Episode 29 – Terry Fallis on Writing with Authenticity, Humor & Passion

This episode features an interview with Canadian author Terry Fallis. who is a two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, the winner of CBC Canada Reads for “the essential novel of the decade” the winner of the CBA Libris Author of the Year Award for 2013, and someone who has had a 6-part mini-series based on his first novel appear on CBC Television.

Prior to his personal update, Mark delivers this episode’s Tongue Twister, which is something Stephen King fans might be familiar with: the mantra that Bill Debrough practices when working on his stutter.

“Amidst the mists and fiercest frosts,
With barest wrists, and stoutest boasts,
He thrusts his fists against the posts,
And still insists he sees the ghosts”

The Terrible Tongue Twister segment (AKA “Twisting by the Fool”) is sponsored by Findaway Voices, who provide all the tools that an independent author or small publisher needs in order to get into the digital audiobook market.


For his personal update, Mark shares how he has been overwhelmed with tasks and a growing list of unfinished projects, and talks through 3 things that have helped him deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed

1) Unplugging and Recharging

How a recent pair of single night short camping trips helped with a reset and recharge for him.

2) Listing the Things Making You Feel Overwhelmed

The power of having a visible list (in Mark’s example he uses a whiteboard) where projects and tasks and deadlines that can seem overwhelming can be placed, allowing for a better feeling of control.

3) Listing the Small Surprise Accomplishments Already Achieved

The unexpected surprises and unplanned projects, items, tasks can be what overwhelms a writer, leading to thoughts of not having met all the planned goals. But what about acknowledging the unplanned positives that were not expected? Mark shares a few examples that made a positive difference.


CBA Libris Awards. Terry, Mark, Alice Munro and Douglas Gibson (Terry and Alice’s publisher) after awarding Alice the Canadian Bookseller Libris Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013

In their chat, Mark and Terry discuss:

  • The process of writing a novel and then sending query packages and sample chapters to agents and editors, followed by the “radio silence” from the industry that Terry experienced (not even generating an automated rejection letter)
  • What led to his deciding to try both self-publishing the novel as well as releasing it as a free podcast novel in 2007
  • How some of the little things along the way (a suggestion from his wife, a single response from one agent, a bookseller who wanted to host a book launch party, comments from the podcast audience, a single box of ten copies of the self-published books sitting in a box by his desk), could lead to a dramatically defining moment in Terry’s career as an author
  • The “you’ve written a satirical novel of Canadian politics – what were you thinking?” line that keeps coming up
  • How listening to Terry’s podcast was all it took for Mark to become hooked on Terry’s first novel THE BEST LAID PLANS

  • The New York Times article about Scott Sigler and his podcast novels that had inspired Terry to begin podcasting his first novel
  • Why Terry is convinced that more physical books have been sold via the process of giving away the audio/podcast version for free
  • The chills Terry gets when thinking about doing his very first book signing
  • The factors that led to Terry deciding to enter his first self-published novel into the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour (which included that the award didn’t have a clause that said self-published novels couldn’t be entered)
  • Details about being nominated for and then winning the Leacock Medal for Humour
  • Terry’s email to the only agent who had bothered to reply to his original query (who is still his agent to this day, ten years later)
  • The Canada Reads win and how that likely created the climate for the book to be optioned for film and television, where it was made into a 6 part television movie as well as a staged musical
  • What it was like being in full control versus having to hand complete creative control over to the film production folks

  • How impressed Terry was by the script writers for the series, Susan Coyne and Jason Sherman
  • Why Terry believes that the New York Times called him to comment for an article about a recent disagreement between Trudeau and Trump
Terry’s Tweet About the Times Type-up Regarding Trump’s Trashing Trudeau
  • The effective use of humor in addressing serious issues, content and situations – in particular, the important elements of feminism and women’s rights in Terry’s novel POLES APART
  • How Terry used his own experience as an identical twin when writing the novel ONE BROTHER SHY
  • A bit of a teaser about Terry’s work in progress, IF AT FIRST YOU SUCCEED
  • The fact that Terry’s publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, has, for his first six novels, allowed him to begin to release his weekly serialized podcast for his novels in the month prior to each novel’s release
  • How doing the reading/recording for the podcast has helped with Terry preparing sections for public readings of his novels; as well as being a great editing/proofreading tool
  • The value that Terry places in booksellers, in particular the independent booksellers who have supported his career from the very beginning
  • Terry’s favorite advice for authors about writing with authenticity and passion. “It’s hard to write your best work when you’re not writing about something that you care about.”

Below is the raw video feed used in the interview, for those who prefer to see Mark’s hand gestures, nose scratching, and the cute little almost indecipherable movements of people out in the hallway of Terry’s office.

After the interview, Mark shares a quick reflection on the small things – drawing from Terry’s mention of the little factors that led him to submitting to the Leacock award, or deciding to self-publish his book in the first place.

He encourages listeners to take a moment in the following week or so and make a concerted effort to push out at least one of those little things into the people in their physical or digital lives, because you never know how that little thing, that small effort, might have a larger and positive impact on another person.


Links of Interest:


Terry Fallis is an award-winning Canadian writer and public relations consultant. Terry is a two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, winning in 2008 for his debut novel The Best Laid Plans and in 2015 for No Relation an award for which five of his published novels to date have been shortlisted.he Best Laid Plans was also crowned the 2011 winner of CBC Canada Reads as the “essential Canadian novel of the decade. In January 2014, CBC aired a six-part television miniseries based on The Best Laid Plans earning very positive reviews.

For nearly eight years (1988-95) after leaving provincial politics, he was a government affairs and communications consultant with the international PR firm, Hill and Knowlton. In 1995, he co-founded Thornley Fallis with Joe Thornley, a full service communications consulting agency with offices in Ottawa and Toronto. Terry also created and co-hosted more than 200 episodes of the popular business podcast, Inside PR.



The music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

RSS options for this podcast: Mark Leslie at Libsyn or Feedburner

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