Terry Fallis, real interview ‘Best laid plans’

Hello Terry,NOVELIST

Your Stephen Leacock prize winner was our read of the month in our book club at the Pickering Library (Petticoat Creek). The book was a thorough blast! Sure confirms my cynical attitude about Canadian politics, from federal right down to municipal.

Your style of writing is tremendously entertaining, a hoot and justifiably held in high regard. Now I have to follow up the Best Laid Plans with your other books to compare and enjoy.

Be all that as it may, I write a blog for various clubs to which I belong and which I update fairly regularly. In the Book Club section, I did an imaginary interview with another author we read, Donna Tartt. It went over too well for many of the book club members responded with numerous compliments and praise, when in actual fact the darn thing was fiction. I immediately re-labelled the blog entry and wrote retractions to everyone. I was having fun but thought I best rein in that horse before the barn doors get blown off by some litigatious explosion.

Because of how much the book club members enjoyed that fictional interview, I thought, hmmm, might as well do another one with Terry Fallis. Then, after more rational second thoughts, I revised my plans. Instead, I would like to ask if you would respond to some questions so that I have the authentic words of Terry Fallis.

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1. How did you get into writing? Parents influence? Teachers? Peers? Personal initiative? Where did you attend high school in Toronto? I used to teach at De La Salle for a few years but the trek from Pickering was murder!

Writing a novel has been on my life list of things to do for a very long time. But as a serial procrastinator, it took until I was 45 years old to get around to writing my first manuscript, “The Best Laid Plans.” My father engendered in his offspring a love of the English language that persists to this day. I went to high school at Leaside, coincidentally, the same school Margaret Atwood attended.

2. What became of the hovercraft you built as an early teen? Did it actually every get off the ground?

The hovercraft actually worked quite well. It took us about a year to build. We tested it in the parking lot of the Ontario Science Centre. We were quite pleased with its performance. It was stored and on display at the Ontario Science Centre for a year or so and then we simply dismantled it to free up space in the garage. It was a great, perhaps even life-changing experience that pushed me to study engineering at McMaster.

3. After McMaster, how did you get into the more centralized political scene of writing for politicians? Did you move to Ottawa? You wrote for Ignatieff…my gawd, what a choice! Did you get the feeling early on that you may be riding a dead horse?

I managed to get myself elected President of the McMaster Students Union after I earned my engineering degree. This was a wonderful experience that led directly to my first post-university job on Jean Chretien’s Leadership Campaign staff in 1984. That’s where my life in politics all began. I didn’t actually write for Ignatieff. I hosted and produced his podcast during his leadership campaign.

4. How did political penmanship affect your attitude toward politicians? Are you cynical about their integrity as many Canadians may be? As I am, with certainty? What is your view of politics and politicians today? Does that theme of Best Laid Plans hold true for your view of politics today?

The Best Laid Plans and The High Road are my love letters to democracy. I wrote them to try to shed light on a different path we might take, and I embodied this new path in the guise of Angus McLintock. I was disillusioned after working in the crucible of Parliament Hill, but I’m also an eternal optimist and believe that eventually, things will get better if enough Canadians take an interest in their democratic obligations as citizens.

5. Living in Toronto, what are your comments about the Rob Ford debacle? Is he really a  loser or is he actually a politician with underestimated chutzpah bordering on political genius? The man will likely win the next election unless some major circumstances/events occur…or an Angus comes out of the woodwork which I sincerely doubt will happen.

I’m certainly no Rob Ford fan. Despite his bravado, I’m convinced he’ll lose badly in the next election. He’s done nothing but fuel cynicism about politics. I’ll be happy to see the back of him!

6. Who was your inspiration for Angus, the beloved Scot who is easy to like as a politician because of his honesty and “I am going to do what I say” attitude?

Angus is a wholly invented character/ Physically, he is an amalgam of Alexander Graham Bell, Robertson Daviess, two of my great Canadian heroes, and my first year Physics professor at McMaster. But his attitude, approach, and honesty are all his own.

7. Can I assume you no longer write speeches for politicians, if not, why not? Did you find yourself becoming tainted, jaded, cynical? Was it financially less rewarding than book writing? How did you find the determination to keep pushing forward when The Best Laid kept getting rejections? Were you inspired by Rawlings in her relentless pursuit of publication?

I still write the occasional speech for CEOs and government officials in my day job as a Public Relations consultant. Almost everything is more lucrative than writing novels in Canada including running a sidewalk lemonade stand. I’m not sure why I continued to pursue publication in the early years beyond a desire to learn whether I had in fact written a novel worthy of someone’s time. When I finished the manuscript in the early part of 2006, I really wasn’t sure what I had. Getting it out there via podcasts helped me accept that people seemed to like it despite the lack of response from the traditional publishing world.

8. Can you describe where your writing plans will be taking you next ? How do you come up with your great plots? Where do you find your inspiration? Did you study journalism at all ? In the Best Laid Plans, you seem to have a lot of fun with correcting people’s grammar, much as my wife would like to do and does when listening to newscaster.

My fourth novel, No Relation, comes out in May. I’m hard at work, well, maybe not “hard at word,” on my fifth novel, tentatively called Poles Apart. I’m not sure where my plots come from. They just seem to ferment and evolve over time. Then, when the story seems ready, I start to outline it, culminating in two or three pages of bullet points for each chapter. I did not study journalism but have always been a bit of a news junkie, with a penchant for proper English.

9. Can you describe your work habits briefly as a writer.

Because I still work in a day job, I tend to be a weekend writer. I hope one day to be able to write full time, but it’s probably a few years off. I am a heavy outliner so I think through and map out the entire story culminating in a 60-70 page outline. The last part of my process is the actual writing of the manuscript. At that stage, it happens quite quickly, about 4-6 months of weekends to write the 100,000 word manuscript. The process seems to have worked for me for four novels so I think I’ll stick with it.

Interview with Terry Fallis by email
February, 2014

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