Sunday, March 31, 2013

" A story begins as a blind groping in the dark [...]"

"I don't think Alice Munro would care to be called my hero, or anyone's. And yet she is the writer whose female characters I feel the most kinship with. Whether she is a feminist writer or not, Munro has said: 'I never think about being a feminist writer, but of course I wouldn't know. I don't see things all put together that way.'"
— Nell Freudenberger, The Guardian
Read more…

"In his 2004 New York Times review of Alice Munro’s Runaway, author Jonathan Franzen painted himself into a corner by bluntly stating what has likely occurred to most reviewers of Munro’s work: 'Runaway is so good that I don’t want to talk about it here. Quotation can’t do the book justice, and neither can synopsis. The way to do it justice is to read it.'"
Quill & Quire

Buy all of Alice Munro's books here... just an hour's drive from Lake Huron and the region of Ontario where most of her stories are set.

Thursday, March 28, 2013



"Argentinian illustrator Isol has beaten The Hungry Caterpillar's creator Eric Carle and War Horse author Michael Morpurgo to win the world's largest award for children's literature, the SEK5m (£500,000) Astrid Lindgren memorial award.
     Given annually by the Swedish government to an individual or organisation working 'in the spirit of Astrid Lindgren' to 'safeguard democratic values,' there were 207 candidates from around the world competing for this year's prize.
     Isol, born Marisol Misenta in Buenos Aires in 1972 and an illustrator, cartoonist, graphic artist, writer, singer and composer, was chosen by a jury of 12 international children's literature experts to stand alongside former winners including Shaun Tan, Philip Pullman and Maurice Sendak. Her books, according to today's announcement, expose the 'absurdities of the adult world.'"
— Alison Flood, The Guardian
Read more…

It's a jungle out there...

From: CoverBrowser

"Those who know the business are getting published. They don’t necessarily know the intricate mechanics of the book business but they understand who is reading and why. They write for someone. They do what is necessary to be taken seriously and to be comprehended. That means learning things like comps and pitches and queries. […]
     Study the dress and mating habits of publishing professionals. Mingle among them. Gain their trust. Attend writers conferences. Sit with agents and talk with them. Look at their jewelry and note the restaurants they mention. Listen to how they talk. Dine with them. Look at the writers they like. Note the kinds of jackets these writers wear. Consider buying similar jackets.
     Above all, make your text sing. Keep making it sing. Be stealthy and cunning and ruthless and keep at it and you will get this novel published the way you want it published and you and your agent and your publisher will all be happy."
— Cary Tennis, Salon
Read more…

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

“[...] let the soda crackers be soda crackers” [which] “are mysterious enough as it is.” — Saul Bellow

For the nineteenth time in nineteen years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has gone to a writer outside of the US. As with most people in this country, the members of Still Eating Oranges were previously unfamiliar with the work of Chinese author Mo Yan. If he is as talented as last year’s winner, Tomas Tranströmer, then we have reason to be excited. As usual, though, a certain group (comprised mostly of Americans) has come out to criticize the Nobel committee for snubbing Cormac McCarthy or Joyce Carol Oates or Philip Roth. Those familiar with this annual tradition will remember that Roth, in particular, has become the cause célèbre for angry American pundits. The US has not had a laureate since Toni Morrison, the logic goes; and so there must be bias afoot. […]
     A certain literary culture dominates contemporary American schools and publications. In the past, we have considered a few of the effects—brutish, ironic and conflict-based stories—of this establishment. Its heroes and models are the world’s Roths, Raymond Carvers, John Updikes and Jonathan Franzens; its laws are 'subtext over surface,' 'sincerity kills' and 'realism trumps exaggeration.' It began to take off in and around the 1950s, popularized by the writing of Norman Mailer, Roth and others. It took root irrevocably in the following decades. This coincided with the rise of ever-more-unavoidable, ever-more-strict MFA programs and writers’ workshops, which indoctrinated at least two generations of writers into the same mentality.
     Today, peer pressure, school curricula, editorial taste and online writing guides ensure that new American writers all feed from the same trough."
still eating oranges
Read more…

Past Perfect


"[..] as I step inside the door, a shelf to my left offers a clue: Amish romance novels, all with covers depicting lovely Amish-clad Mädchen hovering over pastoral landscapes, line the shelves. A handwritten note on neon green paper taped to one shelf says, 'New! Lydia’s Charm.' Published by Barbour Books, the novel tells the gentle story of a widow who moves to Charm, Ohio, and is pursued by two Amish suitors, one a widower with three unruly boys and the other a shy bachelor. Lydia’s Charm is joined by Amish novels published by Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Bethany House, Revell, Harvest House, and other evangelical houses.
     Most of these books, I discovered, were in fact written not by Amish authors but by evangelical Christians."
— Valerie Weaver-Zercher, Los Angeles Review of Books

Monday, March 25, 2013


"The future arrived much earlier in our house than anywhere else because my mother is an emerging technologies consultant. Her career has included stints as a circus horse groom, a tropical agronomist in Mauritania, and a desktop publisher. But for most of my life she has lived by her unusual ability to see beyond the glitchy demos of new tech to the faint outlines of another reality, just over the horizon. She takes these trembling hatchlings of ideas by the elbow, murmurs reassurances, and runs as fast as she can into the unknown.
     When the web and I were both young, in the mid-1990s (with 10,000 pages and a third-grade education to our respective names), video conferencing was my mom’s thing. We had our county’s first T1 fibre-optic line thanks to her, and I grew up in a house full of webcams, shuddering and starting with pictures of strangers in Hong Kong, New York and the Netherlands, to whom I’d have to wave when I got home from school. Later on, when I bought a webcam for the first time, I could not believe you had to pay for them — I thought of them as a readily available natural resource, spilling out from cardboard boxes under beds."
—Veronique Greenwood, Aeon
Read more…

For books by Richard Matheson and books about how we see the future — or how we used to see the future — go here...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"[…] like someone’s idea of a bookshop.”

From: eBay

"[…] The Monkey’s Paw specializes in oddities like Life-Spark Stories: printed matter that has fallen between history’s cracks and eluded even Google Books’ all-seeing eye. There are Victorian etiquette handbooks, antique sex manuals, obscure scientific treatises. There are forgotten 19th-century travelogues with sumptuous chromolithographs and leather-bound correspondence courses on fingerprinting. There are medical books (Hewat’s Examination of the Urine), how-to guides (Safety in Police Pursuit Driving) and historical studies: Drug Adulteration: Detection and Control in 19th-Century Britain, The Water Closet: A New HistoryThe Puppet Theatre in Czechoslovakia. There are books whose accidentally poetic titles alone are worth the asking price: Prospecting for Uranium, Magnetic Removal of Foreign Bodies,  South Australia From Space. A sign in the Monkey’s Paw window dryly sums up the inventory: “Old & Unusual.”
     'This isn’t the store where you’ll find the book you were looking for,' [owner Stephen] Fowler says. 'It’s the store where you’ll find the book you didn’t know you were looking for.' You may find something else surprising at the Monkey’s Paw, too: a glimpse of the future, a way forward for the old-fashioned bookstore in the age of the iPhone and the e-book." [...]
     You could also say that the Monkey’s Paw is an idea masquerading as a bookshop. It’s a cross between a retail establishment and a conceptual art installation, which upends traditional book-trade values and views the literary canon through a cracked lens. It’s a bookstore that argues that bookstores are, by definition, Dickensian old curiosity shops.
     'Most booksellers can’t adjust to the postprint era,' Fowler says. “The only way to sell books in the 21st-century is as artifacts. I’m a 20th-century person myself, but with Monkey’s Paw, I’ve tried to adapt. This place is a church of print. It’s just that the old rules are a bit scrambled.'”
— Jody Rosen, The New York Times (tmagazine)
Read more…

Much like The Monkey's Paw, The Reanimation Library is trying to preserve and rehabilitate the unfortunate discards of a digital age.
     You can find them here...

"The Reanimation Library is a small, independent presence library open to the public. It is a collection of books that have fallen out of routine circulation and been acquired for their visual content. Outdated and discarded, they have been culled from thrift stores, stoop sales, and throw-away piles, and given new life as a resource for artists, writers, cultural archeologists, and other interested parties."
— Reanimation Library

Thursday, March 21, 2013


"By 1967, it had already been 11 years since Leonard Cohen published his first volume of poetry. He had also written two novels, and was famous enough back in his hometown of Montreal for the Canadian National Film Board to produce a biography of him called Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen. But when he appeared with Judy Collins at a concert in New York’s Central Park that summer, few in the audience knew much about him. Some knew that he wrote 'Suzanne,' a stunning song Collins introduced to the world on her 1966 album In My Life. What almost no one knew was what Cohen himself actually sounded like, since he had yet to release an album.
     […] As a record label head put it, 'You finish listening to a song of Leonard’s and you know [...] he didn’t let that song go until he’s finished with it.' Not so surprising, perhaps, in one who had been publishing poetry for a decade before he recorded music. And, with considerable success: his Selected Poems 1956–1968 sold 200,000 copies, [Sylvie] Simmons reports. But still, virtually no one makes a living from their poetry, so Cohen, then living intermittently on the Greek island of Hydra, plucked a string from the lyre of the oldest Greek poet of them all, Homer, and added music to the act."
— Tom Gallagher, Los Angeles Review of Books
Read more…

Buy this book, and all of Mr. Cohen's books here...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ripe for the picking: £2,500

From: Indulgy

Since our Writing Competition is on hold, here's word of a competition ripe for the picking  and the deadline isn't so bad either: May, 31, 2013.
     I love a good deadline. It's like an alarm bell that calls up the Muse...

"The first Festival of Garden Literature celebrates garden writing as a genre, with a particular emphasis on Memoir. We are holding a writing competition for a piece of literary memoir inspired by, or set in, a garden.
    Judged by Antonia Fraser, Adam Nicolson and Sigrid Rausing, a prize of £2,500 will be awarded to the winning entry. Maximum word length: 2,500 words. […]
     The Prize is open to writers of any nationality writing in English, 16 years old and over at the time of the closing date.
     Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant and by submitting you are confirming that the work is your own. Any evidence to the contrary will result in immediate disqualification.
     Entries must never have been published, self-published, published on any website, blog or online forum, broadcast nor winning or placed (as in 2nd, 3rd,, runner up etc) in any other competition. Simultaneous submissions are allowed but will become ineligible should they win a prize or be published prior to the prize-giving date; entry fees will not be refunded.
     The deadline date for entries is 12 midnight (UK time) on Friday 31st May 2013 (postal entries postmarked 31st May but received later will be accepted)."
Read more…

Here's a note about the Elora Writers' Festival Competition in 2014.

And come and hear Sonia Day read from her works on May 26 at the Elora Writers' Festival  she's a master of "Garden Literature."

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Many were tweeting furiously."

From: Infmetry

"The world of digital publishing start-ups brings to mind blogging in its nascent stages. The guiding principle seems to be: if anyone can scribble on the Internet’s wall, anyone can become an author, and any text can become a book. Online, a book’s form warps into something more malleable, and fired-up digital publishers are trying to figure out how to turn that into a business—even if it means a proliferation of books that might as well have been blog posts.
      'A book is a startup,' declared Peter Armstrong in a speech about his serialized book company, Leanpub. 'I said it in 2010, and I’ll say it again.' Armstrong had on Steve Jobs couture—a long-sleeved black shirt and blue jeans—as he addressed a packed audience in New York at the Tools of Change conference, three days of workshops about the future of books, specialized breakout sessions, and an e-reading exhibition called the 'Digital Petting Zoo.' […]
     Armstrong suggests that a book and a start-up are each 'a risky, highly creative endeavor undertaken by a small team, with low probability of success.' In either case, he says, you can go into 'stealth mode'—which, he contends, will easily result in creating something that nobody wants. 'To say you’re going to go off in a room and write the perfect thing without getting feedback from anybody is—I don’t want to say "arrogant"—but I couldn’t do it.' Editors, he adds, 'function as a good proxy for readers'—but are not as effective as readers themselves.'"
— Betsy Morais, The New Yorker
Read more…

Speculative Fact

News of secret courts being introduced in the world's oldest democracy [the U.K., not Greece] should scare any rational human. The right to a public trial has survived feudalism, Henry VIII and the industrial revolution, but couldn't stand up to the forces of global capitalism. Secret courts could be an idea from Alan Moore's polemic on Thatcher's Britain, V for Vendetta (today enjoying a second life inspiring Occupy protestors and the Anonymous hacker group) or from Homeland, the latest novel from science-fiction author Cory Doctorow.
     Doctorow's 2007 young adult novel Little Brother introduced teenage readers to the writer's outspoken ideas on technology and personal freedom. The novel's title is of course a play on Big Brother, from the granddaddy of all dystopian SF, George Orwell's 1984."
— Damien Walter, The Guardian

Buy all of Cory Doctorow's books here...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Screen Writer

"When I was 13 or so, I watched a movie in which a young writer (played by Frank Sinatra?) and his girlfriend go to an Italian restaurant to celebrate the acceptance of his first short story. The restaurant’s owner is celebrating too, as are all the people sitting at the other tables, which are covered with checkerboard tablecloths and lit by candles dripping wax. Everyone wishes the writer well, no one more so than I, who tried to foresee such a moment when I, too, would become a writer. The acceptance of the story. The cheers. The girl and the life of my dreams.
     Most films about the writing life are more accurate, because writers write them. And rarely is the writer shown as successful, triumphant or — are you kidding? — happy."
— Roger Rosenblatt, The New York Times
Read more…

"The movie ['Finding Forrester'] contains at least two insights into writing that are right on target. The first is William's advice to Jamal that he give up waiting for inspiration and just start writing. My own way of phrasing this rule is: The Muse visits during composition, not before. The other accurate insight is a subtle one. An early shot pans across the books next to Jamal's bed, and we see that his reading tastes are wide, good and various. All of the books are battered, except one, the paperback of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which looks brand new and has no creases on its spine. That's the book everyone buys but nobody reads."
— Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Read more…

What I find irritating about movie (and television) depictions of writers-at-work is the mandatory scene of the anguished protagonist pulling a besmirched-with-words sheet of paper from his/her typewriter, vehemently crushing it into ball and tossing it into an overflowing — with similar tainted and disfigured pages — wastepaper basket.
     No matter what our omnipresent "inner critic" says about it, who in their right mind would discard a first draft?
     And who, in this post-"Murder She Wrote" age, still uses a typewriter?

Friday, March 15, 2013

More than a Bobbysoxer

"'It’s got a lot of stuff, but if you’re asking me did I open my veins, the answer is no. There’s stuff in there about me working with the Mafia and Vegas and the early days. But it’s no kiss-and-tell. I kept some things secret.'
     My Way, An Autobiography, co-written with David Dalton, will be published by St. Martin’s Press on April 9. His life, of course, is the stuff of legend, starting out as a teenage heart-throb from Ottawa in the late 1950s, and rising to become one of the most admired, and wealthy, performers of his generation.
     The book isn’t even on the shelves and it’s creating a buzz.
     'I’ve had calls from film producers who heard about it,' said Anka. 'But I’m not there, yet. Maybe it’ll be a stage play. I just want to get it out and go from there.'"
— Ted Shaw, The Windsor Star
Read more…

"Born July 30, 1941, in Ottawa into a tight-knit Canadian family, Paul Anka didn’t waste much time getting his life in music started. He sang in the choir at Church and studied piano. He honed his writing skills with journalism courses, even working for a spell at the Ottawa Citizen. By 13, he had his own vocal group, the Bobbysoxers. He performed at every amateur night he could get to in his mother’s car, unbeknownst to her of course. Soon after, he won a trip to New York by winning a Campbell’s soup contest for IGA Food Stores that required him to spend three months collecting soup can labels. It was there his dream was solidified, he was going to make it as a singer composer; there was not a doubt in his young tenacious mind.
     In 1956, he convinced his parents to let him travel to Los Angeles, where he called every record company in the phone book looking for an audition. A meeting with Modern Records led to the release of Anka’s first single, 'Blau-Wile Deverest Fontaine.' It was not a hit, but Anka kept plugging away, going so far to sneak into Fats Domino’s dressing room to meet the man and his manager in Ottawa. When Anka returned New York in 1957, he scored a meeting with Don Costa, the A&R man for ABC-Paramount Records. He played him a batch of songs that included 'Diana' – Costa was duly enthusiastic about the potential of the young singer and songwriter. The rapid and enormous success of 'Diana'- his first number one hit – made him a star."
Paul Anka (official web site)

Preorder Paul Anka's memoir here...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Meet the winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction on May 26 in Elora

"At launch ceremony held on Monday, March 5, 2012 in the Sovereign Ballroom of downtown Toronto’s Le Meridien King Edward Hotel, author Andrew Westoll was named the winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction for his book The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery, published by HarperCollins. Noreen Taylor, chair of the Charles Taylor Foundation, announced the winner’s name before a packed audience of invited guests, publishers, and media, and presented him with a cheque for $25,000 and a specially commissioned crystal award, designed by Toronto graphic designer Peter Enneson, and created by Cascade Crystal.
     The remaining nominees each received a $2,000 honorarium. [...]
     The previous winners of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction are Wayne Johnston for Baltimore’s Mansion, published by Knopf Canada and awarded the prize on May 8, 2000; Carol Shields for Jane Austen, published by Penguin Books Canada and awarded the prize on April 22, 2002; Isabel Huggan for Belonging: Home Away From Home, published by Knopf Canada and awarded the prize on April 19, 2004; Charles Montgomery for The Last Heathen: Encounters With Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia, published by Douglas & McIntyre and awarded the prize on February 28, 2005; J. B. MacKinnon for Dead Man in Paradise, published by Douglas & McIntyre and awarded the prize on February 27, 2006; Rudy Wiebe for Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest, published by Knopf Canada and awarded the prize on February 26, 2007; Richard Gwyn for John A.: The Man Who Made Us, The Life and Times of John A. Macdonald, Volume One: 1815 – 1816, published by Random House Canada and awarded the prize on March 3, 2008; Tim Cook for Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917 – 1918, Volume Two, published by Viking Canada Canada and awarded the prize on February 9, 2009; Ian Brown for The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search For His Disabled Son, published by Random House Canada and awarded the prize on February 8, 2010; [and] Charles Foran for Mordecai: The Life & Times, published by Knopf Canada and awarded the prize on February 14, 2011."
Charles Taylor Prize

Find out more about Andrew Westoll and the 2013 Elora Writers' Festival lineup of authors here...

And buy all their books here...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"I could be handy mending a fuse/ When your lights have gone." — Paul McCartney

"Fans of Edward O. Phillips and his alter-ego protagonist, Geoffry Chadwick, will be pleased to learn that there’s a new book in town.
     Phillips has always had a loyal following in the gay community, with his understated thrillers-cum-comedy-of-manners starring urbane, gay, Montreal anglophone Geoffry Chadwick, but I think he is unique in the loyalty he commands from a broader sector of the reading public: PLUs, People Like Us. (Or at least, people like me.)
     Women of a certain age appreciate his well-mannered and sophisticated approach to life, and cherish his biased mandates about proper protocol and appropriate apparel (especially shoes). An even wider audience – anyone who savours Wildean aphorisms and pronouncements – will also welcome his frequently raunchy but always germane wit. […]
     I have always enjoyed the edge in Phillips’s writing, but this time there is an added depth. He deals with aging People Like Us – that’s everyone. It’s nice to have someone notice."
— Betty Jane Wylie,
The Globe and Mail
Read more…

Buy all of Edward O. Phillips' books here...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The EWF Writing Competition: We’re taking a break

"Thanks to all those writers who have contributed in the past to the EWF Writing Competition. In case you’ve been wondering why you haven’t seen any information about entering the contest this year, here's the scoop: we're taking a break.
     Our writing contest has slowly been taking on a life of its own, growing to include eight categories - poetry and prose for four age groups - which all need judging, prizes, presentations, marketing and more. The administrative duties have grown, as have the expenses in postage, prizes and volunteer time. The organizing committee has decided to streamline the entire Festival this year, and we're putting any sponsorship money towards the Festival itself, which is, after all, where the focus should be.
     The increasingly unwieldy contest needs a renewal, and this just isn't the year to do it. We've decided to step back, take a break, and find a new Chair or (I hope) Chairs/committee to re-invent the writing contest for our 20th Anniversary next season.
     Writers of all ages – and the teachers and parents who have supported our young writers, especially – we thank you for your efforts and contribution. Please don't run away! The new Contest Chair(s) will be reaching out to you next year.
     As the outgoing Contest Chair, I very much appreciate the contribution you have made to the EWF Writing Competition and the support you've given me in my role over the past six years. Stay tuned – and keep on writing!"
— Jean Mills, Contest Chair

This year the Elora Writers' Festival will bring a more accessible tone to an event that is already renown for its intimacy. In previous years we have allowed attendees to purchase a value-added, DINNER ticket that provided for a reception and sit-down meal with our six authors.
     This year every member of the audience will get to break bread, clink a glass and "schmooze" with the authors.
     So join us on Sunday, May 26 and top off a relaxing afternoon of readings by six of Canada's finest authors with an informal reception; replete with appetizers, rollicking conversation and fine Canadian wine.

For more information about the 2013 Elora Writers' Festival go here...

For information about another competition go here...

Monday, March 11, 2013

"[…] writing it down for safe keeping"

"Stephenie Meyer's subconscious has a lot to answer for. Almost 10 years ago, as a young mother in Arizona, she had a dream about an average teenage girl and a beautiful male vampire, sitting in a meadow, lost in conversation about the difficulties of their relationship. The specific problem was that if they became too close – if they gave in to the girl's intense desires – he'd hurt and potentially kill her. Meyer wanted to remember the story, but was struggling with her small sons' relentless needs, so began writing it down for safe keeping. It was the first story she had ever put to paper. A modest woman, a committed Mormon, she loved books, had always conjured up stories, but had previously thought the idea of writing anything herself would be presumptuous.
     That story became Twilight, the first of four books in a saga that has sold more than 100m copies, been translated into 37 languages, spawned a bogglingly successful film franchise, a much-discussed relationship between the film's young stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and a flood of visitors to the small town of Forks, Washington, where the series is set. […]"
— Kira Cochrane, The Guardian

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Independent bookstores... value added

The staff members of our our local bookstore always go out of their way to know exactly what's on their shelves. Especially all the books by the authors that will be reading at this year's Elora Writiers' Festival.

Find out more about the Festival and Robert Rotenberg here...

And get The Guilty Plea, and all of Robert's other books here...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"When someone writes as well as [Rupert] Thomson does, it makes you wonder why other people bother."

"In Secrecy, Gaetano Zummo, a real-life sculptor in wax in 17th-century Italy whose dramatic depictions of plague victims saw him commissioned by the Florentine court, is troubled by his past and by a dark, repressive Florence that is going through an economic slump 200 years after the Renaissance. [Rupert] Thomson was interested in a time 'when everyone was neurotic, disapproving and suspicious and there had to be a gap between your thoughts and your actions. What intrigued me about [Zummo's] sculpture is that it works on different levels. In his plague pieces you see something macabre about mortality and the transience of life, but also something sensual. And that is the way the whole world operated at that time. There is a level of visibility where things were obvious and open. And then there was the hidden life. As in Prohibition America, everything was forbidden, and so anything was possible.'
     The book is packed with arcane information about wax and much else, delivered via Thomson's habitual Rolls-Royce prose. It also builds to a page-turning climax. 'I'm usually fighting my natural page-turning abilities,' he says. 'A lot of people told me that they read The Book of Revelation in a day, which is exactly the sort of thing you'd think a writer is after. But I wanted people to read it slowly. I do build quite a lot into the words and I'm often trying to slow the reader down.' Thomson did allow himself free rein in Secrecy, however. 'I always thought my career would follow a McEwan-like path. Like him, I started off surreal and dark and macabre. But I feel that Secrecy could be read by pretty much anyone and there is no reason why it shouldn't be a mainstream novel.'"
— Nicholas Roe, The Guardian
Read more…

Buy all of Rupert Thomson's books here...

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Courage to Hesitate

"Olivia Chow is getting ready to lose Jack Layton for a second time.
     The CBC drama special Jack, the story of their life together and the death of the former NDP leader from cancer in 2011, will air on Sunday, March 10 at 8 p.m.
     Chow hasn’t seen it yet, but she knows the time is coming soon.[…]
     The truth is that it can’t be easy for her to relive those emotionally charged months in 2011 when her husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, fought it while bringing the NDP to major victory, then succumbed to another cancer in a matter of months, dying at his moment of greatest political triumph.
     'I wanted Jack’s story to inspire more people to get involved and try to make the world a better place,' is how she explains her reason for allowing this film to be made so close to the actual events."
— Richard Ouzounian, The Record

I find it rather disturbing to that the CBC has taken upon itself to produce the drama special "Jack" about the former leader of the NDP Jack Layton so close to his passing.
     The story, of course, is hard to resist; it holds all the components of great drama: a man struggling with terminal illness as he tackles the most important political contest of his life. But it seems a bit inappropriate and gratuitous: an exploitation of a grieving process that is still ongoing, not only for his close family and friends, but also for the public at large.
     Most endeavours of this kind — the recent Spielberg movie "Lincoln" comes to mind — allow the perspective of history to guide the narrative. If the producers had waited ten years or even longer to approach this subject I'm sure it would have taken on the weight (and value) of a vintage Bordeaux rather than the immediate, fruity, gratification of a Beaujolais nouveau.
     There are so many Canadian stories to dramatize: what about a series based on Alice Monro stories? Has anyone made a decent movie about Ernest Hemingway's time in Toronto?
     A movie about world-famous contralto Portia White? John McCrea (author of "In Flanders Fields")?
     Or Canadian Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, the man responsible (in part) for Winnie the Pooh?

From: Jetset Marketplace

"Christopher Milne {A. A. Milne's son] had named his toy bear after Winnie, a Canadian black bear which he often saw at London Zoo, and 'Pooh,' a swan they had met while on holiday. The bear cub was purchased from a hunter for $20 by Canadian Lieutenant Harry Colebourn in White River, Ontario, Canada, while en route to England during the First World War. He named the bear "Winnie" after his adopted hometown in Winnipeg, Manitoba. "Winnie" was surreptitiously brought to England with her owner, and gained unofficial recognition as The Fort Garry Horse regimental mascot. Colebourn left Winnie at the London Zoo while he and his unit were in France; after the war she was officially donated to the zoo, as she had become a much loved attraction there."
Read more…

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Caveat Scriptor

From: Wikipedia

"Writer beware. According to an email from the Science Fiction Writers of America, Random House has launched an imprint called "Hydra" with all the hallmarks of a sleazy, scammy vanity-press: no advance on royalties, perpetual, all-rights assignments of copyrights, and all production expenses charged to the writer before any royalties are paid."
— Cory Doctorow, bOING bOING
Read more here…
and here...

Faulkner's Litmus Test

Faulkner's map og Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi
(From: U. of Michigan Library via Hub Pages)

"I write. It is what I have always done, searching for what Robert Frost called 'a momentary stay against confusion.'
     But I want more than just wisdom — every writer does, outside the most hopeless of naïfs. Like most of my fellow scribes, I also yearn for fame, greatness and immortality, preferably in that order. Allow me to be immodest: I would like to write the best thing about Brooklyn since William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and a campus novel to rival Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I would also like to write a play and perhaps some poetry, if there is time.
     Let me go further: If you do not want your own version of the above, if you are indeed a reasonable and/or responsible young man or woman, then literature is not for you. If you have a compelling personal story to tell, tell it to a therapist. An MBA will do you far more good than an MFA. Pursue writing only if you are pathologically unable to pursue anything else. Otherwise, consider advertising." — Alexander Nazaryan, Salon
Read more…

"[…] mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. […]" — from the The Confiteor of the Catholic Mass (Wikipedia)

"[…] The gist of the thing is this: novelist Ian McEwan had just been accused [2008] of plagiarising from a historical memoir in his novel Atonement […]
     Authors of the caliber of Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Updike, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis and even Thomas Pynchon (who is notorious for shunning publicity) all wrote letters published in that week’s Daily Telegraph, basically standing up and saying 'I am Spartacus' – saying that if [Ian] McEwen was to be so casually accused of this heinous crime then they themselves were intimately acquainted with the crime in question. If anyone was to be waving a tar brush, it seemed, the overwhelming response from the writers was 'tar one, tar all.' The authors all admitted with gay abandon that they themselves had cheerfully plundered other work – be it historical writing, autobiography, primary-source documents, even other novels – in the writing of their own books, and said that such research was the lifeblood of any novel that depended on period detail. […]
     Literary editor of the august Times of London, Erica Wagner, weighed in too: 'We have come to a pretty pass where an author like Ian McEwen has to write on the front page of The Guardian explaining what research is. The myth of originality? There’s no such thing.'
     Research is essential, and we all do it, from all sorts of sources. Some of the authors who wrote their letters in support of Ian McEwen revealed their own sources – Colm Toibin admitted to using actual phrases and sentences from the work of Henry James in The Master, his (fictional) re-imagining of a period in the life of said Henry James; Rose Tremain acknowledged that her book Music and Silence depended, as she put it, 'to a shocking extent' on a small illustrated book by the name of Christian IV by one Birger Mikkelson; […]"
— Alma Alexander, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelist

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"[...] Little Screens: Short Stories"

This 1939 edition of Cosmopolitan feature a short story
by Ernest Hemingway (From: Azio Media)

"The short story, like the western, is periodically said to be on the brink of a comeback. The most recent example of this boosterism: an article by the New York Times’ new(ish) publishing reporter, Leslie Kaufman, titled 'Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories, in which 'a proliferation of digital options' is said to offer short fiction 'not only new creative opportunities but exposure and revenue as well.' […]
     A short story can be anything from an exquisite specimen of the literary art to a diverting pastime. In its mid-20th-century heyday, when even magazines like Mademoiselle published short fiction by writers like William Faulkner, stories offered readers an hour or two of satisfying narrative entertainment at the end of the day. Television has largely replaced that function, and the literary short story itself became a more rarefied thing, a form in which writers exhibit the perfection of their technique, rather like lyric poetry. With the exception of certain communities of genre writer and readers — most notable in science fiction — these writers aren’t reaching a wider audience because they aren’t especially trying to. The question is: Has (or will) the ongoing revolution in communications changed that? Is there any reason why it should? The Internet has seen a flourishing of online literary journals like the Collagist and Narrative, but the suggestion that these sites are turning short fiction into promising new sources of 'revenue' would probably make their editors laugh.
— Laura Miller, Salon

"HarperCollins Publishers announced today [November 26, 2012] the launch of HarperTeen Impulse, a digital imprint focusing on Young Adult short stories and novellas. The new imprint will publish short-form works from new and established authors, providing original and exciting new teen ebooks across a wide variety of genres.
     HarperTeen Impulse will publish between one and four titles a month, all of which will go on sale the first Tuesday of that month, branded 'Impulse Tuesday.' Impulse titles will benefit from dedicated program marketing, including extensive social media outreach, monthly newsletters, cross-promotion in HarperTeen print books, and strategic sales promotions."

Speed Writing

"Depressives have Prozac, worrywarts have Valium, gym rats have steroids, and overachievers have Adderall. Usually prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [...] the drug is a cocktail of amphetamines that increases alertness, concentration, and mental-processing speed and decreases fatigue. It's often called a cognitive steroid because it can make people better at whatever it is they're doing. When scientists administered amphetamines to college shot-putters, they were able to throw more than 4 percent farther. According to one recent study, as many as one in five college students have taken Adderall or its chemical cousin Ritalin as study buddies.
     The drug also has a distinguished literary pedigree. During his most productive two decades, W.H. Auden began every morning with a fix of Benzedrine, an over-the-counter amphetamine similar to Adderall that was used to treat nasal congestion. James Agee, Graham Greene, and Philip K. Dick all took the drug to increase their output.
     Before the FDA made Benzedrine prescription-only in 1959, Jack Kerouac got hopped up on it and wrote On the Road in a three-week 'kick-writing' session. 'Amphetamines gave me a quickness of thought and writing that was at least three times my normal rhythm,' another devotee, John-Paul Sartre, once remarked."
— Joshua Foer, Slate
Read more…

Monday, March 4, 2013

Do as I do

"W.G. Sebald taught his final fiction workshop at the University of East Anglia during the autumn of 2001. In the literary world he was rapidly gaining renown: there had been the succès d’estime of his first three books, and then the publication of Austerlitz earlier that year. In the classroom—where David Lambert and I were two of sixteen students—Sebald was unassuming, almost shy, and asked that we call him Max. When discussing students’ work he was anecdotal and associative, more storyteller than technician. He had weary eyes that made it tempting to identify him with the melancholy narrators of his books, but he also had a gentle amiability and wry sense of humour. We were in his thrall. He died three days after the final class.
     As far as I’m aware, nobody that term recorded Max’s words systematically. However, in the wake of his death, David and I found ourselves returning to our notes, where we’d written down many of Max’s remarks. These we gleaned and shared with our classmates. Still, I wish we’d been more diligent, more complete. The comments recorded here represent only a small portion of Max’s contribution to the class."
— David Lambert & Robert McGill, (via Richard Skinner)
Read more…

Buy all of W.G. Sebald's books here...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"[...] a thousand endearing quirks and a bold and unorthodox creativity [...]"

"Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time—one of the best-loved and best-selling children’s books of the past sixty years—was initially rejected by at least two dozen publishers. The story goes that later on, whenever L’Engle attended a literary event, she would carry the rejection letters in her purse. If editors happened to mention to her that they regretted not having had the chance to publish the book, she would whip out the proof that they had passed it up. Like most good stories, this one is probably apocryphal. But it ought to be true, not only because of its poetic justice, but also because it is entirely of a piece with L’Engle’s persona: prone to drama, a little irascible, and always asserting her mastery of her own narrative.
     As yet there is no full-length biography of L’Engle, who died in 2007 at age eighty-eight. Those of us who memorized her books as children might wonder who would want to read one. Isn’t Meg Murry, the gawky, headstrong protagonist of A Wrinkle in Time, a self-portrait of L’Engle as the bookish and brilliant adolescent she must have been?
     And wasn’t the Austin series a chronicle of her adult family life—the New England farmhouse bustling with children, pets, and glamorous friends always coming and going? But Listening for Madeleine, a lightly edited compilation of interviews conducted by Leonard S. Marcus with a variety of people who knew L’Engle, makes clear that the truth was more complicated. Just as reality plays an important role in even L’Engle’s most fantastic fiction, fantasy also tended to intrude on her representations of reality, so that what we imagine to be autobiography is in fact something far less stable."
— Ruth Franklin, BookForum
Read more…

Buy Listening for Madeleine and all of L'Engle's books here...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Retirement is a four letter word...

"Ruth Rendell's most famous creation, Chief Inspector Wexford, has retired, and at the age of 83, with more than 70 books under her belt and a Labour life peerage, she'd be forgiven if her thoughts were beginning to drift towards a gentle exit from the world of letters. After all, the 79-year-old Philip Roth, after a similarly half-century-spanning career, told the world he was 'done' with writing last year, and hasn't looked back.
     When I ask if this is the case, Rendell, resplendent and formidable in a red velvet cardigan, leans forward on the sofa in her bright Maida Vale house and looks horrified. 'I couldn't do that. It's what I do and I love doing it,' she says. 'It's absolutely essential to my life. I don't know what I would do if I didn't write.'"
— Alison Flood, The Guardian
Read more…

Get Ruth Rendell's latest (writing as Barbara Vine) here...

"Political Pornography"

"Beyond the most hard-core fiscal policy wonks, however, it’s difficult to imagine anyone outside the [Washington DC] Beltway being interested in this volume’s [The Price of Politics] granular telling and retelling of these matters, its almost blow-by-blow chronicle of the maneuvering, haggling, grandstanding and ideological positioning that have taken root on both sides of the aisle."
— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"The world rendered [in The Choice, by Bob Woodward] is an Erewhon in which not only inductive reasoning but ordinary reliance on context clues appear to have vanished. […]
     This tabula rasa typing requires rather persistent attention on the part of the reader, since its very presence on the page tends to an impression that significant and heretofore undisclosed information must have just been revealed, by a reporter who left no stone unturned to obtain it. […]
     In any real sense, these books are 'about' nothing but the author’s own method, which is not, on the face of it, markedly different from other people’s. Mr. Woodward interviews people, he tapes or takes ('detailed') notes on what they say. He takes 'great care to compare and verify various sources’ accounts of the same events.' He obtains documents, he reads them, he files them […]
     The genuflection toward 'fairness' is a familiar newsroom piety, the excuse in practice for a good deal of autopilot reporting and lazy thinking but a benign ideal.
     In Washington, however, a community in which the management of news has become the single overriding preoccupation of the core industry, what 'fairness' has too often come to mean is a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured."
— Joan Didion, The New York Review of Books
Read more…

"Erewhon [published anonymously by Samuel Butler in 1872] satirizes various aspects of Victorian society, including criminal punishment, religion and anthropocentrism. For example, according to Erewhonian law, offenders are treated as if they were ill whilst ill people are looked upon as criminals."
Read more…

Buy books by Samuel Butler, Joan Didion and Bob Woodward here…