Terry Fallis will not give you advice on how to become a writer. He's still too new at the trade to start dishing out the how's and what's of becoming a successful author. Fallis, bless the man, just sort of stumbled into it.
"What I'm happy to do is tell the story behind my rather unorthodox journey to the published land," Fallis says by phone from his office in downtown Toronto.
And share that story he will this Sunday at Millennium Place, where he will give a reading and chat with the audience as a guest of the Vicious Circle Writing Group.
Fallis is a partner in the Toronto-based public relations firm Thornley Fallis, but for 10 years he'd been resolving every New Year's Day to sit down and start a novel. Finally, in 2005, he mustered the gumption and started writing
The writing took 10 months of weekends and the result was The Best Laid Plans, a political satire that would eventually win the 2008 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, and then the 2011 edition of Canada Reads.
"I continue to be shocked by that, largely because it was my first novel and I didn't know about how to go about writing a novel," he says.
Once it was complete, he shopped it around to publishing houses but he never heard back from any of them. He received not a single rejection letter, or any evidence at all that anyone at any of the publishing houses had even looked at the manuscript.
So he took to the Internet. His success was completely DIY. Already the co-host of a popular business podcast, he used his social-media know-how and set up a comedy 20-part podcast where he read one chapter at a time in each episode, later turning to the print-on-demand company iUniverse to self-publish a paper edition. Then, his book was short-listed for the Leacock Medal.
"What changed for me was when I won the Leacock Medal. As a writer, that was the life-changing lightening strike for me," he says.
Within a week of being short-listed, he landed an agent. Within a week of winning, he had signed a book deal with McClelland and Stewart.
The book and its sequel, 2010's The High Road, are absurdist criticisms of the Canadian political system, which Fallis knows all too well. Like the protagonist in the novel, Fallis arrived at Parliament Hill as a fresh-faced political assistant and left several years later with that enthusiasm pummeled out of him by the "relentless tide of politics."
"Instead of writing a rage-filled, non-fiction polemic that would never be published and no one would read, I thought I would cloak my thoughts on the state of politics and perhaps illuminate a new path in the guise of a novel," he says.
He's currently working on a third novel, a satire of the public relations sector, but despite his success he's still a full-time working man, putting in 40 hours-plus at Thornley Fallis. Next month, he'll be teaching a seminar at the University of Toronto under the Creative Writing department about how to market one's writing once the project is complete. He says he'll use his personal experience as a guide but as he says, don't ask him for any advice.