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Q&A: talking swimming and the Olympics with author Leanne Shapton

As a youth, Toronto-born author and illustrator Leanne Shapton was a dedicated competitive swimmer, at one time ranking eighth in Canada. She competed in two Olympic trials (1988, 1992), but narrowly missed qualifying. In her new book, Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press/Penguin Canada), Shapton meditates on her life in the pool through essays, photos, and watercolour paintings.

Shapton is an accomplished artist who began her career at the National Post before moving into art director positions at Saturday Night magazine and The New York Times. She is the author of five illustrated books.

Quillblog caught up with Shapton in New York City, where she’s resided since 2003.

How did Swimming Studies come to be?
When I’d talk about swimming, [former Saturday Night editor and Rogers Publishing president] Ken Whyte, who started his career as a sports writer, encouraged me to write things down. So I took some writing courses and tried to organize the material.

In 2007, when I had about a quarter of the book written, I sent it to my agent and then told them to throw it away. It wasn’t the right time.

Why is this the right time?
I made a two-book deal with Blue Rider Press, but after the auction catalogue (Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry), I didn’t want to do another picture-heavy book. It was really important to do something weirder and less like what I’ve done before.

For a while I had a column in The New York Times Magazine. It was a revelation to work with an editor. The book then became a huge experiment in whether I could write anything longer than a caption or small capsule.

A series of paintings from Swimming Studies (Photo: Leanne Shapton)

Did you set out to write a non-traditional memoir?
I think it’s a funny book – there are a lot of different levels and layers. This is how I described it to my editor as I was working through the manuscript: I wanted it to be a book of landscapes – either interior or literal. I see these landscapes and because I don’t have a photograph of them and I don’t want to paint them, all I have is this language that I’m trying to learn as I go.

Did you keep diaries as a kid?
When I was training at 14 or 15, I mostly kept photo albums. When I was training with the University of Toronto team for my second Olympic trials in 1992, I kept them. It wasn’t until around 2006 that I started writing the other things down.

Shapton's Speedo “paper suit,” worn during the 1992 Canadian Olympic swimming trials (Photo: Leanne Shapton)

One of the most striking chapters in the book is “Size,” which includes photos of your personal collection of bathing suits. Why did you choose to include these?
That’s only half of them. I tried to get a sense of going from competitive to non-competitive to getting my first two-piece at 27 or 28. I really resisted getting one.

That chapter is called “Size” because there’s so much body stuff going on in terms of eating and shape and insecurities. There’s so much around bathing suits in particular – it’s all twisted and tangled, the idea of body size and image.

The book contains many references to time. Was that intentional?
One thing that came with training is that I know what five seconds feels like in the same way that a well plumber knows what five feet looks like from a different angle than the erst of us might. It’s a temporal understanding of things. It’s like how a minute feels when you’re late for a train.

How would you describe your relationship to water now?
I still swim, but I still don’t like swimming in open water. I will do it because I always feel like jumping into water, but I’m not entirely comfortable.

It makes me feel good to be in water – it’s like wearing a favourite sweater. It’s something that I know really, really well. I know my body so much more in water. I’m clumsier outside of it.

What about your relationship to the sport?
I’m not competitive at all. I joined a team to see if I had any spirit left, and I didn’t. It’s not a challenging thing for me anymore and I have no jock mindset for it.

Although watching the Olympics makes me cry. I love watching swimming. When I watch it on TV and they turn, I do it in my head, too.

Would you say you’ve replaced swimming with art?
For years I wanted the same focus that I had as a swimmer because I knew I was moving toward a perfection or a time goal. So now I’ll do 20 sketches or paintings. I’ll work the sport’s discipline into how I work, whether it’s an assignment or a series of paintings.

Since retiring from swimming I’ve tried to find that dumb blind zone you go into as an athlete. I’ve found it now with drawing and painting, which is so nice.

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Is millionaire Twilight fan-fiction writer Sylvain Reynard hiding in Toronto?

Last week, Michael Redhill revealed he has been writing detective novels under the pseudonym Inger Ash Wolfe. Now, there’s speculation surrounding the identity of author Sylvain Reynard, who just received a sweet seven-figure deal from Penguin’s Berkley imprint.

Here’s what Quillblog does know: Berkley will publish Reynard’s best-selling novels Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture, which were first released as ebooks by Omnific Publishing. Like E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, the books were adapted from serialized Twilight fan fiction.

Reynard originally wrote the Twilight-inspired story “The University of Edward Masen” under the pen name Sebastien Robichaud, but the story has since disappeared from the Web, as has Robichaud’s website. GalleyCat editor Jason Boog used web tools to pull sample pages.

There are rumours that Reynard (who “self-presents as male”) is a Canadian writer with several non-fiction books under his belt, and certainly the evidence points to this being the case:

  • On his website bio, Reynard says he tries to “use my platform as an author to raise awareness” for charities, including Toronto’s Covenant House.
  • Under a list of locations that appear in the Gabriel series, Reynard includes several Hogtown landmarks and venues, including the University of Toronto and the Manulife Centre.
  • Robichaud posted a note on a fan-fiction website about a CBC program on the Halifax perfume company, the 7 Virtues.

Any guesses as to Reynard’s true identity?

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BookNet bestsellers: Canadian fiction

Lawrence Hill takes three spots on this week’s list for Canadian fiction.

For the two weeks ending July 8, 2012:

1. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780307401427)

2. Room, Emma Donoghue
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443413695)

3. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9780062203960)

4. The Virgin Cure, Ami McKay
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780676979572)

5. The Wild Zone, Joy Fielding
(Seal Books/Random House Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781400025794)

6. Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
(Thomas Allen Publishers, $24.95 pa, 9780887627415)

7. The Witch of Babylon, D.J. McIntosh
(Penguin Canada, $13.50 mm, 9780143175735)

8. A Good Man, Guy Vanderhaeghe
(M&S, $22 pa, 9780771086083)

9. The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
(House of Anansi Press, $22.95 pa, 9781770890329)

10. A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny
(St. Martin’s Press/Raincoast, $16.99 pa, 9781250007346)

11. The Headmaster’s Wager, Vincent Lam
(Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl, 9780385661454)

12. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443408981)

13. Spell Bound, Kelley Armstrong
(Vintage Canada, $17.95 pa, 9780307359032)

14. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 pa, 9780061974304)

15. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
(Vintage Canada, $21 pa, 9780676973778)

16. The Winter Palace, Eva Stachniak
(Doubleday Canada, $24.95 pa, 9780385666565)

17. Ru, Kim Thúy; Sheila Fischman, trans.
(Random House Canada, $25 cl, 9780307359704)

18. Any Known Blood, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409100)

19. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409094)

20. Everybody Has Everything, Katrina Onstad
(M&S, $22.99 pa, 9780771068980)

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D&M’s Trena White lands fellowships at Frankfurt, IFOA

Earlier this week, Q&Q reported that Trena White, publisher at D&M Publishers, has been named the inaugural Canadian editorial fellow for the I.V. Programme, the annual networking event that runs alongside Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. It turns out that White, who is based in Vancouver, will have to dust off her passport as well, as she has also been named the sole Canadian fellow at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

The latter fellowship runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 14 and will see White visiting publishing houses in Frankfurt, Cologne, and Berlin, before attending the international book fair. In a press release, White says of her dual appointments: “It’s a great honour to be granted these opportunities. D&M Publishers has built lasting connections with international publishing contacts over the years, and it’s vital that our next generation of leaders continue in this tradition. The fellowships will allow us to do just that.”

White was promoted to publisher of D&M last March as part of a series of executive-level changes. Before joining the firm in 2010, the B.C. native spent six years as an editor at McClelland & Stewart.

In the March issue of Q&Q, we asked Trena about her editorial vision and D&M’s future:

In general, do you think the non-­fiction being published has changed over the last decade? This is definitely the era of celebrity memoirs and bios. The bestseller list is largely populated by books about or by celebrities, and I don’t know if that was the case 10 years ago. I think there’s been something of a shift, where it seems as though people have been looking for slightly lighter fare in the last couple of years. After 9/11 people were looking for meaty, weighty non-fiction analyzing current events, but now it seems like people want to be more entertained. I’m thinking of books like Neil Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome (Penguin). Maybe there’s a bit of fatigue over books about international affairs.

What do you look for in a manuscript? I love narrative non-fiction, so I love a good story. I want to be entertained as much as I want to be informed. Every editor and publisher talks about discovering a strong voice, somebody whose writing makes you sit up and pay attention, whose writing is original and fresh, and shows a deep talent. I like books that have a social conscience, and that’s a way my values align nicely with Douglas & McIntyre’s. Historically, it’s been a humanistic list: a lot of books about social issues, politics, and current affairs.

How is D&M preparing for the future? These are such challenging times for book publishers: no one knows where things are going, and everything’s in flux. I think there are specific challenges for mid-sized publishers like D&M, because we’re competing nationally against the big corporations that can pay healthy advances, and we don’t have the economies of scale. But I think we’re doing a lot right now to put us in a good place for the future, like focusing on international distribution arrangements; getting our art and architecture books distributed in Europe through Prestel Verlag, for example.

How is working for a Vancouver publisher different than a Toronto-based company? I’m from B.C., so for me, coming to D&M was coming home. It’s different in that there’s a very strong writing and publishing community in Vancouver, and we’re the biggest player in that scene. We get a lot more proposals and manuscripts through referrals, and through relationships various people in the company have with writers and other contacts. We’re tapped into the community in a very significant way, and that’s fantastic.

Are there downsides to being headquartered on the West Coast? I do worry that we’re under the radar of agents and authors in Toronto, though half, if not more, of our authors are based in central or Eastern Canada, and we have a small marketing office in Toronto. I also sometimes worry about the perception that we’re not a big player because we’re not based in Toronto. We don’t see ourselves as a regional publisher – we’re a national publisher competing on a national level.

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BookNet bestsellers: Canadian fiction

Tanis Rideout makes her debut on this week’s list with her first novel, Above All Things.

For the two weeks ending June 24, 2012:

1. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
(Vintage Canada, $22 pa, 9780307401427)

2. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9780062203960)

3. A Good Man, Guy Vanderhaeghe
(McClelland & Stewart, $22 pa, 9780771086083)

4. The Witch of Babylon, D.J. McIntosh
(Penguin Canada, $13.50 mm, 9780143175735)

5. The Headmaster’s Wager, Vincent Lam
(Doubleday Canada, $32.95 cl, 9780385661454)

6. The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
(House of Anansi Press, $22.95 pa, 9781770890329)

7. Room, Emma Donoghue
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443413695)

8. Room, Emma Donoghue
(HarperCollins Canada, $19.99 pa, 9781554688326)

9. Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
(William Morrow/Harper, $19.99 pa, 9780061974304)

10. Why Men Lie, Linden MacIntyre
(Random House Canada, $32 cl, 9780307360861)

11. Alone in the Classroom, Elizabeth Hay
(M&S, $22 pa, 9780771037979)

12. The Last Crossing, Guy Vanderhaeghe
(M&S, $22 pa, 9780771087844)

13. Never Knowing, Chevy Stevens
(St. Martin’s Press/Raincoast, $16.99 pa, 9781250009319)

14. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $10.99 mm, 9781443408981)

15. The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
(HarperCollins Canada, $17.99 pa, 9781443409094)

16. The Winter Palace, Eva Stachniak
(Doubleday Canada, $24.95 pa, 9780385666565)

17. Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
(Thomas Allen Publishers, $24.95 pa, 9780887627415)

18. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
(Seal Books/Doubleday Canada, $5.99 mm, 9780770422059)

19. Spell Bound, Kelley Armstrong
(Vintage Canada, $17.95 pa, 9780307359032)

20. Above All Things, Tanis Rideout
(M&S, $29.99 cl, 9780771076350)

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Penguin to launch ebook lending pilot with libraries in New York and Brooklyn

Four months after cutting digital ties with libraries, Penguin has greenlighted a year-long pilot project that will see its ebooks loaned out at two New York library systems.

Penguin, which pulled its digital titles from OverDrive’s ebook lending platform in February over security concerns, has reached an agreement with New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library to distribute digital titles through 3M’s cloud-based system. The Wall Street Journal has sketched out the details:

The pilot, crafted to protect ebook sales, will delay the release of ebooks to the libraries for six months after the titles go on sale in stores and online. Each library ebook will expire after a year.

Tim McCall, vice president of online sales and marketing at Penguin, said the company will make all of its titles available — some 15,000 ebooks. He declined to discuss specific prices, but said ebooks will be priced for libraries in the same range as prices that retail consumers pay.

He said the six-month delay is intended to prevent library e-books from undercutting other sales. The renewable one-year expiration date on e-books, meanwhile, is designed to mimic the natural shelf life of print books.

The WSJ goes on to note that the Queens Library hopes to sign on to the agreement once the municipal budget is passed, and that should the pilot prove successful at New York and Brooklyn — two of the largest library systems in the U.S. — a similar program could likely roll-out nation-wide.

Today’s news leaves Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette as the only Big Six publishers that don’t distribute ebooks to libraries. Among the remaining multinationals, Random House sells ebooks to the library market at significantly higher prices and HarperCollins enforces a circulation cap of 26 checkouts.

There’s no word yet on a similar ebook lending deal between Penguin and library systems in Canada, though Canadian libraries have been hard at work with publishers to find a Canadian-made licensing agreement.

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Slideshow: Dundurn’s 40th anniversary party

On May 24, Dundurn Press celebrated its 40th anniversary with a well-attended party at the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto.

Founded as a niche publisher of Canadian history, Dundurn is now one of Canada’s largest independently owned publishers, with annual sales of more than $5 million. The firm is nominated for publisher of the year at the 2012 Libris Awards, alongside HarperCollins Canada, Penguin Canada, and Scholastic Canada.

Read a Q&A with Dundurn founder and publisher Kirk Howard (from the June 2012 issue of Q&Q).

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CBA announces Libris Award nominees

The Canadian Booksellers Association has revealed the shortlists for this year’s Libris Awards, which recognize literary achievement as well as behind-the-scenes contributions in the book industry, as voted on by independent booksellers.

This year’s awards ceremony takes place on Sunday, June 3, at the Toronto Congress Centre. The event kicks off the CBA’s annual conference, which is being held in conjunction with the Retail Council of Canada’s Store 2012 conference. Bookseller-oriented programming includes presentations and panels devoted to sidelines and ebooks, and a “moderated member forum.”

Margaret Atwood will be on hand to accept a lifetime achievement award.

The nominees are:

Author:
Patrick deWitt
Esi Edugyan
Michael Ondaatje

Fiction:
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (House of Anansi Press)
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Thomas Allen Publishers)
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay (Knopf Canada)

Non-fiction:
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis (Knopf Canada)
Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe by Charlotte Gill (Greystone Books)
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery by Andrew Westoll (HarperCollins Canada)

Young reader:
I Am Canada: Deadly Voyage by Hugh Brewster (Scholastic Canada)
This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins Canada)
The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock (Tundra Books)

Picture books:
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Candlewick/Random House)
Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid (Scholastic Canada)
Ten Birds by Cybèle Young (Kids Can Press)

Bookseller:
Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
Bryan Prince Bookseller (Hamilton, ON)
Mabel’s Fables (Toronto, ON)

Campus bookstore:
Queen’s University Campus Bookstore (Kingston, ON)
King’s Bookstore Co-operative (Halifax, NS)
York University Bookstore (Toronto, ON)

Editor:
Louise Dennys, Knopf Random House Canada
Jim Gifford, HarperCollins Canada
Lynne Missen, Penguin Canada

Sales rep:
Penny Mason, Penguin Canada
Dot Middlemass, Ampersand Inc.
Michael Reynolds, Michael Reynolds & Associates

Distributor:
HarperCollins Canada
North 49 Books
Raincoast

Small press:
Arsenal Pulp Press
Coach House Books
Nimbus Publishing

Publisher:
Dundurn Press
HarperCollins Canada
Penguin Canada
Scholastic Canada

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Email reveals Steve Jobs’ involvement in agency pricing negotiations

Seventeen more U.S. states, including New York, have joined the class action lawsuit against Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin, accused of allegedly colluding to raise the price of ebooks. Unlike the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation, the 31 states involved are seeking monetary compensation for consumers, who, according to the amended complaint, “paid over $100 million in overcharges.”

New information, previously redacted from the DoJ lawsuit, has also been revealed about Steve Jobs’ role in the negotiations with the five big publishers involved (Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster have already settled).

According to Paid Content, Jobs wrote to an unnamed publishing executive:

1. Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.

2. Keep going with Amazon at $9.99. You will make a bit more money in the short term, but in the medium term Amazon will tell you they will be paying you 70 per cent of $9.99. They have shareholders too.

3. Hold back your books from Amazon. Without a way for customers to buy your ebooks, they will steal them. This will be the start of piracy and once started, there will be no stopping it. Trust me, I’ve seen this happen with my own eyes.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see any other alternatives. Do you?

The complaint also suggests that Apple and the five publishers “worked together to force” Random House to adopt the agency model (which it did a year later). According to the complaint, Penguin CEO David Shanks sent an email to former Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio asking the retailer to “stop any promotion or advertising of Random House titles” and to “make Random House hurt like Amazon is doing to people who are looking out for the overall welfare of the publishing industry.”
Although, as Paid Content writer Laura Hazard Owen astutely points out, this doesn’t prove the five publishers acted together.

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Lawsuits allege ebook price-fixing conspiracy in Canada

The Globe and Mail is reporting that several lawsuits have been filed in Canada alleging that, like their counterparts south of the border, the Canadian subsidiaries of foreign publishing houses conspired to lower the prices of ebooks.

While there are, as yet, no reports of representatives from Canadian firms meeting in high-end restaurants to fix prices, the Globe reports that the publishers named in the lawsuits “included” the defendants implicated in similar cases in the U.S. and EU – namely, Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, as well as their Canadian subsidiaries.

So far, lawsuits have been filed in three provinces. The Globe has details from the B.C. case:

A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court by the Vancouver firm Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman alleges that Apple Inc. and a number of publishers engaged in a “conspiracy” to lessen competition and “fix, maintain, increase or control the prices of e-books.” It is the most recent of at least five such suits filed recently in courts in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

It also alleges that the defendants or their representatives communicated secretly, in person and by phone, to discuss and fix e-book prices, in the lead-up to the introduction of Apple’s iPad, which can function as an eReader, in April of 2010.

In addition it alleges that the growing Canadian eBook market is highly concentrated, making it more susceptible to collusion.

The lawsuits appear to imply that, like U.S. consumers, Canadians were victimized by the slight rise in ebook prices when agency pricing was introduced in 2010; they don’t appear to allege that Canadian firms were actively involved in a parallel conspiracy. Still, it’s hard not to be struck by the irony of the last line quoted above, since the introduction of agency pricing actually made the Canadian ebook market less “highly concentrated,” not more.

But if U.S. consumers are getting their day in court, so should Canadian consumers, at least according to the lawyers involved in the suits:

“The U.S. case isn’t going to cover Canadian consumers. So it’s the same underlying facts, it’s the same consumer protection agenda, but it is for different consumers in a different country,” said lawyer Reidar Mogerman, who filed the suit in B.C. Supreme Court last week on behalf of plaintiff Denise E. McCabe, a non-practising Kamloops lawyer who has purchased a “significant” number of e-books.

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

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Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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