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All stories by Steven W. Beattie

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Anansi, Coach House, and others team up for Publidash on Twitter

Critics of CanLit and Canadian publishing have occasionally suggested that there is an element of balderdash to the business. A group of independent publishers has decided to literalize that critique by engaging in a game of virtual Balderdash, called Publidash, to be conducted on Twitter Friday afternoon.

The idea was a late-night brainchild of two tweeters from Coach House Books (Quillblog detects the brain of Coach House publicist Evan Munday in this scheme somewhere) and House of Anansi Press. The genesis of the online contest has been Storified for anyone interested.

According to the rubric on Anansi’s website, one author from each house will pick an obscure word to be tweeted out at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, along with five definitions (including the correct one) for each word. Twitter followers will then vote on which definition they think is accurate or funniest. Every vote will qualify as an entry for a prize pack of books by the participating authors.

In a business often castigated for taking itself too seriously, Publidash is a welcome bit of whimsy. Kudos to the participating publishers, which also include ECW Press, Invisible Publishing, and The Porcupine’s Quill. Anyone who wishes to follow along can do so by using the hashtag #publidash.

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Spring preview 2014: short fiction, crime, poetry, and graphica

Short fiction

Bill Gaston follows up his 2012 novel, The World, with a return to the genre that nabbed him a place on the 2006 Governor General’s Literary Award shortlist (for Gargoyles) and the 2002 Giller Prize shortlist (for Mount Appetite). His new collection, Juliet Was a Surprise (Hamish Hamilton Canada, $22 pa., June), features characters ranging from a tree surgeon to a delusional playboy to a pizza delivery boy who might (or might not) be similarly delusional. • Nicholas Ruddock follows up his debut novel, 2010’s The Parabolist, with a collection of linked short stories called How Loveta Got Her Baby (Breakwater Books, $19.95 pa., March). The book includes Ruddock’s Journey Prize–shortlisted story “How Eunice Got Her Baby.”

Back in September, critic and author Jeet Heer took to Twitter to list the 10 people he considered the best writers in Canada. Toronto novelist and short-story writer K.D. Miller was at number 10 on Heer’s list. Readers will get a chance to gauge for themselves in May, when Biblioasis releases Miller’s latest collection, All Saints ($19.95 pa.), which features linked stories about parishioners who attend the book’s eponymous Anglican church. • Biblioasis also has the third collection from Journey Prize winner C.P. Boyko, following hard on the heels of his 2012 book of linked stories, Psychology. Boyko’s new collection is called, somewhat counterintuitively, Novelists ($19.95 pa., May). • An arborist and a jealous sibling, a prying mother and a hijab-clad woman in a grocery store are some of the characters who people the 13 stories in Lee Kvern’s new collection, 7 Ways to Sunday (Enfield & Wizenty, $19.95 pa., April).

Poet Paul Vermeersch dons his publisher’s cap to launch the new Wolsak & Wynn imprint Buckrider Books, which has its inaugural season in 2014. One of the first titles is the new story collection from Toronto resident D.D. Miller. Provocatively titled David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide ($20 pa., April), the volume addresses a comical coterie of male protagonists, from slackers to sad sacks, all of whom get what’s coming to them. • Invisible Publishing scored a coup when Elisabeth di Mariaffi’s collection How to Get Along with Women was longlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize. We will see if lightning strikes twice with the publication of Journey Prize nominee Anna Leventhal’s Sweet Affliction ($19.95 pa., May). • A resident of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, P.J. Worrell is set to publish her first book of short fiction with Thistledown Press in March. Proudflesh ($19.95 pa.) is a collection of “hard-edged Prairie fiction.”

Boundary Problems (Freehand Books, $19.95 pa., March), the debut collection from Greg Bechtel, refers to boundaries in people’s lives, involving fraught subjects such as sex and secrets, paranoia and conspiracy. The title also refers to boundaries between genres: Bechtel’s stories straddle the line between literary and speculative fiction.
• The personal and political experiences of Asian Canadians is the subject of journalist and poet Doretta Lau’s How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, $19.95 pa., April). Shuttling between characters from different generations, classes, and backgrounds, Lau examines notions of national identity and what it means to be Canadian. • CM Cooper is a novelist and writer whose work has been published in Brick and Guernica magazines. Her new collection, The Western Home (Pedlar Press, $22 pa., March), follows a cast of characters – pioneers, singers, a teenager working in a rural tourist kiosk – whose lives have been affected by the classic American folk song “Home on the Range.”

Crime fiction

Author of the popular Lily Moore series of mysteries, Hilary Davidson returns this spring with a standalone crime thriller featuring a woman whose plan to blackmail her married, two-timing boxer boyfriend results in disaster. Davidson describes the experience of writing Blood Always Tells (Forge/Raincoast, $29.99 cl., April) in Q&Q’s Last Word column (see p. 50). • Vancouver Island resident Chevy Stevens returns with her fourth novel, about a woman released from prison after being convicted of her sister’s murder. Out on parole, she must attempt to reintegrate into life on the outside while dealing with her teenage boyfriend, who was also convicted of the murder; her mother, who is still convinced she is guilty; and her high-school tormentors, who have reasons of their own for wanting her gone. That Night (St. Martin’s Press/Raincoast, $21.99 pa.) is out in June.

ECW has a trio of crime novels on the way. Hamilton’s Mike Knowles returns with another gritty thriller featuring his popular anti-hero, the mob enforcer Wilson. In The Buffalo Job ($12.95 pa., June), Wilson gets involved with an ill-advised cross-border scheme to steal a 200-year-old violin. • Critically acclaimed thriller novelist John Mc­Fetridge finds intrigue in the search for a serial killer during the FLQ Crisis in 1970 Montreal in Black Rock ($14.95 pa., May). • Ride the Lightning ($14.95 pa., April) is the debut crime thriller from Dietrich Kalteis. The novel tells the story of a former bounty hunter whose work as a process server leads him to Vancouver’s seedy underbelly.

D.B. Carew is another B.C. author making his crime fiction debut this season. In The Killer Trail (NeWest Press, $15.95 pa., May), a Vancouver social worker out for a jog discovers an abandoned cellphone, which sends him on a whirlwind adventure involving high-level kidnapping and murder.


Poet laureate of Toronto and visiting professor at Harvard University, George Elliott Clarke returns this April with a new volume of confessional poetry from Exile Editions. Traverse ($16.95 pa.) is a technical high-wire act: a 980-line poem, most of it penned on a single day, to commemorate three decades working as a poet. • Adam Sol follows up his masterful 2008 collection, Jeremiah, Ohio, with a suite of new poems that examines the different ways in which we identify as members of nations, cultures, and communities. Complicity ($18.95 pa.) will be published by M&S in March.

Rob Winger interrogates clichés of Canadian lyricism – including landscape, war, disease, and migration – in his third collection, the slyly titled Old Hat (Nightwood, $18.95 pa., March). • Stylistic clichés also come under fire in the new anthology from editors Jonathan Ball and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Avant-Garde and Post-Avant English Canadian Poetry (Insomniac Press, $19.95 pa., May) attempts to find the funny side of a poetic mode long criticized for its severity and inability to laugh at itself.

Toronto poet Dani Couture was hard at work on her sophomore novel, a follow-up to her well-received debut, Algoma, when she was sidelined by a series of personal crises that prevented her from writing anything at all. When she returned to work, the only way she could conceive of telling her story was in verse. Mansfield Press will publish the resulting collection, YAW ($17 pa.), in April. • Mansfield also has David W. McFadden’s follow-up to What’s the Score?, which won the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize. McFadden’s new volume, Shouting Your Name Down a Well: Tankas and Haiku ($20 pa., April), is a collection of approximately 400 poems written in the two traditional Japanese forms.

Winner of the 2007 Bliss Carman Poetry Award, finalist for both the PRISM International Poetry Prize and the CBC Poetry Prize, and, most recently, a member of the poetry collective Yoko’s Dogs, Jane Munro returns with her sixth solo collection. Blue Sonoma (Brick Books, $20 pa., March) is a meditative examination of a partner succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer’s. • Vancouver poet Catherine Owen follows up her 2012 collection, Trobairitz, with a suite of personal poems about losing a partner (and collaborator) to addiction. Designated Mourner (ECW, $18.95 pa.) appears in April. • In Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible, $14.95 pa., April), Mike Spry, author of the 2012 story collection Distillery Songs, crafts a series of tercets that trace the trajectory of a dysfunctional relationship though the eyes of a single subjective narrator.

San Francisco–born poet George Stanley now resides in British Columbia. A new volume of selected poems, North of California St. (New Star Publications, $21 pa., May), collects works from four out-of-print volumes that originally appeared between 1983 and 2000. The new volume is edited and introduced by Sharon Thesen. • Writer, broadcaster, and professor Bruce Meyer has a collection of love poems on the horizon. The Seasons ($18.95 pa.) will appear in May from The Porcupine’s Quill. • Another kind of love – the very modern adoration people seem to have for celebrities – is put under the microscope in the second collection from Dina Del Bucchia. In Blind Items ($16.95 pa.), her publisher, Insomniac, pledges that the poet “tears down the fourth wall of tabloid journalism with her teeth.”

Calgary’s Nikki Reimer follows up her debut collection, [sic], with a book that employs a new media lexicon to interrogate the substance and experience of modern, wired life. Talonbooks will publish Downverse ($16.95 pa.) in April. • Charles C. Smith, professor of cultural pluralism in the arts at the University of Toronto, has written a collection that focuses on the experiences of people of African descent born and raised outside the African continent. TSAR Publications will bring out Travelogue of the Bereaved ($19.95 pa.) in April.


Praised as “one of the best out there these days” by fellow cartoonist Kate Beaton, Michael DeForge has been getting a lot of attention recently for his existential, apocalyptic comics. This May, Koyama Press will release A Body Beneath ($15 pa.), which collects volumes two through five of the artist’s acclaimed anthology series Lose.

In the new book from the author of Bigfoot and Reunion, Pascal Girard finds himself sidelined by an injury and decides to indulge a sedentary passion for reading. While browsing a bookstore one day, he witnesses a female customer shoplift one of his own books. The Collector (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 pa., May) traces the fallout from this chance encounter. Helge Dascher translates. • Dascher is also on hand to translate Réal Godbout’s reworking of Franz Kafka’s Amerika ($20 pa.). The graphic-novel adaptation, which tries to be as faithful as possible to Kafka’s original vision, is set to appear from Conundrum Press in May.

A new series of graphic novels from Chizine Publications, ChiGraphic, debuts in 2015, but the publisher is offering a sneak peek with the release of Vincent Marcone’s The Lady ParaNorma ($12.99 pa., April), about a lonely woman who hears ghosts. The graphic novel in verse is based on the author’s short film.

Q&Q’s spring preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2014. • All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.

This feature appeared in the January/February 2o14 issue of Q&Q.

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Spring preview 2014: fiction


The fall of 2013 was such a jam-packed season for CanLit, it seemed as though the well must have run dry for big, splashy books. But a quick glance at the lineup for the coming spring puts the lie to that notion. One of the big books of the season is bound to be the new novel from David Adams Richards, which, among other things, revisits the character of Sydney Henderson from the Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning novel Mercy Among the Children. Coming from Doubleday Canada in May, Crimes Against My Brother ($32.95 cl.) follows three boys who forge a blood brotherhood as children. As they grow to adulthood, their bond is tested by violence, debt, and other seemingly intractable forces. • Miriam Toews returns to the Mennonite milieu of her Governor General’s Literary Award–­winning 2004 novel A Complicated Kindness in her new book, which tells the story of two sisters: one a world-famous pianist intent on suicide, the other an author of rodeo-themed young adult novels intent on keeping her sibling alive. All My Puny Sorrows (Knopf Canada, $29.95 cl.) appears in April.

Following her 2012 collection of historical short stories, Astray, Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue returns with a novel set among the criminals and lowlifes of 19th-century San Francisco. Frog Music (HarperCollins Canada, $29.99 cl., May), a story of love and violence, is based on actual characters and incidents. • Ray Robertson returns to fiction after a detour into memoir with 2011’s Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live. His new novel, I Was There the Night He Died (Biblioasis, $19.95 pa., March), tells the story of a friendship between a novelist whose father is suffering from Alzheimer’s and the troubled 18-year-old woman living next door. • Winner of Canada Reads and the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis returns with his fourth novel. A newly single and unemployed copywriter faces familial strife, loneliness, and impecuniosity, all of which pale in comparison to the burden of his name: Earnest Hemmingway. McClelland & Stewart will publish No Relation ($22.95 pa.) in May.

After experimenting with the genre mash-ups Beauty and Sadness and A, André Alexis returns with his first full-length novel since 2008’s Asylum. Pastoral (Coach House Books, $17.95 pa., March) tells the story of a parish priest who finds himself seconded to a bucolic town where the mayor walks on water and sheep talk. • Magic of a different kind forms the background for the fourth novel from Vancouver’s Steven Galloway. The Confabulist (Knopf Canada, $29.95 cl., April) tells the intertwined stories of illusionist Harry Houdini and Martin Strauss, the everyman whose life becomes inextricably bound to the notorious escape artist. The novel features cameos from the Romanovs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. • Another Vancouver resident, Nancy Lee, returns with her first book since the acclaimed 2002 story collection Dead Girls. Set in Vancouver during two weeks in 1984, Lee’s debut novel tells the story of a young woman whose struggle to forge an identity for herself is complicated by her involvement with an older woman and her group of subversive friends. The Age (M&S, $22.95 pa.) is due out in March.

Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti also has a first novel out this season. Based on a True Story (House of Anansi Press, $19.95 pa., May) is a satire about a celebrity and a muckraking journalist who embark upon an overseas voyage to seek revenge on a man who has wronged them. • Montreal’s Arjun Basu is the author of Squishy, a story collection, and Twisters, a popular series of 140-character stories on Twitter. His first novel is due out in April from ECW Press. Waiting for the Man ($24.95 cl.) tells the story of a 36-year-old copywriter named Joe who begins hearing a voice that gives him instructions on how to live.

No less a literary light than Margaret Atwood has endorsed Ghalib Islam’s debut novel, which she calls “the 1001 Nights of its time … in the same literary mansion as Calvino, Burroughs, and other metafabulist satirists.” Fire in the Unnameable Country (Hamish Hamilton Canada, $30 cl., March) tells the story of a boy born on a flying carpet, who grows up to write an extended letter reckoning with the memory of his family and the titular country’s troubled history. • Aislinn Hunter’s 2002 debut novel, Stay, got a boost last fall when the film adaptation, starring Aidan Quinn, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. Hunter is back this season with her long-awaited follow-up. The World Before Us (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., May) is about a woman with a tragic past who is researching the history of a woman who disappeared from a Victorian asylum 125 years previously.

Trevor Ferguson is the acclaimed author of novels such as Onyx John, The Kinkajou and, under the pseudonym John Farrow, the genre mysteries City of Ice, Ice Lake, and River City. Ferguson’s new novel focuses on a conflict between the townspeople of Wakefield, Quebec, who want to preserve the covered bridge across the river, and the loggers who want it torn down. The River Burns ($29.99 cl., Feb.) is published by Simon & Schuster Canada. • The new novel from Jonathan Bennett recasts the story of Paris and Helen in the context of a 21st-century city besieged by civil war. ECW will publish The Colonial Hotel ($22.95 pa.) in May. • Richard Wagamese’s previous novel, Indian Horse, was a finalist for the 2012 edition of Canada Reads and won the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literature. His follow-up, Medicine Walk (M&S, $29.95 cl., April), is about Franklin Starlight, a 16-year-old who travels with his dying father into the mountains so that the older man can be buried according to traditional Ojibwa custom.

The second most famous writer to come out of Wingham, Ontario, Andrew Kaufman follows up his 2013 novel Born Weird with the first Canadian publication of a book that has previously been available only in the U.K. The Tiny Wife (Cormorant Books, $18 pa., May) tells the story of a bank robber with a very particular M.O.: instead of stealing money, he steals an item of sentimental value from each of his victims. • Nora Gold won a Canadian Jewish Book Award for her first collection, Marrow and Other Stories. Her debut novel, Fields of Exile (Dundurn Press, $19.99 pa., April), addresses the political hot potato of anti-Semitism and attitudes toward Israel in academia. When graduate student Judith protests the presence of an Anti-Oppression Day speaker who supports terrorism, she finds herself the target of attacks from faculty and peers at the university.

A native of Barbados who immigrated to Canada in 1978, Cecil Foster has worked as a reporter for The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Financial Post. The author’s first novel in almost a dozen years is set in 1966 Barbados, and features two childhood friends who encounter conflict when a Canadian benefactor returns and lavishes attention on one of them. Independence ($29.99 cl.) is due from HarperCollins Canada in January. • A novelist, critic, and teacher at the University of British Columbia, Brett Josef Grubisic was nominated for the City of Vancouver Book Prize for his debut novel, The Age of Cities. His new novel, The Location of Unknown Possibilities (Now or Never Publishing, $19.95 pa., April), features an English professor named Marta Spëk who agrees to spend a week in the Okanagan Valley acting as a consultant on an ill-fated, low budget, made-in-Canada biopic.

Brian Payton’s second novel takes as its backdrop the only Second World War battle fought on American soil. The Wind Is Not a River (Patrick Crean Editions, $29.99 cl., Jan.) follows the parallel stories of a man who is shot down over the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and his wife who is determined to find him. • The second book in Nadia Bozak’s Border trilogy (which also includes the previous volume Orphan Love and the forthcoming english.motion) is a desert island survival story. El Niño (Anansi, $22.95 pa.) ships in May.

A native of Stirling, Scotland, Sean Michaels grew up in Ottawa and now lives in Montreal. His debut novel, Us Conductors (Random House Canada, $22.95 pa., April), about the Russian spy Lev Termen – who also invented the Theremin – is the only Random House New Face of Fiction entry for spring. • A psychiatrist obsessed with the work of Sigmund Freud uncovers a cache of letters from Nobel laureates about the possible origins of Stonehenge, and traces them back to a codicil in Alfred Nobel’s will that provides for an additional prize to whichever laureate successfully solves the mystery of the structure’s construction. Harry Karlinsky’s intriguing new novel, The Stonehenge Letters (Coach House, $17.95 pa.), appears in April.

Erotic novels keep on coming in 2014. The latest is Claudine (Penguin Canada, $18 pa., May), about a Yale post-grad doing work in the field of erotic literature who moonlights as the eponymous courtesan offering role play to her high-end clients. The name on the book’s cover, Barbara Palmer, is the pseudonym for a best-selling Canadian author. • The alcoholic twin sister of a born-again priest who heads an ad hoc cult peopled by drug addicts and vagrants struggles to find balance between the ferocious, dogmatic faith she has been brought up with and her own personal integrity in Jane Woods’ debut novel, The Walking Tanteek (Goose Lane Editions, $19.95 pa., March). • Montreal’s Guillaume Morissette is the author of the quirky 2012 story collection I Am My Own Betrayal. He is back this season with a novel about a 26-year-old video-game designer facing a quarter-life crisis. Will he be able to reboot his life, or will it crash? New Tab (Véhicule Press, $19.95 pa.) is out in March.

Q&Q’s spring preview covers books published between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2014. • All information (titles, prices, publication dates, etc.) was supplied by publishers and may have been tentative at Q&Q’s press time. • Titles that have been listed in previous previews do not appear here.

This feature appeared in the January/February 2o14 issue of Q&Q.


Former Giller judge Gary Shteyngart claims Canadian writers don’t take risks

Since opening its doors to international jurors, the Scotiabank Giller Prize has found itself the subject of some controversy. British writer and critic Victoria Glendinning, who served on the jury in 2009, caused a stir when she claimed that many Canadian writers occupy a “muddy middle ground” and spend much of their time “brooding on Muskoka chairs.” Worse, Glendinning went after the sacred cow of CanLit: the government grants system. “It seems in Canada that you only have to write a novel to get grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and from your provincial Arts Council,” Glendinning wrote.

Now a second erstwhile Giller juror, this one a Yank, has made similar comments. The Toronto Star points to an interview 2012 Giller juror Gary Shteyngart gave to, in which he claims that Canada’s system of government grants results in a literary culture that takes no risks.

Here’s the relevant section from the (much broader-ranging) Vulture interview (which also included author Chang-rae Lee):

NY: What do you think, then — should [literature] be subsidized?

GS: Let me say this. I was the judge of a Canadian prize, and it’s subsidized, they all get grants. Out of a million entries, we found four or five really good ones, but people just don’t take the same damn risks! Maybe they want to please the Ontario Arts Council, or whatever it is. Now, I’m as leftist as can be –

NY: No, you’re not.

The response to Shteyngart’s remarks was predictably swift and heated. The Star quotes Dorris Heffron, chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada, who calls Shteyngart’s comments “ignorant,” and highlights the CBC Television adaptation of Terry Fallis’s Best Laid Plans as evidence that Canadian writing is not “boring or lousy.”

Heffron also points to the fact that Alice Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize, something Lynn Coady, winner of the 2013 Giller, echoes. “Guys [we are] the nation of Alice Munro. Let’s thicken our skins,” Coady says. Elsewhere, Coady addresses, in typically direct and acerbic fashion, the notion that all Canadian writers get grants: “Mr. Shteyngart has no idea of the beer-sodden hours that have been whiled away here in Canada by writers bemoaning the inscrutable tastes of our funding bodies.”

For his part, Shteyngart seems to be retreating from his initial comments, joking in a tweet to The Globe and Mail that he was “in a drunken stupor” when he made them.

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Books of the year 2013: Review editor Steven W. Beattie makes his picks

For CanLit aficionados, 2013 has been an embarrassment of riches. Major new works from Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Colin McAdam, Wayne Johnston, Douglas Coupland, Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore, Michael Winter, and Eleanor Catton abutted strong new titles from the likes of Craig Davidson, Elizabeth Ruth, Nicole Lundrigan, Shaena Lambert, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Michael Crummey, Sara Peters, Kelli Deeth, Andrew F. Sullivan, and Douglas Glover. A reader could suffer whiplash bouncing from one book to the next.

Alice Munro won the Nobel and Lynn Coady took the Giller, signalling (hopefully) a renewed interest in the Canadian short story. Elsewhere, maximalism was back in a big way (see what I did there?). In addition to Catton’s 850-page sophomore novel, The Luminaries (the longest novel ever to nab the coveted Man Booker Prize), there were hefty entries from Kenneth Bonert (whose debut, The Lion Seeker, was one of the most overlooked novels of the year, its GG nomination notwithstanding) and Norm Sibum (whose decidedly ambitious monolith, The Traymore Rooms, was iconoclastic and absorbing, if not altogether successful).

Narrowing down my favourites to a clutch of five was extraordinarily difficult, and the books on this list could easily have been substituted for any number of those alluded to above. Once again, I haven’t read everything published this year, so this is not a list of best books, but a highly personal selection of five titles that made an impact on me as a reader over the past 12 months.


Academic calls Eleanor Catton’s Governor General’s win “a literary scandal”

When Eleanor Catton won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction earlier this week, she said that the winning book, an 850-page tome about the disappearance of a wealthy man during one of New Zealand’s gold rushes in the 1800s, was, to her, not a nationalistic novel. Calling The Luminaries a New Zealand novel, Catton suggested, “feels as uncomfortable to me as calling it women’s fiction.”

Thomas Hodd, an assistant professor of Canadian literature at the Université de Moncton, has equal difficulty calling Catton’s sophomore novel a work of Canadian fiction. Writing in the Toronto Star, Hodd claims that awarding the GG to Catton is a “scandal,” because the author has not resided in the country since she was six years old. The eligibility rules for the GGs stipulate only that a person must be a citizen of Canada to qualify for consideration; they say nothing about residency.

In language that is direct and, frankly, somewhat overheated, Hodd suggests that awarding the prize to someone who has lived outside Canada’s borders for all of her adult life does nothing less than threaten the foundations of our national literature:

[W]hen it comes to Canadian literature, the educational and major cultural institutions of this country simply don‘t care if our writers live here, work here, or create here.

Don’t believe me?

How else can we explain that the majority of our provincial book awards include residency in their eligibility criterion while the Giller, the GGLAs, and the Griffin Poetry Prize do not? How else can we explain the dearth of Canadian literature taught in our schools? How else can we explain Jean Baird’s needing several years of lobbying and a large petition of signatures to get the government of British Columbia to make Canadian literature a mandatory course for students graduating from high school – and that the majority of our provinces are still without such legislation?

Hodd goes on to point out that Sandra Djwa, who won the GG for English-language non-fiction for her biography of P.K. Page, A Journey with No Maps, said in her acceptance speech that she had difficulty finding a publisher for the book. “I’m sure if Catton ever writes a biography of a U.S. or Australian writer,” Hodd quips, “she’ll have no trouble finding a publisher in this country.”

This is the second time in three years that a non-resident has won the English-language fiction GG: Patrick DeWitt, who lives in Portland, Oregon, took home the prize in 2011 for his second novel, The Sisters Brothers. Then again, few people complained when Mavis Gallant won the GG for Home Truths in 1981 (the same year she was invested into the Order of Canada), even though she has lived in Paris for more than 50 years. And few complained in 1995 when Carol Shields won the U.S. Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Stone Diaries.

It is also worth noting that Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries; beginning in 2014, that prize will be open to all works of fiction published in the U.K. regardless of where the author was born (previously, the prize was only open to authors from the U.K., the Commonwealth, and Ireland). Booker winner Julian Barnes, quoted in The Telegraph, decries that change on nationalistic grounds: “There’s a certain cultural cringe in this country to the big American books and I fear that British writers will win it much less often.” Perhaps Barnes and Hodd should get together for a cup of tea and a chat.

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Ian Hamilton and Anansi to offer Ava Lee origin story as free ebook

Ian Hamilton, author of the best-selling Ava Lee and Uncle series of mysteries, is giving his many fans an unexpected early holiday gift: a novella that tells the story of how Ava and Uncle met, which will be offered as a free ebook by Hamilton’s publisher, House of Anansi Press.

According to a guest blog post on his publisher’s website, Hamilton got the idea to write the story after an encounter with a fan at Word on the Street in Kitchener, Ontario. The man asked if Hamilton had ever considered writing a prequel to The Water Rat of Wanchai, the first book in the Ava Lee series, telling readers how the popular forensic accountant turned crime fighter first met her shadowy mentor, known in the books only as “Uncle.”

In the winter of 2012–2013, as I was finishing the edits to The Scottish Banker of Surabaya and writing The Two Sisters of Borneo, I found myself distracted by thoughts about Ava’s early life. She was in her mid-twenties, just out of school, living in a tiny apartment in Richmond Hill, and struggling to establish her career. Then dialogue began to pop into my head as I was driving or lying in bed. Uncle and Ava were speaking to each other for the very first time. It was their initial meeting and conversation, and they were feeling each other out, tip-toeing towards the formation of a partnership.

The ebook original, titled The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, will be made available in four parts for a limited time, with the first instalment appearing on Nov. 19. Readers can sign up to receive the serialized novella via Anansi’s website.

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Best-selling thriller writer Tom Clancy dead at 66

Although details are scarce, various sources are reporting that Tom Clancy, best-selling author of books such as The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears has died. According to the National Post, no cause of death has been given. Clancy was 66 years old.

Widely touted as the leading practitioner of the so-called technothriller, Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels were perennial bestsellers in the 1980s and ’90s, and spawned a number of hit movies. Alec Baldwin played Ryan in the 1990 adaptation of The Hunt for Red October; Harrison Ford took over the role in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger; and Ben Affleck stepped in for The Sum of All Fears.

Clancy may be better known to a younger generation for lending his name to several popular video game series, such as Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell.

From the CBC:

In the mid-1990s, he helped found Red Storm Entertainment, which released games — some based on his books, others on original ideas. Red Storm was later purchased by gaming giant Ubisoft, which continues to create games under the Clancy moniker.

“We are saddened to learn of Tom Clancy’s passing and our condolences go out to his family. Tom Clancy was an extraordinary author with a gift for creating detailed, engrossing fictional stories that captivated audiences around the world,” Ubisoft said in a statement.

The Ceeb also points out that (perhaps unsurprisingly) former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was a fan of Clancy’s fiction.

Clancy’s books were so rich in technical detail that many people assumed he had a background in covert operations or the military, although apparently this was not the case. Born in Baltimore, he worked in insurance before turning to writing.


TWUC protests UBC’s claim of cost reductions in student course packs

The Writers’ Union of Canada has issued a blistering riposte to the University of British Columbia, resulting from the latter’s claim that the cost of student course packs has been reduced by up to 33 per cent. In a broadcast e-mail sent on Sept. 11 and addressed to UBC faculty and staff, the university claims that it has achieved significant cost savings in the area of student materials created and sold through the UBC Bookstore.

From the UBC e-mail:

Price reductions have been made possible by:

1. Use of Digital Subscription Licences. A significant portion of the material used in course packs can be accessed through digital subscription licences.

2. Reliance upon Fair Dealing. In 2012, the Copyright Act was modernized and the Supreme Court of Canada issued several landmark rulings about the scope of fair dealing. The result is an expanded role for fair dealing in the production of course packs.

3. Avoiding Onerous Blanket Licencing Terms. When UBC’s licence expired, Access Copyright proposed dramatically increased fees and unacceptable terms including surveillance of student and faculty activity. UBC concluded that, within this context, proceeding on terms dictated by Access Copyright would not provide sufficient value for students.

TWUC chair Dorris Heffron today sent a letter to UBC president Dr. Stephen J. Toope, arguing that the savings the university is claiming come on the backs of writers who are not being paid for the use of their work. Heffron writes:

Guidelines claiming 10% of a book, entire short stories, entire chapters, etc. as fair dealing are not supported by established law in Canada, nor are they likely ever to be. Canadian writers and publishers, through our common copyright collective, are right now involved in legal action aimed at confirming such extensive uses are unfair to the cultural creators on whom institutions like yours depend for so much quality educational content.

She goes on to express dismay that a university boasting one of the country’s most prestigious MFA programs for creative writers should take what TWUC characterizes as a cavalier attitude to those writers’ livelihoods:

There is a terrible irony in a university like UBC, one with such an illustrious history of preparing creative writers for careers in the arts, claiming costs savings on the backs of Canada’s writers – a group who can ill-afford to lose any income sources. The Writers’ Union of Canada considers such unauthorized and uncompensated use of our members’ work to be expropriation of the property of some of Canada’s lowest paid professionals by some of Canada’s highest paid professionals. There is nothing fair about that scenario.

As of this writing, there has been no official response from UBC.

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Giller jury to speak publicly for the first time in the prize’s history

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, currently the country’s richest prize for fiction. To mark the occasion, the Giller administration is making some changes, including one that will likely come as a welcome surprise to many people.

One significant change involves the announcement of the longlist, which will take place this year in a location outside Toronto. The longlist will be revealed on Sept. 16 at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. Co-hosted by the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival and the UBC Creative Writing Program, this year’s event “underscores the wealth of talent fostered by creative writing programs across the country,” according to a press release.

But the big news is that for the first time in Giller history (or in the history of any major Canadian literary prize, for that matter), the Giller jury – composed of novelists Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem – will appear at a public event to discuss their process in deciding on the longlist. The event, called “Behind the Curtain,” will be hosted by CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, and will take place on Oct. 7 at the Manulife Centre Indigo in Toronto.

The Giller jury will announce the shortlist on Oct. 8 and crown the eventual winner at a gala on Nov. 5. Both events will occur in Toronto.

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