Obsession, redemption, divine intervention, and donuts

24 Feb

Leo McKay Jr. says his new novel, Roll Up the Rim, is “a story of obsession, redemption, divine intervention, and donuts.”

Up to now, McKay’s work has been gritty, serious, literary fare. His 2003 novel, Twenty-six, selected as a Canada Reads important book of the decade, and chosen as the inaugural One Book Nova Scotia selection in 2012, was a serious contemplation of the aftermath of death, based on the 1992 Westray mine explosion. His Giller nominated story collection, Like This (1995), was an often grim glimpse into lives in a fictional Nova Scotia town.

But for his latest book, McKay was so determined to take a new approach that he actually wrote the first draft of Roll Up the Rim with his wrong hand. “I’m naturally left-handed,” says McKay. “And I’m old school, so I write all my first drafts long hand. To force myself into a totally new mindset, to make sure I was casting aside all my tried-and-true ways of doing things, I made myself write the whole first draft of this book with my right hand.”

The result, McKay says, is a very different book. “Roll Up the Rim is a light-hearted, page turner of a book. I just about ripped myself apart emotionally when I wrote Twenty-six, and when I was done, I asked myself: Do I have to do this with every book? Do I have to cut so close to the bone that I turn myself into an emotional wreck? Every time?” The answer was no. Roll Up the Rim follows the disastrous but comic obsessions of its main character, Owen, a Tim Horton’s employee who is obsessed with the idea of winning the grand prize in the Roll Up the Rim to Win contest. “The book has its serious side,” says McKay. “I care about the main character. And I hope readers do, too. But my previous work was so gut-wrenching that people would say to me: ‘I enjoyed your book. Well, enjoy is not the right word.’ I’m not expecting that response this time around.”

Roll Up the Rim is a new path as well in another way, not just for McKay, but for literary publishing in general. McKay’s previous work was published by Anansi and McClelland and Stewart, two venerable names in Canadian publishing. This new book is being put out by McKay’s own independent imprint Red Row House books. And the project was funded through IndieGogo.com, an online funding site that allows artists and others with creative projects to appeal directly to the public to fund their work.

“Putting out a paper and an ebook is expensive,” McKay says. Not just in production and distribution costs, but editing and design. There were things I ended up paying people to do that I was just not anticipating last spring when I was putting together my IndieGogo campaign.” But McKay’s campaign was tremendously successful, exceeding his own original goal by a substantial amount. “Great people supported me,” he says. “The model of cultural distribution is changing. Publishing houses are going the way of the record label. A lot of writers are weeping over the by-gone days or sticking their heads in the sand and hoping things will go back to the way they used to be. What I’m working hard at is staying positive. A single door is closing, that’s the door of the old way of doing things in Book World. But a hundred new doors are opening. I’m going to poke my head through as many of those open doorways as I can.”

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