Art Beat: OOE Artist Feature- David Chernushenko, Plugged In On His Cross-Canada Book Tour

By Tanis Browning-Shlep

To survive, the world must change,
To survive, four friends must remain
steadfast…
The stakes are high, and civilized
society hangs in the balance. As events
spiral out of their control, how much
are they each willing to sacrifice in
order to save it?

                            -excerpt from book cover of Burning Souls by David Chernushenko

We know David Chernushenko from his eight years representing Capital Ward on City Council and chairing the Environment and Climate Protection Committee. But as I write this, fiction author David Chernushenko is completing the final leg of a cross-country book tour promoting his first novel.

David Chernushenko

Chernushenko launched Burning Souls at Southminster United Church on May 27. By June 3, he had charged up his family’s electric vehicle (EV) and begun his Electrified Burning Souls Road Trip. His book is a fictional climate thriller that presents a frightening and eye-opening vision of our very-near future, while at the same time rousing readers to take action.

“My life and career have been about trying to motivate positive social change for the benefit of humans, civilization, and our only environment,” Chernushenko says. An educator and coach, he has strived to affect such change through his work in government, private and nonprofit sectors, policy, international negotiations, consulting, speaking, documentary filmmaking, and non-fiction writing.

So why the shift to fiction writing? “I wanted to see if I could do it, and I wanted to try something new,” he explains. He also provides a more thoughtful response. “People need to want to change if they are going to do it. You connect with people through their hearts, their values, their fears, and their dreams. How better to make that kind of connection than through a good story and characters who make people care?”

Chernushenko first began working on the book three years ago in his limited spare time. The defeat in the October 2018 municipal election allowed him to dig in to engage in intensive editing.

He chose to drive the EV for the tour because, as a self-described explorer of ‘living lightly,’ he wanted to prove that it could be done. His family had already taken it on a trip through Quebec, but this would be an 8,000-km round trip over 45 days, often keeping to a tight schedule, and travelling to and through provinces which have been (thus far) less invested in public chargers.

Highs and lows

He headed off with 160 copies of Burning Souls, his camping gear, his bike, some portable mobile chargers/adaptors, and several maps and apps showing the locations of charging stations. His wife Marie-Odile and daughter Anna would meet up with him in Calgary, making the return trip part book tour and part family vacation. The EV has a range of 360 km when fully charged, but factors like speed, hills, weight, and wind have an impact. He has documented this in an online travelogue at davidc.ca/category/news. Except for the odd charging station issue, the EV did the job. “I left with a premium CAA membership and never had to use it,” he says.

As a new fiction author, Chernushenko experienced both highs and lows along the way. On the upside, he held launches and readings in 12 towns/cities from Sudbury to Victoria, got his books into 10 bookstores and libraries on the trip, and was interviewed for CBC Radio shows in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, and the Green Energy Futures program in Edmonton. But his events at bookstores were not as successful as those organized through his own network. “I’m not known as a fiction author, so I don’t draw a crowd in literary circles. The environmental and church groups pulled in bigger numbers.” He also had trouble getting mainstream media coverage in the larger cities.

One issue that came up at almost every event was how to reach people who aren’t already actively concerned about the environment. “I would say that I had several small victories in that area,” he says.“I reached many curious people at charging stations. They would ask about the EV—how it works, how far you can get, how long it takes to charge, and what I was up to. That often led to talking about the book tour and, sometimes, to selling the book right from the back of my car!”

While charging in Wawa, Ontario early in the trip, a bike ride to the Rock Island Lodge to check out their charger and camping facilities led to a booking for his return trip on July 18. A white-out fog and rain bumped the event to July 19, where it turned out to be a big success in a small place. “As the sun broke out about 15 people came in for the reading and we had a really great discussion,” Chernushenko says. “They encouraged me to record an audiobook ASAP, and I even sold the final copies in my possession!”

First-time fiction author and former Capital Ward Councillor David Chernushenko chats with audience members at a lodge in Wawa, Ontario on July 19, the final book event on his cross-country book tour for his climate novel, Burning Souls.
Photo by Marie-Odile Junker

“I do feel that I’m connecting with people through this novel,” he says. “I’ve heard from readers who say that when particular news items come out about situations that one of my characters has predicted, they wonder how the characters would react to hearing the news—as if they were alive to them.”

Chernushenko also believes that he is becoming an environmental grief counsellor. “After I read, I point out that the world used to be our oyster, but that we’ve really messed up over the past two decades,” he says. “I sit in front of them and I ask, ‘Can I do something to make it better?’ then I honestly answer ‘No.’ So, we sit and feel the weight of that together. If we do that alone, we might deny it. If we face it together, then we might have the strength to get back out there and keep working for positive change.”

Author Tanis Browning-Shelp (www.browning-shelp.com) pens her Maryn O’Brien Young Adult Fiction series, published by Dog-Eared Books, from her home in Old Ottawa East. Contact tanis@browning-shelp.com if you have information about artists or art events that you believe would enrich our community members’ lives.

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Filed in: Culture, Features, Front Page, News

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