Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Michael Januska

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Michael Januska was born in Windsor, Ontario, and has worked with books his whole life, both as a bookseller and for several book publishers. He is also an award-winning crime fiction writer whose works include numerous short stories as well as the recent novel Riverside Drive, part of the Border City Blues series set in Windsor. His first book was Grey Cup Century. Januska lives in Toronto.

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Five Things Literary: The Danforth with Michael Januska

In our Five Things Literary series, we bring you into the literary life of individual authors and the communities that nurture and inspire them. Michael Januska, Open Book's July 2013 Writer in Residence takes us on a literary tour of the Danforth.

Riverside Drive

By Michael Januska

From the publisher's website:

Jack McCloskey returned to Windsor, Ontario, from the Great War shell-shocked and battling inner demons. Channeling his energy into amateur fights, he's noticed by a gangster sidelining as a boxing promoter. After a brief professional stint, Jack is invited to join the crew. It's the early days of Prohibition along the Detroit River. Feeling trapped, Jack often tries to escape by throwing himself into relationships that are doomed from the start. Complicating matters further, a crime lord descends on the Border Cities, taking over all smuggling activity to finance his covert political agenda.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts


This past weekend I had the privilege and the pleasure of visiting my hometown, Windsor, on another trip to promote Riverside Drive. Here are some highlights:

There's No Hacky Sack Allowed in the Bookstore

This is my last blog entry as Writer-In-Residence for Open Book Toronto. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve gained a new appreciation for bloggers and daily newspaper columnists. It was also a good exercise and I learned a lot from it. Here in no particular order, are a few stray notes, thoughts and observations from my month at OBT:

- My handwriting, my own invention, ‘Caps In Cursive,’ is getting harder to read. I never thought that could be possible.

- Sometimes I miss using pencils. I think I might begin either alternating pencil days with uni-ball pen days, or maybe using only the pen at my desk and pencils in the kitchen. I might be over-thinking this.

- I should read more poetry.

Man or Myth?

Man or Myth?

I’ve fallen behind on my blogging – sorry about that. I’m up north with family and we have limited connectivity. And I don’t have enough stamps to send you each a postcard. Modern problems.

Marking Our Territory

Flipping through a copy of the Border Cities Star from 1923, I came across an article titled “Unique Literary Map.” The creation of George H. Locke, then Chief Librarian of Toronto, it’s described as a wall map marking the settings of Canadian books. “A study of the map shows that the great rivers, lakes and mountains of the Dominion seem to have been popular with many of the descriptive writers, but the fiction writers have flown everywhere…” There is no mention of any urban locales. Identified are romantic settings, wild and idyllic, stretching from the “Eden-like valleys of Nova Scotia” to the coastline of British Columbia and north to the rugged Yukon. This is CanLit circa 1923, and “Border tales do not appear as numerous as one would expect them to be.” Pity.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Actor Dennis Farina died yesterday. He was a favourite of mine. You might remember him from crime movies such as Snatch, Thief (his first acting role; he was 37 at the time), Midnight Run, and two Elmore Leonard film adaptations: Out of Sight and Get Shorty. Leonard’s writing seemed perfectly suited for Farina. Farina also played a detective for a couple of seasons in television’s Law & Order. That seemed suited for him as well. He could be smooth, dead funny and a hard-ass all in one take. He must have been one of those actors that writers think of when they’re creating a character. I have to admit, when I’m developing a character, I often have a particular actor or personality in mind. It can help.

Lily Pads, Nostalgia, and Husking Corn

Speaking of swamp, my mind too often at 3:00 in the morning works like it’s hopping lily pads. Maybe it’s just my adult ADD putting in overtime. (Incidentally, I once knew someone who thought that ADD meant the individual was suffering from a lack of attention. She used to tell that to us over and over again.) In order to try and fall back asleep, I’ll focus on one particular problem, as a sort of exercise. But soon there are more and more lily pads, and they keep getting smaller.


The Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word “swamp”:

n. 1 a tract of low-lying ground in which water collects; an area of water-logged ground; a bog or marsh.
After a torrential storm and flooding less than two weeks ago, followed now by days of 40C+ heat coupled with 110% humidity, that would be the basement. Or the soccer pitch in Riverdale Park. I’ve compared current conditions to the stories I’ve read about the filming of Apocalypse Now in the jungles of the Philippines. And we know what happened there: they all went mad.

2 a difficult or messy situation; a complication (a bureaucratic swamp).

Hotter Than a Steering Wheel In July

I hope you indulge me this one time and allow me to riff on cars and summer.

I grew up in the ‘70s in a town where if you could escape you escaped to the suburbs and bought a house with a double driveway. A double driveway means being able to park two vehicles side by side – the ultimate convenience, the prize. You never again have to jockey cars in order to make a run to the corner store.

Windsor may have been Canada’s Motor City but at our house, dad’s car was usually an import and mom’s car was the domestic, purposed for groceries and chauffeuring kids around the subdivision. I remember when she was handed the keys to a brand new AMC Hornet. It was a green two-door, and in the summer it smelled like hot plastic. I’m probably still carrying around the toxins in my body.

Notes From a Bookseller

No. 36: While dogs, and occasionally children, may be allowed in the store, please, no wagons. First off your wagon smells like sour milk, and second, you’re not settling the prairie.

No. 37: Please do not approach the counter and say, “I’m wondering if you have a book.” You’re just asking for it.

No. 38: After-dinner Crowd #1: Please refrain from setting your doggy bags and frappuccinos on the book tables. Elizabeth Ruth’s “Matadora” should not be confused with a placemat.

No. 39: No cellphone conversations are allowed. FYI, everyone in the store now knows that your tests came back positive.

No. 40: It’s with your best interests at heart that I refuse to tell you how to find the Self-help section.

A Few Thoughts On Writing Contests

Do you enter writing contests? How many have you entered? Do you enter the ones that carry a fee or do you avoid them? Have you ever given up on writing contests only to later step back in the ring?

What are you looking for when you enter a writing contest? The monetary prize? Free publicity? Validation?

Have you ever dusted off an older work if it fits the criteria, or do you try to stay limber by coming up with something fresh?

Who do you feel benefits the most from these contests, the writer or the organizer?

I’ll go first.

Notes From the Flood

The oven was warming up in preparation for dinner; my wife and I were on our laptops, doing laptop things; and our daughter was upstairs reading in her study. And then the rain came fast and hard. I got up to look out the window and could barely see across the street. I didn’t think that much of it, having grown up with torrential summer rains in Windsor, and went back to work. And then the power cut and suddenly I could see even less. (At the time, I think I had the cursor hovering over the “Save” button on my OBT blog page.)

Random Thoughts

It must be the heat. And the insomnia.

• I find office supply stores to be extremely seductive. They hold so much promise, so much hope within them. I stroll the aisles and everything says, “take me; I will put your life in order.” Binders, dividers, notecards, label makers, highlighters…inner peace can be found in a simple accordion file. Staples is like the Church of the OCPD.
• My wife can read with the television on. I don’t know how she does it. Do you need quiet to read?

Books With Batteries

Books With Batteries: To answer a regular question, no, I do not own an e-reader. But that’s not to say that I never will. It’s just that I have not yet come across a compelling enough reason to buy one. And while I’m not seduced easily by shiny objects, neither am I a paper-bound snob. People at the store or in casual conversation (often in a hushed tone, as if it were the 1930’s and they were probing me about the Red Menace) will ask me if e-books are taking over the world, or something like that. I tell them, no, and by the way, if anything I believe the media complement each other and am thrilled to learn that people are still reading. To quote @stephenfry, “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”

From the Belly of the Whale

I’m a professional writer but I’ve also worked for a number of large and small publishers. I was originally and am now a born-again bookseller. This is my way of saying that I’ve seen just about everything. Nothing and everything surprises me. That's a preamble if I ever heard one. Here's my miscellany of the last 48 hours:

Reporting From the Kitchen Table

My first blog entry as July's Writer-In-Residence here at Open Book Toronto comes straight from the kitchen table. No, I'm not finishing lunch or preparing dinner. Rarely does this space ever see that kind of action. When I tire of my desk or need a larger work surface, I relocate to the kitchen table. By this time tomorrow I suspect it will be covered in notepads, papers, post-it notes, files and reference material as I delve deeper into writing the sequel to 'Riverside Drive,' 'Maiden Lane.' A blog might be just the thing to work out some of those wrinkles in the plot. Kind of like thinking out loud.

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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