When thinking about the publishing realm in our fine country, I admit that Calgary is not the first to pop to mind. But our fair city has quite a few surprises up her sleeve when it comes to the arts and local publishing house Freehand Books is just one of those hidden gems.

Freehand Books was born in 2007 as the literary imprint of the academic publisher Broadview Press. Their mandate – to publish excellent Canadian literature. Their motto – Great books. Great reads. How could you not get giddy with this happening in our own back yard?

And the best part of having a local connection? The perks.

You all have a chance to get a bit more familiar with each other this Tuesday, November 20 at their Fall Bash at Pages on Kensington (1135 Kensington Road NW). It starts at 7pm with the readings getting going at 7:30pm and it’s free for all you book lovers to attend.

I got a chance to read both their fall titles and to have a quick chat with their authors, both of whom will be on hand at the Bash to present their works.

First up is Every Wolf’s Howl, a heartwarming memoir by Barry Grills about how a wolf-German Shepard cross called Lupus changed his life and taught him how to cope with our harsh world by embracing his own untamed side.

EVERY WOLF’S HOWL: Barry Grills’ heartwarming memoir tells the story of an exhausted newspaper owner who meets Lupus, a wolf-German Shepherd cross, at an animal shelter. After much prompting from his partner, he finally takes the plunge and adopts the handsome fellow. The two faced many hardships – poverty, illness and heartache – over the next three years  forming an incredible bond that created an extraordinary friendship and they became true companions until the end.
Photo by Liz Lott, courtesy of Freehand Books

A fairly quick read that started at the ending, Every Wolf’s Howl drew me in with its heart and held me there with honesty. I cried within the first few pages and felt an instant connection.

The story starts with Lupus’ abrupt and premature death and weaves backwards though the three years the two were together. It shows the remarkable relationship and the personal growth Barry went through trying to find a more authentic life. There were moments where I found myself completely relating to the story of companionship as well as Barry’s own struggles both professionally and personally. We’ve all had those moments where we felt completely lost and the author eloquently shares how through three years of struggle and change, Lupus was a constant companion, someone who never judged, who never demanded.

I recently got a chance to ask Barry a few questions via email about writing the novel, his inspiration and his method.

What was your inspiration to tell this sad but oh so heart-filled story?

As a memoir about an unusual friendship and a person’s need for authenticity, there were several reasons that inspired me to write this book. First of all, Lupus was an unusual animal companion, because of the predominant wolf side of his nature, which was deeply authentic. I also was inspired to write the book because I felt my personal dilemmas during this chapter of my life reflect the dilemmas of others who might be trying to sort out their own ways to live a more authentic life. This has been verified for me a number of times recently in conversations with readers who have identified with me in the book. The fact that I lived for a few years with a creature that would normally be alien to many, the fact that I lived with him during a period of personal transformation, and the fact that he died suddenly near the end of my journey to being a changed man all convinced me that there was a memoir in what had happened to me, a memoir with which people might identify.

Was it a hard story to write?

In the sense that the story is true and actually took place, it might appear to be an easy story to write. But because I wanted to convey an honesty about my transformation and about the various things that happened to Lupus and me, it was often difficult capturing exactly what happened in the way it happened. Add to this the fact that I had to analyze what happened in a story form that readers would understand and find interesting – skipping great sections of time over the three and a half years Lupus and I were together, also with a mind to maintaining the theme of existential crisis and authenticity – the book became a challenging piece of work that required many drafts and rewrites. In short, it was a difficult book to write because of the demands of authenticity and honesty. I also had to continually relive the tragedy of Lupus’s premature death, which I found very hard.

You can tell how much you loved Lupus through the story, was it easy to convey?

Actually, I hope the love for Lupus in the book conveys itself easily. I suppose whether I succeed or not is ultimately up to the reader. When we are honest about the love we feel and willing to relate that we felt it, these are what make love easy to convey. But you have to be honest. When you love someone or something, you have to admit it to yourself.

MEET LUPUS: Every Wolf’s Howl is an amazing read. Author Barry Grills bares his heart and soul in the tale of challenges, struggle and an unconventional friendship that proves love can come from a most unexpected place.
Photos courtesy of Freehand Books

What encouragement would you give to someone facing hardships in life and would you recommend them finding a furry companion who needs a home? In the book you said you’d never adopt another wolf/cross or try to replace Lupus but how about for someone else struggling to find their place in the world?

I have encouraged just about anyone I’ve talked to over the years to get to know their authentic person and respect it. In a world where society has a preconceived notion of how we should behave, that wants to take its morality and transform our personal ethic into its morality, it takes courage to be the person you really are. In my case, Lupus helped me to discover my authentic self, putting me in touch, I suppose, with the necessary wolf in my personality. It happened by chance, though. Lupus was whom he was by chance, as was I, and we happened to each other at the right time. Could someone else meet a “furry companion” in the way that I did? Possibly. But for others, the route may be a different one. As for furry companions generally, I think they teach love, responsibility, and friendship to people who need to be whom they are. I’ve lived with a couple of dogs in my life and some cats as well. I enjoyed it, responsibility and all. As for wolves and wolf crosses? I was lucky. As I say in the book, wolves should be left to be wolves and dogs should be left to be dogs. Lupus was an extraordinary gift in my life. I know it could never be successfully duplicated.

Lupus was with you only a short time and you tell his story starting at the end and working your way back. Why did you choose to write it this way?

I believe all of us are living a mysterious life. That is, our lives take place and are not resolved clearly in our minds until afterwards, when we solve the mystery of it all. I also allude to this very briefly in the book: that the mystery for a person in a state of transformation is not that there is a transformation; the mystery is what we needed a transformation from. To convey this point of view in Every Wolf’s Howl, I wrote the book in the chronological reverse, assuming the fact there had been a transformation held no real mystery, but the world and the self I need transformation from was the mystery with which most readers would identify. The tension in the memoir is not over Lupus helping me find authenticity, but the various forces that existed when I first met him which necessitated me transforming myself into a more authentic person. In a sense, it saved my life. Writing the book backwards in time was the means I felt conveyed the tension in what happened best.

Author Barry Grills was born in Belleville, Ontario, where he began his writing career as a journalist at The Intelligencer when he was eighteen. He has been publishing short fiction in Canada since 1973, and his stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines, including Quarry, Grain, and the University of Windsor Review, as well as various anthologies, including Best Canadian Stories. He is also the author of three cultural biographies from Quarry Press on the lives of Anne Murray, Alanis Morissette, and Celine Dion, as well as an updated Celine Dion biography, co-authored with Jim Brown. He is a past chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada and the Book and Periodical Council, and he has been both a federal election candidate and a municipal councilor. He currently lives in North Bay.
– Author bio courtesy of Freehand Books

Catch Barry as he presents Every Wolf’s Howl at the Freehand Fall Bash this Tuesday, November 20 and check back tomorrow for our interview with Ian Colford about writing The Crimes of Hector Tomás in Awesome Canadian Literature in our own Back Yard, Part II.