The linked short stories that comprise Toronto author Brad Casey's debut collection The Handsome Man (Book*hug) follow a young man as he travels through North America and Europe, falling in with a series of eccentric characters hovering near society's margins in an attempt to forget, to flee, to disappear.
As Casey's protagonist continues to run, however, each new meeting seems to only bring him closer to the self he tried so hard to get away from - and the things he must learn in order to find his peace.
Casey's authentic and vibrant prose brings these various personalities and locales to glimmering life, injecting his young character's road stories with enough humour, humanity, and insight to keep you riding right beside him.
We're thrilled to have Brad at Open Book today as part of our Going Pro(s) and Cons series, where he discusses the beauty of having a community, publishing's obsession with MFAs, and the extraordinary poetry of bill bissett.
Going Pro(s) and Cons with Brad Casey
My first big writing/publishing victory and how I celebrated:
There aren’t many victories in writing and publishing. Honestly, the best way to celebrate your work is to cultivate a community and celebrate through them. If you achieve any successes, make sure you pull your community along with you. Personally, I feel like every project continues, changes and evolves, and there’s never a moment that feels right to culminate in a celebration, but with my friends I always know when to feel proud of them, to show them how worthy they are, and how worth being recognized and celebrated they are.
A big writing/publishing disappointment I remember and how I coped:
I never get grants or awards or published in big establishment journals. I’ll apply but it’s almost always rejection. I’ve coped by not relying on the publishing industry to support me financially, and by acquiring marketable skills that get me paid. Rejection can breed resentment, and honestly, any type of resentment I’ve gathered I’ve channelled positively toward doing things on my own, to organize my own readings, my own events, represent myself and work with / celebrate / admire the work of DIY or independent publishers (s/o to Peach Mag, Metatron, Wonder, Book*hug and so many more) who strive to publish writers who are willing to play with the established publishing industry but aren’t interested to playing for them.
The person or writer I met who I was most excited about:
I’m often most excited to meet writers who I feel are my peers or else part of my peer group. I posted an Instagram story of my favourite Ariana Reines poem from her latest book and she added it to her own story. For about a day we were DMing, and that felt exciting, the potential of a new friend who also cares about the stupid things I care about (ie poetry).
A writer whose career I admire and why:
bill bissett is my guy. He’s always been true to himself and has never capitulated to anyone else’s standards. He’s in his 70s, he doesn’t have a lot of money because poetry doesn’t pay, but that hasn’t affected his beautiful spirit. His life has been full of adventure and he’s channelled that into a writing style that is unique and remarkably consistent. He’s honestly one of the greatest Canadian poets. He’s excellent.
What I think about MFA programs:
I met a guy in New York who did his MFA at Columbia University. He told me that he had been offered a full scholarship in another program, but he turned it down to go to Columbia, which offered him no financial relief. He justified the massive amount of debt he incurred there by saying that publishers don’t care if you’re a brilliant writer coming out of an MFA from a university they’ve never heard of. They’re more likely to read the manuscript of a writer, regardless of how good it might be, if they’re coming out of an MFA from Columbia because that has prestige. I think he was right about this, and I think it speaks to a lot of things that are wrong with the publishing industry.
What I think about literary awards:
I think that the financial relief that comes with a literary award is welcome, as most every writer relies on non-publishing work to survive financially. And if there is some publicity involved that gets more of our books sold, that’s great too. But writers are losers, we don’t need to win awards to be worthy. That’s not to say that anyone is inherently better for not winning awards, but it is to say that awards are arbitrary, and awards events are honestly very boring.
What I think about writing grants:
I think you should not rely on grants as an artist, but it’s a relief to get them. More than, I feel, jurors realize. I know a writer whose whole life was changed on the weight of one grant. But you cannot write to a grant or else you’re writing to the wrong audience. You have to write from your heart or else the writing will be bad. If you get a grant for your ideas, congrats! But I think a better idea would be if our country also offered a universal basic income to everyone and free post-secondary education across the board. It would also be nice for people to buy more books by non-established Canadian writers.
The thing(s) I need at/in my writing space:
A respect for my space. And not just from the people around me but from myself as well. Don’t let anyone into your space unless you want them there. Keep your space clean. Take up that space as often as you can. It’s yours and you deserve it. Even if you’re not able to write, sit at your desk. Look at a blank page with your pen in your hand. Even just to have that as your space and your space alone is important.
Brad Casey is a Toronto-based writer and photographer. His debut book of poetry, The Idiot on Fire, was published in 2016. He is a former staff writer for VICE, and has had numerous articles published internationally and in dozens of languages. In 2014 he founded and was Editor in Chief of the limited-run literary journal The 4 Poets. His writing has appeared in Hobart, Peach Mag, The Puritan, BAD NUDES, GlitterMOB, and more. He has organized reading events and performed his work in Toronto, Montreal, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, and Gothenburg. The Handsome Man is his first work of fiction.