Saturday, December 24, 2011

And so this is...

Am I even allowed to say the word? Will some politically correct police officer come and throw me in the clink for wishing you a Merry Christmas? So be it. I've been spreading that phrase around quite, uh, liberally lately and quite intentionally. Some are pleased to hear it while others appeared stunned, like: "You didn't just say that, did you?" Ah, more and more, it's the holiday that dare not speak its own name.

I always add, "And I mean that in a good way." And I do.

Christmas comes with baggage, for me and for most people. It's not something you can easily lay aside, even if you wanted to.

I am at that (un)fortunate stage in life when I have many Christmases to call upon and many more that arrive unbidden on the doorstep of my bedecked mind like those ghosts of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. There was the year of making construction paper chains in Miss Dakins's Grade Three class, which also happened to be the year of singing Snoopy's Christmas for all the parents just so I could earn an extra bag of candy to bring home to my older brother, who was sick when the party went down. There was the year I learned how to skate, more or less, and fell flat on my nose on the frozen brook. A few hours later, one of my drunken uncles used a salt loader from the Department of Highways to rip the wires from our house while I gazed in fascination and horror, thinking how strange, awful and exciting it would be to spend Christmas without power.

Years later, there was the first year off to school in the city, going home to Placentia (the New Orleans of Newfoundland, being at or below sea level and often flooded) and being unable (or so I was told) to get across to the bridge because the tide was in and the moon was high, and the water was knee deep wherever you want. I needed to get to Gander because that's where my new girlfriend lived (we're married now, going on twenty-five years) and I swore I'd get to her by Boxing Day come hell or high water. I braved both, in fact, and got there on the Terrible Transport (or "Terra Transport" as they liked to be called) to a joyful girlfriend and a welcoming home with gifts piled so high I had to ask whose they were. Apparently, they were all for me, since Christmas Day had already passed and all other gifts had been opened. The sheer quantity both thrilled and embarassed me--and still would.

Then there were the university years--getting by on hard work and dreams, the kindness and cameraderie of friends, drifting further and further away from a perpexed family back home in Placentia. I'm not exactly sure how or when it happened. I just knew that I started to dread traveling around the holidays and longed to just stay home with my girlfriend (soon wife) and bask in the glow of our over-sized real trees that were annually decorated with the products of her own hands, as she'd been making ornaments and saving them since she was a child.

Not long after that came the poverty years--like wanderers through a dark land, we waded through a cesspool of poverty, year after year. I taught high school for a while, but only on contract and getting teaching work was tough in those days. Ultimately, even the substitute work dried up--partly because I couldn't stand it in the least, the uncertainty of ignominy of the situation. I took to playing and singing in bands, deciding--at my young wife's behest--that I would, in the daytime, pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Christmases were hard in those years, especially because I often had to leave home to make a living (such is the heritage of being a Newfoundlander, it would seem) and at Christmas and New Year's, in particular, I had a chance to earn more sheckles than usual. With times so hard--and my wife working at a downtown bookstore--I took the gigs where I could get them and found less and less time for writing.

I'll skip the details of all that followed, including eventually being chased from those bands by the spectre of Student Loans. There was the year in Chilliwack, B.C., with family who had sworn to us that the Lower Mainland was snow-free and warm at Christmastime. That was the year they had to call out the army to clear the roads because nearly 300 cm of snow fell in short time. With no snow boots to be found anywhere, I bought a pair of green rubber boots that did me for trudging around town in the slush until the snow melted in early February.

After a couple of stops in Nova Scotia in a couple of years, we came back to Newfoundland and nearly starved. But that first year was my favourite. We had no furniture to speak of--a computer desk with only a broken computer on it. A wobbly, borrowed kitchen table, and no bed to sleep on for several months. Just before Christmas Eve that year--with the food bank beckoning--I landed a short term contract teaching English at the local university, a gig that I eventually parlayed into a Ph.D. and teaching career. With no one else around, we revelled in every movie and enjoyed our first vegetarian Christmas dinner, went for walks in the snow and talked to each other endlessly about our plans for the future. I never wanted it to end.

In all those years, we never had much in material goods. And I can't say it wasn't hard on the nerves. Poverty, once experienced, becomes baggage that can never truly be put down, much like Christmas itself. One tends to wear lack like a sack of spuds laid across the shoulders that forces you to walk as if you were the lead actor in a passion play.

And Dickens was right: It is at this time of year that "want is most keenly felt and abundance rejoices."

I have always felt abundant in matters of the spirit, matters of love, matters that matter. And Christmas--not in spite of, but because of the hustle and bustle--has always meant a lot to me. It's been a time of marking where I am in life, how far I've come. It's a time of remembering both good and bad. A time to reflect on what constitutes a life well lived, experienced and felt.

Christmas helps me feel. I make no apologies for it. It's Christmas Eve as I write this, and I am so tired of the banter about how Christmas is too commercial, too this, too that, or that it's meaningless or silly or stupid or that it's only for children or for Christians alone or whatever.

I care for none of it. I am not a relgious man. I doubt I'm much of a Christian, because of my best efforts. I like Christmas. I like everything about Christmas. Even the Nativity story has a magic and endurance about it that most writers can only dream of.

So sue me.

And if you don't like Christmas, why in hell's bells are you trying to ruin it for someone who does? Keep it or don't keep it in your own way. I really don't care. Just as I don't care if you're vegetarian or meataterian, gay or straight, religious or not. I'm just trying to get some peace here.

'Cause really that's all I want. The entire year is filled with things to be done, questions to be answered, essays to  be graded, stories to write or publicized, people to see--and I would much rather be in a cabin in the woods by a lake, sipping something good and watching the sun rise. That's sometimes. Other times, I like  being out there among the shoppers, feeling the moment and wishing they'd take it a little easier, be a bit more peaceful, in keeping with the situation.

I don't try to keep Christ in Christmas. That's for others to do. But I still call it "Christmas" because that's what it was when I was a boy; that's what it was called when I first met my future wife; it's what it was called when I went through my formative years and became who I now am.

I see no reason to change it or to stop speaking the name aloud. I won't tell you what to call it or whether you should speak of it at all.

But I do wish you peace and happiness, now and throughout the rest of your days.

I've said my piece--as I've been wanting to for a few days now--and now I'll withdraw for an evening of peace and friendship and a glass of something fine.

Good evening all. And Merry Christmas, whether you keep it or not. And I mean that in a good way.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

And the winner is...

PERRY OLDFORD, whom I distinctly remember playing football on the streets of Gander on New Year's Eve in the early 1990s when he was a teenager, is the winner of a personalized copy of my short story collection, Moonlight Sketches. I know this (that he played football, not that he won the book) because Matt Walters, Kurt Mahle and I also participated in that notorious event. It was all for posterity's sake, as I recall, and hardly anyone got hurt, although I do remember some of us (possibly me, can't quite remember) falling directly in front of a moving vehicle. It's the blare of the horn and the yellow wash of headlights that stay in my memory. Did I mention it was during a New Year's Eve snowstorm? The Snow Ball, I guess we should have called it.

Anyway, enough nostalgia--Perry, you won the prize and if you'll send me your mailing address (somewhere very out west and very north, I think), I'll get it in the mail to you tomorrow morning.

Thanks everyone for entering. I had fun doing this--all in the spirit of giving--and I suspect I'll be doing it again soon. I hope you'll considering entering your names again.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Giving it away from my underwear drawer

I'm not quite finished my work for the semester, but I'm in a grateful mood. I've just signed the contract for my first novel, Finton Moon, which arrives at book stores in Spring 2012, and I've also just received my first ever royalty statement from my publisher. Today, in an article in The Telegram Chad Pelley (talented  and generous author of "Away From Everywhere") mentioned Moonlight Sketches as one of his "Hot Reads," and I got to thinking I should do something for someone. I mean, yes, I've been doing all the charitable stuff we all should be doing if we can, but I wanted to do something for that most cherished of souls: the reader.

Ever since Moonlight Sketches appeared in April this year, I've heard from a lot of people wanting to know where they can get a copy of the book and a great many who have bought the book but would also like to have it autographed. I can't afford to get into business of pesonally sending people my book (there's just too many and the cost of postage is just too prohibitive, no matter who pays for it), so here's what I've decided to do:

I'm giving away a free, signed copy of Moonlight Sketches this Sunday evening. All you have to do is email me either in Facebook or at and put "Moonlight Sketches Draw" in the subject line, and I'll enter your name for the contest. I call it a contest, but there'll be no bloodshed and certainly no hurt feelings at the end of it. I'll put all the names I receive in my underwear drawer and on Sunday evening at 7:30 p.m. Newfoundland time, I'll turn off the light in my bedroom and by the mere glow of the street lamp outside, I'll pull open the underwear drawer and draw a name. The winner will receive the signed copy of my short story collection, which I'll put in the mail first thing Monday morning. Wicked or what?

Really, I just wanted to say thanks--in a symbolic way--for everyone who bought my book, sent a note of congrats, a word of encouragement, showed up at a reading or signing, told a friend about it or mentioned it on Facebook. There are even people who come to readings but can't afford to buy a book. My heart goes out to you, but I understand the need to buy food before buying a book. Well, okay, not really. I think I'd starve before I'd do without books, but I realize that's just me.

Okay, I'm getting off track, as I am wont to do now and then.

Just thanks, luh. So you've got exactly forty-eight hours from now, as I write this note, to get your name in for the draw. Who knows--if you win, maybe the book will arrive in time for you to read it over the holidays (or give it to someone you know will enjoy it).

Meanwhile, for the many who have been asking lately, Moonlight Sketches is available at Coles and Chapters bookstores across Canada, as well as Downhome outlets in NL (including certain airports, last time I checked). You can also buy it directly from Creative Publishers: .  You can also purchase it from Amazon or, althought the wait time is a fair bit longer.

There are reviews, interviews and other details available on my website:

Merry Christmas. And I mean that in a good way. :-)


Friday, December 9, 2011

Bully for us.

I hardly even know what to say. So much information coming at me all the time. You know what I mean, don't you?

Some people seem to swim quite easily in these cold, murky waters--constantly plugged into the cellphone, laptop or iPad 2. Nothing wrong with that. I admire it, to some extent.

But what I'm really craving lately is some peace of mind. Or maybe just some peace.

At the risk of sounding like some strange kind of nut--a charge I gladly accept, since I have always felt greatly out of step with this world that values conformity and sameness above all else, even while it sometimes pretends to appreciate difference. Okay, that's a whole other thought there. "Digression!"

At the risk of sounding like some strange kind of nut, I will admit to not feeling very peaceful lately, even though peace is what I mostly seek. I'm not even sure what I'm about to say, but it feels like it could be a doozy since I haven't blogged much lately. I need to have clarity in order to blog, but that's ridiculous since writing really can help you sort things out. So in the interest of experimentation, I hope you'll bear with me as I sort some stuff out.

Here's what's been going on with me lately, and the things I think about. These will probably appear in random order, but will jump out of my head in the order that seems most crucial.

Went to lunch today with my wife in downtown St. John's. It was brutally cold after a wild and windy night in which (gasp!) our cable nearly got knocked out. I don't know how we survived at all. The TV screen froze several times when things got really intense, and we missed the last five minutes of The Big Bang Theory, just as Leonard was about to confront the guy who had bullied him in high school and still turned out to be quite an arse in adult life, someone who only wanted to use him for profit. Another digression. It's all digression.

My wife's father died 29 years ago today and I can tell that, for her, the wound is still as fresh as it was then. She was only a teenager when he passed away, and I can only imagine what that must have done to her mindset for the next few years. I won't dwell on it, but that was the reason I decided to put all else aside and just hang out with her today, doing things I thought she would enjoy. But the restaurant was crap. It was a place we've gone many times before and usually the service is quite good and the food generally acceptable. Today was not that day. The service was horrible, the seating was awful and generally speaking, it was not a great place for lunch today. Every time I asked for something, the waitress said, "No." She brought us our meal, which was passable, but the portions were incredibly small compared to what they used to be. I didn't complain, but I won't be going back there again, ever.

So why can't people just be nice? Why can't restaurants offer a decent meal at a fair price, served by a waitress who knows how to pretend to give a damn that you're sitting there? Sure, maybe she had a bad day. But it's like those drivers who take up two lanes with their SUV's or think the rules of the road and common courtesy don't apply to them--everyone can have a bad day, but that doesn't give you the right to ruin someone else's bad day.  Stay home.

Now, I realize I'm risking ruining a few days of my own with this blog entry, so I'll put things in perspective. I'm a fairly even-keeled person. It takes a lot to make me angry--I mean really angry. I would never hurt anyone intentionally. I genuinely like people and, in fact, I'm in a good mood today despite the way people behave.

But I feel more and more that the world is becoming less kind to those who are kind.

Having said that, we stopped in at the Anna Templeton annual art and craft fair on Duckworth Street around noon today and the atmosphere was lovely and vibrant--I love hanging out with creative people. They have such a different take on the world, one that I find inspiring to behold. Sometimes I think I could easily have lived my entire world in such a culture, never having to breathe the musty air of an office of any sort. The first book I ever read was "Little Women." I was in Grade Two and completely on my own because I had finished my math assignments before everyone else (I did the entire year's work in a weekend and just presented it to the teacher as she asked for it). It was a sunny morning in November, and I chose the book because of the opening lines which presented Jo March and her sisters preparing for Christmas without the presence of their father, who was off to war. I remember wanting to be a member of the March family, which is why I liked Laurie, the boy next door who had similar designs. But I mostly identified with Jo because she wanted to be a writer, wanted to break from the restrictions of society, was always arguing against authority or putting on a play to illustrate the injustices of the world, the foibles of humanity. And then, near the end of the story, she publishes her first book, a copy of which gets delivered to her house. Before that, of course, her little sister burns her manuscript and Jo must begin again, but not before swearing her infinite hatred for the young scourge.

Where is this going? First, I admit that I had my own version of Jo's story come true today when I received the contract for Finton Moon, my first novel. I'm still that seven-year-old boy at heart. I read and reread the email from my publisher, even though I've known for a few weeks now that the novel would be published. As I told her, it's the difference between living together and being married. I won't explain--you know what I mean. But I've been working on Finton's story for so long--one that I'm sure has some of its inspiration in Alcott's story--that today was very much a special day for me. It was the best of times and oh yes, the worst of times. Publishing a first novel, with such great news coming just before Christmas. My first royalty cheque for Moonlight Sketches is in the mail to me. And then there's the darker side--that sad anniversary, that strange lunch downtown. And the bitter cold sweeping up Duckworth Street as we shuttled towards the car, having had to park at the very end of the street for lack of parking spaces.

It was also a week when it cost us a thousand dollars to fix a problem with our car. Easy come, easy go (sort of). A week of having to get our toilet taken apart and practically rebuilt by the plumber because the dang thing didn't work. A week of much much.

And here I am, having written so much and not really sure what I'm trying to say.

The university semester is winding down, and I'm getting tons of emails from students who want meetings or a few wonder if I'll read their revised paper or whether it's okay if they pass in the paper that they didn't submit back in October when it was due. People wanting reference letters. Emails upon emails to answer.

I also had a three-hour meeting with my editor. Lots of work to do. Enough said.

And there are many among my friends who have had a difficult week. I won't go into detail, but suffiice to say that I feel for them all and wish I could help them all.  So I try. The only thing I really have to give--the thing that is most precious to me of all because I am constantly aware, like Tristram Shandy, of the ticking clock that pursues me through life--the only thing I have to give is my time. And so I give it. It's not much, but it seems to help a little.

And Christmas is coming, in case you haven't heard. I'm not one of those people who despises the season. I'll blog about it another time, I'm sure, but the fact is that I love Christmas--I love its difference, its reminder to slow down in life, to be kinder to one another, to light up the world with our song and lights, our laughter and dance. To me, it's not a religious holiday, despite its moniker. It's a time of hope. A reminder of the best that we are capable of. There's a dark side too, which for now I choose not to acknowledge in this entry.

But, above all the hustle and bustle and noise, noise noise, is it any wonder that I feel strung out, that I can barely sleep when I put my head on the pillow, that I hear above it all the ticking of that clock, like some hook-handed pirate in one of my favourite adult fairytales.

All boys grow up except for one.

Maybe what I'm feeling is that pull towards growing up--something the world keeps reminding me I should have done years ago. But I simply refuse. So I write. I choose to be artistic. I choose to express myself. I choose to kick at the darkness. I choose to laugh in the face of inadequate service and treat the feelings of my fellow creatures as if they were important. Because they are.

Occupy. Occupy. Occupy.

I'm sick of it. Sick of the protesting. Sick of the need to protest. Sick of those who protest against the protesters. Can't we just give people what they want and call it square and fair? They're not asking for the moon. Among other things, they're asking for jobs.

Oh, how greedy is that! How unfair that they expect jobs and affordable housing and three square meals a day and the chance to send their children to a good school and not have to worry about whether they can afford books or pencils or lunch, or whether they're being bullied without the parents' knowledge. Or whether they actually are bullies themselves. Strange how it all comes back to "The Big Bang Theory."

I think that episode of the returning bully struck a particularly raw nerve last night. (I'm aware of the over-simplification here--but I'm also aware of the public's propensity for over-complication. It comes down to mutual respect and human dignity.)

I've never been bullied per se. Not in high school, not by guys bigger than me or people who wanted to steal my lunch money. But, as a writer, artist, gentle soul who wants only the best for those around me, I sometimes feel that the world is a bully. Life in the twenty-first century is a bully. Advertisers are bullies. Banks are bullies. Teachers can be bullies. Other writers--the ones who judge you badly and even turn their backs--if you're not a member of their clique, or haven't won the right awards or written the kind of work that they would have written--they too can be bullies. Even those artists who insist that the world owe them a living can be quite tyrannical and self-righteous. The world owes us nothing, but we owe much to the world.

Getting closer to a point here?

I think so, but I'm still unsure of what it is. I think I'm just tired. I feel like Charlie Brown who is generally happy with life but feels a little bit too much of the sadness and commerciality of it all. It's not a phobia I have, though. I genuinely feel that change for the better is possible. I see good things in the world, good people, even great people, who act with the courage of their convictions and bring light to an all-too-dark world. I don't even fear that the darkness is winning. It's not really about that. I think that if we're still alive and have some hope for humanity, then we're actually winning.

That might sound hopelessly optimistic, but maybe that's just what I am. I know that "in the end dark is right," but I also believe that the night is "good" and "gentle" as it is infinite and harsh.

This blog entry changes nothing. It does get some stuff out of my head. And that's enough for now.

Peace, everyone.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Book signing

Wednesday afternoon (1-3 p.m.) I'll be signing copies of Moonlight Sketches at Coles bookstore in the Avalon Mall.

If you've got yours already and just want it signed, drop by. If you've got yours already but dropped it in the toilet or bathtub, or the dog chewed up the cover, you might want a new one. If you want your friend, father, sister or mean old brother, uncle or mother to read it but you don't trust them enough to lend them yours, you might want to buy a new one. And if you just love that beautiful wraparound cover by St. John's artist Darren Whalen and you want two copies of it on your shelf for purely aesthetic reasons, I get it. I'll even sign for it.

See you there.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review from a reader

Google alerts me to all these reviews, so I eventually see them all. I haven't actually seen a bad one yet, but here's one from an avid reader of fiction that appeared on her blog a few days ago.

Enjoy!  And thanks, readergirl, whoever you are.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Moonlight Sketches: "Immensely realistic, enjoyable and worthwhile."

"The popular image of rural Newfoundland is one of idyllic scenes of dories and docks, lobster pots and sunsets, saltbox houses and plaid-and-oilskin-clad locals with faces weathered by the wind and sun. This is the Newfoundland of tourism ads: the one that makes outsiders, worn out with the anonymity and bustle of urban life, gasp and sigh and long for the peace and quiet of a rural village. Those who hold this vision of outport life in their minds will be quickly disabused of it should they pick up a copy of Gerard Collins's short story collection, Moonlight Sketches, but pick it up they should. Collins's stories, while predominantly bleak, portray an immensely realistic rural Newfoundland brimming with fascinating and diverse characters and situations. Moments of dark humour and suspense make this collection an enjoyable and worthwhile read."

Maybe soon I can get the proper permission to post the entire article. For now, though, this opening paragraph is the only part of Gina Granter's glowing review--from the Spring 2011 issue of Newfoundland and Labrador Studies--that's available on line. The entire review is a broad-ranging and predominately positve take on my writing. The bottom line is that, while there was the odd weak spot, the overall collection is quite strong and she highly recommends reading it. So there.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

About A Boy

It's been a helluva busy weekend. It started with signing books at the Christmas at The Glacier craft festival last week--the highlight was meeting a lovely woman from New York who bought Moonlight Sketches to read on the plane. It was a great example of what I enjoy about the publishing industry--it truly is all the great people I get the opportunity to meet.
I also taught a youth workshop Saturday afternoon at The Lantern as part of the Writers' Alliance (WANL) annual AGM weekend. The young writers I worked with were simply amazing, and I wish them all the best of luck in their efforts to get their work published. I've heard (and they've told me) that they enjoyed it, but I particulary appreciated an email I received today from the mother of one participant telling me how much her son "loved" the workshop--especially nice because he supposedly finds it hard to get interested in very much--he may have found his calling this weekend and, for me, that's as exciting as it gets. It's a lot of work to put one of these things together (especially since I hadn't done one like this before), and such comments make it all worthwhile for me.

The highlight of the week for me, however, had to be the official announcment of my forthcoming new publication: my novel, entitled Finton Moon, will be published in Spring 2012 by Killick Press. Those of you who know me and/or have been following this blog for the past year or so realize that Finton Moon won the Percy Janes First Novel Award, adjudicated by the venerable Kenneth J. Harvey back in 2001. In the ten years since then, I've not only substantially revised that novel several times, written four other manuscripts (including Moonlight Sketches) and completed a six-year doctoral program (including a 350-page thesis on ghosts in North American literature), but in the past four years have also completely rewritten Finton Moon so that it is a brand new story.

That's a tale that will be completely told someday, I'm sure--probably many times as I launch the new novel and start answering the questions about how it got to publication. But I am so proud of this novel and so completely happy with it--and I can hardly believe that after an entire decade, it will finally find a home on the shelves of bookstores and readers. Once the editors' revisions are completed over the next few months, and Finton Moon wends its way across the country and into readers' hands, I can finally breathe and stop working on a project that has taken up a large portion of the past decade and a considerable part of the past four years. I mention this because I know some people will wonder how I was able to publish another book so quickly (within a year!) after the first one appeared. The fact is, I've never stopped working on Finton Moon, even during the year and a half it took to get Moonlight Sketches out after I'd signed the publishing contract.

This new book has come to symbolize, for me, every hope and dream I've ever had for my writing career. It's already won an award and opened some doors for me, but I started work on it so long ago that, if I'd stopped to think about it, it must surely have seemed like a fool's journey to anyone who was watching me labour away at it. But I took the advice of some high-powered literary agents and one esteemed editor in New Brunswick, and turned it into the story it was always meant to be. I recently submitted the finished manuscript to Killick, the same press that published my first book and have so beautifully nurtured it and breathed life into my fledgling career, and they quickly agreed to publish it.

It's about a boy with unique abilities, but none so special as that which allows him to persevere in a world in which he doesn't belong. It's the story of a boy named Finton Moon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Kind of Writer Are You?

If you are, or you know, an aspiring writer, aged 14-17, living in the greater St. John's/Mount Pearl/CBS region, here's something you might be nterested in. I'm teaching a 1.5 hour workshop about how to find your writing voice. If you're interested--or know someone who might benefit from this workshop, just get in touch with me ( and I can give you the registration information. There's a very brief form to fill out, but the workship is FREE.

The information, as it appears in the WANL (Writers' Alliance of NL) newsletter, appears below.

Saturday, October 22, 2:30 – 4:00 PM, for youth aged 14-17: ‘What Kind of Writer Are You?’ A Workshop on finding your voice with Gerard Collins

From Bram Stoker to Stephanie Meyer, from J.R.R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling, successful authors find an audience because their voice is unique. Whether you’re writing a short story or novel, or even a blog, essay or Facebook status, it’s important to know your own voice. As a beginning writer, you are searching for what to say and how to say it in a way that suits who you are and the kind of writer you want to be. Through interactive discussion and brief writing exercises, this workshop will help you in the crucial first steps of telling your story.

Gerard Collins is the author of Moonlight Sketches, a short story collection. Besides winning several
arts and letters awards, he has been shortlisted for the Cuffer Prize and published in journals and anthologies such as Zeugma, Storyteller and Hard Ol’ Spot. He has recently served as an adjudicator for the NL Book Awards and the Writers Federation of New Brunswick short story competition. A lecturer in English literature at MUN, as well as a former high school teacher, Gerard has won the Percy Janes First Novel Award for Finton Moon, which will be published in Spring 2012.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just a note to let y'all know I'll be reading from my short story collection, Moonlight Sketches, Wednesday, September 21 at 7 p.m. at the A.C. Hunter library in St. John's. It's a free event, open to the general public--if you've read the book, it's a great opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the inspiration for characters, settings or stories. If you haven't read it, feel free to come along and listen to the discussion or ask any questions you might have about the writing and publishing process.

I'll also be appearing at the Halifax Word On The Street Festival this Sunday, September 25th. Reading and discussion 4:30-5 p.m. on the "Everything Atlantic" stage. Signing copies of Moonlight Sketches from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Creative Publishers tent. Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remember summer?

This past August, I was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the Winterset Literary Festival in Eastport. We had three whole days of sunshine, warmth, peace and love, and enough beautiful fiction and friendly writers from all over Canada to fill a whole town--for a newly published writer from a small town in Newfoundland, it was pure bliss. I've got photos to share in the coming days, as well as an article that I was asked to write for my publisher's newsletter, which I believe will also show up elsewhere on-line. But, for me there were so many highlights, it's hard to pare it down to just one. I would have to say, if pressed, the best part was seeing Lisa Moore's play, February, adapted from her critically-acclaimed novel of the same name. It was an intellectually and emotionally stunning performance.

Besides, that perhaps it was seeing all those Winterset winners on the same stage, including Michael Winter, Michael Crummey, Jessica Grant, Ed Riche and all the others, all at once. It was breathtaking and fun.

After that--although it was probably my favourite moment because it happened to me personally and I'll always cherish it--it would be own moment onstage for the "New and Lyrical Voices Panel," with immensely talented writers Leslie Vryenhoek and Kate Evans, hosted by Patricia Parsons.

My next favourite moment (note that I'm not including the time on the beach and at the cabin with my beautiful wife who loved every moment as much as I did) was the Saturday morning interview with Mack Furlong that also included Leslie Vryehnhoek.

Several people have written and asked me if they can find the interview on-line, so here's the URL (just click on the link below):

CBC Radio Interview at Winterset Literary Festival

I could also have listed the other panels, but I say more about those in the article I wrote--I mean, there was the panel of Winterset nominees (Russell Wangersky, Samuel Thomas Martin, Craig Francis Power) as well as a panel of Giller nominees (Johanna Skidsbrud, Sarah Selecky and Alex Macleod). I listened intently, learned a lot and laughed a lot. It was easily one of the best weekends of my far.

Pictures and articles to come soon.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

I grew up in a library

I'm not sure how old I was when I first stepped into the Placentia Public Library. It seems to me I couldn't have been more than twenty-four months out of my mother's womb when I had the urge to read something--anything!--cereal boxes, labels, the tag on my blanket that said "Do Not Remove Or You Will Suffer A Painful Death," the side of a carton of my father's Rothman's cigarettes. I have no recall of learning to read. It just seems it was something I always did. Adults in my family have told me I was reading at two years old, but I guess I was too engrossed in Anna Karenina to pay much attention to the date or time passing. I don't dispute the posibility since it feeds my fantasy of having been a child prodigy as well as my personal myth of having been somewhat of an oddity and an outsider.  Besides, I'm actually thinking I should have been reading before the age of two--some serious neglect there on somebody's part. I recall being asked to read something for strangers who'd come to visit my parents' house. I felt a strange combination of pride and awkwardness at being asked to perform, but any misgivings usually evaporated when they rewarded me with money--usually a quarter, but, hey, the stuff I needed to buy was cheap.

But I digress.

I've been asked to read at the A.C. Hunter library on Wednesday evening, Sept. 21st and it's gotten me to thinking how much "Da Liberry" meant to me as a child. It was my oldest brother Charlie who took me there for the first time. He was, and is, a voracious reader and I'd like to think he simply thought it was a life-changing experience he wanted to share with his much younger brother. I will always be grateful to him for that.

On that first trip to the library, I couldn't choose just one measly book--I took home a stack of ten. The librarian was skeptical, I remember, suggesting perhaps I should just try one or two--and besides there was a limit to how many books a person could take home in one trip. But I must have seemed slightly heartbroken (and heartbreakingly so), for she allowed me to cart the works of it home. Two days later, I was back and the librarian assumed I must not have found anything among them to my liking, since surely I'd had enough books to do me for a month's worth of reading. When I breathlessly explained that I'd read them all--some of them more than once--she didn't question me again when I brought another carefully (yet somewhat randomly) chosen stack to the desk for her approval and checkout. In fact, she seemed rather pleased with me and, after that, began to treat me like a favourite patron of hers. (But then, I'm sure she had many favourites.)

There's a hurricane raging outside today, and it's Saturday morning, and I can't help but think about all those wonderful, dreamy Saturdays (not just mornings, but sometimes all day) I would spend in Da Liberry, regardless of the weather, curled up in a big cozy armchair, perusing books of all kinds, discovering new magazines like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and, of course, the ubiquitous National Geographics with their pictures of naked pygmy women that both startled and titillated at the same time.

But there were books, too--not nearly enough, unfortunately. I realize now it was a matter of government funding, but at the time I recall being very frustrated when, at the age of 8 or 9 (can't recall exactly) I had already read every book in the so-called "children's section" of the library. I had devoured the Narnia series, Alice in Wonderland, Bambi, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, anything by Enid Blyton, all the fairy tales and bedtime stories of just about every country that had them, and every single Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on.

So when I not-so-innocently asked the librarian, Mrs. Patterson, "Would it be okay if I started reading from the adult section?" it was rather a big deal for me--and apparently for her too. She said there must be SOME books in the child's section I hadn't read. She listed them all for me, but I just kept saying, "Yep. Read it. Yep. Read it." until she became slightly bemused, if not a little exasperated. "I'll have to ask your mother," she said. I don't remember how exactly my mother responded. I only know that the two days I had to wait until I could go back to the library and begin my adventures in adult reading were some of the longest hours of my life. She must have said yes to my request, and I recall a phone call to the library in my favour. But the library was closed on Sunday (!) and I had to wait until Monday. When my brother wasn't able to drive me there (which was often), I would walk. It was somewhere around 2 or 3 miles from our door to the door of the library, but for me it was like leaving home in order to go to my other home.--a journey in pursuit of comfort, a quest for exotic knowledge.

To me, entering the previously forbidden "Adult Section" of the public library was like the first time I left home to live in the city, the first time I went skating on the ocean by myself or, much later and many years ago, the first time I went to a strip club-- for a young fellow in a small town, there was a huge curiosity factor. I just wanted to know what was in there that could possibly be off limits to anyone. There were books with swear words and nudity (although it was word nudity, it was still real to me). But there was also adventure and murder more real than anything in the Hardy Boys. It was there that I first read Hemingway, Shakespeare, Joyce and Woolf--all before the age of thirteen, just because I was curious. I'd heard these names and wanted to read them for myself, to see what the big deal was about. My idea of summer reading back then was to pick up a copy of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and lie in a sunbeam in my bedroom, imagining every scene as if I were there...or so I thought. My mother was always telling me that I should "get outdoors and play," and I did, but I often took my book with me.

And, again, these were library books. They not only changed and set the course of my life, but enhanced my existence in a way that nothing else could have. Not even the internet, if it had existed, could have served as such a companion and friend. The feel of a heavy book in my sweaty little hands, the smell of library dust on textured paper, the crinkle of the clear plastic covers that had been handled by so many like-minded readers before me--it all lent a sense of a communal experience with complete strangers, all of whom loved words as much as I do, or so I assumed.

In many ways, I owe my life to libraries. Of course, I owe it to a lot of other things and people as well, but libraries are at or near the top of the list of things for which I am grateful. In a small town of little cultural activity, the library was the gateway to the infinite, fodder for an imagination just beginning to sprout.

So, thanks not only to the libraries and governments who (sometimes) sponsor their existence, but also to the wonderful librarians who are not just doing their job, but doing it joyfully, as if it mattered. Trust me: it does.

I wish I still had my original library card. I think I'd frame it.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interview with Arts East magazine (Halifax)

 Hot on the heels of a super fun weekend at Winterset Literary festival in Eastport, I did an interview with the super cool Stephen Patrick Clare of Arts East Magazine based out of Halifax. Stephen's thought-provoking questions allowed me to say some things that I've never expressed in quite this way--which is a sign of a good interviewer. (Click on the link beneath the logo to read the piece.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Conditional release

I'd love to start out by saying that I swear to the heavens above and hell below that I will strive henceforth to find balance in my life. But I'm not going to do that...not today anyway. I've been down that road many times before and it's a road paved with good intentions.

Rabbit at rest
It's the fifth of September, and already I'm wondering where the first week of the month has gone. I've spent the past nine days desperately trying to conquer a gigantic to-do list that, among other things, included finishing my novel, writing two articles, reading a book manuscript and a book chapter, finishing a short story and revising it and writing an arts grant. Now let's be fair--for your average person, almost any one or two items on that list would require an entire nine days, if not more. But the new fall semester begins on Wednesday and, after that, I don't get much time for writing. Sure, I dabble here and there if I can, but the effort to work on major literary projects usually grinds to a halt somewhere around the third week of the semester when the first papers need to be graded. With that, I've been composing a course outline, attending meetings, and reading various materials in perparation for the university semester. So, I guess what I'm saying is that: 1. I haven't found much time for blogging, obviously, and 2. I've given up hope of achieving any sort of real balance in my life.

Now that doesn't mean I don't just feel like chucking it all in and going for a long walk in the park. That's exactly what my wife and I did this morning. It was her idea, and I admit I was reluctant to take myself away from the computer, given there is so much to be done in the next 48 hours. I gave in to her madness--she actually suggested a walk in Bowring Park because she sensed that I needed it, and I won't say she was wrong. Ultimately, we did drive over there and spent a pleasant hour or so just strolling and taking in the relaxing sights and sounds of the unofficial last day of summer. Then we went for a more energetic strut around Mundy Pond, but that too was invigorating with the autumnal wind blowing through the thick, high grass, making that beautiful sifting noise that is like music to my urbanized ears. It's a sound that always relaxes me, always makes my yearn for the dog days of August growing up in my hometown when the only worry was about how to spend the last few days before school started. There would always be "one last adventure," as I used to call it. It usually entailed building a new tree fortress or camping out overnight in the woods, or going on a fishing trip of some kind. When I was really small, it would mean going blueberry picking with my parents and/or various members of the family. Back then, I was enthralled with every sight--every other car on the road, every bird that flew overhead, every dragonfly or butterfly that came near enough to nearly grasp in my hand. I thrilled to the babbling of a brook or the cry of a loon, or the sight of a huge bull moose expressing his way across a still pond in early fall.

I do need some balance in my life. Most of us do, I believe, but few of us seem to find it. Summer is a time for doing things, going places and much of the work gets laid aside. So when the autumn arrives, we dive back in--with some trepidation--and tell ourselves that the harder we work, the more we can achieve and the better life will be...and it's only until the next long weekend or vacation or maybe Christmas. The balance gets tipped in favour of labour.

Balance...I'm not ever sure what that means exactly. It's not on my list of things to do, so I haven't taken the time to figure it out. But, if I may, I'd say it has something to do with finding time for the things you love to do, along with also doing the things you feel you need to do. Of course, it would help if they were one and the same, but that's a rare condition. It's a wonderful thing to find time to "sit among the ducks," as I sometimes call it. To breathe properly and mindfully. To read a book for the pure enjoyment of it, rather than because you need to read it for work or school. To spend a couple of hours listening to good music.

But sometimes my life can have this feeling of someone just putting the pieces together, you know? Do this, this and this, and you'll be living a balanced life--as if there was some sort of Canada Food Guide for the soul that will make you feel like you're living a good life. But maybe it really is that simple. Mabye you can just fake it till you make it--do peaceful, fulfilling things until you actually become a peaceful, fulfilled person. Schedule the balance until you actually become balanced....even though "schedule" is one of my least favourite words.

I'm rambling, trying to figure it out, but the more I write, the more the clock is ticking. I realize I'm enjoying blogging just now--I usually do. I started out thinking I would just post some media interviews and that sort of thing, just to keep people informed about what I've been up to. I'll probably do that next.

For now, though, it's back to work. The novel is almost done. My to-do list has not been conquered, but it looks more manageable as I've slain a few dragons. But I'd prefer not to think of it in terms of slaying anything--something else I need to work on.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of the Writing Life

Tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 25) I'll be at the FTLOL ("For the Love of Learning") conference called ACT, talking to young people who are possibly interested in becoming writers. This event has been marked on my calendar for the end of summer for a long time now, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a free conference (my part runs from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.) and the artists and organizations involved don't get paid for doing it. They just give of their time because they think it's a worthwhile endeavour.

I remember all too well what it was like to be on the outside of a career in writing and wanting in so desperately, having only a vague idea of how to get there. To have a chance now to impart some hard-learned lessons after nearly a lifetime of studying the publishing industry both from the outside and the inside is an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I'm hoping it will be a fun hour full of interesting and entertaining discussion and packed with suggestions about how to go about getting involved in the writin' racket.

Anyone between the ages of 15 and 35 is invited to join us. It's a very open sort of deal. I'm even hoping a few of my former students will show up--perhaps even a student or two who happens to be in my upcoming English 1080 classes in September. Over the last few years, I've talked to and mentored numerous students who are interested in writing, as well as the arts in general, and this single hour devoted entirely to the subject of getting started in writing would be a useful addition to anything else I might have said in the past.

All in all, it's a pretty cool event--the kind I wish had been available to me when I was on the outside looking in. Also, remember, it's not just about writing--there are other events going on too from the various arts and arts organizations in the city. There's lots to learn...just for the love it, and that's the really cool part.

MORE DETAILS BELOW from the organizers:

Wednesday, August 24 at 11:00am - August 26 at 6:00pm

Location Gower Street United Church

Aspiring artists have a unique opportunity to receive guidance from professionals, free of charge. Non-profit FTLOL is presenting its second A.C.T., (Arts Career Training) conference, which will bring established members of the local creative community to one location, to speak about the road to a career in the arts and how to avoid the potholes.

Youth Coordinator June Rogers says, “ACT’s mandate is summed up by its slogan, ‘ ambition finds direction’. It’s about keeping artistic culture alive in St. John's by ensuring that new artists know how to enter the professional arena. ACT is all about the art community coming together to support emerging artists.”

The conference will run August 24-26 inclusive, from 11 am to 6 pm, in the gym and lecture hall of Gower Street United Church, 99 Queen’s Road. An exhibition of new work by FTLOL's artist-in-residence and youth participants will take place concurrently.

Admission is free, and no registration is necessary. For more information, please visit, or contact 722-8848 or

Saturday, August 20, 2011

For those with an interest in Newfoundland heritage and culture, this is a must see TONIGHT--a one-hour documentary presenting unique colour footage of pre-Confederate outport Newfoundland will air Saturday, August 20th, on CBC TV, at 8:30 pm Newfoundland Time.

The writer, Marjorie Doyle, is a friend of mine and the daughter of the iconic Gerald S. Doyle who is the subject of this documentary. She's extremely proud of this film (produced with her brother, filmmaker John W. Doyle) and simply wants to share it with as many people as possible. It's pretty rare footage.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Drive-by blogging

Hi there!

Despite appearances, I haven't abandoned you or this blog. It's been a far more hectic summer than I ever imagined it would be. I've just come back from beautiful Eastport at the Winterset Writers' Festival where I had the kind of weekend that writers dream of. I plan to write more on that later this week, but for now I just wanted to apprise you of two bits of news:

First, my brand new website has been up and running for a few weeks now: That's where I post all the information about where I'm doing readings and booksignings or media events, as well as other kinds of public appearances. You'll find all that on the "News" page. I eventually plan to add some new pages, particularly an "Academic" page to which my students can go for information about coursework and academic writing. Also, I hope, before the end of summer, to add some excerpts from my published writing as well as excerpts from reviews.

Second, this very busy week continues with a reading at The Fat Cat Blues Bar tomorrow (Wednesday, August 17th) in downtown St. John's. I'll be reading along with several other authors. Here's the info:

Breakwater Books and Creative Book Publishing are proud to present Mixed Type – putting a twist on mainstream literary events in downtown St. John’s. Local authors and musicians will team up with host and award-winning author Chad Pelley to present a night of literature and music. Mixed Type will feature authors Linden MacIntyre, Patrick Warner, Gerard Collins, Sam Martin, Michelle Butler Hallett, and Kate Evans along with performances by Andrew James O’Brien and Pilot to Bombardier. All are welcome, and admission is free. Join us August 17th at the Fat Cat on George! The show starts at 7:00pm!
All are welcome to this, no matter who you are. Eastport is still buzzing over the fact that Giller Prize winner Linden MacIntyre was there last year (several people said it to me in a way that made it obvious the information was a source of pride). Also, three of the other five authors were at Winterset as invited panelists this year-- pretty prestigious gig, if one is lucky enough to be asked. As well, I heard and met musician Andrew James O'Brien at Winterset this weekend and he is one hell of a songwriter and singer. I can't imagine anyone not loving his music.
Back soon.


P.S. Now would be a good time to remind you to join me on Facebook, where all these events are posted as they occur:!/event.php?eid=200229713364069

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Free story from Moonlight Sketches!

"Break, Break, Break"

There's been a lot going on with Moonlight Sketches and me since last I blogged, but for now, I just wanted to make you aware of a FREE short story that's just been published in the online journal New Atlantic Canadian Literature, which does exactly as it promises. Run by Salty Ink, NACL posts a variety of features and free writing samples from newly published fiction and poetry in Atlantic Canada. What better way to decide if a book or author is worth your time and money? They've just posted, in its entirety, "Break, Break, Break" from Moonlight Sketches, along with a short write-up and review of the story. I'm very pleased to have my story published by NACL and Salty Ink, as I consider them to be the most impressive book blog in all of Canada. I may be a little biased, but I wouldn't say it if I didn't think it was true. In fact, I'm sure you've heard me mention them before.

"Break, Break, Break" is one of my favorite stories in Moonlight Sketches, as it comes from a place of pure imagination, but inspired by the real life event of the Ocean Ranger tragedy, which killed 84 men off the coast of Newfoundland during a savage storm in February 1982. The story was written after a sleepless night of hearing voices inside my head--and yet outside of me, somehow--and the next morning sitting at the computer before I'd even had breakfast and writing for about 4 hours straight. This story is what came out and, in fact, it only required a minimal amount of revision before it was published in an anthology called Hard Ol' Spot (Mike Heffernan, ed.).

So if you haven't read this one yet, check it out--just click on the link beneath the NACL logo at the top of this blog entry. If you've already read it, you can check out the feature itself, as well as the NACL journal and Salty Ink. There's a lot of good stuff there, and you might want to bookmark the site because it regularly adds new features on very fine writers and poets. It's just one of the places you can go. :-)
Talk to you again soon.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Talented poet Kerri Cull runs a book blog called The Book Fridge which features mostly Newfoundland writers. It's by far one of the most creative websites of its kind, especially from the East Coast of Canada--ranking right up there with the indisputable king, Salty Ink, which is owned and managed by another excellent Newfoundland author, Chad Pelley. The Book Fridge and Salty Ink are two glorious examples of why I long ago chose not to turn my own blog into a book blog--there are just too many people who do it so much better, and with more love and knowledge of Newfoundland and Canadian literature, than I could ever aspire to. That and, well, it needs to be said, it's too late now and you can't teach an old blog new tricks. It takes a lot of dedication--hours spent reading and managing a website--that I truly admire. Such bloggers perform a great service not only to new and established writers in this country, but also for readers who are voracious in their appetite for news about their favorite--and perhaps soon-to-be-favorite--writers. There's inside information and insight here that you just can't get anywhere else. Makes me think there ought to be a Book Bloggers Day in honour of those who do it and do it so well.

I did an interview with The Book Fridge a few days ago and it went live on Sunday, same day as my reading at Chapters. If you click on the link you can read my answers to her provocative questions. And, I must say, I love talking to an interviewer who, not only has great interviewing skills (Kerri Cull has been writing for years and once wrote a regular column in The Express that was one of my favorites), but took the time to read the book before the interview. I realize that's not always possible, and I don't mind if they don't read it, but it makes the questions and discussion all the better when everyone's on the same page, so to speak.

The link: The Book Fridge

And if you wanted to check out Salty Ink: There's tons of great discussion about high quality East Coast writing and writers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Literary event of the week

Time: Sunday, May 15 · 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Location:  Chapters bookstore, Kenmount Road, St. John's, NL

Signing copies of Moonlight Sketches
This Sunday, I'll be reading selected passages from Moonlight Sketches, followed by a signing session. It would be great to see you there. It will be my first public reading after the launch of my short story collection, and I'm hoping there might even be some questions from the audience. All signs are that it will be a fairly well attended event, but it will be a cozy afternoon with some chairs set up at the back of the store, and I'll be at a podium, speaking to the group.

I'm looking forward to talking to some people who have read the book and might have questions about certain stories. Like, do you wonder how I came to write "Break, Break, Break" from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl, especially after I once swore I'd never write a story about the Ocean Ranger? Maybe you'd like to ask about the inspiration for the evil Crowley family, or what happens next for Winnie in "Hold Out"? If you've got a burning question about any part of any story in Moonlight Sketches, now is your chance to ask--and I promise a straightforward answer in my own special way. :-)

After the reading, there'll be a booksigning--whether you previously purchased a book or you're buying one Sunday afternoon, I'd be happy--and privileged--to sign it and to personalize it.

Of course, you need not stay for the whole two hours. If you just want to stay for the reading, or you'd like a book signed, that's up to you.

Meanwhile, this is an event that I'm really looking forward to, since it is my first public reading as a published author and because the thing that I've absolutely enjoyed the most about publishing a book is having the chance to meet people, especially people who read, not just my words, but books in general. In the past month, I've already had some memorable moments that will have an impact on me for years to come. I'm sure Sunday afternoon will produce a few more of those.

So that's from 1-3 p.m Sunday afternoon at Chapters in St. John's. Bring a friend or two. And if you can't come along, by all means send a proxy.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

I'll start with where I'm going: I'll be signing copies of Moonlight Sketches at Coles bookstore in the Avalon Mall (St. John's) from 2-4 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, April 30).
Books in waiting.

It'll be my first ever signing and I'm more calm about that fact than I thought I would be. I guess after getting through the book launch on zero sleep, with all the pressures that came with that event, spending a couple of hours just signing books for people who buy them, chatting to folks while I sit, doesn't sound like a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. There's no pressure or stress there because--despite my tendency to be a hermit--I actually love talking to people. It's one of my favorite things in life. Don't call me on the phone, mind you.  Can't stand that apparatus. But meeting new people or greeting those I haven't seen in a while is one of life's greatest pleasures.

I've actually never been to a booksigning. I recall one in St. John's a few years ago from a very famous Canadian author, who shall remain nameless, who just seemed so gruff with everyone and couldn't wait to get out of there. That was a reading, open to the general public but mostly attended by an academic audience. I would have thought the guy would be grateful that anyone even cared to show up. But, no, apparently you get to that point in your career (at least some do) when you start to take it for granted there'll be a crowd and you'll think to yourself, I've got better things to do than to be here. He got paid to be there too, and all these people had bought his books. All they wanted was to meet him, have a few words if possible and ask him to please sign their copy. Not too much to ask, considering the price of books these days. Not that the author sees all that much of the cover price, but it's the thought that counts--the mere fact that somebody not only put out their hard-earned money for something you'd written, but, even more important, were willing to invest a few precious hours reading your words....and STILL cared enough about you and your words, even after reading them, to want to meet you and ask for a few pen strokes on the inside cover.

I just remember thinking to myself: Self, if you ever get in that position, treat people with kindness because they deserve no less. So whether I see 2 people tomorrow, or 200 people, expect me to be the same. All I know is, I'll be thrilled to see you there. Oh, and if you miss tomorrow's signing, there is another one--that includes a reading from Moonlight Sketches and a meet-and-greet--at Chapters in St. John's on May 15.

It's been a veritable whirlwind since the book launch. With the end of the academic semester, I've met countless previously-neglected friends for coffee or lunch, done radio interviews, and am working on several articles while reading the manuscripts of others, all the while hoping to eventually get time to finish my novel manuscript, to be submitted to my publisher some time this summer.

If you missed it, by the way, The Newfoundland Herald had a two-page excerpt from Moonlight Sketches and a bio, while the WANL (Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador) newsletter, called WORD, featured a column I'd written on my journey towards publication, including some advice for would-be writers. Somewhere in there, I managed to finish adjudicating the 2011 short fiction competition for the Writers' Federation of New Brunswick--a process I enjoyed thoroughly as I read each and every submission from beginning to end. I felt I owed these beginning writers no less than my full attention, as a show of respect for their commitment to their craft.

There's been tons more happening, but I won't bore you with all the details. I just wanted to fill you in on some of it and assure you I'll try to be a little more diligent about giving you the latest news and musings as the spring comes on and the summer spreads her hand.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Promo Sapien

An interviewer at the local university radio station asked me a question the other day that, I admit, I misinterpreted.

"What do you like most about being an author?" she asked. The question startled me because I'm relatively new to the idea of being an "author." I've long considered myself to be a writer--a sort author-in-training, but the idea of "authorness" or "authority" regarding anything hadn't really occurred to me...which became quite apparent in my response.

With a slight grin, I answered: "The interviews."

There was a brief pause and so I continued to explain that it was the opportunity to talk about writing with people who seemed interested to know about the process and about the book itself; the book merely gives me something concrete to talk to people about. I've been teaching university English for thirteen years, been a grad student for many years, an undergrad for five or six years before that (depending on where you count from) and, along the way, a high school English teacher and substitute teacher. I've never grown tired of talking about other people's writing. Literature is an enormous part of my life. I hesitate to say "Literature is my life" because, quite frankly, I tell my students every year, "This isn't life. It's about life." It's a sliver-thin line between the two, but the distinction, to me, is clear. It's the difference between reading "Young Goodman Brown" and actually going for a walk in the woods. But I digress. Fact is, I will never grow tired of discussing the uplifting prose of James Joyce, the sublime darkness of Flannery O'Connor or the gut-slicing poetry of a Cormac McCarthy novel.

I was also in the media for a while. As a nineteen-year-old, I was a fresh-scrubbed, awkward reporter for The Daily News, which specialized in stories about the end of the world and folks who kept pet roosters in the middle of downtown, keeping the neighbours awake. I also got to interview people like Ben Wicks and John Crosbie, politicians of all stripes and the occasional minor celebrity who found himself on the downside of a popularity that never quite materialized. Usually, the editor of the paper interviewed the more important, be-happenin' people. Years later, I found myself scraping a meager living by writing arts and entertainment pieces for a slick, ambitious magazine called Beam. I interviewed local music industry types and enjoyed what I did tremendously. Not a single arsehole among them, really, despite what one might surmise.

So now I'm the one being asked the questions. It seems, suddenly, it's not enough just to write. One also has to promote. Worse yet, one is expected to self-promote.

Okay, so there are worse things one can do to earn one's daily bread. But I have to promise myself that I will never knowingly cross that certain line, the one that separates the artist from the con artist.

Fact is, I love talking to people. So when I told that interviewer I liked the interviews, that's exactly what I meant. At the launch party for Moonlight Sketches last week, I talked to nearly every single person in that room, and it took some doing. But it never, for a single moment, felt like work and it certainly never felt disingenuous. I had a sincere connection with each and every one of them, and I recognized that they had used up some of their extremely precious time to come and help me celebrate something that was very important to me. How could I possibly just shake each hand and say, "Thanks for coming--next!" I couldn't do it. I wanted--even needed--to make sure that each one of them knew how much I appreciated them being there. I'm not supposed to say this, I'm sure, but I wasn't even concerned with whether someone bought a book or not. I mean, sure, buy a book--commerce makes the world go around. But I won't get rich from this book. Not financially, at least. But I meant it when I said I felt like the "richest man in town"--because there's a kind of prosperity that doesn't come from money. It comes from how many lives you've touched and, perhaps more important, how many of those lives you've allowed to touch yours.

My stock in trade has always been that I care about people. I couldn't be a writer otherwise. I recall a professor of mine from years ago told me he couldn't be a writer because, in order to compose believable dialogue, you had to be able to listen to people. And, really, as a listener, he was no Father Mulcahy. But he was right.

A writer has to be able to not just "watch" people; he has to be able to see them, understand them, empathize with them, relate to them on some level. It's not enough to study people--not for my purposes anyway. For me, being a writer comes directly from the need to connect and communicate. I've always maintained that making a new friend was like falling in love, at least in a certain emotionally complex way. It's always been that way for me. I want to stay up all night and talk with the world. I want to bring them home and give them milk and cookies. Talk about our favourite movies, our biggest disappointments, our darkest secrets (which I never actually tell anyone, not outright)--but really, I just want to know yours. I don't want to tell you mine. I mean, on some level, I really do want exactly that. But I'm more of a listener, you see.

Which brings me back to self-promotion. I don't have it in me. Honest. When I tell people something on Facebook or in my blog, or on the phone with my mother (though she usually has to wring it out of me), or in the corridor with a friend at work, it's because I think they might like to know, not because I expect something from them. I have always been the kind of person to keep accomplishments and failures alike very close to my chest for fear that someone will think--in that famous Newfoundland vernacular--that I'm attempting to "make a show" of myself. God forbid. We are all a "show" in our own way. It's just that we don't think of ourselves that way, and nor should we.

How many times have I seen my talented father refuse to sing at a party because he was shy? Which might well be another word for "embarassed" or "ashamed" of what one has to offer. How many students have I seen who know all the answers, including deeply profound insight on classic literature, and not offer to share their thoguhts because they couldn't work up the nerve to speak in a roomful of people? How many people have I seen who possess the talent to fulfill their dreams if only they weren't afraid of what someone else might think if they danced a certain, provocative, or just plain skilled, way or sang in that voice that was bigger than everyone else's or wrote only in a journal because they were afraid of offending friends, family and neighbours with their truth? Countless. An embarassment of riches, I have known.

Well, that still doesn't change my modus operandi. I will do book signings in the hope of meeting people who simply gather in the name of literature, friendship, or genuine curiosity. And I will attend book festivals and readings because they're fun--fun because I love words, especially when coming from the minds and mouths of those who are skilled with them and have something to say--not about the proper use of the comma or the supposed invention of a new narrative form--but about the human condition. Because that's what it is--a condition--and there's no cure for it except the obvious one of somehow becoming less human, of disengaging from the human race, of becoming an alien observer to one's own species, trading in one's keen insights for a royalty dollar and a date with the fame monster.

What do I like about being an author? It's actually the writing part. That feeling of sitting the butt down in a chair somewhere, pen in hand or fingers tapping the keyboard, and bringing the stuff in my head towards the light. Of course, then there's the part about having written something. That's not bad either, as Dorothy Parker obviously knew when she said it.

By any measure, Moonlight Sketches--and all of my writing--is an earnest attempt to make sense of the world for myself. And if you buy it, that's what you'll see in it. If you don't buy it, I'm sure we can still be friends.

Because, despite what the marketing geniuses, politicians, and corporate giants of the world want you to believe, that's why we're all here: not to sell each other stuff, but to understand something about who we are, to ourselves and to each other.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and perhaps we don't actually have any purpose.

But, somehow, I just don't buy that.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Live radio today

I'm on live radio at CHMR today at 1 p.m. with the wonderful Judy Gough. Should be an enjoyable hour for me because I don't have a clue what she'll ask, and Judy just happens to be a former student of mine, going back three years or so. I love the unpredictability of the situation.

Locally (St. John's, Newfoundland), you can tune in to 93.5. Online you can hear it at, aliant 825 or cable 942.

Here's the online link:


Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Week in the Life

A moment with the publisher.
A week ago, I was racing against the ticking clock to finish the last essays for the semester. Including revised essays and some makeup essays, I had about 120 to grade in just under four days. The first day, I got only five done, so the bulk was done in three days. That's almost 40 essays a day. To put that in perspective, I can, on a very good day, grade somewhere between 12 and 20, usually closer to the former.

On top of that, I couldn't sleep. It was mostly the adrenaline rush, and the less sleep I got, the more my brain compensated, allowing me to get nearly all the essays done and passed back to my students by Wednesday morning, but there was still a stack of about twenty or so that needed to be done before I could begin final tabulation--always a joy, but at least Excel lately has made that task easier.

So, working on less than two hours sleep in nearly three days, I went home Wednesday afternoon, intent on napping for an hour. Didn't happen. The wheels kept on turning. The thoughts pinged off the walls of my brain and kept me staring at the ceiling. Around 3:30 p.m., I got up and started thumbing through my copy of Moonlight Sketches for an excerpt to read at the book launch. The good thing about not getting any sleep, I was impervious to nervousness.
Of course, in the run-up to this state of affairs in the days before, I could be seen putting up posters all over campus, sending out (and responding to) dozens of emails. Then, on Tuesday, I received a call from my publisher saying the books had arrived from the printer and I could come see them. Seizing a propitious moment when I would have been taking a short break from grading anyway, I visited my book--which, for a short, obnoxious time, I was referring to as "The Precious." I was so thrilled by the look and feel of the book in my grubby little hands that I received an energy boost, but it was nearly impossible to focus on finishing those essays. Tick-tock, tick-tock. That was Tuesday afternoon.

By Wednesday evening, I was like a zombie--but an excited zombie. To put it in perspective, I have been writing, in one form or another, since the early 1990s. There were a few earnest years of simply putting pen to paper (literarlly, since computerization had not infiltrated the masses just yet), trying to figure out if I really was a writer and what kind of writer I would be. I won't go into detail here--not right now--about what the answers to those question were and how I actually decided that, yes, I could do this. Suffice to say, I had plenty of encouragement from editors at places like Random House, New York, as well as major American magazines. I felt, for the longest time, all I had to do was keep on going and the magic would happen. Hard work reaps great rewards, I believed.

Reading from "Fish of the Damned."
So I kept writing and writing. One novel manuscript, then another and then another. You get the picture. It really wasn't until I started writing and submitting short stories that I began to see a crack in the darkness. In 1998, I published my first short story--remember, I didn't write any short stories up until then, and I don't really count the ones I wrote as an undergrad, one of which actually found its way into the student MESS magazine (a feat I didn't truly appreciate, I admit, because the story was semi-autobiographical and therefore felt like cheating). In 1999, I won an arts and letters "Honourable Mention" award for an excerpt from my novel-in-progress and in 2000, that same novel won the Percy Janes First Novel Award for an unpublished first manuscript.

I was on my way, right? Lots of interest. Publishers and agents took me seriously. To this day, I have never received one of those nasty rejection letters that some people get. They've always been encouraging, always pointing out the strengths in my writing. They rarely mentioned any weaknesses, other than the fact that they didn't want to publish it. A couple of agents came extremely close to signing me and one publisher kicked the tires for nearly two whole years, in which time I re-wrote that prize-winning manuscript several times in an effort to get it published. I began my Ph.D. program in 2000 and gradually I was consumed by the doctoral monster--classes, seminars, an endless stream of gigantic essays to write, studying dozens upon dozens of books in preparation for comprehensive exams, and then, of course, there was the giganto-thesis--"me manifesto" as I called it. Somewhere along the way, my writing career had taken a backseat to life. And by that I mean that it was dead in the water, having never arrived.

So last Wednesday night was like a dream--all the more so because I was severely overworked and underslept. But I was giddy, as was evidenced by the fact that I surely hugged everyone in the room. But it was genuine affection on my part, and I assume on theirs, because of both the weight and the levity of the moment. It was a time for celebraing, and it felt like it wasn't just a celebration of my book or even necessarily of me, but of the very idea of perseverance in order to fulfill one's dream, what has been a part of me for so long--and denied me for so long--it begins to feel like a destiny and a quest. And, to be perfectly melodramatic about it, it was like finally pulling the sword from the stone.

Talking. Talking. Talking. My favorite part.
I have no idea how many people were there, but the room was packed. The first people I saw when I walked in were my brother-in-law, Matt (who bought me my first  computer a long time ago, as a loan that I ultimately repaid) and his wife Jenn, who are always very supportive of my writing, always have been. There was Helene Staveley and her husband Brian, sitting in the big chairs like guests at a fancy party--which they were. And, of course, my publisher and her assistant, Donna Francis and Pam Dooley (who started working there less than two weeks earlier), were selling books and keeping things runnings smoothly. Those were the early-comers I remember. Then, suddenly the room was filling up--I next saw my old professor, Roberta Buchanan and her friend, followed by my very dear friend of nearly twenty years, Allison and her husband Stephen. My friend Mike Heffernan, a fine author himself who introduced me that night, as well as the cover artist Darren Whalen. Then came my sister-in-law Katherine and her partner, then writers Jessica Grant, Chad Pelley, Russell Wangersky and Sam Martin, then one of my former students, Carla, Kayla and then Megan, and then another and then another and another. I was utterly shocked to see so many students there from the past twelve years (shout-out to the amazing Jo-Ann!). My wedding day notwithstanding, it was the most gratifying day of my life. I could easily list everyone who was there--I remember you all. I remember a moment with each and every one of you.

Throughout the night, I had three thoughts that I distinctly recall a week later. One was that I felt like Bilbo Baggins and now would be a perfectly good time to disappear and go off on some big adventure. The other was that I had some notion of what it feels like to attend your own funeral, with all those faces from the past, people just showing up to say they thought of you, remembered you, and wished you well. Not everyone gets to have that experience, and, morbid as it sounds, I treasure it.

The other thought, of course, was that I was the richest man in town, just like George Bailey in my favorite Christmas-themed movie, It's a Wonderful Life. After years of paying my dues, keeping my head down, doing good work and trying my best to help anyone I could in any way they asked, I felt like it was all coming back to me. There were moments of darkness in those years before I published, times when I wondered why I even did it and what the reward was. Now I can see it. It's not about the book; it's not about how many you sell or whether you win any awards or get great reviews. This was a chance to bring together my friends, some family, former students who were now my friends and even some family and colleagues whom I consider to be my good and treasured friends. I felt like Sandra Bullock on the night of the Oscars, asking: "Did I really do something to deserve this, or did I just wear y'all out?" It was a fantastic night.

I didn't sleep that night. I was all wound up, talking nonstop to my amazing wife about what it was all like, about what surprised me most, about who I was glad to see. It turns out that I was glad to see everyone. The line-up for the book signing was long. I was eager to talk to each and every person who had bought a book and wanted me to sign it--but also there were people whom I know (because they were students, mostly) didn't have the money to buy a book, and just wanted to show up and show support, which I dearly appreciated. But I had a connection with nearly everyone in that room. Every one of them knew what this night meant to me--some were more aware than others, of course. My good friend Wendy put it in pespective when she half-jokingly said, "I've had this date circled on my calendar since 1994."

Since last Wednesday, I've made an attempt to get life back to some sort of normal. There've been papers to grade and literally hundreds of emails to answer. I'm almost through them all. There was an interview with Weekend Arts Magazine's Angela Antle a couple of days after the launch. It wasn't my first CBC interview, but it was my first one in which I talked about my own writing, about a book I'd published. To me, it was like appearing on Oprah's post-Oscar show the day after the Oscars ceremony. There's no feeling quite like it.

There is a small part of me that doesn't want to let go of this feeling. But it's necessary to get on with normalcy, whatever that means. I do feel that my life has been changed forever. There are book signings coming up (April 30 at Coles bookstore, and a reading/signing at Chapters on May 15), another radio thingy on Saturday (this time live on CHMR, the local universty station) some invitations to literary festivals throughout the summer and fall, and various opportunities that come from having published a book. Next week, when I've finished grading final exams, I'll take a deep breath and look out through the window of my new favorite coffee shop on Water Street and try desperately to feel all this, to know that it happened and that good things will come from now on. I can stop trying now and just do and be what I've always been. That part of it is over.

The excited zombie in action.
But there's more to come--because I've got a novel almost finished, soon to be submitted to my publisher. Maybe next year, I can launch my first novel into the world. And you're all invited to the party, to do it all over again, as a celebration of life. Not just my life, but the ideals of perseverance, friendship andthe enjoyment of life itself.

It's all just one gigantic kick at the darkness, ain't it?

Thanks, all, for being there--not just physically but in other ways, too. I really do feel like the richest man in town.

And, oh yeah, I finally did sleep on Thursday night, perhaps the biggest triumph of my entire week.


(All photos courtesy of my friend Helene Staveley. I'll post official photos, if there are any, when they become available.)