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Shelagh Rogers’ multimedia Northwords project brings city-dwelling authors out of their comfort zone
Led by CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers, five urban Canadian authors spent a week writing and observing life in Northern Labrador. Northwords, a documentary that captures their experiences, is screening at IFOA, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. The film will make its television debut Oct. 25, 10 p.m. ET on CBC’s documentary channel, and the radio documentary is available here.
This article appears in the November issue of Q&Q.
Many authors find the familiarity of daily rituals a necessary part of their practice. Take away the comforts of home, and the writing process can become even more of a challenge.
“I think that writers can be quite obsessive about their routines,” says Toronto’s Alissa York, author of three novels including 2010’s Fauna (Random House Canada). “Sometimes [with] travel that you don’t necessarily plan for, or that’s outside of what you normally do, you think, ‘How am I going to fit that with my life?’”
York posed herself that question when she was approached to participate in Northwords, a multimedia project instigated by CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers, host of The Next Chapter.
In August 2011, Rogers invited five writers – York, Sarah Leavitt, Noah Richler, Joseph Boyden, and Rabindranath Maharaj – to join her on an expedition to Torngat Mountains National Park in Northern Labrador. For one week, the authors traded the coziness of their homes and offices for tents and vast, rugged landscapes lashed by inclement weather. They participated in helicopter rides, interacted with Inuit elders, and witnessed caribou hunts and polar bears.
Adding to the sense of disruption was the fact that Rogers brought along a film crew, which captured the writers’ reactions to their unfamiliar surroundings. The resulting Northwords documentary, which airs Oct. 25 on CBC TV and had its premiere screening at the Eden Mills Literary Festival, won the best documentary prize at the Banff International Pilots Competition. Accompanying the film is an interactive website, an ebook published by House of Anansi Press, and an episode of The Next Chapter.
For York, the Northwords project changed the way she looks at Canada’s North.
“I’m looking at it as wilderness, and right beside me there’s someone looking at it thinking, ‘I grew up here,’” says York, referring to an Inuit elder who guided the writers through an ancestral village from which her people had been forcibly evacuated. “It’s just a question of shifting away from where we’re told the centre of life is and understanding that there [are] as many centres as there are lives.”
Maharaj, who lives in the Toronto suburb of Ajax, Ontario, was likewise moved by his Northern experience. The Trinidad-born author of the Trillium Book Award–winning novel The Amazing Absorbing Boy (Knopf Canada) recalls studying the geography of Northern Canada in his youth and being motivated to visit a place he’d only encountered in books.
“There was that kind of romantic idea of seeing things that I’d heard about or read about in the distant past,” says Maharaj. “There are some places that are so different from your own experience in every single way that it takes a while to process that, and sometimes the true significance and importance [comes] gradually, rather than some grand moment of clarity while you’re at the place.”
Leavitt, an artist and author of the graphic novel Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me (Freehand Books), felt a sense of reverence not just for the landscape and its people, but for the seasoned, well-known writers whose company she kept.
“I had one book and some shorter publications, but those guys all have multiple books and they have much higher profiles than I do,” says Leavitt, who credits the experience with boosting her confidence as a writer. “It was intimidating, but they’re all just really, really nice people. Just meeting people who are so dedicated to their writing and working on their craft was inspiring.”
While in Torngat, the five authors were required to write original stories and read them out loud to the group. Leavitt produced a series of illustrated, one-page vignettes. Maharaj’s short story followed his Absorbing Boy protagonist on a new adventure, while York’s story was spurred by thoughts of her brother. Richler riffed on the daunting waiver the writers were asked to sign before embarking on the trip, and Boyden wrote from the point of view of a polar bear.
The stories are included in the Northwords ebook, the first publication produced by Anansi’s new digital division. According to president and publisher Sarah MacLachlan, the stories, available as a collection or as digital singles, put an exclamation point on the project.
“I think if you go to the interactive [website] or you watch the movie, you get an idea of each of these writers and their response to the North, but the fun is in reading what they actually wrote all the way through,” she says.
Though he thinks the stories are all unique, Maharaj identifies a common element throughout his fellow travellers’ work. “What we wrote reflected that sense of uncertainty,” he says. “That sense of awe, that sense … of being in a place that may possess secrets or answers.”
Chef Michael Smith, who has this week’s best-selling cookbook, is a relative newcomer compared to Jean Paré, whose classic Company’s Coming series appears on the list five times.
For the two weeks ending Sept. 30:
2. The Looneyspoons Collection, Janet and Greta Podleski
(Granet Publishing, $34.95 pa, 9780968063156)
3. Canadian Living: 150 Essential Whole Grain Recipes
(Transcontinental Books, $29.95 pa, 9780987747426)
4. The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook, Mairlyn Smith
(Whitecap Books, $30 pa, 9781770500976)
5. Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics: Everyday Recipes for Family and Friends, Rob Feenie
(Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95 pa, 9781553658733)
6. Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming
(Whitecap, $29.95 pa, 9781552859940)
7. The Soup Sisters Cookbook, Sharon Hapton and Pierre A. Lamielle
(Appetite by Random House, $22.95 pa, 9780449015599)
8. The Book of Kale: The Easy-to-Grow Superfood, Sharon Hanna
(Harbour Publishing, $26.95 pa, 9781550175769)
9. The Chew: Cooking, Entertainment, and Style
(Hyperion/HarperCollins, $21.99 pa, 9781401311063)
10. Simple Dinners, Donna Hay
(HarperCollins, $34.99 pa, 9781443416559)
11. Most Loved Slow Cooker and Soup Recipes, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $29.99 cl, 9781927126288)
12. 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Recipes, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $16.99 spiral bound, 9781897477069)
13. Healthy Slow Cooker, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $16.99 spiral bound, 9781897477434)
14. Canadian Living: The One-Dish Collection
(Transcontinental, $26.95 pa, 9780981393896)
15. The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook
(America’s Test Kitchen, $37.95 spiral bound, 9781933615998)
16. Adding Vegetables, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $16.99 spiral bound, 9781927126271)
17. Canadian Living: The Slow Cooker Collection, Elizabeth Baird
(Transcontinental Books, $22.95 pa, 9780980992458)
18. Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen, Michael Smith
(Penguin Canada, $32 pa, 9780143177630)
19. Mostly Muffins, Jean Paré
(Company’s Coming, $16.99 spiral bound, 9781897069035)
20. Illustrated Step-by-Step Baking, Caroline Bretherton
(Dorling Kindersley/Tourmaline, $39 cl, 9780756686796)
This morning, author Emily Pohl-Weary sent off a draft of her new manuscript, a YA novel titled Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl (to be published by Penguin Canada imprint Razorbill in 2013), just in time to talk with Quillblog about Impossible Words, a new reading series hosted by Toronto’s Academy of the Impossible.
The series, a bi-weekly, salon-style event, puts established writers on stage with emerging talents from Pohl-Weary’s youth writing group, the Toronto Street Writers. The 16-date series kicks off with George Elliott Clarke on Sept. 8, followed by Mariko Tamaki (Sept. 22), Krystyn Dunnion and Anand Mahadevan (Oct. 13), and Hiromi Goto (Oct. 27).
Why did you decide to start a reading series?
I get a lot of energy out of the Toronto Street Writers, so I thought bringing their enthusiasm and desire to learn about all aspects of the literary world and authors would make for really interesting conversations on stage. They’re not afraid to ask questions like, “How do you make a living?” “Why do you write?” “What does it mean to be a black man in a largely white literary community?”
There’s a formality to a lot of literary readings and events. When you bring youth into the mix who are curious and dying to learn, they break down those walls that make us feel removed from the discussion.
What is the Toronto Street Writers?
Toronto Street Writers is a free weekly writing group for young adults between the ages of 16 and 29. We meet every Tuesday, from the end of October to June, at the Academy of the Impossible to try our hands at writing all different kinds of genres. We bring in professional writers and artists to teach their craft to the youth and create a mentorship situation.
How did the group get started?
It started in 2008, in Parkdale, the neighbourhood where I grew up, in response to a very violent summer. I was looking around at my younger siblings and their friends, and then seeing that some of the boys in the neighbourhood couldn’t read. It’s so hard to function in this society if you don’t have the ability to communicate.
We get 20 to 25 people a week, and at least one or two of them are new.
How did you select the authors for this series?
When we applied for funding from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, the Academy’s operations manager, Irfan Ali – he is the driving force who made this series happen – and I brainstormed as many different writers as we could. We wanted a range of people who work in different styles and genres, and have different cultural backgrounds and interests and come from different parts of the country.
How does the series tie into Academy’s mandate?
At the Academy, we’re always looking to put the power into the audience’s hands – people who don’t traditionally have power. In this case, we’re telling the youth, “You are interviewing this established author, you have the ability to lead the conversation. You must read their work and prepare for the discussion, and you’re going up on stage with them.”
It’s an opportunity for them to shine, and I think they will. In situations where they are respected and supported, they always do wonderful things.
Canadians can celebrate the fusion of fiction and poetry with history, science, and other art forms at events across the country this weekend, featured on Q&Q’s events calendar:
Experience 1912 – from vaudeville to horse-and-buggie rides – at the Sunshine City Festival from Aug. 17–19 in Orillia, Ontario. The city will commemorate the 100th anniversary of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town at Couchiching Beach Park.
Speaking of sunshine, Canada’s longest-running summer literary gathering, the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, takes place Aug. 16–19 in Sechelt, B.C. This year, the festival plays host to the world premiere of Northwords, a documentary about a literary expedition through Northern Labrador. Camilla Gibb, Ami McKay, and Douglas Gibson are set to appear.
For those who like poetry against the backdrop of nature, Marlene Creates’ Boreal Poetry Garden event on Aug. 18 may be time well spent. The artist gives a tour of her home in Portugal Cove-St. Philips, Newfoundland – complete with readings of site-specific poems, commentary by geologist Paul Dean, and a performance by Don McKay. Pre-registration is required.
The People’s Poetry Festival launches in Calgary this weekend, and there’s no shortage of poetry, spoken word, visual arts, and various other workshops on the itinerary. The free event begins Aug. 17 and runs until Aug. 19.
Artists from the Italian-Canadian community will gather in Sarnia, Ontario for a Book and Biscotti event on Aug. 19. Drop in to the Dante Club for readings, music, and discussion about Italian-Canadian internment, featuring Jim Zucchero, Delia De Santis, Venera Fazio, Norma West Linder, James Deahl, Di Cocco, and Elena Feick.
The Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour makes several stops along the Grand River this weekend before coming to a halt on Aug. 19 at the Chiefswood Museum in Oshweken, Ontario. The closing ceremony features special guests Shelley Clark, Dawn, and Marra, who will help mark the end of a 10-day canoe tour comprised of poets Moez Surani, Kevin MacPherson Eckhoff, Leigh Kotsilidis, Linda Besner, and Darryl Whetter, and Toronto musician Jack Marks. Don’t miss out on the last chance to catch scheduled performances, outlined on the festival itinerary. Plus, check out Q&Q‘s events calendar for more of this weekend’s literary gatherings.
Want to add an event to Q&Q’s calendar? Send your literary event listings to Quill & Quire. Please include the event name, date, time, location, cost, and a brief description.
The season of high-profile literary awards and author festivals is on its way, and there’s no shortage of new releases from marquee names. In the July/August issue, Q&Q looks ahead at some of the fall’s biggest books.
In 2009, police discovered a car in the Rideau Canal just outside of Kingston, Ontario. The car contained the bodies of three sisters – Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti Shafia – and 50-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad. Authorities later arrested the girls’ father, brother, and mother, all of whom were convicted of first-degree murder for their roles in the honour killings. Paul Schliesmann’s Honour on Trial (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $19.95 pa., Oct.) examines the facts behind the case that horrified Canadians.
BUSINESS & FINANCE
He’s been a dragon in his den and gone to prison for his reality-television show, Redemption Inc. Now, Kevin O’Leary, businessman, pundit, and author of the hybrid memoir/business guide Cold Hard Truth, returns with The Cold Hard Truth about Men, Women and Money (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Dec.), a guide to avoiding common financial mistakes. • O’Leary’s left-leaning opponent on CBC’s The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, Amanda Lang, has a leadership book out this season. The Power of Why: Simple Questions that Lead to Success (HarperCollins Canada, $33.99 cl., Oct.) postulates that asking the right questions leads to increased productivity.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
From the internal combustion engine and cold fusion to the Internet and the artificial heart, all scientific discoveries and technological advancements are the product of human ingenuity. In the 2012 CBC Massey Lectures, Neil Turok argues that science represents humanity’s best hope for progress and peace. The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos (House of Anansi Press, $19.95 pa.) appears in September. • Terence Dickinson is editor of the Canadian astronomy magazine Sky News and author of the bestseller NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. His new book, Hubble’s Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Images (Firefly Books, $49.95 cl., Sept.), is a visually sumptuous compendium of images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
CULTURE & CRITICISM
Novelist and short-story writer Thomas King, who was also the first native person to deliver the prestigious CBC Massey Lectures, has long been a committed advocate for native rights. In The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Doubleday Canada, $34.95 cl., Nov.), King examines the way European settlers and natives have viewed each other via pop culture, treaties, and legislation. • Poet and critic Kathleen McConnell explores the portrayal of women in pop culture through the ages in Pain, Porn and Complicity: Women Heroes from Pygmalion to Twilight (Wolsak & Wynn, $19 pa., Nov.).
In A Civil Tongue, philosophy professor and public intellectual Mark Kingwell predicted the devolution of political discourse into a schoolyard-like shouting match. His new collection, Unruly Voices: Essays on Democracy, Civility, and the Human Imagination (Biblioasis, $21.95 pa., Sept.), is about how incivility and bad behaviour prevent us from achieving the kind of society we desire.
Poet, publisher, and critic Carmine Starnino turns his incisive and cutting attention to CanLit in his new collection of essays, Lazy Bastardism (Gaspereau Press, Sept.). • James Pollock believes that Canadian poetry lacks an authentic relationship with poetry from the rest of the world. His new book, You Are Here: Essays on the Art of Poetry in Canada (The Porcupine’s Quill, $22.95 pa., Nov.), attempts to situate Canadian poetry in a global context, through examinations of the work of writers such as Anne Carson, Eric Ormsby, and Karen Solie.
A new anthology from Women’s Press brings together essays addressing specific concerns of LGBT communities and individuals across the country. Edited by Maureen FitzGerald and Scott Rayter, Queerly Canadian: An Introductory Reader in Sexuality Studies ($64.95 pa., Sept.) takes up issues of education, law, and religion, among others. • For a brief moment in the 1960s, Montreal became a hotbed of Civil Rights activism, radically challenging traditional conceptions of racial hierarchies. The 1968 Congress of Black Writers included activists and spokespeople such as Stokely Carmichael, C.L.R. James, and Harry Edwards. David Austin chronicles this important gathering in Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal (Between the Lines, $24.95 pa., Nov.).
Belles Lettres (McArthur & Company, $29.95 pa., Nov.) is a collection of postcards from authors such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, and Charlotte Brontë, collated and annotated by Greg Gatenby, the founding artistic director of Toronto’s International
Festival of Authors. • In The Other Side of Midnight: Taxi Cab Stories (Creative Book Publishing, $19.95 pa., Oct.), writer and anthologist Mike Heffernan chronicles the experiences of St. John’s cab drivers and their clients.
In the years following Liz Worth’s Treat Me Like Dirt, the market for books about the Canadian punk music scene has been as frenzied as the audience at a Fucked Up concert. In Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, (ECW, $22.95 pa., Oct.), Sam Sutherland looks at the historical context for Canadian punk progenitors such as D.O.A., the Viletones, and Teenage Head. • One early Canadian punk band – Victoria’s NoMeansNo – is the subject of the latest book in the Bibliophonic series from Invisible Publishing. NoMeansNo: Going Nowhere ($12.95 pa.), by Halifax author Mark Black, is due out in October.
Marc Strange, who died in May, was known for mystery novels such as Body Blows and Follow Me Down. He was also the co-creator (with L.S. Strange) of the seminal Canadian television series The Beachcombers. Bruno and the Beach: The Beachcombers at 40 (Harbour Publishing, $26.95 pa., Sept.), co-written with Jackson Davies, the actor who played Constable John Constable in the series, chronicles the iconic show and its equally iconic lead actor.
Since its release in 1971, Ken Russell’s notoriously blasphemous film, The Devils, has been the subject of heavy censorship in both the U.S. and the U.K. Canadian film scholar Richard Crouse examines the history of this cult classic in Raising Hell: Ken Russell and the Unmaking of The Devils (ECW, $19.95 pa., Oct.), which includes an interview with the film’s director, who died in 2011.
Former model and current stay-at-home mom Kelly Oxford has found her largest measure of fame as a result of her sarcastic Twitter feed (@kellyoxford), which features such Oscar Wildean witticisms as “IDEA: ‘Bless This Mess’ novelty period panties” and “Some parents in China get their kids to work in factories and I can’t get my kid to pass me some Twizzlers.” The essays in Everything’s Perfect When You’re a Liar (HarperCollins Canada, $24.99 cl., Sept.) promise more of the same. • If you prefer your humour with a larger dollop of political satire, you’ll be pleased to know that Rick Mercer has a collection of brand new rants on the way. A Nation Worth Ranting About (Doubleday Canada, $29.95 cl., Oct.) includes the author’s description of bungee jumping with Rick Hansen, and a more serious piece about Jamie Hubley, a gay teen who committed suicide after being bullied.
If you want to know whether you might be a redneck, ask Jeff Foxworthy. If you want to know whether you might be a native of Saskatchewan, check your birth certificate or consult the new book from author Carson Demmans and illustrator Jason Sylvestre. You Might Be from Saskatchewan If … (MacIntyre Purcell/Canadian Manda Group, $12.95 pa.) appears in September.
FOOD & DRINK
Rob Feenie is the latest Food Network Canada celebrity chef with a new cookbook. The host of New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie, who famously defeated Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef America, offers innovative approaches to classic, family-friendly fare in Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics: Everyday Recipes for Family and Friends (D&M, $29.95 pa., Sept.). The recipes have undergone stringent quality control, each one having been approved by Feenie’s children, aged 3, 6, and 7.
Camilla V. Saulsbury’s 500 Best Quinoa Recipes: Using Nature’s Superfood for Gluten-free Breakfasts, Mains, Desserts and More (Robert Rose, $27.95 pa., Oct.) provides more healthy recipes based on the reigning superstar ingredient. • Aaron Ash, founder of Gorilla Food, a Vancouver restaurant that features vegan, organic, and raw cuisine, has achieved popularity among celebrity fans including Woody Harrelson and Katie Holmes. His new book, Gorilla Food: Living and Eating Organic, Vegan, and Raw (Arsenal Pulp, $24.95 pa., Oct.), collects 150 recipes, all of which are made without a heat source.
Rocker Dave Bidini returns to his other passion – hockey – in A Wild Stab for It: This Is Game Eight from Russia (ECW, $22.95 cl., Sept.), in which the author talks to various Canadians about the influence of the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series. The release of the book is timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the iconic series. • The man who made that series so memorable also has a book out this fall. Co-written with sports commentator Roger Lajoie, The Goal of My Life (Fenn/M&S, $32.99 cl., Sept.) traces Paul Henderson’s route through the OHL and the NHL, on his way to scoring “the goal of the century.”
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, ex–CFL quarterback and coach Frank Cosentino has penned the appropriately titled The Grey Cup 100th Anniversary (McArthur & Company, $29.95 pa., Oct.). • Crime fiction writer Michael Januska offers his own take on 100 years of Canadian football history in Grey Cup Century (Dundurn, $14.99 pa., Sept.).
Q&Q’s fall preview covers books published between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2012. • 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.
For the third year in a row, Linda Besner and Leigh Kotsilidis will lead a group of poets and one musician on a canoe tour down the Grand River in Southwestern Ontario. The lineup for this year’s Fish Quill Poetry Boat Tour includes Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, Moez Surani, Darryl Whetter, and singer-songwriter Jack Marks.
The 10-day, three-canoe author tour launches on Aug. 9 in Toronto, with readings scheduled in Elora, West Montrose, Bridgeport, Cambridge, Paris, Brantford, and Ohsweken, plus a campfire poetry night at Brant Conservation Area.
Besner spoke with Quillblog about the challenges and rewards of marrying poetry with paddling.
What can people expect from your tour?
The towns we’ve chosen to go through often don’t get a lot of [author] tours going through. Like West Montrose, where we’ll read next to Kissing Bridge, the only remaining covered bridge in Ontario.
Because we’re coming by canoe there’s a kind of informal air to the proceedings. Once you get up there in your canoeing clothes and you’re sunburnt and mosquito-bitten, you’ve been paddling through people’s back yards, we’ve already got something to talk about with [the audience].
The people who come out for it aren’t always necessarily the kind of people who come to poetry readings. But because somebody is making the effort to come to them, and doing it in a way that has a connection to the place, people come out.
People come and talk to us after. Last year, this woman came up with her daughter and husband. She told us she had had a boyfriend who wrote her this poem. “I still have it memorized. Do you want to hear it?” she said. And of course I did want to hear this poem. She recited it by heart. Her daughter was like, “Mom, you never told me this story.” Her mom said, “Well, it never came up.”
What’s different this time around?
Last year, most people knew at least one other person on the trip well.
This year there are a couple of people I haven’t met at all – Darryl Whetter is coming up from Nova Scotia, and I haven’t met Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, or Jack Marks.
How did the trip go last year? Can you describe what it was like for you?
The organizing had been so stressful that I was actually surprised and pleased by how smoothly everything wound up going. Once you’re out on the water, once everybody’s together, I feel like it really brings out people’s teamwork skills. Everybody was nice to each other and took care of each other. On that river, because it’s so shallow and rocky, the person in front really has to call to the person in back to tell them what to do to find a channel through the rocks that won’t tip you.
For a lot of us, because we live in the city, it’s not often that we’re able to be out in the country for so long and spend days on the river. You spend day after day in the canoe and then when you’re going to sleep, you have this hallucinatory sense that you’re still moving from side to side and following the bends of the river. It really gets a physical grip on you.
What are some of the highlights of paddling through a community rather than embarking on a more traditional tour?
We link up with a lot of local organizations and try to incorporate local talent. We invite guest performers to join us at each location. Last year, we had Shelley Clark from the Six Nations of the Grand River community read with us, and she’ll read again this year.
One of the coolest places we’ll be going back to this year is our final stop at Chiefswood National Historic Site, which is the birth place of E. Pauline Johnson. She was sort of the first Mohawk poet in Canada to be taken seriously. Her house is still standing [as a museum] in the Six Nations’ territory. Going out there, learning about its history, getting to know the curator and the volunteers is amazing. You really do see how vibrant the culture is.
What kind of fundraising have you undertaken to cover the trip?
We do this trip on such a shoestring budget. We grocery shop and cook [at camp] as a group. We have gotten all of our camping sponsored by the Grand River Conservation Authority, which manages the campsites we’ll be staying on.
We have another really wonderful sponsor, Treks in the Wild. They’re a canoe company in Paris, Ontario, and they’re really who make this trip possible. They lend us the canoes and waterproof barrels for our merch for free, they shuttle us around, they come and get us when our campsite is too far from our reading venue for us to walk.
We’ve also been given some funding from our publishers: Véhicule Press, Coach House Books, Wolsak & Wynn, Palimpsest Press, and Brick Books.
It’s fair to say that Harlequin, the world’s leading romance publisher, has also been at the forefront of digital publishing, at least among mainstream publishers with a substantial print legacy. The Toronto-based company (it’s owned by Torstar and has offices in North York as well as New York City) was among the first to launch a digital-only imprint, and it has proven adept at experimenting with new technologies.
However, Harlequin’s reputation as a digital pioneer may be tainted. As first reported by Publishers Lunch (subscription only), the publisher is the target of a class action lawsuit alleging that it has been underpaying authors on digital royalties. The lawsuit alleges that Harlequin used a pair of Swiss-registered companies it controlled to pay authors only a fraction of the digital royalties they were owed.
According to the initial complaint (which can be read in its entirety at HarlequinLawsuit.com), Harlequin authors are entitled to receive 50 per cent of net receipts for all digital sales. The problem is how “net receipts” is defined. The industry generally interprets the term as referring to the amount received by the publisher once the retailer has taken its cut (usually no more than 50 per cent).
The lawsuit alleges that Harlequin based its calculation on a much smaller sum, which the publisher was able to justify by interpreting “net receipts” as a licensing fee paid to its Swiss-based affiliate. The defendants argue that Harlequin’s Swiss arm (which was preceded by a Dutch company also registered in Switzerland for “tax purposes”) does not engage in any publishing activities and should not be used as the basis for calculating royalties.
The initial complaint breaks it down into dollars and cents. For an $8 ebook, authors should expect a royalty of at least $2 (in other words, half of the $4 Harlequin would receive from the retailer). In reality, authors received between $0.24 to $0.32 for every digital sale, or just 6–8 per cent of true net receipts.
The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York on behalf of three U.S.-based authors, Barbara Keiler (who writes under the pseudonym “Judith Arnold”), Mona Gay Thomas (“Gayle Wilson”), and Linda Barrett.
The initial complaint, which concerns publishing agreements entered into from 1990 to 2004, defines the class as about 1,000 Harlequin authors based in the U.S. and Canada (as well as other Commonwealth countries) whose contracts include the standard digital royalty of 50 per cent.
UPDATE: Harlequin released a brief statement Thursday afternoon in which it states, “The publisher wishes to make clear that this is the first it has heard of the proceedings and that a complaint has not yet been served.”
Publisher and CEO Donna Hayes gives the following statement: “Our authors have been recompensed fairly and properly for their work, and we will be defending ourselves vigorously.”
When U.K. publisher Continuum put out a call for its popular 33 1/3 music-essay series earlier this year, it received 471 submissions. Judging from that number, Toronto’s ECW Press will have no problems finding people who want to write for its new line of pop culture books.
Pop Classics will offer “intelligent but accessible arguments about why a particular pop phenomenon matters,” according to an ECW press release. Each title will run between 20,000 to 40,000 words, and can be about any TV show, book series, author, film, band, or video game – whatever subject “has you giving a well-intentioned Skinny Puppy CD to your grandma or Degrassi DVDs to your dad.”
Submission guidelines are available on the ECW website.
Innisfree, Alberta, has opened its first permanent public library. The 220 residents of the rural village now have access to free DVDs, CDs, e-readers, books (about 2,600 books have been catalogued so far, with another 1,000 on the way, the Vermilion Standard reports), and literacy programs.
The Innisfree Public Library, which occupies 1,400-square feet of the village’s community centre, has been in the works for the past four years, since the village became part of the Northern Lights Library System. In the year preceding its July 4th opening, the library board and volunteers had generated community interest by running the village’s first-ever youth summer reading program, hosting the Alberta Prairie Classroom on Wheels bus, and organizing a book swap and donation drive.
A first look at the season’s most anticipated books
Fiction: Susan Swan’s long-awaited prequel to The Wives of Bath; Alice Munro’s new collection; Matthew Tierney’s science-inspired poetry; and more
Non-fiction: Neil Young’s rock ’n’ roll memoir; Andrew Nikiforuk’s oil-industry polemic; Julie Devaney’s unique medical memoir; and more
Books for young people: Orca’s adventure series debut; Margaret Atwood’s latest alliterative picture book; Susan Juby’s dystopian vision; and more
International books: Chinua Achebe’s civil war memoir; Ian McEwan’s literary spy novel; Zadie Smith’s new fictional direction; and more
FROM THE EDITOR
For Literary Press Group: the good news came just in time
The delicate art of the author photo
How metadata improves online visibility
Emily Schultz’s blonde ambition
Northern retailer Chat Noir Books’ community-oriented approach
Snapshot: Black Bond Books co-owner Cathy Jesson
Cover to cover: Fran Kimmel’s The Shore Girl
Inside by Alix Ohlin
Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin
People Park by Pasha Malla
Gay Dwarves of America by Ann Fleming
Y by Marjorie Celona
Mr. Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book that Defined the “Special Relationship” by Peter Clarke
PLUS more fiction, non-fiction, and poetry
BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Uncle Wally’s Old Brown Shoe by Wallace Edwards
Old MacDonald Had Her Farm by JonArno Lawson; Tina Holdcroft, illus.
Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock
PLUS more fiction, non-fiction, and picture books
THE Q&Q/BOOKNET CANADA BESTSELLERS
THE LAST WORD Pasha Malla on why the most affecting literature thumbs its nose at the rules