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A New Phase in an Unpredictable Writing Career

My writing career started an unbelievable 25 years ago in an unbelievable place: banking. I can't say it was by accident either. I started university as cluelessly as many (most?) students, thinking only that I was suited for the corporate life and with hardly a thought for what the content of a satisfying work day might be. During my undergraduate days, at the University of Alberta, I ended up focussing on economics, which genuinely engaged me. But I wasn't mathematically inclined enough to really advance far past intuitive concepts.

At the end of three years, I knew my undergrad (without econometrics) wasn't going to mean much. Looking to decorate my intensely modest CV with some more letters, I applied to MBA schools. I was accepted at Queens and decided to go there.

I remember my time at Queens with mixed feelings, honestly. I loved the place, and enjoyed much of the program. But something was seeping from my subconscious to the more interruptive frontal parts of my brain. My desk in my apartment (North of Princess, the down-market significance of which won't be lost on Queens students or alum) was stacked with non-business reading. Some reading choices I'm proud of, some make me cringe. I remember reading the Richler canon, which really shaped what I thought was a worthwhile endeavour in literary writing. But then, I also slogged through piles of Auden, which seems a bit histrionic in hindsight.

By graduation from B-school, I had myself a fairly entrenched set of career conflicts going on. I wanted to write, but I'd been shaped enough by a practical upbringing and (let's be honest) by the mimetic inspiration of six years of econ/MBA studies, to think that making money was also a solid idea. I went into banking and tried to do that. I'm not going to say I loved my time at the Toronto Dominion, but it'd be disingenuous to I didn't benefit from that experience either. Years later, interviewing famed Canadian literary ex-pat Mavis Gallant, she'd tell me that her early job as a reporter still fueled her writing by throwing off memories of character types, snips of dialogue, physical mannerism and narrative ideas. I feel that way now about my banking days, which involved me in the lives of dozens (if not hundreds) of small to medium sized business people. These were folks running hard to make things work, giving themselves to a whole range of worthy (and sometimes less worthy) projects. People in that position, people with real skin in the game, tend to show you themselves, tend to show you character, one way or the other. No surprise the first short stories I started to write during this period involved people at their places of work. Work shaped people, I understood. And even as I failed to do the work I wanted to do in any consistent way - write, publish etc. - I could see that my own work was shaping me. I'm grateful to this day to some inspiring bosses from that period, hard-asses all of them: Arnold Fenrick, Mike Lefevre, Breen Egan.

All that said
, me and the TD wasn't a relationship with legs. Year four, just as I was being offered a promotion that would have meant a move and more responsibility, I quit. I recall being summoned to the SVP Pacific's office and asked politely what the hell I was up to. I didn't even really have an answer. I was quitting to do something creative. I actually said that, which was a bit naive because it was so nebulous but because it probably also diminished the creativity in business work, of which there is plenty. In any case, the veep was a gentleman about it, the head of HR a bit less so. "Is your wife quitting her job too?" he asked, clearly thinking I was off to join a cult.

I won't go through the gory details of starting a writing career, only distill it to the following. I wrote constantly and submitted stories everywhere. I pinned rejection slips to my cork board. I celebrated when a rejection slip had a hand written comment on it. I did all the typical stuff, in other words. And I benefited greatly from what had come before. I used my experiences prior to inform my fiction (see above, characters, situations, personalities). I also used the ethic of the business world to inspire my overall approach. That doesn't mean I made much money. I didn't! But I kept writing (production) and read a lot (product development) and talked endlessly to people (marketing and pre-social media social media).

As for the holy grail - publication - it started slowly and picked up only slightly after five years (five years! I kept the rent paid with consulting work.) I placed two short stories in the first 3 years (thank you endlessly Grain and Canadian Fiction). I published a few more over the next couple years, then as these things go, a single editor (Allen Hepburn then at Descant) took an interest. The first phone call I ever received from anybody in publishing was from Allen in 1998, I think. He put me on to my agent and from there, a new kind of energy was in the works.

Still, it took 10 full years from quitting my job, and 14 years leaving university with the vague itch to write, to see my first book in print: Stanley Park. But that's also where the second big break point comes in this crazy career. With Stanley Park, I could call on magazine editors and actually pitch them with credibility. I'm not saying this credibility was earned, only they gave it because *I had a book*. So I started getting gigs. In 2000, enRoute Magazine send me to Korea on the first assignment of what would be a long and continuing relationship (I think the enRoute article count is now at something like 26 pieces?). But there were other great client relationships formed during this period. I loved working with Toro and Saturday Night and Vancouver Review. And I'm proud to continue work with the best magazine editors out there, those at Harpers, Walrus, Eighteen Bridges, Cooking Light, Vancouver Magazine and a whole range of others.

After 13 years of that model - writing book length fiction and hundreds of magazine length nonfiction pieces - I took up teaching. I got into it by plugging into an SFU workshop on behalf of my friend, the writer Shaena Lambert. In those workshops, part of the SFU Writer's Studio program, I discovered something I couldn't have known about myself: I enjoyed that time with aspiring writings. I enjoyed the give and take of ideas (freelancing is like soloing a sailboat around the world at times, rewarding but... well, solo). I also benefited greatly I think from the critical process, listening to others critique work, improving my own critical skills such that they might be applied to my own work. When a full time position was advertised at the UBC Creative Writing Program in early 2013, I found myself considering a position for which even three years prior I'd have thought myself completely unsuited.

I'm thrilled to have been accepted by the team of writers at the UBC Creative Writing Program, along with fellow new hire Nancy Lee. But I also feel a very distinct feeling, unlike anything I've felt other than that moment quitting my banking job and that later moment when Stanley Park helped me turn another corner. The career has changed it's course, however slightly. It's shifted on its track and taken more wind. I'm looking forward to the Fall with real anticipation: to enagaging with students at various stages of their own writing projects, to working with the others here in the program, to bringing what I've done to this point to bear on the future, which is what I've somehow been lucky enough to do all along.

Here's my UBC contact page. Thanks everyone at Creative Writing for the chance and here's to the future.


 

Posted: Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:49pm
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They're Everywhere

 

Holy stickers Batman. These things have hit Toronto, New York, Halifax... everywhere.

Now they've reportedly crossed the pond. They're going up in the UK now.

Move over Banksy. Or whatever. I have no idea what this means.

Posted: Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 9:47am

Ottawa Writers Festival

 AND ALL IS ALWAYS NOW

Pleased to be reading 8:30 PM Sunday May 1st at the Mayfair Theater in Ottawa, at 1074 Bank Street.

From the program notes:

Join us for three stunning evocations of how the future incorporates the past into the present. These forward-looking novelists examine personal journeys through our collective histories. 

 

In Progress , a stirring story of lives lost and found, Michael V. Smith introduces us to Helen, who is unable to move on with her life. But life itself is moving on around her—literally. The building of a dam is forcing her small town—and her family home—to relocate.

 

A haunting novel about national identity, race, liberty, loss, dislocation and surrender,Teju Cole ’s Open City follows a young Nigerian doctor along the streets of Manhattan. But it is not only a physical landscape he covers; Julius crisscrosses social territory as well, encountering people from different cultures and classes who will provide insight on his journey—a journey that takes him to Brussels, to the Nigeria of his youth, and into unrecognizable facets of his own soul.

 

Timothy Taylor , the Giller Prize-nominated author of Stanley Park , comes a novel about the clash of art and advertising, the cultish grip of celebrity, and the intense connections that form in times of crisis. The Blue Light Project is a hard-hitting and emotionally wrought commentary on the forces that attract and repel us, and the faith that enables us to continue.



 

 

Posted: Sunday, May. 1, 2011 8:31am
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Praise for The Blue Light Project

 The Blue Light Project has garnered a lot of press attention this past week. And it’s almost all been very positive. The book is an Amazon.ca New and Notable Title as well as an Amazon.ca Spring Book Feature. Author profiles have now run in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post.

But the reviews have been really appreciative and I’m proud to share a few quotes with you.

Delightfully engrossing. . . . Holding The Blue Light Project together is Taylor’s prose style, which jumps across the page like a joyful, risk-loving parkour artist.” -- Winnipeg Free Press

An ambitious novel, one that challenges its readers to pay attention or get left behind, but it is definitely worth the necessary concentration. . . . It is about the power of art to heal in the aftermath of tragedy. And from a literary standpoint, it works extremely well. The Blue Light Project’s closing image will stay with readers for a long time after they close the book. . . . A wonderful novela thought-provoking and challenging story that will lead to debate and discussion among readers and might even change the way you look at our celebrity-driven culture.” -- The Vancouver Sun

Taylor is an intelligent writer, and one whose novels suggest that he has strong political convictions. Some of the best and most unsettling moments come when the grim ironies of the plot illustrate how governments . . . are quietly dismantling long-taken-for-granted rights and privileges and replacing them with libertarian pseudo-freedoms. . . . Taylor will one day be a Canadian icon.” -- J.C. Sutcliffe, The Globe and Mail

A breakneck literary thriller that combines the worlds of conspiracy theory, reality TV, celebrity culture and street art.” -- Mark Medley, National Post

Astonishing, breath-taking passages of explosive writing. . . . One of the most beautiful and moving codas to a novel I have read for many a year. . . . The Blue Light Project will give you pause, will make you look at media differently than you did before, and the hostage-taking . . . will keep you engaged. . . . A novel worth reading.” -- By the Book Reviews

“It’s tempting to race through The Blue Light Project. It has the compelling narrative momentum and intricate plotting of a thriller. Resist the temptation, because this fourth book from Vancouver’s Timothy Taylor is as much a novel of ideas as it is a page-turner. It’s a crucible of topical issues. . . . By turns hopeful and alarming, The Blue Light Project is a thought-provoking take on what one character calls ‘our toxic times.’” -- Barbara Carey, Toronto Star

“Terrorism, fame, celebrity worship, art vs. commerce––they’re all themes that can and do carry many a novel by themselves, so Taylor risks overload in taking on all of them. He manages it by skilfully juggling the intimate with the public, the small-scale with the monumental. Confining the action to a three-day period, he ramps up the suspense as effectively as any more conventional thriller writer could. . . . The scenario he presents is all too plausible, the time all too contemporary. Best of all––and here is where the writer he most recalls is Don DeLillo––Taylor finds surprising angles into his material. . . . In the end, for all horror on display, hope is what The Blue Light Project holds out.” -- Ian McGillis, The Gazette

Beautifully written and brimming with important ideas. . . . Taylor skillfully portrays a city losing its collective mind. . . . Offering astute satire . . . , Taylor comments pointedly on celebrity and art’s redemptive qualities. The sequence where Rabbit puts his installation into place has an exquisite tension showcasing Taylor’s excellent chops. . . . His themes are absolutely of the moment, and his characters are consistently fascinating.” -- NOW (Toronto)

 

Posted: Monday, Mar. 7, 2011 10:05am

The brutal honesty of Doug Coupland

A fantastic, supportive quote has come in from UBC English professor Laura Moss, who is also an editor at the literary quarterly Canadian Literature, and the author of Canadian Literature in English: Texts and Contexts

In the this quote, Moss compares my work to Coupland. I'm flattered by that comarison, as I admire Coupland a lot. And having had dinner at his house once, I'll tell you a secret. Eve's brother Ali, in the novel, lives in a house that was inspired by my memories of Coupland's beautiful house.

The book is available from AMAZON here. Please give it a look.

Laura writes:

"The Blue Light Project slows down today's accelerated world in order to sympathetically probe the constraints of celebrity, public art, and biopolitics in the context of contemporary terrorism. At the core of this suspenseful novel is a hostage crisis that is terrifyingly real. Taylor forces us to consider probabilities.   What might happen at the confluence of fear, love, and hope?

Just as Taylor's first novel Stanley Park concludes with one of the most memorable meals in contemporary literature, the final illumination in The Blue Light Project will haunt readers for decades to come. 

Writing at times with the incisive vision of Margaret Atwood, the broken lyricism of Michael Ondaatje, the social realism of Rohinton Mistry, and the brutal honesty of Douglas Coupland, Timothy Taylor now firmly ranks among Canada's finest authors.

The Blue Light Project is an important book. Pay attention."

Again, if you're interested in trying out this "thriller that makes you think", please visit AMAZON with this link

Posted: Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 5:36pm

The Blue Light Project at the Vancouver International Writers Festival

 

Incite April 6

7:30 PM on Wednesday, April 6th

Alice McKay room, Central Vancouver Public Library

 

Incite will feature a presentation from Timothy Taylor about his new novel The Blue Light Project. Involving three days in the life of a city gripped by a hostage taking in a television studio at the center of town, The Blue Light Project is part page-turning thriller. (A bookseller who read an advance copy recently posted to her Facebook page that the book had kept her up until 4:30 in the morning!)

 

But the novel is more importantly about the way people source hope in troubled times. From love, certainly, which never loses its capacity to surprise. But also from art, the magical power of which retains the ability to shock us out of our routines, and inspire us to look at the future in a new way.

For this presentation, Timothy will present some of the street art images that were published in the book, discussing their influence and the stories behind them.

 

 

The evening will begin with a discussion with two very exciting new writers: Gurjinder Basran (Everything was Goodbye) and Rupinder Gill (On the Outside Looking Indian).

 

 

 

 

Posted: Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011 10:06am

The Blue Light Project Book Trailer

The Blue Light Project book trailer is out. Click here to watch.

Thanks Scott Sellers and Dean Bernard, also DP Douglas Nelson and Editor Scott Douglas for making this happen.

Posted: Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011 2:49pm

Soft Skull galleys arrive

Good mail day from the US today. Soft Skull galleys arrive, with a cover based on work by Jerm IX, the once prolific Vancouver street artist who is now a prolific Toronto street artist.

Oddly, the big box of books came on the same day as a smaller box. In it, a sampler of smoked pepper flakes by the folks at Pure Peppers in Junction City, Oregon. Nice.

I can only hope this is a portent of sizzling times ahead.

Posted: Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 9:50am
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Naturally Hazardous

Feminine beauty is, by virtue of having no definition, controversial. Hold up an image you find exemplary and expect to get everything from murmurs of approval to charges of sexism from virtually any random sampling of people. Beauty, it seems, will always be more of a question than it is an answer.

The photographers in the upcoming photo show at the Catalog Gallery in Vancouver - opening Friday November 5th - are aware of that reality and game to explore it. Called Natural Hazards, the show features the work of three of Vancouver's most exciting photographers. Jen Osborne, Byron Dauncey and Lincoln Clarkes.

Are beauty pageant contestants beautiful or exploited? What about women in tight dresses smoking menthols and tottering around in cheap stilettos on Granville Street late any given Saturday night? Or that Texan woman in shades holding a Kalashnikov in the baking desert sun: gorgeous or trashy?

The harder I look at these photographs, the more complicated the answer becomes, the more displaced beauty becomes from the subjective boundaries within which I might wish to corral it.

Is she beautiful? Maybe the better set of questions (with a nod to Terrence Mallick) would be: where did beauty come from? How did it steal into the world?

Posted: Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010 8:27am
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Scott Sellers on The Blue Light Project

Scott Sellers is the VP Marketing Strategy for Random House of Canada. He spoke recently to Michelle MacAleese of Knopf Canada about The Blue Light Project.

Please click HERE to see the video.

 

Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 8:40am
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