LitBits 24

Wow. I haven’t done one of these in ages. No matter, it’s here now, right? Here we go…

1. Matthew Trafford, Torontonian author of the critically acclaimed short story collection The Divinity Gene, is offering a writing course called The Grounded Fantastic. It’s an online course for anyone in any time zone, and it goes on for seven weeks, from February 6 to March 20. This is a specialty course so the number of students is limited. Matthew writes:

THE GROUNDED FANTASTIC seeks to bridge [the] seemingly disparate elements of fact and fancy, to create stories that stretch the imagination but ring true to the mind and the human heart. If you have ever stopped yourself from writing something because it felt too outlandish or outrageous, if you have ever longed to write outside the confines of mundane daily reality, this is the course for you.

Don’t forget, these coveted spots are limited, so if you want to do the course, sign up now! Matthew’s last course sold out fast!

2. Goose Lane Editions out east is launching a new website, and they’re pretty excited about it! This is from their press release:

[Fredericton, NB] In 1994, still in the birthing years of the Internet, Goose Lane Editions, Canada’s oldest independent book publisher, made history by becoming one of the first publishing houses in the world to launch their own website. After 18 years, the site has gone through numerous transformations, changing to suit our evolving culture as technology improved and users became more computer-savvy. Now, we are proud to announce the newest iteration of www.gooselane.com, with new features, new content, and a new promotion to kick off the launch.

In addition to a complete visual redesign, we have added new website elements such as twitter feeds and ongoing blog posts by our many employees. Sample chapters are available for many books, and an ongoing stream of events and notices is added to the main page every day.

To celebrate our launch, we’d like to extend a special offer. For every day the week of January 23, we will be offering one book a day at a special highly-discounted price. Roadsworth, YOU comma Idiot, The Famished Lover, Miller Brittain, The Black Watch, Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy, and Ganong: A Sweet History of Chocolate will each take over one day of the week with a drastically discounted price to help celebrate our new look and attitude. All this, in addition to our regular feature of free shipping on orders of $60 or more. To take advantage of these offers, simply create an account with Goose Lane. By doing so, you’ll also ensure that you are regularly updated on upcoming special offers.

To obtain review copies, arrange for interviews or to request permission to publish excerpts, contact Corey Redekop at credekop@gooselane.com or (888) 926.8377. High-res book cover and author image files are also available at www.gooselane.com.

3.  How much love do you have for the classics? I may have bought books before this, but the first I remember buying with my own money was when I was ten years old. There was a tiny independent shop in our shitty little mall (the mall where I got my first job at a ’50s fish ‘n’ chip diner horrifyingly named A Salt and Batter), where I used to hungrily peruse the few shelves of paperbacks. My first purchase there, while my mom waited for me outside the shop, was a Signet copy of Moby Dick. I’ve never managed to finish that story—sadly, because I find it appealing—but maybe I’d have more luck reading it in the bathroom? Behold, Moby Dick printed on toilet paper. (Who has the time to do such things?!)

4. Fans of Annabel: Want to read an early short story by Kathleen Winter? It’s called “Jolly Trolley,” and also appears in her first book boYs, which I haven’t yet acquired. What do you think of the style of this story?

5. I’m a big fan of British productions. Right now I’m addicted to Merlin and Being Human. I love BBC stuff. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about British shows. I also enjoy Tudor-based shows, and wouldn’t you know, the BBC is releasing a War of the Roses saga, based on the books of none other than Philippa Gregory. Gregory is one author who totally surprised me. Not in a million years did I think I’d pick up any of her books, but I couldn’t resist buying a copy of The Other Boleyn Girl, finally, in secret, after many times putting it back. And then I devoured it, and bought all the others in the series. She can write some pretty good sex, can Gregory. Not like Ken Follett, for instance. Ugh. I’ve yet to find out how Martin does sex in his Game of Thrones books (so far I’ve only watched it, and from what I can tell, it’s…copious.) Anyway, really excited about this new BBC show, which will “be told uniquely from the point of view of powerful women who ‘shaped their men and who shaped history in the process,'” and will be “many episodes.” Awesome!

6. Being a copyeditor who cares about grammar and the way things are written, I somewhat struggled listening to Stephen Fry’s sound-sex clip, and yet, oh, the man can weave words, can’t he? On reflection, I do actually believe he has a point, one I’ve learned over my nine years now of freelancing, especially editing fiction. Fry is extraordinary and exciting in general, but here too. He’s not saying proper use of the language is not important, and I don’t think that the way he says this, so exquisitely, so eloquently, necessarily contradicts his point so much as actually illustrates it. Language is meant to be played with, I believe, and I would much prefer to read something beautiful or stimulating than perfectly correct—which often leads to awkwardness, anyway. I am okay with colloquialisms if they are clear enough for me to understand, as Fry mentions. We don’t need to take things literally all the time. Language, I believe, should be elastic. Ultimately, I’m disappointed when errors are the only things someone takes away from something otherwise good; it’s reading with a superiority complex. I don’t mean to say by any means that I would leave errors in texts (unless they were in fiction and meant to be there, but you have to know the rules to break them), or that proper use is not important (and I argue not just in formal occasions); what I mean is, I’ve relaxed my pedantry, or rather restricted it to my freelance jobs. There is a time and place for it. What I find more interesting than correctness is creativity. Apparently, the dictionaries think so too.

7. Haven’t got a wall of books? Try this library wallpaper! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to shelve my books by colour, but it would be too disorganized.

8. Some read banned books during Freedom to Read week, which is coming up in Canada February 26–March 3, and some actually wear them…in bracelet form.

9. CBC’s The Next Chapter presents Northwords, five stories from five Canadian authors—Joseph Boyden, Alissa York, Robin Maharaj, Noah Richler, and Sarah Leavitt—who were sent to northern Labrador. “Their mission: to soak in the place and then channel it into a piece of writing.”

10. Have you heard already about the unpublished Brontë manuscript that was found, the mini one produced by fourteen-year-old Charlotte? The tiny magazine (second issue of Young Men’s Magazine), said to shed important light on her later work, was auctioned off and won by the Paris Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, which paid £690,850.

11. I can’t stop reading McSweeney’s “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond.” Some are hilarious, but some are also sad.

12. Writing journals from the lovely Out of Print Tees company!

13. Even though I find this new mural of authors together on the beach with their most famous works (look closely and you’ll see that Atwood’s is The Handmaid’s Tale, which has also been made into a film and an opera) rather unattractive, I do adore the look Shakespeare’s giving Atwood as he fills in a word of her crossword puzzle, and the impish grin she’s giving us. And is Stephen King doing fart noises with his armpit to cheer up an unimpressed Edgar Allan Poe? The mural is painted at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

14. I bookmarked this a long time ago, meaning to have a thorough look at it. It’s pretty cool. Check out BookDrum: “the perfect companion to the books we love, bringing them to life with immersive pictures, videos, maps and music.”

15. You must already know by now that Oliver Jeffers is one of my favourite children’s book writers and illustrators. Lost and Found, Up and Down, The Way Back Home…these are a few of my favourites. And if I had money, I would be snatching up these lovely silver pieces of jewellery based on his books. Oh. My favourites are the penguin necklace, the boy necklace (I’d have one with both charms on one necklace, because the two belong together), the penguin ring, and the heart in a bottle.

16. I’ve been seeing a lot of this lately: art made with books. Perhaps the idea is ages old, I don’t know. Whatever the case, artists these days are making pieces that demonstrate extraordinary vision and a deep love of the act of creating. The amount of time it must have taken to make each of these twelve works! My favourite is the Su Blackwell papercut piece of the girl in the forest (you must have a look at her incredible site. I wish I could do such things!). If you love papercut art as much as I do, check out this book, Paper Cutting: Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft. I could spend hours over and over again perusing the photos. Oh, the jawdropping beauty, and the seeming impossibility of the works! We have this book at the store but unfortunately I have a book-buying ban on now, out of necessity.

17. Ever wondered about the life cycle of a book? This is a simplified version, ideally how things transpire, and only up until the book is distributed (in other words, not the life cycle after, once it’s been bought, of course), but it’s great nevertheless for writers looking to publish and who should go into the process knowing what to expect, or for those who want a greater appreciation for the books they buy and read (and review).

18. This isn’t being officially announced until February (so stay tuned for further details), but I’ve asked if I can post it here anyway. Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen—whom many of you already know as tweeter for @NicholasHoareTO and book blogger at Literary Treats—has organized a cool venture with her workplace, the Art Gallery of Mississauga, in partnership with the Mississauga Library System and sponsored by publisher Thomas Allen, who will be donating five copies of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick for the event. Jaclyn read Chris Van Allsburg’s Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a book of only gorgeous illustrations and captions reportedly presented to a publisher by Mr. Burdick with the promise that the text would follow. However, Mr. Burdick was never heard from again, and the publisher printed only the illustrations and their captions. Since then, on the Harris Burdick site readers have been entreated to create their own stories about those illustrations.

Inspired by this, Jaclyn got the idea to host a teen workshop (ages 10–19) at the gallery called Tell Me a Story, which will invite participants to tell their own stories about the paintings they are shown.

From the press release draft:

Gallery visitors often view art and ask, what is this artist trying to say? What does that object in the painting mean? But for this workshop, we take things one step further and invite you to tell us your own story about the piece you’re observing. The art will be the springboard for your creativity. We’ll provide captions to suggest unexpected ways to look at the art and inspire original storytelling that takes the art beyond its canvas, but in the end, it’s all up to you. Surprise us! Take us—and the art—to places we’ve never before imagined!

The concept behind Tell Me A Story comes from Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. Van Allsburg, who also wrote The Polar Express and Jumanji, tells us that many years ago, a mysterious artist named Harris Burdick submitted illustrations with captions to a children’s book publisher. Burdick promised that he would return the next day with the stories to accompany the illustrations, but he was never heard from again.

Van Allsburg and other authors have since written stories for Burdick’s illustrations, and now Van Allsburg further challenges his young readers to create stories of their own. Therefore, not only are the Harris Burdick books collections of highly imaginative tales, but they also call to readers to use the Harris Burdick images as springboards for their own stories. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of unique stories that can be created from the same fourteen images!

Now imagine the hundreds of unique stories hidden within the AGM’s permanent art collection. Twenty-five years years of art… How many stories can we create?

The AGM/Thomas Allen initiative is planned for Monday, March 12, 11:00am, and Wednesday, March 14, 11:00am. If you’re interested, contact the AGM or Jaclyn at jaclyn.qua-hiansen[at]mississauga[dot]ca.

Broadsheet Magazine’s Literary Fundraiser A Success

Remember in my last post I told you I won two tickets to Broadsheet magazine‘s fundraiser on June 30th in Toronto? Well, I did indeed make it there!

I arrived by train late afternoon and had a few minutes to adjust to the change of pace outside Union Station before my sister’s husband arrived to find me standing like a lost kid in the scorching sun. Belleville’s called a city but the closest it comes to TO is its ridiculously busy car traffic and also creepy weirdos (an alarming “increase in indecent acts” made the front page of the local paper this morning. Go, BelleVegas.) Other than that, it’s about 49,000 to Toronto’s 2.5 million, and the variety of restaurants and stores and cultural events comes up short in comparison, of course. There are no skyscrapers; probably City Hall’s clock tower is the closest thing.

So for me, the noise, smell (particularly of garbage, phew!), amount of people, tall buildings, the gazillion things all vying for attention…all that stuff takes some time to get used to. Everything is so utterly foreign—I’m in Toronto so infrequently—that it feels as though I’ve just landed on a different planet. Consequently, I act quite embarrassingly like some googly-eyed tourist. I’ve written about this before elsewhere, which one day I’ll share. And all that above sounded negative, but I do love Toronto in my own strange way.

In case you don’t yet know, Broadsheet magazine is a new literary venture conceived by four young Canadians who, like many of us CanLit enthusiasts, noticed a lacuna in Canadian literary magazines—which range from the Quill & Quire, publishing mostly industry news, to Descant, Prairie Fire, Brick, Canadian Literature, and the like, all of which are sort of more journals than mags to me—and decided to do something about it.

I’m really noticing the rise or rebirth of CanLit in young people’s hands lately: consider the Canadian short story’s recent rise to power in major award scenes and Broadsheet itself and the also new and awesome Canadian Bookshelf (check out my Notable Short Story Collections list, now featured! This Cake is for the Party and And Also Sharks are missing but it’s because they’re not yet on the site). It’s all so exciting!! Broadsheet’s slogan: “Canadian fiction that’s easy to pick up.” I really like the sound of that, don’t you? Here, read this and see if you’re not interested:

An alluring convergence of old and new, Broadsheet is all about giving readers access to great short fiction however and whenever they want it: Once a month, a beautifully designed but cheaply produced literary tabloid will be available entirely for free to readers online, on digital devices, and in print in Toronto’s downtown core and the surrounding GTA. Broadsheet will publish Canadian fiction that is just as at home on the subway as it is in the study.

Broadsheet is the brain-child of four young publishing professionals with a dream to make short fiction and Canadian authors a part of the everyday life of Canadians. With broad distribution across the GTA, and high-impact authors lined up to dazzle readers, Broadsheet is set to take the city by storm.

This is a perfect complement to Sarah Selecky, Jessica Westhead, and Matthew J. Trafford‘s Year of the Short Story (YOSS) initiative. Thing is, this magazine is in its infancy yet, and in order to get it up and running, a fundraiser was needed. I don’t know if it’s because the event was in TO or what, but the turnout was incredible! Certainly like nothing I’ve ever seen before in this area. No idea how many people attended, but the Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts, which admittedly sounds like much bigger a venue than it is, and which is sadly the only gallery of its kind left on the Queen St. W strip, was packed to within a couple inches of the art-covered walls. (My poor sister, an artist who works in a gallery in TO, had a heart attack every time someone brushed up against a sketch or put their food beside an art piece.) We sweat like horses (no AC) and enjoyed every minute. I should tell you, too, that this event was not free (entry was $30, plus any other tickets bought for prizes and drinks), which means people are indeed willing to support and are interested in such a fantastic endeavour and the enormously talented people behind it. I’m tremendously heartened by this! This is what makes me think I need to move.

Authors Matthew J. Trafford and Jessica Westhead introduce the Little Bird writing contest finalists.

I took my sister Thérèse with me, rather than my non-literary husband, because she has me on speed-dial for “I’m at X bookstore; what should I buy?” calls, and we were greeted warmly (literally!) and loaded up with Broadsheet buttons, our free raffle ticket and two drink tickets, and a copy of the latest issue of the Walrus, one of the sponsors. (If you haven’t yet checked out that issue, do; there are some great stories in it!)

Being among the first few to arrive and not knowing a soul, we immediately occupied ourselves making serious faces while peering at the interesting and somewhat disturbing artwork. And I was strangely stricken shy upon recognizing Sarah and Jessica chatting in a corner with Sarah’s Keith Urban lookalike husband. I was a total nerd introducing myself, tripping over my words, but they were very sweet and enthusiastic. The best part was that I never mentioned this blog, they did! All I said was I’m Steph, and they knew. Awesome!! Also they said they like nerds. Phew, because I’d been waiting a long time to meet these girls whose writing makes me very envious, and I would have cried had they just smiled politely, nodding, or backed up slowly on meeting me. So, great start to the evening!

Broadsheet’s Facebook page has an album for this event, which will give you an idea of how it went (I’m making some interesting faces in some of them! See if you can spot me. I also added some photos I took to their page). Lots of top-decibel socializing, enjoying of wine and delicious appetizers, listening to great bits of fiction and fantastic music, and raucous enthusiasm over prizes and winners. There were books and clothing and Brick and Walrus subscriptions and Medieval Times tickets and a 50/50 draw to win. This was all so much fun that no one left before the end.

You probably won’t be surprised that I was most looking forward to the readings. Matthew and Jessica announced the three finalists for Sarah’s Little Bird short story contest, which I entered, and these three, all women, read short excerpts from their stories, after which the winner of the grand prize was announced. There were about 30 entries, Jessica told me, and it was heartening to hear that she and Matthew, the judges who had no idea who submitted each story, were impressed by the calibre of writing. Admittedly, listening to the finalists and winner up there, I was pretty much overcome with jealousy, which I take as a good sign—I do care that I didn’t win, therefore I will try harder.

Sarah Selecky reading from "How Healthy Are You?" in This Cake is for the Party.

Next, the author readings. Matthew read from his short story collection The Divinity Gene, an excellent set of original stories. He gave an entertaining reading. I don’t know about you but I really love being read to, especially in settings like these. I’ve been going to author readings for countless years. I never tire of it, and it’s also fun to picture myself up there one day.

Jessica read from And Also Sharks, another fantastic collection, and her reading was quite funny, too. Her choice of what to read also got me thinking about my own writing, which I’ve been feeling discouraged about lately, and I feel prompted again to continue, if only I can find the time. And Sarah read from This Cake is for the Party, which I really look forward to reviewing, like the others, because gosh, you guys, this is seriously one amazing collection of short stories! I really admire it. All three books are definitely worth your time, absolutely worth adding to your Canadian collection if you’re a short story lover who’s especially excited by fresh young voices.

Afterward, I met Evan Munday from Coach House, also a talented cartoonist (he has a new book coming out from ECW Press called The Dead Kid Detective Agency) and also a couple of Twitter friends, which was super cool, and I was able to speak with all three authors and have my books signed. Is there anything better than the lovely personal messages authors give you when they know you a little bit? My heart was smiling; I kept looking at the pages on the train home. It’s just that I respect and admire these guys, and having them like me back but also genuinely appreciate and want to know how I feel about their fiction is really something. The authors I’ve been meeting lately, all young and down to earth, are blowing me away.

My special tee-shirt

This is the year, this is their time, I say! There are so many talented, skilled writers out there right now, both novel (Dickner, Pick, Fowles, Moore, Toews, Whittall, Schultz, Mayr, etc.) and short story authors. No longer is the Canadian short-story book some amateur or obscure oddity published only by presses you’ve never heard of. The short story is gaining ground among novels, the small presses equally so. These are not inferior pieces of fiction you hold up like holey underwear, no longer stories written solely to break into the author scene. We acknowledge Munro and Atwood and Macleod and Shields and all those wonderful but already well-read canonical authors but we’re more readily making permanent room also for the other Macleod, and Westhead and Trafford and Selecky and Grant and Booker and Gartner and so on. These voices constitute an extremely rich and vibrant part of CanLit that insightfully, uncannily, humorously, pointedly, heartbreakingly captures and portrays our current culture. It’s truly nothing short of refreshing, and so are their efforts to be heard, read, and widely appreciated.

Through events like the Broadsheet fundraiser and initiatives like Sarah’s Little Bird short story contest and Canadian Bookshelf, we young Canadians, and those who love CanLit, have more opportunity than ever to get involved in some way in making Canadian literature more fun, even better known and well received, and, best of all, increasingly recognized as a valuable, indubitably integral part of our culture that’s well worth supporting.

You have to admit: it’s an exciting time to be a CanLit lover.