A Writer’s Observations … While Being Observed

Dawson City is featured in the novel Toronto writer Pasha Malla drafted about cities, this summer, at Berton House. But what the writer-in-residence could not explain was that his apartment in Brooklyn was quieter than the Klondike.

“Here, there are dogs, crows, chainsaws, hammers, drills and, for reasons I still can’t fathom, car alarms!” Malla says, in addition to tourists who visit every day.

“It’s hilarious. They have no idea, it seems, that there’s a person, inside, watching them,” he observed. “A few times I’ve caught people on the deck videotaping me, at work, through the window.”

One woman even moved the prominent PRIVATE RESIDENCE sign so she could break in.

Often a tourist himself, Malla wrote his first collection of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, on 25 different computers in 12 different cities. He’s been writing for about five years, and this year, readers noticed.

When Malla won the Danuta Gleed Award, the National Post reported that the 2009 Writers Union of Canada jury praised his collection as “funny and imaginative, subtle and assured”. Within a month, the stories, which reflect humanity throughout the ages, in cities throughout the ages, earned the Trillium, Ontario’s highest literary honour.

“I wrote what I felt was a decent book of stories, something I was proud of,” says Malla. “But I had no expectations for its reception, at all,” he adds. Then, in June, Filmsong, his first foray into the dark side of fiction, was released in Toronto Noir by Akashic Books. It won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for best short story.

“I wanted to challenge myself, try new things. I read a lot of noir stuff and thought it would be fun and interesting to have a go at it,” Malla says.

In times of discontent and anxiety, such as that brought on by war or the current economic crisis, the appeal of noir grows, wrote CBC Radio’s Mike Doherty, because readers are more likely to sympathize with the flawed human characters who have their day in noir’s twisted plots.

The genre’s tight, gritty prose about imperfect heroes, in a seedy world, has attracted literary writers since it was popularized in 1950s American film and fiction.

“Many young Canadians writing today have more in common with their American contemporaries than with the lumbering giants of CanLit,” Malla told Quill and Quire writer, Stuart Woods.

Learn more about noir short fiction from Malla at the Yukon’s first Mystery Lounge at 7 p.m., at Well-Read Books, on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

And at 7:30 the next night, along with hearing Malla read his new work, share your perspective of snap-and-go tourists, with him, at the Whitehorse Public Library.

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