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take that, Thomas Wolfe

Wolfe claimed that you can't go home again. Yeah, he's an important writer and he's got a stamp and all that, but so what.

I just finished a draft of a new book about Norbert, a smart-ass alien who comes to live in the nose of a small-town kid named Alan Dingwall. Norbert and Alan dominated my literary life for a few years in the late 90s and early 2000s. I wrote four books about them. Had some success and a lot of fun. And then put them aside. That was ten years ago.

A lot has happened in the last decade. Not in Toronto team sports -- we still haven't won a title -- but other things have happened in the world.  Some good, some not so good. Some downright awful. On a personal level, I have written a bunch of books that don't feature Norbert or Alan.

I left them on Jupiter in the middle of an adventure.  And, a few months ago, after umpty-thousand questions from fans about whether I would ever write another Norbert book and bring Alan home, I found myself without a deadline and decided - for no particular reason - to give it a try.

I don't write the same way I used to. Yes, my stories are still quirky with some darkness underneath, but I'm different.  More gray hair, less certainty.  Could I go back?  Could I find Alan's voice again?  I re-read parts of the old books to remind myself of the groove, and started in.

I finished last week.  I had fun, which is an important part of writing.  Will Tundra publish the new book?  Wait and see.

OK, don't worry too much. I think I did most of what I set out to do.  The story is called Boy To The World, and it's about Alan finishing his quest on the planet Jupiter and getting back to earth where - surprise, surprise - he comes up against a problem that requires him to use what he learnt on the faraway planet. The plot is full of action and goofiness, as usual.  There is an upside-down castle.  There are bird-fish and snake-women, vacuum hatches and a rocking horse who poops all the time. There are knights with punning names, and useless footnotes.  Maybe the book is not as clever as earlier ones.  (I may not be as clever myself.)  But it might be wiser and simpler.

In writing, I learned that you can go home again -- not to stay, perhaps, but to visit.  Your folks are frailer, and they've changed your bed for a pull-out couch.  But the cabbage rolls taste great, the air smells springy, and you can still get a good night's sleep.


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