Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Todd Babiak

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Todd Babiak is author of the #1 bestseller The Garneau Block, which won the City of Edmonton Book Prize, is shortlisted for the Alberta Literary Awards’ George Bugnet Award for the Novel, and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Babiak’s first novel, Choke Hold, won the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Henry Kreisel Award for Best First Book, and was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Babiak is also the culture columnist for the Edmonton Journal, an award-winning screenwriter, and former Lord Mayor of Old Strathcona. He lives and writes in Edmonton. His website is http://www.toddbabiak.com/.

Ten Questions with Todd Babiak

OB:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

TB:

My first publication was a shamelessly autobiographical short story, in Blood & Aphorisms, back in 1995. I’m a terrible record keeper and I forget the title now, but it was about a young man who is caught stealing a Bugs Bunny DVD from an Army and Navy. This experience ruins the young man, and he must rebuild his life. It all sounds fairly ridiculous to me, because the man was 22. The fiction editor at the time was Dennis Bock, now a very successful Ontario author. I remember he called it “funny/sad,” which is still my thing and will probably always be my thing.

The Book of Stanley

By Todd Babiak

By all accounts, Stanley Moss is an average man. A retired florist, he lives quietly with his wife, Frieda, in a modest bungalow in Edmonton. Stricken with cancer, Stanley has few wishes for the time he has left, except perhaps for his son to call him back. But on the day of an appointment with the palliative care specialist, Stanley experiences a boom and a flash, and then, a remarkable transformation. He discovers he can read minds. He can fulfill people’s dreams. He has the strength of ten men. And, his illness has vanished. What could this mean? Could it be, as his New Age friend Alok believes, that Stanley's powers are divine? Is Stanley, a confirmed agnostic, the new Messiah?

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Goodbye, Toronto, Goodbye

Every writer in the provinces wants to be in Toronto. I cannot live in Toronto, of course, because I have no money and I am scared of smog. But the Open Book Toronto virtual writer-in-residence program allowed me to pretend I lived in Toronto. I was at the Alberta Literary Awards gala last night, where one of my novels was shorlisted for the novel prize — it didn't win — and I met people from all over Western Canada.
"So where are you from?" one stranger said. Her eyes were pretty.
"Toronto, at the moment," I said.

Alluverative Powers

Award-winning broadcast journalist Cody Malmsteen has another dispatch from Banff, where Stanley Moss of The Book of Stanley fame was seen running down the street in his underwear. Or something.

I am a blurber. I blurb now.

I am in the midst of writing a blurb.

It's the first time I've been asked to write a blurb, so of course I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. I'm trying to slip it into conversations at dinner parties.

For example:

Guest A: This is excellent paella.
Guest B: Thank you. I marinated the meat.
Guest C: Is there saffron in the rice?
Guest A: Oooh, saffron is expensive.
Guest B: You're all very important to me, and therefore worth the expense.
Babiak: Someone asked me to blurb his MF book!

Yes, it's an important step, moving from non-blurber to blurber. The agent and the publisher can say anything they like about you. Awards shmawards. Until someone, preferably someone awesome, asks you to review his or her book, you're nobody.

For my last novel,

Stanley Moss in Banff

Award-winning journalist Cody Malmsteen interviews residents of Banff, Alberta, about the strange goings-on in their town. Stanley Moss, a religious leader documented in the little-known novel, The Book of Stanley, recently appeared in Banff.

A major television series

My first two novels, Choke Hold and The Garneau Block, were nominated for literary prizes. Both won a prize.

I was thrilled, of course. Thrilled!

Only other writers were impressed by these prizes, and they were probably being sarcastic. After all, we aren't talking about the Giller or the GGs here.

With the actual reading public, the most important measure of success seems to be film and television adaptation.

Lessons from Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of Turtle Valley

Last night, I participated in a literary reading with Gail Anderson-Dargatz. She is one of Canada's grandest literary stars, so I studied her approach meticulously. Like all young writers, I too would like to be one of Canada's grandest literary stars, and one ignores the qualities of grandness at one's peril.

I made notes afterward.

Note the First: Make it personal.

The Giller Longlist

Last year, my novel The Garneau Block was longlisted for the Giller Prize. This year, The Book of Stanley was not longlisted for the Giller Prize.

Last year, I was surprised. I did not even know there would be a longlist. This year, I waited for the longlist like a gazelle waiting to be attacked by a panther. That is, if panthers attack gazelles.

Canadian Storytelling

I am spending 32 hours this weekend in a seminar room with 170 other people, listening to a man called Robert McKee. If you saw Adaptation with Nicholas Cage as Charles Kaufman, you saw Robert McKee — or a facsimile played by Brian Cox. McKee is a stern man in the lecture hall. Interrupt him with a dopey remark or the uncalled-for answer to a rhetorical question, and he will call you down. Last night, he did just that to a woman who had paid $600 to hear him.

Montreal by Edmonton by the bottom of Lake Minnewanka, filtered through Toronto

In the last posting, I mentioned that I would be on Sounds Like Canada today, that is Thursday. Well... the media are more sophisticated than my assumptions. My interview is being taped this morning, to run on a later date. The magic of the digital age! If I discover the later date, I'll dish it. But I'm sure you listen to Sounds Like Canada every day, anyway.

So far, I have never set any fiction in Toronto. While I have spent a lot of time in Canada's first city, I have never lived in Toronto. At least physically. I currently live in the virtual Toronto, as you can read. These are Toronto words I am writing.

Shelagh Rogers

On Thursday morning, I will be on Sounds Like Canada, with Shelagh Rogers. We're going to talk about my latest novel, The Book of Stanley. I don't know why I am so nervous, as she is only a human being, but I am somewhat terrified. She is one degree of separation away from everyone who is anyone in Canada. And as a relative nobody, I am keenly aware of her power.

The Beautiful Interviewers

Today, I published a NEWSPAPER COLUMN about the trials of the book tour. But it's only half-serious. Literature and circus are Canada's two great cultural exports. We understand, inherently, the importance of literature both to explain what it's like to be a human being and what it's like to be Canadian. Our other cultural industries have been unable to produce figures like Richler, Atwood and Ondaatje.

The Loneliness of the Literary Reading

I have had three stops on the book tour so far — one in Edmonton, one in Banff, one in Calgary. I have used the same material. In Edmonton, we were in a bar and I didn't begin speaking until about 8:30. The drinkers in the crowd had already taken two drinks, and they were rowdy. In Banff, where The Book of Stanley takes place, I was in a public library, where raising one's voice feels like an ugly provocation. In Calgary, I was in a bookstore restaurant. While I spoke, staff crushed ice for smoothies and called out to one another: "Can I get a double espresso, short?" and "Oh my God, shut up?"

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.