Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Spectator on Light Lifting

Over at the Hamilton Spectator this morning there is another excellent review of Light Lifting. We're at IFOA, on a Giller whirlwind: CTV interviews, special tapings, IFOA readings. Hopefully I'll be able to post photos and video and a report later. But, for now, this from the Spec:

Miracle Mile features two track athletes, one or two notches down from the ultra international elite, but still good enough to travel the world, make the Canadian team, to expect the perks and be fawned over.
What’s intriguing is the solitude MacLeod places the pair in, the final race they run, the context in which they compete. The title comes not from the Miracle Mile (run in 1954 at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver), but from the ultimate game of chicken they’d play in a railway tunnel underneath the Detroit River. Not only do you get deep into the psyches of the lifelong friends, but you can smell their desperation, the scorching heat and power of the locomotive, feel the scurrying rats in the darkened Windsor-bound tunnel, feel the palpable tension between them on the track.
And that’s one of MacLeod’s strengths — bringing into play all the senses while ratcheting up the tension.
Windsor figures prominently in several other stories: Adult Beginner I (a young women who narrowly escapes drowning as a child in an undertow finds herself, ironically, in a different, yet similar predicament); The Loop (about a young boy’s drugstore delivery route, stopping at various rest homes and places where ex-Chrysler workers have holed up to live out their days after a life of tightening minivan bolts), and Light Lifting’s best story, The Number Three (which serves as both a paean to the above-mentioned minivan, and to the bereft, catatonic father and husband who has to face a cathartic moment, which unfortunately has come to define him).
MacLeod’s prose is reminiscent of Annie Proulx’s: It carries much weight in its sparse, straightforward style. More please, and soon.

You can read the whole review here. And if you're in Toronto tonight, come down to IFOA and see the Giller finalists.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Canada Reads Needs More Rock and Roll

Ray Robertson's Moody Food (Biblioasis Renditions), his great novel of sex, drugs and rock & roll, has made the Canada Reads list of 40 essential Canadian novels of the last decade. We all know Canada Reads could use more rock & roll. But Moody Food won't get any further without your help. Please consider voting for Ray's Moody Food over at CBC's Canada Reads site, to help us ensure it makes the Canada Reads Top 10. You can vote for it -- or (sigh) another of your favourite non-Biblioasis books -- by following the link:

But, really: Moody Food, people.

The Bookshelf Reviews K.D. Miller's Brown Dwarf

by Melinda Burns

Brown Dwarf by K.D. Miller is a mystery and a love story told by Rae Brand, a successful mystery series writer herself, who has returned to the “scene of the crime” in Hamilton, where the crime is hers. “I didn’t exactly kill my best friend,”she writes in her adult diary. “But I destroyed her nonetheless. You don’t have to lay a finger on somebody to destroy them.” The novel is the gradual revealing of what happened in 1962 between Brenda Bray, the girl Rae Brand used to be, with the pink-stitched “Pleasingly Plump” labels in her clothes, and her disturbingly precocious friend, Jori Clements as they haunted the escarpment that summer in their Jori-obsessed pursuit of escaped serial child killer, ClarenceFrayne. Jori offers danger and excitement to brow-beaten Brenda and a strange kind of love that is too compelling to resist. Scenes of Brenda’s life with the mother she calls “Hurricane Annie”, who is one minute exploding with rage, the next offering Brenda extra syrup for her pancakes, and Brenda’s entanglement with Jori and her upwardly mobile parents—Professor Clements quizzing Brendaon her views on euthanasia while Mrs. Clements hands around lemonade—alternate with the adult Rae Brand, walking the straight line streets of Hamilton, searching for clues to unearth the truth she has buried. The story moves back and forth in time as memory does, accumulating details, unravelling the secret like an outworn garment that no longer warms or protects, the multiple strands of what really happened becoming available to be knit into a new and truer self.

A “brown dwarf” is a character in crime fiction, the villain who is far from the prime suspect, too dull to be noticed. Also, it is “an astronomical wannabe”, once on its way to becoming a star, but it doesn’t shine, “something in its makeup was lacking”. Rae Brand tracks the villain, thinking she knows who the brown dwarf is, but, as in the best mystery stories, there is more to be found.

K.D. Miller is a poet and essayist as well as a fiction writer who writes with a clear-eyed humanity and devilish wit. Her novel illuminates the brown dwarf parts of us all as Rae Brand comes to see Brenda for who she was, neither entirely guilty nor completely innocent, but “culpable”, and in seeing that finds the love in her that wanted to shine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lapidary: A Combat Camera Book Trailer

In an age when prize-winners -- and Jonathan Franzen -- seem to have sucked up all of the literary glory, a talented new author and his somewhat distracted small press publisher attempt to spread the word about Combat Camera ( of the finest Canadian novels I have ever read. - John Metcalf) only to be defeated by Jonathan Friggin' Franzen.

Bright Lights, Big Reading


The next leg of the triumphant Biblioasis fall tour begins with a whimper emitted by a writer forced to rise before the sun to make his train. There is a certain amount of groggy stumbling about, and the packing of last minute supplies: two bottles of whisky, a large bottle of Tylenol, a number four Phillips screwdriver, a small flashlight, and a large Band-Aid. Not all of these things will prove necessary, but it is best to be prepared. You never know.
The countryside is sodden. Somewhere beyond Kingston, a driver decides to race a westbound train, and loses. All trains sit stopped until the investigation is complete, although there seems to be little left of the car to investigate. The train arrives in Montreal an hour late.
The hotel is perhaps insalubrious. The room features a non-functional Jacuzzi and, surprisingly, mirrors on the ceiling. All attempts to relax are futile; staring up at your reflection in the mirror induces immediate and uncontrolled giggle fits. You examine this throwback to a forgotten era of tastelessness while sipping The Famous Grouse from a plastic cup. Whether the mirror or the whisky is more alarming is an open question. It is just possible that this is rock bottom.`
You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the evening, but here you are, and you can`t say the terrain is entirely unfamiliar. Drawn & Quarterly is packed, and discreet inquiries confirm that the crowd is here for the reading, not merely for the chance to get in out of the rain. People shake your hand and congratulate you. You thank them. Gnawing at the back of your mind is the question of what you`re going to read.
Harold Hoefle reads first, having lost the coin toss. Alexander MacLeod introduces you with the weight and gravitas proper to a Giller finalist: "This book is about war. It's about pornography. And it doesn't suck!"
You read. People question, You answer. There is a certain amount of signing things, chiefly books.
It is now necessary to brace yourself against the considerable strain of the reading experience. You stumble out into the street and into the nearest bar. You haven't eaten since lunch, and lunch itself is debatable, provided as it was by Via Rail. The word at the bar is to avoid the quiche. Also, the hot wings, french fries, onion rings and nachos. Rumour has it that the pizza is safe. It is difficult to identify the toppings in the poor light. You engage in a preventive disingection of the alimentary canal using alcohol, a highly effective disinfectant.
Someone begins dancing on a table. You could swear it. The rest is a blur. You recall laughing at your reflection on the ceiling just before losing consciousness.
The next leg of the triumphant Biblioasis fall tour begins with a whimper emitted by a writer forced to rise before the sun to make his train....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nieve: Red Maple Award Finalist

Though I have yet to find an online link to a press release, it was announced today that Terry Griggs's fabulous YA novel Nieve has made the shortlist for the OLA's Red Maple Award, as part of their Forest of Reading program. Over the next 5-6 months Grade sevens and eights across Ontario will be reading Nieve alongside the other nominated books, and voting on their favourite. The winner will be announced May 12, 2011 at the Festival of Trees in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre.

I'll post more official information when we have it, but congratulations to Terry Griggs and her son/illustrator Alexander Griggs-Burr.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A.J. Somerset / Alexander MacLeod London Launch

A.J. Somerset/Alexander MacLeod Launch: London, Ontario from Biblioasis Press on Vimeo.

This launch occurred the day after the Eden Mills Writers Festival, and the day of the Giller Longlist announcement. MacLeod and Somerset read to 35-40 people at the at the London Public Library, what served as the first reading A.J. Somerset gave in support of Combat Camera. Writing in the London Free Press the next morning, Arts columnist James Reaney wrote that 353,000 missed literary excellence. Thank goodness we captured it for posterity. (Though these two should find a more professional film and sound guy: this recording does not do either justice. Apologies.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Miracle Mile: Alex MacLeod in Eden Mills

Alexander MacLeod reading "Miracle Mile" at Eden Mills from Biblioasis Press on Vimeo.

This was Alexander MacLeod's first public reading from Light Lifting. He'd held the book for the first time only thirteen hours before, in my hotel room in Guelph.

I've several other launch videos from this Fall -- including another from tonight's Nieve event in London -- I'll be posting in the coming days and weeks. So stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ray Smith's Century: The Audio Book

Ray Smith's Century has just been released as an audio book from Iambik. It's a great list of international literature, and we're quite proud Ray's Century made the first launch. It deserves to be there and can be purchased in two formats for 4.99.

To purchase Century, and to listen to a preview, please go here.

The next Biblioasis title to be included in the list will be Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead. More, hopefully, will follow.

For the full list of Iambik titles, which includes Andrew Kaufmann's All My Friends Are Superheroes, Gordon Lish's Collected Fictions and Lydia Millet's Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, please go here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

IFOA/Globe/Book Madam Interview with Alexander MacLeod

The Globe & Mail Book Blog has just posted a chat Julie Wilson had with Alexander MacLeod in advance of his appearance at IFOA on Sunday. Here's a snippet:

How much of yourself is in these stories? What elements are perhaps much closer than they appear if only to you and the people who know you?
Friday October 15, 2010 9:52 BookMadam
Alexander MacLeod:
All of this stuff comes from me and my life. I delivered prescriptions and did interlocking brick and I was a competitive runner and I have small kids, yes, but these aren’t autobiographical stories. My wife is not the wife in ‘Wonder About Parents’ – she’ll tell you that in an instant – and I’m not the kid who faces what has to be faced in ‘The Loop,’ but we’re close enough to those characters to recognize their situations. (I, too, loved the Dukes and was surprised to learn during the copy-editing that Hazzard country has two “Zs”)....
Friday October 15, 2010 9:55 Alexander MacLeod
Alexander MacLeod:

Everybody, of course, thinks this is straight up autobiography but I hope that’s a sign that the stories are doing their work in the right way. When I write a story, like anybody else, I can re-arrange everything in my own experience in order to make a better narrative. I can bring in new elements or new people and I can cut others out. I can do whatever I think needs to be done in order to deliver something worthwhile to a reader. There are moments, tense moments, in every real life where fairly fundamental challenges need to be faced. And, again, like everybody else, I’ve had some of those, but, as I always say to my students, a tense experience or a sad experience or a terrifying experience does not guarantee, or even necessarily lead towards a tense, sad or terrifying story. Writers make those kinds of stories, and they have to work hard to trigger those effects. In my case, I made the stories out of the materials at hand, but I think they sink or swim based on how they're made rather than what they are made of.

You can read the whole interview here.

Upcoming Events

The next couple of weeks are packed with readings with our authors. Below is a list of upcoming events. Check it out to see if any of our authors will be in your city. For more details, visit our events calendar.

October 19, 2010

Alexander MacLeod at the University of New Brunswick
Alumni Memorial Building
Time: 8pm

October 20, 2010
Terry Griggs
at the London Public Library
Time: 7pm

October 21st, 2010
A. J. Somerset at the Ottawa International Writers Fest
Time: 8:30pm

Oct. 22nd, 2010
Terence Young at the Vancouver International Writers Festival
Time: 10am

Oct. 23, 2010
Mauricio Segura at the Vancouver International Writers Festival
Time: 8pm

Oct. 24, 2010
Alexander MacLeod at the International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront, Toronto
Time: 4pm

October 25, 2010
Alexander MacLeod and A. J. Somerset at the Drawn and Quarterly, Montreal
Time: 7:30pm

October 27, 2010
Alexander MacLeod and A. J. Somerset at Novel Ideas in Kingston
Time: 7:30

October 29, 2010
Alexander MacLeod at the International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront, Toronto
Time: 8pm

October 30, 2010
Alexander MacLeod at the IFOA - Giller shortlist reading
Harbourfront Centre for the Arts

Novemeber 2, 2010
Alexander MacLeod at the Travelling IFOA - Orillia
Time: TBA

Novoember 3, 2010
A. J. Somerset at Pivot, Toronto

November 5, 2010
Alexander MacLeod at BookFest Windsor
Time: 4:30pm

November 6, 2010
Shane Neilson at BookFest Windsor
Time: 11:30am

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Imprisoned behind the camera's lens

Though it does not seem to be up yet at the Toronto Star's website, there is an excellent review of A.J. Somerset's Combat Camera in today's paper. Finding the Toronto Star anywhere around Emeryville Ontario is next to an impossible task, but due to my carefully cultivated network of informers -- including the author of Combat Camera himself -- I've managed to get my hands on the review, and will give you a quick tase of it here. Should the Star eventually post the whole thing online I'll make sure I post a link to that as well.

Ryan Bigge, the author of the review, writes:

Throughout the novel, Somerset alternates between the immediate and blunt trauma inflicted upon civilians in war zones and the slower-acting but no less injurious actions of a culture lacking in modesty. ... Somerset is a confident, gifted writer .... able to seamlessly switch between dialogue and Zane's internal monologue as he darts between grim horror and grim comedy. He also avoids the arid claustrophobia endemic to novels where much of the action takes place within the main character's mind.
But the most satisfying aspects of this novel involve Somerset's refusal to make obvious the numerous parallels between photography and fiction ... Such observations offer an ongoing argument between the camera lens and keyboard, with the novel eventually revealing the strengths and limitations of both.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Somerset on the Radio, Podcast and In Print.

A.J. Somerset has been busy this week. On Saturday he authored an editorial on the new Canada Reads format over at the National Post titled Bound for Dullsville, which takes the CBC to task for its crowd-sourcing, populist gambit. I'm hoping you thousands of Thirsty Readers will go to the CBC Canada Reads voter booth and recommend A.J. Somerset's Combat Camera: I'm not at all a fan of the new CBC approach (not that the old one was particularly effective either), but at least it opens the door to letting books like A.J.'s (or Ray Robertson's Moody Food; or Grant Buday's Dragonflies; or K.D. Miller's Brown Dwarf; or Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead: go on, vote for your favourite!) some sliver of cahnce of getting added to the list of top 40. They all could easily be there.

On Tuesday A.J. Somerset appeared on the Enthusiasticast podcast to talk about Combat Camera, pornography, war photography and Thomas McGuane. And yesterday, Christine McNair at CKCU in Ottawa interviewed A.J. Somerset about his novel, which can be heard here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Shadow Giller review of Light Lifting

Over at the Mookse and the Gripes, there's a review of the first shortlisted book, our own Light Lifting:

Perhaps I shouldn’t have started my Giller shortlist reading with this book. It might not get any better.

For the full review, please go here.

Biblioasis Best Sellers: Week of October 11th

According to Bookmanager:

1. Alexander MacLeod. Light Lifting
2. Terry Griggs. Nieve.
3. Marius Kociejowski. The Pigeon Wars of Damascus
4. Ray Smith. Century
5. A.J. Somerset. Combat Camera.

* this is the first time in 50 weeks Marty Gervais's Rumrunners did not crack the list. And the first time Ray Smith's Century has. I'm not sure what's causing that spike in interest, but I am quite thankful for it. Now if only the CBC had not set a 10 year limitation on its essential Canadian novels: perhaps we'd be able to to get that book the readership it really deserves.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Giller Effect: The Long, the Short, and the Unintended

This is an edited version of a post I published on Thirsty yesterday, of which I’ve since had some reason to repent. As I said in that version, keeping my mouth shut has never been a great strength. But I also must admit that I took a couple of things out of context, and aimed my cannons (water, of course, abhorring actual violence) rather wobbly and not always in the right direction. For that I apologize. I stand by the fact that there are more interesting stories to tell than “small presses struggle to keep up” BS, which isn’t true for either of the small presses (& there really are only two) on this list, though for different reasons. But that doesn’t mean I was right in calling out those I did. My apologies. Dan

For Gaspereau’s perspective, please read What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Giller, over at their own press blog.

It has been, without a doubt, a very exciting couple of weeks. Also one of our busiest. It is our first experience of the vaunted Giller effect. And for Biblioasis, the effect was immediate and profound. We launched Light Lifting on the 19th of September. Alex hadn't held a copy of the book in his hands until 10:30 pm on the 18th. The book had only arrived from the printer 8-10 days before then. No one, largely, cared about this book. But on the 20th, all hell broke loose. We did half a dozen interviews in our hotel rooms, and when we arrived in Toronto the next day we had two reporters from national papers waiting. A profile and three reviews ran in big newspapers across the country that first weekend. There were more than half a dozen radio interviews. More of both followed the week after. For a first collection of short fiction. I'm fairly certain it's unprecedented. Munro, Gallant, MacLeod Sr., Adderson, any others: I'm pretty sure if we ask them they would tell us that their careers began ... differently. The immediate and sustained public response to Alexander's Light Lifting is exhibit one of the Giller effect. And it does not stop there.

Before the longlist announcement, there were only 500-600 orders in the chute. Though I was very disappointed by this -- I printed 3000 copies of Light Lifting, almost unheard of for a first book of short fiction, whether published by a small press or a multinational; when I told Marc Cote this at Eden Mills he rather politely and gently questioned my sanity -- it's not actually a bad initial order for a first book of stories. Approximately half of these were set to go to Chapters, in regional and their largest format stores. Despite my consistent hectoring, and my sales manager's undoubted pressure, we were not going to get any more in there. This was further complicated by the fact that Indigo orders came in very late this year: if I remember correctly, in the case of Light Lifting, only a day or two before launch. There's not much we can do about that, alas. They have their systems in place. And though that can be a great thing when everything is steady and predictable, it's not such a good thing when the unexpected happens. As it did on September 20th, and once again on October 5th.

Everyone I talked to about this -- other publishers and publishing professionals, sales people, some booksellers -- said that the Longlist, though nice, does not mean much in terms of sales. Despite that, it resulted in hundreds of additional orders, including bump ups from Indigo and amazon -- though only after harassment -- and further orders from independents -- though in some cases only after pleading phone calls from the press publisher. On the morning of the shortlist we may have had 1100 copies or so in bookstores. That was all we could convince booksellers to take.

Only a few people expected us to make the shortlist. I certainly didn't. I didn't go to Toronto for the announcement, though I wanted to do so. But it would have resulted in disappointment, or it would have meant that I would not have been in the office to do the work that needed doing should we, against all odds, make it. I was on the phone with John Metcalf at 10:42, 18 minutes before the announcement was supposed to have been made, when it came across the Twitter feed: David Bergen and Alexander MacLeod first two Giller finalists. I was shocked enough not to believe it at first. But when i got off the phone at 10:44 my first call was not even to Alex. I took 30 seconds to call my right hand man Dennis, to tell him to put the go ahead call into Friesens, who we had set up for printing the week before. Later we called them again, after the Indigo order for 2000 copies came through, to bump up the second printing from 3000 to 4000. We were ready to run.

Three days later, our three thousand copy print run is completely gone. We have over 2400 copies in (or on their way to) stores and at wholesalers at the moment. Minus whatever we have sold over the last couple of weeks: BookNet Canada says XXX, but our primary market has always existed outside of these places. That may change now with this book. We are, I would say, in pretty good shape. By the end of next week 4000 more copies will be making their way to the warehouse, to fill the more than 2000 additional orders now waiting. We've set up dozens of interviews, are in the process of following up on more than hundreds of review copies, setting up additional events. The only thing that slipped off my radar this week -- and I only think about it now as I write this -- is the damn Globe & Mail ad I meant to put in. But it can wait until next. I would say, largely, we seem to be on top of things.

Unless, of course, you read the articles and twitter comments and blog posts that came so close upon the announcement of the Finalists questioning whether or not small presses can handle this sort of thing. This has been the unexpected Giller effect. It's made me wonder what these commentators find more exciting: the independent feel of this surprising and exciting Giller list, or the prospect of small press failures. In some cases, unfortunately, it feels as if it is the latter. The latter, alas, more easily feeds into the chatter that passes for informed commentary in some of our papers and journals, and most certainly on blogs and on twitter feeds. Some of these comments lack nuance and the appropriate attention to detail, and often refuse to ask the right questions. They paint with too broad a brush. In the rush to comment quickly and declaratively, they have lost sight of the more interesting narratives. For example: is it the presses who are struggling to keep up, or might it just be the booksellers? What does this say about the way they order books, even longlisted books, in the first place? What does it say about their customers’ buying habits?

Below is a list, by no means exhaustive, of some stories I’d personally like to see covered this Giller season. If there are any others out there, please add them to this thread in the comments.

  1. The Small Press argument. Almost everyone from the Globe to Q&Q have painted the four independent presses (by which we largely mean non-Bertelsman) with the same brush, when there is considerable difference in size and approach between us. Anansi and Thomas Allen are not small presses. Anansi has made it clear many times they don’t like to be tarred with that particular brush, and I think this is probably fair. To both of us. There’s such profound differences between the nominated presses, that an article focusing on this might not only be interesting, it would very likely prove illuminating.
  2. Gaspereau Press: the real story here is not whether or not they can keep up. The real story is what happens when commercial demand meets artisanal craftsmanship. Perhaps more than with any other publisher this year, what we have here is a clash of opposing values. I, for one, would find an article on this fascinating.
  3. Who is actually having trouble keeping up? I’m not sure anyone is, but since it seems to be an area of concern, a little proper digging please.
  4. Something happened here. The jury has said that they did not consciously set out to put together an independent list, that they never looked at who published what. I’m inclined to believe them. Is this a blip, a jury-related aberration? Or might this be the first sign that the internationalization of the jury process has opened up what has up-to-now been a relatively closed playing field? Compare and contrast to the Roger’s Trust Fiction Prize, and what the Governor General’s Award does next week. What does that tell us?
  5. What will this Giller recognition for independent publishing in Canada mean for the industry as a whole? For independent publishers? Anything?
  6. There’s been plenty of talk about what we’re going to have trouble doing. I’m guessing we must also be doing a few things right. Discuss.
  7. What might this Giller finalist selection mean for the short story in Canada? Depends who wins, I guess. Has its time come?
  8. Totally self-serving storyline: Biblioasis has one book on this shortlist but two authors, having published Kathleen Winter's first book of fiction in 2008. What the hell is a Biblioasis anyway? And where the hell is Emeryville? I just peeked through my closed blinds, and there are no cameramen stationed outside my window. Perhaps they can't find me?