What inspired you to write a middle school book featuring an autistic female main character?

I wrote this book for 10-year-old me who loved to dive into stories of characters going for their goals. I read a lot when I was younger, but I never saw an autistic female main character in the books that I read. When I received my own autism diagnosis a few years ago, I decided to revisit my experience at that age with this new understanding and to imagine what might have been different if I had this knowledge then.

Were there any parts of writing Maya’s story you found particularly challenging and if so why?

The most challenging part of writing Maya’s story was my own inner critic and my worries about whether she would be likeable. I wanted her to feel authentic and shed a light on some of the comments I received as a young girl, but I also wanted her to be someone that young readers would want to spend time with as she works towards her own dreams.

 What was your journey to publication like? Did it take a while to find an agent or publisher for your story?

I have wanted to be an author since I was very young, and I wrote my first contest winning short story in the 3rd grade. However, I struggled a lot with finishing projects. It wasn’t until I received my autism diagnosis that I was able to recognize the factors that were impacting my writing like autistic burnout and sensory overwhelm. It was around the time that I started working on Maya’s story that Annick Press set up their mentorship program. I received such valuable feedback from them during this mentorship that it gave me the momentum to keep working on Maya’s story. About a year later, I had revised enough that I felt confident in sending the book out to publishers and agents. I received a lot of rejections! But then, serendipitously, Annick reached out and offered to publish the story.

 Growing up did you have any favourite middle grade books or characters that you connected with? 

As a pretty shy and reserved kid, young girls who were determined and the heroes of their own stories resonated with me. It’s interesting because the way we designate a middle grade book now is different from how children’s books were categorized when I was growing up! These are some of the characters and books that hold a special place in my heart from when I was 10-12 years old: The Dear Canada series, Meggie from the Inkheart series, Mitsuki of the manga Full Moon o Sagashite, Ella of Ella Enchanted and Anne from Anne of Green Gables.

 Have you noticed an increase in more #ownvoices autism stories in fiction and do you have any favourites or any authors you admire?

I have noticed there are more #ownvoices stories and stories about autism from a lived experience. There’s still lots of opportunity for more autism stories in fiction because the autistic experience is so varied. My favourites in the middle grade space include A.J. Sass, and Meg Eden Kuyatt. I’m also a huge fan of Elle McNicoll whose A Kind of Spark was adapted into a TV series! It’s really incredible and a must-watch for autistic representation in kids media.

Do you have any plans for more books featuring Maya in the future and if not can you tell us anything about what you’re working on next?

I am interested in returning to Maya in the future! She’s already started whispering that she’s got more stories to share with readers, but right now I’m working on a story about neurodivergence and body image. I’m hoping to create a wonderfully connected universe of characters, so that readers can jump in from any book and feel connected to a larger world.

Q&A with Author Curtis Campbell

Q&A with Author Curtis Campbell

Ahead of the upcoming Author Talk and LGBTQ2S+ Youth Gab Session with Curtis Campbell, Huron County Library branch assistant Shannon O’Connor connects with the author to discuss his recently published book, Dragging Mason County, the challenges of writing about where you grew up, shadow banning LGBTQ2S+ books, and more! 

What inspired you to make the switch from theatre and try your hand at writing a Young Adult fiction novel about a group of openly queer teenagers trying to stage their town’s first ever Drag show?

I’ve thought of it as less of a switch from theatre than just finally getting around to writing a book, which I’d always intended to. I’d wanted to be a novelist before I ever knew I could create theatre. The book is about a group of scrappy young artists putting on a show with nothing but some ideas and a lot of nerve, which is how I’ve spent my life since I was the age of the people in this book. When Covid shut down the live arts, I wasn’t able to do that anymore. So it was pretty natural that it became what the book was about.

Dragging Mason County is both meant to represent any rural small town community but also has clear Huron County references. Did you find it challenging to write about where you grew up?

I can’t imagine what you mean by that, my genius is entirely original. I’ve been building an extended Mason lore for quite a while, actually. So by the time I was ready to do it in YA novel form, the majority of the work had already been done in that regard. Mason County is intended as an every-town, for sure. I think the difficult thing was to not get too lost in the specifics of the world, and to find a way to let readers into the world even if you don’t have the shorthand of growing up in a rural area. Universality lives in specifics, but you still have to tune them enough to land.

Your book does such a great job balancing heavier topics like homophobia, queer violence and self-hate with humour through its cast of flawed but relatable characters. Peter Thompkins in particular was an unlikeable character for much of the book but was able to redeem himself by showing up for his friends when it counted. What was your thought process behind writing Peter that way? Did you get any push back to try to tone him down or make him more likable at all?

That’s really just how Peter appeared on the page when the writing started. Peter’s voice came before any real plot specifics, and the fact is that I was just as guarded and barbed as Peter when I was in high school. People have really went off on Peter and how dislikeable he is, but I wasn’t a likeable teenager. I think we’re often asking queer characters to be moral and likeable in an effort to make the queer experience more palatable and user-friendly for straight people. While that is understandable, it is also telling me that I don’t get to be honest about who I was or what I felt at that time of my life.

Annick pushed me to go further with the tone, actually. The first draft that my editor read was much lighter, and he pushed me to go further. The thing that Peter says at the end of the first chapter was initially quite softer, and my editor pushed me to make him say something even worse to get the stakes where they needed to be.

How does it make you feel seeing fellow LGBTQIA2S+ themed Forest of Reading books being targeted for shadow banning?

Deeply unshocking. Canada has a long history of polite oppression, which the character of Jenna Wilbur represents. We often achieve our oppression through quiet acts of bureaucracy. I’d encourage anyone and everyone to read The Canadian War On Queers by Gary Kinsman and Patrizia Gentile, who write on it far better than I ever could.

Dragging Mason County ends on such a hopeful note with Peter discovering his community has more allies and queer members than he realized. What message do you ultimately want queer youth to take away after reading your book?

You’re stronger united, even if you don’t agree on every last thing.

What are you currently working on and do you have any plans to write more fiction in the future? Perhaps even a return to Mason County?

I’m back in the theatre/comedy world of Toronto. I’m writing a new play and a new novel. If I have my way this is far from the last trip to Mason County.

Q&A with author Heather Dixon

Q&A with author Heather Dixon

Ahead of the upcoming Author Talk with author Heather Dixon, Huron County Library branch assistant Shannon O’Connor connects with the author to discuss her writing journey, the challenges of writing, advice for aspiring writers, and more! And mark your calendars for Tuesday, Nov. 14, to join Heather in person at the Clinton Branch.

What inspired you to start writing and what was your journey to publication like?

I’m a lifelong book lover and have always been writing–from as far back as I can remember. I used to write silly stories when I was a little kid, and then it turned into writing for my school English classes, which then became essays for my English Literature degree at University. After school, I became a writer in advertising, and then when I had my children, I started writing editorial-style personal essays for parenting websites. It was only after I had done all those things that I thought to myself that I should finally try writing the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

I guess you could say my kids inspired me to finally take novel-writing seriously because they gave me a passion for writing again (which is probably why all of my books tend to have themes of motherhood in them!)

My journey to publication hasn’t been easy, however. I started writing in 2018 and I wrote three manuscripts and had over 200 rejections from agents and editors before I got an offer on my book that would become my debut novel, Burlington. After that, I sent the second manuscript I had written back in 2019 to a new publisher, and it was accepted and became Last Summer at the Lake House.

Why was writing a book about motherhood and female friendship in suburbia so important for you?

I think it’s because I’ve had some very strong female relationships in my life. I’m very close with my mother, I have three daughters, I have some amazingly supportive friends in my life–and they’ve all inspired me to want to write about them. At the same time, I think those relationships can also be quite complex. I love being a mother even though it can be incredibly challenging and it’s not always all sunshine and roses, and making friends as you get older can also be a bit of a challenge at times. I was at a new stage in my life–with my daughter starting to get a little bit older and going to school, so she wasn’t reliant on me for everything like she was when she was a baby and a toddler–and I found it hard to know where I fit.

When do you find time to write and what are some of the most challenging things about writing for you?

I’ve always been a morning person. Even when I was in University, I couldn’t pull all-nighters to study because I did my best thinking in the morning, so I get up at five in the morning when everyone else is sound asleep in my house. I usually have about an hour and a half to myself to focus then.

There are so many things I find challenging about writing, actually! I find it tough to come up with new ideas that will be different and unique enough but also have legs to sustain an entire novel. I find plot to be tough at times. I also find the post-publication stage hard. It’s really hard to not be too sensitive and to not get hurt by what some people say about your writing or your book.

What advice would you give to aspiring first time novelists?

I would say that it’s important to do whatever you can to finish that first draft. Get all the way through it, even if it’s not perfect, because the magic is truly in the revisions and editing. And I would also say don’t give up. I once heard an author say that talent is not as important as persistence. If you keep writing, keep improving your craft, keep trying new ideas, you’ll get there. Basically, if you want to become a published author, you have to be willing to not give up.

Do you have a favorite book or genre to read for pleasure and is there a recent favorite you can’t stop recommending this year?

My most recent favourite book was Hello, Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. I loved the characters and how real and developed they felt. I loved the author’s writing. It was just a beautiful story.

What can we look forward to next from you?

I have a third book coming out in January called The Summerville Sisters. After that, I’m eventually going to get myself back to the laptop to start drafting something new!