The New Book: What’s In It?

The following is the author’s note from How Many Girlfriends (2010).

The earliest story in this book was written in 1992. The most recent dates from 2009. Most were written in the late-1990s and the first years of the 2000s. They were written, that is, at the same time as other stories that ended up in my earlier books: Thirteen Shades of Black and White (Turnstone Press, 1999), Only A Lower Paradise (Boheme Press, 2000) and The Lizard (Chaudiere Books, 2009).

This book is my version of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg series. These stories are the outtakes and lost tracks. They offer a glimpse of what might have been. I have done no new editing, but I have corrected for grammar and copy edited for consistency.

Why self-publish? Why not? I don’t expect these stories to find a wide audience (my other books haven’t). It’s just that their time has come. They remain alert and vibrant. World, here they come.

I will now offer short comments on each of the stories.


How Many Girlfriends. Published in The New Quarterly (2001). In 1996, Jane Urquhart was the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Toronto. I gave her some of my stories that later became Thirteen Shades of Black and White. She noted that a number of them were “narrative monologues.” Not really stories. This piece is from a slightly later period. It’s a narrative monologue. One of my many stories about a sensitive male protagonist yearning for female attention and connection. Also highlights that life is fundamentally absurd.

Yes, I Wanted To Say. First published online (Word Riot, 2006: Similar theme to the story above.

The Scarf. Previously unpublished. Written 2003/2004. Part of a larger piece that might have evolved into a novel(la), but it didn’t. Same theme as previous stories.

Money, Sex, Power. Published in The Fiddlehead (Autumn 2006) as No One Wants to Be Next and also as Hit in The Lizard. This version contains elements of the initial story (The Hit), a five-hundred word story written in 1995 at the same time as Drew Barrymore’s Breasts, The Lowest Branch, Parents and Parked Cars, all published in Thirteen Shades of Black and White. This is one of my many “buddy” stories. The sensitive protagonist tries to make sense of his forlorn friend.

Try A Little Tenderness. Unpublished. Written around 1995 in the style of Roddy Doyle. Female protagonist. About the instability of relationship and general chaos of life. One of many stories that explore attempts to find stability in unstable world. Love is source of both pain and hope. An Otis Redding song.

Love Laughs. Published online in 2000 as This is My Place in paperplates #13 ( Title and story influence by Milan Kundera’s short story collection, Laughable Loves. Theme same as previous story.

Girl From the North Country. Unpublished. Title taken from a Bob Dylan song. One of my favorite stories ever. Female protagonist. Unwanted pregnancy. Written 1997/1998. This should have gone into Thirteen Shades of Black and White. Somehow it didn’t.

Daddy and the Girl. Published in NAFM (1995), a short-lived publication in Kitchener-Waterloo. This story could be seen as an early template of many stories with similar themes to come. Sensitive boy, troubled girl, hints of (male) malevolence undermining ability to secure meaning.

A Gang Member?Unpublished. Written 1996/1997. Not really a story. I showed it to Matt Cohen when he was Writer-in-Residence with Toronto Public Library. He hated it and asked me what it was supposed to be about. If it works, it stuns the reader with a series of images.

Dialogue. Published in Acta Victoria (Fall 1996). The story was written as an exercise for Barbara Gowdy in a week-long course I took in 1992. The assignment was to have one character confess to an infidelity without actually confessing to the infidelity.

Four Dimes Past Midnight. Published as a broadside and online by Mercutio Press (2003) ( This story introduces the character “Girl Dynamo,” who features in Isn’t It Pretty To Think So, the final story in The Lizard. I’ve also written an unpublished novel, titled Four Quarters Past Midnight. The story has no connection to the novel.

I Didn’t Want to Wake You. Unpublished. Written 1995-1996. Can you say Raymond Carver?

John Lennon in Toronto. Unpublished. Written 1996-1997.

The Day After the Vote, 1995. Unpublished. Written 1996-1997. I was in graduate school when the second Quebec referendum was held. It was surreal. I was reading so intensely in at least four previous centuries that it was hard to grapple with what was happening in real time.

This story grapples with those events though the eyes of my typical characters.

Cymbeline. Unpublished. Written 2004/2005. After my first two books, I was trying to find a way to write new kinds of stories. Stories that didn’t end on a down note, unresolved and with a general tone of sadness. In this new mission, this story didn’t succeed.

The Coming Anarchy. Published online in 2001 in a now defunct publication, called simply &. This is a crazy, Less Than Zero-type story, featuring a couple named Scott and Zelda. (Yes, I know.) The story is full of millennial angst, and I still like the ending (though not much else). The blindfolding incident was imagined after I saw a couple in a bar much like the situation described in the story.

Domestic Virgins. Published in lichen (Spring/Summer 2007). Might have gone into The Lizard, but I cut it at the eleventh hour. This version is one of the earlier drafts of this story. I kept fiddling with it, trying to make it better, but could never make it what I wanted it to be. Another sensitive male protagonist, but by this point they’re getting older and let’s hope wiser.

Niagara. Unpublished. Influenced by a vacation I took alone to Niagara Falls in early 2004 or 2005. I was single at the time. Also influenced by Douglas Glover’s story, The Indonesian Client from 16 Categories of Desire. I wanted to write a story about the workplace. In the end, though, the story turns on the hint of sex. Strange echoes of Kafka in this story also. It includes the phrase “uneasy dreams.”

My Life In Television. Unpublished. Written 2001-2003. One of my show business satires. Others include Once Upon a Time in Only a Lower Paradise and Watching Parking Meters (The Quality Lit Game) in Thirteen Shades of Black and White. My attempt to get in the game with Terry Southern, Martin Amis, Mordecai Richler and Saul Bellow.

Like a Brand Spread Thin Across the Surface of the Earth. Unpublished. Written 2000. A show business satire. A female protagonist. Loosely based (though highly imagined) on someone you might recognize. Written in less than a week. I don’t think I ever submitted it anywhere. Reading it ten years later, I find much in it to like. At the time, I felt deeply uncertain about it.

They Know About Revolutions in France. Unpublished. Written late-1990s. A buddy story.

Three Spirits. Published Draft Reading Series, 5.2 (April 2010). Written late-1990s. A strange little bit of magic realism.

Sweet Smell of Death. Published online 2009 ( Written same year for fun. Entered in online contest held to promote Terry Grigg’s book, Thought You Were Dead, which revolves around a murder of a literary critic.

Urban Myth. Unpublished. Written mid-1990s.

Planet Toronto. Unpublished. Written early-2000s. The potential pilot for a series of children’s books!

Happiness, The Pursuit Of. The Life of the Poet. The New Age. Unpublished. Written 1999/2000. These three stories were imagined to be part of a cycle of seven stories, making up a complete manuscript. The characters in the stories were meant to be interconnected, and the stories were meant to examine the issues and themes raised from a variety of angles. These are the only stories of this cycle that were written. Arguably, they are incomplete. Ripe with ambition, they nonetheless fail. Still, they close this book of bootlegs, reminders of paths not taken. Writers often write themselves into dead ends, then need to get out. These three stories represent a return to dead ends. There’s still some intensity there.

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