Thursday, January 31, 2008

Steven Beattie -- critic (That Shakesperian Rag), editor (Fragile Mind)

Steven Beattie of That Shakesperian Rag and Fragile Mind Literary Services:

CBT: Steven Beattie, at your site That Shakespeherian Rag, you mentioned your experience selling foreign rights for Canadian publishers. Can you tell us a little about doing this, and any particular frustrations or positive experiences you had?

SB: Well, one of the frustrations of selling foreign rights and this is going back eight years now; I sold foreign rights between 1999 and 2000 for Stoddart Publishing one of the frustrations I ran into, which I alluded to on my blog, was a kind of chauvinism in the foreign markets, an antipathy toward books set in Canada, books that focused on Canada. This was particularly true in the United States; when youre trying to market a novel set in Toronto or Montreal, youre going to have a much harder time than if youre trying to sell the same novel set in Boston or Chicago, because they have this very chauvinistic attitude that they dont want to read anything thats set outside the country. This is a very broad generalization, but I found it was an uphill battle to place Canadian fiction in the American market.

Im not entirely sure what the reason for that is. I think to a certain degree Canadian writers need to stop having a parochial mentality, or having an inward-looking mentality. Which is not to say they should set their fiction in distant lands in order to get it sold. But I think we need to be thinking on a broader canvas in terms of the themes we write about, and start thinking about different ways to approach our subjects, as opposed to writing the same book over and over again. Were a very young literary culture. You know, if youre trying to sell a book to an older, European culture such as the French or the Spanish, which have centuries of culture behind them to a certain extent theyre going to and this is going to sound terrible but to a certain extent theyre going to look at things with a more sophisticated eye than perhaps we might. I think we need to think a little bit more in terms of expanding our outlook as to what a novel can be.

CBT: Philip Marchand has commented on the tendency of Canadian literature to be backward-looking, and youve voiced agreement with him. Can you tell us why you agree with Marchands point of view?

SB: I think there is this idea in our culture that there is a typical kind of Canadian novel. And this novel is set in the past, on a farm; it usually has to do with familial strife, and its told in very lyrical, beautifully constructed prose, but to me a lot of it seems very lifeless and bloodless.

I think theres this idea afoot in the culture, both on the part of publishers and on the part of writers who see what kinds of books get published and what kinds of books win awards, that if you want to do well as a Canadian writer, you have to write that kind of book. And Im not sure thats the best way to go about creating a vibrant literary culture.

I think Marchands point about the culture being backward-looking has to do with both the idea of this sort of fiction being the default setting for Canadian writers, and the idea that in order to have a successful book in 2008, you have to look at what did well in 2007 or 2006, and do more of that. I think thats self-defeating. I think it would be more interesting if writers would look around them in the present, and try to take the measure of whats going on in the world today, and begin commenting on that and using that as their subject matter.

If you look back in literary history, most of the books that endure were written about the time the writer was living in. Because the corollary of always looking back and saying Im going to write another novel set on the Prairies during World War Two is the unspoken assumption that theres nothing interesting happening in Canada in 2008, and that is clearly absurd. If we want to reach a broader audience an audience that has concerns about how the world is in 2008, and I think the novel is uniquely placed to comment on that what we need to do is to start looking at more urban fiction, at younger fiction. We need fiction that doesnt necessarily fit into the tried-and-true Canadian template of this is how you tell a story. We need fiction that broadens its horizons both stylistically and in terms of its subject matter.

We have to accept that the traditional Canadian novel can be anything the author cares to write about, and it doesnt have to be set in the 1930s or 40s. We dont have to deny the fact that the internet exists, that television exists, that pop culture exists, and that these things are very important forces in our lives today. In order for the novel to remain relevant, these are things that writers have to deal with.

CBT: Should Canadian publishers in particular be taking more advantage than they currently are of the potential e-publishing offers? Should they be embracing the Internet more aggressively?

SB: The short answer is yes. But the more nuanced answer is I dont think they know how at this point. There have been a lot of attempts to engage with the internet on the part of publishers. I think they realize this is a technology that is here to stay, and if youre going to remain relevant youre going to have to find some way to utilize it. But I dont think publishers have found the optimal way to do that yet. I think its still an open question. Youre starting to see publishers do some innovative things of the internet, like HarperCollins has a Facebook reading group, Anansi has tried to use Facebook to engage readers online.

To this point, no one has developed an effective e-reader. And Im not sure I see that technology taking off anywhere except the academy, for the simple reason that nobody wants to read a novel on a screen. But I can see the potential for direct sales on the internet and for print-on-demand technology. Certain publishers are starting to play with that kind of thing. So yeah, I think its important for publishers to reckon with this new technology and integrate it into their business models. But I dont think theyve done it yet.

There may be potential for publishers and authors to exploit podcasting as a means of reaching a broader audience. A number of poets Zach Wells is an example have recorded their poetry and offered it online, and there are popular author interview series like The Bat Segundo show online as well. The concern here is that authors dont want to give away their material for free, but people like Cory Doctorow have been experimenting with exactly that kind of mechanism and, perhaps counterintuitively, theyve found that it actually helps boost sales of their physical books. So theres probably room to exploit this technology as both a marketing tool and as a means of creative expression.

Bio: Steven W. Beattie, an editor and writer, began his career in publishing in 1999, selling subsidiary rights for Stoddart Publishing, which at the time was Canada’s largest domestically owned publisher. Steven began editing in 2000, and embarked on a freelance career when Stoddart declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2002. As the sole proprietor of his own business, Fragile Mind Literary Services, Steven has worked with a number of Canadian and international houses, such as HarperCollins Canada, Thomas Allen Publishers, Raincoast Publishing, and Cormorant Books. He worked on Pauline Holdstock’s novel Beyond Measure, which was nominated for the 2004 Giller Prize, and on Carol Windley’s Home Schooling, which was nominated for the award in 2006. He also worked on Darren Greer’s novel Still Life with June, which won the ReLit Award in 2004, and on Sky Gilbert’s An English Gentleman, winner of the ReLit in 2005. Steven has worked on books by Austin Clarke, John Metcalf, Neil Bissoondath, Adam Lewis Schroeder, and Ray Robertson, among many others. Steven’s writing has recently appeared in Quill & Quire, the Edmonton Journal, and Books in Canada. He administers the literary blog That Shakespeherian Rag.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Bev Daurio -- author, publisher (The Mercury Press)

Bev Daurio -- author (Hell and Other Poems, etc.), editor/publisher (The Mercury Press)

1. Ever since Sept. 11, there has been a decline in book sales, particularly sales of literary fiction. And since that time, it's been common in publishing circles to explain Sept. 11 as the main "cause" of this phenomenon. Do you agree? Or have other, equally important factors been driving the decline in sales?

It'd be interesting to know the sources of numbers indicating a decline in book sales (in dollar value or numbers of copies?), and if these are U.S., Canadian, or English numbers. What we're finding is that sales of a very few very popular, mainly from the U.S., books (like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and similar popular non-fiction titles) are doing fine, and sales of Mercury titles have been steady or increasing-- two ends, perhaps--the largest and the smallest-- of the puzzle to which you're alluding.

I've not really heard the link with September 11 raised in more than passing as a Canadian issue, though others may feel differently. The feeling is more that we're seeing a reduction in the number of independent bookstores, who are excellent at hand-selling and knowing literary titles. Though the internet is helpful in making literary titles more available, we're witnessing a gap between that wide and predictable availability of titles that used to happen with the independents before an increase in web traffic and sales can make up for that. But I'm optimistic.

2. The publishing industry has always been a marriage of art and commerce. But in recent years, the Cult of the Deal has become more influential, with agents demanding larger advances and marketing people paying especially close attention to sales figures. Is the "art" side of the business being squeezed out?

There is enormous pressure on literary presses to publish less challenging and ostensibly more saleable work. These pressures, whether negative (fewer sales, or bookseller reluctance, BookNet) or positive (Department of Canadian Heritage funding through Book Publishing Industry Development Program based directly and solely on sales without regard to quality or cultural significance) are, well, difficult. Literary houses are not idiotic; they are making literary acquisition choices based on different parameters from the hope for straight sales, and if they weren't, they'd be different kinds of organizations. Never mind the fact that, for the most part, NOBODY knows what will sell, in advance (viz the huge bestseller from Cormorant, a small press, Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci, which had been, I understand, turned down by most of the majors).

One question you raise implicitly, I think: is it worth publishing difficult, challenging, interesting, edge-pushing work, in terms of thought, form, ideas? I think it is, because it extends and affects the ways people think and understand the world, and I think it will continue to happen, even if it tends to be more concentrated in specialty presses (viz. Dalkey, Green Integer, and City Lights in the States).

The Cult of the Deal is an interesting facet of current, mostly American, publishing practice. Those huge multinational publishers have their own pressures, of course, from paying for Fifth Avenue offices to satisfying shareholders. How this relates to literary publishing can be a two-edged sword-- as they say, anything that gets people talking about books may not be all bad-- but on the other hand can unrealistically raise demands and expectations for Canadian writers, particularly literary writers, when Canadian literary book sales usually range between 150 to 1000 copies-- not Deal Cult fodder.

And really, these problems and issues are not new. A scan of books about Unwin, Faber, and The Hogarth Press, in England, pre-TV in the 1920s and 1930s, quickly demonstrates that, as you suggest, the balance of art and commerce in publishing has always been a tricky one. And the literary title sales numbers weren't all that different then in England from today in Canada, despite the population difference in England's favour. We really are doing pretty well, comparatively.

3. Are there ways the book marketplace could be tilted more in Canadian publishers' favour? For example, should book stores be required by regulation to devote a conspicuous amount of store-front shelf-space to Canadian work? Should Canada Council funding be significantly increased? Or is cultural nationalism of this sort passe?

While the idea of legislating Canadian titles into bookstores-- frankly all we'd be asking for in such a case is equal treatment with foreign works-- could be appealing, the practice of charging co-op for upfront shelf space isn't going to go away, and it would be a very hard sell; practically speaking, it would likely be an awful burden, both administratively and in terms of suggesting to independent booksellers how to run their businesses. I wouldn't blame them for being more than a bit distressed about such a possibility. I don't think this would be something pursuable beyond support for booksellers and moral suasion.

What might make great sense would be to legislate the purchase of Canadian works by public libraries, who are supported by Canadian public funds, and are in a position to be on the vanguard of proselytizing for Canadian literature.

Canada Council funding, if increased to book publishers, would massively help to soften the lived reality of what is basically a burnout business, to reduce staff stress, and create stability and much stronger presentation and promotion for Canadian writers.

Nationalism may be as important as remembering who we are, and how nationalist we are may depend on how badly we do or don't want to know or remember ourselves. Canada already has hugely open cultural borders: just look at our magazine stands, or our film industry. I try to watch the Genie Awards every year to find out what Canadian films were produced, because with very few exceptions they sure didn't appear on my local Cineplex screen, even here in Toronto.

4. Many major publishers now refuse to accept "unsolicited" work; that is, they will not even consider work unless it is agented. Is this a sound policy from point of view of finding the best new literary voices? Isn't there a chance good writing will be squeezed out? Alternatively, for small presses that do accept unsolicited work, is the problem the majors squeezing the small houses at the distribution/retail marketing end?

I can't speak for major publishers or their internal acquisitions policies, but I do think that really good work will eventually find a home, if a writer improves the work, makes sure it's edited, and perseveres-- because in my experience, there is far more unsolicited work all the time coming through the mail, but really strong work is rare.
I'd differentiate, too, between international major publishers, who may or may not continue to have an interest in producing Canadian literary fiction, depending on head offices, or how the winds may blow financially, and Canadian major publishers with roots in and care about Canadian writing. Canadian publishers actually, despite their occasional fights, are pretty collegial. The problems tend to be funding (large or small and literary, we're competing with US overruns that are very very cheap to produce for the Canadian market, and behemoth promotional machines, also American), desperately thin to nonexistent profit margins, and changes in book retailing.

5. And speaking of agents -- are they too powerful? If so, in what ways? Or are they a largely beneficial and necessary element of contemporary publishing?

We don't deal with agents, so it's hard to say. Speaking as a writer, though, it'd sure be helpful and appreciated to have an agent in my corner if I were negotiating with, say, Penguin.

7. Does Canada have too many publishers? Or too few?

Canada has too few publishers, in my opinion, though new and exciting publishers are starting up all the time, which is encouraging.

I think we sometimes get mixed up because of the influx of American and British books in English. It may seem like an awful lot of new books, but few of them are Canadian.

8. In your opinion, how will new technologies such as the e-book or audio books affect the "form" of the book?

Audio books will continue to be used and useful, but e-books-- it's hard to say-- though on-line access to archive, historical and reference materials as well as specialty journals and the like is growing and seems appropriate. My feeling is that there will be more displacement into video-related and game leisure activity-- and perhaps it'll be a couple of generations before we find out how books as they are now will fare and in what forms.

9. Putting aside the hype, does the Internet provide a real opportunity to publishers? If so, how?

There are useful aspects, for sure. Anyone anywhere with access to an on-line computer with a search engine can find The Mercury Press, for example, and have access to our list, author bios, as well as submissions and ordering information. So Mercury's specialties in mysteries, highly literary works in fiction and poetry, jazz books, are easily trackable; or, people looking, for example, for other titles by a Mercury author, can do so very quickly and easily.
However, the web is a changeable, strange, place. In some ways open and democratic, it's also a flashing neon flood of information. The trick becomes how to find those people who are interested in what's going on in literature, or to help them find Mercury, and for us to understand what's useful to offer. A bit like the old days, really...

10. And what role can traditional, venerable institutions such as libraries and English Departments play in reversing the decline in sales of literary fiction?

Libraries could buy widely and deeply in Canadian literature, and universities could teach more Canlit. More readings, and writers in residence at institutions could really help in both spreading the word, exposing students and people to living writers and ways of writing, and supporting writers with time to work.

11. What projects are you working on now that you are excited about?

New fall books for 2006: Mark Miller's A Certain Respect for Tradition (jazz), David Lee's The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and New York (jazz), AVATAR, poetry and visual art by Sharon Harris, Double Helix, fiction by Jay MillAr and Stephen Cain, Cathedral Women, a novel by Carol Malyon, and two new mysteries, Terry Carroll's Body Contact and Mobashar Qureshi's R.A.C.E.... more information at In forthcoming books, working on co-editing The Closets of Time, an anthology of experimental fiction, with Richard Truhlar, is a delight-in-progress.

Beverley Daurio is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Hell & Other Novels (Coach House/Talon), and has published poetry and short fiction widely (the latter including in the U.S., England, and Australia). In 2005 she participated in the William Gass writing residency at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. She has edited more than a hundred books (including many shortlisted for or winning awards, including the Governor General's Award for Poetry, as well as awards for page design), several short fiction anthologies, and two collections of literary interviews. She also works as a book reviewer and literary journalist (Globe and Mail, Books in Canada, and many others), some-time freelance editor, creative-writing teacher and multidisciplinary collaborationist, and is the former editor of Poetry Canada Review and Paragraph Magazine, currently publisher of Word Magazine, and, since 1985, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Mercury Press, Toronto.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Zachariah Wells, poet [Unsettled] and critic [Canadian Notes and Queries, Career-Limiting Moves]

Zachariah Wells, poet [Unsettled], critic [Canadian Notes and Queries, Career-Limiting Moves]:

1. CBT: Unknown musicians record their own music in basements -- and, if they've got talent, people take them seriously. Unknown film-makers shoot movies with DV cameras -- and, if they've got talent, people take them seriously. But unknown writers who self-publish -- in particular those who self-publish online -- are frequently snickered at whether they're talented or not, or, more often, given the publishing world's gesture of choice: the cold shoulder.

What do you think is the explanation for this? Is the publishing world the callowest of all the arts? Is it, despite the bromide that one not judge a book by its cover, the one in most need of a "package"? Or will the prejudice against publishing online change, once people become more acculturated to online creative work?

ZW: This is a hard question to answer. Of course, until really quite recently, there was really no such thing as "official publication" and some of the world's classic works started off life as self-published works (think Blake, or, better yet, Whitman, who even had to write his own reviews!), and when the vast majority of people were illiterate and poetry was a past-time reserved mostly for the gentry, poems we now find in Penguin paperbacks were circulated in manuscript.

It's tempting to think that the general snobbery directed towards self-publication has to do with the low standards of official publication. When so much crap can make it into print, the work must be really bad if you've got to pay to produce it yourself, right? I'm half-joking, but there may be something to this. It's comparably much harder to get a deal with a recognized music label or film studio, as everybody knows, so it's not surprising that there'd be less stigma ("indie" vs. "vanity") in these fields. (Also, the vast majority of self-published writing is even worse than the vast majority of officially published writing.)

Another thing is how much official publication is really veiled self-publication. One of the Griffin-nominated books last year was published by a house that employs the book's author. Several presses routinely publish books by their founders and editors (a practice with a very respectable pedigree: think Hogarth Press). And an awful lot of books get published because of personal connections between an author and a publisher/editor. This kind of self-publishing seems to be a-okay; the books get reviewed, taken seriously, and given awards. Given how easy it is to set up shop as a publisher (not that it isn't quite a bit of work and money, but it's not like you have to get a license) or to become a magazine editor, maybe some of the snobbery has to do with not following social protocols.

All that said, there is a flourishing--arguably too flourishing--sub-culture of self-publishing and chapbook presses. It's a full-fledged ethic with some people, an active rejection of the trappings of the book business. My friends at littlefishcartpress, for example, have produced a handful of perfect-bound anthologies and a whole slew of chapbooks and chipbooks, mostly by people they know, including me. People buy them and people read them. Not in masses, but then again, no one buys press-published books (except for a fortunate few) in masses either.

Anyway, I personally have nothing against it. I've done a fair bit myself (most recently, a CD recording of 24 of my poems). And whenever someone asks me how to get published, I suggest d.i.y. There's a lot to be said for having full control of the process.

2. CBT: You have posted on the rules governing copyright, arguing that they should not apply in situations where someone (e.g., you) genuinely admires someone else's work (e.g., Wendy Cope), and creates a podcast of it. Assuming that you're being forthright when you say you have good intentions, and furthermore that Cope may be self-defeating when she reacts against your desire to help her increase her fame, is that really the point? As a friend of mine says, we need the same laws for good people and bad people. Isn't the issue not your intentions, but the precedent you help create?

ZW: Mine is a utilitarian, not an idealistic, position. I don't believe that the laws shouldn't apply. I just think that people should realize that it does no harm, and is potentially of some benefit, when someone "pirates" a poem on a not-for-profit website. Most people, I think, do realize that. A few, like Cope, think they've had something stolen. Technically, she's right. Practically, she's an idiot. Paying her lawyer to threaten bloggers has probably cost her more than the "theft" of her poems.

3. CBT: You've also posted on the campaign organized by Jean Baird along with John Oliver to stipulate the amount of Canadian literature that is taught in B.C. schools. According to Baird's statement:

We will be taking the opportunity to respond to the new curriculum and have suggested that in each year from grade 8 to 12 each student should read, both collaboratively and independently, to comprehend a variety of literary texts, including one or more significant works of Canadian literature. The proposed amendment allows for the study of a play, several short stories, a collection of poetry or poetry by three or four different poets, one or two novels, or work by Canadian literary critics.

To which you responded (in part):

Hmmmm, if the teachers think it's important and that more of it should be taught, then why aren't they teaching it? Maybe they'd rather be teaching something else, but when surveyed by someone who clearly thinks it's important, they said what they thought they should say. Are they being blocked from teaching Canadian books? Apparently not. One thing's for sure, if they're forced to teach Canadian books, they'll have less freedom to form their own curricula. And it's interesting to note that Ms. Baird does not provide stats on the answer to question 19 on the survey, concerning support for a provincial policy requiring a set percentage of Canadian content. I wonder if maybe these numbers don't support her cause so well...

Three questions follow from this....

First, it doesn't seem that Baird and Oliver are asking for that much. Isn't the amount of CanCon that they want to mandate in B. C. classrooms a reasonable amount, given that teachers already teaching this much Canadian literature will have already met the proposed standard?

ZW: First, amount is not the issue. Something that teachers in BC have fought hard for (my mother-in-law's a retired union negotiator with the BC Teacher's Federation and my wife recently completed her teaching certificate at SFU, so I hear a lot about these issues) is autonomy in setting their curricula. Mandating anything is antithetical to that freedom. Secondly, given how few books of any sort seem to get taught in public high school "English Language Arts" classes, this is actually a significant chunk of the curriculum.

4. CBT: Second, isn't there a principle involved? In other words, isn't it a recognition of reality that Canadian culture needs a form of "space" in order to thrive? After all, most countries apart from cultural hegemons mandate percentages of their indigenous culture: South Korea has screen quotas, Canada has CRTC regulations. Shouldn't Canadians maintain quotas in classrooms as a matter of course?

ZW: Yes, there is a principle involved, viz.: Classrooms are not marketplaces for the sale and purchase of products.

5. CBT: Third, in an exchange you and I had on the subject, you drew a contract between the Canadian and American novels you read in university, and commented:

Of the Canadian books, I would classify only one (The Double Hook) as brilliant and another (The Diviners) as very good. The Handmaid's Tale I will grudgingly call good, but I didn't like it much. The other two are dead dull. All of the books on the American list range from very good to brilliant.

Agreeing that there is a lot of good American writing, and that your first duty as a reader is to assess work objectively, and not be mindlessly patriotic, is it still not the case that perhaps part of the problem was the list itself? (I should say at this point that I, also, feel a fair degree of frustration with a rather fusty tendency that seems to have great strength in this country, and has a dampening or even excluding effect on lively but unorthodox writing.)

Augmenting this tendency is a Canadian tendency -- see the question about creating more "space" above -- to not celebrate our own. Evidence of this can be seen on the Internet. For example, litblogs routinely discuss U. S. outsider authors like Charles Bukowski, Noah Cicero, and Gilbert Sorrentino. Canadian outsider authors like Britt Hagarty, Daniel Jones or Matthew Firth tend to be ignored. And so it goes, with the work of many Canadian writers not getting attention in either the United States or Canada. Isn't the apparently "dull" quality of CanLit partly a problem of perception, and isn't this perception in part formed by the amount (or lack thereof) of commentary that surrounds it?

ZW: Yes. Part of the point that I was making in our earlier discussion was that if English teachers aren't teaching Canadian literature, it's probably because of the way it was taught to them (bad books; thematic criticism masking their badness). While I'm very quick to disagree with people who say that Canada has produced no good or important writing, I can't say that we've done a good job identifying what's best. (George Bowering, the husband of Jean Baird, being a prime example of our over-rating of prolific second-rate talents.) Forcing teachers to assign Cancon is not a productive way to solve this problem, only to exacerbate it. We need to persuade teachers that teaching Canadian books will enrich their courses. This is, of course, much more work than passing a bill in the legislature.

As for your point about "outsiders," I think it might be a demographic issue. If, say, 5% of American readers are drawn to the sort of writing you're talking about, that still generates a lot of conversation because it's a lot of people. 5% of Canadian readers is considerably fewer people. But still, someone like Mark Anthony Jarman has a pretty good following in Canada. And he should, he's a damn fine writer. But it seems to me that "outsider" writing is plagued with the same fundamental problem that plagues all writing: most of it's not very good.

6. CBT: Alternatively, are Canadians too hung up on questions of cultural nationalism? Should we simply relax and not categorize work according to a checklist in terms of its content or origins?

After all, the banner of cultural nationalism tends to morph fairly easily into a double-edged sword; it can engender provincialism, and it can have a cooling effect on the freedom a writer feels to write in any setting he/she chooses. The world should be the artist's oyster; that tends not to happen in a culturally nationalistic atmosphere.

Would a revival of cultural nationalism in English Canada carry the risk of making us overly inward-looking? Or is it a question of "getting the mix right"? Is some cultural nationalism necessary, given the reality of Canada's place in the literary culture of the 21st Century?

ZW: I have no idea what "the reality of Canada's place in the literary culture of the 21st Century" is. And I frankly don't care. So I guess my answer to the first part of your question is yes. When I ride on a Skytrain full of people from other countries, the notion of an English Canadian Identity feels not so much provincial as colonial. The great lie we tell ourselves is that we're a nation that suffers from having been colonised politically by the British and economically by the Americans. The fact is that Canadian WASPS are British and Americans and we've been doing the colonising (in my case, being 1/4 Russian Jew (family surname "Douglas"), I've colonised myself). Or maybe we're the Lucky Pierre in this arrangement, both buggered and buggering... Whatever, I get very tired of all the Survival-mythologizing, ressentiment-mongering, special pleading and excuse-making. I've just finished editing an anthology of 99 Canadian sonnets, and something that struck me is just how international in flavour the book is. A staggering number of the 100 contributors have come from somewhere else or have emigrated from Canada and are, like you, living abroad. Or have moved around extensively within the country, which really is a place of distinct regions (I know: I've lived on all three coasts and in 6 different provinces and territories). I think there's much to be said for adopting inverted commas whenever we talk about "Canadian" Literature.

7. CBT: In the comments thread mentioned above, you describe Canada (accurately) as a "minor power", and then make the point that Canadians should not assume that on a per capita basis we produce equal amounts of high caliber work as other nations .You then ask rhetorically, "Now quick, how many Australian or New Zealand writers can you think of off the top of your head?"

This raises the issue of whether we Canadians -- who tend to be ignored by our American and British cousins -- also tend to overlook work from English-speaking that are also "minor". And not just Australia and New Zealand, but also Kenya or the Philippines, among others. (And then there is the issue of work in translation, from French-Canadian work, to that of, say, Korea.) Do English Canadians need to do more to seek out work from nations that are equally or more "minor" than we are?

ZW: Probably; it can certainly do no harm. But personally, I find "seeking out" work, whether here or abroad, to be mostly tiring and fruitless. I've stumbled occasionally on things that are of great importance to me ( e.g., the novels of Yukio Mishima, which I first encountered--wait for it--in a high school English class).

8. CBT: You're a poet, and you blog about both prose and poetry. In your opinion, does there need to be more commentary of this sort? Given that poetry and prose tend to exist is separate worlds (or two solitudes, if we want to get all CanCon about it), do we need more sites devoted to both?

ZW: Only if people want to build them. I started my blog in large part because I was frustrated with the way arguments would get sabotaged in other fora. It was an experiment; I didn't know if blogging was something I'd enjoy. It turns out that I do like it, so I'll keep doing it until I don't.

Personally, I read very little contemporary prose fiction and very little fiction period. I only read a lot of contemporary verse because I get paid to do it. Far too much of what I read I don't like. At some point, I'm going to have to quit, at least for a while, and read only good books (a few of which will be Canadian).

9. CBT: Returning to the theme of writing that is "outside" -- should the standing notion of "writing" be expanded in Canada, especially at the institutional level? For example, there are some who feel (myself included) the Canadian literary establishment should embrace what are now called graphic novels for the simple reason that Canada has produced a really great number of artists/writers in this field alone -- Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, Dave Collier, etc. Any comments on this?

ZW: We should definitely embrace graphic novels if it means more graphic sex. I have no issue with this sort of thing in principle, but I haven't read any graphic novels and haven't read much Sci-Fi or fantasy since my early teens. But genre has nothing to do with writing quality. A good sci-fi novel is better art than 90% of the poetry published. But "poets," oddly, have more political clout in the literary establishment, so they get to decide what's "real art."

10. CBT: A lot of American literary magazines have a forceful online presence: they offer complete short stories to be read, they allow for online submissions. Canadian lit magazines (with a few exceptions, such as The Danforth Review, Matrix and Lies With Occasional Truth (I'll add more to this list as I come across them)) don't. A survey of the online presence of Canadian lit mags shows that they do not have much (or any) of their content online, and do not allow email submissions. They seem, to put it bluntly, behind the times.

Should Canadian literary magazines be more proactive in taking advantage of the Internet? And given that a strong Internet presence requires more labour, should they get Canada Council funding specifically for this? Or is this a typically Canadian reaction, and should those with a passion for narrative culture (in all its forms) just open that blogspot account and get their work out there?

ZW: There are few things more hidebound than the average litmag. I posted about this a few months ago. Arc magazine has a really excellent website and they keep it updated. Most others are pretty shabby, as you say. If anything, the internet seems a better medium than print for a lit journal. Journals are ephemeral anyway, so why not save a whole lot of money and paper and stop printing the things? It's far easier to reach a wide readership online and you can be more adventuresome with content because there are no space restrictions. And you don't have to assemble an issue out of what you have on hand. Whenever you get something really good, you can add it. I don't think more labour is needed, just a bit more savvy. The magazine I work for does not, unfortunately, have a very good site, because none of the editors is very web-wise. But we're working on it.

But yeah, open that free account; just be aware that if you want to build an audience for your site, you've got to add content regularly. If I go a week without posting something on my blog, the traffic drops way off and takes a bit of time to build up again.

BIO: Zachariah Wells is a writer and editor from Prince Edward Island living in New Westminster, BC. He is the author of a highly regional collection of poems about the Canadian Arctic, Unsettled, the editor of Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets and co-author of Anything But Hank!, a children's picture book forthcoming in the fall. His blog is Career Limiting Moves and he edits the reviews section of Canadian Notes & Queries magazine.