Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Stacey Madden

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Stacey Madden holds a BA from the University of Toronto and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph. He lives in Toronto. Poison Shy (ECW Press) is his first novel.

Please send your questions and comments for Stacey to

Photo of Stacey Madden by Jowita Bydlowska.

The Open Book Dirty Dozen, with Stacey Madden

Stacey Madden, author of Poison Shy and Open Book: Toronto's September 2012 Writer in Residence, tackles the Dirty Dozen, an interview series that asks authors to share 12 unexpected facts about themselves. Read on and find out about Stacey's reading habits, his childhood friend, his reoccurring nightmare and more.

  1. I don’t own a telephone. No cellphone, no landline, nothing.
  2. I’m a roller-coaster connoisseur.
  3. I almost exclusively read fiction.
  4. I still have my childhood teddy bear, but I don’t consider myself the “sensitive” type.

Poison Shy

By Stacey Madden

Brandon Galloway is a 29-year-old nobody, fumbling between dead-end jobs in a town full of drunks and prostitutes. When he lands a position with a pest control company and meets 21-year-old wild-child Melanie Blaxley while fumigating her apartment, Brandon’s life skips from hapless to hectic in no time. He is both attracted to and repelled by Melanie’s vulgar sensuality, but when her world starts to take its toll on his sanity, Brandon wonders how much more of her he can stand. Poison Shy is a darkly funny and fast-paced novel about obsession, fear, and the threat of other people.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

CanFic Crash-Ups

A CanFic crash-up is an experiment in which the first and last lines of a given work of Canadian fiction are put side by side. The effect can be extraordinary. Sometimes the two lines tell a story, sometimes they capture the themes and/or tone of the work as a whole, and sometimes they make absolutely no sense. Try it out on your favourite novels and see what happens.

Here are a few recently published Canadian novels I subjected to the CanFic Crash-Up test, starting with my own:

Poison Shy by Stacey Madden (ECW Press, 2012)
"My worst fear? Not this time."

Girl Crazy by Russell Smith (HarperCollins, 2010)
"The pool was closed. His whole body felt hard."

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (House of Anansi, 2011)

My Strange Tendencies

We all have our habits. Some good, some bad, and some that could land us in a padded room at the local insane asylum.

As a writer, I have certain unconscious tendencies that sometimes end up on the page. Some of these are okay, like my tendency to give my characters mental health problems. Readers seem to find insanity interesting, and characters at odds with themselves provide the work with a sort of built-in narrative tension.

To-Do List: Fall 2012 Edition

Fall is by far my favourite season.

The cold breezes. That Octobery smell of dead leaves, pumpkin spice, and roasted coffee. The savoury abundance of Thanksgiving and the saccharine gluttony of Halloween. The book parties and awards. The comfort and fashion of long sleeves and light jackets. The final blip of nice weather before the Ice Age of yet another Canadian winter. The excitement of baseball's World Series, and the anticipation of a new hockey season -- wait, scratch that last one.

Stacey Madden discusses his novel, Poison Shy

Stacey Madden, author of Poison Shy, sits down to discuss the uncontrollable nature of femme fatales, writing dark comedy by accident, and the notion of realism in contemporary fiction.

A Miscellany of Writerly Advice

Recently, while submerged in what could be described as a web-browsing coma, I stumbled across a goldmine of writerly advice in the form of lists on The Guardian's website, with tips from writers such as Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Richard Ford, Hilary Mantel, and Zadie Smith, to name just a few. (You can find the collection HERE.)

Two of my favourite pieces of advice are Roddy Doyle's belief that "good ideas are often murdered by better ones," and Anne Enright's helpful reminder that "only bad writers think their work is really good."

The Fate of the Hardcover

When I got my first bookstore job back in 2001, people still bought hardcovers, and e-books were nothing but enigmatic peculiarities that would occasionally pop up in database searches. I imagined them as little diskettes or video game cartridges that could be inserted into a computer -- in other words, as tangible objects that one could pluck from a shelf and carry to a cash register.

Oh, how wrong I was. And oh, how things have changed.

The formula used to be thus: a book would come out in hardcover, then after approximately one year, the same book would be released as a trade paperback. If the book was a bestseller, it might also be released as a mass market paperback.

The Pleasures of Ugly

When it comes to art and aesthetics, I've always been drawn to the grotesque.

The 'black paintings' of Francisco Goya. The twisted saints and holy sinners of Flannery O'Connor's Southern Gothic nightmare vision. Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. Two clowns on a desolate stage, waiting for someone called Godot. The jerky mannerisms and crooked landscapes of German Expressionist cinema. The bluesy, alcohol-soaked growl-rock of Tom Waits. Lucian Freud's naked bodies. Gargoyles and mascots. Blemishes and birthmarks. Carnivals, punk rock, and pornography.

Ugliness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone's sense of aesthetics is unique. In many ways, beauty and ugliness are interchangeable concepts. One person's muse is another person's demon.

Book Launch: Poison Shy by Stacey Madden


Thursday, October 11, 2012 - 7:00pm


No One Writes to the Colonel
460 College Street
Toronto, ON
M6G 1A1


Head to No One Writes to the Colonel on October 11th for the launch party for Poison Shy, the debut novel from Stacey Madden.

Poison Shy was recently praised in Quill & Quire by Alex Good, who wrote, "Pacing is everything, and it's hard to think of a recent novel with less dead air . . . a thoroughly enjoyable treat for fans of seedy urban squalor, eccentric characters, and stories as tightly coiled as mattress springs."

Stacey will be interviewed on stage by Russell Smith. This event is free and open to the public.


No One Writes to the Colonel
460 College Street
Toronto, ON M6G 1A1 43° 39' 23.166" N, 79° 24' 30.3984" W

Your Character Needs a Job

One of the most exploratory aspects of writing Poison Shy was writing my protagonist's job.

Unless your character is homeless, or lives off an obscene inheritance, he or she will need an income. Some writers use their own jobs as inspiration. In literary fiction, for example, one sees a lot of characters employed as writers or teachers, which makes sense. Some of my favourite novels that feature characters who work as writers, or teachers, or both, are: David Lurie in Coeztee's Disgrace, Humbert Humbert in Nabokov's Lolita, Jack Gladney in Delillo's White Noise, and James Dixon in Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, to name just a few.

How to get Boys to Read

Everyone in the book industry knows that women read more than men, especially when it comes to fiction. According to numerous surveys conducted in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, women make up 80% of the fiction market. In other words, to quote Ian McEwan, "when women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

I, for one, do not foresee a future in which women stop reading. I have worked in a book store for too long to ever see that happening. Nevertheless, I would get personal satisfaction out of seeing the percentage of male fiction readers experience a bump, or even just a "beump", as Chief Inspector Clouseau might say.

Literary Versus Parental Criticism

Nothing I've written has ever been reviewed in print. That will change next month, when Poison Shy comes out.

Writing Real Sex

Back in February, Canadian novelists Russell Smith and Lynn Coady went head-to-head on CBC's The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers, in a debate over the merits and pitfalls of writing about sex in fiction. I won't go into detail about their discussion - (you can read all about it HERE) - but their debate got me thinking about the "sides within the sides" of this argument, particularly the different approaches within the pro-sex camp.

How to Judge a Book by its Cover

Who hasn't picked up a book based solely on the allure of its cover at some point in their lives? Who hasn't decided they'd never read a certain book because the cover was cheesy or offensive or just plain ugly?

Let's face it: covers matter, to readers and to writers. As a perfectionist, one of the biggest fears I had when I heard my novel was going to be published was that I'd end up with a cover I hated. That may sound shallow, but the last thing I wanted was for the manuscript I'd spent more than a year writing to get stuck with a cover that misled readers into thinking Poison Shy was about sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

Fiction, or Why I Don't Take Antidepressants

Meeting other readers of fiction is like meeting a fellow member of a secret society. There is an instant rapport. Once your status as 'fiction reader' has been established, you are free to drop names and titles without explanations or qualifiers.

Many people are shocked to learn that, when it comes to books, I almost exclusively read fiction. That's not to say I don't read the newspaper or various magazines, but when it comes to book-length slices of reading, I want lies.

Should I find myself in a rare novel-less situation -- on a plane ride home from vacation, say, after having finished all the books I brought with me -- I experience profound distress. The void it leaves is debilitating.

Ugh, I think. Now I have to deal with real life.

Writing to a Soundtrack

Some writers like to write to music. Others require complete silence. I think I fall somewhere in between.

I tend to write in public -- at coffee shops and libraries, places with lots of chatter and white noise. I find silence paralyzing. I grew up in a large family, and as a result, I developed a certain noise tolerance that allows me to get work done in relatively cacophonous environments.

There are times, however, when the constant squelching of the latte machine combines with a chorus of screams from a dozen cranky babies, and suddenly the white noise turns crimson, in the form of blood percolating from my eardrums. That's when I plug my headphones into my laptop, point-and-click up the volume, and fight fire with fire!

A Writer is Always Working

Like most writers, I have to work other jobs to support my addiction to playing with language and making up stories.

That basically means I'm always working. I'm working whenever I'm clocked-in at one of my shift jobs, and I'm working on writing as soon as I walk out the door.

For the Love of Redheads

In honour of Melanie Blaxley, the spunky ginger who strutted into my head one day, held her spike heel to my throat, and demanded to be the star of the novel I was thinking of writing (which eventually became Poison Shy), I thought I'd put together a brief list of facts, myths, and cultural curiosities about redheads.

• In medieval Europe, the Malleus Maleficarum, which was essentially a witch-hunting manual, instructed that red hair, green eyes, and freckles were all marks of a witch.

• It wasn't until the mid-1990s that Dr. Jonathan Rees discovered the genetic cause of red hair: a mutation in the melanocortin-1 receptor on chromosome 16.

• Red is the rarest naturally occurring hair colour in humans, appearing in approximately 1-2% of the global population.

That Final Scene

One of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel is ending it.

An instructor once told me that a good ending will come off as both inevitable, and a surprise. Another told me that you must know how your novel ends before you begin writing it. As I sat down at my computer at 2:00am on a rainy September night and started on the first chapter of Poison Shy, I had nothing but a vague final scene in my head -- just an image, really, like a photograph or a painting. I didn't know if it was enough to go on, but I'd had a few drinks and was feeling reckless, uninhibited. I had my ending, and damned if I wasn't going to write my way towards it.

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.