Tag Archives: Dundurn Press

A Lyrical Literary Work | Review of “Deer Life: A Fairy Tale” (2017) Dundurn

Deer

We often confuse ‘being lyrical’ with the creation of song lyrics. But the term should be used for any sort of narrative that flows together in a enthusiastic manner. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that when a song writer and performer like Ron Sexsmith pens a fairy tale, it will flow together like his many songs. Hence his book, Deer Life, is quite an enjoyable read.

Page 11-12

They’d only been walking a few hours when they saw the light of an inn just up ahead. Their  shadows were practically there. Eleanoir and her dog, Jupiter, had found the last town to be a tad unfriendly, even more so than the town before and the town before that – although at first glance, it would be hard to imagine how anyone could take a dislike to either one of them. Eleanoir, for example, was strangely beautiful. (Well, in a frozen lake sort of way, I suppose.) And in keeping with this metaphor, there was never any way of knowing the cold thoughts that swam beneath the surface of her eyes, but then she liked it that way.

As for Jupiter? He was a hybrid, to say the least. Part wolf, part husky, with eyes like frosted windows through which a vague sense of helplessness and other humanlike emotions struggled to see out of. Though at a glance he appeared as loyal as the day or his were long. And as far as anyone could tell, this coldly attractive woman was quite possibly his best and only friend. For when you`re a dog, one friend is oft times all you get. . .

It was  fun to suspend belief from the drudgery of the real world and enter the world of forest, fields, taverns and towns that Sexsmith has created here. And while we have a story filled with witches whose eyes glow a hypnotic purple and boys who are transformed into animals, we are also given a tale of bullying, revenge, hope and dreams. In short there are mystical and magical parts to this story, but there is also some important moral lessons being parted as well.

Page 47

As you can imagine, the events of the last day had taken our young Hedlight completely by surprise. He had hoped the hunting trip would change him somehow for the better, but this was an entirely different animal. A deer, to be precise! He would spend most of the first morning checking himself out in various puddles and streams while exploring the limits and potential advantages of his new found anatomy. The shock of his current reality was matched only by his sudden desire to nibble on twigs, fallen leaves, and other bits of shrubbery that a day earlier would not have appealed to him in the least. When he wasn’t busy doing that, he passed the time mostly worrying about his mother. For how was she to know what became of him? Not knowing would surely break her heart. He thought a great deal about the witch, too, for obvious reasons. He heard all the stories as a boy but never believed for a second they could even remotely be true. He wondered, also, if this spell was something he might just snap out of someday. But whenever he thought of that poor dog, it made him think, perhaps, he had got just what he deserved.

While this book is a small volume, it is certainly a unique one on very many levels. Its wording was simple, magical and entrancing. It was exactly like slipping away from our world for a short while and engaging in a more interesting place. I wouldn’t want to be reading stories like this all the time, but it was a pleasure to engage in at this time in my life.

Page 52

After a long day’s journey, it came as a welcome sight to happen upon The Willow Tree just as nightfall descended. Maggie and her two travelling companions (whose names, incidentally, were Griff and Gruff) had plenty of time to get acquainted as they searched in vain for any sign of Deryn. And because the twins were men of few words and possibly even fewer thoughts, Maggie wound up doing most of the talking, which was completely agreeable to her. “Oh, I know this place!” she said, smiling upward at the faded sign. “My husband once stayed here on his way home from Hixenbaugh! If I’m not mistaken, he’d come from visiting a friend there who’d opened a bookshop. At least I think it was a bookshop,” she concluded, before floating on the river of precious memories.”

Ron Sexsmith has certainly given an interesting and unique fairy tale with Deer Life. It is refreshing to see lyrical skills from a musical artist being used in a literary form. Hopefully this won’t be his last attempt at the written word.

*****

Link to Dundurn Press’s website for Deer Life

Link to Ron Sexsmith’s website

“What amateur sleuth does not go off half-cocked? It’s one of the big challenges of writing about a character who has no business investigating murder in the first place.” | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin on her novel “The Trickster’s Lullaby”

The new book season is almost upon us and we can hardly wait. One such release that is coming out that has us book fans excited is the second Amanda Doucette mystery titled The Trickster’s Lullaby by Barbara Fradkin. No doubt this will be a great mystery novel filled with vivid detail and realistic situations.  Fradkin was kind enough to let me in on some of the details of the book before its release.

trickster

 

What is “The Trickster Lullaby”  – the latest Amanda Doucette novel –  about?

In The Trickster’s Lullaby, former international aid worker Amanda Doucette embarks on a winter camping trip with a group of inner-city young people in the remote Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth.

Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception.

As Amanda races to save the young people from danger, she finds herself fighting for stakes far higher than their own lives.

What do readers say about Amanda Doucette?

Many of my long-time readers are very attached to Inspector Green and were only grudgingly willing to meet my new hero in FIRE IN THE STARS. (Link to my review) Fortunately, most old and new readers have enjoyed her spirit, compassion, and never-say-die attitude, even if some felt she had a frustrating tendency to go off half-cocked. What amateur sleuth does not go off half-cocked? It’s one of the big challenges of writing about a character who has no business investigating murder in the first place. At one hilarious book club I was invited to, the members, most on the dark side of forty, felt I should have given her a sex life. I promised it was coming.

 

What event are you most looking forward to?

I have numerous appearances lined up this fall. I am always excited to meet readers and talk about my books, but I especially love my book launches, because I get to invite all my friends, both old ones from my former work life and new ones from my book world. Some of them I rarely see otherwise, so it’s really a reunion. As in past years, I have two launches planned, in Ottawa and Toronto.

 

However, this year I am also really excited to be appearing at the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival for the first time, (Link to the Festival’s website here) with an internationally renowned crime writer whom I greatly admire. The details have not been made public yet, but mystery lovers are going to be thrilled.

 

What’s next?

It’s part of a writer’s life to be juggling multiple writing tasks at the same time. Often we are doing promotional events with one book while doing final editing on the next and writing the first draft of the third. Right now, in between planning book launches and tours for THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, I’m also hard at work writing the third Amanda Doucette book. First drafts require a certain momentum to keep going and on track, so I try to write a scene or two every day and hope to have something rough (and always terrible) hammered out before the September book tours start. I am not sure it’s going to happen, which means that I will be taking my draft on the road with me and working on it in airports and hotel rooms.

 

The next book is called PRISONERS OF HOPE, and it is set in Georgian Bay during the late spring. Each book in the Amanda Doucette series takes place in a different iconic location across the country, as part of my homage to Canada. In this book, Amanda is planning a kayaking retreat for her next charity adventure and during an exploratory paddle, she and her tour guide rescue a woman whose boat has swamped. The woman turns out to be a Filipino nanny fleeing from an island mansion where her employer has just died. Each of the Doucette books has a Canadian twist on a global social issue, in this case the plight of foreign temporary workers. But I hope at its heart, it’s mostly a good, thrilling tale.

 

Who came up with the striking cover?

I do love this cover, and many people have commented on it. My publisher, Dundurn Press, allows me a lot of input into the covers. First they ask if I have any vision for the image, colour, or theme. Later they will send me the mock-up for feedback, and they do take my comments seriously. Sometimes the mock-up goes back and forth several times. With THE TRICKSTER’S LULLABY, I wanted the bleakness and danger of the winter wilderness to leap out at people. I combed through the Internet for pictures of blizzards and snowy mountains, collecting several promising photos in the process. But I also came upon the close-up of the Siberian husky and thought what spooky, menacing eyes!  So I sent it along with the landscape photos to the designer, never thinking she’d combine the concepts. She came back with this cover. Perfect first time!

The joys of social media (and connecting with fans online)

Facebook and I have reached a stage of mutual appreciation, but I still don’t know what to make of Twitter. Both are essential tools for getting the word out and, more importantly for me, fostering friendships with readers I meet either through book clubs and appearances or simply online. It takes time to keep up with Facebook and reach out to others, but I gain a lot from the connections and truly cherish my expanded circle of friends around the world. Twitter is much more impersonal and, because it’s just short bursts of information, I never feel much of a connection. I will use Twitter to inform a broad readership and other book business people about an event, review, upcoming release, etc.

 

Another social media site, Goodreads, has now reared its head, and writers are urged to have a presence there. Because it’s designed for and by readers, it’s more difficult for authors to figure out how to use it for promotion, and so I sense another steep learning curve. And more distractions from actual writing. We can’t be everywhere, and we do have to write.

*****

Link to Dundurn’s website for “The Trickster’s Lullaby”

Link to Barbara Fradkin’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I wrote these books because there was nothing written about the Algonquin (Omàmiwinini) people and I wanted to find out who I was.” | Q&A with novelist Rick Revelle

Literature can allow readers to grasp realities outside their own. That is at least what happened to me when I read Rick Revelle’s book I am Algonquin this past month. (Link to my review) By reading it I was able to learn about the lives of the Indigenous peoples who lived in the area I grew up and lived in before Europeans arrived. But as I was researching and talking with Revelle, I realized his writing his Algonquin Quest series was an equally profound a journey for him as reading them was an enlightening one for me. Revelle was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and share his story about writing these books.

AlgonquinQuest

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of the “Algonquin Quest” novels for anybody who may not be familiar with the series?

 My three novels in the Algonquin Quest series take place in the early 1300’s pre-contact, of what is now Eastern Canada, the Ottawa Valley, Northern New York State, Southwestern Ontario, Minnesota and The Dakotas. They follow the lives of four brothers and their family unit as they try to survive against the elements and their enemies. The brothers names are Mahingan (Wolf), Wàgosh (Fox), Kag (Porcupine) and Mitigomij (Red Oak). You will be introduced to shape shifters, Native legends, powerful warriors men and women.  There are two warrior women who are part of this family group that are two spirited and feared by all their enemies in battle, there is a handicapped warrior who is mysterious and powerful. My stories tell the reader how the Native people accepted these people and why.  The novels use the Native languages of the Anishinaabe, Lakota, Mi´kmaq, Mohawk,  Omàmiwinini (Algonquin), and Ouendat (Huron), in the vernacular. All the geographical places in the books that I talk about you can physically walk up to them today and know there were Native people there 700 years ago. The books are fiction, however the culture and way of life that I talk about are non-fictional. My books are a story of survival, family, love and respect for you allies and your enemies. They are stories of what Turtle Island was like before the coming of the Europeans. A society that cared for the people around them and would die defending them.  

2) What were your personally reasons for writing these books? How are you finding the reaction to the series so far ? Have there been any memorable reactions to the book you care to share?

 I wrote these books because there was nothing written about the Algonquin (Omàmiwinini) people and I wanted to find out who I was.  To do this I decided I would research and travel the country and put what I found in a story for other people to know who these people were. “Unless You know where you have came from you will never know where you are going.”

The reaction to my books so far are surprising me weekly. It is hard to imagine that someone you do not know will come up to you and say I like what you have written. It is surreal at times. The Frontier School Board in Manitoba which is north of the 54th parallel have taken the Algonquin Quest Series from the beginning and introduced it into all their schools as class reading and reference. Currently The Frontier Board and Dundurn Press are working diligently to have I Am Algonquin translated into Cree for these students. The Limestone District School Board in Kingston Ontario told me in May that my books were going to be put in all 60 school libraries in their system. That was a very humbling moment for me. I know that many other school boards use my books. Plus two of the largest owned Native book distributing companies in Canada who distribute Native books written by Natives to schools and universities carry my series. Goodminds from Six Nations Ontario and Strong Nations from Nanaimo British Columbia both have honoured me with distributing my books under their Native banners.

One reaction to my books among the many that stands out was what a Métis fisherman and hunter from Nova Scotia told me. Alvah D´Entremont never in his 50 odd years of life ever had time to read. His brother-in-law Larry Porter gave him my first book I Am Algonquin to read. Among other things he told Larry, who is a good friend of mine, that he was totally amazed at what I had written and how I was able to put him right there in that time frame in the woods and that he couldn’t put the book down. Alvah has read all my books now and has said they are the best books he has ever read in his life. Well the fact is, they are the only books that he has ever read in his life. As a writer that will always stay with me.

3) “I am Algonquin” was published in 2013. “Algonquin Spring” was released in 2015. And “Algonquin Sunset” was released last June. Has your writing style changed much since you first started out? If yes, how so?

 I think I have become obsessed with the research as I moved along in my storylines. I never starting writing until I was 56 and some things have not changed for me, I am terrible on tenses and that keeps my home town editor in business to clean things up before it goes to the Dundurn staff. Thank goodness for editors. I love taking long bus rides and train rides and writing long hand. Twenty pages from my notebook will get my forty once I fill in the research and dialogue. I love writing that way. I am self taught and find it a little harder to sit at the keyboard and pull words out of my head. But when I write in a notebook it like a river sometime, everything flows out of my head. In the end I would have to leave that question to my readers. They would be the ones who could say if they have seen a change.

4) You are slated to appear at the Toronto Word on the Street festival in September. (Link to Revelle’s profile page on the Word on the Street website) Are public events and readings something you enjoy doing? Outside of WOTS, are you participating in any other public events in the near future?

I love public events. During the school year I am kept busy visiting schools and talking about my books and the era they take place in. I travel with a I call a small museum of artifacts of that era that the students love seeing and touching. Children and teens love being read to an I love reading and bring my stories to life.

For the next six or seven months I have a few things booked.

I am in Brockville July 29th at Coles book store from 11AM to 2PM signing books.

On August 5th I am signing books during the Princess Street Promenade in Kingston (Link to the event’s website) at Novel Idea from 10AM to ?. This is a event that runs from 10 AM to 4PM where they shut down the main street of Kingston Ontario for about eight city blocks and merchants and vendors put up tents and of course open their stores. It is done twice a year and attracts 8,000 to 10,000 people.  

On January 16th 2018 at 7:30PM I will be speaking at the (Hastings County) Historical Society monthly meeting at the Maranatha Church. (Link to their website)

Then on May 2nd 2018 I will be speaking at the monthly Probus meeting in Manotick Ontario at the St James Church. (Link to their website)

Plus all the school visits that will be requested once the new fall term starts.

5) You seem to have an active presence on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you as a writer like using those tools? Do many of your fans contact you and give you support for you work via social media?

Well my wife handles my three Facebook pages for the three different books and she tells me that there are comments and likes. (Link to the “Algonquin Sunset” Facebook page) I send her what I would like put on there. Twitter, after many urges from my publisher I have started using that and I find it very helpful in getting the word out as to where I am going and what I am writing about. (Link to Rick Revelle’s Twitter account page) You have to realize I am old tech, I have no cell phone, no bank card and no microwave oven. My wife is amazed that I am self taught on the computer and can do what I do at age 65. Me, I have having the time of my life. In fact I call getting published with three books out at my age, “sugar at the end of my life.”

6) You biographies have you listed as living in Glenburnie, Ontario (Just outside of Kingston) How do you like living there as a writer? Are there any social or cultural institutions in that area that inspire you as a writer?

 I have lived in the area all my life. I grew up in two very small towns of under 1000 people. Odessa and Wilton Ontario. We have lived in Glenburnie for 30 years. Our son only went to one elementary school and one high school so he was very happy. Before I was 18 my family moved seven times. In forty years of marriage we have moved three times. My sisters have been regular nomads like our Algonquin ancestors. Living in the Kingston area enables me to get in our car, on a train or a bus and travel within a day’s drive to do research or go to a writers festival or visit a school. Kingston is very central to Toronto, Montreal and all points in between. I am an avid canoeist an hiker and my stories relate to these experiences. I can practically step out my front door to hiking trails, lakes and rivers. What inspires me in this area is the closeness to nature. We live in the country and the coyotes howl at night the birds are at our feeders and the raccoons are in the yard in the evenings. I do not need to go far to get material to write about. Plus I am an avid golfer and from the social aspects of this I get the ideas for the characters in my books.

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

When I finished Algonquin Sunset I closed up a lot of loose ends. Except maybe one. I am working on a book, I do not know if I will finish it. It takes place in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with the characters that went west at the end. It will explore the beginnings of the Saulteaux Nation who were the Anishinaabe that went to this area, plus their foes the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy of the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood) and Apa´tosee (Northern Piegan) Nations. The novel would be called Algonquin Legacy. To do this book properly I will need to travel to Manitoba and Saskatchewan and research these nations and their languages.  

 

I just need a couple of bus and train trips and I will be good to go.

*****

I am extremely honoured to be able to answer these questions for your readers,

Miigwetch,

Rick Revelle

*****

Link to the Algonquin Quest series webpage on the Dundurn Press website

 

A Look into the Traditional Algonquin Way of Life | Review of “I am Algonquin” by Rick Revelle (2013) Dundurn Press

Rick Revelle will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival.

9781459707184

There has been some discussions in my circles lately about wanting to know more about Indigenous culture and history. We realize that much of what have learned in our school days was flawed or  important details were omitted for whatever reasons. Literature can help us in a better understanding of Indigenous peoples and Rick Revelle’s I am Algonquin is one such read.

(Introduction)

My name is Mahingan, which means wolf in my language, and In am Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) from the Kitcisìpiriniwak tribe (People of the Great River), one of the eight Algonquin tribes of the Ottawa Valley.

I was born right after the warming period that my ancestors had lived through, mild winters, and warm summers. When I was birthed, it was the start of the great cooling period of colder winters and cooler summers. I was born in the year 1305, and this is my story . . . the story of an Algonquin warrior and a forefather of the Great Chief Tessouat.

While I found this book in the “teen” section, it certainly could easily be included in any adult’s reading list. The story deals with Mahingan raising his family in the early 14th century in what is now Ontario. Through the story, a reader can learn about how the Algonquin people lived. We are given details about: hunting, family life, living conditions, and much more. Revelle uses great details and gives great insight by telling the story through Mahingan’s eyes and thoughts.

Pages 51-52 Happiness And Sorrow

Our shelters were oval wàginogàns (lodges) made out of birch bark and held together by saplings intertwined on the inside. On the outside we used slabs of cedar to hold the birch bark down, tying them to the frame. The birch bark was overlapped so as not to leak. The saplings on the inside were not tied end to end but were joined side to side to avoid poking holes in the birch bark. The young trees were bent in a curve and fastened together with spruce roots.

What caught us by surprise was that no one was on guard and that we could only see smoke coming out of seven of the wàginogàns.

“Wàgosh, announce our homecoming.”
“E-ya-ya-ya-ya,” Wàgosh sang. “The hunters have arrived with food and tales of adventure.”

Then Wàgosh sang a death song announcing the death of Makwa. With that his wife and our sister See-Bee-Pee-Nay-Sheese (River Bird) came out of her home, wailing and crying. I took my sister in my arms and told her that Makwa died a warrior’s death, and he would enter the afterlife with great honour.

See-Bee-Pee-Nay-Sheese would enter her home and douse her fire. She wold mourn face-down on her mat for six days covered by her robes and receive only cold food for nourishment. The families would give her gifts to comfort her. She would not be allowed to marry again until our mother gave her permission.

When an Algonquin warrior marries, he always lived with the wife’s family and helped hunt and protect the family unit.

Revelle has filled this book with descriptive detail. (Including a Glossary and a Algonquin Pronunciation Guide in the back.) And that includes his descriptions of actions too. Be it a canoe ride or a battle scene, Revelle scenes are written out to certainly enlighten and inform. This book is not an easy read, for sure, but it is one that educates if a reader takes the time to properly ponder the scenarios.

Page 122 – 123

When we awoke the next morning, there was a misty rain. Today would bring us to the end of our journey, but there was still one more set of rapids to take.

“Minowez-I, we will have to keep the canoe well spaced when we go through the last set of rapids. We do not want any of the boats bumping into each other and you and your son can send the others at intervals. We will land on the west shore and when you send the next one they will land on the eastern shore. That way if anyone overturns, there will be someone on either shore to help them. ”

“Okay Mahingan. My son and I will control things from here. Don’t worry about us.”

Mitigomij, Ishkodewan and I started on our descent through the rapids. The misty rain moistened our faces and the roar of the fast moving water made my heart race. As we looked toward the white water, the movement made it look like the river was waving us on to make the journey. Taking this as a good omen, we started our descent down the river. We could feel the power of the river beneath our boat. The only sound besides the river was my wolf cub growling and snapping at the water as it washed over the canoe, soaking all in the boat. With the helpful skills of my brother, we rode the rapids and arrived safely but wet on the shore.

I am Algonquin by Rick Revelle certain answer a call for anybody looking for insight in Indigenous culture and history. It is an interesting and enlightening read. As the first in a series of books, Revelle certainly has begun a great story-line for readers to continue on with.

******

Link to Dundurn Press’ website for I am Algonquin

 

The Pitfalls of Life in Our Fast-Paced World | Review of “The Slip” by Mark Sampson (2017) Dundurn Press

9781459735750

There is a feeling among many that our society is moving too fast. The sense that nuances in the general discourses in our everyday life seem to be lost with the rapid speed that our technologies brings us information is common and causing concern. So it would be natural that a work of literature would document that fear present in the human condition. And that is what noted author Mark Sampson has done with his book The Slip, along with a dash of humour.

Page 33

Back in the CBC studio during the commercial break I was tremulous. As a stagehand came by to re-powder my brow – I was tacky with sweat by this point – my imagination began to corkscrew out of control over how my gaffe might be reverberating around the country. My heart raced as I looked over at Sal and Cheryl, who sat cool as breezes at the other end of the desk. Their poppies hovered over the breasts like beacons of respectability, while mine was probably fluttering somewhere among the eaves or gutters of Parliament Street.

I gestured to Sal to lean back in his chair with me, and spoke to him sotto voce when he did, even though Cheryl was sitting right between us. “Look, when we come back, can I have a chance to clarify what I just said?”

“Sorry, buddy,” he replied, “but that segment went way over. We only have about five minutes left, and I have several other points I want to cover.”

He sat back up and I reluctantly followed. The three of us waited in silence for the commercial break to run its course. Cheryl’s face held a patina of diplomacy, but I knew what she was thinking: that she had bested me, that by hijacking Sal’s role as interviewer she was able to cast me as the extremist and herself as the voice of moderation. With less than five minutes left, I would need all of my intellectual heft to turn things around. I the seconds before we came back , I looked up once more at Raj standing in the booth. His head was now bowed over his phone, his brow furrowed. Oh God – he was probably on Facebook or Twitter right then , watching the obloquy and snark over my blunder flood in. Was Grace there, too, gingerly defending my moment of indiscretion? Or was she still steaming over my fecklessness as a father (Phillip, your daughter scalded herself), or, worst of all, my complete ineptitude at keeping track of our social calendar? Oh, Jesus, why couldn’t I remember what we’re doing on Sunday?

Sampson is a talented writer who knows his craft well. There some serious reflections on our society in this at-times humorous story of Dr. Philip Sharpe, as readers follow his blundering attempts to salvage his reputation after a brutal slip of the tongue during a live television broadcast. But more importantly we see the profound academic realize the more important aspect of his life is not his career or his reputation but his family and as he tries to mend those broken relationships that are so important to him.

Page 175

Let us speak of weekend rituals. I will marvel, as you no doubt will, at the way children can sleep like Tut in his tomb all week long, ignoring the beseeches of parents pleading against the clock, only to swarm from their chambers on Saturday morning and fill an ungodly hour with frenetic clatter. But I’m up. I’m up and I’m there to provide assistance at the toilet, to find a lost Dora, to pour cereal and locate cartoons on TV. I’m there in bathrobe, in eye crust, in fuzzy slippers. I am there with spatula in hand, hunched over sizzling skillet, cooking my wife a hot, proper breakfast. I’m there on the porch, hauling in fat weekend papers (though not as fat as they used to be), which I will divvy up like a whale carcass after a hunt. To Grace go sections like Style and Living and Weekend. To me go sections like Focus and Argument. The kids get the funnies. We each have our perennial favourites: Grace got straight to Globe Style, which oddly, contains recipes: I, meanwhile, grouse over and increasingly etiolated Globe Books and then dive-bomb the Star’s op-ed section. And if things are good, if things are humming, my wife and I will speak to each in the idioglossia of our marriage, a nonsensical lexicon of love and domesticity. If things are good, we will cheer or heckle or debate what we read, aloud to each other our fingers gone black with newsprint ink.

But on this Saturday, things were not good. Not good at all. Four Metcalfe Street seemed full of gloom. I had brought the papers in but not bothered to divide them up; they sat in a segmented pile on the kitchen table, portending more column inches about my unconscionable gaffe from Monday. As for breakfast, I couldn’t bring myself to do much more than a couple of toasted bagels for Grace and me. The Bloody Joseph I mixed for myself tasted flat. The autumn light through our kitchen window held a faint grimness. Grace came downstairs, a Medusa of bed-head and frayed kimono, sat at the kitchen table, picked briefly at the papers, stared out the window. I sat across from her, slowly smearing my bagel with cream cheese.  We said nothing. We said nothing.

For the longest time, I have been looking for a book – a printed book – worthy of explaining my joy in reading at the moment. It was a joy for me to take a break from the hustle of the day, ( to turn off the computer and the television) and to quietly ponder the exploits of Philip Sharpe. And in those quiet moments that I forced myself to take, I pondered my own existence while followed the downward and at times funny-because-I-have-done-that-too exploits of Sharpe as he blindly attempts to redeem his purpose in life.

Page 212

How much are you interested, dear reader, in what transpired next? in one sense, it was a fairly typical domestic row, a bile-spewing stichomythia that orated the inanities of our marriage. On the other hand, you should probably know that Grace and I once again ignored the true catalyst of our fissure – that abominable slip of mine from Monday. One again we didn’t mention it, and ergo mentioned pretty much everything else.

Mark Sampson has given readers something truly to enjoy and think about in The Slip. He has documented the fears we all have in our too-fast, media-rich society and given us some good chuckles in the process as well. A great read and a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Dundurn Press’ website for The Slip

Link to Mark Sampson’s blog  – Free Range Reading

Link to my Q&A with Mark Sampson – “As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes”

“As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson on his new novel “The Slip”

9781459735750

I don’t think I am alone in stating that the world that is now enveloping us feels a bit too fast-paced and artificial. So it may be time to take a step back and look what that realm is truly like. Writer Mark Sampson has given us a starting point for us readers for pondering and discussing our actions in the era of super-hyped-up mass media in his latest novel The Slip. Sampson was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the new book.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of The Slip?

Sure. The novel is about a fictitious University of Toronto philosophy professor and public intellectual named Philip Sharpe who appears in a nationally televised debate with one of his fiercest rivals, a right-wing newspaper columnist named Cheryl Sneed. In the heat of the debate, Philip ends us saying something wildly inappropriate to her as a woman, which gets captured on live TV. His “slip” quickly goes viral on social media, and the fallout becomes a kind of catalyst to expose all the cracks and problems in Philip’s marriage to his much younger, stay-at-home feminist wife, Grace.

There is a somewhat off-kilter constraint on the story that complicates Philip’s situation. He actually says two inappropriate things during the TV debate – the sexist dig at Sneed, but also an earlier comment that is philosophically inconsistent with the beliefs and ideas which Philip has built his entire reputation on as an intellectual. Ever the “absent-minded professor,” Philip spends a large chunk of the novel thinking that the world is in a rage at him over the earlier remarks rather than his misogynous comment at Sneed. It’s a 200+-page obliviousness that is (at least I hope) played for comic effect; but I hope it also points to some heavier ideas about how our words can sometimes cause harm without us realizing it.    

2) Am I correct in assuming that this book is a bit of departure from your previous writing? If yes, how so? Was there anything specific that made you write this book?

It’s a departure insofar that The Slip is a straight-up comic novel in the tradition of, say, P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis. It doesn’t have the darker, heavier tones of my previous novel, Sad Peninsula, which was about (among other things) the legacy of sexual violence enacted against Korean girls and young women during World War Two. Still, I think The Slip does touch on some serious matters. It’s about gender dynamics; it’s about the division of labour in a modern-day marriage; it’s about the double-edged sword of social media; it’s a gentle ribbing of academic culture and media culture and Sunday brunch culture of well-off urban yuppies. I like to think that the novel casts a fairly wide satirical net.   

 

3) I know we have talked about The Slip in our last Q&A but how long did it take to write this book? Is there anything you are hoping this book will accomplish?

The characters of Philip and Grace, and their problematic marriage, have been rattling around in my head since at least 2007 or 2008. As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes. Once I committed to actually nutting out what happens and sitting down to write it, the book took about two years to complete.  

4) Is there a book/reading tour scheduled for The Slip? If yes, are there any events you are looking forward to participating?

 

Still very much (To Be Discussed) at this point. I do have the Toronto launch booked for the evening of May 31 at Ben McNally Books (come on out, Torontonians, if you’re reading this (Link to the Facebook page for this event)) and one other event planned for my hometown of Charlottetown. Hopefully other events will materialize in the near future.

5) Are you working on any new writing right now or are you taking a break for a bit?

 

Yes, I just finished a very rough first draft of a new book, a kind of a parody of a post-apocalyptic novel. It’s about overpopulation, set in an alternate version of Toronto where the subways are always packed and everyone lives in tiny, overpriced condos. Horrifying, terrifying stuff. I’ve also been working on a new poetry manuscript, as well as a lot of literary criticism. I don’t tend to take too many breaks from writing. I have so many ideas and a finite number of years to get them all out.

 

6) Many of the followers of my blog mention to me that they enjoy interacting with writers over social media. You hinted in the last Q&A you did with me that “The Slip” deals a bit with the darker side of social media but you also mentioned that things like Facebook and Twitter play only a small part in your writing. Do you still believe that?

 

Yes, absolutely – probably more so. There is no doubt that social media has its dark side, with the capacity to bring out the very worst in some people. Can we deny that this is the case, here in this Trumpian age?

7) I am curious about the dynamic that you and writer Rebecca Rosenblum have? I see that you both often post reviews/interviews of each other’s work on social media, but do you both read/discuss/critique each other’s work as well?

 

Indeed. For your readers who don’t know, Rebecca Rosenblum is my wife. (Link to my Q&A with Rebecca Rosenblum  –“(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?” We do take a lot of pride in sharing around each other’s good news on various social media channels. We do read a lot of each other’s work in draft and offer feedback and support whenever we can. It’s pretty great, actually, to have a smart, talented fellow writer living under the same roof to offer a critique on something I’m writing. Sometimes what we can offer each other is a thorough, engaging edit on a story. And sometimes what we can offer is simply the most important thing any author can hear during the writing process: Keep going!    

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Link to Dundurn Press’ website for “The Slip”

Link to Mark Sampson’s Blogger site “Free Range Reading”

Jarred from One Scene to the Next |Review of “My White Planet” by Mark Anthony Jarman (2008) Thomas Allen Publishers

Planet

Reading a collection of short stories vaults a reader from one scene to the next and with it one emotion to another. It can be disconcerting for a reader but that is not necessarily a bad thing. If a reader is open to emphasizing with the protagonists in the stories, then the collection can be a personal enlightenment for the reader. And My White Planet by Mark Anthony Jarman is a great collection of short stories for doing just that.

Night March in the Territory – page 1

Post-battle march, stormy sky, no light. The weary surgeon pores over our bloody wounds, pours himself another drink. We hear our orders travel down the slope: Bury the officers, but not the enlisted men. A blunt message to us peons.

In this Territory there is too much light, then there is absolutely no light, then there is absolutely no light. The surgeon hides crates of brandy in his white tent. I would take a drink, some corn. We are bloodied and splayed like egrets on the oatgrass.

Where’s old Crabtree? I ask.

Stay here and you’re dead.

They shot Crabtree. They shot all of us.

Dead?

No answer from the yarb-doctor.

There is a brilliance in the way Jarman vaults us into deeply personal situations of anonymous characters in vague locations. We are pulled into each story and read on trying to found out more. But we are given more profound thoughts and deep emotions then the ending is upon us. The process is almost cleansing to read to the psyche and somewhat addictive to be wondering what more is involved in each story.

My White Planet – Page 26-27

We inhabit a line station secretly functioning after the accord, but something went dead after June 11. Our dishes and software seem without flaw, but our screens remain blank, thoughtless. No printouts. No officiant plies us with coded orders or fervent denials or demands our narrow circumspect data. Is everyone erased in a war or did a budget-conscious computer take us out in a bureaucratic oversight? We are paid puppets, but no one is pulling the strings and no cheque is in the mail.

The freezing girl is alive but unconscious, and our ungenerous God has delivered a delirious female to our ice garden where we look at each other in wonder, wondering about things, about our farm-girl concubine with drained lips, our charcoal-eyed dream girl, our homage, our stockpiled ohmage.

Peter the Preacher pulls out his blue-grey Czech pistol, says he’ll shoot us or kill her rather than let her be touched, and we know what he means, means our ugly paws on her lily-white flesh other than to save her, resurrect her, and I believe I once dreamed this part too, saw Peter the Preacher’s fine skull and fine rhetoric and his fine Czech pistol at our nostril hairs.

I was introduce to Jarman’s work via novelist William Kowalski. (Link to my Q&A with him) and read reviews of his work by Mark Sampson (Link to Sampson’s review of Jarman’s latest work Knife Party at the Hotel Europa.) One can see traits all these writers  have in common. It is almost evolutionary the way both explore the range of insecurities that their characters have and the situations they get themselves into.

Bear on a Chain– Page 57

Another bridge’s ethereal arches float to the southeast. His body fell from this bridge and passed under the exact middle of the second bridge, and when I look I feel I am looking down a gunsight. Trev came from the north side, ended up on the south side, had no lessons. And the course is pass-fail. He dropped out, they lost him on the radar.

A north-sider tells me that your lungs fill up with river water and you sink down with the new weight, lower and lower and gone.

How stunningly simple to leave our corner of the world, how fast, how easy – poof? Blink and you miss it. I demand more time, complications, pomp and circumstance, demand more pay dirt.

Walk along  the river, drive in a car over the river, see it every day for x number of years, mundane as an insurance office, an ordinary postcard, then one day you fall into the boring postcard and the boring postcard kills you.

My White Planet by Mark Anthony Jarman is an emotional yet enlightening collection of short stories. A reader that shouldn’t be rush and a read that should be pondered upon.

 

*****

Link to the University of New Brunswick’s biography page for Mark Anthony Jarman

Link to Dundurn Press’ page for My White Planet

 

 

Nowhere to Heal a Warrior’s Wounds | Review of “The Hundred Hearts” By William Kowalski (2013) Thomas Allen Publishers

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A family unit is suppose to be one place where a member can go to experience love and healing.  It is suppose to be a place where members come together for nurturing and support. But when one or more members of the family unit themselves are seriously damaged, then that family unit itself becomes dysfunctional. And the pain and suffering quietly continues for each of the members. It is a more common reality than our mass-media induced society cares to show us but it is one that William Kowalski has skillfully crafted in his book The Hundred Hearts.

Page 9

A month after they’ve consigned the remains of his grandmother, Helen, to the flames of the crematorium, Jeremy sits in his car in the parking lot of Sam “The Patriot” Singh’s Fortress of America Motel, a crumpled note in his hand. The not had arrived today in his faculty mailbox. It’s written in pencil on a piece o ragged-edged notebook paper. The handwriting is decidedly feminine. He knows whose it is. In just a few weeks, he’s learned to discern the penmanship of most of his nearly forty students. He’s wrestled with himself over whether he should open it, sensing that whatever it said, it would get him into trouble. But in the battle between curiosity and discretion that took place in his mind, curiosity had discretion on the ropes.

Room 358. I need you, Jeremy.

You’re the only one who can help.

Help with what, he doesn’t know. Merely being in possession of this note makes Jeremy nervous. He’s already received a lecture from Peter Porteus, principal of Elysium High School on the importance of propriety: don’t let yourself be caught alone with a female student, for God’s sake, and if you do keep doors open, keep hands to self, et cetera. It is preferable to wrap yourself hermetically in plastic and stay on the other side of the room

Kowalski has a direct yet sincere writing style and this book is a perfect example of it. The story deals with Jeremy Merkin, a former soldier whose tour of duty in Afghanistan had traumatic events that  his body and mind have issues still dealing with. He has returned to his hometown of Elysium, California but the town has no  mythical or realistic hopes for him or its citizens for an ideal life. It is a fading community on the edge of the desert whose citizens merely exist in a state of shock, waiting for the results of a broken promise to come true. Jeremy lives in the basement of his grandparent’s home along with his mother and a mentally-challenged cousin and works as a high-school teacher. He is constantly self-medicating on marijuana to deal with the pain and anxiety he suffers from which in it self leads to interests results.

Page 67-68

Downstairs, he makes himself comfortable on his mattress and eats his double-frosted sugar bombs while watching the latest Japanimation classic Rico’s Dropboxed him. Then he pours himself a cup of tea. Now that he has a job, the guilty edge these mornings used to have has faded. He leans back against his pillow with a sense of pleasantly high contentment. Nowhere to go, nowhere to be, nothing to do. Monday is a light-year away. If he were a truly dedicated teacher, which he isn’t, he’d already be thinking about what he was going to teach next week. Tomorrow night he’ll hop on Google and see what lesson plans exist out there for him to steal.

The last three weeks have been a panicky time. He hasn’t been teaching; he’s been doing his best imitation of a teacher. Porteus knew he didn’t have any experience when he hired him, but he’d assured him he’d be fine, that he could tell he’d be a natural in the classroom. He can see this was a blatant lie; Porteus was desperate for a warm body.

In his naivete, Jeremy had believed he could simply engage his students in Socratic dialogues of the sort he and Smarty used to have, and together they would wing their way through the world of knowledge, delighting in the mysteries of the universe. Maybe he could even teach them about the Fibonacci sequence. He’d forgotten the crushing load of ennui that high school students carried with them everywhere, the blank stares, the hostile resistance to doing absolutely anything. He’d hoped to find out what interested them and build a curriculum of sorts around that, but he’d realized within about two minutes that they weren’t interested in anything, at least nothing he was allowed to discuss.

He’d also thought, for some insane reason, that the students would respect him because he was young. Instead, they seemed to think this meant they could get away with anything. On the first day of school they’d aligned themselves into groups, boys on one side, girls on the other, cool kids in the back, dweebs in the front, and had begun to talk amongst themselves as if he wasn’t even there. Engage them, Porteus had said; teaching is infotainment. But Jeremy was not an infotainer. In his vocabulary, to engage meant to lay down heavy fire, to shoot to kill. During his very first class he’d felt a panic attach coming on, and he’d only been able to prevent it by pretending that getting to the end of the period was an objective, and that his job was to attack and hold objective until reinforcements arrived. He’s still not sure how he’d made it this far. sometimes he looks at their glazed-over faces and thinks, If only you could see what I have seen. But he’d been trained to see those things so other people didn’t have to see them. That was the role of the army: not to fight for freedom, whatever that nonsense meant, but to see the unseeable, do the undoable, and later to try to forget the unforgettable. And to somehow try to fit back into a society that had no clue.

I usually hate using $50 psychological terms but Kowalski has written something here that reflects the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times. Jeremy is an adult trying to fit in someplace but it doesn’t happen. He is missing the guidance, the social network and simply the love to survive to be a positive member of society. He exists and that is it. He is like so many people in real life but one that rarely discussed or portrayed in mass media.

Page 95-96

Jeremy remembers that birthday party clearly. Abortive is a charitable way to describe it. Wilkins had appeared out of nowhere, uninvited, his presence unnerving everyone – most of all Rita. His birthday present to Jeremy had been a rock. Not a particularly pretty or interesting rock, just a rock like you might find anywhere, but which for Wilkins apparently had some sort of symbolic significance. He’d tried for several minutes to explain it to Jeremy, with no success. Then he’d wrapped himself in a bedsheet and spent the afternoon in a corner, glowering at the other partygoers, all boys who were tripping balls on sugar and making tremendous amounts of noise. When they’d asked who Wilkins was, Jeremy pretended not to know. The highlight of the party was when the police arrived. It transpired that they had been called by Al, and they led Wilkins away, sobbing. Jeremy had been very popular after that, because no one else had ever had a police birthday party before.

“It’s okay,” Jeremy says. “Hardly anybody has fathers anymore.”

“Sad but true. You’re not angry?”

“I guess I would be, except that so much other shi-stuff . . . has happened that  . . .well, it’s all relative, you know?”

“So you didn’t come here for a confrontation?”

“A confrontation? No. Why would I do that?’

“You know. Son accuses father of being a bad father. Of being absent, abusive, egocentric. All of which I’m guilty of. Father repents, begs forgiveness. Father and son hug. Emotional string music on the soundtrack. The audience sniffles and goes home feeling redeemed.”

Maybe in some other, forgotten era of his life, Jeremy has harbored such thoughts. Maybe there was a time when he was angry at his father for not being a father. But all this is so far in the past that he doesn’t even remember it. It all ceased to matter a long time ago.

William Kowalski has documented an unexplored yet common state of life in his book The Hundred Hearts. It is a touching and poignant read for our anxious and lonely times.

*****

Link to William Kowalski’s Website

Link to Dundurn Press’ page for The Hundred Hearts

Link to a Q&A William Kowalski did for me “Anything that isn’t writing is hindering my writing . . .”

 

 

 

“For me, this novel was born out of my frustration watching the news and reading the paper every day” | Q&A with writer Liam Card

Busy people sometimes make the best storytellers. Liam Card is one such person. Usually involved in the field of movie production, he does divide his time to allow for writing. As his new novel STOPGAP is about to be released, Card took a few minutes in an airport waiting area to answer a few questions for me.
1) First off, can you give a bit of an overview of  STOPGAP?
LOGLINE: In an attempt to rid the world of all violent crime, a recently deceased ghost becomes the most notorious killer in history.

SHORT SYNOPSIS: For Luke Stevenson, an otherwise simple afterlife has become catastrophic. He’s been paired to mentor Safia, an angry teenage girl who recently died a violent death. Safia can not only affect the living – unheard of among ghosts like them – but can actually end human lives. With the best intentions, Luke becomes ensnared in her operation to rid the world of all violent crime.

With Luke’s help, Safia prevents acts of violence before they occur, leaving the world in a state of joy, shock, panic, and looking for answers as the body count rises. Perhaps Safia has made the world a safer place. However, when her plan begins a terrifying evolution, Luke must find a way to derail it, as billions of lives hang in the balance. 

2) What inspired you to write STOPGAP? Was there any research involved with writing the book?
One of my creative writing professors at the University of North Carolina told me that writers should write about topics surrounding their frustrations with the world around them. For me, this novel was born out of my frustration watching the news and reading the paper every day. I find it disgusting how terribly we continue to treat one another on this planet, and the justice system in place doesn’t seem to deter violent criminals enough to see these horrible acts go away in the near future. So, as a writer, you sit in that anger. You sit in that frustration. You recognize how you feel about it and then start to run scenarios. I challenged myself to create a situation whereby acts of violent crime would cease to exist. That’s it. Enough. People can’t hurt each other anymore. Now, what does that look like?
After much trial and error, I realized that the imagined situation would have to be due to a higher form of policing. Said differently, I reached the conclusion that a world with no violent crime would only be possible if humans couldn’t follow through with the act, itself. What I required was something, or someone, to intercept these acts before they could take place. Once that was set in stone, the real work began. Honestly, I must have drawn up two or three dozen scenarios before landing on the one that is now in print. I was able to find my story and began constructing the rules of the afterlife (which the story would hinge on for my scenario to play out). This wasn’t a research-heavy novel, unlike my last one – whereby I was writing a first-person medical genius trapped in a plumbers career. This higher concept novel required running constant checks and balances to ensure that I hadn’t broken any of the rules I had created in giving birth to the idea. It was an entirely different process that I truly enjoyed.
 3) Are you planning to do a reading tour with this book? If yes, are there any dates/events that you are looking forward in doing?
I’m not sure if the publisher has a reading tour in the works. It would be a tremendous amount of fun, but I think the focus is to try and get the novel into several book festivals and hopefully ride a wave of momentum if there is one to ride. It’s difficult to plan whether a novel is going to be a success or not. That said, if it happens to catch fire, the publisher and I will be ready to get out there and take advantage of the momentum.
Like the last novel, I will be doing a number of Toronto-based bookstores, Toronto Library book signings and Q&A’s.
 4) Do you feel your writing is the same or has it changed since Exit Papers from Paradise?
Writing, like anything, is a process of improvement. I learned a lot from my first novel and carried those hard-learned lessons into STOPGAP. Where I feel like I have a strong sense of character, I spent a lot more time on ‘story’ for novel number two and making sure (like a screenplay) that the story followed a bit more of a classic path vs. something a bit more experimental.
 5) You mentioned in an earlier Q&A that Exit Papers from Paradise was in development for a feature film. Did that ever come to pass?
Exit Papers From Paradise is in development for a feature film. Over the past three years I have been working with a producer adapting it from the novel to a screenplay. It has been a very challenging experience, but I feel that we are closer than ever. The producer and I are now getting to the point where we are confident enough in the adaptation that we can enter the next phase of film development: Polish and Packaging. Here, we will seek to attach a noteworthy director and (if successful) polish the script based on the director’s notes. Film is an entirely different beast, but I love that medium of storytelling as much as writing novels. That is for sure. It would be one of life’s thrills to see the character of Isaac Sullivan come to life on screens across the country and beyond. Also, Exit Papers is a story that I think many people can connect and identify with. In short, Exit Papers explores the gap between the person you are and the person you think you should be.
 6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
Right now, I am totally focused on the adaptation of Exit Papers from Paradise. I have a few ideas kicking around for novel number three that will only take shape once the screenplay is under control and I can give a new idea the time and focus that it deserves.
 7) In your last Q&A you mentioned you admired Kurt Vonnegut and Irvine Welsh. Are there any new writers or books that you have read recently that you admire?
I am a huge fan of Craig Davidson. I love Chuck Palahniuk and was blown away by (both) Damned and Doomed. These two writers are masters of the craft and I would love to be at their level someday.
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“I’ve reached this really happy place where I’m at peace with my desire to just be prolific” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson

Mark Sampson certainly was the subject of a few conversations within my circles with his novel Sad Peninsula (Link to my review) He certainly enlightened a few people about the role of comfort women in Korea during the Second World War AND caused a few of us to look at our own interactions with different members of our own society. So it was exciting to see on his posts on Facebook recently announcing that he has a new book coming forward. And it was equally exciting for me to have him answer a few questions for my blog.
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1) So you have just released a book of poetry entitled Weathervane. Could you give a bit of an outline?
Weathervane collects the poems I’ve been writing and publishing over the last 15 years or so. The book is broken up into three main sections: the first looks at the various vicissitudes of weather and the changing seasons, and how they can be a metaphor for our relationships or emotional worlds; the second gathers poems that look at the consequences of action or inaction; and the third offers profiles of interesting people, places or things – some real, some fictional, some flattering, some critical. My poems run the gamut from formalist approaches (there is a sestina and a palinode included in the book, for example) to total free verse. A lot of it is lyrical or confessional. Some of it is funny (I hope). All of it tries to add some brief instance of illumination on an everyday moment.
2) You have written and published both fiction and poetry.  Do you enjoy writing both formats or is there one form you prefer other the other? 

Yes, I love writing in a number of forms: novels, short stories, poetry, book reviews and literary criticism. I think if I was forced to pick just one, it would have to be the novel, just because of its expansiveness, but poetry offers its own unique pleasures. I really love the concision of poetry, the way it allows you as a reader to leave gaps and breathing spaces for readers. I think a poem can be just as engrossing as a work of prose, but on its own terms.  
3) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now? 

It’s so hard to pick a writer or group of writers as “favourites,” just because I try to read widely enough to expose myself to all sorts of forms, tones, voices and subject matters. But I guess I have my soft spots. Prose wise, I find myself returning over and over again to British writers Anthony Burgess, Martin Amis, Iris Murdoch, and the like. I’m really inspired by comic writing, and I try to infuse a lot of my own prose with it. As for poetry: I really love the verse of poets George Amabile, Jeffery Donaldson, Catherine Graham, and M. Travis Lane.

Right I’ve got a number of books on the go. I’ve been rereading The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer. I just published a review of a debut  novel, Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs, by Swedish writer Lina Wolff. And I finally got around to reading Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, which cleaned up at awards season when it was published back in 2011 and has been on my radar for quite a while. The nightstand stack of books is always out of control. I’ll probably still be reading 10 years after I die. 
4) Are you planning any public readings of  Weathervane? If yes, are there any dates or events that you are excited to partake in? 

I am indeed. March 23 in Windsor, Ontario; April 5 in Toronto; and April 28 in London, Ontario. There may be other events later in the year, but they haven’t been confirmed yet. 
5) It has been a little while since  Sad Peninsula has been released. How did you find the reaction to the novel? Was there a Korean version of the book released? 

I was really pleased with the reaction to Sad Peninsula after it came out in the fall of 2014. It got several reviews, including in some high-profile publications like Publishers Weekly, and I got to do a number of readings here in Ontario and in the Maritimes. Best of all, I received a lot of encouraging notes and emails from readers after it was published. It’s funny, because not all of the feedback was positive, and I didn’t necessarily have a problem with that. The book, as you may recall, was written from two alternating points of view: the first from a Korean woman who was a sex slave (“comfort woman” was the euphemism) for the Japanese military in World War Two; and the second from a young Canadian man teaching ESL in Seoul in the early 2000s. Some reviewers and readers really loved the comfort woman sections but hated the bits about the teacher. Others really thought I nailed the ESL teaching culture but were unimpressed by my rendering of the sexual slavery and its emotional aftermath. The fact that both parts got both negative and positive comments heartened me in a weird way. I felt that Sad Peninsula was, on several levels, a very difficult book, and I was glad there was such a multitude of responses to it.

The novel has not been released in South Korea. I know my publisher, Dundurn, has been pushing for a Korean version since it accepted the manuscript. But the world of foreign rights and foreign translations is incredibly complex and competitive, so I don’t know whether we’ll ever see that happen. I’m also not certain where narratives about the comfort women legacy really stand in Korea’s literary culture right now. I wonder if the reason the book hasn’t been picked up is because there have already been so many works of fiction over there exploring that history, and the country just doesn’t need yet another one (and one written by a waegookin, no less). Or maybe the opposite is true: maybe there are very few novels written in Korean about this history, and maybe the country isn’t quite ready to explore what happened to these women through fiction yet. It’s hard to say.

 6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share? 

Yes, indeed. I’ll be back with Dundurn for my next novel. I submitted the completed manuscript to my editor about two weeks ago and it looks like the book – which is a comic novel about a university professor whose off-colour comments during a nationally televised debate go viral on social media; a VERY different book from Sad Peninsula, let’s just say – will be out sometime next year. I’m also back to writing some new poetry after a long stretch away from it (Weathervane has been in the can for a while now) and it feels really great. I’m also hoping to start a new novel at some point later this year. So I’d say I’m fairly busy.
7) You seem to partake a bit on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those applications? Do they help you with your writing at all? 

Social media is good for staying connected with friends and colleagues in the writing community, and to help promote book launches and readings and such. And I’d definitely say the darker side of social media – the public shaming, the bun fights, the insidious attacks and trolling – certainly played a role in inspiring the new novel I just finished, mentioned above. But I think what you have to realize as a writer is that your social media audience isn’t necessarily the audience for your writing. The range of one’s social media presence is actually pretty small, even you have hundreds or even thousands of “followers.” And it’s important to remember that who you’re really trying to connect with is that individual reader standing in the bookshop or at the library, or hovering over your book’s entry on an online retailer’s website, and deciding whether to share their scarce free time with something you’ve written. Social media can only ever be an adjunct – and a very tenuous one at that – to that relationship with a reader.
8) So you have been writing for a little while now. Has your writing changed since you started out? If yes, how? 

Actually, it’s been a looooong while – 25 years as of this month. When I started out, I was halfway through Grade Ten in Charlottetown, PEI, and wanted to be Canada’s answer to Stephen King or Danielle Steel – basically a “commercial” writer. I wrote several “novels” (or, I suppose, novel-length pieces of fiction; it’s hard to call them proper novels, they were such garbage) over the next seven years, and by the late 1990s (I was in my early twenties by this point) I realized that literary fiction was where I really wanted to be. Then I went through a lengthy phase where I wanted to write big, chunky, “serious” novels that take seven years each to compose, a la John Irving or Wayne Johnston or Tom Wolfe. But in the last number of years, I’ve reached this really happy place where I’m at peace with my desire to just be prolific and write whatever the fuck I want, that I want to write a lot and in multiple genres and modes – novels and poetry, literary criticism and short stories, funny works and sad works and everything in between – and I’m just having a blast doing all that.
9) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto. How do you like living there? Does the city’s cultural scene give you any fuel for your writing?
Toronto’s cool. I moved here in 2007 after living abroad for a number of years and moving around in different places in Canada, and it eventually felt like home. I really do feel part of the cultural scene here. Despite what you might hear in other parts of Canada (especially back home in the Maritimes), Torontonians – or “Upper Canadians” as we call them – are actually very warm and welcoming. Toronto as a place is starting to creep its way into my fiction now, and I feel like this is the sort of city that can keep you stimulated while at the same time leave you alone, which is ideal for a writer. 
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