So what is this, anyway?
Welcome to my Substack Newsletter
Greetings writers and readers and welcome to my little corner of the online world. I am a novelist who loves almost every aspect of the writing life. (Yes, I know, there aren’t that many of us.) My major regret is that I didn’t start writing sooner. I was 45 when I wrote my first novel, The Best Laid Plans. Had I known the unorthodox, unexpected, even charmed journey my debut novel would take, I’d have started my literary quest when I was 25. (Who knows if that would have panned out.) But by definition, hindsight, while often clear and enlightening, is usually too late.
I’m very fortunate. My first novel, the first manuscript of any length I’d ever attempted, somehow became a national bestseller, a multiple award-winner, a six-part television miniseries, and a stage musical, all from the most humble of beginnings. Now, with eight national bestsellers under my belt with a ninth started, I like to think I’ve picked up a thing or two about the writing life, though I’ve got plenty more to learn. So why not climb aboard? You might find something interesting here or perhaps you’ll just have a laugh along the way. I’m hoping for both. I aim to post every two weeks, though that could change as I figure out this new Substack world.
So if you’re an aspiring, or already established, writer or an avid reader of funny but thoughtful novels, my hope is that you’ll find something here of interest. Writers might learn from my journey and perhaps take solace in the strange and fortuitous turns it has taken.
The posts I intend to write in this space will fall under a range of categories, including but not limited to:
My Unorthodox Journey to the Published Land
From a first manuscript that earned not a single, automated rejection letter (just a deafening silence), to producing a novel podcast, to self-publishing, to winning one of Canada’s oldest literary awards, to landing an agent, to signing with Penguin Random House, to seeing it adapted as a successful TV miniseries and a critically acclaimed stage musical, to traveling from one end of the country to the other giving more than 1,000 book talks, you’ll get the whole story.
I’ll share the stories behind my novels and how my own life connects with each one. Spoiler Alert: I cling to the rookie writer’s axiom of write what you know yet these novels are not autobiographical.
My Writing Process
How do I actually go about writing my novels. Spoiler alert: I’m very much an anally-retentive outliner—after all, I have an engineering degree. (I would never push my own novel planning approach on you but I do believe that one of our first responsibilities as writers is to figure out how we write best wherever you may situate yourself on the Pantser-to-Planner spectrum.)
Encounters with other Writers
I’ve had the honour of working, or at least appearing, with some of our very best writers, including among others, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Paul Quarrington, Roddy Doyle, Fredrik Backman, and even Stephen Leacock (bet you’re wondering how I pulled that off since Leacock died in 1944). You’ll hear those stories.
Novel Travels: Festivals, Book Clubs, and Libraries, Oh My
I’ll recount some book-related adventures in more far-flung locales including Iceland, Mexico City, Dubai, not to mention Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and B.C.’s Gulf Islands here in Canada.
Writers I Revere
Like you, I have my favourite writers. Spoiler Alert: among them, Robertson Davies, John Irving, Mordecai Richler. I’ll share a little bit about some of my favs and why I’m a fan.
My Writing Life:
In this category, I’ll lump stories that don’t obviously fit anywhere else, including working with my publisher and editors, where I write, the power of awards, why I’m obsessed with the expat writers of 1920s Paris, pivotal events that shaped me and my writing, how my engineering degree and day-job helped my writing, the art of blurbing, why I say “yes” to speaking gigs, my encounter with Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel, and much more.
A shot of Margaret Atwood and me when I was a writer in residence of sorts for an Adventure Canada cruise up the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
At some point in the future, I may dabble with a premium content section to monetize some of this, but for now, I’m just trying to get out of the gate without a face-plant. So if you haven’t yet nodded off while reading this opening salvo, why not subscribe? What have you got to lose? You can kick me to the curb at any time. But until then, I hope you enjoy what will be coming your way and that the insights you gather here may help on your journey as a writer and/or a reader. Off we go!