The Cheap Handyman

New Book Chronicles Home
Improvement Misadventures

Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Brian Harris

According to local author Brian Harris, for the first couple years after he retired, he just did whatever he wanted. Which, he admits, was not a whole lot.

“I worked in the insurance business for many years,” Brian explains. “I retired six years ago, in 2015. In those days, I played a lot of hockey and tennis. I rode my motorcycle around. I just did a lot of the stuff I couldn’t do when I was working.”

However, after Brian and his wife Maureen sold their first home, a new project presented itself.

“In May 2017, we sold the house we’d been living in for decades,” Brian recalls. “One night, after moving into our new place, myself, Maureen, my son Scott and my daughter Leah were sitting around the kitchen table reminiscing. Then, out of the blue, Scott chimed in and said, ‘Hey, Dad! I remember when you tried to fix this – and it didn’t go well!’”

Some first homes are fixer uppers. Brian and Maureen’s first home was an ongoing challenge. 

“I used to keep a toolbox by the front door,” Brian laughs. “Every day I was fixing something.”

Before long, the Harris family was swapping tales about Brian’s misadventures trying to keep the house from collapsing on top of them.

“That first story just opened the floodgates,” Brian states. “Everyone started coming out with these stories about how I tried fixing things around the house and failed far too often. I said, ‘Hey, guys! Take it easy!’ But then, my kids piped up and said, ‘Dad, why don’t you write a book about this? It would be hilarious, and a lot of people would be able to relate!’”

Although he’d never written anything before, Brian was inspired by his family’s enthusiasm and decided to meet the challenge head on. 

“I set up a little office downstairs in our basement,” Brian explains. “The first thing I did was write down all the mishaps from over 35 years – that took quite some time! And, sad to say, it’s embarrassing how many screw ups one can come up with. Once I had my list, I started working on the stories themselves.”

The writing process took Brian about a full year. He typically worked on two or three chapters simultaneously. If one started lagging, he would switch gears and work on another.

“Once the story was done, I would go back to it a couple weeks later,” Brian reports. “If it was still lacking something, I would edit it myself. Each story probably got two or three passes from me. I wanted to make sure I was doing the best I could do.”

After that year, Brian had a full manuscript sitting on his desk, bursting with 50 hilarious stories.

“The chain saw made short work of the branch: within seconds it was plummeting straight down to the ground,” Brian writes, in one chapter. “I watched as it landed right on its end, recoil like a giant spring, and vault gracefully through the air, landing squarely on the hood of my truck parked innocently next door.” Estimated cost of the job” $0. Actual cost of the job $1395. 

Brian always ended each chapter with these two phrases about estimated and actual costs. Once the book was finished, Brian decided to face his next challenge: the publishing industry.

“At the time, this was still just a hobby for me,” Brian states. “But I decided I may as well go after the big boys anyway! Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and a few others. All the big five publishers.”

After sending out a barrage of emails, Brian realized that most high-profile publishing houses did not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

“The big companies weren’t interested in talking with me,” Brian laughs. “I was told that they only accepted submissions through a literary agent. At that point, I had a decision to make. When I sent out my manuscript, I did get some bites from smaller presses, but I really wanted to approach the giants first. And I wasn’t really interested in self-publishing. 

Undaunted, Brian decided to start hunting for a literary agent. In only two months, he got an offer of representation from a Toronto-based one: Lloyd Kelly, from Kelly Consulting Agency.

“It was the best thing ever!” Brian exclaims. “I am extremely fortunate to have met Lloyd.”

Once Brian and Lloyd joined forces, everything seemed to move at a breakneck pace. Lloyd was able to sell the manuscript in October 2019.

“Lloyd called me on Thanksgiving weekend,” Brian recalls. “He said, ‘Brian, I hope you’re sitting down. I just a call from Simon & Schuster in New York. They are interested in talking with you about the book.’”

Brian tries to describe his reaction to the news: “I just about fell down,” Brian states. “Forget sitting down!”

Once the book was sold, things seemed to speed up for Brian even more. After a conference call with the publishers, he signed a contract. After that, he spent three months working with the editors at Simon & Schuster.

“That was a really lengthy undertaking,” Brian explains. “I hadn’t worked that hard in my life! Both of my editors in Canada and the U.S. were great to work with. I really lucked out with them, the same way I really lucked out with my agent. I was very fortunate to work with them.”

Brian’s debut book was originally slated for a May 2020 release, to correspond with Father’s Day. However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch was pushed back a year.

The Cheap Handyman: True (and Disastrous) Tales from a [Home Improvement Expert] Guy Who Should Know Better was released on May 4, 2021.

And thus far, Brian’s book has received positive reactions from readers: “This is a hilarious book about the author’s mishaps when doing home repairs. Anyone who has ever had an epic fail when doing a little home improvement or repair will appreciate and enjoy this book,” one Goodreads reviewer writes.

“If you need a fun, light read that you can pick up and put down frequently, I say this is worth it,” another writes.

“‘Don’t worry, honey!’ ‘I can so do this!’ ‘It should be fine…’ All things many spouses have heard. 50 stories of what not to do for home repairs. This book has several bad uses for duct tape, many broken appliances and so much more,” a third chimes in.

And for any of his fellow aspiring authors out there, Brian has a simple piece of advice: “Do it.” Brian states. “Roll up your sleeves and don’t think twice! You will run into dry spells, but don’t let them discourage you. They will pass! Be persistent! Follow your dream and write the book and then another! If you’re really pleased with it then ‘get it out there.’ You may be pleasantly surprised! So get going and good luck!” 

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