Getting To Know Me
Before I write too much for WG2E, it might be an idea if you all got to know me a bit, so you can decide whether you want to read my future postings. I’m sure some of you, when you read that I was going to write a column here said, “Who the heck is that?” or some form of that question.
Well, here goes:
I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada way back when the Earth was first cooling during those heady days archeologists now refer to as the early 1950’s. I first started doing comedy in folk clubs and coffeehouses in the late 60’s and early 70’s, opening for musicians who later moved on to have quite successful careers.
I left high school wanting to be a writer, thanks largely to an incredible English teacher, Pat Cole. Pat and I remained friends until her much too early passing a few years ago. I studied at York university under some of the greatest minds in Canadian literature of the times, including Irving Layton, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler and others. (If any of them are unknown to you, Google them. It will be worth it.)
Life has a way of stepping between you and your dreams. While I wanted to be a writer, I also enjoyed the idea of having food to eat and a roof over my head. I joined the public service, and had a number of exciting jobs writing things like catalogue descriptions of electronic resistors for government procurement catalogues and working on the written materials for Canada’s conversion to the metric system. I did have a lot of fun writing the replies to letters of complaint sent to then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and credit that experience with teaching me how to write fiction.
After leaving government for the private sector, and the freezing winters of Ottawa, Ontario for the West Coast, I wrote marketing and strategic plans for businesses. I also wrote the first five in what was supposed to be 35 books with exciting titles like A Guide To Canada’s Aquaculture Industry Potential in Malaysia. They weren’t real page turners, but they do make good door stops.
On August 3, 1990, I was on my way to play golf, when another driver, who was trying to find a cassette tape on the floor of his car, drove into the back of my car. I sustained a serious spinal cord injury and numerous broken bones. I spent most of the next four years in rehab hospitals, trying to learn how to use what remained of my leg function to “walk” again using crutches clipped to my forearms. It ended my career writing those exciting international trade books.
One day in 1994, my wife suggested that since I always wanted to write, that this might be an opportunity for me to start writing what I wanted to, instead of what other people were willing to pay to have me write for them. During the years that I was in a wheelchair before learning to “walk” again with crutches clipped to my arms, I often thought about writing a book and calling it Laughing At Life From Fart Height. (Picture yourself sitting down in a line-up at the bank or grocery store and you’ll get the reference.) I’ve never completed that book, but the mock-up of the cover art was spectacular. Maybe someday…
We were early adopters of the internet. I had a very slow modem in my computer, and I used it to connect with some of the early chat forums. I didn’t go on any of those ‘sex on the computer’ chats, because it sounded pretty uncomfortable, and my balance wasn’t very good anymore. A man asked me what I did to keep occupied and I told him I was writing some short humor essays, but that I didn’t really know what to do with them. He asked me to send him some. When I asked him why, he told me he was the editor of a newspaper on the other side of the country. That was the birth of a syndicated column that ran in both Canadian and American newspapers until 2007.
I will tell you the story of how the stories that got their start in the column became books in another posting later. It’s an essay on its own!
My first book, Justice Is Blind – And Her Dog Just Peed In My Cornflakes came out in 1999, and received Canada’s Stephen Leacock Award of Merit for Humour in 2000.
My second (and last) traditionally published book, Never Stand Behind A Loaded Horse was released in 2004. It also received the Leacock Award of Merit.
I realized that I could not afford to wait five years between books. In the minds of many publishers I moved over into the dark side in 2005 and released my first indie book, When My Mind Wanders It Brings Back Souvenirs. Despite warnings that I would destroy my career and be shunned by the industry, it became my third book to win the Leacock, and remains a very strong seller. It is currently in the top 5 on the Kindle Parenting and Family Humor Best Sellers List.
By being independent, I was free to publish a new book each year. In 2006 I released I Think I’m Having One Of Those Decades, and in 2007 I followed it with I May Be Big But I Didn’t Cause That Solar Eclipse.
In 2007, I was “kidnapped” and locked in a big-box bookstore in Edmonton, Alberta for 72 hours. My “ransom” was to write a complete first draft of a novel in those 3 days. The whole thing was done under the 24-hour a day watchful eye of a TV crew, and it became a TV series in Canada in 2009, called The 3-Day Novel. It still runs regularly in reruns on BookTelevision, which is our equivalent of BookTV in the USA. During the taping I wrote the first draft of Crossbow, my dark-comedy mystery. (Think Fargo without a wood chipper!)
That gave me the bug to write novels. My good friend and NYT best-seller Ridley Pearson had first encouraged me to write a novel back in 1999, right after my first collection of humor essays came out. Our mutual friend, Dave Barry had just had success with his first novel, Big Trouble.
I did produce one more collection of short essays in 2009. Holly Jolly Frivolity came from many of the columns I wrote during the holiday season. It also contains several of my modernized holiday songs, such as We 3 Dads Of Teenagers Are, and Duck Here Comes The Holiday Season Fa La La La La, La La La La. The book was tied to a stage show I did with the same name.
The Plight Before Christmas came out in September. It is a novel that based on a movie concept I wrote a couple of years ago, and decided to shelve until after a book version was completed.
Throughout this time I spoke at roughly 40 different writer’s conferences, workshops, festivals and university programs. I was the first Canadian on the faculty of the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop where I served from 2004-2008, and have been on the faculty of the Southern California Writer’s Conference six times.
I have mentored dozens of emerging writers, and developed close friendships with many of the stars of the business. I see writing this column for WG2E as a way of continuing to mentor, just not directly. My time constraints have grown significantly since achieving best seller status, and I cannot afford the time to go to as many conferences, or have lengthy one-on-one conversations.
Someone recently asked me how and when I knew that I was successful. I suppose I could have cited book sales figures or some other reason, but in thinking about it the answer was quite clear. In actual fact, it’s one of the downsides of success. It was when I got my first stalker. A few people have joked about applying for the job as my stalker, but two in particular were no joke. One of them makes Kathy Bates look quite normal in Misery. As a result of them, I cannot put my office address on my business card or letterhead, and I have had to make all of my phone numbers unlisted. The company that handles my email accounts automatically deletes any emails coming from their addresses.
So that is my pedigree as an author. I’ve managed to build a fairly strong platform and am now able to reap the rewards of that. As I told someone the other day, it’s only taken me almost 18 years to become an overnight success.
Gordon Kirkland has been called ‘one of North America’s premier humorists.’ BookExpo-America named him one of the 7 Book Industry Characters in 2007. He has received the Leacock Award of Merit for three of his seven books. He is a frequent speaker and workshop leader at writers’ conferences, festivals and university programs in Canada and the United States. He was a member of the cast of the 3-Day Novel television series, which aired on BookTelevision in the Fall of 2009. He lives in near Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit the Gordon Kirkland website at www.gordonkirkland.com.