Sunday, December 29, 2013


I recently received answers from Dan Green to some questions on standards in publishing (that is, the set of values that agents and acquisition editors apply/claim to apply/de facto apply) when deciding which manuscripts to print). I'm planning to write an article based on Green's responses. In the meantime, however, Green has agreed to have an online dialogue about the issue ... a sort of ad hoc mini-article before the article proper.

More soon.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Frances Madeson

My interview with novelist and playwright Frances Madeson is now up at my new site.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Paper Sweat

Last week, put the finishing touches on the edits of my Hiroshima novel. That brings to four the number of interconnected screenplay module fictions I have finished (one mega-project and three conventionally-sized mss.)

To see a bit more about this project, go here, or here to see pictures specifically of the Hiroshima hybrid graphic novel that is the project's most recent module.

The screenplay novel is an idea that I've been experimenting with for some time. I'm still convinced that it -- both as a hybrid graphic fiction and as a method of writing text-only narratives -- is an idea whose time has come.

Read the rest here....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Industry/ies

At my new site:

From a year-and-a-half back, Mark Medley on Marc Côté's move from Cormorant to Thomas Allen. That is a long time in a cultural industry (even publishing), and there have been changes since then; a recent visit to Thomas Allen's website describes the company as now being a distributor, not publisher, and its fiction selection is thin. More alarmingly on a general level is the sense of pessimism is gripping the industry, as well as the idea that these days "only a prize" is sufficient to win a novel -- especially one by a new writer -- the sort of audience it needs in order to succeed commercially. In Quebec, where the literary culture has evolved differently than in anglophone Canada and there is less of a blockbuster mentality, authors also feel under siege but more in terms of their royalties: they are fighting to standardize book prices.



art © finn harvor, 2013

Am continuing blogging at my new site. It's now retitled as BridgeText; this is an idea I first floated with Charles Yang, a Korean developer who's helped me with my sites (and who is a partner to this one). I'm hoping to eventually get a bit of an interchange going. There is a lot of interesting graphic novel work happening both in Korean and Japan, and of course there are great scenes taking place in Canada (anglo and franco equally), the US, and UK.

Speaking of the latter -- when I went to conference on the graphic novel that was held at Oxford in September, I met several interesting people (including some good artists). Leaving the conference, however, I was struck by how much there remains a division between text-only and text-and-art fictional narratives. Does it have to be this way? Does it have to remain this way?

Friday, October 11, 2013

New site, old site, new site

Am (once again) starting most of my posting here. Enough freebies for the corps.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Morimura Tadushi

This is an image of Morimura Tadushi, the codename of Yoshikawa Takeo, the Japanese naval ensign posted to Hawaii to spy on America's Pacific Fleet in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During that period, Yoshikawa rented small planes in which he flew over the harbor, went diving in waters close to the harbor, and observed activity generally from an apartment he had rented specifically because of its proximity to the area he wanted to see.
From the PLASTIC MILLENNIUM project.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Plastic Millennium - historical backgrounder

images F. Harvor, 2013

These two images are of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and Admiral Ernest King -- two lesser known but significant actors in the drama of World War Two. As both David Reynolds and Ian Kershaw have pointed out, the monumental war we remember began actually as two wars: one being fought between in Europe, and one fought in Asia. And while the European war broke out in September, 1939, the Asian war had been dragging of for some time, since it had its source in the meat-grinder of the imperial Japanese invasion of China, as well as ongoing guerrilla conflicts between Koreans and Japanese.

Furthermore, though the prime belligerents of Germany, France and Britain are well-known, several "lesser" actors were significant from the beginning; although Canadian troops were not active in the Battle of France (troops were sent overseas at that time, but only arrived in France as the French army was crumbling and the British Expeditionary Force was cut off at Dunkirk), supplies from Canada to the UK were an essential life-line across an Atlantic Ocean that was riddled with U-boats. Similarly, while conservative historians tend to make quick work of "Britain and her empire", the Treaty of Westminster had granted the ex-colonies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand sovereignty over foreign policy (something these nations did not possess during World War One). 

As the war slowly dragged in the United States, it did not do so as an actual belligerent -- that is, as a military actor. This wasn't due to lack of concern; the U.S. started providing material support quite quickly, and, under the Roosevelt administration, was eager to do so. But political opinion in the U.S. was deeply divided between isolationists and internationalists. President Roosevelt -- who had spent his entire presidency fending off attacks from ultra-conservatives (including at least one coup attempt) -- needed to shore up public opinion if American was to enter what isolationist Charles Lindbergh labeled "Europe's war". Meanwhile, the Battle of the Atlantic was raging,with both Canadian and American convoys shipping food and materiel to Britain, and losing staggering numbers of vessels in the process. Admiral King was at the centre of this drama. Meanwhile, in Canada, Mackenzie King was fighting a political battle to garner support for the Canadian armed forces; Canada had almost been broken in two with the Conscription Crisis of World War One. Mackenzie King -- like Roosevelt, a cautious politician -- wanted to move with the flow of public opinion, and not in advance of it. The result was a war that unfolded by degrees, and not, as general perceptions have it, that exploded all at once.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Democracy Evolutions - 6

Part six of my Democracy Evolutions series is up at my new site:

When the great powers of Europe entered World War One, they believed the war would be short, and, of course, decided in their favour. But as the conflict dragged on, its costs escalated, and a new form of fear took hold among the banking centres of the continent and Britain. That fear was that the war would be so ruinously expensive that it would dismantle the imperial system the major European nations were so proud of having constructed....


Saturday, September 28, 2013


1. Brian Fawcett and Steven Beattie on the David Glimour flap.

2. The second interdisciplinary conference on the graphic novel at Oxford closes. Several interesting papers presented. I met several interesting people there, and learned quite a bit. More to follow.

3. Le Devoir reviews Jérôme Borromée, a title by first-time novelist Guillaume Borque. I haven't read the work, and am not likely to get access to it any time soon. (My favourite kind of book is printed ... and sold at a reasonable price at a second-hand shop (just for the record, I'm okay with e-books, but firmly within the ee-cheon won price range, with a slight preference for those priced unequivocally at "kong").) 

The review of the novel describes it as being about a fairly archetypal urban male in his early 30s whose life is comfortable but who's in the grip of various dissatisfactions, some explicit, some concealed: he is worried about his sexual identity, and apparently shamed by rumours of his father's gayness. It sounds like an interesting and honest treatment of sexual anxieties that, while they come in an entire spectrum of forms, tend to be universal in the sense that one can only scrape away at the layers of this sort of anxiety -- one can never fully comprehend it. It is interesting to contrast the themes of this title with the David Gilmour's apparent opinion that "guy's guy" authors are strictly heterosexual; a leap of psychoanalytic faith. 

Part of the problem is that while Gilmour is interested in the work of male writers who are fascinated with women (an interest that I share), he does very little to scrape away at the difficulties -- the possible projections, anxieties, wish fulfilments, and secret currents of self-loathing -- that are the flip-side of human sexuality's "directness". (Ironically, Gilmour the writer seems more in tune with this than Gilmour the interviewee.) In any event, it does seem to me that while Gilmour is currently being taken to task for alleged sexism, it might be more germane -- and more revealing -- to discuss his attitudes toward fellow Canadian writers ... a group he expresses obvious disdain for. 

Of course, Canadian writing has never perceived itself as especially tough. But what is toughness? And does it deserve a conflation with guy's guy masculinity? I'd like to hear somewhat more on this issue -- both in terms of the interesting fiction that is currently being produced in Quebec (and getting little attention in anglo Canada), and in terms of Gilmour's more considered thoughts on this matter (he is fluently bilingual). It seems to me the question of his estimation of Canadian literature is where the controversy should really be sourced ... not the present brouhaha over his supposed sexism -- a sexism he himself denies, and which no evidence of has yet been produced.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Saturday, September 07, 2013

John Harris - part two

This is part two of my conversation with author and critic John Harris. To see part one, go here.

 2. Reports of declines in book sales have become widespread. How bad are the declines? And do you think they are only a cyclical phenomenon, or do they represent a permanent negative change for print book sales?

The Economist, 17 Aug 2013, reported that total spending on books “is not likely to rise.” But there is a shift in that e-book sales are rising and print-book sales falling. Worldwide, e-books account for 14% of book sales. In America, which serves also as a measure of over-all, first-world consumption, that figure is 30%, and HarperCollins is figuring on an increase to 40% in three years. According to this report, profits for publishers are “fatter” as printing, distribution and storage costs go steadily down when sales of e-books rise.

The implication is that publishers are doing fine. The fact that profits from e-books are compensating for losses from print-books suggests that, while overall book sales might be slipping, it is not by much.

Likely, most literary writers would see the Economist figures as irrelevant to them, because it’s conceivable that overall sales of books could be stable while sales of literary books are in free-fall. So far as I know, no one’s tried to collect figures on this, possibly because you’d have to establish a definition of “literary.” You could set up rough parameters by assuming that 90% of poetry books or collections of literary criticism are literary, that only a small amount (say 5%) of “genre” fiction (sci fi, romance, porn, western, mystery) is literary, and that a certain percent of adventure-travel is literary etc, then track sales of novels, memoirs, and books of poetry and essays since the advent of the web.

This might provide some insight into whether the e-book phenomenon is giving a special advantage to crap novels over literary ones. I myself doubt this is happening. I sense there’s a fixed ratio between novels sold by Arnold Bennett and those sold by James Joyce that would apply to paperback novels sold by Harlequin (over 100 million per year since the mid-nineties, by Danielle Steel (800 million to date) and by Margaret Atwood (?). That ratio likely applies to e-books too.

It may be that sales of literary books in the schools are down, and school sales are a big factor for literary writers. Again, I don’t think anyone’s collected any figures, but there’s been a shift in schools towards Creative Writing exercises and courses, which require fewer books and anthologies, and technical and journalistic (writing on public issue) courses, which require none. The “English Department” in the schools, colleges and universities is now teaching writing rather than writing through literature. It may be too that fifty years of deconstructionist and postmodernist attacks on the canon and questioning of the possibility of a canon (i.e. of anthologies, class reading lists, courses on literary genres and writers etc) has had an effect.

The Economist reports happier authors as well as happier publishers: “Royalties from e-books are about 25% of net receipts, compared with an average of around 16% in print. Careers can take off faster.” The sole example given is E. L. James’s bondage-buster, Fifteen Shades of Grey, which went from online to print. The book is part of a trilogy that has sold 70 million copies, in paperback, to date.

Again, James’s experience might not seem relevant to writers of literary novels — I haven’t read her so I don’t know how she would be regarded. But she represents possibilities for literary writers if they decide to approach e-book publishers or engage in self-publishing on the web. It may be that, as the Economist implies, it’s easier (cheaper) to advertise on the web as well as to publish. If you self-publish, you can with a little practice and minimal expense create as attractive a product as any mainline publisher. In print, this is impossible.

3. What area of book publishing is suffering most? More specifically, are novel sales suffering more than other kinds of books?

See #2. There’s no evidence that any area of book publishing is in decline or that novel sales, specifically, are down. Whether sales of “literary” books, including novels, is down depends on the definition of “literary.”

4. Are the declines linked to woes in the bricks-and-mortar retail sector, for example, bankrupt/near-bankrupt independents and teetering book chains, or are troubles in the retail trade the result, not the cause, of declining book sales?

Paul McNally’s article on this in Canadian Notes and Queries 83 was a revelation to me. He was responding to CNQ’s theme, “who killed CanLit?” His answer, based on his own experience running his McNally-Robinson chain on the prairies, was that CanLit is “robust” and that small brick-and-mortar stores can be profitable if they sell e-books as he does (through Google’s Canadian e-bookstore) and serve as focal points for “regional and literary [there’s that word again] books” that are self-published or produced by small, local presses: “As a community institution, the independent bookstore . . . has a lovely, serendipitous feel and sometimes, when the right network of authors, friends, family, neighbors and colleagues gets together to launch the book (and buy it), there’s a wonderful sense of work fulfilled and a new beginning.”

In my own town, Prince George, we have a small Coles in the mall and a fairly large independent downtown bookstore called Books & Co. Books & Co. doesn’t sell e-books but is an outlet for small-press books about the region or by local authors (from Caitlin Press, Heritage, New Star, Repository, Gorse St. and Creekstone) or for a large array of self-published books from students in the two creative writing courses (at the college and the university) and from local writers. It has that feel that McNally describes, augmented by the availability of food and coffee (Café Voltaire) and by an endless series of musical events, plays, poetry readings, and power-point presentations by photographers and travelers in the upstairs theatre that can seat 100. Their website conveys the essence of what McNally is talking about and allows customers to check events, arrange to put on their own events, find out what books are in stock, participate in local causes (most recently, to keep the print edition of the Globe and Mail coming into town) etc.

Books and Co. also features a huge array of remaindered books. I believe this feature has to do with the tax benefits publishers receive when they get rid of their print runs. It’s also a great service to readers. As often as not, I’m in the store to pick up books of fairly fresh Canadian poetry (a weakness) for a dollar or two per copy.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Fievre Globale II

Dans le village de ta naissance, les cigales et les chats sont en competition pour devenir l'essence de l'été.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Global Fevering II

In your hometown, the cicadas compete with the cats to be the summer's maximum.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Yesterday would have been Richard's fiftieth birthday. The tradition in Asia is that one gathers with the deceased's family and friends and has dinner, as if for a normal birthday. In this case, that wasn't possible, so Suki and I went to the Buddhist temple near Kyungbukkong.

So now he's gone. It's still sinking in.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fievre Globale - 1

Fade in
Extérieur. Une plage en Corée du Sud. Jour.

VO: "Nous arrivons à Daejin en bus. Nous sommes seulement un ou deux kilomètre de la DMZ. En venant ici, nous sommes passés l'une base de l'armée après l'autre. Premierement, l'utilisation militaire semble le principal moteur de l'économie locale....

«Au Daejin, le terminal est si petite que dans un premier temps, il semble déserte. Mais après nous orienter, nous trouvons notre chemin vers la plage.

«C'est beau - en forme de croissant, et, contrairement à plusieurs des plages plus au sud le long de la côte, complètement rempli avec du sable brun clair. Il est également – dans cet coin - à peu près déserte. Loin de nous, un foule, proche des hotels cher.

Il ya une barrière entre la route et la plage. Près de la section où nous en sommes, il est enfilées avec du fil de fer barbelé, un vestige de l'époque où cette région était muré de l'utilisation civile...

"Maintenant, la plage est ouverte ... mais les affaires n'est pas très bon. Quand nous avons faim et voulons manger un morceau, nous constatons que de localiser quelque chose d'aussi fondamental qu'un « supa "(un dépanneur), nous avons besoin de marcher presque toute la distance de la plage jusqu'a la région avec toutes les personnes et leurs radeaux gonflables en multicolores, avec les têtes d'animaux et facilement perforés.

«Retour à notre place sur la plage, une sirène se déclenche alors. La voix d'un homme soufflant dans le microphone, comme pour effacer la poussière. Puis son avertissement brouillées: « Ne pas aller trop loin dans l'eau avec vos trucs flottants »- ou quelque chose ... je ne peux pas lui donner un sens, et tu dois faire de la traduction sur la base d'un texte ébréché et incomplète.

«Plus de temps à la plage. Première,un baignade dans l'eau salée froide. Le choc de l'océan - le résidus saine et claire de la frigidité de celui-ci. Dans l'été, sa étant tolérable. (Je pense à mon frère pendant ses jours au Cap-Breton.)

"Ensuite, la sirène de nouveau. Plus de soufflage dans le microphone et un autre avertissement, celui-ci encore plus confus.

"Une autre annoncement.

"Une autre sirène.

«Je m'adresse à toi. 이상한 아저씨," dis-je. Cet homme est du type bizarre.

"A l'époque de la quatrième annonce de sirène, je commence à faire mon propre.

«Fwee-wee-weeeeeeee. Foof! Foof! 여러분! 자 들 야지! Wife 를 빨리 아나 줘!

«Et, en suivant les instructions, je te donne un câlin."

Global Fevering is part of the Plastic Millennium project. It links to two screenplay module novels: a mega-novel (Plastic Millennium), and a conventional-length work (Paper Keys to Burning Kingdoms). Both these projects are complete and being shopped around to publishers and agents. 

Global Fevering is an experimental online work-in-progress; it links the two former projects and occasionally quotes from them, while taking the narrative in new directions. It, too, is intended for eventual print publication. For now, however, it is digital, it is here, and it is free to read.

Copyright © 2013 Finn Harvor. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Global Fevering I

Fade in. 
Exterior. A beach in South Korea. Day.

VO: "We arrive at Daejin by bus. We're only a kilometer or two from the DMZ. On the way here, we passed army base after army base. Military usage sill seems the main engine of the local economy.

"At Daejin, the terminal is so small that at first it looks deserted. But after orienting ourselves, we find our way down to the beach.

"It's beautiful -- crescent-shaped and, unlike several of the beaches farther south along the coast, filled completely with light brown sand. It's also -- apart from a pocket of people crowded at the foot of the town's pricier, slicker 'pensions' -- pretty much deserted. There is a fence between the road and the beach. Near the section where we are, it's strung with barbed wire; a vestige from the days when this region was walled off from civilian use. 

"Now the beach is open for business ... but business isn't very good. When we get hungry and want a bite to eat, we find that to locate something as basic as a "supa" (convenience store), we have to trek almost the entire distance of the beach, to the area with all the people and their inflatable rafts and multi-coloured, easily-punctured, animal-headed inner tubes.

"Back at our spot on the beach, a siren goes off. Then, the voice of an ajusshi blowing into the mike, as if to clear it of dust. Then his garbled warning: 'don't go too far into the water in your floaty thingies' -- or something ... I can't make sense of it, and you have to do translation on the basis of a chipped and incomplete text.

"More time at the beach. First swim in the salt-cool water. The shock of ocean. The clear, healthy residue of frigidity of it. Its being summer tolerable. (I think of my brother during his days at Cape Breton.)

"Then, the siren again. More mike blowing and another warning, this one even more garbled.

"Another swim.

"Another siren.

"I turn to you. '이상한 아저씨," I say. Strange guy.

"By the time of the fourth siren/announcement, I start making my own. 

"'Fwee-wee-WEEEEEEEE. Foof! Foof! 여러분! 자 들야지! Wife를 빨리 아나줘!'

"And, following the instructions, I give you a hug."

Global Fevering is part of the Plastic Millennium project. It links to two screenplay module novels: a mega-novel (Plastic Millennium), and a conventional-length work (Paper Keys to Burning Kingdoms). Both these projects are complete and being shopped around to publishers and agents. 

Global Fevering is an experimental online work-in-progress; it links the two former projects and occasionally quotes from them, while taking the narrative in new directions. It, too, is intended for eventual print publication. For now, however, it is digital, it is here, and it is free to read.

Copyright © 2013 Finn Harvor. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sean Dixon - playwright, novelist

Sean Dixon - actor, playwright, novelist (The Girls Who Saw Everything, The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn)

CBT: V. S. Naipaul has declared there are not any important writers anymore, Philip Roth has predicted the novel will become a cult activity, Peter Stothard has asked if fiction writing simply used to be better, Cullen Murphy, David Shields, Lee Seigel, and Geoff Dyer have all stated that non-fiction is superior to fiction. The list of people of letters who apparently have lost faith in literary fiction goes on an on; it is clear that an elementary questioning of the novel is not a passing cultural phase. Furthermore, the short story seems to be under siege as well: many agents and multinational publishers do not handle/publish story collections, small magazines seem perpetually underfunded, and a YouTube-ification of text and image seems to be taking short narrative in new directions.

What is your opinion? Do the novel and short story have a future? If so, what kind? And will e-technology alter the very forms of them? If so, how?

SD: I rarely read short stories, to be honest, unless they’re parables of just a few paragraphs, which I love. But when I look at a book, I like to imagine it as having a rarified, singular world entirely bound within it pages. If I see that the book is short stories, it loses its magic for me. Except when it doesn’t. I’ve tried to love them. I just don’t.

Re non-fiction vs. literary fiction, though: if things keep going the way they’re going, someone is going to come out with a wholly artificial novel, with overblown characters and an improbable plot line, and everyone’s going to get their minds blown, rediscovering this notion of imagination. ‘How did she do this amazing thing?’ they’ll ask, mouths agape over the pages. And then no one will read another non-fiction book for a hundred years.

CBT: Are the very significant structural changes taking place in the publishing industry having an effect on novel or short story writing? If so, how?

A few years ago there was some talk about the death of TV viewing, due to the internet. Then, earlier this year, Netflix released its first fully-funded endeavour, ‘House of Cards’. When I watched it, my computer was plugged into my television. This was considered revolutionary, but it was only revolutionary for the middlemen. There was no difference in how the series was written by its screenwriter, shot by its director or interpreted by its audience.

Obviously the form is changing, and the internet is influencing the way that form is changing. But the prose medium of fiction is several centuries younger than, say, the the medium of painting. And rumours of the latter’s demise has been, in the past, greatly exaggerated. It’s probably not over. The 19th Century was the Century of the novel only from a 21st Century point of view, ie. a limited point of view.

The invention of the camera was supposed to destroy painting. It certainly sent it into its most experimental phase but it didn’t destroy it. We’re even back now into a time of figurative painting and we have painters these days who are as technically proficient as any of the great masters of the Renaissance. No one ever thought that would happen in the 1950s. The future of these disciplines is just not clear.

CBT: Is the cutting back of mid-lists and a general cautiousness about taking risks on new or relatively unknown writers affecting the caliber of writing that does manage to get into print?

SD: I don’t know. Aren’t more things getting into print than 50 years ago?

CBT: Do you have an author's website? Does it help you sell books? I put it together recently when I was laid up with back troubles. I haven’t looked at it in weeks. I expect I’ll tend to it in the fall though. I have a play being mounted at the Tarragon next spring and, as it happens, I have a lot to say about it.

CBT: How do you feel about running an author's website? Do you feel its a labour of love – or an annoying imposition? Or something else altogether?

SD: I loved setting up and maintaining the blog for my first book — — and would maintain it still if I thought there was any point. I consider it to be unfinished. I set out to do the same for Kip Flynn but I realized I had nothing to say about that book beyond its own confines. Which is one of the reasons why I took so long to get back to you re this interview.

CBT: Is the selection system for novel and short story manuscripts fair? Should it be made blind?

SD: Probably not. Probably not.
But I don’t like the fact that, if I understand correctly (and I’m by no means an expert on this subject) it seems to have become very easy for a publisher to look up a writer’s ‘numbers’ and make decisions accordingly. It could mean a writer has less of a chance to develop through her lifetime if she is not fortunate enough to be successful right from the start.

CBT: According to media reports, e-book sales now represent a significant percentage of overall sales. But small bookstores see them as more a threat to their survival than anything else, and a lot of book people remain print people. Are you enthusiastic about e-books? Do they hold the potential for a renaissance in literary publishing? Or are they over-rated and too susceptible to piracy?

SD: I’m not sure that stat is as true as it was when you first sent that question. Is it? But I also think, if we don’t get back to reading print books, everyone is going to develop new, insidious forms of open-angle glaucoma.

CBT: What do you think of literary prizes? As Jason Cowley has commented, they reduce our culture's ability to think in a critically complex fashion? Do they suggest, “this book is worth reading and all these others aren't?”

SD: I would pay a lot more attention to literary prizes if they were run the way jury duty is done within the legal system, virtually pulling names out of a hat and then going through a voir dire process with a number of publishers (whose involvement could also be decided by lottery!) It could be a sort of Hunger Games scenario for critics and publishers. The chosen jurors would then be paid very well, coming from all walks of life. And we would be privy to their lifestyle changes and menu choices during the period when their task would be to read these one hundred books.

Then we’d both be more fascinated by the process and also understand better how arbitrary and ridiculous it is.

CBT: One thing that struck me about THE MANY REVENGES OF KIP FLYNN was the degree to which is was self-consciously a Toronto novel; it wasn't just a novel set in a place, but it was about having specific concerns about that place (fighting over-development -- a quintessential Canadian concern that one finds in Asia, too, but not to the same extent). Is part of what defines a literature its regional character? And if so, is there not a "CanLit" but a series of RegionLits, including, say, VanLit, HaliLit, TOLit, QueLit, MonLit, and so forth?

SD: Yeah, maybe. Like that Akashic series of city noir books.

The sad thing about Kip Flynn, though, is: I was setting out to create a myth of Toronto for a projected reader from elsewhere. It was (originally) a commission for the UK market. So I was imagining an idealized British reader sitting down with my book, which is something that never happened and, really, a stupid idea on my part. Especially since I knew Torontonians would mostly feel bored by my effrontery in daring to present a myth of their city to them. Like some small-time Michael Ondaatje. That turned out to be pretty much the case, in Toronto, at least with the print reviewers, who didn’t even bother to pick it up. I did get some appreciative bloggers. Kip Flynn’s biggest adherents have turned out to mostly live in Kensington Market itself. So, then, it’s more from the genre of KensingtonLit. Which is its own kind of accomplishment.

CBT:  The first time I was exposed to your work was when I saw you at a reading at a kind of ad hoc art space on Queen. You were reading from a work in process about being harassed by a stubborn and wrong-headed tax auditor. The reading still is quite vivid in my memory. Furthermore, I note your experience across genres (music, theatre) and your play-writing. In effect, you are writing literature on "many platforms", but writing in forms that tend to be pushed out the standard category of literary prose production -- the short story collection and novel.

In your opinion, should artists do more work across disciplines? After all, it seems to be something of an accepted norm in a crypto-version anyway: artist are now expected to maintain websites, be energetic and theatrical at readings (that, at least, is the ideal), and so forth. Is there such as thing as literature off the page? And if so, should it be recognized as an equal partner to literature on the page?

SD: I like your idea of literature off the page, but working across disciplines is not something I would advise, no. I would advise against it: A writer needs to develop an audience. Passionate adherents of theatre don’t tend to be studious followers of literary culture, and vice versa. If you’re working in both media, you’re more likely to pass right under the radar than to be seen as a double-threat. I’ve been a playwright in Toronto since 1990 and most of the current crop of theatre critics aren’t the least bit familiar with my work. Ditto for the theatre community. That came from novel writing.

That’s not to say I regret doing it. I’ve spent most of the last couple of years trying to claw my way back into a certain visibility in the Toronto theatre, during which time I vowed I would never write prose again. Today, though, I have two or three things in development in a couple of theatres, and I’ve found myself being pulled into an impractical prose project.

The way I came to novel-writing from playwriting is something that could not have happened any other way than the way it did. Really, I’m an actor whose training involved to picking up skills, as needed: that’s why I started the banjo and that’s why I started writing text to be spoken aloud.

CBT: What are you working on now that you're excited about?

CBT: Play: A God In Need of Help, to be produced April 2014 at the Tarragon Theatre.

Play: A Painter in the Dark, in development at the Tarragon Theatre.

Play: The Orange Dot , commissioned by Vikki Anderson for DVxT, Toronto, as a companion piece for Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, and featuring (at least at the moment) several songs composed on the banjo, for the 2014-15 season.

Play: White Boy from Gyntford, a free adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, unapologetically Ontarian. Currently homeless.

Play: Adaptation of Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone, currently being shopped around.

A new novel.

Sadly though, I’m running out of money. This seems to be the time when I’m most inspired. I don’t know what/why that is.

Bio:Sean Dixon is a playwright and novelist. Recent plays include Lost Heir, The Gift of the Coat (ATP PlayRites 2008), Right Robert & His Robber Bride (Caravan Farm 2012), andFRANCE—or, ‘The Niqab’ (Summerworks 2012).

Two upcoming plays: A God In Need of Help (Tarragon Theatre, Toronto, April 2014, Richard Rose, dir.), is based on a true story from 1606 about four strong men who are compelled to carry a large painting on foot over the Alps from Venice to Prague; The Orange Dot (DVxT Theatre, Toronto, 2014-15, Vikki Anderson, dir.), is a play with music about two city workers who are beginning the process of taking down an old tree when it starts manifesting otherworldly behaviour. 

Sean’s first novel, The Girls Who Saw Everything (2007) aka The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal (UK, US, Australia), is about a young women’s book club in Montreal that sets out to read the world’s oldest book. His second novel, The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn (2011), is about a young, low-level entrepreneur who takes on one of Toronto’s most powerful building developers. 

 He’s also written two YA novels, The Feathered Cloak and The Winter Drey, both set during the time of the Vikings. 

He lives in Toronto with his wife, documentary filmmaker Katerina Cizek. 

Monday, August 05, 2013

Former People, Current Work

Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers, is looking for submissions. Edited by C. Derick Varn and Steven A. Michalkow, this looks like a good project. Will be following it with interest.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

John Harris - author, critic

This is part one of an interview with John Harris, author and columnist for Dooney's Cafe:

CBT: Literature is in trouble -- that is, more trouble than usual. Why do you think this is? The increasing prevalence of TV? The distractions of increasingly narcotic subcultures such as video games? Sept. 11? The Crash of 2008? Or is talk of the "death of literature" simple exaggeration?

JH: It’s not likely that literature is in trouble. It’s just that the ways in which we use written language, to make and present stories and song, change. This makes us literary writers uncomfortable. When we’re uncomfortable we tend to conflate ourselves with our art. If our royalties are going down, literature is in trouble. If we can’t get published as easily as before, literature is in trouble. If we can’t get jobs in the English Department because enrolments are collapsing, literature is in trouble. If repressive regimes enforce censorship, literature is in trouble. If the economy tanks, literature is in trouble. If multinational publishing houses flood the market with crap novels, literature is in trouble.

Thinking like this is pretentious, and it confuses us. One thing we need to remember is that there’s a fairly convincing theory of art that holds that the more uncomfortable writers are, the better they write. Maybe literature would be better off if writers were in more trouble. Sharon Thesen put it this way at the 1984 Winnipeg Writing and Performance conference:

Poetry’s identity with social crisis and crises of meaning will always guarantee both its vitality and its general unpopularity . . . . In future, poetry may become less a “discharge of psychological evil-being” and more a homeopathic infusion into a healthy body politic, but his may mean the disappearance of (lyric) poetry as we know it — an occurrence I can’t say I look forward to. But that is the unsettled and questionable subject of poetic language speaking, that would rather have Artaud than Utopia.

Literary writers in Canada and other relatively free, prosperous and peaceful countries actually are in trouble, but in ways that are good. They are facing technical challenges connected to the platforms on which they deliver stories and songs. The Elizabethans faced similar challenges, in having to convert from manuscript to print circulation, from patronage to profit, from the church or schoolroom venue to the playhouse and a mass audience.

This goes back a long ways. With literature, writing as compared to speaking or singing increased in importance with the invention of paper. There was now a way of communicating across large spaces and over time, which was important to business, law and government. Society facilitated written communication by teaching reading and writing. All of this provided extra opportunities to people who invented stories and song lyrics and wrote them down. They could appeal to a larger audience. They could get jobs doing what they liked to do — at least the talking-about-literature part. They had stimulating new technologies to play with. Writers in one country could read what writers in another country were doing — the English, for example, in the fifteenth century, reading the Italians.

When the printing press was invented, writers could have books of poems and stories mass-produced and sold in the market. This enabled them to dominate other artists. Musicians and singers had to get audiences to come to listen. Painters and sculptors had to get people into galleries. Playwrights had to get audiences to the theatre.

Now there are marketable platforms for plays, music and sculpture, making things fairer for other artists and providing even more stimulating challenges and technology to story-tellers and song-writers. To talk of these platforms as being “narcotic,” as compared to the printed page, smacks of sour grapes. It implies that audiences are not to be enticed into reading or listening to poems and stories but forced because they are, essentially, stupid. They don’t know when something’s bad for them. Writers with this attitude may be conflating writing and teaching, taking a classroom of students to be a real audience. They are not. Audiences have to be entertained.

Certainly scientists should look at what various media of communications do to the mind, just as they might study certain narcotics, and certainly if problems are suspected governments should act. But writers don’t know enough about CAT or MRI scans to provide any direction in this, and some (Yeats, Frost) believe that it’s part of their job to put readers into a trance. Some evidently believe it’s part of their job to be in a trance.

Shakespeare wrote extremely sophisticated plays in extremely sophisticated English that appealed to both the educated and the uneducated. Likely he spent more time understanding that audience and writing for it than he did complaining about it. Money was an important motivator.

So, no “death of literature.” “Death of the book?” So what? Homer did okay without it. Shakespeare didn’t pay too much attention to it, though he made sure that his lyric and narrative poetry got published. For lyric and narrative, that’s where the money was. Now, maybe the computer screen is better. The audience decides these matters, not the writer, and it decides it through its purchases. 


Monday, July 29, 2013

As the Professionals Do

A YT video from a few weeks back explaining how you, too, can meet the highest standards of commodity production as defined by the movie-making industry at its pre-production phase.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The Ferocity of the Disputes"

Jacob Heilbrunn on THOSE ANGRY DAYS and 1940, two non-fiction books that describe the political mood in the United States before its entry into World War Two:

In July 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt met with senators from both political parties at the White House in a final effort to persuade them to amend the Neutrality Act preventing America from aiding other countries. After drinks were poured, Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, argued that the world was approaching a catastrophic war. The 74-year-old Republican senator William Borah, who had led the fight against Woodrow Wilson and American entry into the League of Nations in 1919, shook his head in disgust. “There is not going to be any war in Europe this year,” he said. “All this hysteria is manufactured and artificial.”

The period is a fascinating one because it underlies the extent to which Roosevelt was extreme pressure to keep the U.S. neutral; Roosevelt in fact won election to no small degree by explicitly promising that American soldiers would not fight the Nazis in Europe.

As it turned out, the speed and scale of the Nazi victories in continental Europe and the western Soviet Union created a new reality for all the nations of the world, including those in the Americas: this reality was a geopolitical reality.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


John Harris continues his Poets and Son series with a long, extended article on Samuel Taylor and Hartley Coleridge. [Note: I'm doing an interview with Harris, and will be posting part one shortly.]

Brenda Schmidt begins work on a birding project. Schmidt posts regularly on Manitoba wildlife, and her site is well worth checking out.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bernard Anton - English translation

An English translation of my interview with Bernard Anton - poet, teacher, writer

[French interview here]

CBT: We often hear that literature is in a state of crisis. First, do you agree? If sos, what are the factors that have created this crisis? Is the ongoing recession? September 11th? Or is there other factors farther earlier than the new millennium has also made the crisis?

BA: Yes and no. Culture (the field) is in crisis because the artistic side seems less interested in people who are likely to make things which are easier to use and understand. However, culture takes other forms, such as photography, video clip ... pop art on the web is extremely lively and popular. Maybe we should popularize and democratize culture as a whole ...

CBT: And the literature is what, exactly? And is the traditional novel the best representative of this?

BA: Literature is vast. The traditional novel is only a part of it. New genres have emerged and prevail today, like slam, spoken words ...

CBT: Do you think the Internet will become the primary means of distributing books?

BA: Yes, to make the book visible and accessible. The Internet today is the # 1 means of global communication. It is a must, and so easy to access. It transcends borders. In 2-3 seconds, we have the answers to almost anything we want to research ... This is much more effective than going to the library and searching for hours.

CBT: Do you think that e-books will replace paper books?

BA: Yes and no. The paper book is a format that will always remain, at least for me. We need contact with the material. It cannot be limited to virtual means.

CBT: Do you think there is a wall between the anglophone and francophone literature? If so, what should be done?

AB: This is not a wall, it's a difference. These are two different cultures that operate in two cultural contexts that are not at all alike. They resemble two different countries. There's is nothing one can do. It is normal.

CBT: Do you think prizes for literature are dangerous because they suggest that "this book should be read and all the others we should not?"

BA: The awards recognize one work or author. However, they tend to minimize the beautiful work of other authors and other works ... In a contest, there is one prize. and it is chosen from work among the five finalists. But the four other works that have not won the award are just as good. A prize is subjective, relative. It is sometimes the result of politicized choices, and it depends on the jury. Another jury may give the same prize to another book and not even recognize the title that won the prize ....

CBT: Do you have a writer's website writer? If yes, do you think it is an effective way to promote your books?

BA: Yes, I have an author's site. it is very important to be visible and accessible to my readers. This is out of respect for them. This is one of my communication tools. I also have to do my part to promote my books, and not only leave that to my press agent and my publisher ...

CBT: "Slams" (eg, "polygamous slams") -- what is this exactly?

BA It is a collection of poems that are rhythmic and rhyming, and dealing with everyday life. The choice of "polygamous" is deliberate. It is meant in the broad sense, and intended to have a versatile meaning. I'm not talking about polygamy in the narrow, sexual sense, but figuratively. For me, slams flirt with all languages, all cultures, all continents, all ages, all genders, all countries.

CBT: According to your biography in Wikipedia, "In 2005 [Anton] had a serious car accident, which slowed his activities." Please give us more details about how the accident has changed your life.

BA: Since my accident, I am no longer the same. I run slow, I take my time. I take care of my body more. I am more careful. My limits force me to choose my activities and be more patient. This is physics.

CBT: One theme in "Advocacy for the Earth and live" [Living Earth] is the environment. You express a passion for ecology. Is it possible for literature to help the environment?

BA: All can contribute to helping the environment: art, politics, economics, industry and literature ... There are many movies that are trying to raise awareness ... many artists, several writers. The duty of literature is to reflect and interact with the time and problems of his time. That is, it seems to me, inseparable. We are all products of our time. Literature is no exception.

CBT: These days, what projects are you working on?

BA: I am preparing a third collection of slams and trying to rework my thesis dealing with forgiveness. I would like to make a more accessible version which can connect to the general public and not just a few specialists.

Bio: Bernard Anton Ph.D. (Born 1961) lives in the Laurentians (Quebec). He began early studying drama, literature, education and the science of religion and helping relationships. He has published more than 46 books (poetry slam, storytelling, drama, essay, spirituality, environment) with different Quebec and European publishers. He has been a professor for over twenty-four years. He has participated in several exhibitions, conferences, journals, conferences and events. Jean Royer described his poems as having an "unusual mastery of language." Gaston Miron observed that his work has "a truthfulness of emotion and the miracle of the presence that do not lie." Jean Ethier-Blais recognizes him as the "poet of the major themes at the top and delicate verb." Reginald Hamel says: "His poetry can marry the heavenly and the earthly and give the mysteries of life universal tone." They call him the poet of luminous beauty, the magician of words, the awakener of consciences. He reveals in his lectures, performances and writings, a remarkable universal humanist thinker. Preserving the environment and the well-being of people is one of his favorite themes. His work is often a finalist for literary prizes. His work of environmental advocacy For the Earth and the Living won an award for a Commendation of Excellence  EFA (Montreal Book Fair, 2009) and all of his poetry the has been awarded a Diploma of Honour for the Francophonie (Europoésie, Paris 2009). He has twice won the third prize in various competitions.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Self-Published Singularity

William Rycroft of The Blurb on A Naked Singularity:

A 700-page self-published novel. I can't think of anything I'm less likely to read apart from maybe anything by Dan Brown. Or Jeffrey Archer. Or Mills and Boon. Actually scratch those, why on earth would I bother to buy a novel that couldn't get a single publisher to take it on, and a long one at that? Because some reviews are tempting, and I'm up for a challenge, and something about it lit a fuse within me. A review that alludes to Pynchon, Gaddis, Melville, Dostoevsky and Rabelais might just as easily send you running for cover as rushing to see what's within the covers but it does at least give an indication of the ambition and scope of this leviathan. This book certainly won't be to all tastes but if you like any of the writers above and might be goaded into action by a book that says, 'Go on, I dare you' then I dare you too.

A Naked Singularity is one of those books so large, so ambitious and so bonkers that it makes the task of writing a review almost impossible. You either write something as bloated as the book itself in an attempt to include all of its maddening variety or you end up paralysed and providing little more than a pithy summary and some hyperbole.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Mike Brodie's A PERIOD OF JUVENILE PROSPERITY, via Dan Wagstaff. The photo Wagstaff has at his site, apart from details of clothing and the fact it's in colour, looks eerily like it could have been taken 80 years ago, when the Great Depression was already sinking its teeth into people's lives for the long term. And, since the similarity is eerie, one has to ask about what constitutes economic depressions at the individual level, and whether they disappear.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What American Writers Do and Canadian Ones Aren't Allowed To

Alex Good on A Naked Singularity:

A Naked Singularity is, in other words, a great American novel: large, ambitious, and full of talk. It's far from perfect, and typical of a number of trends - not all of them good - in contemporary fiction, but we can be thankful that this time the buzz did its work.