Terry Fallis on how Canada Reads changed his life

Well, a week from now the five finalists for Canada Reads 2012: True Stories, will be unveiled thus kicking off the annual literary cage match (or what I like to call the great Canadian "donnybook"). In this final peaceful interregnum before the books are announced, the celebrity panelists are introduced and the gloves are doffed, I thought it might be an appropriate time to reflect on the impact Canada Reads can have on a writer.

Simply put, for the finalists, Canada Reads is big. For the winner, Canada Reads is really big. For any writer lucky enough to make the final five, let alone win the title, it's just so wonderful. But for a rookie writer like me, winning Canada Reads utterly changed my life as a writer.


Terry Fallis with his Canada Reads defender, CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi.

Sales of The Best Laid Plans had been reasonably strong in the two years since McClelland & Stewart published it in 2008. My agent was pleased, my editor and publisher made favourable noises, my follow-up novel The High Road was published in the fall of 2010 to generally positive reviews (I say "generally" because there was at least one review that stung a bit), and all seemed right with the world.

Then last February, Ali Velshi brilliantly defended The Best Laid Plans in the three days of debates, and somehow it was the last book standing, miraculously taking the Canada Reads crown. I was at home watching the final debate live on my computer in the library we built on our third floor. I was all alone at the time, which may not have been such a good idea. Having a medic on hand with defibrillator experience may have been a wiser approach.

The change in my life as a writer was immediate. The next morning Ali Velshi and I started our day at CBC as guests on Q with Jian Ghomeshi. Then a camera crew from The National trailed me for the rest of the day as I met with clients as part of my day job, got dressed in my tuxedo and attended that evening's Book Lover's Ball.

Sales immediately shot through the roof, as The Best Laid Plans surged to the top of the charts on Amazon, Chapters Indigo and Kobo. It sat on the Globe and Mail bestseller list for more than six months. (Canada Reads sells more books in this country than anything else, except the Scotiabank Giller Prize.) I was invited to "blurb" other writers' books. I learned that The Best Laid Plans will be part of the coursework in a third-year Can Lit class at Lakehead University. I signed with McClelland & Stewart for a third novel, which incidentally, I've just finished. I was even a guest on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers.

Finally, invitations to speak and read at libraries, book clubs and literary festivals flooded my in-box and are still coming in. I travelled the country, giving talks and readings in Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, Sechelt, Whistler, Halifax, Ottawa, Grimsby, Brantford, Bayfield, Owen Sound, Creemore, Orillia, Perth, Brockville, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, Eden Mills, Keswick, Hanover, Peterborough, Huntsville, Port Perry and many other cities and towns. This has made it a challenge to balance my role as a writer with family life and my full-time job as a PR professional. It certainly helps to have understanding family members and work colleagues. Still, it means I'm out at least one evening, sometimes more, each week. Somehow it all gets done. I doubt it will always be that way, but I figure writers need to make hay when the sun shines, and Canada Reads makes the sun shine.

Would some of these wonderful developments have happened without Canada Reads? Perhaps a few, but I doubt very many of them. Needless to say, what has come to be known as the Canada Reads Effect is alive and well and just such a blessing for any writer. I briefly worried that the Canada Reads Effect might put more pressure on me when writing my third novel. But in the end, I was still sitting at the same desk, working from the same kind of outline and writing on the same laptop. So after a few early jitters, it felt just like writing the first two novels.

It's been an extraordinary year, and I could not be more grateful for my Canada Reads experience.

I wish all the finalists well in the debates, but really, they've all already won. They will all experience the Canada Reads halo regardless of which book is left standing alone in February. In fact, everyone wins — the writers, the readers, the publishers, the booksellers. In Canada Reads, everyone wins.


Terry Fallis is the author of The Best Laid Plans, a satirical novel of Canadian politics that won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and the 2011 Canada Reads title. His follow-up novel, The High Road, was a finalist for the 2011 Leacock Medal. McClelland & Stewart will publish his third novel in September 2012.

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