All Roads Lead to Terry Fallis

Recently I wrote about my visit to Wolfville, where I stayed at The Blomidon Inn. A recent chat in our kitchen with Terry Fallis, author and neighbour, revealed that in October, precisely 25 years ago, the Blomidon Inn held Terry’s wedding reception. He had just married a Wolfville girl named Nancy Naylor who was on her way to become not only the mother of Calder and Ben, but a major figure in Ontario’s public service.

In her government role Nancy encountered Jane (now my wife, and at the time another senior civil servant), and they became close friends. This meant that when Jane and I got together, we would regularly have dinner with our friends Nancy and Terry.

Some of my stage performances have featured a section on “TERRY FALLIS: Saint, Little Red Hen, and Prizewinner.” Let me explain that.

First, the “Saint.” When Terry shyly started to try his hand at writing fiction, with a political satire named The Best Laid Plans, he never once asked me to “take a look at” his new novel. Even when he was facing months of silence from literary agents, and from other publishers, he never raised the question. He didn’t want to trade on our friendship, you see. This, in a world where people accost me at funerals, or bang into my cart at supermarkets hoping that I’ll read their manuscript, comes pretty close to sainthood.

In time, he decided to advance the situation, not by approaching his friend Doug, but by reading the first chapter on the podcast he ran as part of his PR professional life. People really liked it. So he kept going. Then he started to blog the chapters, to his usual audience, which was not used to fiction from him. But people really liked that, so he kept going. People liked the whole book so much, in fact, that he decided, what the hell, to turn into The Little Red Hen. You remember her? When no one would help her in any task she would say, “Very well, I’ll do it myself!”

So Terry decided to publish the book himself, using an electronic self-publishing system that worked well, supplying him with electronic books as well as real, paper ones. He happened to have 10 copies lying around when he read the entry rules for The Stephen Leacock Prize for Humour, and saw that self-published books were eligible, if you submitted 10 copies. It was the ultimate “Little Red Hen” moment.

The book made it to the short list, along with King John of Canada by my author, Scott Gardiner. So I was at the Leacock lunch where the prize-winner was announced . . .“Terry Fallis!”

I went up to him and said, “Terry, now you really need a publisher. Let me read your book.” And I did, and I liked it very much, and I made a few tiny tweaks to the Scotticisms employed by his irascible hero Angus, and rushed to bring the novel out as a Douglas Gibson Book.

And people loved the story of the outsider who took on the staid publishing world, and it went on to great success. There was a follow-up novel, The High Road, in 2010, which I published in a more conventional way, and which  did well. But the high point was Spring 2011, when The Best Laid Plans won the Canada Reads competition. Tick the “Prizewinner” box.

This September his third novel, Up and Down came out. The reviews have been good for this “poignantly funny third novel” (Ottawa Citizen) and “a breezy, gentle satire . . . he might have a shot at another Leacock” (Globe and Mail). But what marks Terry as a truly remarkable author is how hard he works at getting to know his readers, and how much people like his public appearances. At that kitchen meeting last week, as his editor/publisher I asked him to take me through the promotion tour he has been undertaking for Up and Down.

He told me that in just under two months he has already made 42 public appearances . . . readings, question and answer sessions, bookstore chats, inside library events, convention speeches, and so on. And in every case, he finds to his delight that he sells, and signs, not only the new book, but also the previous two books. People are catching up to this author, and they like all of his work.

This is great news for me, of course, as the proud publisher of my friend Terry.

But there’s another reason for my special pleasure in his success. He works notably hard at promoting his book. And he’s very, very good at it, because you can see the very likeable enthusiast shining through.

Like his other books, Up and Down will leave you feeling “up.”


Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading (#6)

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, we revisited Paddle to the Amazon by Don Starkell, and this we’re featuring . . .

The Game by Ken Dryden (1983)

The CBC Canada Reads competition was won last year by my friend Terry Fallis and his political satire The Best Laid Plans. (Try to catch up with it and its successor, The High Road. Terry has a gift for easy, funny writing with distinct and memorable characters who make the events of the plot fly by, with the good guys winning in the end. Yay! And this fall there will be a new Terry Fallis book, Up and Down, also edited by yours truly.)

This year I had hopes that books edited by me would win Canada Reads two years in a row, since Ken Dryden’s The Game was a hot contender. My emotions were split, because I was the publisher (although not the editor) of my good friend Dave Bidini’s book On a Cold Road. But when Dave’s book fell by the wayside in the harsh voting, I was able to root wholeheartedly for the book that Ken and I worked on way back in 1983.

Looking at my copy today, I’m impressed by the confidence that led me to write on the book’s back cover, “You are about to read one of the best books ever written about any sport.” I still believe that to be true. And I remember that the late Trent Frayne wrote in the Globe that it was “the sports book of the year, and of the decade, and even of the century!”

Ken and I (as readers of my book know) are such good friends that I was able to play a practical joke on him, involving a Preston Manning imitation. I am still touched by what he wrote in my copy of The Game: “For Doug . . . We have gone through a lot for a long time. I hope you’re as satisfied with the end result as I am. Thank you for all your help and patience.”

I’m delighted that Canada Reads (and Ken’s book lost narrowly in the last round, although it won the popular vote) has brought The Game to the attention of a whole new generation of readers.

For Doug’s tales of Ken Dryden (including his Preston Manning prank) see 311-314 of Stories About Storytellers.