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Arthur Slade

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The scary world of Arthur Slade

Saskatoon author moves from mystery to history and back again in YA titles

Arthur Slade has been making young adult readers shiver in fright for years. But in the early 1990s, before his career took off, his home office displayed a very different kind of spine-chilling sight: manuscripts of no less than six unpublished novels, along with what Slade calls “stacks and stacks of rejection slips” from houses all over North America.


Arthur SladeAt that point, many would have given up and taken refuge in a more secure profession, but Slade, then in his late twenties, was a driven writer. He had finished his first novel before graduating from high school and had published short stories, articles, and comic books. So he opted for more risk and quit his full-time job writing ad copy for a radio station. He moved from Saskatoon back to his parents’ ranch in Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, helped his father part-time, and spent the rest of his time writing.

“Looking back on it, I realize it was a crazy thing to do; I’m just lucky that it turned out the way it did,” says Slade. Eight years and seven published young adult books later, he is now earning a living from his writing, but he credits the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Saskatchewan Arts Board for his survival early on. And he makes sure he’s at his desk every day by 9 a.m. “I sometimes joke that I’m inspired by my mortgage,” he says over the phone from the Saskatoon home he shares with his wife, musician Brenda Baker.

Of course, Slade’s finances have been helped by the attention paid to his recent title Dust. A young-adult fantasy thriller set in 1930s Saskatchewan, the book won a Governor General’s Award last fall and a Mr. Christie’s Book Award this spring. HarperCollins Canada will not disclose sales figures for Dust, but says it is now in its eighth printing.

Slade’s oeuvre also includes the Northern Frights series with Orca Book Publishers (a trilogy of horror novels that draw on Norse mythology), and he describes his latest novel, Tribes, as a humorous “anthropological thriller.” Slade has also launched a series of mystery novels, Canadian Chills, with the newly published Return of the Grudstone Ghosts.

As a writer, Slade was drawn to thrillers simply because he’d enjoyed genre fiction strongly as a young reader. But he’s not keen on being pigeonholed as a scare writer: he has also written a biography of John Diefenbaker for XYZ Publishing, and is now working on a young adult historical novel.

Currently, Slade is working with three publishers. HarperCollins Canada, which published Dust, has just released Tribes, and has an option on a third novel. Regina’s Coteau Books has the Canadian Chills series, and Wendy Lamb Books in the U.S. (an imprint of Random House) holds international rights for Dust and Tribes.

So how did he go from a hill of rejection slips to multiple publishing deals? Perseverance, mostly. Slade first made contact with HarperCollins in 1998, when he sent them the manuscript of The Return of the Grudstone Ghosts. He had already begun the Northern Frights series with Orca Book Publishers and wanted to branch out. Marie Campbell, then the children’s editor at HarperCollins, passed on Grudstone Ghosts but asked Slade to send along his next work.

That next novel was Dust, and after Harper accepted it, Slade hired a new agent, Scott Treimel, a specialist in young adult fiction based in New York City. “I knew that I wanted to make a living at this and that I would need representation in the U.S.,” Slade recalls. Treimel negotiated the deal for Dust and Tribes with HarperCollins Canada and sold rights for the rest of the world to Wendy Lamb Books.

At home, Slade did quite well on his own. After HarperCollins passed on Grudstone Ghosts, he sent it to Coteau Books. They were interested, but by the time they were ready to sign a contract, Slade was able to refer them to Treimel and get on with planning more Canadian Chills titles. In the series, says Slade, each book is set in a town “that’s very Canadian and has something mysterious about it.” Grudstone Ghosts takes place in Moose Jaw, in a haunted school attended, luckily, by Daphne Shea, adolescent detective.

Slade hasn’t yet written the second book, but he’s hoping the series will be a long one. And so is Coteau, which is marketing Grudstone Ghosts as the first in a series and hopes to publish one title a year as long as interest holds up. Coteau’s Randy King says Slade’s recent profile boost may also inspire the company to sink some more money into the Grudstone Ghosts ad budget.

In the meantime, Slade is finishing the first draft of a new book in a new genre. Migeddo’s Shadow is a historical novel for young people set during the First World War. Migeddo is a city near Jerusalem which, according to Slade’s research, has hosted more battles throughout history than any other place in the world. (It’s also at the root of the word “Armageddon.”) The inspiration for the novel came from Slade’s grandfather, who, being too young to join the Canadian Army in the First World War, left Saskatchewan for England and joined the British Army. He was assigned to the cavalry and ended up in the Middle East battling the Turks and Germans. The final battle, won by the British, was called the Battle of Migeddo.

Slade never forgot one of the rare comments his grandfather made about the experience: “I was everywhere that Jesus was, but I couldn’t find him anywhere.” Says the author: “I’m assuming that meant that he was fighting in the Holy Land, and he came home with his faith quite shaken from everything that happens in a war. The novel is not really about him, but it got me thinking about what would happen if a boy from Saskatchewan ending up joining the British Army and was sent there.”

No publisher has purchased Migeddo’s Shadow yet, but it’s the next option book for HarperCollins and Random House. “I want to get it done before anyone sees it. I like to have things as perfect as I can before an editor sees them.” This thoroughness, Slade admits, occasionally got him bogged down in research – he describes worrying extensively over a patch on a soldier’s uniform before getting some perspective.

Slade won’t rule out tackling another historical novel (as a child he was fascinated by Greek and Roman history in particular), but first he’d like to struggle with the challenge of bringing something new to the science-fiction genre. And, of course, there are more Canadian Chills books to write.

This steely work ethic and an exceptionally gracious manner are (along with the success of Dust) keeping Slade in demand at conferences and bookstore readings all over the country. With appearances scheduled in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver this fall, he’ll have to learn to work in hotel rooms. Popularity, he jokes, is the “terrible albatross” he has to carry after winning the Governor General’s Award. “But you know, no one ever listens to me when I whine about it.”