Sometimes getting the thing you want most doesn't quite work out. That's what Jack Palace discovers in A.G. Pasquella's gritty new thriller Yard Dog (Dundurn Press). When Jack gets out of prison, it should be a relief. But he owes everything to Tommy, a perpetual screw-up of a criminal who stands to inherit his father's mob syndicate. Jack's debt lands him - and his girlfriend - in the middle of a potential mob power struggle.
Yard Dog is already attracting significant praise from readers and reviewers, with its noir atmosphere and Pasquella's understanding of the genre getting high marks. Author Chris Turner praised the book as "a tightly written, fast-paced thriller with a deft mix of real heart, surprising humour, and a deep affection for its [Toronto] setting".
We're excited to welcome A.G. to Open Book today to tell us about writing Yard Dog as part of our Lucky Seven series.
A.G. tells about the hammering out a first draft in three months, reminisces about loving his favourite book to literal pieces, and offers a suggestion for your next tattoo.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
My new book, a crime thriller called Yard Dog, is the first book in the Jack Palace series. That’s Palace, not Palance — no one-handed push-ups in this book! Jack Palace gets sprung from jail and hits the streets, owing his life to a criminal screw-up named Tommy. Jack agrees to act as Tommy’s bag man and gets caught in the middle of a mob war.
Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?
The central theme of Yard Dog is responsibility. It’s the theme of Mean Streets. How much of yourself do you owe to someone who keeps screwing up?
Did this project change significantly from when you first started working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?
I wrote the first draft fast. I set a goal of a thousand words a day. Some days I did a bit more, some days a bit less, but by the end of three months I had a draft. The one big change was that I wrote the first draft in the present tense. I wanted everything to be raw and immediate and happening now. The published version is in the past tense, but hopefully that rawness and immediacy is still there.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
I arise every morning from my hyperbaric chamber, reach for my papyrus scrolls and my ostrich feather quill...
What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?
At those points, you really have to remind yourself to trust the process. Tattoo that on yourself somewhere: TRUST THE PROCESS. In any project, there’s going to be difficult points. The important thing is to keep doing the work.
What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great.
A great book is a book that resonates when it was written and continues to resonate long after. The Phantom Tollbooth is quite possibly my favourite book, written and drawn by two geniuses, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer. It’s a wild visual and linguistic treat. I had a copy when I was a kid that I literally read to pieces – I read it so much, the spine just fell apart. I kept reading it, though – I had a pile of ‘to be read’ pages and a pile of ‘read’ pages. I’d read one page and then put it the ‘read’ pile. Years later I bought myself a nice new non-shredded edition.
What are you working on now?
I’m steamrolling ahead on the second book in the Jack Palace series, Carve the Heart (out on Dundurn Press in fall 2019). Bikers and strippers and mobsters, oh my!
A.G. Pasquella’s work has appeared in various spots, including McSweeney’s, Black Book, Joyland, Utne Reader, and Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. When he’s not writing, A.G. makes music with his band Miracle Beard. He lives in Toronto.