A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning author of seven national bestsellers, including his most recent, Albatross (2019). Mark Lefebvre interviews Terry about writing humor and his most unorthodox journey through the writing and publishing landscape.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning author of seven national bestsellers, including his most recent, Albatross (2019).
A PR and marketing pro, Fallis released his self-published debut novel THE BEST LAID PLANS in 2008 and found a global audience for it via a serialized podcast release of the book chapter by chapter.
The book went on to become the first self-published book to ever win the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, landing him an agent and a publisher. The novel was also crowned the 2011 winner of CBC Canada Reads as the “essential Canadian novel of the decade.“
In January 2014, CBC aired a six-part television miniseries based on The Best Laid Plans earning very positive reviews. In September 2015, it debuted as a stage musical in Vancouver, produced by Touchstone Theatre and Patrick Street Productions.
Mark Lefebvre will interview Terry about writing humor and his most unorthodox journey through the writing and publishing landscape.
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angus, book, write, podcast, read, thought, albatross, writer, novels, readers, worked, chapter, world, thriller, politics, characters, humor, story, people, episodes
Mark Lefebvre 00:21
Hello, everyone. This is Mark Leslie Lefebvre from Draft2Digital here with the Draft2Digital Spotlight and I am honored to have my good friend Terry Fallis here. Terry, welcome.
Terry Fallis 00:31
Mark, nice to be here. Thanks for thinking of me.
Mark Lefebvre 00:33
Well, I was thinking about you because—it’s a funny story, because you are a humorist. But I was thinking about how we met. And it was the early days of indie publishing and self-publishing. And I was a traditional bookseller working at McMaster University bookstore. You were a graduate from the engineering department there, and you had reached out because you had self-published a book. And back in those days, there was a stigma against self-publishing. I had, having been in the book industry almost 20 years at that point, I kind of had my nose out of joint because I’d seen some really crappily produced books that were slopped together, maybe put in [inaudible] and like, “Hey, could you sell my book?” And you reached out, you were very nice. And in your message, you left me a voicemail, but then you’d also—because you’re very persistent, I love that about you. But I got the message and then an email from you. And I saw you had a podcast of your novel The Best Laid Plans. And then just for viewers, this was the original version of The Best Laid Plans. And I thought, well, I love podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts. This was back in 2007. And so I started listening to it. Now, I worked at McMaster, I had a long walk across campus. It was almost a longer walk across campus than it would have been to walk to the campus for my drive, to get to the parking lot. And I remember listening to it and thinking two things. Two of my favorite writers, John Irving and Robertson Davies, particularly the humor stuff, and he does, he has done some humor. High Spirits, Christmas ghost stories. And I remember thinking, oh my goodness, this guy is good. And he reminds me of these two. So that’s when I thought, maybe I should call him back and have him come in and do a book signing. So, so you wrote this novel—which again, and let’s be honest, you picked the topic, a humoristic look at Canadian politics.
Terry Fallis 02:35
Yeah. A satirical novel of Canadian politics, which is the clearest evidence that I didn’t know what I was doing if I wanted to be published. Because that’s really not the topic one would choose if you really wanted to get a foothold in the publishing world in Canada, let alone any in any other country. But I just thought I should write about what I knew about, and I just naively went on my way and wrote that novel, but …
Mark Lefebvre 03:03
But you knew about politics, right? You had worked—
Terry Fallis 03:05
Well, yeah. I worked on Parliament Hill, that’s how I earned my living in the early part of my career. I worked in the back rooms as a political advisor to cabinet ministers, and then for a year in opposition in Ottawa before I came back to Queen’s Park, because I was born and raised in Toronto. And I was a political adviser to the finance minister for two and a half years in the Peterson government. So I knew about politics, I felt strongly about it. And I was not that happy with how we were practicing politics as a country, regardless of the party. So I decided to, rather than writing a rage-filled nonfiction polemic on my views on the state of politics that nobody would ever have read, I decided to cloak my ideas in a funny story and put my thoughts in the minds and mouths of some characters you might come to like and even care about by the end. And that’s really where The Best Laid Plans came from. The story of an accidental Member of Parliament. And, you know, I, as you might expect, writing a satirical novel of Canadian politics, I was greeted with a deafening silence by the traditional publishing world after I sent out all of my query letters and plot synopses and sample chapters, and I really only got one email response. And it was from Beverly Slopen, a literary agent, who said, “I’ve read the novel. It’s very good, it’s funny, but you’ve written a satirical novel of Canadian politics. What were you thinking?” And she said, “I can’t possibly find a home for this, but thanks for sending it in. Good luck.” And I, you know, I did a good thing then. I kept that email. And that helped me later on in the process.
Mark Lefebvre 05:07
So you couldn’t find a publisher for this topic, for this hard-hitting topic. You published it yourself. You put everything together.
Terry Fallis 05:20
I did. Yeah, I decided to self-publish it. My wife actually suggested it. I didn’t know much about self-publishing, but it was in the early days of print on demand. So I’d crossed that Rubicon. I was no longer part of that era where you had to order 10,000 copies to have them molder on a skid in your basement. It was all print on demand, and it was reasonable. Financially, it wasn’t that onerous. And, but I recognized that I was not going to have a marketing team behind me promoting it and getting it in bookstores. So I needed to spread the word. And that’s when I, you know, months before it came out in hard copy, six months before it came out I guess. Even more—I started the podcast in January 2007. I decided to podcast the entire novel chapter by chapter, and give that audio version away for free, in the hopes of building some kind of a listenership who might then decide if they didn’t buy the book for themselves, because they just listened to it for free, they might have enjoyed it enough that they’d buy a copy for their, you know, mother, brother, sister-in-law, neighbor, worst enemy, whatever it might be. And that’s, you know, that was the whole theory, that you know, you give it away for free in one format in the hopes that it comes back to you in a different format, with a few dollars.
Mark Lefebvre 06:56
So one of the things I do know is that you had a background in both PR, as well as in producing audio, because you already had professional podcasts that you were part of.
Terry Fallis 07:10
That’s right. Yeah. Back in 2006, April 2006, a colleague—I’m in the PR agency world, and a colleague and I decided we would start a podcast about public relations, about our day job. And we called it Inside PR. And it started spring of 2006. And so I knew how to edit, how to produce, how to upload, how to do all of that, and how to get reasonable sound quality and add some music and that sort of thing. And that’s, it was that experience—expertise is a strong term—but experience. That’s what I deployed when it came time to podcast the novel, you know, eight months later.
Mark Lefebvre 08:00
And then one of the things, I’m probably getting ahead of the curve. But when you started working with a major publisher, they actually used your version of the books, because this is a practice you continued with your other novels. They actually used your version of the books rather than hiring a voice actor, as I understand it, right?
Terry Fallis 08:22
Well, it’s not, that would have been great. It wasn’t quite like that. What they did is, they just, there was no audiobook for my first six novels. Because I sought their permission to continue to podcast the novel and produce it myself, and continue to give it away for free. In a way, as a tribute to the loyalty of my podcast listeners. Because I’m totally convinced that without the positive feedback I got from podcast listeners around the world, that I wouldn’t have pushed the big red button and ultimately self-published the novel. But because, you know, contrary to popular belief, and many people confuse this, they say you must have felt so confident about your story to keep going. And it’s actually quite the opposite. I podcasted to find out whether I had written a novel. Because I didn’t believe the positive feedback I was getting from my brother and my sister-in-law and my wife. They’re the only ones who had read it, because they loved me.
Mark Lefebvre 09:34
They were gonna lie nicely to you, right?
Terry Fallis 09:36
Right. So I still didn’t really know. But when a listener who I don’t know from Kuala Lumpur, and Scotland, and Australia, and France, when they all email me and say this, you know, this is great, and how come we have to wait a week before the next chapter is uploaded? It began to feel like maybe I actually had written a novel. So it wasn’t my confidence—in fact, it was my lack of confidence. I needed other people to tell me that, okay, you’ve actually written a novel, and it holds together, and I enjoyed it. So that’s what the podcast was all about. So to pay those listeners back for that, I continued to offer the podcast for free and produce it myself for the first six novels. I finally sold out with my current novel Albatross because Penguin Random House, McClelland and Stewart now has their own audio division, and they produce their own audiobooks. And when they did that, and asked me if we could do the audiobook I said, great. So, I still got to do the narration, so I’m the voice on the audiobook, for better or worse, but you actually have to pay for the audiobook now.
Mark Lefebvre 10:52
And it was well worth it. I had been a longtime fan. I buy every one of your books in print, because I want to have a copy. I mean, I have many signed copies, because I have to have that nice trophy in my house here. It makes really good acoustics for the background. But I love listening to your versions of them. So I was so glad that Albatross—more than happy to pay for that and listen to that. I was so happy you did it. But one of the things that you had done, I don’t think it was with Albatross, but with the previous ones, when it was being released serialized over 36 weeks, is you would start about a month before the release day. Because what I, and a lot of people probably just rushed out on the day it came out, or ordered it and had it delivered. Because they didn’t want to wait 8 or 10 or 12 more weeks to get to the end of the book. They just wanted to binge it right away.
Terry Fallis 11:42
Well, that was the one concession I made to the publishing world, my publisher, is that they agreed to let me a podcast it. But they didn’t want the podcast to finish before the novel was released. So yeah, yeah, we always staggered it so that there was still, you know, eight or nine chapters to go or something when the book was released. But that was fun. But, you know, took a lot of time and I actually, I miss it sometimes, doing the podcast, but not that often.
Mark Lefebvre 12:16
Now with the last book, were you in a studio or did you—because I know you did it for the original ones from your home office, right?
Terry Fallis 12:23
I did it from this very room where I’m sitting now. This is where it was done. And I would put my laptop up on a low shelf over on the other side of the room here, and I would just, you know, I had a nice radio style condenser mic that led into a nice digital recorder and it all sounded pretty good. I would put plugs in the air vents here, so that the sound of the furnace coming on would not be heard. But it was a great experience. But producing it took a long time, as you know, because you do your own production. You know, I used Audacity, the same way I think you do Mark. And you know, a half hour-long chapter would probably take me maybe three, three and a half hours in total to produce a half hour of reasonably good-sounding audio.
Mark Lefebvre 13:18
So, the other thing I want to get to is, so you had self-published this book. Then you won a major humor award, the Steven Leacock medal for humor, which was the very first self-published book to ever do that. I think at that point, Bev, your agent, was able to find a publisher.
Terry Fallis 13:41
Right, although she wasn’t my agent until it was shortlisted for the Leacock.
Mark Lefebvre 13:47
Oh, I see. Okay. Then she said, “Hey, let’s sign this now.”
Terry Fallis 13:49
Right. That’s what prompted, I emailed her after the announcement of the shortlist, and I just had to remind her. I said, “Here’s the email trail. I just, this has just happened. Does this change anything?” And I wasn’t being snide about it. I was genuinely curious as to whether or not being shortlisted for a major literary award might cause her to reconsider having me join her stable of authors. And she said, “Let’s have a drink.” And we met, and we got on very well. She’s a lovely, lovely person and a very good agent. And she took me on, promising me I was not going to win the Leacock medal. Because it was, you know, which was good advice on her part to keep me grounded, but also reasonable, a reasonable supposition that I would not win. And then somehow miraculously, my name was uttered as the winner and that’s when my life really changed as a writer. We signed with McClelland and Stewart a week later. And I’ve been there ever since. And then, yeah, the book was re-released about four months later, I guess. And I’ve been with them through, with all, for all … Well, I was going to say seven of my novels. Number eight is, I’m working on now. And I have a number nine coming with them as well at some point in the future. Neither they know nor I know what that novel is yet, but we will at one point.
Mark Lefebvre 15:29
Well, that’s awesome. So The Best Laid Plans. Angus, fish out of water, ends up in politics, not really caring or wanting to be in politics. He finds himself backed into that corner. Which is part of your humor, is that fish out of water, you know, which is very funny. Then you wrote the sequel to that, The High Road, and you’re returning to write about Angus again in the new novel you’re working on right now, as I understand it.
Terry Fallis 15:56
Yes. I didn’t know that I was ever going to return to Angus and Daniel, the two sort of lead characters in those first two novels. But I have to say, having done almost 1,000 book talks in the last 10 or 11 years or so, 12 years, I guess, the single most common question I get is, “Will there be another Angus novel?” And they often say something like this. They say, “I’ve read all of your novels, and I like them all, but nothing will beat the first one,” which is not always what an author wants to hear, right? I’ve just gone downhill for eight books. But clearly, Angus struck a chord with many of the people who have been kind enough to read my novels. And I thought it was time that I came back to Angus. Maybe for the last time but, you know, never say never. So yes, Angus and Daniel are back. And it won’t—this new novel, tentatively entitled Operation Angus, is not going to be quite as rooted in politics as the first two. Maybe I learned that that may not be such a good idea. But he is a cabinet minister in this novel, but he and Daniel stumble into, call it an assassination plot, against a world leader. And it’s, it’s not the Prime Minister of Canada and it’s not the President of the United States. It’s somebody else of that order.And it’s set to happen in Ottawa.So, Angus and Daniel cannot get anyone to believe them that this is happening, and they end up kind of having to freelance ituntil the very end when they finally get some help. But anyway, I hope it’s going to be fun. I’ve beenwriting, you know, almost all weekend every weekend, the last several weeks and you know, I’m about 35,000 words in, of the probably 95,000 words, maybe 90,000 words. So I’m getting there. I’ve crossed the third barrier. I’m one-third in at least.
Mark Lefebvre 18:22
Excellent, excellent. Now, the other thing about Angus and Daniel is you’ve had the honor of winning a major literary award. Also, CBC Canada Reads named The Best Laid Plains the Best Novel of the Decade, which was great, which was like a debate.
Terry Fallis 18:38
Yeah, it’s kind of a, I mean, it’s sort of a ridiculous, you know, thing to call it. Whatever novel or book had won Canada Reads that year, was to be designated the essential Canadian novel of the decade. So it’s more about Canada Reads than it is about the novel.
Mark Lefebvre 18:59
Stop poo-pooing yourself.
Terry Fallis 19:00
Yes, that’s true. But anyway, I’m always careful not to drink my own bathwater.
Mark Lefebvre 19:07
I get that. But the other thing that not a lot of authors have had the experience of is, you got to see that novel be adapted for a CBC television miniseries. And what was that, eight episodes?
Terry Fallis 19:20
It was six episodes. Yeah, a six part …
Mark Lefebvre 19:22
What was that like, as a writer? That whole experience?
Terry Fallis 19:25
It was, I really enjoyed it. And I went in with the right perspective, because I’d spoken to enough people. And, you know, you shouldn’t expect to see your story in all of its perfect detail, presented on the screen. That almost never happens when novels are adapted for the big screen or the small screen. Even when you have six episodes, six hours’ worth, to do it. The novel, there’s too much story in the novel. So they end up paring down the story, simplifying it, fewer characters, and stuff gets changed. And so, I had a lot of lovers of the book who said they, you know, they didn’t really love the series as much because so much was missing. And that’s just the reality of going to TV. And authors who end up getting so mad about that at the end, probably shouldn’t have taken the money for the film rights, because that’s it’s inevitable. They have the story, and they own the rights to the story now, so they can do what they want. Now, I was quite happy with the story. I thought, while the story departed from the novel, I thought it captured the major themes I was trying to deal with. And I thought the characters were pretty close. And there was enough …
Mark Lefebvre 20:56
There was flatulence in the TV series, like in the novel.
Terry Fallis 21:00
Occasionally. Yeah, and it, you know, some of the dialogue was lifted right from the novel. So, and you know, I’m never gonna complain about somebody producing a six-part miniseries about my novel. I mean, I’m just not going to. So I loved it. And we were very close to the same group of people doing No Relation as a feature film.
Mark Lefebvre 21:26
No! Oh my God, I love that.
Terry Fallis 21:28
We were very close, but we didn’t make it. We didn’t make it. But, you know, one day. One day maybe, but that was a great experience. And then, if that wasn’t enough, this is the novel that keeps on giving. It was actually developed and produced and staged as a stage musical as well, in Vancouver. And I got to go out and workshop some of the songs with them, and then see the two week-long run. I saw the first five or six times they performed it. And it was a great, just a great experience. So I feel like I have exhausted my lifetime allocation of good fortune where that novel is concerned.
Mark Lefebvre 22:17
Well, I’m gonna pop up a comment. We’re going to be taking questions in another 10 minutes, but I had to pop up this comment from Carol. Carol says, “Love that you’re returning to Angus and Ottawa but have to say … love Albatross”—which was your most recent release—”too. Bought all your books for my dad and when he passed away, I got them all back. So many I have two copies.” Carol, that sounds like an amazing collection.
Terry Fallis 22:38
That’s so—Carol, thank you. Thank you very much. That’s lovely to hear. And it’s always nice that, I’ve been really lucky, because a certain number of readers always seem to think my current novel is their favorite. And that’s always nice. That offsets all the others who say, “The Best Laid Plans is my favorite.” And I don’t begrudge that at all either. They are all my children.
Mark Lefebvre 23:05
Of course. You love them all in different ways. What exactly … Well, I Albatross was the last one I read. And I think maybe the last book of yours I’ve picked up and read, even if it was the first one rereading again, is always my favorite. Because there’s so much to love. There’s a couple things. I mentioned the fish out of water, which is really important. So you’ve got the senior going into space. You’ve got the writer named Hemingway who can’t write. You’ve got Albatross, which is a guy who wants to be a writer, but he’s a pro golfer. And again, you made me read about, golf is one of the most boring things I can imagine. So is reading about politics. And yet I loved and adored both those topics. But the thing you did really, really well, there’s a really great novel that is a feminist novel, basically, where you explore feminism, and that’s Poles Apart. And I think there’s something, you did this in The Best Laid Plans. You make me laugh and then you make me cry. And you make me think. And then you make me laugh. And then … You’re constantly doing that. What place … So with a serious topic, like obviously, politics are very serious now in this divisive world we’re in or, you know, feminist, women’s rights, women’s issues are always, you know, very serious. But you manage to apply humor. What’s the value or the importance of humor in such serious topics?
Terry Fallis 24:26
Well, to me, humor can be a very trenchant instrument of social comment. And for most social issues, we rely on the tried and the true. The protest rally, the anger, the clenched fist, the chanting. And those have all been great tools. But sometimes the audience we’re trying to reach, which are those who haven’t thought about these issues before, and don’t know how they feel about some of them, sometimes they get turned off by the pumping placard and the anger through the megaphone. And I often think that humor can be a really interesting way to get people, the great majority who haven’t formed opinions on some of these issues, to think about these issues and draw their own conclusions. So to me, humor gives them a different entry point to a social issue. So, to me, I’ve never thought that funny novels are necessarily less serious than the novels that aren’t funny. They’re just serious in a different way. I hope they still get you to think about things. And in almost all of my novels, I hope there’s an underlying message. There’s a mission I have. And in Poles Apart, it was, yeah, to advance the cause of women’s equality. It’s been an issue of interest to me since I was active in the student movement back in the early 1980s. And in fact, some of the experiences in Poles Apart have their roots in my own experiences in the women’s movement. So that was a book that is perhaps closest to my heart, in a way, because the issue is so important to me. And it took me five, it was my fifth novel. So I had to get four out of the way before I could figure out how to … How, as a white male who hails from the most privileged demographic in the history of human civilization, how could I, you know, write a book, write a novel about feminism in a way that, you know, that worked and didn’t offend anybody. So, it took me a while to figure it out, and I hope I did. But, you know, to your point, humor gives us a different way to think about important issues that are worthy of our thought, demand our thought, and deserve our thought.
Mark Lefebvre 27:04
And it’s interesting, I’m only thinking about this now, but when I reflect back—because you talked about women’s rights being an important thing that you wanted to share and talk about—that Merin, Angus’s wife, is very heavily involved, right?
Terry Fallis 27:22
Yeah, she’s an accomplished and celebrated feminist, theorist, writer, and academic. Now, she’s offstage the entire novel because she dies six months before the novel opens, that first novel. But we learn about Marin through Angus’s diary entries that close each chapter and—
Mark Lefebvre 27:47
Which, those bring me to tears just thinking about them. So excuse me, I may have to go off camera. But no, really beautiful, touching, yeah, as he’s writing to his wife
Terry Fallis 27:58
Right. And that’s probably the most rewarding and fulfilling experience I’ve had as a writer, beyond the simple act of being introduced as a writer, which is always really satisfying. But on, I think maybe half a dozen occasions, in various places across the country after I’ve done readings, an older man or an older woman—it’s happened with both—have come up to me and said that, you know, their spouse had passed away in the last year and they couldn’t figure out how to go on. And they thought reading those diary entries that Angus makes perfectly captured what they were feeling. And then they would start to cry and then I would start to cry. And we would hug. And I thought, “Wow, if no one reads another word I write, I will feel like I’ve been blessed as a writer.”
Mark Lefebvre 28:52
Wow. That is fantastic. Thank you. I’m moved to tears. I’m not supposed to be touching my face at this time, but it’s okay. I’m gonna jump into a question that popped up, since we’re getting close to that time. This is from Jamie. Jamie says, “I have a YouTube channel (with one video, lol). Do you think making YouTube videos about writing or just about books or maybe reading chapters from your own books is a good way to get readers?” I mean, because it’s almost parallel to the way you started.
Terry Fallis 29:22
Yeah, I think it’s a great idea. We need to make use of the digital opportunities we have now, that writers in a different generation never had. I mean, we have more ways to get our words in front of people than ever before. I did the podcast thing, because it was kind of before YouTube even when I started, but I think YouTube is a great idea. I think readers, most readers want to know a little bit about the author. They want to have some sort of a connection with the author. And a podcast is one way to do it. Reading chapters on YouTube is another because they get to see you, they get to hear you. You probably have a little bit of small talk at the beginning and a bit of talk at the end, where they get to know you a little bit, as I did in the podcast. So I think that’s a great idea. I think for writers, giving it away for free in print form is probably the last thing you should do. Because ultimately, we want the book to be in printed form in the hands of readers, purchased at an independent bookstore, preferably. There you go. So that’s why we have these other options we can pursue. But I would hold fast to the print version and let that be what you charge for. Because your words are worth something.
Mark Lefebvre 30:47
Excellent, excellent. And I want to go back to a little bit of the logistics, because you talked about the podcast. So I know your podcast opened with some music that you sourced, made sure that you had the rights to use. And then you did a brief, “In this episode, Angus is going through whatever.” That really helped ingratiate yourself with the reader, but then because it was rolled out in a weekly fashion, that also reminded us what, you know, because it’s not like you were watching it on Netflix and just getting it “bang bang bang.”
Terry Fallis 31:18
Exactly. Well, when I did that, I was just picking up something that they used to do in TV all the time where’d they say, “In last week’s episode, this happened.” And so I just thought it was part of giving the story to the readers, is to give them a little bit about, not about me, but just to hear me as a person as well. In fact, in some of those early episodes of The Best Laid Plans, and it’s still the 2007 podcast that’s on iTunes as a free download. You’ll hear me say, if there are any literary agents out there who might be interested, and I pitch the novel in a way in some of those episodes, so.But I try to get to the reading pretty quickly. It’s not about me, it’s about the story. But you do hear me kind of introduce the episodes and say thanks at the end, and how they can comment. Because, you know, social media is all about a conversation. So they always had a way to get in touch with me, whether email, leave a comment, or on my blog or, which is part of it.
Mark Lefebvre 32:24
And I remember from those early days, because I was a scotch drinker. And so was Angus. And it was Lagavulin scotch. And I remember a listener had emailed you to say, “You’re pronouncing it wrong, dude.”
Terry Fallis 32:29
Yeah, exactly. I think in the first episode, I said “Lag-uh-VIEW-lin,” and I’m not a drinker at all. So I just went to the LCBO, the liquor store here in Toronto, and found what looked like the most exotic and expensive scotch. I didn’t even buy it. I just took a picture of it with my little flip cell phone at the time, and that’s the brand I gave to Angus as his preferred single malt. But I thought it was pronounced “Lag-uh-VIEW-lin,” and then somebody who lives in the Highlands of Scotland where they make single malt Scotch … I’ll never forget his email, it was one of the first ones I got. He said, “I’m loving the story. The characters are addictive, but you’re mispronouncing Lagavulin.” And he spelled it out phonetically for me so that I could get it right the next time, which I did. And I thanked him on the next episode.
Mark Lefebvre 33:27
I loved that, because you did interact with your readers.
Terry Fallis 33:29
Yeah, of course.
Mark Lefebvre 33:31
Of course, I did, I was a Macallan drinker myself, but I went out after finishing the book and said, “I’ve got to buy Lagavulin, because if Angus is drinking it, it’s got to be good.” So I’m sure that they got some sales out of people who had to go check it out, right?
Terry Fallis 33:47
Well, maybe one or two bottles.
Mark Lefebvre 33:48
Okay, that was just me the first few times. But you’ve added elements of yourself into—sorry, the dogs are going nuts, someone’s coming to the door. You’ve added elements of yourself into the novel. So Angus designs a hovercraft, which you had done when you were a younger man. But then the other thing, and this is a comment from Edwin, who first pops up, says, “Thanks for the novels.” But then asks a question, because I know it’s related to Albatross. It’s your affinity for pens. And he asks, “What pen are you carrying today?”
Terry Fallis 34:27
Right, that’s an excellent question. I have, well, you know what? I have, this is one that I am, where is it? There we go. Trying to get it in the camera mode. This is a Visconti Voyager. And it’s what I’m using right now. Trying to get it in the center of the screen. Anyway. Yeah, I’ve been a fountain pen fan for quite a few years. And I’m a member in good standing of the “write what you know” school of writing. So while I am not in the books, and they aren’t about me at all. They’re not autobiographical, really. But I do like to write about worlds that I know and have experienced and am interested in. Because I think it’s easier to write with authority and conviction and authenticity if you do that. So I, you know, I like to have some eccentricity in my novels. So, fountain pens, it’s sort of a small subculture, those of us who like fountain pens. But it’s a passionate group, and I just thought I would share a little bit about fountain pens in my latest novel. Thank you, Edwin.
Mark Lefebvre 35:38
I like that. So when it’s something that you obviously have experience with, right, so having worked in Ottawa, fountain pens, writing, hovercrafts, things like that … Not scotch, you know, that was research. So the character in Up and Down, the main character in Up and Down. You’re not a senior female. Right? Well, how old was she in the …
Terry Fallis 36:03
71, I believe.
Mark Lefebvre 36:08
71. And have never been into space—well, yet. Have not yet been into space yet. Maybe you and Chris Hadfield can go together and sing because you’re also a musician. But how did you do the research for like, this was NASA, and this was the space program, and this was senior issues.
Terry Fallis 36:25
Right. Well, there’s still a lot of my own life experience in that novel in that the narrator David Stewart works at the Toronto office of a multinational PR agency. I spent the first eight years of my career doing that very thing. And since I was a kid, and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, I have been fascinated by, and at times obsessed with, space. And our foray into space. And I still follow that quite religiously. So I thought, what will I write about next? This is when my third novel was about, when I was going to start writing it and I thought, well, why don’t I set it in a PR agency and make NASA the client? And I wanted to write more about older women, senior women, because I think older women are sadly absent, even neglected, from our mainstream literature. And writing about Muriel, the Muriel character in my first two novels, made me want to write more about older women. And so I cooked up this idea of, you know, a youngish PR guy who would narrate, and a much older woman who wins a lottery to be one of the first two citizen astronauts to take a trip on the space shuttle and spend a week in the international space station. And all that went into that, and there’s politics and a bit of corruption and lots of fun. So that’s where that came from. It was just my interest in space and my experience as a PR agency professional. It all just came together. And the novel kind of wrote itself in a way.
Mark Lefebvre 38:22
Oh, that’s fantastic. And so I have to ask, then. So your latest novel, which is, you know, returning to Angus and Daniel, is assassination. That almost sounds like a thriller. But it’s going to be a humorous novel, correct?
Terry Fallis 38:38
Yeah, it’s kind of a fine balance. I mean, it was a, I like to set a challenge for myself with each novel. I mean, many of my novels are quite similar, particularly if you’ve read them in quick succession. But there’s always something about each one that’s a little different. I mean, when I wrote One Brother Shy, I had never written a narrator who was not just flawed, as my other narrators were, but was actually damaged. He was damaged and he was recovering from something. So yeah. There had to be something I could challenge myself to write. In this new novel I’m working on, you know, I like reading thrillers but I’ve never really read a comic thriller. Except perhaps for, I mean, Hugh Laurie wrote a funny novel called The Gun Seller, which is pretty good. And Robert Ludlum actually wrote a pretty funny thriller called The Road to Gandalfo, I believe it’s called. And so I wanted to try adding some thriller elements into it. And you probably saw the roots for that in Albatross. There is a scene in Albatrossthat is kind of thriller-like. And that’s where that started.
Mark Lefebvre 40:00
Yeah. I was actually in Oklahoma City, at the Draft2Digital office, I go there once a quarter. And I was standing in the parking lot at the end of the work day waiting for my Uber to take me back to the hotel, when that scene was going down. And I was so disappointed cuz I didn’t want to be rude, I wanted to stop listening so I could talk to Uber driver. And I was like, I can’t wait to get to the hotel so I can finish this.
Terry Fallis 40:21
Well, that’s when I got the idea of maybe writing something in that … I mean, it’s not a classic thriller, where people are getting beat up and bullets are whizzing by, but there are elements of a thriller in there and maybe some suspense. And, you know, we’ll see how it goes. I mean, never having done it, I don’t, I’m not really sure I know what I’m doing. But I’ve never really known what I’m doing. I just do it the way I think it makes sense, and we’ll see how the story unfolds. But so far, so good, I hope. Fingers crossed.
Mark Lefebvre 40:55
Well, for somebody who does not know what he’s doing, you’ve done okay. Now, what would you advise to anyone who’s watching or listening to this, to … Either thinking that they want to write a novel, just like you had written The Best Laid Plans. Now, what advice would you give to people who are just getting started?
Terry Fallis 41:16
It’s a good question and I sort of get this a lot. Maybe a couple of points. One, a novel feels so daunting, it feels so long. It feels like it’s such a massive undertaking. I don’t think of it in that way. I think of it as a chapter by chapter exercise. I just have to write the next chapter. And my chapters tend to be about 5000 words in length. Surely, we can all write 5000 words. So we write that chapter and it goes into your computer file. And then at some point, later, you start chapter two, and you write another 5000 words. And incrementally over time, that computer file has chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four, five, six, seven, eight. And you just keep doing that, you just keep scaling that 5000 word mountain rather than the hundred thousand word mountain, and you will get there. The second point I might say is that, I think it’s … One of my writerly secrets is, the voices of my narrators are very much like my own voice. Again, I’m not in the novel, but I know that voice very well. And I think it’s easiest to write authentically and convincingly if you’re writing in the voice you know best. And that tends to be your own voice. So you might want to create a character who has a voice that’s kind of like yours. That might make it easier for you to write and have it connect with the reader. If you try to write about something you have no idea about, or a character who you’ve never met before, or anyone like I, it’s hard to get those words on the page in a way that the reader will find them convincing, persuasive, believable, credible, all of that. So, yeah, I, you know, the jokes that, the funny lines—I hope they’re funny, at least—that you see in the novel. It’s the same line I would be using at the dinner table if the same situation came up. So it’s often my voice, at least the narrator is. Other characters, you need to obviously write in different voices. But it’s kind of why I write in the first person, because it gives me a strong narrative voice all the way through the story. And it’s usually my voice.
Mark Lefebvre 43:38
Excellent. Well, it’s a voice I really, really enjoy. Now, speaking of voice, if a writer is considering that they may want to record their own audiobook, what do you recommend that they first check out or be wary of?
Terry Fallis 43:56
Well, it’s … What I found when I first did the podcast is that, I learned the rule that when you’re editing you should, whether you’re doing a podcast or not, you should read your words out loud. I had so many sentences, when I was recording the podcast, that when I wrote them, I thought, wow, these are beautiful, pristine, flowing, mellifluous sentences. I love that. And then I would read it out loud in the podcast, and it would go clunk, clunk, clunk. And it’s different when it’s read out loud. So I think it’s a great way to edit, to make your writing better, is to read your work out loud, podcast or not. But I guess the other thing is, maybe just a little technical thing. When I did the first chapter, I would record, and then when I made a mistake, I would turn off the recorder. And then I would restart it and keep reading from there. And I quickly discovered that it’s much better just to do one long recording. Rather than ending up in your Audacity screen, or GarageBand screen, with 18 different tracks with five minutes each. Like, that’s just crazy. So just record the whole thing. If you mess up, stop, leave a bit of a break, and then repeat that sentence and carry on. But I thought it was a fun, you learn a lot about storytelling when you read it out loud. And I think you become a better writer when you have told your story orally. Because that is, in a way, our brains are hard-wired in the oral tradition, I think. Storytelling goes back so far, when we’re little kids, our parents are reading us stories. And that gets kind of embedded somehow in our brain wiring. So read it out loud, and I think you’ll become a better writer for doing that.
Mark Lefebvre 46:00
Awesome. Well, Terry, that is fantastic advice to leave off with. People can check you out at terryfallis.com.
Terry Fallis 46:08
That’s great. Mark, thanks for having me. It’s been great.
Mark Lefebvre 46:13
Thank you so much for the inspiration. Thank you for all of the great advice for writers, and thanks for writing. And I can’t wait to read your next book.
Terry Fallis 46:24
Well, Mark, you were there at the very beginning and you inviting me to do a book launch at the McMaster bookstore was an important part of my early story as a writer, so I’m grateful for that. So thank you. Nice to be here.
Mark Lefebvre 46:35
All right. And goodbye, everyone. Thanks again, Terry.
Terry Fallis 46:38