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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading kills: A review of The Accident by Chris Pavone

book cover for The Accident by Chris Pavone

“He runs his finger down the page, and he finds it, there on page 136, just as his mind’s eye pictured it, in his sleep in the middle of the night. One word. One letter. I. He thought he’d caught every one.”

The Accident by Chris Pavone

Isabel Reed, a 40-something literary agent, receives an anonymous and mysterious manuscript, which is the unofficial biography of media mogul Charlie Wolfe and has the potential to collapse his Wolfe Media empire. The consequences of publishing the manuscript are numerous, but the benefits are too tempting to pass up in an industry that is struggling to make ends meet with editors and agents desperately seeking their next big break. However, there are people who have been anticipating this manuscript’s arrival on the publishing scene long before the manuscript is couriered to Isabel’s door, and they will do whatever it takes to make sure The Accident doesn’t see the printing press.

I don’t usually read books from the thriller or mystery genre, but when I won The Accident by Chris Pavone in a RHC Goodreads giveaway, I had to give it a try, and I am certainly glad that I did. Not only is The Accident about the publishing industry, a topic I am obviously partial to, but it is exciting! The book covers just 24 hours and it is chock full of adrenaline pumping action.

The main character is Isabel Reed, a well-recognized literary agent who, at the moment, hasn’t been performing at her best. Life hasn’t turned out as she had expected it to, divorced and living alone, and she is constantly haunted by the unfair loss of her child (the “how” isn’t introduced until much later in the book). It is the arrival of the anonymous manuscript that begins Isabel’s rude awakening from her monotonous lifestyle as new secrets are revealed, including one that has been long buried involving a drunken car ride and a missing girl.

Over the course of one very long day, the manuscript gets its fair share of traffic, but the people who pursue it for their own ends have a lot more to fear than just a paper cut: Isabel’s eager assistant, Alexis, sees The Accident as her big break; Jeff, an old friend and veteran editor sees it as his chance to redeem his career before it landslides; Camilla, an ambitious rights director, wants to leave behind books for movies and sees The Accident as her one-way ticket to fame and fortune; Brad, the publisher, thinks The Accident may save his business; and, the most sinister of all, Hayden, a wily CIA operative with damaging connections to Wolfe, is determined to eliminate the manuscript at all costs—and that includes anyone who gets in the way. All the while, the author observes from afar, remaining hidden in an expensively obtained expat life in Zurich, wrestling with the truths and lies that define him and the story he is trying to tell.

The writing of The Accident is designed for the fast-paced thriller that this book is meant to be. There is no break to the action after Isabel finishes reading the anonymous manuscript that is sent to her door. The content is dangerous and no one is safe after reading it. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time while reading, desperate to know if Isabel would be able to keep one step ahead of Hayden and his goons.

While the book was gripping in every way possible, I did find the result of its suspense unsatisfying. Almost every chapter, nearing its end, led up to a culminating moment, a question of life or death, which is suppose to be thrilling, no? Unfortunately, Pavone sells out at the end of some of his chapters,and it is as if he got fed up with the action leading up to this final point and decided to simply drop the bombshell on his readers: and then this happened. End of story. I found my anticipation climbing to an apex, only to have it suddenly deflated. I would have liked to have a seen a smoother transition to the end result, one that still had impact, but wasn’t a disappoint after all that careful preparation for it.

Aside from this one setback, Pavone does an amazing job in setting the scene. As a past editor himself, he demonstrates his knowledge of the publishing industry, going to great lengths to describe the dog-eat-dog world of agents and editors looking for the next bestseller and the apparently dismal state of the industry itself. While I found his view of publishing a little disheartening (I don’t think it is as hard done by as Pavone lets on), he is for the most part true to life, depicting the long hours, struggling with the reality of a career with not so great pay, and dealing with difficult authors. However, I don’t think a manuscript this threatening has ever come onto the real publishing scene, thank goodness. I for one don’t want to fear for my life when I edit a manuscript, as exciting as the idea may be to read about.

I will admit that Pavone had me duped until near the very end of The Accident. I had tried to guess and perhaps, to the more experienced thriller/mystery reader, I missed some of the more obvious clues, hinting at who the author really was and his connection to the other characters in the book, aside from Charlie. But I am also glad that I didn’t uncover the truth. As a result, the “ah ha” moment was far more enjoyable, and I greedily went over the earlier details given in the book. I was then able to smile appreciatively at Pavone’s vague statements that betray just an inkling of the truth, which is not quite enough to ruin his grand unveiling later on.

A well-crafted mystery and a thrilling read, The Accident will grip you and leave you wondering, “who really won?”

3 out of 5 book thumbs up

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First Reads copy via Goodreads provided to me by Random House of Canada.

The Accident by Chris Pavone, published by Crown, © 2014

Available at Random House of Canada, Indigo, Amazon, and independent bookstores everywhere March 11, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Debunking the romantic genre: A talk with Harlequin’s Susan Swinwood

Image of a man and woman about to kiss, a poster for a Harlequin event

First of all, let me just say that there is always something happening in Toronto, and such was the case last night, March 19, 2014. My plan was to have a relaxing evening at home, watching episodes and baking cookies for my coworkers at UTP Journals, however, this was not to be.

Twitter, the social media king, alerted me to an event being put on by the Book and Media Studies Student Association at the University of Toronto. The event was about exploring the publishing industry from the perspective of romantic fiction, and the lecture was given by the lovely and extremely patient (she had quite the line up of admirers afterward during the reception), Susan Swinwood, who is the executive editor at HQN Harlequin, the giant of romance publishing.

Susan Swinwood, Executive Editor at HarlequinSusan’s detailed lecture really opened up the idea of what can be considered romantic fiction, and she made a great point: we all read it (and yes, even the guys). The theme of romance runs across a variety of genres, and we see it in almost every book we read, such as erotica (obviously), romance (obviously, again), historical fiction, young adult, science fiction, and so on. The only thing Harlequin does differently than other publishers is that it OWNS it. In all honesty, no other publishing house can claim the same prestige in one given genre the way Harlequin can with romance.

But Harlequin is not just those steamy monthly copies you see in variety stores and gas stations. Harlequin has grown and expanded with the times. Its series now include books that have a longer shelf life and stay in bookstores just like any other trade fiction title. These books are published by specific Harlequin imprints, such as HQN and MIRA, and they target not only their current readers, but also new readers who are looking for that popular romance author that isn’t going to disappear after a month’s time.

Significantly, Harlequin was also one of the first publishers to start developing digital copies of its books and backlist, taking advantage of what was new technology then even before it started to dominate publishing as a whole. And during the recession, Harlequin saw an increase in sales rather than the decrease that most publishers experienced. Romance has a dedicated readership and Harlequin is well aware of this and takes full advantage. The team effort that is put into producing and marketing all of Harlequin’s titles is just inspiring, to say the least.

I was also amazed by how well Harlequin has catered to its audience, publishing books in a wide variety of categories: historical, thriller, teen, paranormal, classic romance, African-American, and many more. Harlequin even has a line of books targeted at male readers! Branching out in this way ensures that Harlequin stays on top and stable despite publishing’s rocky foundation these days. It is something other publishers have been following suit with, becoming more digital and more innovative to keep readers reading.

Alas, like all publishing professionals, Susan was realistic and honest about the future of publishing. It has changed A LOT and continues to as technology keeps being developed and as I mentioned above, publishers have to keep abreast of it all in order to remain relevant. Despite this slightly depressing turn in the conversation, Susan finished by casting a ray of sunshine into the apparent abyss of publishing’s lifeline: as long as there are dedicated readers and authors who want the prestige of a physical book in their hands, there will be publishers and the printed word.

To conclude, I love romance, but I have never been an avid reader of Harlequin, and Image of two Harlequin books, the best man and the Returnedmaybe it was a bit because of the stigma attached to the brand from “bad writing” to “romantic fluff.” Those romantic series that are recycled every month and that I see my boyfriend’s grandma reading are probably still not my cup of tea, but I did pick up two of Harlequin’s imprint titles from HQN and MIRA that Susan brought along to give out (free books are always welcome!). The Returned is actually the inspiration behind the hit television series Resurrection, so fans of the show will definitely want to get their hands on this book, as I have heard great things about both the show and now (thanks to Susan), the book.

Now, I’m not saying Harlequin is for everyone, and I’m not sure if it is for me yet either, but Harlequin’s new brands certainly stand a good fighting chance for those of us who can’t stomach buying the ones with a half dressed man and a woman clinging to his bare chest on the cover (as you can see from above, the two books I chose do not feature this signature cover choice).

Either way, Susan Swinwood certainly cleared away the common misconceptions surrounding the romantic genre and gave it a whole new coat of paint. I will now be cringing a lot less when I say that one of my favourite genres is romance. It’s not sappy or nonsense, but what I and many women want to read (and want in their life. Ahem! Hint, hint, gentlemen). I mean, if you are willingly going to read Fifty Shades of Grey out in the open, Harlequin is a step up, at least in my opinion.

So pick up a Harlequin…I dare you :p

You can check out Harlequin’s titles on their website and on Twitter @HarlequinBooks

If you’re interested in other events the Books and Media Studies Student Association may have or the association itself, they are also on Twitter @BMSSA_UofT