Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Toronto writer brings Windsor’s golden age to life (and some Grey Cup history too)

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Toronto writer brings Windsor’s golden age to life (and some Grey Cup history too)

F-f-f-f-Friday.

On this very day in 1913, Jack London apparently wrote letters to George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells asking them what they got paid “for their stuff”. We have no idea what the responses were, but you can bet they were likely inflated by double. Writers will never change!

Speaking of writers, I want you to meet a talented young Toronto author named Michael Januska, whom I met for the first time at a writer’s festival on the beautiful Wolfe Island near Kingston. I ate my body weight in church-lady pies that day, and also discovered Michael's writing.

C.B.: So Michael, I am intrigued by your Border City Stories about Windsor in the '20s and '30s. The sense of time and place, the setting is very well rendered. What is it about that region and that time that so captivate you?

M.J.: Thanks. I’m focusing on a specific time frame – the First World War to 1935, the year the Border Cities were amalgamated to form the city we now recognize as Windsor. For me that span represents Windsor’s golden age. Not only does the period encompass an exciting era in modern history but, unique to the Border Cities, it also includes a Prohibition battleground, the exponential growth of the auto industry, and feats of engineering like the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. It also represents a time when life could still be lived on a truly human scale, before the expressways, the sprawl, and the retail power centres. I enjoy bringing the reader the Border Cities from street level, and letting them experience it through the actions of the characters.

The geography is so important. Buildings and entire neighbourhoods can come and go but the one constant is the river. The Detroit River is really what defines the region and can leave an indelible mark on those who inhabit its shores. You can take the boy out of Windsor…

C.B.: I understand the stories will come forth in novel form this coming year?

M.J.: The novel, Riverside Drive, will be published in the fall of ’13. What I found while writing it was that it wasn’t able to fully contain some of the characters. I could tell that a few of them wanted to break out and have their stories told. It’s true what they say about them taking on a life of their own.

And so the novel has tributaries flowing into it and streams occasionally branching off. I needed a venue for these complementary works, and so I created the Border City Stories website (www.bordercitystories.com). I should have another story posted by the end of the month, the third to feature Detective Campbell and Dr. Laforet, both of whom will also appear in Riverside Drive.

C.B.: The short stories of Raymond Carver were an early influence for me. The simplicity of language, the razor editing, how he captured those human oddities that make us all so different and yet the same. Who were your writing influences?

M.J.: Definitely Dashiell Hammett, for his wit and originality. His short works are brilliant but my favourite might be his novel, Red Harvest. Graham Greene for stories like ‘The Destructors’ and his novel, Ministry of Fear. Hemingway, Elmore Leonard… This is something approaching a pantheon for me. I’m not into descriptive narrative. I like a spare style, sharp dialogue, interesting characters, and a story that grabs me by the collar and runs me to the edge of a cliff.

C.B.: Best place in Toronto to buy a book? Best place to read one?

M.J.: I have this thing for big cities. It might seem contradictory then for me to say that what I find most appealing about Toronto is that it’s still very much a city of villages. My village happens to be the Danforth and it has pretty much everything I need – including a first-rate bookstore in Book City. It’s a community hub with knowledgeable staff and, for its size, a great selection. I also like browsing for deals and forgotten gems in our nearby second-hand shop, Circus Books and Music.

As far as places to read, there’s my local, the Only Café. Utterly lacking in pretension, it’s a comfortable little oasis. If my research happens to take me to the Metro Toronto Reference Library, I’ll try and find a table at the back of the fourth floor where the windows overlook Rosedale Valley. And here at home we have a big armchair in the living room that no one can resist sitting sideways in, legs dangling over the arm, while reading.

C.B.: Besides fiction, you’ve been dabbling in sports history writing. You have a very timely book coming out on the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup. Tell us about it.

M.J.: When I was first approached to do the book, I was a bit hesitant. And then an editor said, don’t think of it just as a sports book, think of it also as a social history. I started doing some research, delving into the Grey Cup mythology and our particular brand of football, and quickly gained an appreciation. It’s very much a part of Canada’s cultural history, and makes for a great survival story.

The book, Grey Cup Century, will be published this fall by Dundurn, just in time for the 100th Grey Cup game which will be played here in Toronto, host city of the inaugural game back in 1909.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is the author of the literary crime novels The Weight of Stones and Slow Recoil.

Go to C.B. Forrest’s Author Page