Terry Fallis is back! Well...almost.
Fallis's new novel, Up And Down, releases on Sept 11 2012, and sees him leaving political satire behind, and focusing on PR firms, and the Canadian Space Agency. We’re happy to share an exclusive reveal of the cover, as well as a guest blog from Fallis on the inspiration for his new book, and how he got that great blurb on his cover.
A Space Nut from an Early Age
It was July 20, 1969, not quite 11:00 pm, on a remote 20 acre island in the southwest arm of Lake Temagami, in northern Ontario. I was nine years old, snug in my sleeping bag on the floor of the main lodge of Camp White Bear with 100 fellow campers and staff. My eyes were locked on a portable black and white television that belonged to the camp cooks. The snowy reception on the screen was as clear as endlessly-adjusted rabbit ears and half a roll of tin foil would permit. I could just make out the spidery leg of the lunar module and the nine-step ladder that descended to, yes, the surface of the moon. The Eagle had landed about six and a half hours earlier.
Some of my cabin mates were sound asleep around me on the hard wood floor, but not I. I was transfixed, spellbound. I watched as Neil Armstrong, with what seemed like questionable control over his arms and legs, climbed down the rungs. Then, on the last step, he paused.
“Do it! Step off!” I said to no one in particular. And he did. He really did. Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and let go of the ladder. For the first time in human history, one of us was standing on another world. Back on earth, back on the floor of Camp White Bear’s main lodge, a space nut was born.
When I was twelve years old, on a field trip to the Ontario Science Centre, I discovered in the gift shop a five volume set of books. Well, they were more like magazines with firmer covers, called Man in Space. They were marketed by the Peterson Publishing Company. I leafed through the first one and never put it down. My mother had given me money for lunch. I spent it on volume one of Peterson’s Man in Space. It cost $2.50. I read it cover-to-cover over the next few days and loved every page. I had to get my hands on the other four volumes. I couldn’t wait until I’d earned enough money to buy all four at once, so as soon as my weekly allowance babysitting earnings reached $2.50, I’d trek back to the Ontario Science Centre gift shop on the bus to purchase the next volume. The admissions staff took pity on me and allowed me to go directly into the gift shop and right back out again after my purchase, without ever having to pay the entry charge. I made four separate trips to complete the five volume set.
In those slim volumes, I learned about Robert Goddard and the early days of rocketry. I lapped up the story of the original seven Mercury astronauts, not to mention the spacefaring exploits of Ham the chimpanzee. I devoured chapters on Russia’s space efforts, the Gemini program, and finally the Apollo missions to the moon. I was hooked. To this day I can still rhyme off those original seven astronauts. Alas, only two are still with us. I’ve kept those books all these years, and still pull them out from time to time.
Over the decades that followed, whatever else was going on in my life, you know, like high school, girls, a part-time job at the gas station, homebuilt hang-gliders and hovercrafts, engineering at McMaster, student politics, jobs on Parliament hill and at Queen’s Park, a courtship, a wedding and a happy marriage, a career in public affairs consulting, two sons, a house, a renovation, and two novels, the space nut in me somehow endured. It wasn’t quite so obvious to those around me, but my interest in space exploration was sustained by all of those space shuttle missions, Marc Garneau and the other intrepid Canadian astronauts, the International Space Station, and all of the information, photos, and videos available on the Internet. For a space buff, YouTube is addictive.
I was thinking about ideas for my third novel when I learned that the space shuttle program was winding down, forcing American and Canadian astronauts in the future to hitch rides to the Space Station with the Russians. A seed was planted. I mapped out a story about a global PR agency hired by NASA to rekindle public excitement in the space program to protect their congressional funding. As with all my novels, while I hoped readers might have a few laughs along the way, I wanted the story to be credible and believable. Writers have a fancy word for this: verisimilitude. So in February of 2011 I flew to Ottawa to meet with Marc Garneau in his Parliament Hill office. Canada’s first astronaut is now a Liberal MP. I confess I was thrilled, perhaps even a little giddy, to be in the same room with a Canadian hero who has ventured into space not once, or even twice, but three times. I managed to keep it together while I ran down a list of questions I had to make sure that tail end of my storyline could be crammed into the theoretical reality of a space shuttle mission. His insights helped me shape my story. I promptly eliminated a few elements that quite frankly could not happen in real life, so they would not happen in my story. Marc Garneau doodled on a piece of paper to show me how a shuttle returning to earth circles high above the runway to bleed off the tremendous speed it carries back from space. When we were done, he tossed the scrap of paper into his garbage can. Feeling a bit more comfortable in his presence by then, I asked if I could keep that doodle. He pulled it out of his waste paper basket and gave it to me. I didn’t have the chutzpah to ask him to sign it.
Thirteen months later, I found myself in Parliament Hill’s Centre Block on a Wednesday evening. I was waiting for Marc Garneau to return to his office from a vote in the House of Commons. I was nervous. You see, I’d sent Marc the full manuscript of my third novel, Up And Down, for him to read. In my wildest dreams, he would enjoy the novel and provide a glowing quotation to adorn the front cover. Writers have a fancy word for that, too: “blurbs.” A week or so later, his staff had called me and said that Marc wanted to meet with me about the manuscript. Uh oh. That didn’t sound good. If he’d loved the novel and all was well, he could have just emailed me a quotation to use. But, no. He wanted to meet.
Marc came striding into his office after the vote and we sat down. He pulled out the manuscript I’d sent to him earlier along with about 45 yellow post-it notes sticking out from the pages. I swallowed hard. He then walked me through his thoughts on the novel. All was well. Marc had not just read the novel, he’d actually proofread it, catching tiny little errors that I had missed in dozens of editorial reviews. We discussed a few little issues about timing, technology, and the number of orbits usually required for the shuttle to catch up to the space station. In general, they were easy fixes that would now withstand the scrutiny of the even the most-informed reader (like Marc Garneau, for instance). He could not have been kinder and gentler in his review of the novel, and I could not have been more grateful. Two days later, a lovely “blurb” from Marc arrived that very nearly put me into orbit. It was promptly placed on the cover of Up And Down.
All those years ago, witnessing the Apollo 11 moon walk moved me. Something shifted inside me that summer’s night on an island in Lake Temagami. And now, 43 years later, McClelland and Stewart has started the countdown to the launch of my third novel, Up And Down. And I feel like my nine year old self again watching the hazy image of Neil Armstrong taking that one small step.
Thanks to our friends at McClelland and Stewart, Random House of Canada, and of course, Terry Fallis for sharing this blog. Read more (and hear his podcast of this book in mid-June) at: http://terryfallis.com/