Category Archives: A Person of Letters

The Book Cover and 911

APOL - NYC, at WTC
A Person of Letters at 1 World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) in New York

Today, as the anniversary of 911 approaches, I want to put aside the whimsical APOL tour to talk about the cover of A Person of Letters. Person is a satire on writing, creativity, obsession, and love. That encompasses a lot of territory, and while there is humour in the book, there is absolutely nothing funny about 911.  So why are those two not-quite-WTC towers depicted on the cover of the book?

Perhaps it was an over-reach. Those who have read Person know that it is not about 911. It is the life story of its narrator, and yes, he is there, in one of the towers, on September 11. He, like so many others, got out of bed that morning, put on his socks, and went about his business, not suspecting the cataclysm that was to come. He survived, although he is wounded and scarred, both physically and psychologically, by the experience. It changes him, and having cheated death (or so he believes) he changes the course of his life, setting out to write—to become a man of letters.

Back in the early, gleam-in-the-eye days when I began work on Person, I decided to subject an ordinary (if quirky) character to a life-changing ordeal, and imagine how he would react and what he would do. The question was, what kind of ordeal? I didn’t want it to be the subject of the book. I reasoned that by throwing him into the horrific cataclysm that was 911, he would be traumatized and forced to take stock of his life—and as everyone knows what happened that day, I would not have to write about the event itself. My skills were (are) simply not up to that task, and it was what happened afterwards that I wanted to explore: how he responds.

He is certainly deeply affected; he manifests all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress; but in his survivor’s guilt, he refuses to acknowledge his own PTSD. He chooses instead to escape—he writes about anything but the experience that traumatized and nearly killed him. He becomes obsessed, and as his journey unfolds, he veers (possibly—it is left to the reader to decide) into madness. Is the spark external (his experience) or internal (a seed that was always there)? (Or is it pharmaceutical? I left many clues to that possibility.)

I wanted to examine many things in Person: if there is a manic aspect to creativity; the point at which obsession becomes madness; and how somebody’s creation actually becomes “art”—how does it get recognized? To my narrator’s credit, he refuses to be defined by the 911 experience; he is an everyman who takes up a pen, and he wants only to be known on the merit of his oeuvre. But that is not how things work, and ultimately he is defined in terms suggested by others.

911 is a turning point in the character’s life, but A Person of Letters is not about 911, and I know that the picture on its cover confuses some people on that point. In light of that confusion, I might today choose different imagery, but artist Andrew Judd’s iconic image was created to be symbolic, not literal.  What appear to be two towers, one flaming , one inert, are actually books. Person’s protagonist finds relief from his trauma in writing. The two volumes represent his first book, which has come to nothing, and his second, which is stalled. Perhaps the reason is his refusal from the start to confront his trauma straight on. Instead, he produced a muddled, un-publishable nautical epic, an escape, so he thought, but in truth an avoidance; hence the ship on Person’s cover, sailing away from the conflagration at its centre.

For those who question the cover, I accept your perspective. 911 was a cruel tragedy. But inspiration comes from many places, and in many forms. From darkness springs insight, and in this case, dark farce; and hopefully, a modicum of truth.

Note: Information on my novel A Person of Letters is available at Martin Scribler Media. The book’s solo world tour is documented on this tour archive; it owes much to magical realism.

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Speech to the Ottawa Womens Canadian Club

 

 

On Thursday March 24 I had the honour to address the monthly meeting of the Ottawa Women’s Canadian Club at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. The club was founded in 1910 and over the century of its existence it has been addressed by prime ministers, governors-general, justices of the Supreme Court, and many other accomplished and notable visitors, including the Shah of Iran. So it was with some trepidation that I prepared my speech, the theme for which was “Becoming a Writer: My Long and Winding Journey,” and stood to deliver it.

It was a winding journey for everyone in Ottawa that day, as the city was hit by a late winter storm, but we had a large turnout for the event. The audience was welcoming, kind, and receptive, and I enjoyed interacting with them in the Q&A session following the speech. At the conclusion of the discussion, the club graciously presented me with a copy of the history of the OWCC, which I will cherish, and made a generous contribution to Wounded Warriors of Canada on my behalf. Many thanks to the OWCC, especially to Program Chair Ann Blair, President Elaine Hickey, board members Connie Gowling and Mary Townson, and everyone else who made me welcome, even staffing the book table and selling books. I was very pleased that my friends Lorna Clark and Brenda Fawcett were able to attend the event, particularly given the weather.

Later that day, I had a fantastic meeting with a local book club, facilitated by member Cathy Wiley. Thanks to Cathy and to all the members who braved the snow and contributed to an enjoyable discussion on A Person of Letters. It warms the cockles of this author’s heart to meet such avid readers and to discuss their impressions of the book and their take on the characters who sprung from his imagination.

Photos by Ottawa Womens Canadian Club, with the exception of the Chateau Laurier photo by StupendousMan 2008 (Own work, Creative Commons CC BY 3.0).

 

Now Showing at Ben McNally’s

Ben McNally's Books - interiorI’m pleased to report that my novel, A Person of Letters, is now available at Ben McNally Books on Bay Street in Toronto. This is a homecoming of sorts for Person’s narrator, a designer of financial derivatives who once worked on Bay Street. Appropriately, his homecoming coincides with the opening today of The Big Short, an excellent movie adapted from an excellent book about the near collapse of the global economy – primarily because of gonzo financial innovations like the derivatives Person used to think up.

Ben McNally Books is Toronto’s literary hotspot, a booklover’s delight, a bastion of books amid the downtown towers. Go in and browse – you’ll enjoy the experience. (I certainly enjoy seeing APOL on its shelves!)

Many readers of APOL have provided generous feedback on the book (thank you!) and asked how they can help raise its profile. My reply is – tell a friend. That’s the single best thing you can do. There are more things too, if you’re so inclined. Post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, or elsewhere. Ask for it at your local library. Ask for it at your favourite bookstore. Suggest it to your book club. Follow my Facebook Author Page. Share links. All of these actions, all of your word of mouth efforts, are greatly appreciated!

Merry Christmas to all, and thank you for your support in 2015. All the best in the New Year!

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Bike trimOver the last several weeks I’ve been personally delivering signed copies of A Person of Letters to people all over Toronto. Usually I do this on my bike. It’s a great form of exercise, and if I wasn’t delivering (and visiting along the way) I’d be cycling anyway on my favourite route through High Park and along Lake Ontario to the mouth of the Mimico and back.

A number of people farther afield have asked how they might get a signed copy of the book.  It’s fantastic to have a personal connection with readers, wherever they may be – but I can’t cycle to Calgary or Victoria. It’s getting cold even going as far as Mimico. In a month or so I’ll need to park the bike for winter.

Today I’m pleased to let you know I’ve worked out a way, via PayPal, to get a personalized copy to those who’d like one, wherever they may be.  The details of the process (it’s very simple) are posted on publisher Martin Scribler Media‘s website on this link.  I particularly like this solution because it provides readers with a secure purchase option via PayPal.  This is important to me, so I understand how important it is to others.

Locally, I’ll still be delivering personally. It’s not yet time to park the bike – although I’ll wait till the remnants of Hurricane Patricia pass the city before I venture out again!

(Originally posted October 29/15 on my Author Page.)