Q&A with Joe Mahoney: a science fiction writer you want to know

A really fun thing about being a reader is discovering new authors. So I’d like to introduce you to a writer you might not know about just yet. Joe Mahoney is a writer and broadcaster living in Whitby, Ontario. His debut novel was published in October 2017. I asked Joe about writing A Time and a Place, his day job at the CBC, and, of course, what kind of refreshments you should enjoy while reading his book.

Before we get to the Q&A, here’s Joe talking about why you should pick up his novel:

Can you describe what your book is about in five sentences or fewer?

A Time and a Place is a time travel, science-fiction fantasy adventure about a man who has to rescue his nephew who’s been recruited into an army to fight a war half-way across the galaxy.

In the course of trying to rescue the boy, Barnabus J. Wildebear must travel through space and time and even into the minds of other beings, including a seagull, an alien cat, and a creature best described as a monster. He also gets a chance to save his sister who died in a motorcycle accident a couple of years earlier.

On another level, it explores philosophical themes such as the nature of free will and the perils of too much knowledge. And there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour.

How did you come up with the idea for the novel?

A bunch of friends and I were writing stories about one another for fun. So I wrote a few pages about one of my friends being controlled by some unknown force. I was trying to evoke H.P. Lovecraft but in a funny way.

A few years later I discovered those few handwritten pages and I liked the ever-so-slightly comical tone. So I changed the names and began turning it into a proper story. It grew organically from there, with the themes and plot suggesting themselves as I went along.

You work full-time at the CBC. How does your day job inform your writing?

My day job at the CBC has influenced the novel in both subtle and concrete ways.  Although I love my job, it was always a great pleasure to dive into the novel after work as a kind of release.

I realized that I was capable of writing a novel after being locked out from the CBC back in 2005 during that summer’s labour dispute, during which I maintained what they called a Lock Out Blog. I wrote so much that summer on the blog that I realized I was capable of writing an entire novel if I only put my mind to it.

Some elements of the novel are inspired directly from the CBC. I describe the artificial intelligence unit, Sebastian, at one point of consisting of “twenty-eight servers and hundreds of desktop units.” That actually describes a networked digital audio editing system called DaletPlus that we have at the CBC. I’m sure there are other unconscious ways the CBC has influenced the novel as well.

How do you like to write (e.g., pen vs. laptop, home vs. coffee shop)?

I started writing A Time and a Place in pen, but after a few pages switched to typewriter, and did about the first five chapters on a typewriter (this gives you some indication how long ago I started on this novel). Then I got a computer and wrote a bunch on a desktop computer. Then my wife and I moved to Whitby, which is a fairly lengthy commute into my job in Toronto, so I bought a laptop so I could write on the train. And that’s where I did (and still do) most of my writing: on the GO train.

But I take that laptop and write wherever and whenever I can. I like to write in coffee shops, in airports, while my kids take swimming or art lessons–absolutely wherever. I don’t care how noisy or busy it is. As long as I have enough elbow room to type, I will write.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this book?

I learned that I have a lot of patience–that I can start a project that literally takes decades to finish and have the perseverance to finish it. I also learned that I’m a perfectionist, which is why it took me so long. Every word in that 103,000-word novel had to be exactly the right word. I’m not sure that’s a healthy attitude, but it resulted in a book that I am happy with.

Who are some of your favourite writers?

I love Stephen R. Donaldson (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), Tim Powers (anything by him), Ken Grimwood (Replay), Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), to name the big ones.  Robert Charles Wilson (anything by him). Thomas Berger (Little Big Man). I have a long list of writers I like, so I’ll stop there!

What’s a book you love that you don’t think gets the attention it deserve?

The Fatness, by Mark A. Rayner. Well, I think it is getting some love, but not as much as it deserves!

In my book reviews, I like to include “recommended refreshments.” What refreshment(s) would you recommend readers enjoy while reading your book?

Ooh, that’s easy. Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whiskey. Just a sip from time to time.

What are you working on now?

Two things. I’m just finishing up the audiobook version of A Time and a Place. It’s taking me forever because of the perfectionism I mentioned earlier.

And I’m working on a space opera called Captain’s Away. It’s based on a radio play I produced one time, but this is a completely different take on it.

It’s about a family who become refugees when their space station is blown out from under them. They’re all separated, and have their own wild adventures, and have to find their way back to one another. It’s about the consequences of good and bad leadership. But mostly it’s supposed to be a fun space-opera adventure.

Pick up your copy of A Time in a Place at Bakka/Phoenix Books in Toronto, or you can buy online via Amazon.ca, Joe Mahoney’s website or Goodreads.

 

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9 of Toronto’s best literary events in 2017 

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I try to get out to as many literary events as I can (at least to the ones that interest me). Here are a few of the highlights from this year. Looking forward to seeing what events this city has to offer in 2018!

Literary cocktail class at Famous Last Words

This was my first time visiting Famous Last Words, a book-themed bar in Toronto’s west end (I’ve since been back). We learned how to make cocktails that were inspired by authors and their books. You can read more about the class in the post I wrote back in February.

IFOA Weekly’s Lit Jam

This one is a bit biased because it’s not just an event I attended, but it’s also one I performed in. This was IFOA Weekly‘s inaugural interactive storytelling competition, held at Harbourfront Centre. Teams of emerging writers improvised stories on stage based on prompts from the audience. My team didn’t win, but it was a lot of fun. And, from what I can tell, the audience really enjoyed it, too.

Beer and Book Club with Zoe Whittall

Henderson Brewing Co. paired with their neighbour, House of Anansi Press, to present a series of beer and book club events. I’m not a beer drinker, but I am a fan of Zoe Whittall, so I attended on the evening when her book was discussed. For non-beer-drinkers, Henderson Brewing had their own root beer and lemon-and-ginger soda on tap. Whittall was interviewed by the brewery’s general manager, and while it wasn’t the best interview I’ve witnessed, I loved the casual atmosphere.

Trillium Book Award 30th anniversary readings

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Trillium Book Award, the Ontario Media Development Corporation organized an evening of readings by past winners. Authors who read included Kate Cayley, Wayson Choy and Nino Ricci. The event was free to attend, and was held at St. Paul’s Church on Bloor–a beautiful venue.

The Cooke Agency’s 25th anniversary event 

Celebrating 25 years of their literary agency, The Cooke Agency organized an event that raised funds for First Book Canada. Three Cooke Agency authors gave short readings–John Irving, Rupi Kaur and Jeff VanderMeer–which was followed by an entertaining and fascinating discussion among the authors led by literary agent Dean Cooke.

The Word on the Street

I couldn’t write a post about book events without mentioning The Word on the Street. It’s one of my favourite days of the year! This year, the book festival fell on what was quite possibly the hottest day of the year. This made it not as enjoyable for walking around, but I drank plenty of water and took breaks in the shade, and managed to stay almost all day. As always, I had a great time browsing (and buying) books at the booths of publishers and booksellers and attending some of the author talks.

IFOA: The Basement Revue

The Basement Revue is a showcase of Canadian musical and literary talent, where the performers are kept a secret until they are on stage. The showcase has been going on for more than 10 years, but this event, partnered with the IFOA, was my first time attending. Co-hosts musician (and Basement Revue founder) Jason Collett and poet Damian Rodgers put together a great lineup of music and readings. My favourite part was at the very end, when crime fiction writer and comedian Mark Billingham got on stage to provide some stand-up comedy, sharing some of the feedback he’s gotten from readers.

Between the Pages: Scotiabank Giller Prize readings

Held in Koerner Hall, each of the five Giller Prize shortlisted authors read from their books and then participated in a discussion led by journalist Johanna Schneller. At the time of the event, I hadn’t read any of the shortlisted titles. But after the event, I knew I wanted to read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster (which I picked up that evening from Ben McNally Books) and Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square (which I later checked out from Toronto Public Library).

Helen Humphreys at Toronto Reference Library

Helen Humphreys is one of  my favourite writers, and I was thrilled to see her promoting her newest book, The Ghost Orchard, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Beeton Hall. The room was packed–staff had to bring in some extra chairs. I’ve never heard so many questions from a book audience before, and while not all of them turned out to be actual questions, it was great to see the audience so engaged. I was also happy to have Humphreys sign my book afterwards. While I may have came across as a bit of a fangirl, it was nice to briefly discuss our mutual adoration of Robert Frost.