Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why Terry Fallis makes all his main characters hapless but kind

The Canada Reads-winning author of The Best Laid Plans answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Terry Fallis is the author of several humorous novels. (Tim Fallis)

Terry Fallis is the author of several comedic novels. He has won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour twice — for his debut novel The Best Laid Plans and No Relation — and has been a finalist five times. The Best Laid Plans won Canada Reads 2011, defended by Ali Velshi, and was adapted into a six-part miniseries for CBC-TV. His other books include Poles ApartThe High RoadUp and Down and One Brother Shy

Below, Fallis takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers.

1. Lynn Coady asks, "What are the common themes (or settings, symbols, etc.) you always seem to come back to in your fiction? Where do those elements come from and what makes them so tenacious?"

My novels have, so far, always featured a narrator who is a little bit hapless but a decent and good person underneath it all. Kindness, in various forms, can be seen as well. I think we need more kindness in the world. If you read closely enough, you'll also find a feminist strand running through the novels. Equality issues in general, and feminism in particular, have been and remain important to me since what you might call my "awakening" when I was very active in the national student movement back in the early 1980s. Finally, I imagine I'll always write novels that have at least some humour flowing through them.

2. Jack Hodgins asks, "How long does it take you to get back to writing after doing a studio or in-person interview about your writing?"

Hmmm, I don't really do very many interviews about my writing so I haven't found that they get in the way of returning to my laptop. However, any number of other distractions daily thwart my efforts to "put my ass in the chair and write" including the Leafs, the Blue Jays, House of Cards, Starbucks, my guitars, books — thousands of books, my iPad (oh my iPad), CBC Radio, podcasts, the Internet and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. In-studio interviews about my writing? Not so much.

3. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, you wish could edit or critique your drafts?" 

There are many, but if forced to choose one, I'd say Robertson Davies. I'm glad the question is only about editing my work. I fear if I'd ever met the master, I'd just stand there devolving into a quivering mass of anxiety under his stern gaze.

4. Donna Morrissey asks, "What are the biggest hurdles to overcome in your personal life while you're creating a book?"

I still work nearly full-time in a day job as a communications consultant, so there's a very simple answer to this question. Time, plain and simple. I just need more time to balance family, my work, and my writing. I know it's not a particularly creative or interesting response, but there it is. Our sons are both now in university and the seemingly endless schedule of hockey games and play rehearsals (all of which I loved) are behind us, yet, it's still a struggle to carve out enough time to write.

5. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"

Well, the best surprise happened while I was writing my new novel, No Relation, but it didn't really have anything to do with that book. It was during the writing of No Relation that I learned that CBC had given the green light for a TV series to be produced based on my first novel, The Best Laid Plans. I truly never believed that would ever happen.

6. Graeme Smith asks, "As the American performance artist Laurie Anderson said: 'What I really want to know is: Are things getting better? Or are they getting worse?'"

I'm an eternal optimist, hence my penchant for writing novels with humour and happy endings. So for me, things are getting better. (At least I try convince myself that this is true.) Although, as an engineer by academic training, I've learned that the glass really isn't half-full, or even half-empty, it's just twice the size it needs to be.

7. Charlotte Gill asks, "What does your afterlife look like?"

In the afterlife, I dream about communing with great writers I revere. And of course, I'm always witty and engaging and no longer sport the ever-receding hairline I currently enjoy (and, yes, I use the term "enjoy" sarcastically). I'd hang out with Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, Paul Quarrington, Donald Jack, Stephen Leacock, and other literary lights. I'd also eat far more macaroni and cheese and sweet-and-sour chicken than I do now.

8. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"

I'm all about the self-doubt. I splash around in it, daily. It's just part of me. When I write, I'm usually wearing sweat pants, a T-shirt, and self-doubt. I think I write better because of my self-doubt. It causes me to question every sentence, every phrase, every word, whether I need to or not. I hope that leads to better writing. Some may think I'm overly modest, or worse, falsely modest. But it's really just plain old garden variety self-doubt. (I'm assuming my session is now over and I can get up from the couch.)

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