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Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd find love in a bookstore

For years, romance filmmakers have been carrying on a love affair with bookstores. Quirky indie shops appear prominently in movies like Funny Face, Notting Hill, and You’ve Got Mail, which also makes them an easy target for satire.

Directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer), They Came Together is a new rom-com parody starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd as a next-generation Ryan and Hanks. Their chance meeting at New York City’s Strand Bookstore sets up lines like “Maybe you’d feel more comfortable in a corporate mega-bookstore chain like Brahms and Nerbles” and “Just because I work for a big corporation doesn’t mean I don’t like fiction books.”

BuzzFeed has a clip of the movie, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival. Watch it here.


Semi Chellas and Esta Spalding to co-write film adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life

Screenwriters Semi Chellas* and Esta Spalding are co-writing an adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s British wartime novel, Life After Life, for Lionsgate Entertainment.

The two writers, who are well-known in the Canadian television industry, have plenty of experience taking literature from print to screen. In 2003, Spalding, who is also a poet and novelist, adapted Barbara Gowdy’s Falling Angels for a feature film and co-wrote, along with director Deepa Mehta, a script for The Republic of Love, an adaptation of Carol Shields’ novel of the same name.

In 2008, Chellas, who was nominated for an Emmy Award for her writing on Mad Men, adapted Who Named the Knife, a book by Spalding’s mother, Linda, for a television movie. That year Chellas also directed Green Door, a short film written by Gowdy, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Chellas’s writing has also appeared in the literary journal Brick, for which both Spaldings are contributing editors.


Correction, Aug. 19: An earlier version of this post contained an incorrect spelling of Semi Chellas’s surname.

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Twelve lit-inspired films to watch for at TIFF

Blue is the Warmest Color

The Toronto International Film Festival has released the titles of 75 feature films that will appear as part of its September 5–15 lineup.

As in previous years, there are plenty of book adaptations and literary-inspired films. Based on the plot descriptions provided by TIFF, here are 12 to watch for:

The Art of the Steal: A motorcycle stuntman and art thief partners with his brother to steal one of the most valuable books in the world. Directed by Jonathan Sobol, and starring Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Kurt Russell, and Terence Stamp.

Kill Your Darlings: This is the “previously untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that would lead to their Beat Revolution.”

Life of Crime: Daniel Schechter’s closing-night film is based on the novel The Switch by Elmore Leonard, in which two 1970s Detroit criminals kidnap the wife of a corrupt real-estate developer. Starring John Hawkes, yasiin bey (Mos Def), Jennifer Aniston, and Tim Robbins.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela in this biopic based on the former South African president’s autobiography.

The Railway Man: An adaptation of Eric Lomax’s memoir The Railway Man, which recalls his time as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during the Second World War, and his relationship with an interpreter, whom he holds responsible for his ill treatment. Stars Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine, and Nicole Kidman.

The Right Kind of Wrong: A Canadian rom-com directed by Jeremiah Chechik, about a failed-writer-turned-dishwasher and “fearless dreamer who risks everything to show the girl of his dreams all that is right with the wrong guy.” Starring Ryan Kwanten, Sara Canning, and Catherine O’Hara.

Blue Is The Warmest Color: This French-language film, adapted from a graphic novel by Belgian artist Julie Maroh, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Look for an English-language adaptation of the book, to be published by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press, this fall.

The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza): Directed by Paolo Sorrentino, this Italian-language film is about a handsome, charming, but aging novelist who picks up a pen again after years of frustration.

The Invisible Woman: Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in this film about a mother and teacher (Felicity Jones), who is haunted by her past as a muse for Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his passion for the theatre.

Joe: David Gordon Green adapts Larry Brown’s novel Big Bad Love, casting Nicolas Cage as an ex-con who takes a hard-luck kid (Tye Sheridan) under his wing.

Philomena: Stephen Frears directs this biopic based on The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, a non-fiction book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith. Judi Dench plays Lee, mother to a boy conceived out of wedlock and subsequently given away for adoption, who enlists the help of Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help track down her long-lost child.

Violette: In Martin Provost’s France/Belgium co-production, author Violette Leduc meets Simone de Beauvoir in postwar Saint-Germain-des-Près, resulting in an intense lifelong relationship.


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David Bezmozgis to direct film based on Natasha and Other Stories


(photo: David Leyes)

David Bezmozgis is set to direct a feature film adapted from the title story of his 2004 collection, Natasha and Other Stories (HarperCollins Canada). Production is scheduled to take place in Toronto this summer.

The Globe and Mail reported that a casting call was posted for the production Wednesday seeking Russian-speaking actors and noted that some scenes will contain sexuality and some nudity.

The stories in Natasha centre on the lives of the Bermans, a Jewish-Latvian immigrant family living in suburban North York. The title story charts 16-year-old Mark Berman’s introduction to love and sex by his 14-year-old cousin Natasha, a recent immigrant herself.

Bezmozgis’s stories have been called “plainly autobiographical“: young Mark attends the same school and lives at the same address that Latvian-born Bezmozgis did growing up, while Roman Berman, Mark’s father, struggles to establish a massage therapy business, just as Bezmozgis’s had.

In 2011, Bezmozgis published his first novel, The Free World (HarperCollins Canada), which was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Trillium Prize. A University of Southern California film school graduate, Bezmozgis wrote and directed his first feature film, Victoria Day, in 2009. It was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay.

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Jon Stewart to direct film adaptation of Maziar Bahari memoir

Move over Ben Affleck, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart has announced he is directing and producing a feature film based on Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari’s 2011 memoir, Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival (Random House).

In June 2011, Bahari was a guest on The Daily Show while promoting the book, which covers his arrest and detainment during the 2009 Iranian election protests.

Shooting will take place over the summer, while Stewart takes a break from the show.

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Indie filmmaker casts 43 authors, including Egan and Shteyngart

How do you get 43 authors into a coffee shop at 6 a.m.?

What sounds like the setup for a bad joke actually happened a few weeks ago at Kos Kaffe, a popular Brooklyn café. Filmmaker Michael Maren solicited dozens of authors to make cameos in his debut feature, A Short History of Decay, about a 35-year-old man whose writer-girlfriend leaves him for her literary agent.

According to New York, Maren managed to snag some big names, including Elissa Schappell, John Burnham Schwartz, Gary Shteyngart, and Pulitzer Prize–winners Jennifer Egan and Michael Cunningham. No-shows included Paul Auster and Martin Amis, who had been cast as a barista.



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Alice Munro’s “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” to be adapted for screen

Actors Kristen Wiig, Hailee Steinfeld, Guy Pearce, and Nick Nolte have signed on to star in the indie film Hateship, Friendship based on Alice Munro’s short story “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” The screenplay was written by writer Mark Jude Poirier, who previously adapted his own novel Smart People in 2008. Liza Johnson, who wrote and directed the indie drama Return, is set to direct.

The film explores polarizing relationships between three generations. Wiig plays a nanny charged with the care of a rebellious teenager (Steinfeld), who in turn attempts to set up a romance between Wiig’s character and her absentee father (Pearce), who battles drugs and other demons. Further drama unfolds in the form of the girl’s grandfather (Nolte), who blames Pearce’s character for the death of his daughter, the girl’s mother.

This won’t be the first time a story from Munro’s 2001 collection Hateship, Friendship Courtship, Loveship, Marriage has been adapted for screen. In 2006, Sarah Polley turned the short story “A Bear Came Over the Mountain” into the film Away From Her, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Filming for Hateship, Friendship is set to begin in New Orleans next week.

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Werner Herzog to adapt Vernon God Little, Twitter to host fiction festival, and more


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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.

Rabindranath Maharaj (Photo: Joel McConvey)

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.

Noah Richler (Photo: Joel McConvey)

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.

Saglek Bay inukshuk (Photo: Joel McConvey)

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.”

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Random House of Canada launches online magazine as part of digital overhaul

What does a major publishing house look like in the digital age?

Random House of Canada has offered one answer with today’s launch of a multifaceted digital strategy that includes an online magazine (known as Hazlitt), an ebook imprint (Hazlitt Originals), and a website redesign.

The centrepiece of the campaign is the online magazine, the subject of some industry speculation ever since Random House of Canada hired Christopher Frey, a founder of Outpost magazine and Toronto Standard, earlier this year. While Hazlitt, which takes its name from a 19th-century literary critic and essayist, will be hosted on the Random House of Canada website, the company says it will maintain editorial independence, relying on freelance journalists to provide much of the content.

“As the idea evolved, there was an understanding at several levels of the company that for this, as a magazine, to succeed and build an audience and have credibility, it will have to have its own editorial identity,” Frey told Q&Q, following a media launch earlier this week. “Many of the people writing for it will have to be non–Random House authors or working journalists. We will need to be able to write about everything in the culture, and not just Random House books.”

Contributing writers will include Lynn Crosbie, Kaitlin Fontana, Billie Livingston, Jason McBride, Drew Nelles, and Carl Wilson, as well as filmmaker Scott Cudmore (who will provide multimedia content). Frey says he views the magazine as “competing with any other Web-based magazine out there, like Slate or Salon or The Awl, or the Web versions of other print magazines.”

Hazlitt stories can be read online for free. At launch, the magazine features limited advertising, and cross-promotions for Random House titles appear low-key.

“This is an opportunity for us directly to engage with readers, and to bring the writers we represent close to readers,” says Robert Wheaton, vice-president and director of strategic digital business development. “Learning from readers is of tremendous importance to us across the entirety of our business.”

As for the other key facet of Random House of Canada’s online push, the digital department will work with the company’s book publishing division to produce ebooks under the Hazlitt Originals imprimatur. The first title in the series, which will focus on non-fiction and essays, is journalist Patrick Graham’s The Man Who Went to War: A Reporter’s Memoir from Libya and the Arab Uprising. It will be followed by U.K. journalist Steven Poole’s “anti-foodie polemic” You Aren’t What You Eat and Ivor Tossell’s The Gift of Ford, about Toronto’s mayor.

The digital-only publishing initiative takes a page from and the Canadian Writers’ Group, the writers’ organization behind the ebook Finding Karla: How I Tracked Down an Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three by journalist Paula Todd. Likewise, the Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario’s Open Book project and the Association of Canadian Publishers’ 49th Shelf are both attempts to create an online hub serving the dual role of marketing tool and source for compelling content.

But the scope of Random House’s digital ambitions are unprecedented in Canadian publishing. “Ultimately, we view this as a platform for future innovations in publishing,” Frey says.

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