Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

C.B. Forrest

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C.B. Forrest's first literary crime novel, The Weight of Stones, was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. His second McKelvey novel, Slow Recoil, was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

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On Writing, with CB Forrest

Open Book:

Tell us about your latest book, The Devil’s Dust.

CB Forrest:

The Devil’s Dust is the third crime novel featuring protagonist Charlie McKelvey. The story opens with McKelvey running from a cancer diagnosis and the violent memories of the big city. He retreats to his hometown. A small declining mining centre, Ste. Bernadette offers McKelvey a chance to resolve old family issues, including his father’s involvement in a deadly wildcat strike in the late 1950s. When the local police force enlists his help in tracing an upswing in youth violence and vandalism, McKelvey stumbles into the hornet’s nest of a crystal meth industry. Tim Wynne-Jones, author of Blink & Caution and two-time Governor General Award Winner, has said of the novel: “Devil’s Dust is a tour de force, the crime fiction trifecta: perfectly plotted whodunit, first-rate thriller and beautifully crafted novel. The end is stunning!”

The Devil's Dust: A Charlie McKelvey Mystery

By CB Forrest

From the publisher's website:

Retired Toronto detective Charlie McKelvey runs from a cancer diagnosis and the violent memories of the big city and retreats to his hometown. A small declining mining centre, Ste. Bernadette offers McKelvey a chance to resolve old family issues, including his father’s involvement in a deadly wildcat strike in the late 1950s.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Fathers. Trying, trying, trying.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Of course F. Scott Fitzgerald was talking about all of us when he typed those beautiful final lines to his novel, The Great Gatsby. And by that I mean I certainly recognize he wasn’t speaking exclusively about fathers or men, or the particular cargo we carry with us across the days of our enterprise. But I will tell you that’s precisely how that line has always rested with me, more than a closing epitaph from Nick Carraway to Jay Gatsby, it apparently sums up the always difficult love of men for other men and our shared lineage in this seemingly endless fumbling at manhood and fatherhood.

Fathers. Trying, trying, trying.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Of course F. Scott Fitzgerald was talking about all of us when he typed those beautiful final lines to his novel, The Great Gatsby. And by that I mean I certainly recognize he wasn’t speaking exclusively about fathers or men, or the particular cargo we carry with us across the days of our enterprise. But I will tell you that’s precisely how that line has always rested with me, more than a closing epitaph from Nick Carraway to Jay Gatsby, it apparently sums up the always difficult love of men for other men and our shared lineage in this seemingly endless fumbling at manhood and fatherhood.

Boxing legend Chuvalo punches out his life story: wins, losses, and knockouts

When I was fourteen, an entire wall of my bedroom was plastered with glossy centerfolds. But rather than scantily clad women, the photos were a who’s-who of boxing’s golden era: guys like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, Marvin Hagler, and Canadians Shawn O’Sullivan and Willie de Witt … with a hallowed place for this country’s most fabled pugilist, George Chuvalo.

“As a writer you make your own weather”: Irish crime writer Eoin McNamee on style, voice, and the imperative to be renegade

There is perhaps no greater, more perplexing, and ultimately rewarding journey for the writer than the long enterprise to discover one’s voice – or at least the voice we’re most comfortable using in public. We are influenced by our teachers and mentors, by what we like and what we read, and most of us necessarily stumble through early years of unconscious imitation. And then one day, like hearing our voice played back to us on a tape recorder, we say “is that me, is that what I really sound like?”

Irish author Eoin McNamee has greatly influenced my writing not so much in terms of attempted imitation – for to borrow a Leonard Cohen phrase, I can hear him typing several floors above me – but by seeing a new set of blueprints set down for storytelling.

Interview with Peggy Blair: Hey writer! The harder you work, the luckier you get

They say where there is a will, there is a way. And you can bet Peggy Blair will find it. The Ottawa-based author of the award-winning mystery novel The Beggar’s Opera, Blair brings new meaning to words like ‘determination’ and ‘tenacity’. She is tough, she has a wicked sense of humour, and while she says she finds writing hard work, her writing seems effortless.

Body & Words: The ballerina who learned how to write

Simple ambitions, complicated tea.

This is the story of a ballerina who stopped dancing so she could learn to write songs. Or perhaps she learned how to write songs because she stopped dancing. Either way, the artistic life of Jill Zmud has not been plotted or charted, and it seems to be working out just right.

The Saskatoon native agrees to meet in a coffee shop on a recent sunny spring afternoon in downtown Ottawa. She orders an improbably named Osmanthus Scented Silvery Green Tea – (earning an ‘A’ when she is asked by the hardcore coffee-drinking interviewer to spell the name of the tea) – and she settles in to discuss words, music, grief and beauty.

Exclusive! Skydigger Andy Maize reveals "the last thing I'll ever write ..."

If the Skydiggers were a movie, they would be fawned over at the Sundance Festival. If the Skydiggers were a book, they’d be a well-worn paperback written by some revered and reclusive ex-pat living in a small village in the south of France.

If the Skydiggers were …

Well, you get the point: the Skydiggers are hip without trying to be hip because they simply do what they do for all the right reasons. As the iconic group celebrates its 25th anniversary with a cross-country tour and the seasonal release of four new offerings this year, lead singer Andy Maize took some time to discuss writing, the business of art, and the ebbs and flows across a quarter century of creation.

Obscure word choice for titles will spare you weekly heartbreak

About three times a week I receive a Google news alert that, at least for a few seconds, makes me feel as though perhaps someone out there in a place like Bald Knob, Arkansas (a real place by the way, check it), is reading and reviewing one of my novels.

But no, no. They're not. In fact, the "news" that triggered the email alert is more than likely to be the result of a middle-aged man blogging enthusiastically about video games from his mother's faux wood-paneled basement while dressed in boxer shorts and with a cornflake glued to his chin from the breakfast he ate six hours ago.

WTF! Performance Enhancing Drugs and The Writer

While good citizens of the world fumble to regain their bearings following the shocking lifetime ban from cycling for Lance Armstrong, I am here to tell you something: you can count on us, the writers of your novels and plays and poems and greeting cards, to come to our competition free of any genuine performance enhancing drugs.

The Editor Who Heard Music: Allister Thompson on editing, mixing, and mistakes writers make

Editors. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t with without ‘em.

Just kidding. We love our editors, and in fact, they are truly the unsung heroes behind so many great works of fiction that might have been just, well, mediocre, without their keen eye.

Allister Thompson is one editor who does not go unsung. Because he’s a singer. And a songwriter. And his latest album, Light The Darkness, may just be his best offering yet. Featuring his superb songwriting and blistering guitar work front and centre, the 10 tracks seem to combine to form a sort of anthem for these times. Listen to it here:

I cornered Allister in a dark and musty pub where he was drinking a tar-like British ale, and we had a quick chat.

Exclusive! Stuart Ross Q+A: "I don't want anyone to get hurt."

The accomplished poet and editor Stuart Ross couldn't be any busier this spring. He took a few minutes out of his cross-Ontario travels to speak with me about a lifetime with words.

CB: You were first published at sixteen. Using all of my fingers and toes, that means you've been writing and publishing for close to 40 years. This is a tough and cruel business. What's kept you going?

SR: Now, about that forty years is really thirty-six years. At least, in terms of publishing. I’d been writing for four or five years before I was published.

A Life With Words ...

In like a lion, out like a lamb. Or something like that.

Thanks to Open Book Toronto for keeping the faith with this site and so much more. Thanks for trusting me to file blogs without so much as a drug test or a criminal record search. See you on the shelf, face-out ...

i always wanted

a life with words –

to fish for,

catch and

release them

and sometimes maybe

keep the good ones

for myself.

to count myself lucky

among workers

who understand the weight

of the steel chisel

and lift it yet

to etch our stones

first thing in the morning.

to keep this place where

even the smallest


is better

than no word

at all.

-- cb

A Portrait of the Writer as a Mentor

The sometimes smarmy but talented British novelist Martin Amis was asked in an interview if he felt he was a guiding influence or mentor for young writers. He commented, after explaining that this teacher-protégé relationship appeared to be something of an antique, that “we seem to be going it alone these days.”

Indeed, we may be connecting through social media and talking at one other more frequently, we may even have more opportunities to join online workshops and critique groups, but have we lost this old school idea of the older artist taking the younger artist under his or her wing?

Getting Inside A Man's Head: The Dangerous Work of Barbara Fradkin

Welcome to hump day. Did you know that on this same date in 1996 the first installment of midlist author Stephen King's little-known 'Green Mile' trilogy appeared in stores? Makes you feel old, I know.

Today I'm happy to share an interview I had with Barbara Fradkin, author of the popular Inspector Green series, including the latest, Beautiful Lie The Dead. I moved past the fact that our last names both start with 'F', which means that we occupy the same shelf in bookstores, only Ms. Fradkin occupies a whole lot more of it. But not, I should mention, when I change all of her space-hogging face-out books back to spine-out. Anyhoo, I digress ...

Scarlett Johansson has nothing on Dave Bidini: (Or Why Everyone Wants To Be Someone Else)

Scarlett Johansson, a beautiful and talented young actress (just see Lost in Translation if you forget), recorded an album a couple of years ago that was pretty bad to put it mildly. It was called Anywhere I Lay My Head, and the reviews were as mixed as my Shih-Tzu-Terrier-Poodle-Maltese named Rascal.

Kevin Costner looks like a bad actor playing a bad country singer every time he croons with his band Modern West.

Billy Bob Thornton revealed himself in all his assness when Jiam Ghomeshi didn’t treat him like Bob frickin’ Dylan by daring to ask about his so-called acting career.

In-store Author Events: “Is there a washroom in here?”

It is a known fact that writers prefer to spend their time actually writing more than, say, selling books. I’ve yet to meet a writer who begs to get out there on the road promoting and selling and marketing their work. This is simply a necessary evil if you want anyone besides your friends and grandmother to read your book. And don’t be fooled, your friends really are buying your book out of a sense of obligation. Most of them won’t read it, either, though they’ll continue to promise to get around to it “one of these days”. And your grandmother will probably only pretend to have read it, like most of your co-workers.

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


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.

Writing: It’s Not About The Money. (Not yet, anyway.)

The highly-awarded writer Richard Ford penned an essay in The Globe and Mail not so long ago that really struck me as the finest example of a moving target: how a writer defines success.

“The first book I ever wrote sold to its New York publisher for the sum of $3,500 – which didn’t seem like a lot of money, even in 1975. It mattered a great deal more to me that my novel would be published and possibly read than that somebody paid me for it,” Ford wrote.

Write What You Know. And Good Places To Hide a Body: Q+A With RJ Harlick

For this installment of 5 Questions, I met up with author R.J. Harlick to discuss her latest novel, A Green Place For Dying, and the use of setting and research in her work.

C.B.: Tell us about your latest release, A Green Place For Dying.

R.J.: I’m very excited about this latest Meg Harris mystery, the fifth in the series. Meg has returned home from Baffin Island (see Arctic Blue Death) only to learn that Fleur, the daughter of a friend has gone missing from the Migiskan Anishinabeg Reserve near her West Quebec wilderness home. The young woman has been missing for over a month. Needless to say the mother is sick with worry.

Inside Big Book Awards: Lies, Snobbery, Debauchery, Seduction and Graft*

I’m working on an outline for a new reality show. I know we’re inundated with too much of this junk already, what with our voyeuristic appetite being satisfied by the likes of Snookie and those fascinating / mind-boggling hoarders, but hear me out.

My new reality show idea? A grainy, gritty, unedited peek inside the jury process for the world’s most prestigious literary awards.

(Working title: The Man-Booker Jury … 24 Hours of Cognac, Conceit, and Condescension)

Joni Mitchell, Dead Writers Writing, and a Walk Into The Ocean ...

Hello Friday, I love you.
I really mean it this time.
I won't take you for granted ...

Before we get ready to unplug for the weekend (or conduct 16 hours of community service for something that was misconstrued as "public mischief"), I want to introduce you to author David Whellams. So grab a coffee and sit down and let's talk about books, Joni Mitchell and dead writers.

CB: David, tell us about your forthcoming novel Walking into the Ocean, which has a really terrific cover by the way.

From Davenport to Parliament Hill: Andrew Cash fights for a middle class of artists ...

Andrew Cash is one politician who can relate to the struggling artist. As the singer-songwriter approaches his one-year anniversary serving as MP for Toronto’s Davenport, he and many of his NDP colleagues are busy making sure the government understands and appreciates how far and deep the arts sector impacts the Canadian economy, let alone our culture.

Lost in Translation: L’arte di ottenerla di destra ...

A good friend of mine is perfectly bilingual, English and French, and while I can read and understand French, my mind has to work at it. I can get by in a conversation with my rusty vocabulaire (and what does it say about human nature that we all insist on learning swear words right away when we meet someone who speaks a different language?).

With my friend, both languages come as effortlessly as breath to her lungs. She can switch between the two like a train seemlessly diverted to a new set of tracks. But I was fascinated to learn that she dreams in French and thinks in French, because this was her first language. “Thinks in French”. Just think about that for a moment. Think of the implications for writing and reading.

Rejection: "Dear (Insert Name) - Please Only Send Your Best!"

About seventeen years ago now, the fine poet and editor Barry Dempster scrawled across a form rejection letter: ‘please only send your best’.

I’ve kept every rejection letter I have received over the years, but this is my all-time favourite. I love it. It’s a classic. It’s perfect. And he was right. I was sending stuff out before it was polished to a gleam, before I knew without a doubt that I was employing the right word, in the right place, at the right time. The reply was condescending perhaps, but I took the hint and it helped in the long run. Thanks Barry.

The Lovely, The Literary and the Larcenous

Good Sunday morning. You're going to regret that lost hour at around 2 today ...

I recently spoke with Linda Wiken and Erika Chase. You could almost say they are one and the same. And they are. Confused? Don’t be. This author is set to take the so-called ‘cozy’ mystery field by storm.

One of my favourite memories of Linda/Erika was at the writer’s conference where I handed her my copy of the masterpiece, 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', and asked her to ensure it reached the hands of her travelling partner, the always-affable Mary Jane Maffini. Ten minutes later I spotted Linda/Erika sitting in the lobby of the Toronto Hilton, already absorbed in the pages of the book …

First and Only Books: “Sometimes you only get to win the championship once.”

Continuing on the theme of the last dispatch about the treasure of first books, how about the phenomenon of those writers who give the world a first book and … no more.

I was thinking of this when I recently read for the second time Leonard Garnder’s magnificent 'Fat City', a slim and exquisite masterpiece about the lives and hopes of amateur boxers and skid row personalities in Stockton, California, in the late 1950s. The story, the characters, the language, the setting, everything is note-perfect in that novel. It was only when I looked up Gardner’s bibliography to choose the next novel of his to read that I discovered the man had never published another book. Nada. Zip.

First Books: ‘a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement’

The short story writer, Andre Dubus, paid homage to the special place that first books hold in the hearts of writers in his memoir, Meditations From a Moveable Chair.

I received the note from my eventual editor inquiring as to whether my novel, The Weight of Stones, was still available for publication on the same day a close family member was undergoing life-saving surgery. It seemed a little cosmic, even to a blunt guy like me. It seems now, in hindsight, a small treasure. As Dubus wrote:

Crime Writer Vicki Delany Bares All For Open Book

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most varied and prolific crime writers. Her popular Constable Molly Smith series (including In the Shadow of the Glacier and Among the Departed) have been optioned for TV by Brightlight Pictures. She writes standalone novels of modern gothic suspense such as Burden of Memory and More than Sorrow, as well as a light-hearted historical series, (Gold Digger, Gold Mountain), set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush. She sat down to bare all in a Q + A ...

C: You're one of the most prolific writers I know. You also jump effortlessly between styles and genres, from historical to police procedural. Describe an average week in your writing life.

Writer's Block: Whatever You Do, Don't Think About It!

I’m fortunate in that I’ve never really suffered from so-called ‘writer’s block’, if that affliction means being completely unable to write for an extended period of time. I have come to understand and accept my own writing cycle, to know that I hit a wall for some reason around the midway point of each book. I used to worry that it meant the end, that I had entered into a proposition which could not be sustained by guts and bravado alone, that I had yet again “bitten off more than I could chew”. Now I take it as the ebb and flow of the creative process. I simply need to step back at the halfway point and let things settle a bit, let the story breathe a little. And sure enough, the breeze picks up again and the words begin to flow and we are back in business.

Strange Arrangement Part II: Timothy Findley Speaks From The Great Beyond

We are following on Friday’s theme concerning this ‘strange arrangement’ between writer and reader. How some readers feel a sense of real ownership with a particular series or a character, and perhaps they even think they “know” the writer from reading his or her work. As both a reader and a writer, and someone who has met many writers over the years, I no longer believe that reading a fiction writer allows me some secret porthole into their lives. A peek at the main components that turn their crank, definitely. The various neuroses and phobias and hang-ups that we all own, absolutely. But to infer that reading fiction provides an open window into the author’s soul is a stretch.

This Strange Arrangement (Part I)

This Strange Arrangement … (Part I)

It wasn’t until I published my first novel, The Weight of Stones, and received a few emails from readers, that I began to understand something about the strange arrangement between writer and reader, or sender and receiver.

The author can never read his or her own work with the fresh eyes of an objective reader; conversely, a reader can never fully step inside the mind of the creator to appreciate the genesis or evolution of a work of fiction, especially in terms of what was left in and what was taken out. They get the finished gem all polished and sparkling.

Dispatches From The Front Lines ...

Welcome to this, my first posting as the Writer-in-Residence at Open Book Toronto. It may be my last if The Ones Who Would End All Publishing trace my IP address and shut me down. In that case I will not go down without a fight; I will be key-stroking until my last breath.

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.

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