By Nadine Robinson
Sault This Week
Jan. 23, 2023
When you pick up a copy of Sex is a Four-Letter Word and Other Misconceptions by Tom Mills, you may be expecting sexual content.
Even the book cover is a nude 16th century painting of Adam and Eve that Mills has had to adorn with price stickers as modesty bars for some vendors. While the book is provocative, it is more thought-provoking; and it’s more likely to excite your funny bone than other parts of your anatomy.
“In going through my old columns, I noticed that I had written so often about sex that I should probably change my name to Dr. Ruth, hence the book’s folder was labelled “sex.”” Mills said. “So, when it came to write a title, “sex” was the first word that popped into my mind, even though most of the stories have nothing to do with sex, except perhaps in a Freudian sense.”
His love of puns drove the rest of the title: “I thought the fact that Sex actually isn’t a four-letter word would convey instantly that I was not being serious, while the allusion to four-letter words would be a bit of nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Know what I mean? The subtitle’s “misconceptions” is a bonus pun.”
The award-winning columnist, humourist, author and journalist modified several of his old humour columns into the content of the book back in 2017. He’d been told for years by readers: “You should write a book,” and so he finally did, seven years after he’d retired as the news editor and columnist at The Sault Star. He came to the Sault in 1980 as an editor and reporter. Previously he’d been at The Winnipeg Tribune, The Niagara Falls Review, The Cambridge Reporter, and The Woodstock Sentinel-Review.
He was born in North York in the GTA into a “fairly creative household” where he and his sisters were always performing and creating plays. Once Mills was hired for a job in radio, but then he heard himself in the voice test and decided that he had a voice for print (whether or not he had a face for radio).
Out of all of his writing, doing his humour column titled Humour Me was what he preferred. He has always liked making people laugh and he enjoys the levity of making up his own facts. Mills estimates that he has approximately one thousand such columns in print.
One of his favourite columns, due in part to readers’ positive feedback is: Some Men Who Travel Together With Two Small Kids Are Not Gay. He had taken a cruise vacation with his son and grandkids and a surprising number of people assumed they were a gay couple.
“Yet as I note in the story, a gay friend once told me that no one who dresses as poorly as I do could possibly be mistaken for anything but straight.” Mills said.
“The story tells how a young woman wearing next to nothing parked her protuberance next to me in a hot tub, obviously not expecting me to sprout Marty Feldman eyes. And it reflects on the irony that while many people on cruises pretend they’re someone they aren’t, I went to some lengths to come out publicly as a grandpa.”
He’s proud of the book and the title, though he says: “Some of my hockey buddies like to remind me that “goal” and “puck” and “miss” and “lose” are also four-letter words.”
Mills has always played hockey, and guesstimates that he’s played for 50 teams in seven countries. While he jokes that he started playing on prehistoric bone and stone skates, the truth is that he did start playing with a ball glove as his goalie glove and his pads had 3/8 wood dowels in them as protection. While he has updated his equipment, Mills still plays multiple times a week in goal, though he likes to extract revenge once in a while as a forward. His author photo on the book is him in an old-time hockey mask.
Marrying his two passions together might be Mills’ next project. “I have a really great concept for a funny novel about hockey.” He joked, “I could do a nonfiction one but I’d have to wait for a bunch of people to die, so they couldn’t sue. Truth is stranger than fiction.”
During his career, he was a two-time winner and three-time runner-up for the Ontario Newspaper Awards (ONA) [Sandy] Baird Humour Writing Award, was a runner-up for the ONA Joan May Award for Columns, and won the Osprey Media Award for Excellence in Editing.
Mills can be found at local author events, though he doesn’t typically read from the book. “Generally at events I read something new and as yet unpublished rather than a book excerpt,” said Mills. “I don’t like revisiting my own historical fiction and tend to be more invested in whatever I’m working on at the moment. Besides, having to come up with something new for a reading forces me to … come up with something new. I guess that makes me like those musicians who insist on playing stuff from their new CD at a concert when all the audience wants to hear is their greatest hits.”
For a copy of Sex is a Four-Letter Word and Other Misconceptions, head to The Artesian at 514 Queen St. E., Stone’s Office Supply, City Meat Market, The Post Gift Shop at the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site, or Feeding Your Soul, at 96 White Oak Drive E. Mills can also be contacted directly at email@example.com or by phone at 705-777-0364 to arrange purchase and delivery for bulk orders or autographed copies.
Mills is on the Internet at https://humourmetom.ca/ and on Twitter and Facebook @humourmetom.
Nadine Robinson is a local freelance writer. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @theinkran.