TORONTO - When Paul Quarrington first found himself struggling to breathe a few months ago, he reached to place blame: on a self-diagnosed vocal cord disorder, on a lack of physical activity, even on a severe allergy to the tulips blooming in Ottawa where he was visiting.
But after a friend heard Quarrington's strained voice filter through the telephone, she feared something far worse - something doctors later diagnosed as lung cancer.
A little over a month after the diagnosis, the award-winning novelist, musician, playwright and filmmaker isn't dwelling on the bad news. Instead, he's marching forth with a typically staggering number of projects.
"I had a lot on the go, you know - maybe I won't be able to finish everything that I started, but I'm trying to get a lot done while I still feel well," Quarrington said in a telephone interview.
In fact, Quarrington is developing two new television series - one is an adaptation of his novel, "The Ravine" - and a new book about music, as well as a film adaptation of his Giller Prize-nominated novel "Galveston."
The Governor General's Award-winning author of "Whale Music" also continues work on a new CD with his band, the Porkbelly Futures, which began a short tour of the Maritimes on Wednesday.
"This is kind of the health tour," Quarrington said. "I've been seeing some practitioners of Chinese medicine and they recommended various foodstuffs, none of which I was familiar with previously - leafy green vegetables and stuff.
"So we've got that in a juicer, and heading out for the Maritimes where they have fresh seafood, so that should be good."
Quarrington has Stage 4 lung cancer, which is the most advanced form of the disease and isn't considered curable, but is treatable with chemotherapy. The father of two hasn't started chemo yet, and says he won't until he begins feeling poorly.
"I'm still pretty healthy now, I'm still hale and hearty and you know, my appetite seems to be my great ally and I haven't lost it - it's apparently one of the first things to go, but mine says: 'No way,"' Quarrington said.
"I feel pretty good and healthy and I'm not really going to start worrying about the other stuff until I have reason to."
Instead, Quarrington is focusing on what looks to be a packed work schedule.
Where to start?
He's developing a television series for TMN with Canadian TV and film director Jon L'Ecuyer about "a gonzo journalist who has a lot of problems in his private life, which are compounded by the fact that he's a heroin addict."
Quarrington says discussions with L'Ecuyer about the title are ongoing - the director favours "Notebooks on Euphoria," while Quarrington prefers the shorter title, "Euphoria."
He's also developing an episodic television show that picks up where his novel "The Ravine" left off.
"It's about a man sort of trying to make his way across a moral minefield, which isn't the easiest thing to pitch in the television business," Quarrington said.
"I never thought of (the story) as definitively ending, so it was easy enough to pick up from there in the television show."
Meanwhile, Peter Lynch - the director behind "Project Grizzly" and "Cyberman" - has recently acquired the rights to "Galveston," and Quarrington is involved in the adaptation.
And the Porkbelly Futures are assembling some "pretty lush" material that features a roots-rock approach, though Quarrington warns the new album might not see the light of day for a while yet.
In fact, he's still writing for the record, and he says his illness may factor thematically into his songwriting.
"I think I said somewhat jokingly that a lot of the new material is kinda weepy and maudlin since the diagnosis, which isn't entirely true," he said. "But the phrase, 'that changes everything' - in connection with the diagnosis - struck me as really kind of profound in a very simple manner.
"It does change the way you think about most things, the work you're doing, the songs you're writing. So I think its influence will be there, sure."
And Quarrington is also working on another book, with the working title "The Song," which he says is about his lifelong involvement in music.
Not quite a memoir - "but it's like a lot of my work, it purports to be about something, but when you get right down to it, it is kind of about me," he says - the book will be centred on some songs that Quarrington likes or thinks are influential and go from there.
Though he submitted a first draft at the end of last year, he says the recent developments in his life have inspired him to go back and write some more.
"Now I've got this sort of new thematic material going," he said.
"We've got a new little adventure to track, so I'm not done writing it yet."