Monday, June 25, 2012

Thirteen years ago, I stopped every creative project I was working on and began writing a novel that I knew was "the one" I had to write. I didn't have any thoughts that it would change my life or that it would be published or anything else beyond the idea that it had to be the next thing I worked on, or else I would be wasting my time on this planet. After months of working every day at Hava Java coffee shop in downtown St. John's (I taught at MUN at 9 a.m., so I'd work for an hour on the manuscript before catching a bus to campus), I submitted the VERY rough manuscript to the Percy Janes award competition, and it won. I got $1,000, some advice from Kenneth Harvey, some introductions to very good people in the literary world, and some welcome encouragement. This is a longer story, but I'm sure I'll tell it eventually.

Every writer wants to write a story or poem that will say to the world: "This is who I am. This is what is important to me. If you read this, you will understand me and what I see when I look at the world." Or, in simpler terms: "This is what I have learned."

For me, Finton Moon is that book. Of course, I've learned other stuff since then. And the novel's plot has changed a lot in that time. It was five years ago that I began a complete re-write of Finton Moon, and so this is a new novel, fresh from my mind and onto the page. In every way, it represents what I want to tell the world. Or at least some of it.

If you're in the St. John's area tomorrow evening (cue Rick Mercer voice), why not come on down and join us for a very cool, gothic sort of summer evening in the intimate confines of the Newman Wine Vaults? There'll be food, fun, and readings by an author who has worked a very long time to make sure the story of Finton Moon, the person (he's very real inside my head) gets told. I can hardly believe the moment of his introduction to the world is finally here. And, on behalf of Finton and myself, I will be grateful to see you there.

Here's your invitation, with all the information you'll need.

And here's the complimentary ticket to the event to print and bring. (Creative Publishers is paying for the venue; the tickets let the NL Historic Trust know how many attended.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours

I learned some lessons when my first book was published. One of them is that a lot of people seem to prefer, if it's at all possible, a book that is signed by the author.

After Moonlight Sketches came out, I received countless emails and Facebook comments from people wondering where they could buy the book and, furthermore, where and how they could get it signed.

Buying is easy. Finton Moon, which officially releases next Tuesday, will be available at most Coles, Chapters, and Indigo stores throughout Canada. If your local bookstore doesn't carry it, you can just order it at the checkout. It will also be available from (I'm not sure about or in the US, but they have my books listed, so I'm assuming they'll be able to get it for you and deliver it). There are other outlets as well. Downhome stores (and their outlets) throughout Atlantic Canada will have it. That includes some airports, drugstores, and the occasional independent retail space. Moonlight Sketches was (and is) available in every province of Canada, and I assume the same will be true of Finton Moon.

For those who don't live in St. John's, however (the hub of the literary world--and I'm only partially joking), one of the easiest, safest, and quickest routes is by ordering directly from my publisher. The publisher's assistant, Pamela, tells me that it takes only 1-2 days to process and order and ship it out to whoever orders it. How long it takes after that depends on the mail system both in Canada and wherever you are. Could be rural Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada, Nunavut, or another country altogether. They've even been known to ship books to the U.S. as well as Europe and as far away as Australia. The costs will vary of course, as it often costs substantially more to ship to foreign countries or even to other provinces.

And then comes the issue of signing.

Sometimes, as a writer, I'm lucky enough to be able to visit cities, towns and bookstores outside of St. John's. Last year, I was able to go to  Eastport and Halifax, for example. As much as I would love to travel more and promote my books, it's not economically feasible for me to travel extensively because it can get quite expensive both for me and my publisher. Sometimes, I might get invited to speak at a book fair or to do a special talk, and the costs will be covered by the host organization. But that still leaves quite a few people--often friends, relatives, acquaintances and innocent bystanders--who simply want a book and they want it signed.

Again, a lot of people wanted to know how they could get it signed; it's not really a monumental task. Some people write and say, "I'll be in the city, so can we meet somewhere so I get my book signed?" The fact is--and I don't mean to sound cold about it--I simply don't have time to meet everyone and sign their books personally. I wish I could. But I have an extremely busy life and only the closest of friends and family can really seriously ask this of me and have a reasonable expectation that I will be able to do it.

Others want me to go buy them a book and sign it and mail it to them. That's not only time-consuming but very costly. Even if you offer to pay me for it, there are challenges involved with your request. One is that I just don't have the time to do that (remember: it's not just you, but many other people who ask this favour). The other is that I'm lazy, and going out to buy books, then packaging them up, licking stamps and envelopes, and physically going to the post office as well--the mere thought of such physical labour is dizzying. I might as well have been a courier. Again, you see--it's not just you, but many others. I know I'm not a famous author (although a very kind bank teller recognized me this morning; alas, I didn't get any free banking and/or money from the transaction). But even John Irving's relatives wouldn't dare to email him and ask him to buy a book and mail it to them. I mean, we're writers so that we don't have to actually deal with real life, and that includes licking stamps. Most of the stamps I deal with wait an average of 6 to 8 weeks before they get licked. It takes another 2-3 weeks to get me to address an envelope (I write a lot, and so addressing envelopes is just another, albeit mundane, extension of that activity--more work, in other words), and another week of it sitting on my fridge before I even think to bring it to the post office. I'm not sure if that makes me very inefficient or extremely efficient, since I generally end up doing it all in one trip, ultimately--unless I forgot to buy stamps, which inevitably happens.

So, do us both a favour: if you want your book signed and you're unable to make it to the launch or to a book signing--where I will happily and gratefully sign your purchase--please take advantage of the following offer:

If you pre-order your book by the launch date (for practical purposes, by Monday, June 25 at noon), I will gladly sign it for you. Some generous and intelligent people have already done just that, and I thank them for that, with all my heart. I always appreciate it when someone spends their hard-earned money to buy not just my book, but any book, especially a book of fiction, which to some people is akin to Satanic--or, at the very least, useless--scribblings.

Just order it directly from the publisher: Creative Book Publishing, and I'll gladly make the trip to their office Monday afternoon to sign it and personalize it for you. After that date, I make no guarantees of being able to scribble my name on a page.

Signed, your grateful author, who is not nearly as (and yet is possibly even more) curmudgeonly as (or than) this whole thing makes me sound,


Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Pleasant Place

The last few days have been quite the emotional tempest.
Last Wednesday, my publisher received the first copies of Finton Moon from the printer, and so I was able to hold a copy in my hands like the proud father of a newborn infant. I was actually more excited for the landing of this book than I was for Moonlight Sketches, and that's saying quite a lot since I was ecstatic with the birth of my short story collection. They say every parent has a favourite, and I'm afraid mine will always be my second born simply because it has been the trouble child. Maybe as time goes on I'll feel differently, and I'm sure I'll forever reserve a fond place in my heart for MS, but Finton Moon was conceived over twelve years ago, won the Percy Janes Award as a rough draft in 2001, and seemed destined to be sprung onto the world quite some time ago. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how long and strange the gestation period for this novel has been.

Moon landing.
About five years ago I started once again rewriting Finton Moon-- it's about 98% different from the 2001 draft, and this incarnation was accepted last September by Killick Press to be published this spring. But the manuscript, according to my editor, still needed some work, and so I set about to get it done in time for an April 2012 release. Despite working 12-14 hours a day nearly every day (read: love of labour, with no pay) since Christmas 2011, we didn't get the April release we were looking for, but I remained hopeful of it happening before the summer was here.

A funny thing happened then. While the novel's release was delayed, my first child won an award. What followed was a fair amount of publicity that, at least in theory, sees Finton Moon enter the literary universe at exactly the right time. Tentatively, the launch has been set for June 26, and it is, of course, open to the general public. Details will be announced soon. Today, Saturday, only three days after I first held it in my hands, Finton Moon was finally available in St. John's bookstores, just in time for Atlantic Author Day. It was a successful day of signing books and meeting some old friends.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, at the invitation of local historical society, I returned to my hometown of Placentia to give a talk to members of the community at their new Arts Centre. It's a beautiful facility, with great lighting and ambience, and wonderful acoustics--as I found out when some members of the audience asked me to sing one my original songs.

Me 'n me mum.
If you have some time to spare, you can view most of the video of the event by clicking on the link below. The entire evening was fantastic for me, like something out of a fairy tale. I haven't been to Placentia in more years than I care to admit, and so the night was fraught with emotion for me. In fact, my wife and I spent most of the day with my mother, who's 77 years old and still quite the vibrant young woman. We talked most of the day, but drove around the town a bit as well. Most of the store fronts have different names on them now than when I grew up. And, while a different sort of resettlement (to places like Alberta and Ontario) has had its effects, Placentia--at one time the original French capital of Newfoundland, formerly named Plaisance, or "Pleasant Place"--is showing signs of a comeback. The population that remains is strong and resilient, and many members of the community actually come from other provinces, or have lived elsewhere and returned to start businesses of their own.

The audience at the arts centre was incredible. It was the largest crowd they've had for their author speaking series, and most of the people in attendance were unkown to me--by virtue of both my long absence and my invisibility as a child. Listen to some of the speech by clicking on the image at the right, and you'll understand what I mean. But there were some family members in attendance, as well as one of my former students from the area, for whom I've always had a great fondness.

The view of Placentia from the venerable, old Castle Hill
historic fortress site.
It was a warm reception, by far better than anything I imagined when I left my hometown back in 1982. As a seventeen year old, I imagined one day going out and conquering the world or slaying a dragon and one day being the toast of the town. It didn't quite work out that way--there were a lot of hard years to follow, many of them appropriately be labelled under "lost." But this was a night of celebration, and I was humbled and proud--and quite honoured--to be able to stand in front of such a keen, interested, and intelligent audience of fellow Placentians and, well, just talk. As with the Atlantic Book Awards last month, it was just proof of life--evidence of being heard, finally. And it meant a lot for me to return to where I began.

Signing a copy of 'Finton Moon' for a very nice woman.
The next day, I left sunny Placentia, and the fog inside the city of St. John's was bone-chilling as the temperatire dropped about 8 degrees from what I'd just left behind. I went from telling stories at a warm arts centre in Placentia to signing copies of Moonlight Sketches at Costco. Not that I mind Costco so much, as they do sell a lot of books and, for that, I am grateful. But I'm ready to move on now--it's a new year. Summer begins soon. Finton Moon will be officially launched soon. Although the copies I brought with me to Placentia sold out, there still some at the St. John's Coles and Chapters stores. Quite a few people told me they already had the Moonlight Sketches and wanted the second book, which is extremely good to hear. Apparently, no one wanted to lynch me. Everyone understands that, while my writing is very dark at times, I'm not writing about Placentia or about my family and friends. It's fiction--and I'm both relieved and impressed that the people in my hometown seem to understand, accept, and embrace that fact.

So, tomorrow, it's one more big event--my brother-in-law's birthday bash, combined with a Father's Day nod for my wife's stepfather. And then, at some point, I will rest. I'm sure of it. Pretty much. Maybe.

This upcoming week, for the first time in a very long time, doesn't look quite so busy. Maybe, just maybe, I can get back to work on my new novel(s): Two Sisters and Dream Dogs.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Oh--the singing. I was asked to sing a song. And, instead of doing the tired, old "I'm too shy" and hanging my head thing, I belted it out, and it went over well. In fact, it might well have been the best moment of the night. Unfortunately, the video feed at the Arts Centre went out just as I was about to sing "Family Reunion," a song I wrote when I played with my brother Gene's band, The Visions. In fact, he recorded that song on his CD not too long ago. So it meant a lot to me to be able to sing it a cappello in front of my hometown homies.

Here are the words. Maybe some other time, you can hear the music as well. I was fairly young when I wrote this, as it was a long time ago and in the band I was the one who sang  lead on it, with my brother singing with me. That, and the fact that it's a favourite of my mother's--who was in the audience Thursday night--made the moment pretty special for me. Well, that and the fact that, in spite of not having sung it in a long time, I didn't forget the words.

Family Reunion

I came here tonight from far away
To be with my family and friends.
It's been too many years since I was here.
It's so good to see them again.

I left my home when I was young
To make my way in the world.
But it seems you can take the boy from the bay,
But you can't make 'em stay away.

Now the band is playing the old songs
My brothers and I used to sing.
And the air has the sweet smell of summer tonight,
And everyone's feeling all right.

'Cause we're having a family reunion
In the warmth of the old parish hall.
The old and the wild, the young and the wild,
Every one of us answered the call.

The house where I reportedly grew up.
Even the ones we thought gone for good
Have managed to come home today.
Oh, I don't recall the last time I saw
The whole crowd together this way.

When tomorrow comes around and my legs feel like lead,
And the music still rings in my ears
I'll bid you goodbye till next time we meet,
Please God not for so many years.

Now the band is playing the old songs
My brothers and I used to sing.
And the air has the sweet smell of summer tonight,
And everyone's feeling all right.

'Cause we're having a family reunion
In the warmth of the old parish hall.
The old and the wild, the young and the wild,
Every one of us answered the call.

The old and the wild, the young and the wild,

Every one of us answered the call.

Friday, June 8, 2012

In 30 words or less....

This is a new feature for this blog. Up until now, it’s been all about me, and I get bored talking about myself all the time. “A Kick At the Darkness” is actually being read by more people than ever (the stats counter doesn’t work properly—actual readership is approximately five times what is shown), and I will continue to apprise you of my personal thoughts and doings. But I’d like to use this platform to shine a spotlight on some other people in the arts community—largely within my home province of Newfoundland, but also some folks in Atlantic Canada and across the country, occasionally even stepping a toe across the 49th parallel or taking a glance across the pond. I call this feature “In 30 Words or Less...” with the utterly complex idea that the person I’ve chosen to interview will respond to each question in (cough, cough) no more than thirty words. That’s a promise that might draw you in and keep you to the end.

As a writer myself, many of those I feature will be writers, as well as people in the publishing industry—the idea being to help you get to know them a little, to understand who they are, what they do, and why. But I’ll also be highlighting the occasional musician, painter, illustrator, actor, director, and well, you get the point. Like in that CD title from The Once, it’ll be “row upon row of people I know.”

And, yes, for the most part, it will be people I know. This blog purports to be about me and my world, my thoughts, and so on, and anyone who’s been coming here likely has been doing so for that reason. So the people I choose to feature will be those who, by however tenuous a thread, are a part of my world in some fashion. So, if you want to be featured, I’d suggest you get to know me. Facebook me. Talk to me. Email me. Meet me in a dark alley at 8 a.m. Buy me a bagel and a coffee. But don’t call me. I hate telephones.

Oh, and you won’t always recognize the names and faces. The idea, after all, is to focus on those who often get missed but deserve acknowledgement. Furthermore, I encounter quite a few young (and some older) people who are just trying to make themselves known. If I can play a small role in that, then I’ll use my blog for exactly that on occasion. It’ll be fun. After all, it’s only a minute or so of your time.

In 30 Words or Less: Tamara Reynish

I’ve known Tamara Reynish for a couple of years. She’s the friend and neighbour of another longtime writer friend of mine, JoAnne Soper-Cook, and we met at a dinner party at JoAnne’s house one February night. By strange coincidence, I’d been talking to Tamara earlier that week by email in her capacity as the new editor of  WORD magazine. I was inquiring about an article I’d submitted, and I’d never spoken to her before. So, technically, I met the same new person twice in one week and was completely charmed both times.

Tamara is a striking person in every way, from her flaming red hair, to her meticulous speech, her sultry  voice and her agile mind. If one of my stories was ever to be recorded for posterity, assuming Gordon Pinsent wasn't available, I would want Tamara to be the reader. She comes across as one who knows who she is and what she wants and, especially fortuitous for writers in this province, she knows how to attain her goals--although, as I've been told by others who have observed Tamara in action, it usually takes a rather Herculean effort. Fortunately, Tamara believes in her cause and is up to the challenge.

While she’s far from shy, when asked to talk about herself, Tamara often pushes someone else to the fore in the hope of giving credit where it’s due. And that’s exactly why I wanted her to be my first featured guest: she is a selfless promoter of others, largely through her work with the Literary Arts Foundation of NL and the Writers’ Alliance of NL (WANL), while also operating her own business, Reynish Communications. Most recently, and of particular significance to me, Tamara was instrumental in securing much-needed sponsorship for the NL Book Awards, now known as The Ches Crosbie Barristers Award. Without that sponsorship, the award wouldn’t carry nearly the distinction it has right now. She has performed a similar miracle for the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers, which is presented every second year to a worthy, new writer.

On the night of the Atlantic Book Awards in St. John’s, Tamara disclosed that she and her long time partner, Peter King, were getting married the following week. So, “Mrs. Tamara Reynish” is a newlywed.

Here’s Tamara Reynish, in 30 words or less:

1. Please state your full name, where you came from, and why the hell you’ve chosen St. John’s as a place to live.

Tamara Denice Reynish (Rhine-ish): I was born in Ontario, raised in West Germany and moved to St. John’s in 1989. Naturally, I live in St. John’s for the weather.

2. What’s your connection to the Literary Arts Foundation?

I am the Foundation’s president, proudly representing an amazing board of directors. I took over from the venerable Leslie Vryenhoek in December 2010.

3. What exactly is the Literary Arts Foundation?

It funds literary programs (Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards and Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers) and fosters appreciation for local literature. It also hosts a writing retreat, Piper’s Frith: Writing at Kilmory.

4. When you’re not working on behalf of the Foundation, what do you like to do?

I love spending time with my husband. I like words – especially editing and writing them. Luckily, I own a communications company. As well, I volunteer with the Writers’ Alliance.

5. What do you think your friends think of you?

I wouldn’t want to presume, so I asked one: Jeff Bursey, author of Verbatim: A Novel (who will be reading at the Ship on June 17), said, “Tamara is a force of nature – by some quirk, not Hibernian or Welsh, but Slavic – and by that I mean revolutionary and wildly beautiful.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The last two weeks have left me depleted. It's partly the weather--we've seen nothing but heavy, flight-cancelling fog and a steady rain that varies from constant drizzle to Biblical downpour. Our version of fair weather is when it's only foggy with a medium strength wind from the Northeast.

Okay, so much for the weather report. Mostly, I've been running on adrenaline for the past few months. I mentioned to the publisher's assistant yesterday--and she totally gets it, I'm sure--I've been constantly in hurry-up-there's-a-deadline mode since before Christmas. Of course, the deadline kept getting moved and it reached the point several times where we would just aim for the the next one. But it's hard to stay "on" for that long, constantly, 10-12 hours a day all through the cold bleakness of winter, the frozen bleakness of spring, and the rainy, foggy bleakness of early summer without getting a little tired, both physically and psychologically.

Not that I'm down or anything. It's mostly physical at this point.

My birthday was yesterday. See, I've never been a big fan of birthdays. Mostly, over the years, I've just moped and wished it was over. I don't actually think about getting older, so it doesn't bother me in any major way. It's the necessity of staying "up" for other people--answering the same, tired questions about whether you feel any older, accounting for how you spent that day, and the phone calls from well-meaning relatives who don't seem to understand that if you really wanted me to be happy on my birthday, you'd just put the phone down and back away from it.

This blog entry sounds pretty grumpy, I admit. But I really don't feel grumpy. Yesterday, I spent most of the day waiting to peruse and approve the final printer's proofs for Finton Moon, with an eye towards a release date later this month. If all goes well, it will be available for sale June 16 at St. John's Chapters and Coles, when I show up at those stores for Atlantic Author Day booksignings. I might even have a few copies with me when I go to my hometown on June 14 to speak to the Placentia Area Historical Society (open to the entire community). Yesterday, however, it was too foggy at St. John's airport for the plane to land, and so the FedEx package holding the proofs were sent back to Montreal. Likewise, today. But things are still on track. It's just been a lot of waiting. I did spend yesterday afternoon reading the proofs from a secure website and, I must say, I am extremely pleased with the outcome. Finton Moon looks very good to me. Creative Publishers have done a fantastic job of putting it together, and Todd Manning has come up with a beautiful cover.

Here's the front cover:

And here's the entire cover, including the back and spine:

So, yeah, the birthday thing wore me out. When I got home last night, I just couldn't muster much energy.

But here's the thing. In years past, I haven't really liked birthdays. Sure, I've managed to enjoy them, some more than others. But birthdays have never made me feel celebratory so much as cerebral: I tend to be philsophical on my birthday, putting my life in perspective, trying to figure out what it's all about. I know--that can be a downer, but I honestly don't approach it that way. Birthdays just make me think, that's all.

Well, yesterday, I started out in a happy, peaceful mood and it just continued all day, even when I was waiting on proofs, then working on the computer proofs, and even when the plane couldn't land. No big deal. Sure, I was tired, but I find that, as time goes on, I'm becoming a lot more at peace with my world and everything in it. No fretting the small stuff, or even the big stuff.

The events of the past fourteen months have had a lot to do with that. For most people, it's hard to grasp that someone could spend more than two decades of their life pursuing a single goal or dream even with the possibility that that dream might go unattained. That was always a possibility and, in recent years, even appeared (to some people) to be a probability. And then, it was one thing to be published--and quite happily, as I really have enjoyed every moment of it--but quite another to receive a major award for that "first" book. As a result, I feel more at peace, more confident, more accepting of who I am and have always been than I ever have in my life. Even as a child I never felt this secure about my place in the world, about what it all means, where it's all going. (I'm not sure anyone really wants me trying to answer those questions, so I'll refrain from sharing my epiphanies, at least for now.) But yesterday, my birthday just felt different than ever before. And that, I assure you, is a good thing. I answered every single email I received--and there were a lot, for which I'm more grateful than you can imagine. I answered every ringing of the phone and was quite cheerful about it, and, amazingly so, genuinely glad to talk to people. Sure, it left me feeling exhausted at the end, but that's the way it goes. No real hardship.

Today, I've been on the phone with Pam, the publisher's assistant, who is an amazing, tireless soul who--much to her credit--never lets on that I can sometimes be a huge pain in the arse. She's trying to set up a time, date, and venue for the book launch. There are details to be sorted, but mostly not by me. Finton Moon is finally out of my hands. Nearly thirteen years in the making--this most recent version about which I'm madly excited to be releasing into the world has been more than 5 years in the writing.

And that, my friends, gives me a great sense of peace, calm, and joy. The story has finally been told right, and young Finton is finally getting his voice heard. It will be tough letting him go now after spending every day with him for so long, so often on my mind, so constantly needing my attention and nurturing. And now he's heading out on his own. Well, good luck to him. I'm on to the next story.

But I'm really looking forward to having a new book to talk about for the next little while. Moonlight Sketches has been fun, and it's done wonderful things for me and my career. But leaving it to the side for a while is part of my own growing up as both a person and a writer, I suppose. I'm no longer the rookie writer, but the rookie novelist. After that, I can drop the whole underdog schtick and just get on with it. Sure, I'll always feel like the underdog--mostly because of the circumstances under which I grew up and then made my way through the world. It's been a long journey to get here, and I ain't goin' anywhere for a while--just sitting my butt in the chair day after day and writing the next story that needs to be told.

Meanwhile, I have some mementos of the past couple of weeks and the Atlantic Book Awards to keep me warm (photos courtesy of the generous Peggy Walt). Thanks for reading. I hope you'll forgive my tiredness and the subdued tone of this entry. But I felt like I had a few things to say. Yep. Time to move on.

The Ches Crosbie and Amy House show--great chemistry. Amy
House was the perfect host for the evening.

I was in shock when my name was announced as the winner,
so I didn't even see this on the big screen at the time.

Ches Crosbie and I shared a couple of laughs. He has a great
sense of humour... not to mention being generous enough to
sponsor the 2012 NL Book Award (covering two years of
fiction writing in this province.)
My acceptance speech, in which I thanked just about everybody
I ever knew. Everyone should have a moment like that at some
point in their life. I mean, I had a lot of people to whom I was grateful.
(Here, I think I was saying, "Look at the size of Kevin Major's book!"
compared to mine and Patrick Warner's--both of whom wrote amazing
books, I should add. You wouldn't go wrong by reading them.)