This book is literally a Masters piece.
Chemainus author and columnist Tom Masters has self-published his first novel, A Hard Place, through Lang Books. It’s actually the second one he’s written. Masters is still seeking a publisher for his other work.
A Hard Place is a coming-of-age story. It’s a tale of relationships, love, betrayal and ultimately how a young woman learns for the first time the world can indeed be a hard place — thus, the title.
Set in Ontario, where Masters lived for 16 years, the weather actually becomes like a character in the novel. It’s winter, it’s cold, and the perfect backdrop for a story of family, intimate relationships, sexual harassment, betrayal and murder. It is a story of courage under pressure from personal tragedy, police investigation, institutional indifference, political imperatives, but also the transcending power of love.
The novel is available locally at Volume One Bookstore in Duncan, Rainforest Arts in Chemainus and Salamander Books in Ladysmith, as well as online from Amazon and as an e-book from Kindle.
“It was finally released in May,”explained Masters. “When I started out, I thought it would be a fairly straightforward novel. I thought it would take about six months. It wound up taking about three years.
“I had to basically put the whole thing together myself which was an interesting challenge. It’s the first time I’d done that with a book and it was a big job.
“Amazon makes it possible for you to do it yourself if you want to,” Masters added.
He still hopes to land a publisher for his previous novel. “It’s more of an ambitious book and kind of a hard sell.”
Contact with some 25 Canadian publishers about that book generated some encouraging responses, but no takers yet. Masters is also halfway through another book, a historical novel of wide general interest.
In completing A Hard Place, “I wanted to have something I could point to and say this is an example of my finished work,” Masters indicated.
At nearly 300 pages, “it’s a little longer than I expected,” conceded Masters.
“My style of writing is a smooth, readable style. People tell me once they get into it, they go on and on with it.”
Masters is a popular Chemainus Valley Courier columnist and people who are already familiar with his work will undoubtedly identify with his style.
“Part of it is my experience writing newspaper columns,” he noted. “I’ve written hundreds of them. It’s a particular form, the newspaper columns.”
In editing newspaper columns, you don’t do it by taking out words, “you do it by taking out sentences and paragraphs,” Masters explained.
Similarly with the book, he found the editing process quite interesting and wound up eliminating his original Chapters 3 and 4, finding they weren’t necessary. Chapter 5 moved up two slots and everything else fit together fine.
“It took me months to bring myself to do it,” Masters indicated. “It makes for a much, much better book. I also realized they didn’t contribute to the narrative.”
Masters lived in Victoria most of his life before spending time getting to know those Ontario winters reflected in the book and has been back in B.C. now for 32 years.
The ever-present winter is one of those personal aspects he interjected into the novel.
“Inevitably, you do to various degrees draw on your life experiences,” Masters confirmed. “And I did actually know someone who the secondary, and in some ways, most important character is based on.”
Connie Manning designed the cover of the book.
“She had to base it on several passages — pages of the novel to form in her own mind who that character is,” Masters noted.
He said he likes to keep up on contemporary literature, especially Canadian, but also reads a lot of non-fiction — biographies and historical accounts.
“I’ve been a reader all my life,” Masters added. “Some of it I got from my mother. She was a rather compulsive reader.”
He counts Mavis Gallant, a short story writer, among his influences.
“I’m one of those writers who starts with a germ of an idea and see where it goes.”