A pleasant surprise: Toronto’s Giller Light Bash

Scotiabank Giller Light Bash

For those of us who can’t afford to go to the Book Lover’s Ball, the Scotiabank Giller Light Bash is the next best thing. It’s not a black tie event, but it is a chance for publishing professionals, authors, and book lovers alike to adorn themselves in their best outfit, eat delicious appetizers, drink wine, dance, and celebrate books while being catered to an exclusive screening of the Scotiabank Giller Prize winner announcement. It is perfectly described as “a taste of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala formalities with an affordable price in an exciting party environment,” and the proceeds go to Frontier College, Canada’s original literacy organization. It is a well-known and well-attended cultural event that happens one night in six different cities across Canada, all with their own way of celebrating, from cocktail dinners to lively debates: Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, and Vancouver.

2014-11-10 20.57.24

The whole point of these one-night celebrations, of course, is the awarding of the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, which is a prestigious honour awarded annually for excellence in fiction in Canada. It’s Canada’s own largest and most important literary award, imbuing confidence and renewed vibrancy into Canadian publishing and giving winning authors renewed or new-found publicity and popularity. Over the years, it has been given to many deserving authors, from Alice Munro to Joseph Boyden.The Scotiabank Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch, who still takes an active part selecting the jury and announcing the winner, and the inspiration for this prize came in memory of his late wife, Doris Giller, who was a successful journalist and editor and had a passion for the Canadian literary scene.

2014 Giller Light Bash adThis year the event was held at the Daniels Spectrum, the cultural hub of Regent Park, and it was a convenient location that was easily walkable from the downtown core area. There was a $3 coat check, however, which wasn’t ideal considering the original ticket price and the fact that wearing a coat (brrr!) was not a viable option. But sacrifices must be made, even if $2 would have been slightly better, and the evening was still a successful one.

It was off to a good start already when I arrived, with plenty of people filing into the surprisingly spacious venue. At the back of the room was the table full of extravagant raffle prizes, featuring bags of books, a pot and pan kitchen set, concert tickets, etc. There was also an opportunity to use a raffle ticket to predict the winning book and, if guessed correctly, an opportunity to score a copy of each Giller shortlist title signed by the author (I didn’t use a raffle ticket for this purpose, and it was probably for the best…I guessed wrong anyway).

The Giller Light Bash is a fun night, but it is also an expensive one. Raffle tickets cost a fair amount of money for just 4 tickets, and drink tickets had a hefty price of 1 ticket for $6 (a bar is cheaper!). The one bonus in regards to drinks was a free trial run of the wine by Barefoot. They conveniently had a booth set up where you could sample all the different types of wine being offered that night, so at least when you bought your $6 glass, you knew you liked it.

litograph tattooAside from the exuberant cost, the Giller Light Bash has its free perks as well. Last year, there was a beautiful selection of posters from Litographs included in the swag bags that everyone was given at the end of the night. This year, Litographs’ new tattoo collection was featured as an event table, where guests could go and select two (or more) literary tattoos that featured lines from Pride and Prejudice  to The Wizard of Oz. You also had the option of putting them on right there and then, which my friend and I promptly did. I chose “Brevity is the Soul of Wit” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and my friend chose “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Some guests became obsessed with the literary tattoo option quite quickly. I witnessed one woman who had covered herself in every single tattoo that was available. Needless to say, she was literally showing her support for the classics.

There was also a photo booth set up with a variety of fun and wonky props to try on. Everyone, including myself, enjoyed taking photos throughout the night, some more than once. The one thing about having only 10 seconds for each photo is that usually you end up doing the same pose or just looking ridiculous. I think my friend and I accomplished both these feats.

photo booth at Giller Light Bash

Of course, the highlight of the evening was watching the live broadcast of the Scotiabank Giller Prize Gala. Rick Mercer hosted, and he was hilarious as always, making smart remarks and teasing the authors during his pre-filmed interviews with each of the shortlisted finalists. He played mad libs with them in addition to asking the big questions, such as what each of them would do with the cash ($100,000!!!!!). Amusingly, Miriam Toews, the author of All My Puny Sorrows, said she would buy a nice warm pair of Sorels (which apparently Mercer bought for her in the end!). And, touchingly, David Bezmozgis, the author of The Betrayers, said it was already spoken for with three growing kids at home (parents — there for you till the end). During the broadcast, there was also a length introduction for each finalist’s book, which were well done. The book trailers were very well done, and I certainly wanted to read all of them by the end of it (unfortunately, I hadn’t read any before the Giller Light Bash). If you can find the book trailers online, I definitely suggest you watch them. Quite the marketing skill was employed in their making. Well done, publishing fellows!

Sean Micheals giller winnerBut what we were all waiting for was the winning announcement, and when it came I was astounded. First-time novelist Sean Michaels won the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his first book Us Conductors. After watching the book trailer at the event, I had already developed an interest in reading the book. I love fiction inspired by Russian history, and on top of that it also contains a romance and the jazz age (who could ask for more from a debut novel?). The only other debut novelist to win the Giller Prize was Johanna Skibsrud for The Sentimentalist in 2010, and besides Michaels, the only other first-time author to capture the prestiguous award was Vincent Lam for his 2006 short story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. Considering how first-time authors often struggle to get the attention of publishers these days, it was touching to see Michaels be rewarded for his determination to succeed. He certainly deserved to be noticed.

After the winning announcement, the Giller Light Bash kicked it up a notch. The DJ turned on the music and the celebrating began with more drinks and dancing. It was a great evening to be a part of. There was also the lovely bonus of receiving a swag bag at the end of the night, which included a new book (you can never have enough books), popcorn, coupons, magazines, popcorn, lip gloss, coconut water, and plenty of other fun trinkets. I was very pleased with the booty.

I still think the evening could drop in price, as many of the other cities celebrating that same night do have cheaper ticket options (except Winnipeg — the odd ball out) and Halifax even has different pricing options, such as a student price. But, aside from the fact that I am incredibly poor and as a result cheap, the Giller Light Bash is an awesome experience where you get to network, meet new people, and have fun with some good friends. Yes, it was on a Monday, but it did make the dreary Monday a little better, even if it was a little more difficult to get up for Tuesday.

Whether you’re new to publishing or just love books, you should definitely consider attending the Giller Light Bash next year. It’s for a good cause and you get to party on a Monday without having to be a university student. A win–win in my books!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Turns 40 at IFOA

Penguin Canada 40th Anniversary

On October 28th, 2014, Penguin Canada celebrated its fortieth anniversary as part of the Harbourfront Centre’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA). To commemorate the event, four authors joined a round table discussion to discuss the transformative power of literature and Penguin books, specifically. The discussion was moderated by Jared Bland, the Arts Editor of the Globe and Mail, and the authors present were Joseph Boyden, Lee Henderson, John Ralston Saul and Johanna Skibsrud.

Unfortunately, I was a bit late for the event, so I missed some of the readings that happened. Each author picked a book Penguin has published in that the recent or distant past to read from, describing its importance in the literary world. The reading I particularly enjoyed was given by John Ralston Saul, a published author as well as the international President of PEN International. He read from Dead Souls a novel by Nikolai Gogol published in 1842. The novel is a satire meant to demonstrate the flaws and faults of the Russian population. This ailing social system is shown through the selfish actions of one man named Chichikov. The book is anything but subtle in its criticism and its obtuse obviousness was hilarious to behold during Saul’s reading from different sections of the book. I find myself intrigued to read the whole book, considering the love I already have for Russian literature.

IFOAAfter the readings, all the authors sat down with Jared Bland to discuss books, the act of reading, and their  favourite publisher, Penguin of Canada. However, I think the best conversation, or debate really, was on the phenomenon of e-books. As a publishing professional, I understand the value of this new technology and keeping up with the trend, but as a ready I haven’t joined in. I am a lover of the physical book, therefore, I can’t imagine giving up the sensation of feeling or smelling the pages of old and new books alike. Frankly, I don’t think the smell of technology is all that enticing. So when Lee Anderson started to berate the e-book’s existence, I was all for it.

Anderson went on to say he can’t leave the house without a book and that when he visits other people he loves browsing their shelves if they have a great library in their homes. He made it quite clear just how odd it would be to ask to see someone’s e-reader and be amazed at their collection. Hands down, it was the best rant ever! You had to be there to truly appreciate what was said and Anderson’s accompanied hand actions to support his opinion. Absolutely priceless, and many of the other authors in attendance agreed.

They also all agreed that Penguin is everlasting and infinite. Everyone knows that orange colour and that little penguin logo. Merged with Random House or not, Penguin will always stand on its own as a valued publisher and a friend to all readers and their shelf space. Anderson put it perfectly when he said, “You can always trust that little bird.”

Overall, it was a great evening at IFOA and a beautiful celebration of Penguin and the art of publishing. And upon filing out of the Brigantine Room, all the attendees were given a Penguin bag, a miniature Penguin notebook, a key chain in the shape of the infamous penguin, and best of all, a Penguin poster with the statement “Go Away I’m Reading” (there was also champagne!). Pretty awesome perks from a pretty awesome publisher.

Penguin Poster

Happy Anniversary, Penguin Canada! (now shush, I’m reading)

 

 

“Let’s all have a good wank”: Caitlin Moran at the Appel Salon

howtobuildagirltour

**Some explicit content**

There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe what it is like to actually meet Caitlin Moran. This British columnist, feminist goddess has taken the world by storm. She is a gigantic earthquake that has taken the world between her hands and has shaken it with laughter: laughter that has brought awareness and revitalization to the word “feminist.”

When I heard that Caitlin Moran was coming to Toronto, I was beyond excited. I introduced myself to this courageous, funny woman’s writing when I gave How to Be a Woman, Moran’s first book, to my sister as a random gift of sisterly affection (yes, I am awesome). I never imagined the possibility of Moran coming to Toronto as part of her book tour for her most recent book and first novel How to Build a Girl (I sense a theme…). Apparently, living in Toronto isn’t always bad (just most of the time).

Unfortunately, my sister decided it would be a good idea to leave the province and go work and live out west, so she wasn’t able to attend the Toronto Public Library’s special event  at the Appel Salon. Therefore, I went alone, which in retrospect can be consiered a very feminist action, independence and all that jazz, so I felt perfectly aligned with the evening already.

It was a full house at the Appel Salon (Moran is a very popular woman outside of Britain…something I’m not surprised by). And Moran also made quite the entrance, as was only right, arriving with a bouquet of gigantic balloons. I was already in awe of her. It was going to be a great evening.

And it was.

To write about everything would make this blog post extravagantly long, so I won’t indulge myself in recounting every detail of that spectacular program. However, I will highlight a couple of really great moments.

Moran lived up to her reputation with her funny, outspoken, matter-of-fact-don’t-give-a-fuck manner of talking about life, drugs, feminism, and being a girl in general. It was refreshing and liberating. I have also never laughed so much in my life nor felt so inspired by one woman’s words, who, up until that point, I only knew through words on a page.

Interviewed by Globe and Mail‘s Johanna Schneller, Caitlin Moran lit up the room with her banter. She is definitely not one to sugarcoat anything. She admitted to taking drugs in her youth and making silly mistakes in interviews she’s conducted as a journalist (her comment of how Benedict Cumberbatch is “big everywhere” certainly brought the house down).

Moran and How to Build a GirlBesides talking about basically everything, Moran did discuss her new book How to Build a Girl, and how she wanted to write a book about being a girl and figuring out what being a girl is all about. Basically, she wanted to beat the “porn industry,” as she put it, by writing an insanely explicit book that wrote about female sexuality in a frank and open manner. It is about self-discovery in all its forms, and masturbation. Yes, Moran is an advocate of female masturbation and for good reason. As she says, “I can simply make myself happy, and it hasn’t got any calories in it, and I can do it pretty much anywhere!” Sound advice, I think. I mean, when we think of masturbation, we often think of men with their hands on their dicks vigorously pumping away, but that is one gender and one way. Moran brings female sexuality and exploration out of the shadow in this book and places it front and centre. What movies have always left in the dark or demonized (remember Carrie’s period?), Moran cleanses in a new and enlightened way by saying it’s okay, it’s normal, it’s healthy.

The book is also about sex, and having lots of it. “That is what teenage girls do,” Moran says. Therefore, she is not encouraging girls to be promiscuous and have lots of sex. It is already HAPPENING, and she is simply bringing it to the forefront as a conversation that should happen and that there should be no shame in sexual self-discovery. This is a philosophy I also truly believe in. Many people I know squirm at the idea of talking about sex. During my undergraduate degree, I volunteered for my school newspaper as a copy editor and I had the most funny and amazing conversations with the group of girls I worked with. These conversations earned me the nickname “Dana After Dark,” but sex was an active and fun anecdotal topic we all tossed around into the wee hours of the night (that newspaper was never done on time!). So I completely support Moran’s intentions for writing this book, which leads me to her lovely reading and accompanied acting of a section in her book regarding her main character Johanna and her advice for future women who are caught having sex with a largely endowed man or as Moran described it: “Having sex with a man whose penis is ‘medically inadvisable.'” Tip #1: Place your hands flat on his chest and BRACE, BRACE, BRACE with your arms. Tip #2: In doggie, you can keep subtly but essentially crawling away from the penis, making it possible to only get the first 5 inches inside. Moran demonstrated both the missionary and doggie position on stage in a hilarious fashion while telling us these tips, which is a sight I will not soon forget (a demonstration that she also at her family Christmas during charades that mortified her brothers, she later told us).

Well, I have already wrote more than I intended (Can you tell I enjoyed myself yet?), but I must mention one more moment that has stuck with me since the event. A lot of people tell you not to care what other’s think. Of course, we all do anyway. The media bombards us with images of perfection, so we naturally don’t think we are good enough. I know I have looked at my body image and wondered: “Am I skinny enough?” It is a terrible question to ask yourself, because you are basing the answer on what society thinks and that is something you should never do! Moran set the record straight that evening in the most unexpected way possible when she was discussing the idea she had for How to Be a Woman‘s book cover that she pitched to her publishers. She called it Her Feminist Smile, and then Moran proceeded to not just tell but SHOW us what she meant by this. She wanted to draw eyes on her tits, or rather her bra, draw a nose above her belly button, and then manipulate her belly fat into a big smiley mouth.

Caitlin MoranThe room erupted with laughter. Moran, in front of this huge crowd, lifted her shirt and jiggled her belly fat for everyone to see. Reconciled with her body, Caitlin Moran literally does not give a fuck! And I admire her so much for that. There is no “circle of shame” and Moran makes that perfectly clear.

After the talk was over, I was completely thrown and I had never felt more womanly or more of a feminist in all my life. Gushing about it on my phone to my boyfriend later, I called the entire experience a “femaganza.” I had to make up a word to even begin to describe how I felt about it!

Caitlin Moran and IBefore I left, I did stand in line to meet this awe-inspiring woman, who I could listen to all day. Moran gave me one of her infamous free hugs, which is nothing like hugging a stranger. Immediately you feel known and loved by this woman who doesn’t even know your name. She left me feeling like a rock star. Her final words to me: “Go change the world.” I only hope I can change it as much as she changed me in one evening.

 

She also said she loved my blazer. I was thrilled!

 

To finish, I will leave you with Caitlin Moran’s 5 rules of feminism (this woman is, after all, a genius in her own right):

Rule #1: Women are equal to men.
Rule #2: don’t be a dick.
And Rule #3: there are no more rules.

If you feel particularly inspired by how enraptured I was by Moran then you can watch her entire laughter-inducing, life-changing talk below (the Toronto Public Library did us all a favour by filming it thereby allowing us to experience it over and over again—all glorious 1 hour and 24 minutes of it!!! It’s worth the invested time if I haven’t already convinced you by now)

For more Appel Salon programs you can visit the Toronto Public Library’s website here.

To keep up with Caitlin Moran and all her hilarity you can find her personal website here and follow her on Twitter at @caitlinmoran

Caitlin Moran

 

“I love the losers.” – Book launch for The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman book launch

Before I jumped into the world of Canadian publishing, I didn’t know who Andrew Kaufman was. That was a mistake I hope none of you will make, as he is a delightful author on paper and in person, and my life has been a little richer since reading one of his books.

My first encounter with Kaufman’s work was his first and most well-known book All My Friends are Superheroes (you can read my review of the book here, if you’re interested). I was immediately charmed by his simplistic yet jammed-packed-full-of-metaphor way of writing. A lot of people have the misguided assumption that writing short stories or novellas is easier than writing a full-length novel, but they are wrong (Alice Munro will agree). To be able to say a lot in few words is quite the feat, and Kaufman has the art down to a tee.

The Tiny WifeThe Tiny Wife, while it is his most recent book in Canada, was originally published in 2010 by Madras Press in the United States and in 2011 by HarperCollins’ imprint The Friday Project in the United Kingdom. Given a new look and a new audience, The Tiny Wife has been brought back to life by Cormorant Books, a small Canadian publisher dedicated to publishing the best new work in the area of literary fiction and creative non-fiction for the adult market.

The book is about a robbery, and not just any robbery, a very unusual kind of robbery. Thirteen people in a bank, instead of losing their money, are asked to surrender that which is most valuable to them: a calculator, a cheap watch, photographs of children, a copy of Camus’s The Stranger, etc. It is after this incident that these thirteen individuals begin to experience strange and, quite honestly, impossible occurrences. One woman begins to shrink, giving the book its title and another is terrorized by her own tattoo, which has miraculously come to life. Everything is in chaos, and these poor souls must figure out what exactly was taken from them in the robbery to put a stop to these insane happenings before they literally lose themselves completely.

Although I haven’t read the book yet, I am thoroughly intrigued by its content, and it is no doubt another delightful read that Kaufman has delivered to his audience.

Andrew Kaufman The Tiny Wife Book LaunchOn July 17, 2014, I attended the official book launch for The Tiny Wife, held at the now-infamous Ben McNally Books. With a fairly great turnout, the event began a little after 6 PM. The main event of the launch was a Q + A hosted by Globe and Mail Books Editor Jared Bland.

Once the launch began, there was a lively discussion between Bland and Kaufman, which was more often than not comical, with jokes surrounding the book’s strange plot line and Kaufman’s writing method. A particularly funny moment was when Bland asked Kaufman about how he comes up with theses ideas and starts writing about them. Kaufman’s response: “When I come up with a book idea, I often do whatever I can do avoid writing the book at all.” He sounds like a publisher’s nightmare, but perhaps his procrastination lends something to his eventual genius. Every writer has a style that is purely his/her own. Who knows what would happen to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series if he was rushed to finish a book (He’s certainly feeling the pressure now with the hit HBO-TV series)…maybe he needs those 5+ years to get it right. It’s unfortunate but true.

Andrew KaufmanWe found out another interesting fact about Kaufman: He loves the losers. This is a fairly obvious observation if you’ve read anything he’s ever written, and there is definitely something about the “loser” in fiction. Losers are far more relateable and a lot more fun. There’s no such thing as perfection in real life, so why should there be in the stories we read? Kaufman is also very aware of the reader when writing about his “loser” characters. When asked about his eccentric plot choices, he said, “I’m very careful not to bore the reader.” Well he has not failed in that regard. His stories are packed with meaningful nuances throughout, but they are expressed in an entertaining and light-hearted fashions, and as a result the reader is certainly never bored.

Near the end of the interview, Kaufman also admitted he doesn’t actually like his first book All My Friends are Superheroes anymore. As much as I enjoyed the book, I can understand where he’s coming from. Just like in any job, writers gradually develop their individual style and when they write their first book, this “style” might not be fully developed yet. Of course, we are welcome to love the book (and BUY it), Kaufman said jokingly afterward.

A final revelation from Kaufman was his desire to actually write one of those big books with swooping revelations—War and Peace material. An intriguing wish for a man who has perfected the art of the novella. Will he do it and will he be good at it? Time will only tell.

P.S. Cormorant was also having a contest in which attendees were allowed to submit their questions for Kaufman prior to the book launch. Jared Bland would then choose the question he liked best and that person would receive a free signed copy of The Tiny Wife. Who was the lucky winner that evening? Your truly. However, I still can’t make out fully what Kaufman’s personalized message was to me…any guesses?

The Tiny Wife signed by author

The appeal of a man in a kilt: A talk with Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series

author, Diana Gabaldon and I

I have had a fascination with the Outlander series for quite some time now. And even before I was able to actually read the books myself, I knew of them. My mother had borrowed the first three books from my aunt, and these ones had the really old covers from when they were first published. I remember flipping open the cover that had the secret hole in the centre to then reveal the full cover image on the first two preliminary pages. I specifically recall a tall red-headed woman with wind-swept hair. I was clueless then that I would be a future Outlander addict obsessed with Claire, the pictured woman I had absently admired, and Jamie’s turbulent love story in historical Scotland.

Written in My Heart's Own BloodOn June 21, 2014, I attended a segment of Diana Gabaldon’s Canadian Tour for Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. This is the second time I’ve seen Diana in person—the first was at Fergus’ annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games last year. I waited in a very long line to ensure I got every single book in the series signed, aside from the newest edition to the series (only freshly signed last month). While the line up in a London Chapters was not quite as long, it did wrap around the store in a snake-like fashion.

Diana is an amazing speaker. She is definitely up there as one of the top authors I love to hear speak in person. And despite her telling the same anecdotes I had previously heard in Fergus, I was enthralled and, frankly, she has some pretty great lines that don’t get old. My favourite is the rhyme she would tell at the beginning of her science classes when she frequently came up against a row of half-sleeping jocks:

“In days of old, when knights were bold and condoms weren’t invented, they wrapped old socks around their cocks and babies were prevented.”

Needless to say, these words got the jocks’ attention very quickly, and they also certainly have the ability to also grab an audience of adoring Outlander fans. Hearing it for a second time, I still chuckled to myself.

Another line I absolutely love is her reference to a time when she was asked by a German journalist (I think) what the appeal of a man in a kilt was. Her response? “Well I guess it has something to do with fact that you can be up against a wall with him in a second.” A shocking revelation said matter of factly that this journalist never forgot, and it is one that I have taken a liking to. Who wouldn’t want a dashing fellow in a kilt with a Scottish accent up against a wall? Especially an eighteenth-century man such as Jamie Fraser.

In addition to Diana’s book during this tour, there is also the added excitement of the new television series based on the Outlander series, which will be airing this August on STARZ. Whether or not the adaptation will live up to fans’ expectations has yet to be revealed, but Diana seems optimistic, and she warns against fans expecting producers to be able to “read minds” when every readers has a different fantasy concocted. Frankly, if the author has given the seal of approval then I have a lot of faith in the upcoming show.

Meeting Diana for a second time was amazing, and there was also the added pleasure of being recognized by the publicist on duty as one of the many interns at Random House of Canada last fall. I’m so glad I made a lasting impression there and that I had the opportunity to work where great storytellers like Diana Gabaldon see their work published. As a reader and publishing professional, I have never felt more privileged.

If you want to learn more about Diana’s tour, her books, or just her personal musing in general, which are often highly entertaining, then check out her blog. If you didn’t get a chance to get up close and personal with her during this tour then her blog is the next best thing.

One question Diana did answer was when/if the series had a foreseeable conclusion? Diana provided us eager listeners with a very flippant and , in my opinion, appropriate response: “Not yet.” Therefore, Diana can’t promise what book number in the series will see Claire and Jamie’s long love story end, but her fans, myself included, can make a promise: We will all be eagerly awaiting the next one, and the next one after that.

Me and the Outlander TV series standup ad

 

 

 

I’M SO EXCITED!!!! (for the show and to be this close to a cardboard apparition of Jamie)

A beautiful balance: A talk with Sandra Gulland at the Toronto Reference Library

Sandra Gulland, the author
I have A LOT of books. I’ve been collecting them since I was a little girl, and my parents’ attic can attest to the fact that I can never own too many books. And I remember while reading these books, many of which have become long time favourites, I would imagine meeting the author, but never thinking I would be able to. However, since pursuing a career in publishing, I have met more authors than I had ever thought possible. When you’re little you think of authors as these grand, untouchable beings that one never sees never mind talks to. My younger self was obviously very wrong. Authors are everywhere, especially in Toronto, and they make sure they can be found with book launches and events at various venues.

I read Sandra Gulland’s Josephine Bonaparte trilogy when I was sixteen years old (there are somewhat messy “This Book Belongs To” handwritten notes on the inside the covers of all three books), and thus my love of historical fiction was born, and I’ve never looked back. I have read A LOT  of historical fiction since then, but I have always remembered Sandra Gulland’s books fondly. I have also been obsessed with Josephine and Napoleon, reading their real love letters to each other and researching them for history papers in university. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that Sandra was coming to the Toronto Reference Library to talk about her latest book The Shadow Queen.

the eh list author seriesThe event was a part of the Toronto Public Library’s author series The eh List in which throughout the year, the library has been showcasing the works of various Canadian authors, having them come and talk about their latest book. Last fall, I saw C.C. Humphreys, another long time favourite author of historical fiction, and I was very impressed with the whole evening. When I noticed Sandra Gulland was coming in 2014, I was ecstatic (living in the city does have its perks…sometimes). If you love Canadian literature and Canadian authors then you should definitely think about coming out to one of these events if you are in the Toronto area. They are well worth the effort—you get to know the author and you can get a favourite book signed.

Sandra’s talk was a great exposé of how she writes historical fiction and the careful blending of fact with fiction that happens. It is a difficult process writing historical fiction. You have to make your plot exciting even though your readers likely already know the ending to the story (unless they have been living under a rock or snoozed through every history class). This difficulty was something I was taught in my substantive and stylistic editing course, and it was nice to know that authors are also aware of the challenge they face and are able to approach it themselves. Of course, it also helps that Sandra was an editor in another life (a fact that served to increase my admiration of her, including the fact that she helped start the Editors’ Association of Canada [EAC]!).

Sandra GullandAll of those in attendance were also given an inside look at Sandra’s characters and just exactly how they develop. In addition to being true figures from history, Sandra also imbues them with certain characteristics from people she knows and loves. This was the case for The Shadow Queen, where her father’s quirky and loving mannerisms have been incorporated into two of her most cherished characters: Claudette’s brother and the playwright Corneille. This admission was truly touching. No wonder Sandra’s characters are able to lift themselves off the page and so easily dance into our lives full of vibrant energy: She knows them in the most intimate way possible, and it shows in her writing. We also learned another lovely fact about Sandra’s characters, a trait that has been consistent until now with the introduction of Claudette: All of Sandra’s characters had bad teeth. It was a known fact. Poor romanticized Josephine had terrible, terrible teeth in real life. Apparently this fact was very disconcerting for some readers. I don’t particularly remember being put off by it, but I was only sixteen at the time and memory of my reactions are vague. Although, I don’t know what all the fuss was about. The French also barely bathed back then, so how are rotting teeth much worse?

After these lovely anecdotes, Sandra read from The Shadow Queen. While I haven’t bought the book yet, I certainly have a desire to read it now. Not every author has the ability to capture an audience when speaking aloud, many excel only on the page, but Sandra certainly didn’t lack expression. When she spoke her characters were speaking through her. Claudette was young and excitable and Corneille was wise and artistically brilliant. I felt like I already knew them from the get-go, and I yearned to hear mind. If the objective was to entice her readers, Sandra certainly succeeded.

Following a brief Q&A period, Sandra also graciously signed books. One of the first in line, I had my worn Josephine B. trilogy and The Mistress of the Sun ready to be signed. This woman and author, who I had never imagined meeting, signed three of the most influential books in my life, and I can’t wait to read The Mistress of the Sun, which she signed with the words, “Sing Ye.” She said I would understand its significance after I read the book. It is safe to say, I am intrigued by this allusion.

signed book by Sandra Gulland

If you want to know more about Sandra Gulland, she has a beautifully detailed website, which talks about all her books and her sources.

Also, if you want to be able to attend the next eh List Author Series event, you can find all upcoming events on the Toronto Public Library website.

 

 

 

No apologies: The M Word book launch

The M Word book banner

At some point in all of our lives we feel an outside pressure to, putting it plainly, give birth. And yes, in the Stone Age, it was expected. But not now. I admit, I have given the whole “having kids” thing some thought, and, for the most part, I am undecided. I will smile at the cute baby in the buggy or the toddler making funny faces, but it doesn’t mean I want one of my own, even if that is the mistaken assumption of others if I opt to hold the newest baby in the family or wave back at a curious two year old. I can think they’re cute, but that is as far as it goes. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am only in my 20’s, just getting my career off the ground, and still living apart from my boyfriend.

So, here I am with these conflicting thoughts on motherhood and whether or not it is in my future and I’m wondering, “I can’t be the only one who thinks this way, right?” Watching various people I grew up with get engaged, get married, and get pregnant (whether or not in that exact order), I was beginning to think…maybe I was.

Well, the book launch on April 15, 2014  of The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood edited by Kerry Clare thankfully proved me wrong. It was hosted in the infamous Ben McNally’s bookstore (If you haven’t been, I suggest you do. The interior and its contents are to-die-for beautiful).

Upon initially arriving I felt terribly out of place. There were a lot of older, more than likely married women with children running around. I began to think…maybe this was a bad idea. I was wrong to think so, of course, because that evening was not about “motherhood” and “mothers” in which the definition of both translates into “women who are married with kids.” The M Word is a much larger conversation than that and it takes being a mom to a whole new level. It talks about becoming a mom, waiting to become a mom, becoming a mom through different methods, and deciding not to become a mom at all. It is a very liberating, honest collection of real stories that are frank in the best way possible. There is no sugar coating or pretending to be the stereotypical “super mom” every child thinks he or she knows and loves.

Kerry Clare and the book The M WordThe evening opened up with the editor, Kerry Clare, talking about the book and how it all began. A fantastically personable individual, she started the book launch off right. She discussed how the concept for The M Word came about and not too surprisingly, it came from conversations she had been having about motherhood with other moms. And it was through having these heart-to-heart talks with other women that Kerry came up with her idea of collecting all these truthful, even anti-conformist ideas of what motherhood means and making a book out of it. One literary agent and a book deal with Goose Lane Editions later and The M Word was in business, and now out just in time for Mother’s Day! (If you are behind on the whole gift thing, here’s a helpful option. It is only a week away now.)

The M Word contributors

The M Word contributors After Kerry’s introduction, each of the contributors who were present for the evening came up and read a short excerpt from their essays. This blog post would become unbearably long if I were to go through each of the contributor’s talks, but I will say that there is no doubt in my mind that each hit a familiar chord with someone in that audience, young and old, married and single, even me, and frankly, I am just starting my life in the “real” world post-university. However, there were a couple stories that resonated with me the most. In particular, Julia Zarankin’s “Leaving the Eighteenth Floor.” While I’m not currently planning on having children or trying in the same way as Julia, her words stuck. In her essay, she talks a lot about planning and preparing and trying to take control, which in the end only eluded her because of her obsessing about it. Minus the whole wanting to get pregnant part (definitely not there yet), I could understand how she felt. Interning, job hunting, money problems…I also have felt like I am grappling for control of certain aspects of my life only never to find it. It can be quite frustrating, and Julia has some great advice at the end of her essay: Let go of the “master plan.” It isn’t giving up, but it is letting go of the fine-tuning and the obsessing, which is something we all should do. Life is messy. Accept it and go with it.

After listening to stories like Julia’s, I realized as much as The M Word’s theme is motherhood, it is also about good old plain-jane life. I hope to fully read this book at some point, but I already know that it is chock full of relateable stories that will mean something different to every woman who reads it.

So what is the honest to goodness truth of what the “m” word means? For me, imperfection. So put away your “how to” books and breath. My mother has always told me there are no guidelines or hard-and-fast rules to cling to when you become a parent (or choose not to, for that matter). You wing it, and you learn as you go and hope for the best.

I think she did a pretty good job.

Kerry Clare, editor of the M Word's babyOne final word on The M Word book launch, Kerry Clare has the cutest little girl imaginable (pictured to the left). I had to say it. Noisy or quiet, she was adorable. She was also great publicity for the book. I am pretty sure everyone in attendance cooed at her appearance more than once…guilty as charged.

Thank you, ladies, for writing The M Word and finally putting in print what many women have been thinking, and thank you to Ben McNally for generously hosting the book launch.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of The M Word, which I highly suggest you do (it makes a beautiful Mother’s Day present for old and new mothers alike), you can get one from the publisher’s website Goose Lane Editions, Indigo, Amazon, or beautiful independent bookstores everywhere, such as Ben McNally Books in Toronto!

The M Word book launch

Being Complicit with Adam Sol: M&S launch of the poetry collection Complicity

Book launch flyer for Complicity by Adam SolBecause I was previously a McClelland & Stewart editorial intern, I was more than happy to have the opportunity to celebrate one of their most recent books, which also happens to be a very engaging collection of poetry. Complicity is, and M&S describes this perfectly, “intimate and lyrical, experimental and outlandish.”

Initially, I was afraid I was going to be late. The event was being held all the way up on Danforth in a little hole-in-the-wall Irish pub called The Dora Keogh Pub. I couldn’t think of a better location though; it was had a down-to-earth vibe and was quaint to behold. I immediately found Ellen Seligman (she is definitely not hard to miss in a crowd—her sheer magnificence as a major leader in Canadian publishing literally radiates around her like a halo). I also saw some other M&S and Random House friends from my brief interlude into the awe-inspiring conglomerate that is Penguin Random House. I caught up with Val Capuani, RHC’s dedicated production coordinator, who is great to work with, especially at volunteer events. She definitely brings the fun. However, I was most grateful to see Anita Chong, who has been a positive influence in my life since my publishing career in the big, bad city took off. Her passion for everything she does and for all the authors she works with is inspirational and without knowing it, she became my coach and mentor throughout my internship and even after the fact. I would not be where I am today without her enduring encouragement and thoughtful advice.

Complicity by Adam Sol book launchI also became acquainted with some great new faces with amazing lives and careers, however, I’m terrible at names, and I therefore wouldn’t be able to tell you who they were. I can tell you that I did hear about a great event called Pongapalooza held at SPiN in support of First Book Canada where thirty-two ping pong teams will battle it out for the 2014 Scotiabank  Pongapalooza Cup. To find out about the event and the cause you can click here, and the event also has its own twitter page @Pongapalooza. I for one am hoping to check it out as it sounds like a great time for players and spectators alike, and it is kind of a publishing industry fiesta of sorts, which makes it even better (publishing people know how to party, if you don’t know that already).

Anyways, back to my main purpose for this post. After a fair bit of time to socialize, the introductions began. Ellen Seligman took the stage first, introducing M&S, its poetry program, and the star of the evening, Adam Sol. With already three other published poetry collections under his belt and a Trillium Book Award, he was a natural in front of an audience. He smiled,cracked a few jokes, and was an all around genuine people person.

the poet Adam Sol reading from his new collection ComplicityAdam read two of his poems from Complicity, and I loved the reactions that reverberated around the room from chuckles of amusement to murmurs of thoughtful agreement. It is amazing what poetry can accomplish in a lot less words than fiction or non-fiction. Adam’s new collection really challenges our perceptions of ourselves and our society and how we interact with it. There are so many hidden messages in each line, in each stanza, that I suggest you read his poems carefully and slowly or you might miss out on some of his ingenious comments that strike both a political and emotional chord.

I think Adam’s choice of poems for the evening were expertly chosen to represent Complicity, especially the poem “Engagement,” which is an incisive look at war and violence and how we are all complicit, those who take part and those who simply observe, and we are also sorely misguided by our assumptions. I can still hear Adam’s expressive tone as he read aloud, “It’s wrong . . . it will be wrong.” There is nothing like hearing the words the way the author wishes them to be heard. This is why book launches are so unique. By attending, you witness the purity of the written word spoken aloud the way the person who wrote it intended.

Mingling and socializing continued after the all too brief reading, although I was told that this is the “new kind of book launch,” as it leaves you wanting more. I have to agree, as I definitely want to delve further into this collection after only getting a taste with those two poems.

I was able to get my personal copy of Complicity signed by Adam later that evening. Anita introduced me to him as M&S’ previous editorial intern. I also told him that I had had the opportunity to see Complicity still in the editorial and typesetting stage, and that I loved how it had all come together so nicely.

In addition to providing me with his signature, Adam also left me a gratifying message: “For Dana — keep up the good work…” For someone where it is a constant struggle to make my mark in the competitive world of publishing (not so different form the life of an author, really), Adam’s words warmed my heart. Once a poet, always a poet (even his autograph says something deep).

signed copy of Complicity by Adam Sol

Even if you didn’t attend the book launch or didn’t know about it, you should definitely get to know Adam at least through his poetry. It will enrich your life and challenge your mind.

You can purchase a copy at McClelland & Stewart, Indigo, Amazon, or any independent bookstore.

 

Feeling history: Motherlode book launch

Image of the cover for the book Motherlode

While I have yet to read Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience by Carolyne Van Der Meer, I attended the second launch for her book in Toronto this past Friday, April 4, 2014; the first book launch was held in Montreal.

Motherlode book launch flyerI had a couple of reasons for attending. The first was that this book occupies a central position for me, uniting two main passions of mine: literature and history. Motherlode is an elegant blend of short stories, poems, and essays, and it is a creative reinterpretation of the experiences of her mother and other Dutch immigrants who spent their childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland. These individuals grew up deeply affected by war, and the complex emotions it inspired even in the innocent minds of children is brought to light, expressed in the most emotive manner. My second reason for attending was my past affiliation with the publisher of the book, Wilfrid Laurier University Press. This inspiring group of people that help make books like Motherlode happen also helped cement my decision to make my career in publishing. For two summers, I was WLUP’s co-op student/publishing assistant and that immersion into the world of scholarly publishing left me forever changed, dedicated to the written word. Therefore, I was also hoping that at least a few of my old co-workers would be in attendance (I wasn’t disappointed–Lisa Quinn, the acquisitions editor of Motherlode, and Clare Hitchens, the publicist, were both in the audience that evening).

Upon arriving, I rode up in the elevator with two older ladies. I soon came to the conclusion that they were also heading to the book launch, and what was also interesting was that they were speaking in Dutch to each other, in fact, almost everyone in the lecture room I entered was speaking Dutch. It turns out, the event was being hosted by CAANS, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies. Most of those in attendance were therefore Dutch and regulars, and as a result they knew each other fairly well. I was the odd twenty-something in the room with no word of Dutch and, at least until Clare and Lisa arrived, knew no one there.

I decided to sit next to an elderly lady who was already sitting by herself, and it was one of the best decisions I made that night. A delightfully charming woman, she immediately warmed to me. Her name was Grace, and she had immigrated to Canada in the 1950s after having lived through the Nazi occupation as a child. I was humbled to be sitting next to someone who could so closely relate to the book about to be launched. When I asked her about the experience of living through it, her response was, “It was no fun at all.”

Aside from this somber moment, the rest of the time we waited we had a light and often amusing conversation. Before knowing her past, I had asked her if she could speak Dutch and she had said of course, but that she could also speak a few words of English (obviously, we had been speaking English this entire time—I was pleasantly surprised by such cheeky humour). At one point, I was asked by Marianne Verheyen, the host and Toronto CAANS president, if I was Grace’s granddaughter. We chuckled at the mistake and I said no, I was actually a stranger until just recently. I suppose my blonde hair could make me appear “Dutch-like” in appearance, if one didn’t know better, and being chummy with Grace would appear grand-daughterly to most. I certainly didn’t mind the error. It was nice to feel that I could blend in despite not being Dutch…or in my eighties for that matter.

Carolyne Van Der Meer, author of MotherlodeThe event started about ten minutes after eight (earlier, Grace had amusingly said that their meetings were always at least ten minutes behind schedule). My friend and past mentor, Lisa Quinn, introduced the book and the author, painting a lovely picture of love, loss, and memory. Then Carolyne took the stage. Although she was soft spoken (some in the elderly audience were unable to catch everything), I found her tone to be highly appropriate for the content she was discussing. It reminded me of my grandfather’s own manner of speaking that would often surround me like a comfy blanket by the fireplace, listening to his stories of the “good old days.”

Carolyne first talked about how the concept for Motherlode developed, and it essentially began with her son. He began to ask questions about his family ancestry that Carolyne herself had never thought to ask before. Thus, in an effort to answer those questions not only for her son but also for herself, she sought out these untold stories. A phrase Carolyne used that I found truly encapsulated the meaning of family history is that it is a past that is full of both “intense pleasure and intense pain.” I think this is also why we find memoirs so fascinating, because the stories they tell are riddled with an array of emotions that truly consume readers because, to put it frankly, it’s all true.

As it turned out, Carolyne’s mother’s childhood was not enough to fill an entire book. Aside from it being difficult in general to talk about her wartime experience, it was also difficult to remember every single detail having been so young at the time. So Carolyne started to look elsewhere and what she found was both touching and surprising. Expecting reluctance, those who allowed themselves to be interviewed willingly opened up to her in ways they had never done so before with their own family members. As Carolyne also mused during her talk, perhaps it is easier to confide in a stranger rather than sharing such intimate and painful details with the one’s we love. Looking around, I saw many heads nodding in agreement. However, she did mention that those interviewed often shared her tape recordings with their families after the fact. I was deeply moved by the fact, as I’m sure Carolyne was, that she was able to inspire that kind of confidence in these people that they were suddenly able to speak on topics they had been silent on for so long.

Carolyne also read excerpts from Motherlode, choosing various poems and one short story to read aloud to us. I particular loved the short story she read, “Marijke’s Song.” A true story, it was absolutely touching and painfully real. Marijke’s simplistic joy, knowing her father was home, and her pure innocence in regards to the secrecy necessary during times of war. I don’t wish to ruin any portion of the story for those who haven’t read the book, and you most certainly should (it is on my upcoming reading list), but I found that I was able to relate and understand Marijke in many ways. I became immersed in this memory, which was rendered so honestly that I don’t doubt Carolyne’s mother felt herself transported back to her Papa’s shop with the distinct smell of leather tickling her nostrils.

Afterward, the audience members had a lot to say with many stories of their own to add. One memory an older gentleman recalled particularly comes to mind. He mentioned the scarcity of food and how one of their alternatives was eating tulip bulbs. As he pointed out, these tulip bulbs were not the most savoury food item to digest. He also added that during the annual children’s tulip planting in Toronto’s Amsterdam Square in memory of the Holocaust, he told this small fact of life that happened during Nazi occupation and a little boy proceeded to take home with him three tulip bulbs to try for himself. He came back the next year and told the older man, “You’re right. Those tulip bulbs are gross!” Once again, the matter-of-fact nature of children is a phenomenal thing.

After a number of such stories, some sad, some funny, the book launch’s reception took place with red and white wine and an assortment of crackers and Dutch cheese. It was a delicious way to end an evening of reminiscing, delving into the smaller, more intimate pockets of history that were close to home for many in the audience that night.

IMG_20140407_211710Finally, I want to thank Carolyne for signing my book. I cannot wait to read more of Motherlode after the sneak peek I was given this past Friday.

If you’re interested in purchasing Carolyne’s beautiful book, you can buy a copy from Wilfrid Laurier University Press, one of the most dedicated publishers out there, or from Chapters or Amazon.

You can also find the author, Carolyne Van Der Meer on her Facebook page.

To leave you with a final thought, I thought I’d end by sharing this video posted on Youtube of Carolyne reading from Motherlode during the Montreal launch. Enjoy!

A mingling of minds: Innovating for the Global South book launch

 

Image of book launch for Innovating for the Global South featuring the three editors

It has been about a week since I started my contract position as the Heritage Book Coordinator at the University of Toronto Press, and I have already attended my first UTP book launch. The book, Innovating for the Global South, is part of the Munk Series on Global Affairs, and is edited by Dilip Soman, Joseph Wong, and Janice Gross Stein, all of whom teach at the University of Toronto. It was therefore quite fitting for the launch to be held on campus and at the Munk School.

Poverty, despite the vast amount of wealth in the world today, has not lessened and millions of people still live on a lot less than what is actually required for an average person to live a healthy and viable life. This book tackles this increasingly chronic problem, offering fresh and, obviously, innovative solutions for reducing poverty in the developing world. Now, this book is not another title about going to the developing world with our hip technology with the sole intention of improving the lives of people living there. What this book focuses on that other titles have failed to in the past is the end user and making sure that innovation is not just beneficial but inclusive. The purpose of the book is to highlight the need to truly hear the voices of those actually living in the slums, to know not just what they need but how they will in the end use that which is provided.

Another interesting facet to this book is the broad range of specialists. Contributors to the book come from three different subject areas that rarely, if ever, work together. These are political science, engineering, and medicine. The ingeniousness behind this choice is that with the collaboration of all of these people from different fields, you are given a whole new spectrum when looking at a certain problem in the developing world. Joseph Wong brought this up during the panel discussion when he said how while in the field in India everyone in his group, from the engineer to the medical practitioner, saw something different even when looking at the same thing. The engineer was looking at the technology and mathematical combinations, the medical practitioner was looking at the health effects, and the political scientist (i.e. Joseph Wong) was looking at the governing body and policy making. And it is this whole idea of bringing different considerations into the mix of innovation that is the premise behind this book.

While the topic isn’t my area of expertise, the panel of the book’s editors certainly knew what they were talking about, and they provided riveting discussion on what to expect from the book. They also weren’t just spouting theories for the fun of it. The references they made and the examples they gave were all from real life experiences during trips they had made to the global south. One particular example I found interesting was on the Indian housewife and the cook stove and the introduction of a cleaner model. This new cook stove, however, did not catch on because these women did not see it as part of doing their job. In their opinion, if there health was not at risk, if their walls and lungs were not lined with black soot then they weren’t doing their sacrificial part so their husbands and children could come home and eat a full meal. Now, in Canada we may think this rationalization is ludicrous, but this example raises a great point that the book Innovating for the Global South is trying to make: in order for innovation to work and have a positive impact on these people’s lives then they have to be a part of the process.

It is all about “innovating scaleable solution…not about inventing some new gizmo,” says Dilip Soman and Joseph Wong. I think they are on to something. Read the book and see what you think!

To conclude, my first UTP book launch was a great success, and I was happy to see such an engaged crowd with great questions that generated even further discussion. Also, the free food and wine wasn’t a bad way to end the evening’s panel talk either!

Book cover for Innovating for the Global SoIf you’re a manager, practitioner, or a student/scholar of development, business, and policy, you will definitely want to check this book out. Others simply interested in the state of the global south and what is being done may also find this book of interest.

You can purchase a copy at the press’ website here, Chapters, or Amazon.