Tag Archives: Simon and Shuster Canada

A Bit of a Laugh, A Bit of a Think |Review of Will Ferguson’s “The Shoe on the Roof” (2017) Simon and Schuster Canada

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For many of us who read, we have to admit we have problems grasping the way the world around us works. Is there something wrong with our minds when we do something foolish or make people around us shake their heads? And when everything in our lives – relationships, jobs, family, health – seems to build into one unsurmountable crisis after another, do we hang our hang our heads and surrender to the evils of the world. Or do we read in order to better understand ourselves and try to deal with those issues.  Of course we do. But what happens when we encounter a novel in which the plot makes us truly question our take on the reality of our realities? Hmmm. So how should we really take Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof?

Page 3 Chapter One

The one almighty fact about love affairs is that they end. How they end and why, although of crucial interest – indeed, agony – the participants, is less important than that they end. Marriages might linger like a chest cold, and there are friendships that plod along simply because we forget to cancel the subscription. But when love affairs collapse, they do so suddenly: they drop like swollen mangoes, they shatter like saucers, they drown in the undertow, they fall apart like a wasp’s nest in winter. They end.

Thomas knew this, and yet . . .

Will Ferguson’s prose always seems to have these elements of profound thoughts that all-of-a-sudden end with phrase that comes across like a dull thud. And this book is filled with such sections. The story deals with Thomas Rosanoff. He spent his younger life as a test subject for his father’s psychiatric tests which was the subject for a best-selling book. Now younger Thomas tries to escape that shadow that being ‘the boy in the box’ by trying his own hand at medical studies. But when his girlfriend ends their relationship, he decides to try his own hand at researching cures by bring in three homeless men who claim they are the living embodiment of Jesus Christ. But as things slide further and further into chaos for poor Thomas, he finds he must not only clean up the mess he has created but also deal with the voices inside his own head.

Pages 109-110 Chapter Seventeen

Is identity immutable? Or is it malleable? Is it transitory and temporary – something to be donned or discarded at whim – or is it woven into our DNA? Does it even exist? Perhaps identity is simply an agreed-upon fiction, a conglomerate of traits.

Thomas knew full well that the defining characteristic of our interconnected online age isn’t anonymity but reinvention. You don’t cloak who you are: you change who you are. In the either/or of binary equations, you can hide in plain sight, can dress yourself in layers: a dance of the seven veils in reverse. You can even claim the identity of someone else entirely. Your father`s say.

Two weeks, top. That was how much time Thomas figured he would need. A provisional custody order (one month, on review) would be more that sufficient. How much time do you need to jolt someone out of a falsely held identity?

He was equally sure that the request would go through without a ripple. Why wouldn’t it? It wasn’t as though people were constantly stealing mental patients. Far from it. Hospitals were always looking for people to take custody of intractable cases – family, relatives, halfway homes, community groups. It was a matter of paperwork, of filling in the right forms, clicking on the right boxes. No one would step back to look at the larger picture. No one would ask why a patient was being released into the care of one Thomas Aaron Ronsanoff.

Like Ferguson’s previous works, there are moments of profound insights while chaos and hilarity ensues. There are no deep truths however, more of a realization and a matter-of-fact observations about the human condition. In short, of moments of ‘hmm’ and `ah-hah’ that a reader will note before a page is turned.

Page 360

Outside in the dusty heat of summer, a city bus rattled past smokestacks and warehouses, straining uphill and then fighting its own momentum on the way down. (He) was inside, dressed in factory blues, toolbox on his lap.

The driver looked at him in the bus’s rearview mirror. “You seem familiar. Do I know you?”

“Maybe,” (He) said softly. “I used to be somebody.”

And the bus trundled into the haze.

But there is a serious note of truth in this fiction. The scenes have a sense of familiarity to them as do many of the situations that poor Thomas finds himself in. This is a good read for sure. One that makes anybody laugh and think at almost the same time.

Page 369 Acknowledgements

This book began with a story my mother told me. My mom, Lorna Louse Bell, worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in the 1950s under Dr.Humphry Osmond. She often spoke about her time at Weyburn and the stories she shared with us were, by turn unsettling, heartbreaking, occasionally uplifting, and at times inspiring . . . Although inspired by these stories, The Shoe on the Roof remains a work of fiction.

So I have to admit that Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof is certainly a unique and enjoyable read. Like Ferguson’s previous work there are certainly moments of profound insights followed by serious, simple thuds of truths. In short, a good read.

*****

Link to Simon and Schuster Canada’s website for The Shoe of the Roof

Link to Will Ferguson`s website

“The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. | Q&A with Eric Fan, Co-Illustrator of “The Night Gardener”

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There is something enjoyable about book illustration that I find somewhat unrecognized by many adults who read. The skill in creating and honing images for a publication takes an immense time and energy to which the final product is just as enlightening as words on a page. Eric Fan, who along with his brother Terry, have created some wonderful illustrations for some stunning books over the past little while and show no sign of stopping any time soon. Eric recently answered a few questions for me in which he shows us a little insight to the world of book illustration.

*****

1) So I have been getting some multitudes of comments over my review of “The Night Gardener.” How long did it take for you and your brother to create that book. Was there any personal inspiration or ideas that aided in the creation of that book?

Since it was our first book, we had the luxury of a pretty long lead time. We worked on it for almost a year, but that included doing multiple rough dummies we did before starting the final art. By the time we got to the finals we had a pretty clear idea of how we wanted the spreads to look. Here are a couple of examples from the original dummy to give you an idea of what I mean. The dummy ultimately went through about three drafts until we were happy enough with the pacing, and the overall design.
night gardener dummy
night gardener dummy2
The earliest seeds of the story can probably be traced back to our childhoods. Our dad has always had a great love of trees, nature, and bonsai, having grown up in the Taiwanese countryside. I think living in Toronto he missed that, and compensated for the cold Canadian winters by filling our house with trees and plants. We have many memories of him carefully pruning the trees, and sculpting his bonsai. He was also a parrot breeder, so there were parrots (and a hummingbird named Woodstock) flying free in the house. It was a little like growing up in an indoor jungle. When Terry and I were doing t-shirt designs many years later, we collaborated on a design for Threadless called The Night Gardener, which depicted a man sculpting a tree into an owl (our dad also loves owls). When we first got our agent, Kirsten Hall, she asked us if we had any ideas for stories, and that image came back to us, along with memories about our dad. We always felt there was a story we could build from that standalone image. So that’s basically how The Night Gardener got its start. 
I actually found our original design submission for Threadless:
NG3
And here was the printed shirt:
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2) How has the reaction to “The Night Gardener” been? Has there been any memorable comments or reactions to the book you care to share?

It got a wonderful reaction, which was a nice surprise for us. We really didn’t know what to expect, or how it would be received. I think the first time we were able to breath a sigh of relief was when it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and then Kirkus. Some of the most memorable reactions came from book sellers who saw the book early on, sometimes only in its F&G form. We even became friends with some of them, like Sarah Ramsey, who manages one of the Book City stores in Toronto. She really loved the book from the first time she saw it, and hand-sold it to many of her customers. The other memorable reactions came from readers, and kids inspired by the book. Some of them created their own topiaries out of paper, or made video reviews on Youtube. There was even a school in the U.K. that did an entire Night Gardener student art show, which was beyond amazing.

3) What is it like to work with your brother Terry on a regular basis? Is there any sibling rivalry between the two of you while you work?

I think a little rivalry can be a good thing, since it continually pushes you to do your best work. It’s great to have a fellow collaborator, because you always have someone to bounce ideas off when you get stuck. Making a book can be a daunting project sometimes, so it’s nice to have someone to share that workload with. When one of us falls down or falters, hopefully the other one is there to save the day. That’s happened on numerous occasions.

4) You both worked and published a book with Astronaut Chris Hatfield called “The Darkest Dark.” What was like to work with him on that book?

It was incredible. How often do you get to work with an actual astronaut? The story of The Darkest Dark is semi-autobiographical – how Chris was inspired to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut as a child. For that reason, it was important to us to remain true to that and have a degree of verisimilitude. Chris was gracious enough to invite us up to his childhood cottage on Stag Island where the story actually took place. It was an incredible inspiration, since we got to see his childhood bedroom and the neighbouring cottage where he watched the moon landing in 1969. 
He also took us flying in a four-seat Cirrus, which was a thrill. I even got to pilot the airplane for ten minutes, which was both incredible and terrifying. At one point Chris looked back at Terry, who was in the back seat, and shouted “your brother’s flying the plane!” I think Terry almost had a heart attack. One of the best parts of the project was just getting to know Chris better, and his wife Helene (and their pug Albert). They’re both such wonderful, inspiring people, and we’ve remained friends with them to this day.
Since I think it’s fun for people to see the process of the book, I’ll share another dummy rough, this time from The Darkest Dark:
DD Dummy2B

5) You both have a new book coming out called “The Antlered Ship.” Could you give a bit of an overview of that book?

“The Antlered Ship” is written by Dashka Slater (link to her website), and it’s a lovely, imaginative text. The first time I read it I could immediately see certain images pop into my mind, which is always a good sign when you’re illustrating a book. The story centres on a curious fox named Marco who is full of questions. He sets out to find the answers to those questions by joining the crew of the antlered ship (comprised of three deer and a flock of pigeons). On their adventures they encounter stormy seas, pirates, and a threatening maze of rocks, all in the hopes of reaching “Sweet Tree Island” where Marco thinks he might find other foxes to answer his questions. The story is ultimately about friendship, and finding what you’re looking for even if it turns out to be right under your nose. The writing is wise, gently humorous, and philosophical and we had a wonderful time living in that world for a while. (Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s website for “The Antlered Ship)

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

Right now we’re just finishing up on our next book that Terry and I wrote together, which is called “Ocean Meets Sky.” The story centers on the magical spot between sky and sea, and a magical journey to reach it, but I won’t say too much more about it until it’s closer to its release date, which should be in early 2018. We also just started working on the dummy for a book called The Scarecrow, written by Beth Ferry. (Link to her website) It’s scheduled to be published by HarperCollins in 2019, so it’s a little ways down the road, but it’s a very beautiful and poignant text. 
The other exciting project we’re illustrating is called “The Lifters,” written by the amazing Dave Eggers – his first foray into middle grade books. (Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for “The Lifters”) I can’t really describe the book better than Dave Eggers himself, so I’ll just use his quote: “The Lifters has been on my mind for almost ten years. That’s when I had the idea that a simple cupboard handle could open a hillside to a warren of kid-sized tunnels under a town — and that it would be up these kids to keep everyone living aboveground upright and safe. My goal was to write the book I would have wanted to read when I was a middle-grader, with enough adventure and jokes and mystery to keep even an antsy reader engaged.”
Here is the cover we did, which they just released to the press:
Lifters

7) You and Terry are scheduled to attending the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival. Do you participate in public events for your work often? If yes, do you enjoy meeting the public to discuss your work?

We really love meeting fans of the book and always appreciate meeting book sellers and librarians as well. We don’t do a huge amount of public events, or speaking engagements, partly because we’re quite busy, and partly because were both a little intimidated by public speaking. I think a lot of artists pursue art because they’re somewhat introverted, so public speaking can be a bit emotionally taxing. That said, we really loved going to the Forest of Reading festival in Toronto. There was so much positive energy, and genuine enthusiasm from the kids. 

8) You seem to be an active participant on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those tools in relation to your work. Do your fans actively seek you out and chat with you about your books?

I’ve had a few people approach me to chat through social media. I think Facebook (Link to the Eric Fan Illustration page on Facebook), Instagram, (Link to the Eric Fan Art page on Instagram) and Twitter (Link to Eric Fan’s Twitter Account)are all great platforms to connect with readers, fans, and friends. Working from home, I have to be a little wary about how I parse out my time. It’s very easy to get sucked into Facebook or Twitter and fritter away hours that would be better spent working on art. That said, it’s a balance, and you want to be present and visible and direct a certain amount of energy towards social media and promotion. 
******
Eric and Terry Fan will be participating at 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

Enlightened by the Works of the Fan Brothers | Review of “The Night Gardener” by Eric and Terry Fan (2016) Simon & Schuster

Eric and Terry Fan will be at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

 

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Front cover of “The Night Gardener” by Eric and Terry Fan. Image linked off of the publisher’s website

I allowed myself to be absorbed into the magic of the world of books this past weekend, amid the hurry-burly of the modern adult world. I turned off the ringer on all the phones, I shut-down the computer. I even pull the batteries from the remote control for the television set. And I allowed myself the luxury of child-wonderment of entering the world of The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers. And, boy was I pleasantly amused.

(Excerpt)

William looked out his window

to find a commotion on the street.

He quicly dressed, ran downstairs,

and raced out the door to discover . . .

The wise owl had appeared overnight, as if by magic.

William spent the whole day staring at it in wonder,

and he continued to stare until it

became too dark to see.

I am often asked my opinions by parents looking for items for their children to read which allows me to look at wonderful things like this book. The Fan Brothers (Eric and Terry) have carefully crafted a wonderful item here which is lyrical in both in the story and its images. Readers easily witness the main character William trying to figure out how large topairies appear in his neighbourhood every morning and gain his curiosity through the story.

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Pages from “The Night Gardener” by Terry & Eric Fan. Image linked from the publisher’s website.

The images are detailed and exciting even on their own to look at. One – no matter what age the person may be – can almost spend hours alone admiring the small elements of shading, the use of lines and the sparing use of colour on each page.

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Pages from “The Night Gardener” by Terry & Eric Fan. Image linked from the publisher’s website.

The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan was certainly a wonderfully crafted book to escape the hurry-burly of the modern world for a while. The words and images come together to tell a lyrical story which would enlighten and engage any reader of any age.

*****

Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s website for The Night Gardener

Link to the Fan Brothers’ website

 

On the Path to a New Awareness | Review of “Secret Path” by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire (2016) Simon & Schuster

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Cover of Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Image linked from the Secret Path website

The beauty of a well-crafted book is in the detail that goes into the enlightenment that a reader receives into an element about the human condition. The right combination of words plus the perfect shades of light and dark colours of an illustration can bring light an injustice that occurred in the world. Readers can ponder carefully over those details of that book and slowly become aware of the injustice and  – in turn –  start dialogs with other individuals about that sad element. And that complex process is what Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire have done with their graphic novel Secret Path.

The Stranger (Excerpt)

I am the Stranger

You can’t see me

I am the Stranger

Do you know what I mean?

I navigate the mud

I walk above the path

Jumping to the right

And I jump to the left

On the Secret Path

The one that nobody knows

And I’m moving fast

On the path that nobody knows

And what I’m feeling

Is anyone’s guess

What is in my head

And what’s in my chest

I’m not gonna stop

I’m just catching my breath

They’re not gonna stop

Please, just let me catch my breath

I am the Stranger

You can’t see me

I am the Stranger

Do you know what I mean?

 Downie and Lemire have done something brilliant here by bringing the story of Chanie Wenjack and the residential school system to light for the reading public. Wenjack died a young man trying to get back to his First-Nations community after experiencing brutal institutional care at a residential school. He attempted a 400-mile trek along a railway line to get home, yet the journey proved to be too much for him.

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Illustration from Secret Path by Jeff Lemire. Image linked from the Secret Path website

Lemire has described Wenjack’s story with his illustrations in a bold fashion. The frames that show Wenjack’s memories of his home have a warm rose feeling to them while the cells that show his experiences at the residential school and on his attempted journey home at cold, dark with a tinge of blue. A reader clearly senses the range of emotions that Wenjack felt as they follow the story of his trek home.

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Scanned image from Secret Path. Illustration by Jeff Lemire

Gord Downie has not only proven himself here as a classic wordsmith but also a great storyteller. While many of his fans know him as the front man for the musical group The Tragically Hip, it is bringing this story of Wenjack to life for us readers that shows his consciousness and the depth of his soul. He has carefully crafted a few brilliant phrases into our memories about Wenjack, breeding empathy in our minds for the tragic wanderer and causing us to discuss him to our peers and our leaders.

 

 

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Scanned image of “Son” by Gord Downie. From Secret Path (2016) Simon & Shuster

This book does exactly what great literature does. It brings to light an important element of the human condition that may of been overlooked through other means and creates thought, discussion and discourse among readers. It is a brilliant book and one that should be pondered over.

Quote from the back cover of Secret Path:

Chanie Wenjack haunts us. His story is Canada’s story. We are not the country we think we are. History will be re-written. All of the Residential Schools will be pulled apart and studied. The next hundred years are going to be painful and unsettling as we meet Chanie Wenjack and thousands like him – as we find out about ourselves, about all of us – and when we do, we can truly call ourselves “Canada.”

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire is a brilliant book which should be held in prominence on any bookshelf. It breeds empathy and creates thought and discuss which, no doubt, will lead to action on improving an injustice to the human condition.

*****

Link to the Secret Path website

Link to Gord Downie’s website

Link to Jeff Lemire’s blog

Bridging the Sides of a Town in Crisis | Review of “The River Burns” by Trevor Ferguson (2014) Simon & Schuster Canada

I received a copy of this book via Goodreads.com

Small communities are interesting microcosms when it comes to the issues and personalities that they have to deal with. Some residents are set in there ways, while others want change. Some are concerned with profit while others are concerned with deeper ethical matters. And when the community suffers a tragedy that has all sides pointing blame, flames are bound to erupt. That is the type of situation that Trevor Ferguson has documented in his novel The River Burns.

Page 94-95

Willis Howard never noticed himself being scrutinized. Across the street and few doors down, Tara-Anne Cogshill was seated upon a community bench. She took not of his arrival as the somewhat dowdy shopkeeper unlocked the front door to his shop, right on time. He wiped his feet before he took two steps back to cast a glance over the entire storefront, as though to confirm that the exterior trappings of his premises didn’t corrode overnight. He then stepped forward and wiped his feet a second time on the welcome mat – and wasn’t nice to live in a town, she considered, where a store’s mat could be left outside on the main street and not be stolen, the thief’s question being not Do I want it? but rather Why not steal what’s not nailed down? The door unlocked now and his feet well wiped, he continued to take time to evaluate the display window. Following this thorough deliberation, the shopkeeper seemed satisfied and the newcomer to town, half hidden behind a telephone pole, checked her smile. The fellow amused her, she allowed. She doubted that the presentation changed during a season, yet he still made a daily inspection under the suspicion that a few delinquent trinkets or curios might, in his absence, have spent the night carousing. When next he returned to the front door he wiped his feet yet a third time, removed the bundle of keys hanging from the lock, and entered.

Tara felt an affection for the man’s addiction to routine. As much as her amusement, that’s what initiated her smile. She herself didn’t suffer that gene.

Inside, he flipped the sing from CLOSED/FERME to OPEN/OUVERT.

Willis Howard was ready for business.

The book deals with the town of Wakefield and it’s historic, single-lane, covered bridge.  The towns folk are divided between those who want to keep the bridge as a tourist attraction and those who are frustrated with waiting to cross the bridge in order to go about their daily lives.

Page 20

Denny shuffled a stone around with his toe and munched an apple pinched from his lunch pail. He looked up as another logging truck, out of sight, geared down for the stop and the protracted wait.

He sneaked a deep breath of secondhand smoke.

Having shed his jacket, he was now feeling the heat of the sunlight on his bare forearms.

The driver of the last truck to arrive was another close pal, Andre Gervais, who came down the hill, swinging his arms high as he did whenever he walked down a slpe, as though he needed the motion to keep up with the momentum of his runaway hips, pulled along by his belly’s ample ballast. As he moved, the flesh on his face jiggled down into his jowls. He joined the trucker who were waiting for the bridge to clear – except it wasn’t clearing. A family stopped in the middle of the old covered bridge and the father was coaxing his kids from the car to gaze upon the rapids rushing below. The dad held up his youngest to spy the water above the half wall.

“Oh, pitch a tent, why don’t you?” Denny muttered, just loud enough for his pals to hear. Also waiting to cross from their side was a plumber’s van and a pair of sedans that appeared to be travelling in tandem. The drivers were out of their cars, gabbing, but neither smoked. To Denny they looked like men who’d never smoked, but he didn’t know why he thought that way or why the presumption made him feel indifferent to them. As though he’d never say hello unless they did first and probably they never would. Denny spoke so that couldn’t hear him, just his pals. “Play a round of mini-putt, for Pete’s sake. Cook up a barbecue while taking food out of the mouths of my kids.”

Ferguson has done a great job here by describing an element of small-town life. Strife occurs in these idyllic locales and he manages to cover all the facets of the arguments with perfect prose. But he also manages to describe elements of a small town that only a resident  would know and understand

Page 121

From this plateau, the Gatineau Hills concealed the horizon in all directions. No one could gauge a change in the weather with acuity,  although those who were preparing to play or settling into the stands to watch the game detected an electrical charge in the air. A languidness affected the motion of women whose slow, deep strides in the heat bore them along the dusty tire tracks up the hill to the plateau’s mown field, and affected the men as their arms arced through soft tosses, their gloves lazily sweeping the air for an easy catch. No player exerted himself for a ball slightly out of reach, no one drilled it, no one hustled, the air too humid, the day’s heat pervasive still. Breath felt difficult. Soon the sky would be ransacked by a cooling storm, although players and fans alike assumed that prior to matters becoming nasty they’d hear the approaching rumbles of thunder, spy a telltale black anvil cloud forming beyond the hills and so have to pack up and leave. With any luck the teams might sneak in five innings, enough to make the game count, and the boys would be back in the pub for a few cold ones before rain pelted down and violent wind and lightning chased them off.

The River Burns by Trevor Ferguson is an interesting novel about modern-day life in a small town. Ferguson’s words highlight not only personalities but also perfectly describe the situations.  A good book well worth the read.

Link to Trevor Ferguson’s Wikipedia page

Link to Simon & Shuster Canada’s page for The River Burns