Ann Ireland May 19, 1953 – August 23, 2018

We are saddened by the news of Ann Ireland’s passing and wish to extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. Below, a few words from Dan and John.

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I’m deeply saddened. She was a wonderful writer, and all of us at Biblioasis were excited to finally work with her on Where’s Bob? We imagined it would be the first of many more books—and having had the privilege, we are sadder still. She was a generous, fiercely intelligent person. She made everyone around her better. She’ll be missed by so many.  —Daniel Wells, Publisher

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Ann’s early death is tragic. Her last book, Where’s Bob?, a warmly comic excursion set in a Mexican tourist resort, gave no hint of her illness.

We had talked happily of the next book, which she’d said she was ‘circling’.

When I read the typescript of Where’s Bob? and wrote to her to accept it, I said that I’d wanted to publish her ever since her gorgeous first book A Certain Mr. Takahashi. She replied saying: “I’ve been wanting to work with you for years.” I’m deeply saddened that our future together will not come to pass. — John Metcalf, Editor

 

 

Playthings Plays The Big Time (And by “Time” we mean “New York Times”!)

Hey Biblio-fans! This is Casey Plett here this month as my trusty, hard-working, intelligent, and very-missed colleague Vanessa Stauffer has taken to the skies. Me, I’m getting by ok running publicity with a little help from my two best friends — V8 and Elvis, of course.

But besides that, some big news has come in since we have last approached you with a humble Wednesday blog: The New York Times has given a RAVE review to Alex Pheby’s Playthings and HOW THRILLED ARE WE? REALLY THRILLED.

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Of Pheby’s hallucinatory, fragmentary, and tragic fictional telling of 19th-Century German judge Daniel Paul Schreber, subject of one of the most famous psychotherapy cases in history, reviewer Catherine Lacey said Playthings was: “[A] skillfully rich novel . . . A close third-person voice situates “Playthings” in an eerie place between a lived account of insanity and a careful observation of a mind’s unraveling . . . [A]gile and wily.

She ended her review by saying: “In the fiction of Schreber’s madness, every person is, as he puts it, a “plaything of the Lower God.” In the reality that Schreber lived, the mentally ill were playthings of the “well,” children were playthings of adults, and minorities were playthings of the state. It is this economy of cruelty — not repressed homosexuality, as Freud suggested in an essay on Schreber’s memoir — that is the seed of Schreber’s suffering. Pheby illustrates this point with compassion and subtlety in “Playthings”; the book’s hybrid position between the historical and the fictional makes it all the more potent.

The book has also seen raves from Publisher’s Weekly (“intricate and intelligent…effectively transports readers into Schreber’s experience and tragedy.“), Kirkus (“A highly detailed, emotional plunge into the mind of a disturbed man…An intense, immersive reading experience that provides real insight into those afflicted with severe mental illness.”), and appeared on the Globe and Mail Spring Preview list.

We’re so excited the book’s gotten this attention and Canadians will be delighted to know Pheby is coming over here this September to promote the book! He’ll be hitting the Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival  as well as the Biblioasis 401 Tour in Montreal, Toronto, and good old Windsor.

Productions Notes: August 17, 2018

The 2018 edition of Best Canadian Stories is well under way. And though I must confess I have not had a chance to read it yet, I am really looking forward to this one. Russell Smith’s selection has me quite intrigued with stories from a number of authors I admire including Lynn Coady, Kathy Page, Bill Gaston, and Liz Harmer (whose excellent debut novel The Amateurs I recently finished reading); and some authors whose work I am really looking forward to checking out: Tom Thor Buchanan, Michael LaPointe, and Stephen Marche.

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While I was away for a week in the sun in Oscoda, Michigan, a couple new books arrived at Biblioasis. And on my return a couple more did as well.

New Arrivals at the Press:
Catherine Leroux’s Madame Victoria,
Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn,
C.P. Boyko’s The Children’s War,
and Mike Barnes’ Be With

Our most recent stock

It also looks like I was replaced by a new production manager in my absence. Hope the new guy is up to the challenge.

The Production Manager

All Hands On the Loading Dock:
An Interview with Kathy Page

The Biblioswains were busy this morn with boxes and boxes of books, among them Dear Evelyn, the latest from Kathy Page. This epic love story steams into a port near you on September 4. We sat down with Kathy to find out more about the book Kirkus Reviews calls “A searching, and touching, depiction of the places where married lives merge and the places they never do.”

For newer readers who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

My father was a great reader, and my mother had a very definite way with words; both encouraged me to develop an already over-active imagination, and as a child I read and wrote voraciously, without realizing that I was laying the foundations for something I might end up practicing as a profession. I studied literature as an undergraduate and afterwards began my first book in a continuing education class. Since then I’ve written mainly fiction: numerous short stories, eight novels, and been listed for the GGs, the Giller and the Orange Prize. As a writer, I’m drawn to complex characters, and to people in difficult predicaments or who have to make hard choices. I’m interested in transformation, and how it occurs. I like to explore questions of some kind.

I feel very lucky to be able to use my imagination and play with words on a daily basis, to craft stories, to work with others learning to do the same (I teach at Vancouver Island University), and, of course, to connect via those stories with readers: I’m fascinated by the writer/reader relationship. I’ve been based on Salt Spring Island in BC since 2001; before that I lived mainly in London (UK).

Dear Evelyn sweeps across history, from World War I to the present day. You mention in the acknowledgements how letters from your father to your mother were helpful, as well as other extensive researching activities—yet the novel is still so character-driven! How did the research impact the writing?

You’re absolutely right that the characters are what drive this book. But in order to understand them, write them, and know the story I had to find out a great deal. I often do a lot of research and enjoy finding out about things beyond my own experience. Sometimes the research will shape or change how I think about the book. Dear Evelyn was very much inspired by the love letters my father wrote to my mother during the Second World War, which I read when my parents were in their nineties and in a very different situation. Reading those letters at that point in time made me intensely curious as to how a marriage between two very different, very young people—one that had begun with such romance and drama—might transform itself over a long period of time. I couldn’t explore the detail of that without becoming familiar with the social history of the ―between-the-wars‖ period in the aftermath of the First Word War, when my characters had grown up, and then I found myself immersed in certain bits of WW2, and then in the postwar period, and the nineteen sixties and seventies… There was a lot of detail to take in, but, to answer your question (I hope): the research is in the service of the characters and the story; it is part of them and part of what makes them seem real. In the end, whatever I have learned becomes the context of their lives and desires and possibilities. Once I am immersed in the story, it stops being research. It’s just their reality.

Anyone who has read your previous work (I’m particularly thinking of Alphabet) will note a range in subject matter, to say the least. Despite this, are there themes or central concerns in your work that you hope readers take away?

I like to do something very different with each book, whether that’s in terms of the territory it explores or the way the material is approached. Previous novel protagonists include a man serving life for murdering his girlfriend (Alphabet), a young mum with a special needs baby (Frankie Styne and the Silver Man), a middle aged academic who suffered severe burns to her face in childhood (The Story of My Face) and a driven, ambitious paleontologist (The Find). My short fiction is also varied: sometimes realist (The Two of Us), sometimes experimental or fabulist (Paradise and Elsewhere). I think what ties it all together as a body of work is a strong interest in human connection, in relationships, especially difficult, imperfect relationships—the kind that a therapist perhaps might not recommend, but in which, it seems to me, many or even most of us are at one time or another passionately involved.

Dear Evelyn fits this pattern. It’s another new thing: a book focused on a single seventy-year relationship and also one that’s both historical and personal, so very much a first for me; it is also a continuation of my ongoing exploration of what it is we do with, and to, each other… I’m certainly not against positive change, but it seems to me that we sometimes forget that even difficult, seemingly dysfunctional relationships may be precious and sustaining—and sometimes we just don’t care about what is fair or reasonable.

Harry and Evelyn certainly spat and bicker, yet also undeniably love each other. And then there is the ending—without giving too much away, do you consider this a hopeful book?

It depends on how you think about what happens, and your beliefs about love and relationships. I hope readers will experience Harry and Evelyn’s story and then decide for themselves. But I will say that although my books often tackle difficult material, I think of myself, and of my work, as essentially optimistic.

The conflict between Harry and Evelyn is the book’s backbone, yet I always felt Evelyn’s tempestuous relationship with her parents lurking in the background, informing how she interacts with Harry. Am I off in that? Can you speak to that at all?

I’m glad that came over! Evelyn’s anger towards her alcoholic father, her horror at the manner of his death, and her struggles with a sometimes over-protective mother—as well as their poverty—are all behind how she behaves, what she wants and chooses, and what happens in her marriage. I’m glad the reader can see this, and so have a compassionate sense of how her sometimes outrageous behaviour is driven by half-buried fears. She of course does not see this; she grew up in an era when people did not readily think about why they felt and acted as they did, try to change it, or share their more difficult and complicated feelings with others. They did what they could, or what they were driven to, and that was pretty much the end of it… In a similar vein, at the beginning of the book Harry’s mother deals with post-natal depression—very successfully, as it happens, but without any professional intervention.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading and very much admiring the Melrose novels by British writer Edward St Aubyn, and am about half way through the series. Horrifying, funny and brilliantly written. Next up is Shyam Selvaduri’s The Hungry Ghosts.

Cats, Seagulls & Giveaways!

It’s August 1, which means 1) it’s Mercury-retrograde Leo season, and 2) indieNEXT nominations are due in less than a week, the convergence of which is best represented by the following image:

Thomas Cat meets Seagull.

If you’re following along at home, you know that Harriet Paige’s Man with a Seagull on his Head is the title we can’t stop talking about, and judging by the number of bookseller blurbs we’ve received, we’re not the only ones.

Booksellers! We still want your blurbs! Email Casey by Monday, August 6, and we’ll print your words in the finished book.

US Goodreads users! Wondering what all the fuss is about? Enter the giveaway below for your chance to win one of 50 advance reader copies!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Man with a Seagull on His Head by Harriet Paige

Man with a Seagull on His Head

by Harriet Paige

Giveaway ends August 28, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Everyone else! Would you like to see more pictures of my cats?

Interning @ Biblioasis

I started at Biblioasis as an intern two months ago after a professor of mine introduced me to Dan. It started as 9 hours a week but thanks to a grant I am currently working full time! (yay for a real job!) When I started I had no idea what the day-to-day looked like at a literary press, so my first week was packed with new information. I learned the difference between galleys, ARCs, and finished copies, found my way around the mailroom and even hand-sewed some chapbooks (full post to come later about this lovely process). I was introduced to everyone at the office and given a rundown of what they do here, and then forgot their names almost immediately. Now that I’ve gotten to know everyone, I feel qualified to introduce them to you! (in order of desk location which you can also see here!)

  • Casey Plett: Publicity and Marketing Manager
    Whose second toe is longer than her first toe, but only on her right foot

  • Vanessa Stauffer: Director of Marketing
    Can deadlift 225 lbs, which is approximately 220 copies of The Children’s War!

  • Meghan Desjardins: Operations Manager
    Learned how to knit in order to make a Harry Potter scarf

  • Dan Wells: Publisher
    Sails the high seas of Lake Saint Clair on a sailboat named The Peripat(h)etic

  • Ellie Hastings: Production Assistant
    Can play the bagpipes

  • Chris Andrechek: Production Manager
    Keeps a baseball bat labeled ‘Production Manager’ in his office

  • Sharon Hanna: Regional History Editor
    Kind of has a biology degree

  • Emma Rock (me!): Intern
    Knows American sign language

A more in-depth introduction of everyone is coming!

As time has gone on I’ve gotten to be more involved in projects such as outreach for our upcoming title Be With: Letters to a Caregiver, and now this Wednesday post! I’ve gotten to know some of the office antics such as office bingo and adding ‘moose’ to titles of books. I’ve also been introduced to customer reviews of “How to Avoid Huge Ships” and discovered that Vanessa is oddly good at guessing a professor’s area of research based only on their faculty photo.

Even when I’m doing the boring intern tasks (such as mailing 200 copies of Be With to Alzheimer’s Societies across North America), I’m in an environment where I get to see how a literary press runs, and every step of publishing a book.

Production Notes: July 20, 2018

New arrivals at the press:

Final copies of CNQ 102 and Original Prin arrived from the printer this week. Both turned out really well.

The latest CNQ: The Genre Issue (#102)

Original Prin by Randy Boyagoda

The epitome of production (left) and publicity (right).

We also finished up on transcription of the stories for John Metcalf’s forthcoming Finding Again the World. For some of the reSet books we do not have access to digital files. So in order to get files we need to cut the spines off of out-of-print books that contain the stories, scan the pages, and convert them back into text files. Finally, we need to read them line by line, comparing to the original pages to make sure that the new files still read properly.

Out-of-print books cut and ready for scanning.

Otherwise, production has largely been focused on this year’s edition of the Christmas Ghost Stories. Like CNQ covers, the art for these stories come in the form of hand-drawn images form Seth, which need to be scanned in, cleaned up and placed into the stories. Here is a sneak peek at a few of the images from the 2018 Ghost Stories.

 

 

Good Things Happen for Bad Things Happen

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On Monday, July 16, 2018, it was announced that Bad Things Happen by Kris Bertin has won the 2017 ReLit Award for Short Fiction. The award was founded by Kenneth J. Harvey to acknowledge the best new work released by independent publishers. The award has no purse, but winners in each category (novel, short fiction, poetry) receive the distinctive ReLit ring.

This is the second award for Bad Things Happen, Bertin’s debut collection of short stories, which also won the 2017 Danuta Gleed Award. Bad Things Happen has attracted major critical praise, including positive reviews from Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Quill & Quire, and other outlets.

Bad Things Happen was published on February 23, 2016. The characters in this debut collection—professors, janitors, webcam models, small-time criminals—are people at the tenuous moment before everything changes, for better or worse: jobs and marriages, states of sobriety, joy and anguish, who they are and who they want to be.

Bertin’s stories have been published and anthologized widely. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

“You’ll never need to read another book.”

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Today’s post is sponsored by independence, and self-governance, and your humble Biblioblogger (along with her Production Goon) being extremely excited about the book we’re about to send off to print: The Children’s War, by the man, the myth, the self-blurbing legend C.P. Boyko. I’d toss in an author photo here, but this is the best we can do. If you’ve never read him, you’re in for a treat, and if you have, well, you know exactly how we feel. Fans new and old can get a head start with “In the Palace of Cats,” excerpted from the story “Andrew and Hillary.”

I sat down (at my keyboard) a few weeks ago to ask Mr. Boyko some questions about his new book, and this was the result.

A Biblioasis Interview with C.P. Boyko, Author of The Children’s War

Q. This, your fourth book, is also your fourth collection of short stories. What draws you to this format, as opposed to, say, novels?

A. I love novels, but often find them too long. I love short stories, but often find them too short. It strikes me as odd to say the least that most fictional stories produced nowadays are under five thousand or over fifty thousand words long. I’ve given myself permission to write stories of any length; in this book, they range from about seven thousand to about forty thousand words long. I am also rather a contrarian, and the mere fact that fictionists seem to be expected to outgrow short stories for novels has probably made me stubborn. I haven’t, however, been able to shake altogether the idea that one unit of fiction is equivalent to one book’s worth. Consequently, I write my stories in groups, with an eye to the collection as a whole. The result, though it is not for me to say so, is, I think, not so very different from a novel.

Q. You seem to have eschewed first-person narration since your first book, Blackouts. Are you aware of this? Is it intentional?

A. Yes. Yes.

Q. Can you tell me more?

A. Yes. I thought I perceived a tendency of fiction written in the voice of a character to be slangy, sloppy, swaggering, longwinded, and pompously declarative: “Here I am, washing my hands.” There also are many things that a character cannot, or should not, say on their own behalf—because it makes of them either a monster of self-awareness or a monster of self-disclosure, or both. Moreover, to write, as first-person narration encourages one to do, an entire book, or even an entire story, from the point of view of a single character seems to me an impoverishing constraint—like shooting an entire film from a single stationary camera, or telling only one side of a war story.

Q. This is a funny book, the result of finely-tuned irony. Yet despite that, I also found it deeply compassionate: while the characters are often quite comical, in word or deed, they’re not one-dimensional. Could you talk about the role humor plays in your work?

A. I did not set out, as I did with Novelists, to write a funny book, but I’m glad you find it funny. The highest aim of art, John Davidson said, is to give delight. Also, if I may say something unfunny, I think that to leave comedy entirely out of the worlds one builds in prose is to build unrecognizable worlds. The same could be said about tragedy, and about horror—and about love.

Q. As a recovering academic, I was thoroughly taken by “The Purpose of the Music Club” and “The Takeover of Founders’ Hall,” which open and close the collection in institutions of learning—high school and university, respectively. (I also thought the portrait of the writing prof at the end of Novelists especially funny.) Does your interest in academic settings have any particular origin?

A. I am a fully recovered academic.

Q. “Year-End” looks more like a play than a short story. As I was reading, I kept wanting to see it staged, and the central conflict—the clash between owners, management, and unionizing workers at a faltering factory—made it easy to imagine as a performance. How did you decide on the form?

A. It is indeed a play. I hope it’ll be staged often. As for the form, I had never written a play in five kinds of crypto–blank verse before, so I thought I’d give it a try. Even if one cannot altogether reinvent oneself, one tries at least not to repeat oneself.

Q. The vast majority of the characters in “Infantry” are women, which is unusual in itself, and all the more so in a story about soldiers at war—though beyond the names and pronouns, the narrative itself isn’t particularly gendered. Could you talk about the choice to re-imagine the war story in this way?

A. To the extent that this was a conscious decision, I was probably trying to use the plight of the low-ranking soldier to illustrate the plight of women, and at the same time to use the plight of women to illustrate the plight of the low-ranking soldier. But it was largely an unconscious decision.

Q. What was the last book you reread?

A.God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It was a little disappointing, to be honest, particularly in the prose.

Q. How do you hope your own prose will be described?

A. “Crystalline,” thank you.

Q. What is your dream blurb?

A. “You’ll never need to read another book.”

Q. Who are you writing for? Who is your ideal reader?

A. Myself, I suppose, in a few years’ time, after I have forgotten the toil of writing and my good intentions, but before my taste has improved too much. If you don’t write to please yourself, pleasing others will never make you feel less lonely.

Q. Well, thank you for your time.

A. [Unintelligible]

 

In the Media: Flock of Seagulls

As you head for the beach this long weekend, consider the story of Ray Eccles, a city clerk “past the age when anything interesting was likely to happen to him,” who one day is struck on the head by a dying seagull and wakes up compelled to obsessively paint the last thing he saw before he was knocked out: an unknown woman on the beach. What happens next is anything but uninteresting: Ray’s paintings are discovered by husband-and-wife Outsider Art dealers and quickly take the art world by storm.  Meanwhile Jennifer, his anonymous muse, ponders the surprising turns and odd connections that characterize a life.

No, I’m not knee-deep in Mai Tais: I’m summarizing the Harriet Paige’s debut novel, Man with a Seagull on His Head, which Kirkus Reviews calls “elegiac…emotionally precise…not only pleasing to the eye, but also profoundly engaging to the heart. A gentle fable about the mystery of artistic creativity.”

Bookseller blurbs, which we’ll be printing in finished copies of the book, have been rolling in. Are you a bookseller? Would you like to join our flock? Contact us for an ARC, or flap on over to our inboxes and tell us what you think.

Praise for Man with a Seagull on His Head

“The story is told in a slowly unfolding prose that I found to be lovely, quiet and quite beautiful. My copy has dog eared pages with underlined sentences such as “She’d sat in front of him for three weeks and he hadn’t seen her. How odd to discover one didn’t exist.” Another favorite: “…it was magic just to watch him when he did not know himself to be watched. One could love someone very easily that way.” I found myself slowly reading so that I wouldn’t miss any poetic descriptions of people and places. Admittedly, it’s a hard novel to pin down—is it a mystery? A family story? A story of mental illness and art? It’s unlike anything I’ve read, really, and I find it hard to describe and truly convey its beauty. I will recommend it to readers of literary fiction who aren’t in a hurry to barrel through a book, but who enjoy the slow unfolding of a lovely novel that leaves them thinking of the characters for days afterward.” —Sarah Letke, Redbery Books (Cable, WI) 

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“Man With a Seagull on His Head is an enthralling read unlike anything I have ever read. It makes you feel crazy, sane, upset, and euphoric. The story of Ray Eccles is a strange tale that provides inspiration can rise from the strangest of places. Harriet Paige is a remarkable writer with an amazing muse.” —Nick Buznaksi, Book Culture (New York, NY) 

“Ray Eccles is leading a modest, unassuming existence when he’s abruptly struck on the head by a falling bird and finds his whole life changing course. Read Harriet Paige’s new novel and you may find yourself similarly affected. The opening of Man with a Seagull on His Head tempts you with its brisk prose and summery seaside setting to pick it up as a momentary diversion, but it quickly establishes powerful links among its many characters, connecting hearts and minds across distance, time, and cultural barriers. By the end it will have taken them, and you, much further than you’d have ever expected.” —James Crossley, Island Books (Mercer Island, WA) 

“Sometimes the strange thoughts that compose a novel are curious; sometimes they are loveable.  This is a wonderful mixture of both. As the Xerox clerk Ray Eccles becomes an Outsider Artist from his works of “She,” the woman who witnessed a seagull falling from the sky and causing a life-changing injury, you’re never quite sure where it’s going. Endearing in an unobtrusive observational perspective, you want to extend a hand and wish the characters well. A fine read.  Refreshingly recommend.” —Todd Miller, Arcadia Books (Spring Green, WI)

“Harriet Paige has written a memorable piece of fiction that manages to subvert the idea of what defines a muse – and the symbiotic relationship the inevitably blooms from the act. The books explores the somewhat psychotic lengths inspiration can take someone paired with the exploitative facets of the art world – and it’s rendered with such a fantastic combination of distance and intimacy. The world could maybe be made better if more seagulls fell on our heads.” —Rebecca George, Volumes Bookcafe (Chicago, IL)