In this episode, US publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin takes stock of the industry’s current environment. Shatzkin is founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Company and author of the ebook The Shatzkin Files. He delivered this talk, “Publishing into the Flood,” at Book Summit, presented in partnership by Humber College and the Book and Periodical Council, and held at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre on June 21.
In this episode, Quill & Quire web editor Sue Carter Flinn discusses the lure of Mount Everest with Toronto author and poet Tanis Rideout, whose debut novel Above All Things recounts the ill-fated final expedition of adventurer George Mallory, intertwined with a day in the life of Mallory’s wife, Ruth.
“A love story, a tale of adventure, and a study in obsession all at once, Above All Things is simply breathtaking. With Tanis Rideout’s debut, a major new voice in Canadian fiction arrives.” — Joseph Boyden, Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author of Through Black Spruce
“Above All Things has it all: adventure, tragedy, mystery, and a deeply moving love story. It’s gorgeously written and beautifully paced. I could not put it down. Prepare to be dazzled.” — Alison Pick, author of the Man Booker Prize–nominated Far To Go
Born: Bobcaygeon, Ontario
Resides: Perth, Ontario
Trillium Book Award–nominated work: Killdeer (2011)
Selected additional works: Eighteen Poems (1973), The Crucifixion (1979), Homes (1979), A Minor Operation (1983), Why I Haven’t Written (1985), Old Enemy Juice (1988), Amanuensis (1989), The Unsaid (1992), Hearthedral: A Folk-Hermetic (1996), Trouble Sleeping (2000), The Bad Sequence (2004), An Oak Hunch (2005), White Porcupine (2007), The Little Seamstress (2010)
Biography: Phil Hall was raised on farms in the Kawarthas region of Ontario. He moved to Windsor in 1972, where he received an MA in creative writing. In 1973, he published his first book, Eighteen Poems, in Mexico City. He considers much of his poetry “work writing,” having to do with the concerns, language, and ideals of labourers. When Hall moved to the West coast, he joined the Vancouver Industrial Writers Union as well as the Vancouver Men Against Rape Collective, and ended up teaching at the Kootenay School of Writing. In 1976, he started Flat Singles Press, a small imprint that primarily publishes broadsides and chapbooks. Hall has since worked as the literary editor of This Magazine, taught writing and literature at Toronto’s York University and Ryerson University, and has been a poet-in-residence at a number of universities and writers workshops. His Trillium Book Award–nominated Killdeer has already won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.
Joseph MacKinnon: Killdeer has made a big splash in the Canadian poetry world. Can you tell us a bit about the collection?
Phil Hall: A book of essay-poems. The only punctuation is the dash. I like the dash for its speed, and I use it as musical notation. My stanza, in these, is the sentence or partial sentence, again a musical pacing. Reels and jigs.
Many of the pieces are about people: Margaret Laurence, Bronwen Wallace, Libby Scheier, Dan Jones, Nicky Drumbolis. My models for these poems were the French poet René Char, his work, and also old fiddle tunes.
Hoedowns. I like that word, hoedown. It means, Put your hoe down. Cut the rug…
Joseph MacKinnon: How did you react to this Trillium nomination for Killdeer?
Phil Hall: I think of Killdeer as a very Ontario book, and of Ontario as my country. So to be recognized by the Trillium folks means a lot to me. Samuel Johnson said, everyone secretly wants to be thought well of in his hometown. (more…)
Born: London, Ontario
Resides: Toronto, Ontario
Trillium Book Award–nominated work: The Perfect Order of Things (2011)
Selected additional works: Back on Tuesday (1986), How Boys See Girls (1991), An Affair with the Moon (1993), Lost Between Houses (1999), Sparrow Nights (2001), A Perfect Night to Go to China (2005), The Film Club (2007)
Biography: After studying comparative literature under Northrop Frye at the University of Toronto, David Gilmour began his career in 1980 as managing editor of the Toronto International Film Festival (né the Festival of Festivals); he worked there for four years. A decade later, he began hosting his own program on CBC Newsworld, Gilmour on the Arts, which won a Gemini Award in 1997. That’s when he left broadcasting to write full time. In 2000, he received his first Trillium Book Award nomination for his best-selling Lost Between Houses. Later, he won two gold National Magazine Awards for his Walrus essay “My Life with Tolstoy.” In his memoir The Film Club, which was a best-seller in Germany, Brazil, and Canada, Gilmour documented his reasons (and conditions, including the weekly viewing of three films) for letting his fifteen-year-old son drop out of high school. He currently teaches literary studies at the University of Toronto’s Victoria College.
Joseph MacKinnon: Has the validation of this Trillium nomination changed your self-perception as a writer?
David Gilmour: No, not at all. If you set your standards by these things, you’ll be a wild-eyed, embittered alcoholic within a few short years.
Joseph MacKinnon: Your combined experience as a writer, teacher, and film critic has undoubtedly provided you with some insights into writing dos and don’ts. What patterns of behaviour or thinking would you caution would-be writers against? What writing rituals do you find personally enabling or helpful?
David Gilmour: I have only one word for writers: Persist. If you pressed me for more, I’d say never read reviews, even good ones, and rewrite, rewrite, and then rewrite some more.
Joseph MacKinnon: Is it important to pursue other interests and activities sidelong to your literary endeavours to keep your writing fresh? What are your preferred alternatives?
David Gilmour: I avoid the company of other writers. That’s a full-time job. (more…)
Born: Deep River, Ontario
Resides: Toronto, Ontario
Trillium Book Award–nominated work: And Me Among Them (2011)
Other notable works: Water Wings (2001), The Perpetual Ending (2003), Origin of Haloes (2005), The Occupied Garden: A Family Memoir of War-Torn Holland (2009)
Biography: Growing up along the Ottawa River, Kristen den Hartog would often copy her sister Tracy Kasaboski’s stories and put her own dramatic spin on them. This was both symptomatic and catalytic of her desire to write creatively. Her second novel, The Perpetual Ending, was a finalist at the Toronto Book Awards in 2003. The Occupied Garden, a work of non-fiction that she co-authored with Kasaboski, investigates the lives of their father’s family during World War II. den Hartog, a self-professed “perpetual” amateur knitter, lives in Toronto with her husband, visual artist Jeff Winch, and their daughter.
Joseph MacKinnon: Since childhood, you have engaged your sister Tracy in your writing process and collaborated with her on certain projects. Has your methodology and approach changed over time? For instance, while writing, do you find it helpful to conference ideas with her, or do you now treat writing as a solitary craft?
Kristen den Hartog: Tracy is my oldest sister (there are three of us), and as a child I always admired her ability to make stories appear from the typewriter. I used to copy her rather melodramatic ideas and change the names, and add more dead people that got buried in backyards. (As if her three or four weren’t enough.) Years later, as grown-ups, we decided to collaborate on a family memoir. It was both personally and professionally rewarding, so much so that we’ve decided to do it again, this time about our mom’s family in WWI[-era] England. My process for these books is much different than for my novels, and I enjoy that shift, the collaborative aspect. Tracy and I communicate mostly by email, and the few times we’ve tried to write in the same room have been pretty disastrous. But we have phone meetings regularly, and do research jaunts together, and that keeps us on track with each other. (more…)
Resides: Stayner, Ontario
Trillium Book Award-nominated work: Idaho Winter (2011)
Selected additional works: The Hellmouths of Bewdley (1997), Pontypool Changes Everything (1998), Caesarea (1999), Fiction for Lovers: A Small Bouquet of Flesh, Fear, Larvae, and Love (2003), People Still Live in Cashtown Corners (2010), Ravenna Gets (2010); Pontypool (film, 2009)
Biography: Growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, Tony Burgess took an interest in punk music, which helped derail him from the straight and narrow. After watching A Clockwork Orange and Straight Time, he robbed a convenience store sporting one of his mother’s blouses — a stunt for which he served three months in a medium-security facility, with day passes to finish high school. Later, Burgess — then known as Tony Blue — became a regular on Toronto’s Queen Street West arts scene. He studied semiotics at the University of Toronto before publishing his first book, The Hellmouths of Bewdley, which was rife with stories both macabre and absurd. The next year, he moved to Wasaga Beach, Ontario, where he played Curly in the local theatre’s rendition of Oklahoma! In 2009, he turned his second book, Pontypool Changes Everything (1998), into a Genie Award–winning screenplay. He currently lives in what was once a funeral home with his wife of twelve years and their two children.
Related reading: “Brother Grim” by Mark Medley (The Walrus, July/August 2011)
Joseph MacKinnon: Idaho Winter is a provocative read. The characters on its pages seem to exhibit an extra-literary volition and self-awareness. Could you tell us a little bit about the novel?
Tony Burgess: I hope people don’t read it as a book about being in a book, but rather a book where characters are encountering the same obstacles that we all do. As for what it’s about and what actually happens, I am not certain.
Joseph MacKinnon: How did you react to your Trillium nomination for Idaho Winter?
Tony Burgess: I was thrilled, of course. And a bit curious as to how this could happen. Then I laughed at an irony — this is my only book not set in an Ontario town.
Joseph MacKinnon: You’ve said before, “I’m obviously not anything like an A-list writer, nor somebody who’s going to get on Canada Reads.” Do you think this nomination is the CanLit scene’s way of proving you wrong?
Tony Burgess: The problem with answering questions like “How come you don’t win more at what you do?” is that they are not sensibly answerable. They make me feel like I just grabbed some kind of bait. I have always felt that in order to see my books as contributing to Canadian literature you would have to interpret them in some specific way, so the contribution isn’t apparent. Some people like my books very much and some people really don’t. I’m quite comfortable with that. I think that I misread this question — it’s not really about popularity after all, is it? It’s about a literary argument some people had behind closed doors — and that’s for the best, I think. (more…)
Born: Riga, Latvia
Resides: Toronto, Ontario
Trillium Book Award-nominated work: The Free World (2011)
Selected additional works: L.A. Mohel (film, 1999); The Diamond Nose (film, 2000); Genuine Article: The First Trial (film, 2003); Natasha and Other Stories (2004); Victoria Day (film, 2009)
Biography: David Bezmogzgis moved to Canada at the age of six. After studying English literature at McGill University and fine arts at the Southern California School of Cinema-Television, he created his first documentary in 1999, entitled L.A. Mohel, capturing the busy lives of three mohels (Jewish ritual circumcisers) in Los Angeles. His debut short story collection, Natasha and Other Stories, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. Later, while a screenwriting fellow at Sundance Labs, he developed the feature film Victoria Day, about two teenagers relishing in the summer of 1988 while idolizing the music and culture of the ’60s; in 2010, it was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay. Two summers ago, Bezmozgis made The New Yorker’s watch list of 20 under 40; he is currently a fellow at the Harvard/Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Free World was a New York Times Notable Book for 2011 and a Globe and Mail Best Books selection for 2011.
Joseph MacKinnon: Notwithstanding the praise The Free World has received from the Globe and Mail and the New York Times, has the validation of the Trillium nomination in particular changed your self-perception as a writer?
David Bezmozgis: Not my self-perception as a writer — because only the act of writing affects that — but some sense of being included in the company of writers who have been associated with the Trillium Award over the past twenty-five years. It is impressive company.
Joseph MacKinnon: You’ve received praise for your filmmaking, but has the reception for this novel struck a different chord?
David Bezmozgis: This novel is more complex and ambitious than my previous work — film or prose. It was more of a challenge for me to write, and in some ways, more of a challenge for readers to read. It is historical and covers several decades; it is told from multiple points of view; it has a sprawling cast of characters, all with (to a non-Russian reader) difficult foreign-sounding names; and the central event it describes (the experience of Soviet Jews in Rome) is an obscure moment in history. I had, of course, intended the book to be accessible and enjoyable in spite of these superficial obstacles. But life has taught me to respect the power of superficial obstacles, and so whenever the book is recognized or appreciated I am particularly grateful. (more…)
In the upcoming July/August issue of The Walrus, I scribbled many words about K’naan, the Somali-born music star who emigrated to Canada (by way of Harlem) as a boy in the early ’90s. Seven years ago, he became one of this country’s favourite urban acts upon the release of his debut album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher. The project went on to win the first of his four Juno Awards, and led him to sign a serious deal with A&M/Octone, a heavy-hitting record label based in Manhattan.
During the last World Cup, K’naan’s fame spread nearly planetwide, when Coca-Cola turned his song “Wavin’ Flag” into a multinational anthem. The exception was America, the music business’s premier market. This summer, he’ll attempt another cross-border invasion with a new album, Country, God or the Girl, that’s been deliberately designed for mass US appeal.
In the spring, K’naan and I met in Toronto to talk about his music and more. Below, some of that conversation, dancing around the parts you can read in the magazine.*
Matthew McKinnon: I have a pet theory about the American music industry: that it’s adopted the blockbuster model that has driven Hollywood for years. Lately, big labels only want artists who can move really big numbers; most of their money gets spent on the relative few who already are or may yet become superstars. There’s less cash and concern left over for smaller artists, smaller projects.
K’naan: Oh, it’s true. You have the chosen very few who [get to experience] that kind of platform. In America, the king is still Top 40 radio. Either you’re getting played on every city’s Top 40 station or you’re getting played on another kind of station, and the difference across the country is something like 60 million people a week. It’s a very significant awareness factor. To be honest, that world is what my new music is entering into. I’m not shy about reaching people. I’ve never been… Whether it’s the right audience for my work is yet to be seen.
Matthew McKinnon: You have a lot of fans, particularly Canadian fans, who have followed you since The Dusty Foot Philosopher. The music you made then is different than the music you make now, and at least some of that crowd seems unhappy about that. You’re on Twitter. You can read what people think about old versus new.
K’naan: Listen, I’m the least affected person by those kinds of things. It’s not that I don’t see it; it’s not that I don’t hear it or think about it. But I don’t live within the context of other people’s expectations. (more…)
The Walrus Foundation joins the Ontario Media Development Corporation in celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Trillium Book Award, Ontario’s leading literary prize. At walrusmagazine.com/trillium, we’ve grouped the finalists for the 2012 Trillium Book Award and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry alongside a select collection of past winners and Walrus contributors, including Margaret Atwood, Austin Clarke, Thomas King, and Karen Solie.
Here on The Walrus Blog, we’ll be publishing a series of written interviews with this year’s English-language contenders. First up: Ken Babstock, nominated for his book Methodist Hatchet. His poem “Hoffos at MOCCA, Hester at ACCA” appears in the June 2012 issue of the magazine.
Born: Burin, Newfoundland
Resides: Toronto, Ontario
Trillium Book Award–nominated work: Methodist Hatchet (2011)
Trillium Book Award for Poetry–winning work: Airstream Land Yacht (2006)
Selected additional works: Mean (1999), Days Into Flatspin (2001), Methodist Hatchet (2011)
Related Reading: “Review: Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet” by Nick Mount (May 2011)
Biography: Ken Babstock is the son of a United Church clergyman and a nurse. A childhood move to the Ottawa Valley, he has said, “robbed” him of his Newfoundland accent. He’s also confessed to becoming interested in poetry as a means to distance himself from the religious language of his youth. He dropped out of Montreal’s Concordia University at age nineteen, then spent the next twelve years working in factories, forestry, and construction. In 1997, his poems “The Interior” and “What We Didn’t Tell the Medic” won gold for poetry at the National Magazine Awards. Two years later, he published his first collection, Mean, for which he received the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize. Babstock has since been short listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize, and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry. He is a former member of the poetry faculty at the Banff Centre for the Arts and a former poetry editor of House of Anansi Press.
Joseph MacKinnon: Methodist Hatchet has made a big splash in the Canadian poetry world, where some have compared you to W.H. Auden. Can you tell us about the collection?
Ken Babstock: It’s a collection of separate poems which seem to want to have little to do with one another. What I mean is, there’s an undercurrent of severe disbelief or negative valuation swirling around each discrete poem. I’ve tried to bind poems together by virtue of each one’s will to be divided against itself. Like pushing the wrong end of two magnets together. (more…)
Quillcast is a podcast series from Quill & Quire featuring behind-the-scenes conversations with authors and publishing insiders. In the past, The Walrus Blog has reposted interviews with CS Richardson, Andrew Westoll, Charlotte Gill, Clark Blaise, Rosemary Sullivan, and Steve Rubin. Now, Quillcast returns to this space with three new interviews, published below. Listen to them here, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.
In this episode, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of Hana’s Suitcase (Second Story Press), the story of a Japanese teacher and her quest to discover the history behind a child’s suitcase found at the Auschwitz death camp. To mark the milestone, Q&Q web editor Sue Carter Flinn sat down with author Karen Levine and Margie Wolfe, founder of Second Story.
Hana’s Suitcase began its life as a radio documentary for the CBC before being published as a children’s book. Since it was released in 2002, the book has been published in forty countries and twenty-nine languages, and inspired the 2009 documentary, Inside Hana’s Suitcase.
We have long used personal stories to record history, to log the ebb and flow of an era and the minute crises of each current. In 1930s America, the Federal Writers’ Project put the institutional force of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal behind the tradition of oral storytelling. People like Studs Terkel drove from Hooverville to farm to record and broadcast the silent sufferers of the Depression — and later the survivors of World War II — across radio waves, forging a national community in the process. Modern oral histories like some episodes of This American Life continue to document collective voices to make sense of a time. And now, joining that tradition, there is Craig Taylor’s Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now, As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It.
Taylor is a Canadian writer who has lived in London for most of the past dozen years. He previously wrote “One Million Tiny Plays About Britain” (there are actually 110 of them), each a hilarious gem, in the Guardian newspaper, as well as Return to Akenfield, an update to Ronald Blythe’s seminal 1969 oral history of the town. In addition, Taylor edits the online literary magazine Five Dials. His latest book, Londoners, is an attempt to untangle his adopted home through its own voices.
Londoners greets us open-armed with the voices of a coiled city. Among many others, we meet a burly vegetable trader who works fifteen-hour overnight shifts to organize deliveries to the city’s farthest corners, and a gay Iranian refugee who ran toward Britain’s social freedoms by way of Tehran to Bangkok to Paris and finally to London. Although the voices are unquestionably British, they reflect the contrasts and conflicts of any global metropolis struggling to understand itself. I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor about this precious collection. (more…)
Today marks the first anniversary of the protest movement that forced Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (and his attendant thugs) from power. Last year, journalist Paul Wilson, a former editor of The Walrus, travelled to Tahrir Square and its environs to report on the state of the Egyptian people for the magazine. Here, he reflects on what change has come to the country — and what remains to be done.
JULIE BALDASSI: In 1989, you witnessed anti-Communist revolutions in Eastern Europe; decades later, you travelled to Cairo to write about the Arab Awakening for The Walrus (“Adrift on the Nile,” October 2011). Did you participate in these revolutions as an activist, as well as a journalist? Do you think it’s possible, and furthermore, important, to be non-partisan and objective as a journalist?
PAUL WILSON: I think you have to keep those two aspects — the activist and the journalist — separate when you’re on the job, otherwise readers will have a reason not to trust you. It’s something deeply embedded in the culture of Western journalism: there’s a powerful taboo against reporting on something you’re personally involved in. That’s the territory of memoir, not reportage.
But it’s a professional separation, not a personal one. It doesn’t preclude your sympathizing with — or viscerally opposing — a cause you are writing about. When you’re reporting a story as complicated, as far-reaching, and as full of huge, life-changing emotions as the collapse of communism or the Arab Awakening, you need to be open to many different sources of information, because what you’re after — what you’re trying to give the reader — is a complex understanding of what’s happening. Sympathy, the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes, is a tool of understanding. So is scepticism. I see objectivity in journalism as more of a technique than an ideal state of mind. In any story of importance, it’s almost impossible to be truly objective. But telling the story is always more interesting and engaging, and probably closer to the truth, if you do your best to represent its different sides. (more…)