Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"[...] make me see, by means of a single word..."

Marlo Johnston's 1,336 page biography

"[Guy de] Maupassant’s life has long proved attractive to biographers. Johnston’s book is not the only account of his life to appear this year. A somewhat shorter volume was published by Frédéric Martinez in February. They describe a life of extremes: success, failure; creativity, morbidity; joie de vivre and jadedness. Maupassant was a writer who worked hard and played even harder. His career was characterized by a rapid rise to acclaim and fortune, but also by bouts of illness caused by the syphilis he contracted as a young man. [...]
     Maupassant frequently acknowledged the influence of his master [Gustave Flaubert], as in his well-known essay, 'The Novel,' published as a preface to the novel Pierre et Jean. Here he cites Flaubert’s advice on the need for a singularity of vision, concisely expressed through style: 'make me see, by means of a single word, wherein one cab-horse does not resemble the fifty others ahead of it or behind it.' This concern for originality underlies Maupassant’s discussion of the novel. Often associated with realism, naturalism or psychological innovations which would anticipate Proust and Modernism, in 'The Novel' Maupassant distances himself from recognizable movements.
     He insists on the primacy of the artist’s necessarily subjective vision, arguing that the relativity of perspective makes 'reality' and 'illusion' one and the same thing. In the essay’s most celebrated statement, Maupassant concludes that 'gifted Realists should really be called Illusionists.' Instead of absolute truth, writers should instead aim to communicate to the reader the intensity of their unique interpretation of reality: they should offer not so much a 'banal photograph of life' as 'a vision that is at once more complete, more startling and more convincing than reality itself.'”
— Kate Rees, The Times Literary Supplement

Maeve Binchy (28 May 1940 – 30 July 2012)

"Bestselling Irish author Maeve Binchy, one of Ireland's most popular writers who sold more than 40 million books worldwide, has died in Dublin after a brief illness, Irish media and national leaders said. She was 72 years old. She was best known for her depictions of human relationships and their crises, mainly in the small towns of Ireland but also in London. 'We have lost a national treasure,' said Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny."
— Robert Barr, AP (via Huffington Post)

"Together with Stephen King (I have an eclectic reading taste), Binchy is the author who, for me, bridged the gap between childhood reading and adult. Her novels, starting with Light a Penny Candle, and the travails and troubles of best friends Aisling and Elizabeth, were my introduction to the emotional dramas of adulthood. An ancient copy of Circle of Friends (this time the best friends are 'big, soft-featured Benny, an adored only daughter, and Eve, the little bird-like orphan brought up by the nuns', still rests on my shelves today, and looking at Binchy's bibliography, I've read well over half of them."
— Alison Flood, The Guardian
Read more... 

Buy all of Maeve Binchy's books here...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Deep Cover

From: Bristow & Garland Booksellers

"Secret ciphers. Death rays. The newest guns and fastest cars. A suave government agent fond of cocktails and fancy cigarettes barely escaping death in exotic locales. The trappings of spy yarns are familiar—we know them from James Bond and other tales of page and screen. But they actually follow a blueprint laid out more than a century ago by William Le Queux."
— Marco Calavita, Wired

"Yes! I'm not mistaken at all! It's the same woman!" whispered the tall, good-looking young Englishman in a well-cut navy suit as he stood with his friend, a man some ten years older than himself, at one of the roulette tables at Monte Carlo, the first on the right on entering the room—that one known to habitual gamblers as "The Suicide's Table."
     "Are you quite certain?" asked his friend.
     "Positive. I should know her again anywhere."
     "She's very handsome. And look, too, by Jove!—how she is winning!"
     "Yes. But let's get away. She might recognize me," exclaimed the younger man anxiously. "Ah! If I could only induce her to disclose what she knows about my poor father's mysterious end then we might clear up the mystery."
— from Madmoiselle of Monte Carlo (1921) by William Le Queux (FullBooks.com)

Sunday, July 29, 2012


From: Deke's Collection

In this post-analogue age I doubt that there's any room for the accidental creation/evolution of a new book format. The very name itself, "Big Little Books," was the sort of inspired branding that gainsays premeditation.

"[...] In 1910, the name of the company was changed to Western Printing and Lithographing Company and moved into rented space in the Dr. Claredon I. Shoop’s building at State Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Dr. Shoop made patent medicines in the building, and Western printed labels for his bottles. When Shoop retired in 1914, Western took over the entire building. It remained the firm’s main office for several years.
     In 1915, the company was making a comfortable profit, but because the printing jobs were sporatic and in some cases seasonal, there were many weeks when the shop and workers had nothing to do. To resolve the problem, E. H. Wadewitz began to look for 'fill in' work. One of his 'fill in' contracts was the Hammerung-Whitman Publishing Company, a Chicago based publisher that specialized in children’s storybooks. Western contracted to print several thousand newly developed titles, but after the books were printed, Hammerung-Whitman ran into financial troubles and defaulted on payment for the books. Western, which had no experience in distributing books, found itself with a warehouse of titles for which it would not be paid. Wadewitz had to either write off the cost or figure out a way to sell the books to recoup expenses. Wadewitz decided to sell the books, thus Western took its first step toward adding a publishing and distribution component to its printing business. Over the next three years, Western recouped its costs by selling the books to book and department stores.
     In 1918, a second event took place that brought about an important change in Western’s development. The company received its first printing order from a retail firm, S. S. Kresge Company, a major five-and-dime chain. Although the order was for dozens of children’s books, a foreman working on the order confused the 'dozens' to mean 'gross' quantities, and twelve times the correct number of titles were printed. Too many for S. S. Kresge to use, Western was again faced with a decision of whether to write off the error or to try to sell the books. [...]
     During the depression, Western had success with two inexpensive Whitman products. One was its jigsaw puzzle line; the other was the Big Little Book® line. The Big Little Book® was created in 1932 when Sam Lowe conceived of a special book that would be bulky but small so that it could be easily handled and read by a young consumer. He made up three samples using cover and paper stock that would be used in the printing. He had the Art Department do black and white drawings and insert keyline text so that the dummy samples could serve as prototypes. Taking the prototypes to New York, he presented them as a ten-cent retail item, packed one dozen per title in a shipping carton. Retail buyers were intrigued with the concept and were particularly impressed with the titles. Lowe returned to Racine with more than 25,000 books pre-ordered."

Friday, July 27, 2012

What's the Big Deal?

From: Comic Book Realm

"[...] When they are starting out writers rarely make anything at all for what they do. I wrote seven novels over a period of six years before one was accepted for publication. Rejected by some twenty publishers that seventh eventually earned me an advance of £1,000 for world rights. Evidently, I wasn’t working for money.
     What then? Pleasure? I don’t think so; I remember I was on the point of giving up when that book was accepted. I’d had enough. However much I enjoyed trying to get the world into words, the rejections were disheartening; and the writing habit was keeping me from a 'proper' career elsewhere."
— Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

"What does it take to land a million dollar book deal lately? Well, so far in 2012 there’s been the case of the celebrity memoir (Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother), the notorious inside story (Amanda Knox), and the dramatic newsmaker (Greg Smith, the guy who quit working at Goldman Sachs with his infamous op-ed).
     With fiction, it gets slightly more complicated. Of course, there’s typically a bidding war for a follow up novel after a major bestselling success. Matthew Pearl’s move to Penguin Press for his next historical thriller called The Bookaneer and Neil Gaiman’s recent deal for five children’s books fall into that category.
     But the most romantic seven-figure book deals—what Publishers Marketplace calls a 'major deal' in their insider publisher code to indicate the amount of money involved—are debut novels."
— Claire Kelley, Melville House

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Land Grab

From: digitalaudrey

Intellectual property is just that—the landscape of the mind subdivided and developed into something marketable. And for writers, especially fiction writers, tilling the soil of that "plot" of land, using the imagination to build fanciful constructs that readers enjoy inhabiting, is the only way we can earn a living.
     But the digital world has changed all that. Books are no longer tangible, frangible, (burnable too, as history has taught us) hefty lumps of pulped wood that smell good and bow the shelves of libraries... and like slow food, take longer to digest. To new generations of readers books are mere fleeting flickers of binary code; no more valuable (in terms of RAM) than a few seconds of a cell phone video recording of grandma playing with a kitten. It has changed the way we perceive books, read them, market them, and value them (a knock-off is no longer second best: it's a replica, indistinguishable from the original).
     And Amazon and e-readers like the Kindle have changed the way we publish books too; by blurring the boundaries between the professional and amateur writer they have compromised quality. The boomer bulge of retirees and unemployed computer-savvy twenty-somethings have turned the cliché ("If I had the time, I'd like to write a book too.") on it's head. Now everyone seems to have the time—the market is being flooded (a tsunami of wannabes and boomers eradicating fence lines, protocols: standards of all descriptions) with a deluge of product.
     And like any real estate bubble—even a virtual one—when supply exceeds demand, the bubble bursts.
Michael Hale

"Ewan Morrison is an established British writer with a credit-choked resume and a new book out, Tales from the Mall, that the literary editor of the venerable Guardian newspaper hailed as 'a really important step towards a literature of the 21st century.' By his own account, Morrison is also being driven out of business by the ominously feudal economics of 21st-century literature, 'pushed into the position where I have to join the digital masses,' he says, the cash advances he once received from publishers slashed so deep he is virtually working for free. [...]
     The economic trajectory of writing today is 'a classic race to the bottom,' according to Morrison, who has become a leading voice of the growing counter-revolution – writers fighting fiercely to preserve the traditional ways. 'It looks like a lot of fun for the consumer. You get all this stuff for very, very cheap,' he says. But the result will be the destruction of vital institutions that have supported 'the highest achievements in culture in the past 60 years.'”
— John Barber, The Globe and Mail

Buy Ewan Morrison's books here...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Mine the ore in your own backyard."

We have all become jaded to the admonition "write what you know." But these examples of "famous literary characters based on real people" presented by Stacy Conradt at mental_floss may persuade budding writers to rethink their dismissal of this often ridiculed dictum. Especially when it comes to creating memorable characters.

From: Mujeres Riot

"Even as one of the wittiest female characters in literary history, Nora Charles from The Thin Man doesn’t hold a candle to her inspiration, Lillian Hellman. Lillian was author Dashiell Hammett’s lover for 30 years, but she was also a respected playwright, screenwriter, author and outspoken political activist. Hammett apparently told Hellman that she was the inspiration for his female villains as well."
— Stacy Conradt, mental_floss

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"This is really bugging me, which shouldn't, considering how good these guys are..."

There is much talk in creative writing circles about finding one's own voice; but there's a fine line between a unique "personal dialect,'' if you will, and a distracting reliance on habits of pat (and pet) phraseology.
     I have just been reading (side by side — I tend to do that: dip into a mouthful of one, then a gulp of the other) Don DeLillo's latest, The Angel Esmerelda (read a related post here...), a collection of short stories that span almost thirty-five years of his career, and Richard Ford's new novel Canada (go here...).
     Both works are by highly acclaimed masters of modern fiction, but reading them in tandem highlights these writers' stylistic quirks. Granted, that's why we read their books (plot is not preeminent among their gifts): for their insights about the human condition, their unique eyes and ears that inform us the way great painters transform mundane objects and scenes into paradigms of universal truth — all done with what seems to be slight-of-hand, magic. But by jumping back and forth between these two word conjurors the techniques they use to work this magic become more apparent.
     Try it yourself. Take any two of your favorite authors and read them in digestible chunks back-to-back. It 's a wonderful way to hone your sense of how scenes are set and characters are illuminated; but most of all, how tone and voice are fashioned into a distinct, stylistic fingerprint.
     Now, if only Don Delilo could avoid the word "this" and Richard Ford constructed fewer sentences that ended with a relative clause beginning with "which."
— Michael Hale

Get books by these authors here...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Liked because people like it...

"So, why didn’t I read [Stephen] King’s fiction? Was I simply an elitist, anti-populist literary snob who felt he would be soiled by reading stuff that sold? I do have some snob in me — it’s my sense that a lot of the books read by practically nobody are often good, whereas a lot of the books read by millions are often crap — but the term doesn’t fully describe my resistance to King’s fiction. [...]
     My wife felt it was wrong to stand in judgment of people who read fiction in order to escape from life, and I said she was right: I didn’t feel morally superior because I read John Cheever or David Foster Wallace or William Styron or Zadie Smith or Mary Lee Settle instead of Stephen King.
     I did feel, however, that I demanded something different (something more?) from a novel than I guessed most of the readers of Stephen King did. (Not that this made me morally superior, just more demanding, a high-maintenance reader.) Though of course I’d never read a King novel (or story), so maybe I was wrong.
     [...] Why, I wondered again, do some people in the literary business regard this extremely successful writer of genre fiction as a first-rate writer of literary fiction, a 'major' contributor to American literary culture? How is it possible that a novel as bloated and mediocre as 11/22/63 is can be deemed by the New York Times Book Review as one of the five best books of fiction of the year? Do we fear being labeled 'elitist' or 'liberal' if we don’t reward commercial success in other ways (as if an enormous advance and a river of royalties are not reward enough)? Or do we believe that commercial success on the King scale signifies, almost by definition, quality, the way a 20,000 square-foot house supposedly signifies to passersby that the owners must be important?"
— Dwight Allen, Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy all of Stephen King's books here...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Malcolm Gladwell's New Book

"Does being an underdog—whether as a team a country or an individual—help foster creativity? Why should people at the top of their fields quit their jobs and try to reinvent themselves? Little Brown has just announced that next year it will publish Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, on, as he says, the 'art and science of the underdog.' He sat down with me, and Page-Turner, last week to talk about the book, the Viet Cong, Impressionist painters, and whether his advice about reinvention applies to successful authors, too."
— Nicholas Thompson, The New Yorker (Page-Turner)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where real books are sold...

Selexyz Books, Maastrich, Holland. From: Flavorwire

"[...] With Amazon slowly taking over the publishing world and bookstores closing left and right, things can sometimes seem a little grim for the brick and mortar booksellers of the world. After all, why would anyone leave the comfort of their couch to buy a book when with just a click of a button, they could have it delivered to their door? Well, here’s why: bookstores so beautiful they’re worth getting out of the house (or the country) to visit whether you need a new hardcover or not. We can’t overestimate the importance of bookstores — they’re community centers, places to browse and discover, and monuments to literature all at once — so we’ve put together a list of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, from Belgium to Japan to Slovakia."
— Emily Temple, Flavorwire

Use the link to see more beautiful bookstores.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Non-Pulitzer and the Metrics of Magic

"On April 16, 2012, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced that it would award no Pulitzer for fiction in 2012. This was, to say the least, surprising and upsetting to any number of people, prominent among them the three fiction jurors, who’d read over three hundred novels and short-story collections, and finally submitted three finalists, each remarkable (or so we believed) in its own way. [...]

The board’s deliberations are sealed. No one outside the [Pulitzer Prize] board will ever know why they decided to withhold the prize.
     Utter objectivity, however, is not only impossible when judging literature, it’s not exactly desirable. Fiction involves trace elements of magic; it works for reasons we can explain and also for reasons we can’t. If novels or short-story collections could be weighed strictly in terms of their components (fully developed characters, check; original voice, check; solidly crafted structure, check; serious theme, check) they might satisfy, but they would fail to enchant. A great work of fiction involves a certain frisson that occurs when its various components cohere and then ignite. The cause of the fire should, to some extent, elude the experts sent to investigate."
— Michael Cunningham, Page-Turner (The New Yorker)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Reader Reviews

Summer is the best time to catch up on all the books that have languished on your shelf through the craziness of winter and spring. And the perfect opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about your favorite recent reads with all the fans of our blog.
  Go to our "Contact Us" window and send us your book reviews. You could win free tickets to next year's Elora Writers' Festival (our twentieth), or other cool, book-related stuff.
     And don't forget to visit Roxanne's Reflections Book & Card Shop in Fergus, Ontario. The recommendations by their knowledgeable staff (like the one on the left) will help you find the perfect summer read.

Caveat Lector

"[G.P.] Taylor [bestselling children's author of the Vampyre Labyrinth series] believes it is necessary to establish an age-ranging system for children's literature – despite the fact that the idea was mooted by children's publishers four years ago to widespread protests by authors. 'We've got Dickens with Oliver Twist who was abandoned by his parents and went off on a journey. We've got the Famous Five whose parents were quite neglectful and who went off on a journey. There was always safety. They never went as far as they did today. I think the way forward is a certification system for books, the same way we have in films,' said Taylor. 'For children, we've got to be really careful. [And] we've got to have a guide for parents.' [...]
     His views were roundly rebutted on BBC Breakfast by the writer Patrick Ness, who earlier this summer won the Carnegie medal for the second year running for his novel A Monster Calls, about a boy whose mother has cancer and who is visited by a monster.
     Ness welcomed the darkness in the literature written for teenagers today, and rejected the idea of age-ranging children's books. 'All you have to really do is read what teenagers write themselves, and I've judged competitions for teenagers writing and it's darkness beyond anything I would come up with,' said Ness. 'Teenagers look at this darkness all the time, and I always think if you're not addressing it in your fiction then you're abandoning them to face it themselves.'"
— Alison Flood, The Guardian

Get books by G.P. Taylor and Patrick Ness here...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Isn't it romantic...

"[...] but books are still unrivaled in their capacity to evoke fantasies and fuel the erotic imagination. A book does not allow the reader to be just an observer; it requires the intrinsic complicity of the mind, which stages a mental production based on the often sparse notes of the author, fantasies woven by words forcing the reader to bring into play his or her own desires or experiences.
     Having said this, what are we to infer from the sudden bestseller popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and the two sequels that compose E.L. James’s trilogy? In spite of their sophomoric tone and less than lucid writing, the story of (the oh, so beautiful) Christian Grey and Anastasia Steel, and their cat and mouse sexual game of sadist predator and virginal prey, has touched a chord in the collective imagination of readers, most of whom are women. [...]
     What is interesting about erotic books is the reflection they create, the image in the mirror that can be glimpsed when so many come to drink from the same well at the same time. The image we get from E.L. James is an affirmation of the willingness of women to forgo cynicism when it comes to love. We like stories where guilt is followed by redemption and sex is tied to emotion, not pornographic tales of domination and submission. Having a traumatic backstory to explain the inexplicable, and having love transform a would-be predator, are formulae that have worked throughout the history of romance literature and obviously continue to do so. We can expect E.L. James's version to beget many followers. Let us hope that the offspring of this erotic rebirth arrive better spoken."
— Gioconda Belli, Los Angeles Review of Books

Buy all of E.L. James's books here...

Friday, July 6, 2012

William Faulkner: "demon-driven"

OXFORD, Miss. — Five decades after his death, William Faulkner still draws literary pilgrims to his Mississippi hometown, the 'little postage stamp of native soil' he made famous through his novels.
     Oxford inspired the fictional town of Jefferson that was a frequent setting for his stories, and it's commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Nobel laureate's death Friday [today] with several events that include a tag-team reading of his novel, The Reivers, beginning about daybreak.
     Roughly 25,000 people a year visit Faulkner's antebellum home, Rowan Oak, which is now owned by the University of Mississippi. The author's meticulous handwriting appears on the walls of his downstairs office. Using pencil, he outlined events of his 1954 novel, A Fable.
     William Griffith, the Rowan Oak curator since 1999, said writing was a 'demon-driven' task for Faulkner.
     'You're going to hear about the agony and the sweat and the difficulty and the compulsion,' Griffith said. 'You're not going to hear anything about how great it was, how relaxing and beautiful it was. None of that. He just did what he had to do to get it done.'"
— Emily Wagster Pettus, Huffington Post

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wild West

"In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other. The standard three- and five-act plot structures—which permeate Western media—have conflict written into their very foundations. A 'problem' appears near the end of the first act; and, in the second act, the conflict generated by this problem takes center stage. Conflict is used to create reader involvement even by many post-modern writers, whose work otherwise defies traditional structure.

From: filmposters.com
A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible [...]
     The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet 'guides' to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict 'built in,' so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu."
still eating oranges