Friday, May 29, 2009
Too cool, eh? Sort of makes you want to learn Japanese. Apparently, it takes five years to even get borderline proficient.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Yesterday was my first classroom visit, although in absentia. My daughter confessed the most compromising thing possible to her teacher: that her father was a poet, and that he had published books. In reaction to the ubiquitous tyranny of the screen, the elementary schools are doing their best to encourage the reading of actual books, and the tykes have their own book clubs where they discuss the merits of each tome and, if the book has been judged the bestest ever, the kiddies compose letters to their favourite author explaining their delectable joys and favourite scenes. So it was natural, then, that my daughter would bring me up.
The teacher initially tried to use my daughter as her agent, getting her to mention that “the class” would like to see my book. I resisted. It is a very strange but frequent reaction: I am vulnerable to the charge that my poems are confessional, and bristle at that charge at the same time, for all poems are in some way a revelation of private thought and emotion. But it is true there is the dramatization of private quandary, and I have that feeling of being caught naked at the prospect of someone reading or hearing a poem of mine. Then there is the more practical part of the reaction: the book in question is unsuitable for children in terms of content, there is sex and suicide and I can imagine if the book were ever found in the classroom by the wrong kind of parent I would be labelled a pervert and face local ignominy. So I left my daughter to be crestfallen, and I failed her yet again by failing to redeem her interest.
Luckily, my wife volunteers at the school, she helps the teacher out –ironically- during the class’s computer sessions, and the teacher raised the point again, finishing her pitch with “It would be great if the kids saw that it is possible to write a book, that someone they know has done it, and that they could do it too.” My wife came home to me and recounted this conversation, and the old reaction welled up: No, I don’t want to be seen, I don’t want to be known. I suppose if I weren’t so compromising in these poems, some of which capture me truly in moments of abject failure, I wouldn’t be so perversely and fiercely proud of them. It’s not that I think of them as inadequate as poems; it’s that I fear the inadequacy of their maker. But I thought about the teacher’s objective, to get these kids thinking about writing as something they could do, and I looked through my book, the first section of which is all about my daughter, and I marked off ten poems that would be appropriate for reading to the class, poems essentially about joy and mystery. Thus there was an additional hook: the poems were written not only by someone the children knew, their classmate’s father, the poems were about someone they knew.
I was asked to come in, I was asked to read to the kids, I was asked to take their questions. I declined because the poems are, in terms of the language, far beyond their comprehension. I didn’t want to represent poetry to them as opaque, as ungraspable. What I wanted was the opportunity for my daughter to read the poem about her second birthday, a poem that rejoices in her mobility, her energy, her seekingness, and though it might not be fully understood, the main message is impossible not to apprehend: that she is loved.
My daughter got to read that poem, and a few others, and I imagine the classroom eyes, glazed over, and my daughter at the front of the class, enumerating my love, and the poems doing what the poems should do, representing poetry itself. I suppose I missed out. I asked her later how she felt reading the poems. She told me that “the words were hard” but that the teacher really seemed to like them. Apparently her classmates were silent. This was a marked difference from the last thing she brought to school, her kitten, who was petted by everyone in the room.
In moments like these it is natural to forecast the future, to wonder what our children will be. There are a few moments in my own history that sealed my destiny as a writer, and I wonder if this will be one of them for her, if she will look back thirty years from now and remember reading a poem about her to her schoolmates and feeling not chosen but somehow that inevitability to inform on herself, to offer up all she has. I am a physician, and the training was gruelling, and though I would be proud if she grew up to choose medicine, I would not wish it on her. But if writing chooses her, I will feel that my own gruelling mortifications thus far have paid a dividend far greater than my own poetry.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
There's an excellent interview with Terry Griggs over at Kerry Clare's Pickle Me This. I really want to thank Kerry for this, and her support of terry's books this Spring. She also reviewed both Dead and Quickening here.
The whole interview is fab, so check out the whole thing (just follow the Pickle Me This link above.)
And I'd like to take a second to wish Kerry the best in the coming weeks, as she's about to become a new mom. And to Stuart as well, of course. Best to you both.
Here's a taste of the interview:
I: What has been your experience of crime fiction? Prior to Thought You Were Dead, were you an avid reader of it? What writers and books are you most familiar with? What are your thoughts on the genre?
TG: Very little experience, really. Before starting research for Thought You Were Dead, I’d read maybe two or three mysteries. But at some point I became interested in the form and intrigued with its popularity, especially among readers who would not otherwise read genre fiction. I’m an Eng Lit grad, so for the longest time the only kind of work I read was literary. Not a lit-snob, just didn’t know any better, thought that’s where the good stuff was. And it is, of course, but certainly not all. I still think of literature as being in two categories, although for me it’s no longer the literary/ popular fiction divide, but basically what appeals and what doesn’t. Some books fulfill my reading needs and desires and others don’t—it’s as simple as that. I find this a satisfying re-arrangement of priorities and one that opens up the field.
As for books: I discovered Ian Rankin’s Rebus series early on and followed along —to think that his publishers had wanted to dump him at one point before he hit the big time! I’ve read all of P.D. James and Martha Grimes, most of Elizabeth George, and sampled many others.
Kate Atkinson I’ve always liked, and she’s written some mysteries of late (although I believe she doesn’t call them that). Haven’t delved much into the oldie-goldies yet, I confess, although Dan Wells, my publisher has just sent me a copy of Chandler’s The Little Sister.
I: What did you learn about crime fiction while writing this novel? Though you've constructed a send-up of the genre, you're still working within the formula. How was this experience different from your previous writing?
TG: I feel that I’ve always written mysteries, just not the kind that come with the sort of conventions that need to receive at least a nod as one is passing through. And literary does have its own formulas, perhaps less obvious ones. I found the genre to be a fair bit of fun, the form flexible enough to sustain a bit of larky handling. Although this book comes out as a send-up, it’s really just creative play and me inhabiting the genre in my particular, albeit subversive, way, making it my own, leaving my thumb print (evidence!). Plot is perhaps more easily traceable in Thought You Were Dead than in some of my other works, although I’ve never considered it a lesser element. I want to be a good storyteller.
Here's one of her answers:
Q: Who are your favourite short story writers? And what did you learn from them, as it applies to the craft of writing short fiction?
A: Oh, you know, Hemingway and Updike did all right, by the world and by me. They don't have all that much in common, but the small salient
details, the clues to character that I feel are at the heart of a lot of the stories of both helped me and inspired me deeply. When I was
quite young, I was a fan of Colette for the same reason: the penetrating look, the small weirdness. More recently, of course there's Leon Rooke, from whom I'm still trying to learn fearlessness...
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Not much time today, though a few things to report:
Terry Griggs launches Thought You Were Dead in Ottawa on Saturday, May 23rd, at 5 pm. The Manx Pub on Elgin. Chellis and Laphroiag. I've brought a mp3 recorder for the event: Terry is one hell of a reader. Hope to be able to run footage next week.
Another dozen Revengelits up at www.RevengeLit.blogspot.com including excellent stories by Michael Bryson, K. D. Miller, Brian Palmu and others. More to come there, including an entry by Evie Christie.
I'm in Ottawa the 23rd through the 26th for the Congress of the Humanities Bookfair at Carlton. If you happen to be going, please stop by.
Good review in the K-W Record of Terry's book by Alex Good this past weekend: will link to it when I can find it online.
Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann to launch in Toronto at Harbourfront next Wednesday, 7:30 pm. His wife Kari Grimstad will be reading.
After a day's respite, I'll be off to New York for a week, for BEA and a bit of a break. Posting might be thin around here, though I expect Shane Neilson, Cynthia Flood, Rebecca Rosenblum and a few others might fill in for me while I'm gone.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
One of the most exciting Canadian presses that I’ve come across in recent times is Biblioasis, in part because of their International Translation series, and in part because of Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell’s The Idler’s Glossary.
The third book in the Biblioasis International Translation series is Hans Eichner’s Kahn & Engelmann, which is releasing this week and has been getting some good advance press, including this great review from Library Journal:
Narrated by Peter Engelmann, a middle-aged veterinarian working in Haifa, this work is at once the story of a family and a memorial to Viennese Jews. The narrative, the stream-of-consciousness recollections of a man caught between the need to remember and the desire to forget, opens in both 1980 and 1880 and chronicles the Kahn family’s move from rural Hungary to Vienna, the narrator’s 1938 flight to Belgium and eventual settlement in Israel, and all the family drama in between. The result is a moving book full of humor and humanity.
Eichner led a pretty interesting life, fleeing Austria at the start of WWII, being shipped off to Australia where he studied mathematics, Latin, and English literature, and eventually settling in Canada, where he was the chair of German Studies at the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, he passed away last month at the age of 87. Kahn & Engelmann is his first novel, and it was published in Germany in 2000 and translated into English by Jean M. Snook (who also translated Gert Jonke’s Homage to Czerny: Studies for a Virtuoso Technique).
Monday, May 18, 2009
On and Off the Learning Curve
One strategy when facing an exciting but stressful prospect is -- not exactly denial, but displacement. As the launch for The English Stories got nearer and nearer, all my agitation about the book's quality and its probably dismal reception and the dreadful reviews to come (or, worse, the absence of any reviews) and the terrible sales and the snide remarks due from certain people -- all of that drained away into worry over the venue.
Convinced that I'd got carried away and invited far too many people for the space, again and again I ran a bunch of disaster fantasies. Annoyed guests leaving in a huff. Complaints from the hotel's other patrons. Serious discomfort for the elderly and disabled among those invited to my event. Not enough books for sale. Not enough food. Not enough chairs. By the afternoon of the event I was even fretting about vases, in case anyone brought flowers. . . .
Several anyones did -- irises, alstromeria, tulips, orchids, azaleas, all by chance in a palette of purples and pinks and mauves. They looked beautiful in their vases. There was a big crowd but just enough room, and a lot of noise so I had to Project Strongly as I read, and fine food, and lively conversation, and laughter, and a beautiful view of English Bay on a summer evening, and much general enthusiasm. Every single book got sold. Altogether it was a great evening, and timeless in that way things are when concentration on the Now is total.
So The English Stories have been launched. They're quite separate now, floating away, on currents over which I have no control. And early reactions are coming in. Surprising, some of them.
My literary education predated post-modernism by a chunk of years, and I've never been able to accept the notion that a writer has perhaps even less idea of what a text is about than any reader. (An analogy -- if I cook a cheese souffle for dinner and a guest says, "What a terrible fish stew you've made," it's hard to take that comment seriously. Yes, I know analogies don't make arguments all by themselves.)
Still, it is true that a writer can learn a lot about what s/he's written by listening to what readers notice, what moves or upsets or interests or angers them, which characters they care for, what brings tears, which descriptions make them frown, which story endings they regret or are happy about. That's the agenda now for The English Stories -- discovery. It'll be interesting for sure.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
It wasn’t that I’d caught him, most of the way through a party at Big Name’s place, with my wife, twice, once in the laundry room, once on the little balcony off the guestroom (it was a breezy summer evening, and in another moment, her black lacies would have flown from her big toe, some regrettable liberation’s flag!). It wasn’t that I’d caught him in the sack with my kid brother after that literary soiree at Three Named Poetess. Not even the incident with my wire-haired pointer, Grisham. No, it was that, after the quick-witted apologies and really clever excuses each time I caught him, his review in the Grub and Moil of my novel in alexandrines, The Cold-Footed Pastor of Gimli, (a passionate tale of Rosie, warm-everythinged and Irish-Cree, and the new-in-town Lutheran preacher, Yan, who was, well, cold-footed (I knew the novel had everything The Great Canadian One could ask for: Winter! Long, long winter! Mounties! Mounties mounting Mounties! Mounties mounting their horses with Tazerish abandon! Baptists! Lutherans! Seal-slaughter!)) was so heavy-handed, it landed like a clot of lead on the composing room floor. Or, more contemporaneously, a splat of weighty polysyllables too flabby to do a push-up between them.
I’d have revenge. I wrote a piece for the anthology he was editing. I knew he’d read it just for the pleasure of rejecting me, and, because it would be brought out by that press using as its mascot the fish-eating flightless bird of a continent no one owns nor wants to, I didn’t even care that the prose started out predictable and pedestrian. No! I mixed every metaphor I could manipulate! I punned pathetically! I advanced the plot academically, I narrated nuancelessly! And I inserted on the penultimate page a priceless paragraph, poetical, paradoxical and so startling with its freshness, that I knew, after the stretch of drivel I’d given him, his aesthetic sense would blow as surely as he’d blown my hound.
So that’s my story, dear reader. Death by prose. And I’ll pull a Mulroney if you ever mention it again.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Thought You Were Dead
by Terry Griggs
(Biblioasis, 224 pages, $19.95 softcover)
Thought You Were Dead is a book that's surcharged with creative energy, crammed with a playful fullness of invention that seems at times a threat to its binding.
It is, primarily, a parody of the traditional village mystery. The location is the southern Ontario town of Farclas, promoted by its boosters as "Friendly, Safe, Fun! "
The hero is Chellis Beith, researcher and fact checker for an eccentric novelist named Athena Havlock. His anachronistic line of work (Ms. Havlock does not, apparently, go online) makes him both a good amateur detective -- he recognizes "God is in the details" -- as well as a facile conversationalist whose head is always full of facts and factoids, and the difference between the two. His synapses fire so quickly his head sounds like a bug zapper, and almost everyone's dialogue similarly sparks with zingers. Such nimble mental and verbal patter is native to noir, but not what you expect from your typical cosy.
Mystery and intrigue hit close to home when a book reviewer is murdered in a neighbouring town.
"Who would want to kill a lowly book reviewer?" Chellis sensibly asks. Then decides: "Only about a thousand people (he) could think of offhand."
Then Ms. H. mysteriously disappears. Is there a connection?
Chellis, assisted by ex-flame/domestic scientist Elaine, is on the case.
Traditional mystery buffs may feel a bit put out. Griggs, a Stratford writer, hasn't written a puzzle book that invites the reader to pick up clues and figure out whodunit.
Instead she has opted for a more general satire, not only of the mystery genre but the world of CanLit in general.
One imagines Farclas to be somewhere in Alice Munro country, and when Chellis drives through "this dingier, ungroomed stretch of the province" with its immense fields sectioned into "deep squares of swishing yellow plant matter," he sees in its rundown streets the very source of its "literary gothic reputation."
And if this is the source of so much of our literary culture, at the other end retail receives no kinder treatment. One particularly acid scene has Chellis and Elaine going to the mall and visiting a big box bookstore furnished with shelves of books for Dummies and staff members who think Tolstoy is a Canadian author.
The structure is wobbly, with the story seeming to lose track of itself on occasion, perhaps from taking a bit too much delight in its own McGuffins.
But Chellis is a likable hero -- an orphan who is both cynical and gullible, as well as a slacker dedicated to his employer -- and the supporting cast are colourful diversions. The writing is relentless in its synaptic firing and the illustrations -- yes! illustrations! -- by Nick Craine help fill out a thoroughly enjoyable package.
Agatha Christie liked to refer to her own mysteries simply as "entertainments," a form to which Griggs shows herself a capable heir.
Alex Good is a Cambridge-area writer and producer of GoodReports.net, a website devoted to books.
by Shane Neilson
He looked good, chalked up, chalked off. He deserved it. He had been chalking up books for a few years, getting his start at an Open Mic and confirming his love for his own voice. But getting poetry into journals was a harder task than showing up early at readings, and poetry forced him to modulate his voice, and he wanted to hear his own voice. So he began writing reviews, finding that editors loved blood on the page. And he loved the blood of others on the page. He sometimes went back to the Open Mic, but randomly, to increase the terror, and he refused to read poetry, he read reviews, reviews of the books that were being read that night. The Open Mic organizers let him do it, because they were afraid of him, afraid that he would write reviews about them, and he would, and they knew he would, if they refused him. But his voice: he recorded a whole CD of his reviews, titled it Greatest Hits, and reviewed it himself in a local magazine, the only time –ever, it would turn out- he would uncork the word “masterpiece.” It was an odd voice, a wannabe Caper accent forced through a potato peeler, and it was completely out of sync with its own malice. It is this way I imagine him, stabbed in the back, his assailant refusing to identify himself or even preface his attack with the knowledge that he was about to die, blissfully composing his latest takedown on the way back from the Open Mic where the featured reader that evening, I hear, is smiling as he utters his most famous review, “No Comment.”
Friday, May 15, 2009
Tune in at revengelit.blogspot.com
to ensure that you don't miss a thing. Revenge stories by Nathaniel Moore, Shane Neilson, Wayne Clifford and others to follow shortly. A really, really good start to this! Thanks to everyone, and keep them coming!
by Lydia Ondrusek
Ivor Miskelson was a hated child.
Like a weed that sucks up repeated attacks of pesticide to become, finally, poisonous itself, he dealt with the rejection of his relatives and peers, raised himself from the garden plot, and became the grotesque focus of all eyes, unplanned impediment to the growth of everything around him.
Ivor Miskelson became a literary critic.
Read To Me, Miskelson’s television show, was a trainwreck. Millions tuned in every week to see if its host could, by a series of increasingly ugly jabs, again reduce a bestselling author to tears. He did not disappoint. Until Jonquil Esterhaus.
He questioned her lifestyle, laughed at her hat. She admitted her changing from writing children’s books to cozy mysteries could cripple the educational life of a generation. Her demeanor remained serene. After reading the teaparty scene from “I’m Afraid The Vicar Is Out,” she even kissed Miskelson during the closing music. Credits rolled with them deep in conversation, holding hands.
Police responded to a call from Esterhaus the next morning to find her in her bedroom, marking galleys. The late Mr. Miskelson sprawled fully dressed across her calico bedspread, dried spittle on his chin and an empty cup that looked like it had held cocoa clutched in stiff fingers.
“He said I was fascinating, that he wanted to see what I was working on next,” Esterhaus said to the detectives as people dealt with the body. She patted the galley of “The Coroner’s Cocoa.”
“So I showed him.”
he presentations from the Making Information Pay conference organized by publishing consultants Mike Shatzkin and Ted Hill for the Book Industry Study Group are now up on the web.
Having personally attended the conference, I recommend checking out “The Customer’s Always Right: Who is Today’s Book Consumer?” by Kelly Gallagher of Bowker. His data-rich slides reveal fascinating customer behavior by age and gender that should be required reading for editors and publicists as well as booksellers, librarians, and media. In other words, a much wider audience than the operations and tech executives, indie publishers and academics who attended the half-day program at the McGraw Hill Auditorium on May 7th.
Why does it always seem like the publishing rank and file are the last to be exposed to this crucial information? Oh well, I guess that’s where Follow the Reader can play a role.
Getting to Know the Customer
Gallagher prefaced his talk by arguing that we need to work harder to understand people who buy books, since they are buying them in new places and in new ways. As it happens, Bowker, one of the show’s sponsors, has a helpful product in this area: PubTrack, a syndicated consumer research service that delivers monthly stats based on responses from 36,000 book buyers–selected according to age, gender, income, household size and location–who buy 120,000 books over the course of 80,000 “shopping occasions,” and have signed on to answer 75-question surveys. Nice information, if you can afford it!
To his credit, Gallagher did share a lot of great information. For example, did you know…
Most readers now get book information online
- 67% of readers say they find reviews online vs. in traditional print media
- 54.8% rely on online/internet ads to find books
- 24.8% rely on retailer e-mails
Seniors are embracing e-readers and e-books
- Of Kindle owners, people 50 or older are the biggest adopters, followed by 18-34 year olds
- 35-49 year olds who read e-books prefer doing it on their iPhones
- But most people (48%) are still using their computers or laptops to read e-books
- E-book sales grew 183% among seniors aged 65+ and 174% among seniors aged 55-65
Sales channels increasingly skew by age
- Online is the #1 selling channel: 23% of the market vs. retail chains at 21%
- Younger readers are big supporters of bricks and-mortar retail, while older buyers tend to buy online
- 20% of all female buyers and 16% of female buyers 65+ buy books through traditional consumer book clubs
Here are more highlights for all the omnicurious number crunchers out there. There’s lots to chew on and discuss. We welcome your comments!
Who was reading in 2008
- 45% of Americans read a book last year
- The average age of those who read a book was 44
- 58% of readers are women
- 32% of readers are over the age of 55
- The average reader spends 5.2 hours reading per week vs. 15 hours online and 13.1 hours watching TV (In 2008, going online surpassed watching TV as a primary activity)
Who was buying books in 2008
- 50% of Americans over 13 bought a book
- The average age of the most frequent book buyers was 50 yrs old
- 57% of book buyers are female and they buy 65% of books (e.g. women buy books and they buy in volume)
- 67% of books are bought by people over 42; Gen X bought 17% of books; Gen Y bought 10%
- Of books purchased by those who earn $100K or more, mystery and detective fiction represent 16% of sales, juvenile 13%, romance 6%, thrillers 4%, and comics and graphic novels 4%
- 41% of all books are purchased by those who earn less than $35K
- The average price of a book purchased last year was $10.08
- 31% of all book purchases are impulse buys
Who bought what digitally in 2008
- People 50 or older are leading the way in adopting the Kindle, followed by those 18-34
- People 35-49 prefer using their iPhones to read e-books
- But most people (48%) are still using their computers or laptops to read e-books
- While e-books are1.5% of the total book market, ebook sales grew 125% overall in 2008
- E-book sales grew 183% among seniors aged 65+ and 174% among seniors aged 55-65
Today’s fiction consumer
- Mystery/Detective and Romance account for more than half of all fiction people buy
- Fiction buyers in every category are predominantly female
Where people bought in 2008
- Online is the #1 selling channel: 23% of market, vs. retail chains at 21% (these numbers flipped in 2008 vs. 2007, when retail chains were at 23%)
- 21% of fiction was purchased online in 2008
- Younger readers are bigger supporters of bricks and-mortar retail while older buyers buy online
- Traditional book clubs (e.g. Bookspan) still capture significant part of older adult market – 20% female buyers and 16% of 65+ female buyers
How people became aware of books in 2008
- 67% say they see reviews online vs. in traditional print media
- 54.8% rely on online/internet ads to find books
- 24.8% rely on retailer e-mails
- 15.7% rely on ads in newspapers and magazines
- 21% of fiction purchases in 2008 were based on online awareness, with online book reviews the lead source of information (6.2%), followed by online ads (4.8%), the author’s personal website (4.6%), e-mails from retailers (3.2%), publisher’s website (2.9%) and online forums, blogs, Google and Yahoo searches (1.1%).
- Fantasy readers and romance readers are more active on social networks than thriller and mystery lovers
from the London Free Press:
Terry Griggs - former Londoner, now of Stratford - read at the Landon library last night from her brilliant & hilarious new novel, Thought You Were Dead.
In the admittedly sparse (where were you?) audience, there were many writers - Bonnie Burnard, Penn Kemp, Joan Barfoot, Jean McKay (who introduced Terry), Christine Walde & some I probably missed. Solidarity & good writers in a room . . . always good to see.
Anyway, I laughed aloud many a time as Terry read the opening chapter about her wimpoid anti-hero Chellis Beith who was pining over lost love, Elaine Champion. After the reading, Terry said she found the name Chellis in a magazine .
She also read a little from a new story added to the reissued collection Quickening . . . a dog named Lucifer figured in it . . . Lucifer was one of two witnesses to a supposed crime & of course speaks dog.
After some "misadventures" getting Thought You Were Dead to the right publisher, she found a good match in Daniel Wells and his Emeryville (near Windsor) biblioasis imprint.
In addition to helping Canadian literature with Thought You Were Dead (launched last night) and its republishing of Quickening (Porcupine's Quill, 1990), biblioasis has a neat contest. Fire up & off 250 words or so on a (fictional) literary critic who has just supplied the chalk outline by demising in some bad way & a bunch of good prizes, including the biblioasis catalogue, might be yours.
Visit revengelit.blogspot.com for details.
Visit & read Terry Griggs' Thought You Were Dead for laughs & awe . . . . which I hope to . . . after finishing Don Gutteridge's Vital Secrets, a completely different type of whodunit? from a fine London writer.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Simon Lacerous’ column “The Last Word” routinely excoriated literary works: if realistic, they lacked imagination; if fantastic, they lacked veracity; if existential, they lacked moral compass; if moralistic, they were fascist.
As he left his office one midnight dreary, he was confronted by a hooded figure carrying a stylus, a goose quill, a ballpoint, a laptop, and a scythe.
In a flash, Simon saw the error of his ways and shouted out this devious fiction: “When I woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, I found myself changed into a monstrous vermin. Surely that’s punishment enough?”
The hooded figure opened its cloak, revealing multivariate weaponry. It spoke in sepulchral tones: “If, sir, you were in fact changed into a cricket, I should employ this [it indicated a flyswatter] but I perceive you are a critic, indeed of the most slovenly, ambushing, and puling sort.”
“Perhaps so,” S.L. replied, quickly kneeling, “but I made less money than most writers. Oh, spare me, hooded figure!”
H.F. pursed its lips and extruded a large stick of playground chalk. Its robe swirling, it danced macabrely as it drew—on the alley’s tarmac and around the kneeling critic—the forensic figure of a victim.
“Lie here and don’t go outside the lines,” it ordered.
H.F. pulled a kalashnikoff from its robe and riddled S.L. with a staccato series of very short bursts, creating umlauts, colons, diereses, ellipses, and, even, periods.
Police, seeing the corpse already with an outline, experienced brain seizures.
A second-story window opened and Annabel Lee, an intern with Marlowe, Poirot & Holmes (also a leggy dame with big headlights and a smart mouth on her) cried out, “Look, yuh lousy flatfeets, it’s obvious you should put out an APB for that punk Chu Aishen!”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
from Library Journal, in the US:
Published to critical and commercial success in Europe ten years ago, this debut from prominent Canadian Germanist Eichner is now offered as the third title in the "Biblioasis International Translation" series. Narrated by Peter Engelmann, a middle-aged veterinarian working in Haifa, this work is at once the story of a family and a memorial to Viennese Jews. The narrative, the stream-of-consciousness recollections of a man caught between the need to remember and the desire to forget, opens in both 1980 and 1880 and chronicles the Kahn family's move from rural Hungary to Vienna, the narrator's 1938 flight to Belgium and eventual settlement in Israel, and all the family drama in between. The result is a moving book full of humor and humanity. Appropriate for all readers and essential for those interested in Jewish literature.—Karen Walton Morse, Univ. at Buffalo Libs., NY
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Anyone familiar with my earlier work might be thinking, A mystery? Genre fiction? This isn't her usual thing. Can we trust her? Does she play by the rules?
You can trust me ... implicitly (pick a card, any card). I not only play by the rules, but I play with them as well, and I play in the wild area out behind the school of orthodoxy. Besides, the distinctions matter less than the execution, and literary categories have been getting softer of late. Transgression is in the air and on the page. Who was it that said there is really only one main plot in all fiction, which is: Nothing is as it seems? Somebody, I forget. But if that isn't a dead fly position, I don't know what is.
Musca domestica. In the soup, in the ointment, on the wall, devil's embodiment, associate of death and decay, bearer of much weighty negative symbolism — no wonder the little guy is pretending to be dead. Who wants to work with the regimental efficiency of an ant anyway, or the tireless industry of a bee? Hey, shake a leg if the mood strikes, snack on a glob of jam, check out that dead body wedged behind the sofa. Flies are often the first detectives at the scene of a crime, after all, and perhaps would be less eager if they knew how forensically useful they are in determining the time of its occurrence.
It's fitting, then, that this compound-eyed sleuth is the first bug one encounters in Thought You Were Dead, a book in which the motives are mostly ulterior, spider-to-the-fly situations abound, and the main character, Chellis Beith, has a severe aversion to housework.
In memoriam: University Professor Emeritus Hans Eichner
October 30, 1921 -- April 8, 2009
Hans Eichner was born on October 30, 1921 and grew up in Vienna in the predominantly Jewish Leopoldstadt district. After Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, he fled to England, and was then sent to an internment camp in Australia. He often said that there, at the “camp university”, set up by the detainees, he received the education that had been denied him as a Jew in Austria. On his return to England, he enrolled in the University of London while working during the daytime. He received his B.A. in Mathematics, German and Latin in 1944, his B.A. Honours in German Language and Literature in 1946, and his Ph.D. in German Literature in 1949. He taught at Bedford College, University of London from 1948 to 1950, and then took up a position at Queen’s University ( Kingston, ON). In 1967, he moved to the University of Toronto. He chaired the German Department from 1975 to 1984. The numerous honours Hans Eichner received in the course of a long and distinguished career include: election to the Royal Society of Canada (1967), the Gold Medal of the Goethe Institute Munich (1973), LL.D. from Queen’s University (1974), University Professor at the University of Toronto (1981), the William Riley Parker Prize of the Modern Language Association of America (1982), the Hermann Boeschenstein Medal of the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German (1988), LL. D. from the University of Toronto (2003).
Hans Eichner was a brilliant scholar. He published and edited numerous books and articles on German literature, ranging over two centuries, from Goethe to Thomas Mann. He had an international reputation as a scholar of German Romanticism. In particular, his work on Friedrich Schlegel, which included several books, many articles and the co-editorship of the historical-critical edition, made him a leading authority on that author.
Hans Eichner was an inspired teacher who instilled a love of literature in many students, and he had a remarkable success rate as doctoral supervisor.
Hans Eichner was a literary author as well as a scholar. During his days in London, he published poetry, and, much later, wrote a novel, Kahn & Engelmann, which is a monument to Austrian Jews. It appeared in hardcover in Austria (2000), as a paperback in Germany (2002), and an English translation is about to be published by biblioasis.
There was yet another side to Hans Eichner. He loved rock-climbing, badminton and sailing. And he was extremely fond of his island in the Rideau Lakes district of Ontario, where he spent many summers and where he did much of his writing.
After a long illness, Hans Eichner passed away peacefully on April 8, 2009 at the age of 87 with his beloved wife, Kari Grimstad, at his bedside. He was predeceased by his older brother Fritz Oakes. He is deeply mourned by family members - Jane and Paul Best, Anna and Jon; Jim Eichner, Carol Alexander and Madeline; Iris Oakes; Joan Eichner; and David Field, Katrina Miller and Freya. He will be missed by his many friends and colleagues in German Studies in North America, England, Germany and Austria.
A celebration of his life will be held in Guelph sometime in September.
Griggs' fiction is as demanding as it is rewarding, pulling no punches at all. The reader is plunged rather than eased into the story, whose language must be untangled, unraveled in order to work out the plot. Chellis Beith may be a slacker, but Terry Griggs is no such thing, her tangling and raveling deliberate and intricate, sending up crime fiction, small-town culture, and the literary life. And so much more, this becoming clear with every rereading, with every sentence picked apart, with every one closely read. What a richly textured lark is this, how substantial is Terry Grigg's concept of whimsy.
In other Griggs related news, The Globe Paperback reviewer reviews in Twitter-like fashion Quickening:
By Terry Griggs, Biblioasis, 156 pages, $19.95
Griggs's collection of short stories was nominated for a Governor-General's Award when it was published nearly 20 years ago, and they still display her talent and quirky sense of humour.
(Griggs writes the Tuesday Essay this week at globeandmail.com/books.)
Thursday, May 07, 2009
There is a wonderful tribute in the current Maclean's to Hans Eichner by Paul Wells. You can read the whole thing here, which gives you a good sense of his life. Of course, you could quite easily get that from reading the novel, as the parallels between fact and fiction in this case are legion.
Here, however, is an excerpt dealing with the reasons behind the book and the writing of it.
All his life Eichner was tormented by the fact that he made his living studying and teaching German, the language of the people who terrorized the Jews of Central Europe. “It was his language too, you know,” Grimstad says. “He did not grow up speaking Yiddish or Hebrew. And yet it was also the horrible language of the Nazis too.” Partly to come to terms with that conflict, and partly to chronicle the vanished Jewish community of early-20th-century Vienna, he finally set about writing a novel in German after he retired from the University of Toronto. The resulting work, Kahn & Engelmann, was published by a small press in Vienna in 2000. It won good reviews and, a year later, was released in a mass-market paperback edition by Rowohlt, a large publisher, to strong sales.
Kahn & Engelmann follows three generations of a family much like Eichner’s as they fall in love, quarrel, prosper and, eventually, face the awful reality of the Holocaust. But many of Eichner’s Canadian friends, including his own adult children from an earlier marriage, couldn’t read enough German to enjoy it. Stephen Henighan, a colleague of Grimstad’s, was running the books-in-translation program at Biblioasis, a small Canadian literary press. With help from the Canada Council, Biblioasis arranged to produce an English-language edition of Kahn & Engelmann.
The first critical notice was a rave, calling it an “astounding, ambitious work.” Eichner, whose health had been failing for two years, saw the review and held an advanced reader’s copy of the English translation. “He was really delighted with it,” Henighan says.
On April 8, 2009, Hans Eichner died in his sleep. Three days later the first print run of Kahn & Engelmann, in its luminous new translation by Jean M. Snook, arrived from the printer.
May 6, 2009
Press Release for Immediate Release
SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED FOR THE DANUTA GLEED LITERARY AWARD
The Writers’ Union of Canada is pleased to announce the shortlist of nominees for the twelfth annual DANUTA GLEED LITERARY AWARD. The Award recognizes the best first English-language collection of short fiction by a Canadian author published in 2008.
Judges Merilyn Simonds, J.J. Steinfeld, and Rudy Wiebe shortlisted the following nominees:
Ian Colford: Evidence (The Porcupine’s Quill)
Pasha Malla:The Withdrawal Method (House of Anansi Press Inc.)
Rebecca Rosenblum: Once (Biblioasis)
Ahmad Saidullah: Happiness and other Disorders (Key Porter Books Limited)
Betsy Trumpener: The Butcher of Penetang (Caitlin Press)
"The five shortlisted books exhibit an exhilarating array of voices and styles, presenting stories ranging from the idiosyncratic and fanciful, to the satirical and exotic, to the hard-edged and realistic; these works comment on the human condition in insightful, inventive ways that show the short story is thriving in Canada."
The DANUTA GLEED LITERARY AWARD is a celebration of the life of Danuta Gleed, a writer whose short fiction won several awards before her death in December 1996. Danuta Gleed’s first collection of short fiction, One of the Chosen, was posthumously published by BuschekBooks. The Award is made possible through a generous donation from John Gleed, in memory of his late wife, and is administered by The Writers’ Union of Canada.
The Award consists of cash prizes for the three best first collections, with a first prize of $10,000 and two additional prizes of $500. The winners will be announced in Calgary, Alberta on May 23, 2009, during the Alberta Literary Awards at the joint Annual General Meetings of The Writers’ Union of Canada and The Writers Guild of Alberta. Their names will be posted on the Union’s website (www.writersunion.ca).
The Writers' Union of Canada is our country's national organization representing professional authors of books. Founded in 1973, the Union is dedicated to fostering writing in Canada, and promoting the rights, freedoms, and economic well-being of all writers. For more information, please visit www.writersunion.ca.
More to follow. I haven't seen an official press release yet, just a two line announcement in the Toronto Star. The winner is set to be announced May 23rd. Congratulations to all three nominees, though of course a touch more goes out to our very own Rebecca Rosenblum.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
“Who’s Been Murdering the Book Reviewers of Ontario?” – Globe & Mail
Who would want to kill a lowly book reviewer? Only about a thousand people Chellis could think of off hand. The police were in for some excruciating interviews. Cop: “I understand, sir, that you’re a writer.” Suspect: “Indeed, I am, and my talent was evident from my earliest years…” – from Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead
* * *
Everybody Hates a Critic,
Some people hate them more than others.
Terry Griggs’s new comic-noir biblio-mystery Thought You Were Dead kicks, err, off with a literary critic found under a hedge with a knife in his head, and literary revenge plays an increasingly important role as the novel unfolds. The literary world, and especially the Canadian literary world, can be a small, spiteful – and occasionally murderous – place. Character assassinations abound, books are regularly murdered in the (shrinking) book pages across our fair land, while others are smothered with damningly faint praise. More than a few knives, even if thankfully metaphorical, have been buried hilt deep in authorial backs.
Do you bear the scars of CanLit’s internecine wars? Have you spent a small fortune on postage and only have a drawerful of rejection slips to show for it? Has the world been slow to recognize your evident talent? Then, dear reader, this contest is for you.
To celebrate the launch of Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead, Biblioasis and Seen Reading are teaming up to help you unleash the murder we know is in your heart with our Revenge-Lit contest. Pen a flash fiction of 250 words or so (though, in truth, no one is likely to count them) on the (fictional) literary critic whose body once filled the chalk outline and what he did to get there and send it by June 12th to firstname.lastname@example.org. The best of the entries will be published as they are received at RevengeLit.blogspot.com. The winning entry will:
1) Receive a one hundred dollar cash prize
2) Be published in a forthcoming issue of CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries
3) A Biblioasis press catalogue of in-print trade titles (approx. 40 books, retail value approx. $1000.00)
Entries to be judged by Dan Wells, Julie Wilson and Terry Griggs.
For further information, or to read the entries as they come in, check out www.revengelit.blogspot.com.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Biblioasis 2009 Event Listings
May 5th, 7PM: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead, Quickening: St. Luke’s Parish Hall, Burlington, Ontario (with Sandra Sabatini and Kim Echlin)
May 9th-10th: Stephen Henighan, A Report on the Afterlife of Culture, Pacific Festival of the Book, #110-2750 Quadra St, Victoria BC
May 11th, 7: 30 PM: Stephen Hengihan, A Report on the Afterlife of Culture, Oakridge Library, 1–650 West 41st Street, Vancouver, B.C
May 12th, 7:30 pm: Stephen Henighan, A Report on the Afterlife of Culture, Central Library, 350 West Georgia Street, Victoria, B.C.
May 13th, 7:30 pm: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead, Quickening: Landon Branch Library, 167 Wortley Rd, London, Ontario.
May 14th, 7-9 pm, Cynthia Flood, The English Stories, Bistro Bar at the Sylvia hotel, 1154 Gilford St, Vancouver, BC.
May 21st, 12 pm: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead, Quickening: Callan Books, 15 York St., Stratford, Ontario (SIGNING)
May 23rd, TBA: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead, Quickening, The Manx Pub Plann 99 Reading Series, 370 Elgin St, Ottawa, Ontario
May 26th, Hans Eichner, Kahn & Engelmann (read by Kari Grimstad), Harbourfront Reading Series, Toronto.
June 1st, TBA: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead, Quickening, McNally-Robinson, Toronto (with Vicki Delaney)
June 6th, TBA, Cynthia Flood, The English Stories, The Manx Pub Plann 99 Reading Series, 370 Elgin St, Ottawa, Ontario
June 8th, 7:30 pm: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead/Quickening & Cynthia Flood, The English Stories, Wordsworth Books, 100 King st., South Waterloo, Ontario
June 9th, 7:30 pm: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead/Quickening & Cynthia Flood, The English Stories, Hans Eichner, Kahn & Engelmann (read by Kari Grimstad), The Bookshelf, 41 Quebec St, Guelph, Ontario
June 11th, 7 pm: Cynthia Flood, The English Stories, TBA, Windsor, OntarioJuly 5th, TBA, Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead/Quickening, Bayfield.
June 15th, TBA: Cynthia Flood, The English Stories, Langara College, Nanaimo, BC
July 24-26, TBA: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead/Quickening, The Leacock Festival, Orillia, Ontario
September 20th, All Day: Terry Griggs (Thought You Were Dead/Quickening), Grant Buday (Dragonflies), Hans Eichner (Kahn & Engelmann, read by Kari Grimstad) and Leon Rooke (Hitting the Charts), at The Eden Mills Writers Festival.
September 20th-27th, TBA: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead/Quickening, at Winnipeg’s Thin Air Writers’ Festival
October 30-Nov.2nd, TBA: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead, Quickening, at Bookfest WindsorNovember TBA: Terry Griggs, Thought You Were Dead/ Quickening, Trent University, Peterborough
Monday, May 04, 2009
This cheerfully insane whodunit recounts the misadventures of Chellis Beith, ValuMart stockboy turned researcher/amateur detective by an eccentric murder mystery writer.
Chellis is, in fact, a grown man, toiling at ValuMart while mourning the sudden death of his beloved adoptive mother, Rennie.
Rennie was "sent spiralling into the NetherWorld" when her bicycle was struck by an "SUV driven by an SOB," as Griggs has narrator Chellis colourfully explain.
Her death is particularly painful since Rennie raised Chellis after his birth mother abandoned the infant at the burger stand where Rennie worked.
After her death, Chellis fills his time lifting "trashy novels" from the store which he reads at night and returns in the morning. He soon meets mystery writer Athena Havlock who is scanning the store's trashy novels when Chellis recommends she read one which - unbeknownst to Chellis - Havlock herself has written.
Havlock- flattered someone's read the thing and has praise for it, but concerned by Chellis's critique citing "factual slip-ups" - hires him on the spot as her literary researcher.
Griggs writes: "Mrs. Havlock had picked him up in the local ValuMart one day along with the gherkins and Melba toast.
"She bagged him and carted him home."
Thus begins a fascinating relationship with Havlock supplying Chellis with a steady stream of investigative assignments washed down with his favourite pastime - cocktails.
When a body shows up in a nearby little town and turns out to be that of a Toronto book reviewer who once gave Havlock a "dismissive" review, the plot takes off in an infinity of directions.
Havlock is just one of the offbeat female characters in Chellis's world.
There's Elaine, the ex-wife he's still obsessed with, who invents things ranging from the "fly catcher," a tiny security system to alert men if they forget to zip their pants, to a bar of soap with remarkable super-glue-like qualities. (The soap plays a pivotal role, later.) There's also Moe, ex-wife and girlfriend (in that order) to Chellis's best pal, Hunt.
It was Moe's idea the couple stay together after the divorce.
An apparent cameo role that will turn into something bigger features my personal favourites, elderly sisters Bev and Brandy who wait tables at the local greasy spoon, The Age Spot.
Bev sets Chellis straight when he asks if her name badge stands for Beverly.
"Got that wrong," Bev replies.
"Name's short for Beverage. Sister's name is Brandy. Parents were drinkers."
Then there's the drop-dead gorgeous Bethany who shows up at Chellis's door with the shocking news she is his half-sister - her mother being the same woman who dumped baby Chellis at Lloyd's Burger Stand all those years ago.
When Mrs. Havlock mysteriously vanishes, Chellis is initially too enamoured of Bethany to care much.
But his neurotic nature and some real-life close calls convince him she's fallen victim to something akin to one of her own plot lines.
The title Thought You Were Dead could apply to several subplots, most obviously Chellis's decision in a moment of drunken reverie to write his own obit, which is subsequently published in the Penny Pincher.
Then there's Hunt's "cardiac event" that has Chellis preparing to bury his best buddy. And of course, there's the missing Mrs. Havlock.
Griggs' writing is sharply witty and swings between baffling and brilliant.
Her unique manipulation of language and metaphors is her gift which has brought her past acclaim, including being shortlisted for the Governor-General's Award for her book Quickening.
The former Londoner has been described as a writer's writer, which may explain why the reader is challenged to sit up and pay attention to follow her many literary tangents.
Thought You Were Dead remains lively and inventive, right through to its entangled ending.
-- -- --
IF YOU GO
Author Terry Griggs, is launching her new novel, Thought You Were Dead, at London's Landon Branch library, 167 Wortley Rd., Wednesday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Mary-Jane Egan is a Free Press reporter/copy editor.
Saturday, May 02, 2009
WHO'S BEEN MURDERING THE BOOK REVIEWERS OF ONTARIO?
REVIEWED BY SALLY COOPER
Globe and Mail Update
May 1, 2009 at 5:33 PM EDT
In the opening voiceover of the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski, the Stranger calls the Dude, the film's hapless stoner hero, "the man for his time and place." Chellis Beith, hero of Terry Griggs's slacker cozy Thought You Were Dead, is just such a man.
Like a word-drunk Dude, a lazy man's Everyman, Chellis stumbles into a mystery at least as twisty and interesting as his own pithy observations on his ludicrous life in the pastoral Southern Ontario town of Farclas.
Chellis Beith, stock boy turned literary researcher, works for Athena Havlock (Alfred Hitchcock's initials), a successful author of series mystery novels and the occasional lauded literary tome. Chellis is in unrequited love with girl next-door Elaine, inventor of domestic products such as the Comedo Vac and SuckZitUp, and now happily married to Vaughan (The Perfect Man) Champion. With his birth mother vanished and his beloved, permissive adoptive mother dead, Chellis is living in Dude-esque stasis in his childhood home.
As he is about to receive his latest assignment from Mrs. H., a book reviewer is murdered in nearby Claymore. "Who would want to kill a lowly book reviewer?" Chellis wonders, rightly. Then Mrs. H. disappears and Chellis spots her driving around with his high-school rival, Dick Major. For strength and courage, Chellis draws upon the moves of Marcel Lazar, one of Athena's series detectives (perhaps based, as Elaine believes, on Chellis in the first place), as he bumbles deeper into this wild plot, fielding inventions, pining for Elaine and gathering clues.
Midway through the novel, Chellis asks: "What would propel a writer to commit an actual murder? Serious plagiarism found out? A vicious rejection (editorial boards being the favoured haunt of sadists)? The extremes of publicity? Sinister, out-of-control research?"
Chockablock with winks and digs at the literary set, Thought You Were Dead is a gleeful Russian doll of novel. Reading it, one trips along, revelling in its wordplay: "What would an epiphanic hour be like, he wondered. Or a whole day?"; its wit: "Publicly [Athena Havlock] was known for her philosophical and linguistically challenging works, and consequently was not much in demand. Just the way she liked it"; its puns and allusions: "Zephyrus on wheels," Pnin's variety store, Hitchcock Crescent, MacAbre Street; and its jokes: "[He] spotted two Beware of Dog signs, and one Beware of Human. Beware of Wag, more like, although some jokes did constitute useful advice."
Then there are the characters, the inventors, writers, realtors and reputation-management specialists who people this antic "sleepy town." Chellis's observations, his relentless verbal riffs, hit not only on words but on the bigger questions of mother love, fear of change, marriage and death. It is a testament to Griggs's skill that this story is equal parts comic murder mystery, hero's journey and layered intellectual puzzle, with nods to many (Hitchcock and Vladimir Nabokov, to name a couple), and that it satisfies on every level.
Thought You Were Dead is Terry Griggs's first adult novel since being awarded the 2003 Marian Engel Award in recognition of her distinguished body of work. She has published two previous novels, including Rogues' Wedding, short-listed for the Rogers Fiction Prize, and the short-story collection Quickening, nominated for the Governor-General's Award. Her children's book Cat's Eye Corner, the first in a series, has also been short-listed for multiple children's writing awards.
Though figuratively rich and linguistically tortuous, Thought You Were Dead wears its mystery tropes on its sleeve. Elaine names her cat Noir while Chellis considers films such as Dial M for Murder, Montenegro and Pulp Fiction as he mulls over each unsettling event. At one point, he refers to a "McGuffin," the term Hitchcock famously used to mean an object in a caper about crooks or spies that impels villains and heroes alike to pursue each other.
In a chapter called Mallaise, Chellis is helping Elaine with market research when he comes upon a mall-chain bookstore. He reacts with relief, despite its "unreality," dubbing it "a literary oasis." Griggs's wordplay is as much about giving the bird to the staid and WASPy as it is her method of enhancing awareness of the role of fiction and truth in reality. As Chellis muses while sorting through clues, "Fiction filtered so surreptitiously into everyday life that you had to keep your eye on it. But not banish it altogether. That would be too too boring. Besides, it was so useful."
Thought You Were Dead pokes and pokes and pokes — at over-achieving neighbours, Killexed lawns, Protestant work ethics, the Perfect Man and, most deliciously, writers, readers and the life literary. Nothing in Griggs's world is just what it is, making Thought You Were Dead as pleasing and barbed-wire affirmative to read as Alice in Wonderland — but with an even better plot.
Sally Cooper courts the dark side of fiction in her novel Tell Everything.