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Thursday, November 25, 2010

HNT - Luck Maker

Yesterday, the top 5 selections from Canada Reads 2011 were revealed. Originally a list of the Top 40, then culled down to the Top 10, and now the Top 5 finalists, the process this year has been different than before, because it has involved voting from readers.

The top 5 novels are:  The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Amy McKay, and Unless by Carol Shields

A great top 5 list, and, as someone suggested via Twitter yesterday, it was nice to see a selection that didn't include "the usual suspects" --I myself am intrigued to see a wonderfully diverse and inclusive list.  But even going back to the Top 10 and Top 40 lists, what you have are some VERY intriguing reads from across the Canadian literary landscape that are all definitely worth checking out. Kudos to CBC, the CBC Book Club and readers from across our country for helping create such a fascinating group of shortlists.

I was amused to read Terry Fallis' blog post yesterday about making it to the Top Five. Subtitled "I'm a basket case" this has been the kind of reaction Terry has had whenever his writing has been selected as a nominee, a prize winner, etc. It's hilarious to see his humble reaction to having people praise his writing, and Terry continues to suggest that he has been lucky.

I'm thinking that perhaps luck has something to do with his success, but strongly believe that often people make their own luck -- and Terry is the perfect example of this.

After spending years crafting a satirical novel about a decidedly different kind of MP, when Terry was faced with a brick wall in terms of getting anyone, publisher, agent or editor to look at his novel, he didn't give up. He kept working at it.

He decided if the traditional publishing world was going to ignore him, he was going to boldly work at getting his novel out there, getting it into the hands of readers. So he podcast the novel, then self-published it. And despite the hard work involved in flogging your own book, Terry did just that -- he hit the street, spoke to booksellers, talked people (like myself) into carrying his self-published book.

(Admittedly, I was leary of Terry when he first contacted me -- I've been a bookseller long enough to have seen more than my fair share of self-published books that were more for a tiny niche market with a limited readership rather than something that might sell to the general public in a bookstore -- but after I checked out the free online samples of his novel, and I was no less than a couple of pages into his book, I was immediately hooked, loved his prose. The subject matter of politics has never done anything for me, but Terry's approach and writing style won me over immediately.  I called Terry back and practically begged him to come to the bookstore at McMaster to do his book launch)

And once the book was out, Terry never stopped working. He kept hitting the street, kept working at promoting it and attracting readers. He took a chance by submitting it for considering to the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Against strong odds (and a great short-list of nominated books), he won.  That led to a publishing contract with M&S. But Terry never stopped working at marketing his novel, at spreading the word, at connecting with booksellers and readers in person at events and online.

Sometimes luck, good luck, is the result of hard work, persistence and taking chances. Terry never stopped working hard, never stopped trying something new, never stopped taking chances, and never gave up. It wasn't an easy path. Sure, we can all look at him now with a glean of jealousy and say "Yeah, sure, look where he is now, lucky guy."

But let's not forget just how hard he worked to make his own luck.

So, for HNT this week, I'm posting a picture of me reading Terry's novel -- yes, the book in my hands is the original self-published version.  To quote from an old series of cigarette ads, Terry, "you've come a long way, baby!"