Do-it-yourself Disastrous Love Affairs

Journalist Adam Thomlison self-publishes tales of love gone awry

Though Kingston-born Adam Thomlison has written for Frank Magazine and The Kingston Whig-Standard, he considers himself a fiction writer first.
Though Kingston-born Adam Thomlison has written for Frank Magazine and The Kingston Whig-Standard, he considers himself a fiction writer first.
Supplied photo by Jenn Hardy

Failure was never so sweet or so hard-earned: this could be a mantra for Adam Thomlison. He spent the last 10 years finding material for a book of short stories about the humour and merit in colossally
fucking up love.

We Were Writers for Disastrous Love Affairs Magazine is Thomlison’s first release from his independent press, 40wattspotlight. With a few zines under his belt, as well as experience at the satirical Canadian politics magazine Frank, Thomlison chose the often stigmatized self-publishing route
and put together every aspect of his book himself.

“It was incredibly fun to see what it’s like every step of the way. … The hardest thing I’ve had to do is go bookstore to bookstore and convince these people who have a limited amount of shelf space that my book is awesome, which no artist can do,” he said.

“Artists in general are not built that way and society isn’t built to let you be that way ’cause you’re supposed to be modest,” Thomlison told the Journal from his home in Ottawa. We Were Writers for Disastrous Love Affairs Magazine’s title story links together the collection’s tales of escapism and the city-hopping, love-damned characters. As the name suggests, these are chronicles
romanticizing love gone awry trying to find the silver lining of the emotional disasters.

“You can take that and run with it and you can point out the beauty that’s there,” he said. “You can tell
the story, a story that everyone can relate to.” Although the Kingston-born Thomlison went to school for journalism and worked at Frank and The Kingston Whig-Standard, he now considers himself a novelist first and a journalist second. “Being a journalist really kind of informs the way I write [but] I certainly prefer fiction-writing. … Every journalist in the world wants to be able to express themselves and in journalism you have to sneak it in … you have to sneak a different approach to things into what’s supposed to be a completely bland and faceless copy and that’s frustrating.
“That’s the beauty of fiction writing: it’s your job to take a different approach, to have a distinctive style.”

Working as a journalist— especially at Frank—sapped Thomlison’s creative writing energy, but his days at the controversial magazine helped him embrace and shape up for the marginalization that comes with self-publishing.

“[Before Frank] I did not want to be painted with the vanity press label … but then being at Frank for a while made me kind of stop caring, because Frank was a pariah the whole time. It was painted with all kinds of unsavoury labels and they rolled with it.
“I realized that it’s not all that bad to not be accepted because it gives you a certain credibility to not
be accepted in all these circles. You know that you can talk about them and you can critique them … and so that was the catalyst for me being ready to self-publish, ’cause it made me realize that I shouldn’t—and don’t really—give a damn about broader public opinion.”

Thomlison believes in his stories enough to try to spice up the publishing world with a more D.I.Y. attitude. “I feel like zine-writing and micro-press publishing, if you will: they’re like the independent
record label approach to literature. They take that kind of really edgy, that unconventional, off-the-wall way of approaching something that is traditionally incredibly stodgy, incredibly regimented and
incredibly not creative—which is publishing books.”

If Thomlison’s stories were songs, he said they’d be performed by the melancholy likes of Elvis Costello and The Smiths. Thomlison e-mailed to revise his original answer to this question, much like High Fidelity’s Rob Fleming obsessively correcting histop albums list—not a surprising similarity, since Thomlison cites Nick Hornby as an inspiration, along with Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and the McSweeney’s crowd. “They’re like The Rat Pack of writers. I’m crazy about them right now.” Other influences that have been trickling into his writing include detective novels from the ’30s and ’40s. “I kind of tried to reflect [noir fiction] in one of the stories in the
book, ‘She’s Just as Ruined,’ which is kind of like an homage to that kind of writing … an attempt to
modernize it a bit.” Thomlison kept his book the size of a quarter-page zine (4.25” by 5.5”) to reflect his attitude that though literature needs to be polished work, it doesn’t have to sacrifice a creative, hands-on flair in its presentation and content. Through his 40wattspotlight press, Thomlison is also planning to release other writers’ books and zines.

Thomlison thinks CanLit’s more rural visions could benefit from the small presses’ creative and urban attitudes. “[CanLit] can often be, and often is, incredibly conservative. … It needs a little bit more creativity for the whole process. And beyond that, I think it needs … to reflect an urban reality a little better. “So much of Canadian literature ... and so much of the things we deify are like Canada’s rural history and our roots.
“And the reality is that we’re an incredibly beautiful, natural place, but there’s so much more to the
Canadian reality than that. That’s not being represented in CanLit as it stands.”


Adam Thomlison launches his book with a reading at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12 at The Tea Room.

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