How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan

Although my Challenge column ran in The Globe and Mail for seventeen years, and although it had a large and wonderful following, it was seldom mentioned in  other publications. I would have said “never”, except that recently I came across a tribute to it in Let Me Be the One, a 1996 collection of short stories by Elisabeth Harvor.

The story in question is “How Will I Know You”, and this is the first part of the opening sentence: “When she stood in the doorway to his cubicle one cold and sunny Monday morning in early spring, feeling newly shiny and slim and reading him some of the winning entries from a Globe and Mail contest for invented mistakes that drunken or incompetent sign-painters might make – HAZARDOUS FOOTBATH, SMALL APARTMENT FOR RUNT, HOSPITAL NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LONGINGS – he laughed, looking with surprised alertness into her eyes…”

I do not know whether these particular entries were genuinely from the Challenge, although they would certainly have qualified, but it was heartening to know that a writer (an excellent one) enjoyed the column sufficiently to refer to it in a short story, included in a collection that was nominated for the Governor-General’s Literary Awards.

I mention all this in part to let the Challenge take a public bow, and in part because Nestlings Press is about to issue a new book made up of entries to the Challenge. How You Can Tell You’ve Moved Next Door to Satan is a compilation of reflections on “how you can tell that” your romance is going badly, or you should be suspicious of your lawyer, or you’ve taken your car to a bad repair shop. It is very funny, which I can say with some modesty because I am merely the editor, and hundreds of other Canadians are the authors who dreamed up the boffo lines that fill the book.

Here is a sampling from the title chapter, with the writers’  names in brackets. You can tell you’ve moved next door to Satan because:  The lawn sign reads, “Beware of God” (Izabella Cresswell-Jones). Your front lawn is littered with handbaskets (Paul Davy). The Good Intentions Paving Co. truck is often parked next door (Al Wilkinson). He’s obviously very taken with your wife, Rosemary

(Elsie Wollaston).

The book will be out later this year. It will tell you everything you need to know about everything that exists. How many other books can make that claim?

Warren Clements, July 2018

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