Terry Fallis’s latest about the impact of bullying offers the tears of a clown

One Brother Shy
Terry Fallis (McClelland and Stewart)

In town: Terry Fallis appears at the Wakefield Writers Festival May 13 and in Ottawa at Prose in the Park June 10. For information, please see writersfete.com and proseinthepark.com.

Is Terry Fallis getting serious on us?

His forthcoming novel, One Brother Shy, does not sound very funny in the promotional material being used to market this, his sixth book.

It’s all about a 24-year-old Ottawa software engineer, Alex MacAskill, “tormented’ by a bullying incident at age 15. After his mother dies – in the very first sentence of the book – Alex learns he has an identical twin brother he never knew existed. Most of the “heartbreaking” book is spent searching, in London and in Moscow, for that brother and his equally missing father.

Terry Fallis’s new book is called One Brother Shy. Photo: Tim Fallis

This does not sound like a plot reflecting the sly comical prose that has twice won Fallis the annual Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

“It is a bit different in that there is a more serious theme,” Fallis said in a recent interview in advance of his May 13 appearance at the Wakefield Writers Festival.

The Toronto-based Fallis concedes that the narrator of One Brother Shy is “different” than the narrators of such previous books as The Best Laid Plans, No Relation and Poles Apart. The past narrators were all “flawed” and often “hapless.” MacAskill is more than that. He is also “damaged.”

That damage came from a bullying incident in high school that was captured on video and became “one of the first viral videos on YouTube.” Alex is haunted by that humiliating incident well into adulthood.

Internet bullying is, indeed, a “serious” subject. Some victims become so damaged they commit suicide. But Fallis believes that “serious” subjects can be treated with a certain amount of humour.

“I haven’t switched,” says Fallis, who like MacAskill, has an identical twin brother. “I’m still on my path. I’ve just maybe stepped two steps off the path.”

One Brother Shy does not officially hit bookstores until May 30. But Fallis fans will be able to purchase copies May 13 at the Wakefield festival.

One of Fallis’s events in Wakefield is a workshop for aspiring writers on the pros and cons of creating a detailed outline before actually typing a manuscript. Everyone must find the method that best suits them, says Fallis. But he is definitely an outline guy. He will spend a year slaving over an outline and then spend four months of weekends writing the actual novel. Despite Fallis’s success as an author, the former Liberal aide on Parliament Hill is still a partner in the public relations firm, Thornley Fallis Communications.

“I’m an engineer by trade so I need a blueprint before I can write something. So, I am a dedicated extreme outliner.”

The detailed outlines allow Fallis to write the manuscript in one draft. Many experienced authors are not ready to publish a book until two, three or more drafts. The detailed outline also means that Fallis’s characters never surprise him, pushing the plot in unexpected directions. Many published authors, who obviously are not “extreme outliners,” often say they never know for sure where their characters will lead them.

Fallis is a firm believer in marketing his books at personal appearances. Call him “an extreme promoter.” Within a few months this year, he will visit more than 100 communities to do readings and workshops. His record for one book is 142 stops.

This extreme promotion runs contrary to the prevailing trend in the publishing industry away from authors’ expensive cross-country tours. But Fallis is convinced the personal appearances are the best way to get books into the hands of readers. In addition to Wakefield, Fallis will appear June 10 at Prose in the Park in Ottawa’s Parkdale Park.

Fallis’s multi-stop schedule this summer looks like some political party leader’s election campaign tour. And like a campaigning politician, Fallis develops a stump speech for every book he is promoting, trying his darndest to make it sound each time like the first time the speech is delivered.

“I believe passionately this is how you sell books in this country,” says Fallis. “I’m convinced that is why I had the chance to write a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and now working on my seventh novel.”

That first novel, Best Laid Plans, was self-published in 2007. It became a best-seller and won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2008. Fallis was soon drafted into the McClelland and Stewart stable of authors and, although he has become the poster boy for self-published authors, he finds it advantageous to have a publisher like M&S behind him.

So, is Fallis really getting serious? Expect lots of laughs in One Brother Shy but not at the expense of a serious message about the long-lasting harm of Internet bullying. Yes, Internet bullying is painful. Alex MacAskill found that out the hard way.

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