Posts by Chris:
On Wednesday morning I went to the Blue Metropolis press conference. I attended partly for CBC Radio, where I work as an editor for Canada Writes, and partly because I’m a guest writer at this year’s literary festival.
I used to work for Blue Met. For eight years I was their publicist. This was back in the festival’s early days. Back when I was beginning my freelance practice. It was one of my favourite contracts. I loved it because it inspired me. It kept me surrounded by writers: some whom I knew, others who I discovered.
I took many a taxi with literary superstars, chauffeuring them to their interviews. Writers like A.S Byatt, Julian Barnes, Carlos Fuentes and Margaret Atwood. You learn so much by making small talk, going from point A to B. At some point conversation would turn to “So what do you do?” and often times many of them had encouraging words for an aspiring writer like me.
So here I am now, ten years after working for the festival for the first time, attending as an author whose first book is about to come out. I have two events on May 3rd. One is called “Becoming a Writer”, which also features Alix Ohlin, Padma Viswanathan, Zoe Whittal and my good friend Daniel Baylis (more info on my events an be found here). I’m looking forward to it immensely.
CBC TV spoke with me at the press conference about appearing at the festival. You can watch the video below.
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On Friday the first review of my book was published. It appeared in the spring edition of the mRb (Montreal Review of Books). You can read it here.
Reviewer Rob Sherren did a great job. It was three months ago when the two of us sat down over beers and whiskey to discuss my characters. It was a thrill to talk with him then, and it is a thrill to read his article now.
Normally I don’t like reading book reviews. Generally, I’ll only read the first and last paragraph. Some reviewers give away too much in their summations and if I really want to read the book I want to be surprised. But Rob gave nothing away. He talked broadly about what the book was about, capturing its spirit and ambition, without giving away the plot. I appreciated that.
Friday night I got to read the first chapter of the book at the mRb launch. There were less people there than my reading the week before, but many more familiar faces. I read alongside other writers who were featured in the edition – fellow Cormorant author Ann Charney and mRb covergirl Elaine Kalman Naves. I was more relaxed this time. And I tried to add more emphasis and life to what I was reading.
I’m thankful to the mRb for inviting me to read when my book still isn’t out yet. Cormorant informs me that it should be out in 3-5 weeks (in fact it went to press the morning of the reading).
Last week I got to see the final front and back cover of the book, and the French flaps too. It’s quite exciting. The product looks beautiful. I had no idea what the book would look like when I was writing it, and now it has the perfect image (thanks to my friend Vincent and Cormorant’s designer Angel). I could think of no other, better, representation for the book. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands.
On Friday night I read from my novel for the first time in public.
I think it went well. There were about 50 people in the room, all there to celebrate our friend Alan’s recent Ph.D. I was one of a number of (mainly musical) performers taking to the stage.
I was extremely nervous. My reading was mid-way through the line-up and I could feel my anxiety grow as the room filled up. Had I chosen the right excerpt? What should I first say to put the scene into context? Would they like it?
I don’t know how actors do it: perform in front of a crowd. Many of the ones I know are quite shy and soft-spoken people. However, they’re effortlessly able to turn all of their nervous energy into a compelling performance. I wish I could do that.
Whenever I have to speak in public, I go a little blind. I may jump right into it, but I am also not sure at the end what I did or how I came across.
I chose to read a scene from the book’s third chapter, where Angie and Will go to the strip club for Izo’s birthday. It was the perfect length and I thought it might be a fun story for a queer audience. Largely, I think it went over well. No one spoke while I was talking. Everyone paid attention. I was hoping for the occasional chuckle at the funny bits, but those never came.
I learned several things that night. I learned that I need to add emphasis to a sentence if I want a laugh. I learned that reading scenes with dialogue is problematic. No one can see the quotation marks so not everyone knows who is saying what (I had to add a few extra “he said” “she said” while I read). I learned that it’s important to “act” some of the dialogue to help the audience along.
I couldn’t see anything while I was on stage, the lights shining on me, but I wish I still had looked up more. Attempted eye contact with the crowd. Also, a couple of times I felt like rushing through a line or a paragraph. Thankfully, I quickly recognized what I was doing and ignored the voice and took time with each sentence.
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Andrew Holleran blurbed my book. I forget that sometimes—that you’ll be able to see his name and quote on both the back and cover page, my name sharing the same space as his.
It’s hard to get my head around it. Andrew Holleran is my literary hero. I’ve read (almost) everything he’s ever written. He’s masterful. He makes me want to be a better writer.
Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I never much read anything that I liked. In high school they throw so many classics at you – A Tale of Two Cities, White Fang, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. All great books, sure, but none that really spoke to me. None that I wished I had written.
I must have been around 25 when I picked up Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance at a used book sale. It was a fifth edition: compact, worn and yellowing. From its first pages I knew I had stumbled on to something significant. The book was pure truth. It made me understand what great writing can do.
The story takes place in New York City and centres around the love/sex lives of its two main characters: the handsome and lonesome Malone, and the witty and flamboyant Sutherland. The book was published in 1978 (when I was four years old), but reading at 25 I felt that Holleran was talking about my generation—the bars, the bitchiness, the partying, the obsession with beauty, the search for love, the settling for less. He could easily have been talking about us. The book continues to resonate today. I reread it every three years or so, and also pick it up whenever I’m stuck and need to fine-tune my own writing.
Last year I found out that Andrew Holleran would be appearing at the Saints and Sinners literary festival in New Orleans. Friends of mine were also going, so I decided to go too. At the opening party I went up to him and introduced myself. I tried not to gush, and thanked him for his work. I told him what Dancer had meant to me. He was very humble, but happy to hear. And curious to know how I had first come across it. He also wanted to know more about me. About my book. About life in Montreal. It was thrilling to be able to talk so casually with him.
On the last night of the festival (after I had been to every one of his events) I brought my dog-eared copy of his book to one of the closing parties. I asked him if he would sign it. He marvelled at the original cover, and told me a story about how the cover model had tried to sue because he didn’t know the book was about the lives of gay men. I didn’t think I could be any happier that night, walking back to my B&B under a full moon with my freshly signed copy in my hands.
When I got back to Montreal I mustered up the courage to write to him and ask if he would consider blurbing my novel. He told me he was very busy, but asked to see it. So I printed up a copy and promptly mailed it to him. Patiently I waited.
The email came in several months later when I was at my office Christmas party. I checked my iPhone for messages, and there it was. An email from him telling me how much he enjoyed the book—read it in one sitting—and was happy to give me an endorsement.
Landing a book deal felt like a great enough accomplishment. Having my literary hero read, and like, my book had me orbiting the moon.
I took the day off from work to spend time with Greg, but still had to come in to the CBC anyway. I had been asked to take part in a panel discussion on the state of the literary industry. As someone with the publication of his first book looming, they wanted my perspective. I was happy to have been asked.
It was for the Quebec arts and culture show, Cinq à Six. Jeanette Kelly led the discussion. Joining us were Arash Mohtashami-Maali from the Canada Council for the Arts, and Katia Grubisic, a poet, editor and translator who I admire and run into all over town. Both were taking part in the CCA’s National Forum on the Literary Arts, which happened in Montreal last week.
During the discussion I spoke a bit about my expectations and some of the plans
I have to promote a book in an industry that continues to adapt to changes in the marketplace. I haven’t spoken much of my plans here, but I will soon.
The rest of the day and the weekend that followed were lovely. I had a spa day with Greg, had drinks and dinner with friends, and hosted a great big party on the Saturday night. I’ll continue to celebrate next month too when I visit friends in California.
I’m excited about 40. Everything is ripe and dripping with potential.
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