Retreat

I had the pleasure of spending a week as a guest (and sort of alumni) of The Pouch Cove Foundation, an artists’ retreat located in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland. While only about twenty minutes outside of St. John’s, it might as well be in the middle of nowhere, in the best possible way.

I went there to work on final changes to Book Three, and it was very productive. So much so that I’m hoping to hand off the book to my agent at the end of the month (fingers crossed). I was also happy to be sharing the retreat with a handful of visual artists who were preparing for a showing of their water-themed paintings in-progress. Writers and painters are different kinds of artists, insofar as painters come across as regular people when they’re not painting and writers tend to remain mumbly introverts when they’re not writing, not that we weren’t able to get together for the occasional beer and a chat in the evening. The good news is that we were all there to work and the setting was ideal for our tasks. And when we weren’t working, it was easy to step away and go on a hike along the East Coast Trail (in the course of one hike I spotted a pod of whales nearby and found myself tracked by a fox), or simply go down to the shore and admire the many gorgeous views.

Pouch Cove is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and this marks a return for me after 20 years. Back then I was still working in film/TV but trying to get my act together as a budding author. A work colleague suggested I check out the retreat at Pouch Cove which, it turned out, her father operated. I was only able to get away for a long weekend at the time (because broke), but it was my first introduction to an artists’ retreat and I was able to develop some of the ideas that made it into my first novel, The Society of Experience.

James Baird, who runs the Pouch Cove Foundation, has been a tireless supporter of the arts community in Newfoundland for decades and is an extremely generous host to artists from all corners of the world. I’m very appreciative of his support and enthusiasm, and grateful to have had the opportunity to return.

It was hard to leave.

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Interview: The First Thirty, courtesy of Junction Reads

This is super last-minute, and I apologize for the late notice, however tomorrow (!) I’m going to be interviewed live (!) on Instagram. Junction Reads is an established (since 2014) Toronto reading series that brings attention to so many great authors. I’m going to take part in Junction Reads’ cool offshoot, The First Thirty, which is designed around speaking with authors about — you guessed it — how the first thirty pages of their published work came about.

From their website:

Writers know, and readers too, the first pages are the most important in any novel, memoir or story. And I want to talk about it.

The First Thirty is an Instagram Live series where I will meet authors for a quick chat (30 minutes) to talk about writing, and how they shape those first pages to be a warm welcome to the reader; to include the hook that makes a reader want to keep reading, and to give us the characters we either want to love or really hate.

You can hear me talk about my latest novel, Radioland, tomorrow (Monday, May 27th) night @ 7pm EST on Instagram by tuning-in to @junctionreads!

UPDATE: You can watch the interview here. I’m really impressed with the depth of Alison’s questions and if this is the last bit of promotion I do for Radioland then I’m happy to have it be this.

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Goodbye April

I haven’t had the opportunity to post here, however I hadn’t realized that it was over a month since posting something substantial. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything different going on in my life, so much as that, upon reflection, perhaps I’m spending a bit more time seeking comfort where I need it.

I got back into a martial art that I started before the pandemic, called baguazhang, or simply bagua (pron. bahg-wah). It’s a little idiosyncratic compared to more mainstream forms like karate, taekwondo or BJJ. I’d say it’s somewhere between what we in the West call “kung fu” (external) and tai chi (internal). Let’s just say there’s a lot of walking in circles. That said, I needed something that allowed me to move/train my body in a way that was different than going to the gym or distance running, which can feel static. Bagua is anything but static. Also, crucially, the very place that teaches it is literally across the street from my office in Chinatown. It centres me and its choreography is demanding enough without the more wild kung fu-style kicks etc. It’s also nice to do this with other people — something I was also sorely needing (ie a form of socializing that wasn’t chatting with someone at a pub)

I also started Book Four (I know, I know), which is coming along. I can’t really say much about it because it’s very early, however I’m liking its shape. What’s funny is that my previous long-form entry here was about not wanting to be stuck with Author/Psychotherapist in publicity material…and yet the protagonist of Book Four is exactly that. It’s also nice working on a book where the protagonist is a woman. Radioland had two protagonists — male and female — and The Society of Experience had an intermittent female narrative in the form of Seneca’s diaries, however I’m looking forward to keeping things female this time around. Book Three is in revision-mode now, for the last round I think.

I’m trying to keep myself informed of what’s going on in the world, but the world is too big and there’s too much. I think the curse of social media is that there are so many perspectives on so many things that it can be paralyzing to even log-in some days, so currently I’m not. I’m very thankful that I re-subscribed to the London Review of Books this past summer because their coverage of what’s happening in Gaza is extensive and authoritative, without the self-censorship or bad faith arguments that have poisoned coverage of this conflict in much of the mainstream media. I’m not a prolific magazine subscriber, however I can’t help but think of how lucky I felt when I happened to subscribe to Harper’s just prior to the towers falling on 9/11, the drums beating towards a disastrous war. Reading informed, well-written arguments isn’t going to stop the worst of humanity from manifesting, but at least I can form my opinion from a source that isn’t compromised by a fear of spooking advertisers or an editor casting a dark shadow over someone’s shoulder.

Yes, and reading. Lots of reading. Let’s see…Labyrinths (a collection of Jorge Luis Borges stories and essays), Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World (which is fabulous), The Rigor of Angels by William Egginton and Audit Culture: How Indicators and Rankings are Reshaping the World by Cris Shore and Susan Wright.

I hope this finds you well.

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Grants

It took someone on social media posting a reminder of an upcoming deadline for me to realize that I haven’t applied for a writer’s grant in the better part of three years. For anyone outside of publishing reading this, while there’s no obligation to do this (unless of course you’re depending upon writing for a living, in which case it pretty much would be an obligation), it can make life a lot less burdensome for those who want to be able to take time off work so that we might devote ourselves more thoroughly to our writing projects. Most of us secretly bend time and space to be able to spend a few hours here and there each week.

This strikes me whenever I’m researching residencies for writers. A lot of the ones I’ve been interested in have a time stipulation of something grand, like “at least three weeks”, and that’s a deal-breaker for me. I pay for residencies out of my own pocket, and typically 5-7 days is the max I can allot. This is where grants come in. The big ones, from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Arts Council, have the capacity to provide wide financial support (in other words, scalable to the needs of the applicant, depending upon their professional and personal circumstances). The catch is that you have to go through the application process, which necessitates answering a lot of very detailed questions, not only about your project but about things like your budget (which in itself requires a breakdown of living expenses, etc). You have to essentially provide a compelling argument for the arts council awarding your project, as well as providing a reasonably accurate idea that you (the artist) understand what it is that you’re talking about from a financial perspective.

One of the reasons I’m writing this post is that I think it might be easy for outsiders to think that Arts Council grants are easily awarded, as if it were a question of simply hacking an algorithm. Let me assure you: they are not. If such were the case, there wouldn’t be professional grant writers marketing themselves (and paying their bills assumedly with something other than magic beans). Most artists might be able to summarize their projected finances, or describe their motivation for being an artist, or provide a captivating enticement for their current work-in-progress. Not many can do all three. And, just to add a dose of reality, even if you manage to ace all three, you’re still at the mercy of whomever is reading your application and whatever inevitable cognitive biases and preferences they have.

I’ve never received a big grant, though I’ve certainly applied. I supposed I stopped applying for the same reason I begin walking when I realize the streetcar isn’t coming any time soon; I’d rather try to achieve something on my own than be let down by something out of my control. That said, I run a small business. If I take time off, I don’t have any income. So yes, when I see a TWO MONTH MINIMUM on a writer’s retreat, I can get punchy. Truth is, there’s something strangely out-of-date about a framework whose parameters so clearly prohibit those who don’t have careers which allow such long absences.

The grant I mentioned at the beginning of this post is the Recommender Grants for Writers (via the Ontario Arts Council). It’s not nearly as big (or as arduous to complete) as others. I was lucky enough to have been awarded once before, which helped me book a flight out west to the Banff Centre for the Arts for a self-directed residency, so I pushed myself to submit a sample of Book Three to one of the indie publishers who are participating in the program this year, hopefully before their internal deadline (with this grant in particular, which runs from September to January, the deadline for submissions is set internally by the publishers).

One of the benefits of grant writing, and a reason for my writing this post, is that it can motivate (aka force) you to polish/revise/clarify your work for an actual (aka real) audience, even if you never see them or know exactly what they liked or didn’t. It can be a good prod to work on your bio (which a lot of writers freak out about), or the synopsis of your piece. I’d like to think there’s no downside, other than going through a bit of stress.

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September

September is a strange month. As a therapist, I associate it with a predictable increase in new and former clients reaching out for support. Why is that? A bunch of things, depending upon the situation of the individual, but to name just a few reasons: end of summer, beginning of school, vacation(s) in the rearview mirror, THE END OF THE YEAR IS COMING (if I were the months of October and November I would file a complaint), shorter days (and, subsequently, daylight). What’s that, your pulse is racing just reading this? I’m not surprised.

I find September to be a significant time for reflection, whether or not I’m looking for it, and this year is no different for yours truly.

As an author, it’s hard not to think about the progress on Book Three. I’ve just received some substantial feedback and I find myself wanting to balance between (putting on overalls) OKAY LET’S GET TO WORK!… and taking a little bit of time to stand further back from the book (if possible), so that I’m not simply following through on what I’ve already created, but asking myself essential questions about structure, story, themes.

Writing a book (or short story), one can sometimes fixate a little too much on what the original idea was — that thing which struck your passion and allowed you to sit your ass down and start the project in the first place — and in doing so run the risk of missing how the larger form might change to convenience the parts which require changing within it. It’s like getting the inspiration for a mansion on a hill only to discover, the more you think about what it is you’re aiming for that, actually, a bungalow near a pond is actually a closer realization of your original idea. This can especially happen if you’ve put in a shitload of work already. Your insecurities begin to howl, and suddenly the idea of changing direction is giving you heart palpitations. No! No! I have to finish it soon, I want to move on to the next project! I don’t want to work on this forever! As with psychotherapy, there are no easy answers in this profession, and much of the time it boils down to “it depends.”

Welcome to September.

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Ebook & Death

Hi all — the ebook of Radioland is out. Please don’t ask why it’s taken this long. It was actually out a while back but I’ve neglected this blog, something I’m thinking of changing as I grow tired of the social media (read Twitter) scene. It’s much better to share my thoughts here, especially book-related.

So, death…

There’s been a bit of that in my life recently. First was the passing of an influential instructor I had when I did a summer intensive with the Humber School for Writers, way back in 2005. DM Thomas was an author known mainly for his seminal work, The White HotelHe was the right person at the right time, and from that class I co-founded a writers’ group that lasted about nine years, all of which is to say I wouldn’t be sitting here — a published author, with two novels, several short stories and a couple of essays under my belt — had it not been for that experience with him. I have fond memories of DM, particularly one evening at the Duke of York, with my classmates, which featured a gaze of raccoon cubs climbing after their mother along a tree in the patio. DM had a formidable perspective as a prose writer and poet and was a gracious host with a long list of stories to tell. May he rest in peace.

When I worked in film & TV I worked alongside many coordinators at post production houses across the city, but none was more professional, reliable and affable than Gary Brown. I first worked with him at Magnetic North and then afterward at Deluxe. With Gary, what you saw was what you got; his smile was genuine, his explanations were clear and his assistance was crucial on more projects than I could begin to list off. I worked with him for over a decade in a two-decade career, and I never had a better experience. With someone like Gary you always knew you were in good hands. It helped also that he didn’t have any of the boy’s club bullshit (read: casual misogyny) that I encountered with unfortunate frequency. Gary passed about a month ago, at the tender age of 46, of cancer. He left a family behind, as well as the respect and admiration of everyone who was lucky enough to work alongside him. May he rest in peace.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who bugged the Toronto Public Library to stock my book. They do now, which is great. We can’t all afford new things, and libraries serve a crucial purpose for this reason. Much appreciated to all who helped out.

I mentioned that I was going to provide more content here, and I’ve got something coming up — an essay on Radioland and my choice to feature a racialized protagonist. I’ll be posting that soon. Thanks for stopping by.

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Toronto Public Library

I love Toronto Public Library. I’ve used libraries all my life and especially TPL’s services since I moved here in the mid 90s. I especially support and encourage people to consider borrowing books versus purchasing, particularly when one’s income doesn’t exactly allow a book budget (as nice as that sounds).

I do have a small issue: despite receiving unparalleled publicity, reviews, etc TPL still does not carry my new novel, Radioland. You’d think: hey, this hot new book based in Toronto should just automatically be stocked at Toronto Public Library. Right? You would think so, but here’s the problem: independent publishers have a much harder time having their books stocked than majors like Penguin Random House etc.

In short, it sucks. It’s not the fault of TPL staff, but the bureaucracy of their stocking system.

This why I’m asking people who have an active Toronto Public Library membership to please take 30 seconds to fill out this request form.

I would be most grateful! Thanks.

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Author Discussion

I’m not going to claim authorship (*ping*) for the idea — I was inspired by both the original intention of Wolsak & Wynn‘s fall launch, which was an author Q&A, as well as seeing how smaller publishers could combine their authors into a shared launch — but seeing an opportunity, last month I proposed the following idea to my publisher: what if we (myself and A.G. Pasquella, author of Welcome to the Weird America) were to have an author event that wasn’t about readings but rather a conversation with other authors; this allowed me to invite Freehand Books author Emily Saso (her latest book Nine Dash Line is wonderful — I know because I blurbed it) and for A.G. to invite ECW author Terri Favro (whose latest book is The Sisters Sputnik). The idea was for there to be a more relaxed discussion that could be interesting for both readers and writers.

The event went very well — I wish it had actually gone longer to include audience Q&A, but it was getting late, and I should always remind myself that the folks behind the scenes putting this together are working outside of their normal hours and aren’t getting paid for any of this. I think it was a successful experiment and I hope to see more of it in the future.

Please enjoy:

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The Big December Update

It’s been a year…however, I’m going to save the reflection for when I have the time to do so (!).

I’m so happy that RADIOLAND was recently chosen as a top music pick from CBC Books, especially to see myself listed with my friend (and well-respected music journalist) Michael Barclay and his thorough history of Canadian music from 2000-2005, HEARTS ON FIRE. Talk about good company.

I should also let you know that my publisher is celebrating their 40th anniversary and is offering a 40% discount on their complete catalogue until the end of December. Yes, that includes RADIOLAND and my debut novel THE SOCIETY OF EXPERIENCE — however, I’d like to also add that it also includes works from friends/authors Andrew Wilmot, A.G. Pasquella, Dani Couture, Daniel Scott Tyson, Sofi Papamarko, James Lindsay and D.D. Miller. Seeing as this is holiday-adjacent, this 40% discount is well-timed.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s been a year. I want to thank everyone who has supported my writing. Your support has been felt.

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The Big November Update

Holy cow, what a month. I’m sitting here at a sports bar (using their wifi) half-exhausted from everything that’s transpired since my last post here.

me at the launch

The launch for RADIOLAND went great and was well attended!

You can stream my interview with CBC Toronto’s Gill Deacon to assess whether I made any sense (I think I did, though I was very nervous being on live radio).

Speaking of radio interviews, I just completed a wonderful interview with Jamie Tennant for CFMU’s Get Lit. It’s not going to be available until mid-December, but I’ll let y’all know when that happens!

Last but not least…I have a giveaway of sorts. For my launch I decided to do something special and had custom guitar picks made, which I distributed to those who purchased my book. Guess what? I have some left over! So, while quantities last (I’ve never typed that before and it feels weird), if you get in touch and provide a photo of your copy of RADIOLAND (or proof of purchase) I will mail you one of these! Seriously! You can either DM via Twitter (@heymattcahill) or you can email me (matt at mattcahill dot ca).

I’m planning on taking a little time off to regroup (and catch up on my reading!) but I’m planning on getting back into Book Three in December and hopefully deliver the goods in 2023. Take care, and thanks for popping by!

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