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STARFest continues on a meteor's path

There's always a stellar lineup at STARFest.


Festival runs until Nov. 2

Tickets for all author events are $5 each.

All author events are to be held online. Existing ticket holders will receive emails outlining changes to any in-person events they were registered for, including information about their options regarding the difference in ticket prices for online events. For more information, please email [email protected].

Full details are available at

Helen Humphreys has now kicked off STARFest with her virtual appearance yesterday, but that's only the tip of this literary iceberg. There are still more than a dozen authors with dates set for the rest of the fest. The Gazette continues its series previewing them all, with further features to come in the subsequent two Wednesday editions.

Morgan Murray — Sat., Oct. 16 at 2 p.m.

Which comes first: the "dirty bird" or the egg? When you ask Morgan Murray whether he wrote Dirty Birds with the intent to make it humorous or whether the humour simply plopped out organically, he confirmed that it was all intentional.

He was seriously trying to be funny when he put down the story of Milton Ontario — yes, that’s the protagonist’s name — who left the basement comfort of his parents’ nest somewhere in Saskatchewan on an epic adventure to become the Next Big Poet in Montreal, hopefully even meeting his literary hero, Leonard Cohen.

“I write it to try to be funny, and I think there's some serious themes in it, too,” the Alberta-raised Cape Breton author explained.

“It looks at serious things like growing up within this day and age and how you become a man and all these different things: masculinity and different questions like that. I always wanted it to be funny. I really think that humour is a great way to connect with people and for people to feel a connection to characters into a story. The characters in the book aren't, we’ll say, the most lovable, but they're funny, and so you stick with them that way, I think.

“It's not always easy to be funny, but I'm glad that people have gotten a laugh or two out of it, for sure.”

He had been mulling the story over since 2007 when he himself took the same track as Milton Ontario, moved to Montreal, and strove to become a famous poet. Not that the story is basically based on Murray’s own life, but there are similarities.

“As you read the book, you'll see that it doesn't go so well for Milton, and it didn't go so well for me either,” he admitted with a good laugh. “I'm neither a poet nor a ladies’ man. That’s another thing.”

Dirty Birds was taken seriously, though, getting listed for the Stephen Leacock prize and for Canada Reads, among numerous other honours. It didn’t win any of those, but it sure seems like the author has a good sense of humour about that, too.

Glenn Dixon — Sun., Oct. 17 at 2 p.m.

Glenn Dixon admits it: the time setting of his book Bootleg Stardust — 1974 — is “a little bit” before his time. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t come by his initial research honestly. Though he has been in bands all of his life, you can mostly thank his older brother for being an audiophile when he was young.

“He used to come home with armfuls of vinyl records. He would bring home the Led Zeppelin and the Pink Floyd and all the music of that era,” the Calgary author admitted. “That's the first music I heard, and it blew my little mind.”

The nostalgic timepiece brings us into the world of young high-school dropout/foster-home leapfrogger Levi Jaxon. With stars in his eyes, music notes in his ears, and a guitar pick at his fingertips, he dreams of making it big in the biz. The rock dreamer sends out demo tape after demo tape until one day he gets the call of a lifetime: audition for Downtown Exit at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios.

That’s great news. The bad news is not every promise in the music industry is as good as solid gold, he soon learns.

“He gets his shot at the big time, but nothing is what it seems, and everybody has secrets. It didn't go quite as he planned,” the author summarized.

While the dreams made, dreams lost plot of his first novel might sound like a heartbreaker with the hard lesson learned, there’s no such thing as a truly bad lesson, as long as it offers wisdom.

“There's a good logline the publicist put on my book, which is, ‘Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom on your way to the top.’ I really wish I'd made that up myself, but I didn't. That sums it up pretty nicely.”

The author admits he still harbors his own fantasies about rock godhood and fatefully finds himself playing in a band once again. This actually offered crucial research into developing this story. He created an albumful of songs he and his band actually recorded on the legendary Rolling Stones Mobile Studio — an “old beat-up truck about the size of a moving van,” he confirms — and then mastered them at Abbey Road Studios itself.

If local audiences are lucky enough, he might offer up a musical taste of the Bootleg Stardust soundtrack after the Q&A.

Romance Panel — Tues., Oct. 19 at 7 p.m.

I really wanted this STARFest to have something for everybody. Romance, actually, is a huge, huge industry.

“I wanted to definitely have something with the romance genre, and what I'm happy about with the panelists, too, is it's showing the diversity of romance: the authors, the characters, the stories,” confirmed festival producer Michelle Steinhusen. “Romance nowadays is so rich; there's really a lot of diversity.”

The romance panel, hosted by former regional writer in residence Natasha Deen, features Courtney Milan, Farah Heron, and Uzma Jalaluddin.

“We've got the veteran and then a couple newer voices,” she added, referring to the guests respective to how they were listed.

“The appeal is even beyond traditional romance readers,” she continued. “It's showing that romance is a valid genre, and also that there's so much more to it than just the bodice-ripper covers that we think of.”

Expect a lively discussion between the guests and moderator Deen, followed by what will likely be a similarly torrid Q&A with the virtual audience.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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