Monday, April 30, 2012

Not with a shout but a whisper

Do great books by their very nature come with great first lines? Or do we only memorialize the opening sentence of a novel in retrospect, after the impact and notoriety of the book as a whole has prompted us to remark upon the opening line—or even take the time to reread it.
     The opening words of The Magus by John Fowles have always struck me as an outstanding first sentence: "I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria."
     Whereas the first words of Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion seem palid and unrepresentative of the depth and beauty of the work as a whole: "If he is awake early enough the boy sees the men walk down First Lake Road. Then he stands at the bedroom window and watches: he can see two or three lanterns between the soft maple and the walnut tree."
     In the next paragraph there's a breathtaking sentence (about the lantern-carriers, loggers, standing aside to let cows pass by) that to me is the "flagship" if you will, of the whole novel: "Sometimes the men put their hands on the warm flanks of these animals and receive their heat as they pass."
     It seems to be the rule of thumb these days, even for the gatekeepers of the publishing world (see a related post here...) to judge a book, not by its cover, but by its opening sentence. Novels demand patience; we need to sidle up to longer works, get acclimatized to them.
     But text, by its very nature, is linear information and, for better or worse, first impressions do count.
— Michael Hale

Here's a link to an article in The Guardian: "The 10 best first lines in fiction"

Buy books by John Fowles and Michael Ondaatje here...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us." ― Franz Kafka

A Göttingen Bookstore (from: Ellen Jovin: Writer)

"Dominique Pleimling, a researcher at the Institute of Book Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, echoes Harth’s [Jürgen Harth of the German Publishers & Booksellers Association] sentiment. 'Germans have an emotional connection to books,' he says, noting that the printing press was invented in Germany and publishers to this day take great pride in producing top-quality books there. 'If you look at American hardcovers and German hardcovers, or even paperbacks, you see clear differences in how they’re made—American books often use woody paper that’s not especially pleasant. German books have a certain elegance, and beauty.' Threats to quality have never been welcome, Pleimling adds, pointing out that Germans took nearly a decade to warm to paperbacks when they were introduced in the 1950s.
     [...] Beyond German bibliophilia, e-book sales also suffer from economic barriers. According to Pleimling, the German market is set up to protect the book, but not necessarily the e-book. While U.S. book prices are determined by booksellers, German book prices are set by publishers. The country’s fixed-price system, intended in part to protect small booksellers, means that books cost the same no matter where you buy them. German publishers also set e-book prices and tend to not to discount them too much, so as not to undercut print sales. E-books, according to Pleimling, can cost as much as €19 ($25)."
— Caroline Winter, Bloomberg Businessweek

"[...] If you want proof that a cultural divide separates Europe and America, the book business is a place to start. In the United States chain stores have largely run neighborhood bookshops out of business. Here in Germany, there are big and small bookstores seemingly on every block. The German Book Association counts 4,208 bookstores among its members. It estimates that there are 14,000 German publishers. Last year 94,716 new titles were published in German. In the United States, with a population nearly four times bigger, there were 172,000 titles published in 2005.
     Germany’s book culture is sustained by an age-old practice requiring all bookstores, including German online booksellers, to sell books at fixed prices. Save for old, used or damaged books, discounting in Germany is illegal. All books must cost the same whether they’re sold over the Internet or at Steinmetz, a shop in Offenbach that opened its doors in Goethe’s day, or at a Hugendubel or a Thalia, the two big chains.
     What results has helped small, quality publishers like Berenberg. But it has also — American consumers should take note — caused book prices to drop. Last year, on average, book prices fell 0.5 percent."
― Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times

"[...] slabs of plastic [...]"

The 1989 Atari Portfolio [...] "a marvel of miniaturization" (from: Retro Thing)

"[...] E-readers are uninspired. They're slabs of plastic with fiddly controls and display a badly-formatted, typographically impoverished rendering of a paper book. That's not the electronic book I want. I want a gorgeous physical object, with paper pages, that can transform into any story I choose, perfectly presented on the page. I want a device from a fairytale, not a bargain bucket. Although, sure, I'd like it to be affordable, too. And that will not happen if one company controls the market. Why should it?
     Digitization was supposed to lead to a great democratisation of access to creative work. The putative business model of the internet age is the garage band, the plucky underdog cottage business that can, by canny use of information technology, compete with the big boys and win. What we're getting is the opposite, a great centralisation of access and, ultimately, control. It turns out that if you want to sell your garage-made product these days, you need a watering hole, a place with many visitors who may want what you're selling, because the hardest enemy is obscurity. Amid the babble of new voices, distinctive ones can be missed even by those looking for them."
― Nick Harkaway, The Guardian

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lollipop Guild

Aaron Stephan’s Building Bridges installation at The Albany International
 Airport 2010 (from: Stuck at the Airport)

"That a Brooklyn book festival would promote small presses and their authors isn’t surprising. But the sponsor of OnePage has raised a few eyebrows. As the festival’s press release noted, 'The project is made possible with a grant from'
     Yes, much of the literary world is in full-throated revolt against Amazon’s dominance — bookstores fear Amazon will push them out of business, authors worry about deep discounting, and the Department of Justice is considering the major publishers’ challenge over the price of e-books. But amid the public and private rancor, the massive e-retailer is very quietly trying to make friends in the book world. Its strategy is simple and employs a weapon Amazon has in overwhelming supply: Money. [...]
      So what’s the point of contributions that get little publicity? Does Amazon genuinely want to be a white knight, unconcerned about the credit? Or do the grants represent a kind of blood money? Is the real goal of the grant program to keep friends close and enemies closer, by showering influential, articulate and potentially critical voices in the publishing community with sacks of no-strings cash? [...]
     'It’s the bully on the playground handing you a lollipop,' says Shirin Yim Bridges, publisher of  sponsorship of small presses,  in San Francisco, which has not received a grant from Amazon. 'I mean, what do you do?'"
― Alexander Zaitchik, Salon

Friday, April 27, 2012

Source photo: Duncan Cameron (Canadian Museum of Civilization)

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson making a concerted effort to get all his work done before the Elora Writers' Festival on Sunday, May 27.
     That phone off to the right with the ribbon round it is his direct line to Roxanne's Reflections Book & Card Shop in Fergus―just in case some potentate drops in at the last minute and he needs to reserve a few more dinner tickets.
     For the rest of us the phone number is 519-843-4391.
To get all the dope on the Festival, go here...

Fiction Facebook

“California-based Internet entrepreneur Valla Vakili had a vision.
     'I wanted to do something that caters to pathological obsession,' he announced at a recent high-tech conference. He said he wanted to monetize 'perversion' by 'mainstreaming' it. And as a result of his efforts in that cause, he has emerged as the latest white knight riding to the rescue of a beleaguered book industry. [...]
     Like so many other Internet sensations, would-be and real, Small Demons provides answers to questions that nobody ever thought of asking. A growing electronic index that aims to tag and cross-reference the occurrence of almost every person, place and thing mentioned in almost every 'narrative' book ever written, it won’t just tell you what type of car James Bond drove in which novel, it will tell you the name of every other fictional and many real characters who drove the same types of cars, visited the same cities or seduced similar spies. [...]
     Navigating the Storyverse becomes a game – an obsessive one, if all goes according to plan – that no writer ever anticipated. The honourable exception, according to Vakili, would be, whose story Tlön Uqbar Orbus Tertius describes a minutely constructed fictional universe infiltrating and taking over the 'real' one. 'The history of the universe is the handwriting produced by a minor god in order to communicate with a demon,' Borges wrote. [...]
     The eagerness of publishers to enter Small Demons' trippy Storyverse reflects the immediate crisis facing their trade: the death of bookstores and the concomitant end of browsing. So far, neither social media nor e-store algorithms ('customers like you also bought …') have proved able to recreate the serendipity that once helped sell so many physical books. Publishers love Small Demons because it opens new avenues of 'discoverability,' according to Vakili. [...]
     'Every city and every place has a history that is both real and imagined,' Vakili said. People too. 'We want to bring them closer to each other.'”
― John Barber, The Globe and Mail

Find a related post here...

Get everything by Jorge Luis Borges (and touch other real books) here...

Find the Small Demons Storyverse here...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fugitive. Captured.

From: Agrippa Archive

"Agrippa (a book of the dead) is a work of art created by speculative fiction novelist William Gibson, artist Dennis Ashbaugh and publisher Kevin Begos Jr. in 1992. The work consists of a 300-line semi-autobiographical electronic poem by Gibson, embedded in an artist's book by Ashbaugh. Gibson's text focused on the ethereal nature of memories (the title is taken from a photo album). Its principal notoriety arose from the fact that the poem, stored on a 3.5" floppy disk, was programmed to erase itself after a single use; similarly, the pages of the artist's book were treated with photosensitive chemicals, effecting the gradual fading of the words and images from the book's first exposure to light."

"Last autumn, the Bodleian Library’s Special Collections Department faced an intriguing dilemma when it acquired a rare copy of Agrippa, a Book of the Dead, a hybrid print-digital work featuring a digitally encrypted poem by William Gibson that can only be read once before the data destroys itself. With artwork from noted American artist Dennis Ashbaugh, and referencing everything from genetic code to the Gutenberg Bible and Kodak scrapbook nostalgia, the book’s digital element was designed to self-efface after a single 'transmission.' Chris Fletcher, head curator at the Special Collections, asked, 'Do we conserve the book and vandalise the poem, or read the poem and lose the book?' [...]
     I caught up with Agrippa’s publisher Kevin Begos recently to talk about why he chose to entrust the archive to the Bodleian, cultural memory in the digital age, and how critics have too often failed to approach Agrippa in a holistic way, with Gibson’s celebrity largely occluding interest in the book as a cross-genre, intensively collaborative work of literature and art. While press coverage at the time of release painted Gibson as the book’s main author, Begos and Ashbaugh were the project’s initial and primary architects—with some help from French poet Stéphane Mallarmé and Maurice Blanchot. Now that the archive is deposited at the Bodleian, Begos told me, he hopes scholars will approach and play with Agrippa in the way he and his co-authors intended: as a work of art and literature which stages complex intersections between genres and form, and attempts to articulate how meaning and memory are constantly evolving."
— Courtney Traub, The Oxonian Review

Read William Gibson's Agrippa poem here...

See more about the book here...

Psychos Are People Too

"[...] it doesn't surprise me that many contemporary mysteries and thrillers feature ever-more-violent criminals, ever-more-psychotic murderers, ever-more-deranged serial killers. As our world threatens to tilt into chaos — social, economic, and political — our crime fiction seems to traffic more and more in the realm of the psychologically-disturbed culprit, the villain whose heinous crimes appear totally random, totally senseless.
     Which means, for today's mystery writer, I believe it's also a time to step back and reflect on how truthfully — both in terms of believable narrative and real life itself — a crime story villain is portrayed. [...]
     I can't tell you how often I've read thrillers in which the author's depiction of a 'psycho' killer is pure boiler-plate: unconvincing, unmotivated, without psychological depth or realism. Why is this? Especially when the writer's other characters seem more rounded, realistic, subject to the usual panoply of feelings and motives?"
— Dennis Palumbo, Huffington Post
 Read more... 

Buy all of Dennis Palumbo's books here...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Three Canadian Novels in the Running for the Commonwealth Book Prize

Joanne Skibsrud at the 2011 EWF
(Photo: Andy E. Williams)

"Johanna Skibsrud's Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel The Sentimentalists is one of three Canadian titles on the short list for this year's Commonwealth Book Prize. The others are The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason of Quispamsis, N.B., and Dancing Lessons from Jamaican-born, Toronto-based Olive Senior. Skibsrud, who grew up in Pictou County, N.S., won the Giller for The Sentimentalists in November 2010. At 30, she was the youngest recipient ever for the $50,000 honour."

Joanne Skibrud read from her award-winning novel The Sentimentalist at the 2011 Elora Writers' Festival. Join us this year ( Sunday, May 27) for another afternoon of readings by award-winning Canadian authors.

For more information go here...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Looks like crap; sounds like crap

From: Art Forum

"Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts."
— Anne Lamont, from: Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (via The Buhhda Rat)


"Why is it that some writers struggle for months to come up with the perfect sentence or phrase, while others, hunched over a notepad or keyboard deep into the night, seem unable to stop writing? In The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain (Houghton Mifflin, January), neurologist Alice W. Flaherty explores the hows and whys of writing, revealing the science behind hypergraphia — the overwhelming urge to write — and its dreaded opposite, writer's block. The result is an innovative contribution to our understanding of creative drive, one that throws new light on the work of some of our greatest writers."
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

"Isaac Asimov, who wrote nearly 500 books, is a classic example. He would sit down and compose 90 words a minute on his typewriter and reportedly never suffered a blocked moment. Everyone thinks of Proust as hypergraphic because he wrote such a long novel over such an extended time. Other writers often described as hypergraphic include Stephen King, Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, Agatha Christie, Anthony Trollope, John Updike, Herman Melville, and Joyce Carol Oates. [...]
     Certain brain conditions can trigger it [hypergraphia], and they all seem to involve the temporal lobes. It was Norman Geschwind [’51] and colleagues who first showed an association between temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s temporal lobe epilepsy almost certainly caused his prolific writing. Just before his seizures, he would enter a state of religious ecstasy in which his world was flooded with meaning. Between seizures, he wrote hypergraphically, often about his struggle with the fact that the periods in which he seemed to experience the highest truths were also the product of a disease."
— Alice Flaherty, in conversation with Paula Byron (Harvard Medical Alumni Journal)

Buy this book here...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tickled pink... not so much

"Is chick lit dead? Less than a decade after commentators clucked at bookstore shelves lined with cartoon high-heels and pink cocktail glasses, the only debate that the once-flourishing genre inspires now is over when to run its obituary. Some say chick lit is well and truly defunct, while others insist there’s some life in the old girl yet. Since there has never been much agreement on what, exactly, chick lit is, perhaps the question can’t be settled. [...]
     As the first species of popular fiction to treat its heroines’ professional aspirations as seriously as their romantic prospects, chick lit flourished at a time when ambitious young women poured into a robust job market, seeking both love and success, often with a heaping serving of pricey commodities on the side. A concept like the Shopaholic series (one of the most popular and least charming exemplars of the breed) smells decidedly off in the face of 8.3 percent unemployment."
— Laura Miller, Salon

Prophetic words from 2008...

 "Interestingly, Diane Shipley of The Guardian contends that eventually we'll get bored by the mass of homogenous pink covered books, and we'll see a backlash. Are we so sure of that? It has never seemed to hurt the romance novels, sci-books, or westerns, which feature nearly identical covers that fans of those genre can easily pick out and identify as something fun that interests them. So it seems more likely that if there is to be a backlash to the pink books, it will be because the publishing industry is using deceptive means to manipulate people into buying books that do not fit their preconceived notions of what the pink cover signifies. Readers are likely to be disappointed when what they thought was lighter, escapist, fun reading turns out to be something heavier and thought-provoking."
— Julie Kent, The Cleveland Leader

The Long Haul

" […] most creative writing workshops are oriented towards short fiction. For the young novelist, this can be troublesome. His talent may go unnoticed: his marathon-runner pace does not stir the same interest as the story writer’s sprinter’s pace; and the kinds of mistakes workshops focus on are not as important in a novel as in a short story […] Sometimes it happens that the young novelist distorts his art in an attempt to compete with the short story writers in his class. He tries to make every chapter zing, tries dense symbolism and staggeringly rich prose; he violates the novelistic pace."
— John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist

I've owned and cherished this book for many years, and have read it more than once, not just for its nuts-and-bolts advice on tackling longer works, but for Mr. Gardner's deep understanding and compassionate wisdom. If you need something to get you through a parched or rocky stretch of your "marathon" book, On Becoming A Novelist is like a cool drink from a mountain spring.

Buy this book here...

David Foster Wallace Revisited

"The writer must write knowing that the reader is more intelligent than he. The reader knows something the writer and his editor do not. He knows the future, he will be there when we are gone."
— Italo Calvino (The Uses of Literature)

"The New York Times journalist A.O. Scott once described David Foster Wallace as ‘nearly impossible to quote in increments smaller than a thousand words.’
     [...] Dave Eggers dispels some misconceptions in his foreword to Infinite Jest. 'A Wallace reader gets the impression of being in a room with a very talkative and brilliant uncle or cousin who, just when he’s about to push it too far, to try our patience with too much detail, has the good sense to throw in a good lowbrow joke.’ This conversational style is equally evident in Wallace’s collections of journalism, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997) and Consider the Lobster (2005). Wallace wrote on subjects ranging from Kafka to professional tennis, the campaign trail and the bizarre purgatory of cruise-ship holidays, all with the same unrelenting intelligence, eye for the absurd and determined lack of pretension.
     Wallace’s dismally early death, by his own hand at the age of 46 in 2008, means that most articles about him read like eulogies. This can only add to the doubter’s impression of him as a cultish figure, turning out worthy post-modern tomes. In fact he is entirely accessible; his writing can be hyperactive, verbose and sprawling, but he is a master of old-fashioned skills like story-telling and joke-cracking. As Zadie Smith said: ‘A visionary, a craftsman, a comedian…he’s in a different time-space continuum from the rest of us. Goddamn him.'’’
— Victoria Beale, Intelligent Life Magazine

"On September 12th, 2008 David Foster Wallace left this strange and hazy world we inhabit. Like some choose to, Mr. Wallace left early, by his own hand. He left behind a wife, friends, students and fans. He also left behind an unfinished novel [The Pale King] that, even in its imperfect form, so far, once again showcases the man’s genius. The problem with genius is, as I’ve lamented, studied and pondered for years, it is the noisy upstairs neighbor to insanity. Van Gogh knew it. Artaud knew it. William S. Burroughs may have known it. And Wallace knew it. So when you take that into consideration, and think, 'What might this man who had and understood so much, what might he have known that tipped the scale?' you enter a dark and slippery slope. A frightening path to tread, but one that no doubt will be with me the entire time I plod sometimes quickly and in delight, other times perhaps cumbersomely through The Pale King, looking for answers that may not be inherently easy to access but will be damn enjoyable pondering. I like to think Mr. Wallace would want it that way."
— Shawn C. Baker,

Buy all of David Foster Wallace's books here...

It's not too late...

From: Mytton Williams Design

As the deadline for the EWF Writing Competition approaches - yes! This Friday, April 27! – two more judges offer their advice to writers.

Writing Tip: “Have fun!”
"When I sit down to write each day, I try to let go of any worries I have about my writing. Instead I think, 'I'm going to have a lot of fun with this!' By thinking positive thoughts before I sit down, it makes my writing not only a lot easier, but better too!"
 — Kira Vermond, author of The Secret Life of Money: A Kid’s Guide to Cash, published by Owlkids Books (Judge: Poetry, Category 3)

Writing Tip: “Keep it simple!”
"You don't have to be fancy to write well. Fancy, high-fallutin' words don't show you can write, they can make your reader mad if they don't know what the words mean and no one likes to feel stupid. Simple words can tell a story. For example, look at this sentence: 'For sale. Wedding dress. Never worn.' Simple words can paint the picture."
— Lisa MacColl (Judge: Short Story, Category 4)

You can find contest details here...

And more advice and Competition links here...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Idolatry and Other Humiliations

"In essence, Writer Idol is a very simple idea. Potential 'contestants' are invited to send in one page of their writing anonymously. On the day, the selected entries will be read by Kate Thompson to an audience which will include the 'lucky' authors and a panel of judges consisting of novelist Anita Shreve, commissioning editor Suzanne Baboneau and literary agent Marianne Gunne-O'Connor. Each judge will raise their hand when they've heard enough; if all three hands are raised, the reading will stop immediately.
     In the words of the festival website, 'Think Graham Norton's red chair, with anonymity!' And while the West Cork example is the first time I've come across Writer Idol, it seems that the Boston book festival is set to follow Cork's example later this year.
     In a world where getting your manuscript off the slush pile and into the hands of a publisher's reader is, by all accounts, close to impossible, the attraction of the Writer Idol idea isn't hard to fathom. Just like the hopefuls queuing up for the pop music equivalents, the writers who submit work will, for the most part, be committed to what they do and genuinely interested in a career in their chosen art. Unlike would-be pop idols, these writers are also well-protected by the anonymous nature of the competition."
— Books Blog, The Guardian
Read more... 

"This rare, and fun, event allows aspiring writers the opportunity to submit their work for an on-the-spot assessment by this high-powered panel, which includes two best-selling novelists, a literary agent and a commissioning editor. During the event, one-page samples of your work, submitted anonymously in advance, will be read by Kate, but when members of the panel have heard enough, they’ll put up their hand. Three hands up – the reading will stop and the panel will discuss the piece. If Kate reaches the end of the page – the writer, unidentified in the audience, can quietly rejoice."
West Cork Literary Festival

 "Can you produce a masterwork of fiction in a mere 72 hours? The annual International 3-Day Novel Contest is your chance to find out. The contest runs every Labour Day long weekend, as it has since 1977, and it now attracts writers from all over the world. It's a thrill, a grind, and an awesome creative experience. How many crazed plotlines, coffee-stained pages, pangs of doubt and moments of genius will the next contest bring forth? And what might you think up under pressure?"
3-Day Novel Contest


From: Book of Joe

Some iconic titles are associated, in my mind at least, with certain colours. Apart from The Little Red Book ("The Quotations of Chaiman Mao") by Mao Zedong, the next book that comes to mind is the plain, dark red cover of the ubiquitous Signet paperback edition of J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye; followed by the blue of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 cover. My favorite red cover is the hardcover edition of The Stories of John Cheever.
     I remember picking a copy of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock from a display case of the paperback edition; it was available in four or five background colours. (Back in the Seventies all sorts of bestsellers were coming out with this option.) I picked the white one — I'm sure of that because it's still on my bookshelf.
     More recent titles seem to be lost in a swirling, blendered dazzle of the entire spectrum—print technology has turned the discipline of the fifties and sixties (design choices that maximized impact and minimized production costs) on its ear... or eye. And with the advent of e-books and digital publishing in general, the notion that the contents can forever be associated with the colour of the package, for books at least, will become a thing of the past.
— Michael Hale

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some Words Are Not For Sale

"In a dramatic act of protest at this week's London Book Fair, Chinese author Ma Jian [whose novel 'Beijing Coma' is banned in his native country] smeared red paint across his face to demonstrate his anger at the choice of China as the event's 'market focus.'
     It was the latest development in the row over the British Council's collaboration with China's General Administration of Press and Publications (Gapp). Critics have attacked China's record on censorship and selection of authors invited to London. [...]
     The incarcerated Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo should have been among the authors invited, he said, calling the 180 Chinese publishers present at the fair 'the mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party.'
     In this book fair that looks so modern, so impressive, so beautiful, you will not see the ugly reality that lies behind, you will not see the Tibetan lamas who have set fire to themselves, you will not hear the voices of the writers who are persecuted in China,' said Ma. The situation was 'a dishonour to the values that make western civilisation so strong,' he added."
— Benedicte page, The Guardian

"The collected writings of Chinese Nobel prizewinner Liu Xiaobo have been translated into English for the first time, but there will be no interviews, bookshop signings or appearances at literary festivals. The author is not even aware of the English translation, because he remains incarcerated in a Chinese jail and his wife is under house arrest.
     Liu, who won last year's Nobel peace prize, is serving an 11-year sentence that began in 2009 for 'inciting subversion of state power.' Friends have been unable to contact his wife, Liu Xia, even though she has not been charged with anything.
     The 55-year-old former professor at Beijing University has repeatedly been detained or arrested and sentenced over the years for his relentless but peaceful political activities, calling for democratic reforms, including freedom of expression, and condemning China's treatment of Tibet. He was barred from attending the Nobel ceremony, and at the funeral of his father earlier this year he was forbidden from talking to anybody."
— Dalya Alberge, The Guardian
Buy these books here...

The Man With the Golden Pen

From: Beattie's Book Blog

"[...] Amazon announced Tuesday that it has purchased the North American rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond books. James Bond, of course, is the debonair British superspy 007, whose bestselling books have become an iconic big-screen movie franchise. Under the agreement, Amazon will retain republication rights for 10 years, to both the print books, which have sold 100 million copies worldwide, and the e-books, which have not. Yet. [Not true: see article below]
     The 14 Bond books that fall under the agreement are, in chronological order (American publication dates): "Casino Royale" (1953), "Live and Let Die" (1954), "Moonraker" (1955), "Diamonds Are Forever" (1956), "From Russia with Love" (1957), "Dr. No" (1958), "Goldfinger" (1959), "For your Eyes Only" (1960), "Thunderball" (1961), "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1962), "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1963), "You Only Live Twice" (1964), "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1965), and "Octopussy and the Living Daylights" (1966)."
— Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

"Ian Fleming Publications attracted attention when, in 2010, it announced it would publish the James Bond e-books directly instead of selling the digital rights to Bond print publisher. Two years later, Ian Fleming has changed its mind and sold the entire bundle of print and digital rights to Penguin competitor Vintage (part of Random House) in the UK.
     Penguin held the print rights to the James Bond novels for years, but at the time the original deal was signed digital rights weren’t on anybody’s radar. Ian Fleming Publications held onto the digital rights and published the Bond e-books in the U.S. in 2008, then in the U.K in 2010, Sarah Weinman reported at the time. She also noted, 'The estate may have some leverage because of the Bond’s popularity across many different forms of media, and most fans don’t automatically think of Penguin when they think of 007.'”
— Laura Hazard Owen, paidContent

Buy them all (in pre-digital form) here...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No Trespassing


"[George. R.R.] Martin has always been against fan-fiction, which must be a little sad for the fan-fiction writers out there, seeing as how very many delicious characters he has created. He writes, 'Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.' But more importantly, in a very articulate and informative explanation on the legal and monetary problems with fan fiction, he explains, 'My characters are my children … I don’t want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children. I’m sure that’s true, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the affection, but still… No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me.'”
— Emily Temple, FLAVORWIRE

Get all of George R.R. Martin's books here...

Hanover Public Library Hosts Award-Winning Authors

From: Lady-Lover

"Have you ever wondered what it is like to make your living as a writer? What are the routines, the processes, the rewards and the risks of being an author in Canada today? You can find out at the Hanover Public Library this spring!
Four of Canada's preeminent authors will be here this spring to meet their readers and answer questions. The authors will also read from their latest works."
Hanover Public Library

Hard, Soft and Unbound

From: The Upcoming

For better or worse, digital technology has permanently blurred the boundaries between the professional and the amateur. Whether it be in the gilded (and guilded) domains of accounting, law, design, or even medicine (you can now buy a cheep machine to analyze your own DNA); so why not publishing? — Michael Hale

"Attendance figures for the 2012 London Book Fair won’t be released for weeks, until the numbers are audited, but judging from the fairly strong traffic in the main hall (along with a large China contingent), it seems likely this year’s attendance will top the 24,802 who came to last year’s event. But one new exhibitor stood out at this year’s fair: Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
     With a booth nicely situated near the Digital Zone theatre, Amazon saw steady traffic, answering questions for potential authors, and making some of their most successful self-published authors available to talk about their experiences. 'It’s been great,' Atif Rafiq, general manager of Amazon’s KDP unit, told PW, noting steady traffic at the booth, good attendance at a one-hour session on Monday afternoon, and overflow attendance at two short presentations in the Digital Zone Theatre. It was Amazon KDP's first time at the fair, and Rafiq said Amazon KDP would also exhibit at the upcoming BookExpo America in New York in June.
     Amazon’s presence was part of a noticeable increase in the amount of programming geared toward self-publishing at this year’s fair. At the Author Lounge in Earls Court 2, roughly half of the programs focused on self-publishing, with titles like: Why Self-Publishing Is Not Only the Future but the Present; Serious Self-Publishing from Manuscript to Market; and E-Books for the Self-Published Author. Authors have always come to the London Book Fair, although not in large numbers—just 1,039 attendees of the nearly 25,000 who came to London in 2011 identified as authors. But as technology makes publication easier, and marketing more effective, that number appears poised to grow, whether to learn best practices or new skills, to potentially meet an agent, or, to find an alternate route to market, whether Amazon, or"
— Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

PO'd Publishers Poo-poo Pulitzer Prize Pronouncement

Joseph Pulitzer, 1847 - 1911
(From: Wikipedia)
"One day after the Pulitzer Prize board said it would not award a Pulitzer in fiction for the first time in 35 years, the publishing industry was still seething, with some going as far as offering surrogate winners.
     Publishers Weekly posted a list of books from 2011 that could have been chosen, including Chad Harbach’s Art of Fielding and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
     On Tuesday, Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson Books in SoHo, said she would present her own awards to The Great Night by Chris Adrian, We the Animals by Justin Torres and Pym by Mat Johnson.
     Publishers Weekly posted a list of books from 2011 that could have been chosen, including Chad Harbach’s Art of Fielding and The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka.
     On Twitter, Doubleday suggested the Twitterverse choose its own Pulitzer winner (using the hashtag #TwitterPulitzer), immediately prompting nominations like The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.
     Striking a rare note of optimism, publishers of the three fiction finalists said they hoped the books would nevertheless get a boost in a rare year without a winner in the spotlight. 'In years past it’s the Pulitzer winner that captures all the attention and all the sales,' said Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Alfred A. Knopf. 'But since this year there was not a winner and there’s much conversation about the finalists, this may be an opportunity and a catalyst for sales.'”
— Julie Bosman, The New York Times

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Come and be read to... Robert Hough

Go here for more about Robert Hough and all the other fine Canadian writers who will be joining us on Sunday, May 27 for a stimulating afternoon of readings, fine wine, delectable victuals and all-round good fun.

Reserve you dinner tickets here...

NEWS FLASH: Esi Edugyan in the Running for the Orange Prize

Photo: Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail

"Canadian author Esi Edugyan is among six finalists for Britain's Orange Prize for fiction by women. Ms. Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, a Booker Prize finalist [and Giller winner] has been shortlisted for the prestigious award. Three American novelists are also among the six finalists.
     Organizers on Tuesday announced a shortlist that includes Cynthia Ozick's Foreign Bodies, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder and Madeleine Miller's debut The Song of Achilles."
The Associated Press (via The Globe and Mail)

"Former Orange prize winner Ann Patchett is in the running for the award once more. She was shortlisted alongside novels exploring subjects from adultery to ancient Greek love to wartime atrocities in Romania.
     Six novelists were named as contenders for the 17th annual award of a prize dedicated to excellence in fiction written by women.
     Three American writers were named: Patchett, Madeline Miller and Cynthia Ozick, who, at 84, is the oldest writer to have been shortlisted. There was one Briton, Georgina Harding, an Irish writer, Anne Enright, and the Canadian Esi Edugyan."
— Mark Brown, The Guardian

Get books by all of these authors here...

Haute (altitude) Couture

"[Nicholas] De Monchaux has constructed Spacesuit [: Fashioning Apollo] (maybe slightly too cleverly) as a series of layers, each corresponding to the 21 layers that comprised the A7L space suit of the Apollo missions. The author revels in finding curious details from the material history of the world, and Spacesuit bursts with dinner-party fodder: Did you know that the U.S. government’s documentation of the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests created a worldwide film shortage? Or that the Apollo mission’s computer-backup system was crafted into a binary pattern that was then physically woven into ropes? And that only seamstresses could be called upon to do this work properly? [...]
     The narrative heart of Spacesuit is the story of Playtex, the women’s undergarment manufacturer. The company, known at the time as the International Latex Corporation, triumphed over the more politically connected, engineering-driven Hamilton-Standard to win the Apollo lunar space-suit contract. It plays out like an after-school special: ILC’s team, a motley group of seamstresses and engineers, led by a car mechanic and a former television repairman, manages to convince NASA to let them enter their 'test suit' in a closed, invitation-only competitive bid at their own expense. They spend six weeks working around the clock — at times breaking into their own offices to work 24-hour shifts — to arrive at a suit solution that starkly outperforms the two invited competitors. In open, direct competition with larger, more moneyed companies, ILC manages to produce a superior space suit by drawing on the craft-culture handiwork and expertise of seamstresses, rather than on the hard-line culture of engineering.
     [...] the suits, de Monchaux says, were never actually constructed according to engineering drawings. The drawings were always descriptive, not prescriptive: produced after the fact. To fit into NASA’s engineering system, ILC had to essentially reverse-engineer construction documents of each space suit after they had already been produced. This seemingly small detail points to the vast blind spots across different cultures of making and knowing, and de Monchaux happily points out the appealing irony: The very image of NASA’s technical triumph, the most iconic image of the space race, is in fact a 'throwback' — more craftwork than Kraftwerk."
— Rosten Woo, Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy this book here...

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Job of Writing

"[...] So set your own deadlines. 'By the end of the day I will have written 500 words. I will have written five pages. I will write the first section of chapter one.' Then set your pace by the available time you have to write and meet your goal and deadline.
     Eviatar Zerubavel, author of The Clockwork Muse, writes that when he works with a deadline, he sets his pace by determining how much he needs to write and 'divides the estimated length (in terms of number of pages) by the pace (in terms of number of pages a day)' to determine the amount of time he needs to write (p. 69). He estimates that he writes 1 to 2 pages a day; he lists each manuscript section by number of pages planned for that section; then he calculates that his book manuscript of six chapters will require 93 days of writing at one to two pages a day. He prepares a calendar by marking all the days he will have time to write (by crossing off days that his teaching or vacation or travel schedule will prevent him from writing. Then he makes himself write on those days, on that schedule, at that pace. (If he writes every day he finishes his book in 13 weeks, if he writes six days a week, he finishes in 15 weeks; if he writes only two days a week, then he needs to write for 46 weeks to complete his manuscript.)
   Can you stick to this kind of schedule? Would writing with a goal and deadline each day work for you? It’s another strategy for you to consider."
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Columbia University)

But this book here...

If you need a deadline, go here...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Treasure Triage

"Papyrus Harvest" from: Wikimedia Commons

"Then comes a morning, usually in late March or early April, when the strengthening sun streams through my windows, throwing a clear light on the tangle of volumes that amble like ivy across coffee tables, nightstands and countertops. I take a deep breath, stiffen my back and prepare to weed. [...]     Some of the choices are relatively painless; it’s almost a relief to discover that part of the bibliophilic undergrowth I’m cutting through is the result of duplicate copies.  My wife and I had some books in common when we tied the knot and merged our libraries, and in narrowing two sets of Jane Austen’s novels to one, we’re voting with confidence on the future of our marriage. [...]
     But any book weeder, no matter how lenient, inevitably wonders if he’s weeding too much. Like many readers, I’ve often confronted the basic dilemma of culling one’s shelves, which is that the book one gives away today is the very title that will be needed — or fervently desired — tomorrow.
     [...] Why weed bookshelves at all? Why not simply build more shelves to accommodate the overload — or, if necessary, move to a bigger place? What’s more, with the rise of electronic books, which can store thousands of titles within a laptop, book weeding just might become a happily forgotten art."
— Danny Heitman, Salon

"What's the point of keeping most books once they've been read? They huddle together on the shelves and then, when shelf space runs out, they stand around in precarious columns on the floor, making fossil impressions on the carpet, doing nothing really more serious than bearing witness to what you've read in the past few decades. Do they speak to your visitors of your capacious literary appetite? Or do they just count as old friends, the rows of Nabokovs and Thomas Manns, standing protectively around you on permanent guard?"
— Stuart Walton, The Guardian

"Two years ago, I re-organized my library, and gave away 20 cartons of books, culled according to the following general principles:
♦ Unless you are an Egyptologist, you only need one, at most two, enormous coffee table books on the Art of the Pharaohs.
♦ If a country, like Czechoslovakia, no longer exists, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to take the travel guide along with you when you go.
♦ If the reproductions in an art book are so fuzzy and blurred that you can’t tell the work of the Impressionists from that of the Pointillists, or even from the Surrealists, get rid of it.
♦ Ask yourself the following hard question and answer honestly: If I live to be 100, will I read this book again?"
— Francine Prose, The New York Times

Buy more books here...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Start by starting...

From: I Love Reading and Writing!

"Because anxiety is energy, the key to transforming it into creativity is to learn to harness it. Yet, how do we rein in our anxiety so we might write or create art?
     Here are some suggestions that help me transform anxious energy into creativity:

♦ Take care of your basic needs. First, it’s important to simply take care of your basic physical and emotional needs. This suggestion may seem obvious, but when in the throes of anxiety, I often forget that I haven’t eaten for the day or that I’m actually running on very little sleep. And it’s important to focus on doing simple activities, like taking a shower, taking a walk, or relaxing.
♦ Engage in creative procrastination. If you’ve taken care of your basic needs and you still don’t feel ready to engage your artistic work, then I suggest creative procrastination. In my opinion, procrastination has a bad rap. But I believe that it’s really a significant way to ease the pressure we may feel and to prime the creative pump. Everyone has their favorite ways to procrastinate, but what I suggest is to do something that is likely to stimulate your creative brain, like going to the library and reading some great literature or going to the museum and looking at great art. Often, once I’ve engaged in some creative procrastination, then my anxiety is more manageable and I feel ready and inspired to write.
♦ Free write. Free writing lets you transfer all your anxious thoughts from your brain to the page. When done in a specific manner, it becomes a way to dump your worries and park them elsewhere. The best way to free write is to set a timer for 5-10 minutes. Start writing and keep writing without lifting your pen or hand from the page."
— Ami Mattison, poetryNprogress

Friday, April 13, 2012

Authors Be Gone

From: CoverBrowser

"It's easy to see the positive in the Department of Justice's decision to file a lawsuit against publishers and Apple over ebook pricing: it means cheaper ebooks, right? And an end to the shadowy publisher/Apple conspiracy to, according to the DoJ, 'end ebook retailers' freedom to compete on price, take control of pricing from ebook retailers and substantially increase the prices that consumers pay for ebooks.'
     Amazon was certainly quick to rejoice, releasing a statement calling the settlement 'a big win for Kindle owners,' and saying that it looks forward 'to being allowed to lower prices on more Kindle books.' [...]
     The DoJ lawsuit plays, it seems to me, right into the hands of Amazon. Yes, we'll have cheaper books, but at what cost? Is it worth paying a little bit less for a title if it threatens the future existence of the publishers who are bringing us the books? Or will we be happy getting everything we read from a vastly reduced pool of presses?
     Authors Guild president – and fantastic writer – Scott Turow says the US 'government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition. This would be tragic for all of us who value books and the culture they support.' "
— Alison Flood, The Guardian

"[...] But now, with e-books, the chickens are coming home to roost. In February, veteran author Jim C. Hines discovered that Amazon had discounted his $2.99 e-books to 99 cents, cutting his royalties in the process. Jim tried in vain to discover why Amazon had done this. One Amazon rep told him that the company reserved the right to re-price their e-books ('...sole and complete discretion to set the retail price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program'). Jim made a stink, and another rep got in touch with him to say that in his case, they’d lowered the price because they had out-of-date information about how he priced his books in the Kobo store.
     This is what DRM enables. Imagine Amazon and other platforms all reserving the right to lower your e-book prices to match a competitor’s lowest advertised price. Imagine if Amazon decided to cut your $3.99 book to 99 cents for a promotion (while paying you royalties on $3.99 for the duration of the promotion). Its competitors would soon notice that Amazon is advertising your book at 99 cents and invoke their right to price match. The upshot: your book is never going back to $3.99, ever. Such baked-in price matching would have the effect of making all price drops permanent."
— Corey Doctorow, Publishers Weekly

"[...] an attitude of mind."

"Dora Saint, a prolific and gentle chronicler of English village life who wrote under the pen name Miss Read, has died at age 98.
     Saint died April 7 at her home in Great Shefford, 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of London, the Newbury Weekly News reported.
     In 28 novels between 1955 and 1996, Saint wrote of the small conflicts and quiet excitements of life in the fictional villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green. She also wrote 16 other books including two volumes of autobiography.
     The first book, Village School, drew on her experiences of village life and teaching. The pen name Read was her mother's maiden name.
     A review in The Times said events in that book were small 'but observed with an exactitude, animation, and sense of comedy that recall a Brueghel painting of village folk.'
     Saint believed that 'happiness is the result of an attitude of mind.'
     'I believe you can build it out of small things, out of hearing someone calling across a garden, a robin in a hedge, a cat in the woodshed," she once said. 'When I hear depressing news on the radio, I can switch off and drift into what is, I suppose, a dream world. I think all people like to look back, not because everything was better in the past, but because often they were happy then.'"
Associated Press
Church of Saint Mary, Great Shefford (from: YourLocalWeb)

"The parish [Great Shefford] is in the district of West Berkshire, on the River Lambourn. The modern civil parish includes the historical parish of Little or East Shefford, a small hamlet and lost settlement downstream.[1] The tiny Church of St Thomas there contains important monuments to the widespread Fettiplace family. The parish also includes the village of Shefford Woodlands, about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south of Great Shefford and close to M4 junction 14.
     The toponym of both Sheffords is derived from the Old English for 'sheep ford.' Great Shefford village has a public house, school, shop and petrol station, and 896 inhabitants (880 listed on the Millennium Stone opposite the petrol station).
     The Church of England parish church of Saint Mary is one of two existing round-tower churches in Berkshire. The other one is at St Gregory's parish church at nearby Welford."

You will find Miss Read's books here...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"I will brook no refusal, Miss Dashwood."

"Historians of Canadian literature often call Frances Brooke's The History of Emily Montague of 1769 the first Canadian novel. Though it was published in England and written by an Englishwoman, Frances Brooke spent the years 1763 to 1768 in Quebec, and drew extensively on her experience there for her novel, the first and best half of which is vividly set in Lower Canada.
     Emily Montague is no mean literary achievement. It has a lively heroine, Arabella Fermor (there is  further play on the allusion to the original of Pope's Belinda, although this Arabella is firmly Protestant) and a sentimental heroine, Emily Montague—a kind of contrast that recalls Richardson's vivacious Anna Howe and serious Clarissa Harlowe, as well as looking forward to Austen's Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Emma Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax; it has a well-developed sense of location; and it incorporates strong female characters and a vigorous feminist stand. It is an epistolary novel, and pays marked attention to the necessary hiatuses in communication between Lower Canada and England,
allowing time not only for transatlantic sailing, but also for the winter freeze-up of the St Lawrence River.  That is, while Brooke takes on the epistolary convention with its frequent strains on credibility, she is businesslike and convincing in following through on the consequences of her choice.
     Even today it is a good read, thanks to the vivacity of one heroine, the social and topographical interest of the story, and the rapid pace of the narrative.
     Nevertheless, by the time Jane Austen took the pen into her hands in the late 1780s, a sentimental epistolary novel of 1769 inevitably seemed dated, and to 'a mind lively and at ease' it must have called for parody.
     Young Austen, as I believe, answered the call; and Emily Montague seems to me a strong candidate as the novel most aptly parodied in her wild little fiction 'Amelia Webster' from Volume the First, as well as a prominent target, among others, for her exuberant take-off of the sentimental novel, 'Love and Freindship,' from Volume the Second."
— Juliet McMaster, Young Jane Austen and the First Canadian Novel: From Emily Montague to 'Amelia Webster' and 'Love and Freindship'

A Distillation

"When you pick up a novel by Anne Tyler, you can expect certain things. It will be set in Baltimore. It will follow families populated by out-of-step characters ranging from the slightly odd to the wildly eccentric, whose actions, or non-actions, are motivated by a need for love and tangible sense of self; this need is sometimes conscious, sometimes not. It will have a provocative, often seemingly contradictory title — The Accidental Tourist, Saint Maybe, The Amateur Marriage, Breathing Lessons. It will be a pleasure to read.
     The Beginner's Goodbye, Tyler's 19th novel, features all of these things and more — there is a ghost — and less; just over 200 pages, it is, both in literal weight and narrative complexity, lighter than most of the Tyler canon. Which should not be construed as 'less,' at least not in the pejorative sense of the word. In many ways, "Goodbye" feels like the center slice of an Anne Tyler novel, a distillation."
— Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

"The story goes like this: Aaron Woolcott’s wife, Dorothy, is killed when the oak tree in their backyard falls on their house, knocking over an old Sony Trinitron television, which crushes her chest. Shocked and grief-stricken, Aaron buries himself in work; he is an editor at a small publishing house that specializes in books like The Beginner’s Wine Guide, The Beginner’s Monthly Budget and The Beginner’s Book of Dog Training. He moves in with his sister and settles into a glum routine. That is, until he starts receiving mysterious visitations from Dorothy’s ghost."
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Buy all of Anne Tyler's books here...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Come and be read to... Erin Bow

"Having written, published, and even won a CBC Canadian Literary Award for your poetry, you definitely have a poetic voice. Had you always intended to write a prose novel or did the inspiration for the tale suggest the current form to you?"
Erin Bow:
"Plain Kate bubbled away at the back of my mind for a long time before I started it, with a great bang and rush. The first thing I wrote down was the first sentence: 'A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.' So the fairy-tale tone and the prose form were set from the first minute."
YA Book Shelf

"[...] Don’t be fooled by Plain Kate’s youth: This is full of blood magic and unhappy people doing unpleasant things, but there's lots of heart and redemption, too. A haunting, chilling (but never gory or graphic) tale with a fantastic girl at its center."
Kirkus Reviews

More about Plain Kate from readers:

"Erin Bow's prose is simple but it's more than that. I can't describe it as anything else but magic. The emotion that's weaved into her words is so powerful I almost broke out into a flood of tears when I came to a certain part of the story. Only I didn't because I was in a crowded bus and didn't want people to give me strange looks. My heart was shattered and if an author can affect me with only her words, you know she's done something very right and deserves high praise."
— Kkrystle Yanagihara, Good Reads

"[...]There is nothing that prepares you for what’s inside. So you wander in, try a sentence. Or maybe two. Then before you know it, you have read a hundred pages and you simply must finish it because you have to know what happens in the end."
— Nafiza, Good Reads

Join us on Sunday May 27, 2012 to hear Erin Bow and five other outstanding Canadian authors read from their latest works. Sit back, relax... and be read to.

For more information about the Elora Writers' Festival go here...

And buy all of Erin Bow's books here...