Radioland, a Nine-Month Retrospective

As of August 2nd, it will have been nine months since the official launch of my second novel, Radioland. I wanted to reflect, if non-linearly, on how things have gone. And yeah, I get that “nine months” is a fairly loaded measurement of time. Fact is, I could’ve written this months ago, but time is my enemy.

a copy of Radioland on my home work desk
  1. I will always (and I mean that literally) be thankful for the opportunity to have my work published, especially in novel form. The format takes a lot of time and energy. Time from my life. Energy from my life. Not only am I thankful that those sacrifices were not in vain, but that my publisher (and acquiring editor) took this particular book on. Call it what you will or want — psychological thriller (a descriptor my publisher chose that I’m sometimes uncomfortable with), weird fiction, urban fantasy, or simply “literary fiction” — this isn’t an airport book (ie easy to read, not exactly challenging or demanding on the reader).

2. Unlike my experiences with the publication of The Society of Experience, which went so smoothly that I stand in awe of it, with Radioland every step of the way was difficult. Not only was I tasked with promoting a complex, multi-threaded tale in the sort of limelight I didn’t have for The Society of Experience, the more I tried to summarize it into an elevator pitch for radio and podcast interviews, the less I believed it (or felt I was doing the book justice). From an investment standpoint, my publisher choosing psychological thriller makes sense in that it at least gives the potential reader a rough idea of what’s inside. It’s certainly better than literary fiction which can mean anything to those who don’t discern or care whether they’re reading Jo Nesbø or Eudora Welty. As thankful as I was for the opportunities, it still felt as if I was peddling some vague literary fiction, especially given that the vast majority of those I spoke with didn’t have time to read the fucking book (this, I understand, is par for the course), leaving me to build a scaffolding of sense about it while they prod me with the same goddamn questions gleaned from our PR person’s one sheet (“So, this is a psychological thriller. Could you tell us about that?” “What’s it like writing about Toronto?”). I would’ve killed for someone to have asked about its darkness, its weirdness, its splitting the world into the real and unreal and how both of those worlds are in internal conflict. At least my chat with Jamie Tennant included realtalk about music, given that a) he actually read the book, and b) he’s a musician. The strange, flattening, surreal experience of trying to get word out about a novel in ways much more wide and far-reaching than The Society of Experience and yet walking away not knowing whether anyone listening had any better a clue about what it was that was being presented.

3. The pants-down ridiculousness of University of Toronto Press Distribution not anticipating that lower / less consistent orders from independent publishers and bookstores (this coming after the lockdowns of the pandemic) would cause their internal algorithm to go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ just as publishing’s fall season was unrolling in anticipation of the Christmas buying season. This meant that my book wasn’t in stores when people expected it to be. I was marathon-publicizing a book (see #2) that no one was able to buy in the city of Toronto. Oh, but they could buy it in Ancaster. I was interviewed about it here, but there’s a paywall (that said, Steven’s site is worth the $5/month). Here’s an excerpt:

One affected author is Matt Cahill, whose second novel, Radioland, published on October 18. His book is still not in stores in his home town of Toronto, and some stores are not even sure when they will receive supply of the title. “As an author I bust my ass to revise and make deadlines; the editorial and layout staff are busting their asses; the publisher has paid an advance to me and is overseeing the printing schedule; bookstores are preparing to stock their shelves for the upcoming season; readers are creating their Christmas lists; preorders have been prepaid,” Cahill says. “And all of this comes to a crashing halt for reasons that don’t sound unforeseeable.”

4. Oh, and then there were the book reviews. I’m not going to go into thoughts about Goodreads (note: please feel free to leave a review there if you wish), but rather reviews written by people whose role is to actually review books. Now, I know that reviews aren’t aimed at the author (and their ego) but rather intended to help readers sort through new releases, etc, and it’s always good to come back to this. But there are so few outlets left in this country (forget about getting a review in another country for a there-unknown Canadian author) that each one seems to have more gravitas than before. Add to this that a review of one’s work can be just a little stressful in the first place. Add to this that a review posted online anywhere is 100% better than nothing nowhere. Radioland received a couple of glowing reviews from the Ampersand Review and The Minerva Reader which I deeply appreciate. It also got a couple of mixed reviews elsewhere, which I find issues with, but it would feel neurotic/insecure to post my feelings here. I should note that The Society of Experience had no reviews. Nix. And there’s something about this that illustrates the deal you make as a published author: you want exposure? Ok — oh, but you don’t get much say in how it happens. It is, as they say, what it is.

5. I’m gladdened by the unwavering support I’ve experienced from loved ones, friends, family and complete strangers. Despite my own anxiety, despite the fuck-ups with the distribution, despite it not being an airport book, despite the ebook coming out months after the paperback’s publication, many people indulged themselves in my work, which is very gratifying (<- understatement). It’s good to remind myself of this, especially as the seasons cycle and the latest “hot book” takes up all the oxygen, and the opportunities for me to publicly promote Radioland become less and less. It’s also good to remind myself of all the people who helped get Radioland into Toronto Public Library, most of whom I don’t know.

6. What is success as a literary writer? I can tell you that I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want people to recognize me on the street (though this *sometimes* happens, especially in Kensington Market where I used to live). If “Matt Cahill” is just a name people associate with my writing but not me as a person I’m ok with that. Would I love it if my book sold thousands of copies (thus supporting bookstores, my publisher and me)? Sure thing! But that’s not very realistic in the smaller market of literary fiction. So, success… I think success is reaching a broad spectrum of readers. Art doesn’t exist without an audience. I don’t know how much Radioland has sold — and, like external reviews, maybe it’s best I don’t inquire too much — and I won’t know until year’s end. I still don’t know how my weird tale of two people trying to find connection in a city almost designed to thwart them is going to land with readers. That said, the arrow has left the bow. I’ve done all I can on this one.

The one person who has been through all this with me is my partner, Ingrid. Without her support, her ear and her perspective, I’d likely set fire to all this years ago. I’d also like to thank you, dear reader, for giving me time to open up a little here, warts and all.


Kensington Market Essay in BlogTO

For those who don’t live in Toronto, there’s been a lot of discussion about my neighbourhood, Kensington Market, in the news. Much of it is about preservation vs development. I offered to write an op/ed for BlogTO and they published it today. I’m quite pleased that they kept the essay intact (you never know what an editor’s going to do sometimes). You can read it here.

It feels good to work on my non-fiction chops, and even better when something gets published.


A Better Person

Before I had an office, and well-before I started seeing clients, I was with my wife and friends at a busy restaurant. We were talking over the enjoyable izakaya ruckus and, as was the case with friends who didn’t know at the time, I mentioned how I was switching careers, to be a psychotherapist.

Telling someone, whether you know them well or not at all, that you are going to be a psychotherapist is like telling someone that you’ve written a novel (*ahem*). They inevitably want to know more, and that inquisitiveness often leads to questions that, at least for the first few months, you struggle to form into sound-bite-sized snippets.

I think I was able to describe the hows and whys and whats effectively, and was about to reward myself with a slug from my porcelain choko of sake when I was asked: “Do you feel pressure to be a better person?

Continue reading “A Better Person”


It Doesn’t Need To Be This Way

I was having brunch in the Market with my friend, Lady B, whom I’ve known for over 10 years. We were talking about “life changes” (we both being close to 40). We got onto the topic of how her and I sometimes are conditioned to expect the worst.

“With the house, didn’t you feel that, somehow, everything would inevitably go wrong and you wouldn’t get it after all?” she asked.


It was as if she had read my mind. We were eating palacsinta at a small Hungarian bistro.

We talked about this, because she’d felt the exact same way when she and her partner bought their house. She speculated, correctly in my estimation, that this mode of thinking – let’s call it auto-tragic thinking – was the result of her and I coming from divorced families (the divorces or circumstances surrounding them being particularly destructive). The end-result, if not in all cases then certainly in ours, was that we were conditioned to expect gift horses to have mouth cancer and every silver lining to have a cloud moving in its way. Happiness was a pulled rug away from tragedy.

I thought about moments in my life – moments that everyone experiences – like applying for a job, asking someone out for a date. Moments where, realistically, we hope/aim for the best. The difference between the average person and people like myself and Lady B is that, in the event we don’t get the job we hope for, in the event that special someone isn’t interested in us, we tend to see it as a fateful inevitability; a symptom of a curse. Of course, we say to ourselves. Why should this be any different than any other time?

The subject clearly struck a chord for both of us.

“You expect it to be like in Carrie.” she said in a follow-up email, discussing how we became conditioned to expect the worst. “You’re at the prom, thinking that everything’s turning around in your life and then suddenly you’re covered in pig blood.”

The best male equivalent I could think of was Laurence Harvey’s character in (the original) The Manchurian Candidate; a tragic puppet whose fleeting tastes of freedom coincide with horrific end results.

So, no, neither Lady B nor I are cursed. Our houses have not fallen down or been taken away from us by a nightmarish bureaucracy. If anything we are only beginning to sense just how much re-wiring is necessary for us to see things clearly, without the faulty psychological infrastructure that led to us to believe that, indeed, the odds were stacked against us.

The mind is a frightening thing. This is why I read books and watch films which challenge my preconceptions. This is why I am lucky to have friends such as Lady B.



Although this will go down as a formative, self-defining year, one of my great frustrations of 2009 is the inability to find the time and/or energy to collect, polish, publish all of the things, happenings, and concepts that come across my path – not even a healthy fraction. I’ve had more success capturing visuals but that’s due to being in the right place/time with a cellphone camera rather than wilfully executing a deliberate agenda.

Work is going like gangbusters, which I am thankful for, the novel is improving with every moment I spend revising it (helps that people actually want to read it), and most recently/surprisingly I have become a homeowner. Just two days ago I was offered a part-time teaching position from a respectable college for a respectable film/TV program.

And yet, at risk of portraying myself as spoilt (or tetched), it seems as if it’s not enough. I feel there is so much going on that I want to grab hold of: the recent (Twitter-inspired) trend of authors turning around and publicly accusing peers of personal attacks when in fact they are just doing their jobs (eg. book reviews), the aesthetics of stereoscopic imagery (that’s 3D for you junior rangers), and the way in which the world unravels and combines at the same moment in time like a Möbius strip, and what about the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo…?

It’s too much for me. Everything: life, art, work… I hit the mattress every night and practically pass out. I used to read… I read War & (f’ing) Peace in the time between laying down and actually sleeping. Luxury! says the current me. Mind you, he gets more sleep and perhaps has a better grasp on the whole “early to bed, early to rise” thing. Maybe I shouldn’t be visualizing the voice of “current me” as being spoken in the harsh brogue of a Scottish authoritarian.

Things felt as if they were falling apart in the spring, like when the aperture ring on my Zorki-4 came loose, right in the middle of shooting some nice “golden hour” shots on Dundas West (just south of Kensington Market) after a fallow 35mm winter. Little could I guess that within a few months I’d be living in a house just five minutes north of where I took these photos. Thankfully, most of them came out fine. Perhaps it was all an elaborate metaphor for being patient, for trying hard to see the forest rather than scrutinize the pines, the mouths of gift horses, etc.

This may all be true, if terribly clichéd. And who would give a horse as a gift in the first place?

This is not a lengthy letdown friends, as if to say that this blog has served its purpose and is to be cast onto the great cyber-somethingsomething where cyber-things are cast and probably set on fire. No, I will not be taking this blog on a walk into the woods, with Daddy and his shotgun. I’m just reaching a threshold where life is requiring more concentration and energy, leading me to ask (hello, rhetorical!) how imaginary magnitude can adapt to suit these changes without looking like an outmoded vehicle or an abandoned hobby (or both). Yes, as I said, rhetorical. But since when has rhetorical ever been a particularly devastating accusation?

Rhetoric is just a temporary building material, made up of the same stuff that kludges are moulded out of. Hope (if not faith), led by patience. That word again: patience. I think I met you somewhere, at a bar maybe, when I was younger and looking for your type. It is true that rhetoric cannot keep a tower standing, but it can inspire the building of towers.

Where am I going with this…right: things are odd, and unbalanced, and it all points to a giant (fictional) neon sign blinking just above my head, big-city halo-like, which says: TRANSITIONAL PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT. Fair enough (if not sexy).

I suppose I am writing this to say that I’m here for you, but not in the way that I was, which is not to say that I am not still here. My focus is changing, not changing for change’s sake but fermenting into something more stable and powerful. I guess, if I may go back and answer an earlier question, the reason why I am not as prolific here as before is that – now that I am slipping into a new stream of life – my energy must be treated as a finite commodity. Perhaps this, for now, is “success”, and I’m just looking at it like a paleontologist holding a magnifying glass against a piece of the Arctic ice shelf, unsure of what is before him.

Tell you what: when I find out, I’ll let you know. The long and short of it is that I’m still here, but here may be changing to suit my needs. We’ll see. We.


Planet Kensington is Closing

Yes, Planet Kensington, the venerable punk/rock venue and cheap drink haven is closing at the end of February.

Rumours are swirling about what the new owners of the space will do, but knowing that gentrification and niche-obsession are the current trends in Kensington Market, my hopes are not optimistic.

As before, I ask people visiting this blog who live in or near Toronto to come down and see the fabulous surf-rock outfit, the Z-Rays, as they play their last Saturday residence gig at this fine, fine establishment on February 17th. They play from 3pm to 6pm. Bring ear-plugs and money for alcohol. It can’t be anything less than boss.

I hereby raise a glass to yet another piece of Toronto’s character chipped away by weasels.

Update: The band is only playing the 17th – there is no show on the 12th as previously noted, due to unforeseen circumstances.

Update #2: Okay, there will be a show tomorrow (the 10th). It will not be the Z-Rays proper, but rather some sort of open jam with two of their members – which could be really fun. In any case, it’s one more chance to enjoy the venue and listen to live music on a Saturday afternoon.

Update #3: Second show added! Aside from tomorrow, there will be two Z-Rays shows to round out the end of Planet Kensington. As mentioned, Saturday the 17th is still on – their second show will be the following Saturday (Feb 24th). The very last day PK is open will be for “Death Metal Brunch” on Sunday the 25th. Yum.