Life after journalism Part 192: ‘I found out I was gone when my name was off the schedule’

Michael.

 Michael and I have worked a lot of jobs together. Well, two, but that’s a lot when you consider they were 350-km apart.  He even stayed at my apartment for a while (he placed his Froot Loops on the top shelf so I couldn’t reach them, bastard). 

He’s done the newspaper circuit, but is now biding time in government. He’s writing novels and doing the communications stuff, but he considers it a temporary visit to bureaucracy land.

Here’s what he’s learned along the way about publishing, seniority and support networks. 

How long did it take to write your book?
Most people will say it takes anywhere from a year to two years at least. In this case, it took me four months to write the lion’s share. I was living in Peterborough and working mostly nights at the Examiner, so I had my days to myself and it just happened.
I can’t explain it. Sometimes the creative process takes over and it feels like someone is whispering the story in your ear and you’re just copying what he/she says. That’s what happened with Redemption Song

Did you ever have that crippling sense halfway through when you just think “oh my god, what if this is a total piece of shit and I just don’t see it?”
Not with my first book. With my second and third major manuscripts, I had those moments quite a bit. Usually, if you can please yourself with your story, you’re likely on the right track. I say this because I am by far my own harshest critic. I can’t even look at my first book now because I feel like my writing has progressed so far beyond that level.
I was surprised how little trouble I had with Redemption Song. I had much more trouble with my second and third manuscripts because with each successive story, I veered further away from my own life experiences and those of my close friends.
My first book draws heavily from my own life and my friends’ lives. Keeping confident comes through simply continuing to write. If I feel my story is not going anywhere, I keep writing, no matter how bad it is, and I fight through those dregs. That’s how you keep confident. 

The book.

You ended up publishing it yourself, right?
It was originally supposed to be a partnership. The publishers committed to promoting the book and getting it into stores, but this didn’t happen so I did it myself.
I liked the people who published the book but it became clear to me right away that they were in way over their head. I decided within days of the book being published that I would do the legwork.
My proudest moment was when the Ottawa Citizen reviewed it and called it a “remarkable debut.” That was a small victory to me since it confirmed that there was some merit to what I was doing
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started out?
Man, where to start? Do your homework. First time authors don’t have the luxury of an agent to represent them. And you can’t get one without having a book published. Chicken and the egg situation, for sure.
In my experience, my publisher overpromised and underdelivered. I would adjust my expectations, if I had to do it again. I’m not sure I want to go through the legwork that the first book required.
I had to force my book into bookstores, do my own promotion, hire my own publicist, get someone to design my cover and generate my own press. It was incredibly humbling and discouraging at times.
This is something where I could have used help from a publisher. Luckily, as a journalist, I know a thing or two about getting coverage. 

You’re in government now – do you miss newspapers?
Most people think it’s a dream come true. Cash for life, best pension in Canada. I see it as a stopover between journalism gigs. I do not like the work, quite frankly.
The work is thankless, the bureaucracy is beyond what I thought it was and the language politics just boggles my mind.
There are good, hard working people in the government, just like in the private sector, but the workplace does not inspire creativity or ambition. I miss newspapers every single day. 

Favourite newspaper memory?
Covering the flood in Peterborough and the blackout in Peterborough. The Examiner was a cool place to learn. They let you do everything there.
I remember a guy standing in his flooded yard during the flood. There was water from a creek gushing all around his house. He was standing there with a hose connected to a water pump. He was just barely keeping water out of the main level of his house. He just stood there amid the madness and protected his house.
 It’s an image I will never forget. 

Least favourite?
Getting laid off at The Record in Kitchener was incredibly hard, even though I knew I was a goner, since I was lowest in the union and there was no way around it.
But, at least I was dealt with fairly there. My publisher was in tears when she told me. My colleagues were so supportive. I really thought I could work for The Record for a long time. I miss that place a great deal.
But, being picked over at the Ottawa Sun was far worse. I worked as a stringer there for a year, did all the things needed to do to get hired and was in line to get a permanent job when it came up. Someone who knew the city editor got the job instead.
No one told me. I found out that I was gone when I saw my name was off the schedule and his name was on it. I still have hard feelings about that.

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