GGK will be going ‘on tour’ in Canada to coincide with the publication of The Last Light of the Sun. The principal media appearances will begin February 27th, and run through the March 17th reading and on-stage interview at the Harbourfront Reading Series in Toronto. After judicious arm-twisting (not all of it by me) he has agreed to keep an online journal which will be hosted here, and linked to his publishers, and a number of other sites.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (GGK) on Friday, March 19, 2004 – 4:07 pm:
As Carol Burnett used to sing, at the end of her show, “Seems we just got started …”
I like looking back … the very first comment post was Émilie vowing confrontation, and that certainly became a motif. And I see I was teasing Debby (not named at that point) from the outset, too. I ended up owing her a lunch, which seems reasonable.
I’ve enjoyed this, and have a bit of a sense that it did some of the things I was hoping it would … expanding the ambit of the tour to places I wasn’t getting to, affording an opportunity for interaction that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. I suspect some people might know a little more about the book world than before. (What you’ll do with that knowledge, I don’t know, but I don’t happen to believe all learning needs to be task-specific.)
I’ve been made aware, in the last week or so, of how the journal habit can set in. Experiences filtered through an immediate awareness that one might write about them. For me the problem with that is … I am a writer, and that means that phrasings, rhythms, (yes, even parentheses) become part of the process, and that takes me perilously close to the space (and time) required for books to get written.
It makes sense to wrap this. I like the ‘arc’ involved, the narrative of it: beginning as the tour started, ending just after it finishes. I am not going away. Those who spend time at brightweavings.com know that I do surface in these Forums on occasion (sometimes bearing limericks for the unwary). Those who have newly discovered Deborah’s site, I imagine you’ll have realized by now that the denizens are immensely civilized, and you might want to linger.
Depending on how circumstances play out, I might consider reviving this journal in the fall, when I go to the U.K. and Israel (just those two, for now) but we’ll sort that out nearer the season. Deborah will know, and be able to include it in her newsletter.
My thanks for all comments, apologies if some queries were missed in the breakneck pace. The sense of having ‘companions’ in here made the tour much more enjoyable.
We’ll do it again one day.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 18, 2004 – 4:45 pm:
Ways we like an email to begin, the sequel …
This is a good news day:
Susan Allison followed up the reprint news (primarily fueled by Barnes & Noble, it seems) by reporting that Last Light is at #23 on the Ingram bestseller list in the U.S.
In a further act of publishers being gracious (no, I am not suggesting this is unusual), Debby has refrained from needling me (yet; come to think of it, this is unusual) about our bet. For the record, I’d predicted 100 or so, she said over 175, and the count was just under 200. Given that Harbourfront charges admission for these things, I’m quite touched. My pocketbook will be more touched, I surmise, when she picks the restaurant.
I enjoyed Gary’s recap of the evening, and I do remember him (bearded) between two Tanyas … the ‘not-Tanya’ figure. I confess I’m amused he flipped the sequence of events. Not that it matters, but I did read before Mark and I went mano a mano. The lawyer in me offers this as evidence (do we need it?) of the caution needed when assessing ‘eyewitness accounts’ of any alleged event. (What, me, seizing a ‘teacher moment?’ Perish the thought.)
I confess (unexpected, this) that the imminent wrap of this journal leaves me with a small element of the mixed emotions that attend ending a novel. And that, truthfully, is a reason why I really shouldn’t keep these things going for too long. I have books to figure out.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 18, 2004 – 9:31 am:
Ways we like an email to begin …
“Excellent news:” … about three hours before heading down to Harbourfront, I was notified by Susan Allison, my editor in New York, that the Americans are also reprinting, less than two weeks after publication. A really pleasant way to head out into the (mostly gone by then) snow.
Had dinner down by the lake with the reading series representative, the evening’s moderator, and Mark Askwith, who was going to be interviewing me on stage after the reading. Some of of the talk was about this journal, and others, and the whole emerging ‘blog’ culture. “Dragon-powered ships” came up … we also gossipped. No, I won’t repeat.
Over at the theatre, Debby popped into the dressing room looking quite pleased with herself. ‘Where are you taking me to lunch?’ quoth she. Seems I lost our bet, big time. Very large crowd. I blame the melted snow. Actually, less flippantly, it was a wonderful gathering. This makes a difference, always, for a reading: any performer – as I think I’ve said before – takes his or her cue from the audience.
I remember once reading, here in Toronto, at the Hart House Library on campus, from Lions, a passage I thought might be amusing, but wasn’t sure. Very early, a small throwaway line got a very good laugh, and I relaxed into it, instantly.
I did read Aeldred’s children. One of the things I like about the scene (Martin Springett commented on this over Penguin-sponsored drinks afterwards) is how the very light, even frivolous mood turns sharply in the last half-page. This sort of mood shift works, to my mind, in a reading passage.
Martin, by the way, has just produced a new CD called (ahem) “Bright Weaving” with fifteen pieces inspired by my various novels, including an adaptation of the Epigraph to the new one. His website is martinspringett.com and I suspect (haven’t checked) segments can be heard there. Also imagine he’ll make some available for Deborah here, soon enough.
The interview part of the evening, with Mark, was easy because he’s a professional. I did tease him (me? tease?) about how tv types just think they have to flash their profile and lean back looking sagacious. He took revenge by telling of how he first met me, 20 years ago, at a signing for The Summer Tree and stood there wondering why so many lawyers in suits were clustered in a science fiction book store. (My own memory of that night, my first signing, was that the McClelland & Stewart publicity department brought me a gift of a very large tree (!) and put it beside my table while I signed. Lawyers and foliage.)
I wrote an email to Don Coles, about how much pleasure I took in Doctor Bloom’s Story – his first novel, after ten books of poetry, just published. Don’s reply put me in mind again of the comments elsewhere here on the sfrevu.com sort-of-review of Last Light of the Sun. Don was expressing pleasure, but noting how frustrated he was by (uniformly positive) reviews that still managed to miss most of what he was trying to do.
Sound familiar? I’m going to drop him a note later today, along the lines of what we’ve been discussing here. We need to savour (a parting ‘ou’ spelling?) the thoughtful readings, and readers.
One more interview this morning, at my favourite café, then I have to pop into the agency and get a fast update from Nicole Winstanley, just back (and surely jet-lagged) on the London Book Fair. Then a lunch with David Davidar, the newly-arrived and quite exceptional Publisher of Penguin Canada (he’s a novelist, too). Then, I think, I’m done. I’ll probably write the last journal entry here tomorrow.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 – 11:20 am:
(Points for sourcing, but it isn’t that hard.)
Blanket of snow last night, the last (may one hope?) of the season, it feels. Toronto’s sheltered from the worst of the snow belt by the Niagara Escarpment and the lake, but I think I’ve gained a boost in my bet with Debby as to the numbers for tonight.
On the comments thread, someone complained about a ‘bad review’ at sfrevu.com and I took a look (how not?). I had to smile a bit. The review is extremely positive. The surfer’s lament (a bluegrass song title?) is really that it is a badly written, not-getting-it (maybe not even reading it all) piece.
I have to say, after years and years, this is … par for the course. One wants (obviously) critics to like the book, and one wants (as obviously?) them to like it for cogent, thoughtful reasons. If you get the first without the second, it feels naive and even ill-mannered for the writer to complain. Really judicious, reflective reviewing is a treasure, and treasures (almost by definition) are rare. Deborah has a few critiques posted elsewhere on the site here by people who have read me with the sort of attentiveness and empathy writers can only hope for: Doug Barbour, Rob Kilheffer, Bill Sheehan, others …
In other words, I now know what the surfer here was unhappy about, and I’m touched by his sense of grievance, but it is simply too normal a phenomenon to be worth getting upset about – and I mean for him or anyone else to be upset about. I’m not. I’m pleased that reviewer enjoyed the novel. I don’t take these things for granted.
I think I’m going to read the first scene with Aeldred’s children tonight, by the way. Haven’t done it before, and it is a scene I like. One of the nice things about The Last Light of the Sun is that since there are three cultures, and all three have protagonists who make a first appearance, self-contained, there are three more-or-less ‘beginnings’ I can work with in a reading, without getting entangled in explaining a lot of backstory, which I hate.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 – 9:06 am:
Are we to trust this?
Day off today, promise!!!! Complete Harbourfront event schedule to follow later today.
Oh, I suppose so. At any rate, I’m going to set up a lunch meeting now, relying on Debby’s promise.
I’m very pleased … checked this morning and was able to answer a few of the latest trivia questions (baths, poisons, fountains). I also confess I’ve begun to find the map thing silly, though this is also (looked at another way) another instance of the power of expectations attached to ‘genre’ labels.
Penguin Canada are apparently reprinting, two weeks after publication date and after a strong first print run. This is exceptionally good news.
Saw the posting about the Belgian purchase of Summer Tree … I’m glad it was posted because (not for the first time) this is the way I discovered the existence of a new edition. Happens too often, communications between overseas publishers to sub-agents in those countries, to my agents … don’t always flow smoothly. This is, for the record, the French Book Club edition, and the other two covers can be found by googling “France Loisirs +Kay” … I imagine Deborah will get the covers up here soon enough. I know she hates being ‘scooped’ in this way.
Um, I do hope to is clear that Deborah is not Debby. One runs me around the country, the other runs my web-presence around the world.
(And yes, I like them both, a lot.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 15, 2004 – 6:05 pm:
So there I am, having finished the first morning radio interview by phone, taking a shower (after the interview, not during) and Laura comes in. (Don’t get excited, it isn’t that kind of stiory.) “Nav’s here,” she says. (I said don’t get excited, Nav was waiting in the living room, not entering the shower.)
“Debby said 11 o’clock,” quoth I, peering through shampoo. “I just talked to her an hour ago.”
“Nav’s here,” repeated Laura calmly, which was – given that Nav was indeed there, all that really needed saying.
Downstairs, more or less dry, it was ascertained that Nav’s schedule did, indeed, say 10:30 pickup and mine did (indeed) say 11:00.
Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions on the character of the genuinely estimable Debby de Groot, of Penguin, but would I be alone in seeing this as yet another installment in the Revenge of the Publicist?
Over lunch, after the soundproofed room at North 49 muffled my signing screams, Debby sweetly denied everything. But she would, wouldn’t she?
We have a bet going (lunch) as to the crowd size for Wednesday night at Harbourfront. She’s high, I’m lower (I worry about admissions charged for readings, though it didn’t seem to have an impact in Vancouver, so I may be wrong.).
I did another short reading for CBC Radio downtown, and en route by taxi, considered a new reading passage for Wednesday night … I think Elizabeth suggested it on the comments thread … the first encounter with Aeldred’s children.
I’m grateful and impressed when I read some of the analysis of the novel taking place over on the “Last Light” thread of the Forums here. “Broken Wing,” in particular, is an exceptionally thoughtful, generous, careful reader, but my sense is that there’s a collective sensibility that emerges (it has happened before) from readers feeding off each other’s observations.
I’ll risk being a tad philosophic here and say this is a reason (among others) I really prefer to stay out of any back-and-forth on the books. I broke my own ‘rule’ by commenting early on the map issue, because I was hoping to get some points ‘on record’ early before the query escalated — only to find, a little later, someone in the Forums here being trenchant, precise, and perhaps a fair bit less gentle than I was, on that question.
The moral: trust my readers. Though I remain shocked and appalled by what people ask (and know) on the trivia thread. I’ve been drawn into reading it, moth to a flame.
Tomorrow is slated as a downtime day, though I have now come to treat this as being entirely at Debby’s whim, and therefore …
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, March 14, 2004 – 4:31 pm:
Gave myself a day’s downtime to recover from that confrontation with Émilie. (I hope it is clear I’m teasing.)
Home now, saw a friend’s art show opening this afternoon. Tomorrow, back in harness, starting with (yes, another) telephone radio interview early. (“The Revenge of the Publicists: Part 2”) Then off to North 49, the distributors, to that notorious room I mentioned earlier. If, in fact, I don’t post again here, send a SWAT team to their ofices. More radio after, mind you, so my absence might just be noticed.
Last Light was up to #2 on the Globe list yesterday. Debby, at Penguin, will, of course, say that this only proves the virtues of doing other-city radio interviews at the crack of dawn. I refuse to get drawn into this, but I may sic Émilie on her.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, March 12, 2004 – 5:42 pm:
I was feeling tired when I got to the CBC studio and that blew out the studio window during an interview by an amazingly high-octane drive-home show host named Jackie Czernin. I felt as I was just plugging in what came after her ellipses: “And so you’ve written overseas in so many countries, like …?” We were talking a mile a minute, and she finished by exploding, “We have SO much moretotalkaboutbutohdearwedon’thaveTIME!”
When they cut to music I asked her what her brand of coffee is – I want it for the mornings. Her producer came in shaking his head. ‘She doesn’t need the coffee, trust me.’
Happened upon a very fine international exhibit on the Middle Ages in the Museum of Civilization between lunch and the CBC gig. Well, didn’t happen upon it: Donya, the bookstore rep who took me to the campus thing in the morning, then lunch, hazarded a guess I’d like to see it, and had cleared enough time. Good guess, given that one of my favourite museums in the world is the Cluny in Paris (and there were several exhibits from them in this show).
Had one of those absurdly scripted moments. We were looking at late medieval keys in one case, and I mentioned that servants could usually hear the mistress of the house coming because she’d have the keys on her belt and they’d jangle. “Of course,” I added, “these are 15th and 16thy century, they’d have been bigger earlier.” We meandered on the the next case … and sure enough there were 12th and 13th century keys, twice as big, right on cue. I think Danya now has an exaggerated impression of my scholarly sapience. Or has decided I cased the joint (cased the cases?) ahead of time.
Someone asked on the comments thread about Halifax. No firm date yet – it’ll be posted here by Deborah when we have it. I’ll read and sign at Frog Hollow Books, another really fine independent. (Happens to be owned by an old friend of mine, Mary Jo Anderson.) Before Halifax I’m going south for a week, including a stop at the International Conference on the Fantastic, in Fort Lauderdale.
OK, just enough time for a couple of calls, and then off to my ‘confrontation’ with Émilie at the signing. (cf the first entry, I think, on the comments side.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 11, 2004 – 9:15 pm:
Not that it matters (at all) but the times logged for these entries are always an hour early, even though the computer’s clock is right. Anyone else experience this? It’s as if I’m still an hour to the west.
This one will be (partly) an homage to good dining. Indulge me. These tours are essentially a succession of moments of being ‘on’, the risk (sometimes the certainty) of going into autopilot mode. It makes you aware of when you are able to be … quiet for a bit.
I wasn’t able to connect with my Francophone publishers (Editions Alire) for dinner this week. They wanted to do it in Montreal last night, but I wanted to go home for the one day. I was hoping to meet up here in Quebec City tonight, but they had made earlier plans to leave this evening for London and the Book Fair (to arrive a day early and shed jet lag). So I found myself at loose ends for the first night of this tour.
Treated myself, accordingly, and after some checking out of chefs, to a seriously well done meal at Auberge Louis Hébert across the road friom the hotel. And (I’m afraid) I allowed myself the tasting menu.
(I actually like following a good chef through his chosen multi-course menu … the closest a meal gets to a novel … a narrative. The sauce for the paté anticipates – foreshadows – the sauce for the duck … unless you know a kitchen really well, you can’t do that for yourself.)
I was feeling thoughtful, and cold, after a walk at the very end of the day down to the Plains of Abraham. It is winter here in Quebec City, even more so than it was in Winnipeg, paths icy in the park, snow piled beside them, I mangled my shoes and pants meandering. No one else down there except one or two distant joggers.
The Plains of Abraham are our Culloden, Hastings, Field of Blackbirds. Here, as both generals died (young Wolfe, elegant Montcalm) the English army sneaked up a steep, unexpected path from the water and won the battle that settled who would govern this country, leaving in place, to this day, the ‘two solitudes’ that are what make us – like it or not – so much more interesting and complex a nation than we’d otherwise be.
The battlefield is noted, statues to both generals, but it is not remotely a focused-upon, celebrated place, and it is so easy to understand why: this field stands within sight of the parliament building of a passionately Francophone province and it preserves the memory of a defining Anglo victory.
There’s such a paradox (a bitterness?) in that, makes it hard to see Quebec blazoning it as a tourist or historical attraction. (Having said that, Culloden, Hastings, the Field of Blackbirds were all losses for the home side, too, weren’t they?)
In any case, in a mood shaped by that sort of thinking, and the chance to be quiet for a couple of hours, I had an exceptionally good dinner. Dining alone, without hurrying (we usually hurry when we eat alone, don’t we?), you can notice things, focus on the food. (This will not slip into gastro-porn, promise. No menu summaries.) I was also made aware, as I said above, how entirely ‘public’ this sort of tour becomes. Listening to the music, murmuring nothing more than bad French at intervals (mostly ‘merci’) to impeccable waiters, and eating superbly well, was about as relaxing as it gets.
Tomorrow morning appears to be a lecture on history, fantasy, and fiction to a group of English professors. I expect to enjoy it. I’ll wing it, using elements from the Convocation Hall speech and the ‘Home and Away’ essay (both are here on brightweavings, if anyone wants to see them) and see where the discussion takes us. Then two interviews and the reading/signing in the evening. It is actually intriguing to be doing events here – I’ve been in Quebec City promoting the French editions of my books, but never before reading in English.
If it wasn’t so icy, I’d have joked we should do it on the Plains of Abraham. Might not have gotten a laugh, though.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 11, 2004 – 2:22 pm:
Fourth time, I think, that I’ve caught up with this journal from Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge at the Toronto airport. With all the complaints about travel (moi?) have to say that these business/frequent flyer lounges are immensely civilized, and not just for the wireless access. I feel alarmingly at-home here by now.
I’m looking forward to a couple of days (almost that) in Quebec City. One of the genuinely distinctive cities on this continent. Charm, panache, flair and, um, forecast of snow. I was shooting hoops to loosen up earlier today in warm, sunny Toronto. March can keep you on your toes. Or wishing you were in your boots.
Some people have asked for the ‘special edition ending’ I inscribed into Lions for someone in Ottawa … can’t do it, for an obvious reason: killer spoiler inherent in that and I am trying to bear in mind that surfers of this journal may not have read some of the books. If anyone coming here has read none of them, it elicits a moment’s musing as to why they’ve come. Hmm, a google search for what time the sun goes down today?
I’ll be in Quebec by then.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 11, 2004 – 10:51 am:
Necessary bit of catch-up time yesterday, with 24 hours at home. Working down through the inbox, the phone messages, and the mail. Also the Science Fair at the boys’ school.
Everyone knows about this: any time away means a day or two at either end, back home, dealing with what accumulates.
Off in a few hours again to the airport. It occurs to me that anyone reading these entries, and also attending, say, the reading tomorrow in Quebec City, can look exceptionally prescient if they want to impress their friends, merely by saying ‘I bet he makes a joke about those,’ when I take out my reading glasses.
Debby gave me my Monday schedule, too, just now. Includes a dreaded visit to North 49, the largest book distribution outlet in the country. I say dreaded only because it involves signing hundreds and hundreds of books in a sealed-off boardroom (to muffled the authorial screams) they have prepared. This is a room of even more ill-repute, though rather brighter, than the dungeon under Book City on Bloor St. In fact, the North 49 people are exceptionally pleasant, and I’m really just grumbling pro forma. I think I’d disappoint them if I didn’t. Grumble, that is.
Lovely note waiting here from Martin Springett, artist, musician, old friend by now. He just finished Last Light, has already added a musical component from it to a CD he’s prepared of music inspired by my work. He said that of all the books, this one’s ‘world’ was closest to the one he knows best, is the book he’d most like to see filmed. (Probably with a Martin Springett musical score.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, March 10, 2004 – 9:35 pm:
I note that over on the comments thread an erstwhile Brightweavings denizen, hight Loa (and Behoald?) has sallied forth with the asserveration I don’t want all and sundry to ‘know something.’
Calumnious libel, saith I. I am utterly and entirely in a state of placid equanimity about the (very) recent necessity for reading glasses when I wear my contacts.
I hardly give them a thought, except when I am conscious.
After all, doesn’t everyone (just about) get to this point? Isn’t it simply another passage in our winding progression through this life? Who would be so flagrantly engaged in clinging to vestiges of youth, of the past, as to wax wroth over something so ‘normal?’
Can we please change the subject?
Q: Wait. Does this mean your regular glasses are now those graduated bifocal things?
Hey, did anyone read that Gary Sheffield’s planning to play right field for the Yankees this year with a torn ligament in his thumb?
Q Where do you go next?
Good question! Quebec City tomorrow afternoon. I have a Friday morning session at a college there (for professors and some students) then the usual media, then a reading at night.
Q Does Gary Sheffield wear reading glasses?
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, March 09, 2004 – 8:50 pm:
Another nice evening. I need more tales of bookstore screwups, publicist malfunctions (I can’t count The Publicist’s Revenge as a malfunction – it functioned altogther too well). Smaller crowd, but a good, intimate reading space and the questions after were lively, and good. I did see a trio of Brightweavings denizens on hand. Someone asked which of the worlds as opposed to books I’d enjoyed most – and that was a new one. I can’t choose between the books, but probably Arbonne/Provence is the milieu I most enjoyed shaping into a fiction.
Someone’s asked on the comment thread if themes of the books emerge or evolve, or if they are established at the outset. I’d say a mixture, every time. I always know certain of the motifs I want to explore and develop, but invariably others begin to insinuate themselves as the books take shape. Much of it, for me, has to do with grounding them in a time and place, character and plot and themes come out of that.
I’m quite pleased about one aspect of this tour: all the readings and signings are at independent bookstores. I am very well treated by the chains here, and have no difficulty at all with them, but when bestsellers are discounted 30% or 40% (because Last Light is on the Globe list it is even more deeply discounted) it becomes very hard for independent stores to compete, and a signing can make a big difference for such a store.
All three interviews this afternoon with with people who’d read the book carefully, one reporter even asked some questions based on this tour journal. The telephone one back to Calgary was almost alarmingly in-depth, someone who’d clearly put a lot of thought into her preparation. I’d have to say that with only a couple of exceptions, I’ve been touched and impressed by the intensity and care most of the interviewers have brought to the table. Makes it hard to find high dudgeon mode.
Then I remember the dragon-powered ships, and it all comes sweeping back, like oars in a hurry.
Home early tomorrow, for another 24 hours, then Quebec City.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, March 09, 2004 – 12:40 pm:
Trains can feel so civilized, really. Two hours, downtown to downtown, Ottawa to Montreal, and the Queen Elizabeth is right next to the train station. The Don Coles novel is wonderful so far. His poetic ‘voice’ is there, but so’s a narrative tension missing a lot of the time when poets turn to fiction.
(It occurs to me that though it is better to have these entries show up most-recent-first, there can sometimes be a discontinuity. I mentioned the Coles novel in the previous post, and I also mentioned wanting to share a memory of a Zelazny book. Here it comes, spoiler alert for Jack of Shadows)
At the very end of the book, the protagonist (I am going from long-ago memory, but pretty sure of the core of this) is falling to his death from a high cliff. He looks up as he falls and sees a winged friend plunging from far above to try to save him. Roger wrote (more or less):
“He saw his friend hurtling down at speed, straining to reach him. He didn’t know if he would get there in time.”
And the book ended that way.
In the copy I read, from the River Heights Library in Winnipeg, aeons ago, right after those last words, someone had written, very neatly, the indent lined up for a new paragraph, the words: “He did.”
I’ve always loved that. The intensity of that person’s desire to not only wish it to be so but to (to coin a phrase) make it so, in the text. And I suppose it became a bit of an epiphany for me last night when that fellow asked for an amended (by the author, one step further!) version of Lions.
Should I have said no to him? I didn’t have the heart.
I think I did wound someone else last night (there were several intense conversations, actually, during the signings), without meaning to at all. A young man came up and asked, very quietly, about film rights to the books. I gave my routine answer about the agent(s) being in chronic ‘low grade fever’ discussions with various people in L.A., on a couple of the novels.
Then I noticed he had a bound manuscript in his hand that he half-handed to me, then half-withdrew. I was a treatment/proposal for a film project he wanted to do on one of the books. I told him (as gently as I could) that these things were hideously expensive, and if they ever did come to be (do not hold breath) it would only be through major producers, studios, directors, because of that. He asked, very subdued, about scriptwriters, and I told him that the production team would work with a writer they knew and trusted with such an expensive project. He mumbled something else, then moved on, without giving me his manuscript after all.
I half-wish I’d just taken it, said something innocuous, and carried on to the next person. But on the other hand, a part of me thinks it is good, and even necessary, that someone like that be given a clearer sense of how the business operates, before they go too far down any such road. Don’t know.
Someone else (told you it was a fraught night) left me a cv, covering letter and chapter of their would-be novel. Letter said,”If you want to read more of the book, I’ll be happy to send it to you.” This I have (I fear) less patience with, though I suppose I admire their chutzpah (Yiddish for ‘nerve’ though with nuances, as Yiddish always has). I’m a novelist, not an agent or publisher. A stranger pushing a fiction manuscript is, truthfully, going it a bit, dreams or no dreams.
Three interviews coming up, starting in 20 minutes. I think I’ll skip lunch and do a high tea sort of thing (tally ho) after they are done.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, March 09, 2004 – 8:12 am:
A bit of time before I head for the train station and Montreal. I have a queue-jumping book, after all … Don Coles is, to my mind, one of the best poets writing in English today. We’ve had lunch a couple of times this year (introduced by novelist Katherine Govier) and I had a chance to tell him that. Don, at 75, has just published his first novel Doctor Bloom’s Story and I bought it at the airport the other night.
Yesterday’s event was a lot of fun. Pat Cavan, now at Perfect Books, which hosted it (in a booked room in a nearby pub!) and I go back a long way, to when she owned and managed ‘The House of Speculative Fiction’ here in Ottawa. She’s a terrific bookseller and a sharp reader. It was a full house for the room, they managed to squeeze everyone in, though at one point Pat asked if I’d read twice if they needed to set up a 2nd show. The author as performer encore, part two, the sequel, returns?
And I hasten to add that my judgement that it was a fine evening was made well before the bar was opened and 12 year old Macallan single malt began being shared out among those lingering after.
Some sweet/eccentric moments in the signing lineup. One perfectly civilized gentleman in his 30s pretty much begged me to customize his copy of Lions by scribbling, to order, an added last line, altering the demise of a particular character. A new one for me! After some reflection, and deciding not to get too stuffy about his one personal copy and an obviously deeply desired thing, I did it for him. Did laugh about it, after. Must remember, when I have a few minutes (need to leave now) to mention here my story about Roger Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows along these lines.
More from Montreal, later. Some trains have high speed Net connections now, but I don’t think this one does.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 08, 2004 – 3:19 pm:
My current working theory on dragon-powered boats is that the fear of the damned dragon behind them made people row faster. The old joke about the ship’s master saying to the galley slaves, “Men, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there’ll be an extra ration of grog with your lunch gruel today! The bad news is that the captain wants to go water skiing after lunch.”
Ahem. Short break. CBC Ottawa is located on the top floor of the splendid old Chateau Laurier Hotel where I am, which is convenient. Just finished a pleasant CBC interview with someone who’d read all the books, which makes for a good conversation, generally. The risk with these is spoilers, or overspecific questions that arise because they as a reader want the answer – but which won’t mean much to a listener. I try to steer around spoilers, and navigate (dragon-powered) towards the general from the too-specific.
Lunch with Elizabeth was fun, more a break in the day than an interview proper. Seems the bookstore for tonight has booked a pub for the reading. Wonder if I should do Bern in the tavern outside Jormsvik? Does that work as a reading passage? I’ll have a look. Otherwise, I’m increasingly preferring to read the very beginning, including the (really evocative) epigraph poem.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, March 07, 2004 – 3:25 pm:
To airport in a couple of hours, soft snow falling, really quite lovely – until it delays departures.
A question asked:
The reviewer states at one point that “Kay never hesitates to kill his darlings”. Is that true? Is killing off a character so easy? I ask because I recall reading an interview with JK Rowling, where she said she was an emotional wreck after killing off one of the characters in her books. I wonder if it is so easy for you.
I’m with Rowling, though perhaps not to the ’emotional wreck’ stage (it would be hyperbole if I said that) and I’ve done it rather more often than she has. I’ve certainly never done it for shock value, or to unsettle readers. There are times when the impulse of the narrative or the requirement that things not seem too … easy … compel these things. In Fionavar I was mindful from the outset that I didn’t want to set up an epic confrontation and have it resolved painlessly. The price of power is a central theme of the trilogy.
But it isn’t done without complex emotions working in me. Just as ending a book, or this stage I’m in right now, where the novel has moved from something I am doing to something I amdiscussing is a complex transition.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, March 07, 2004 – 11:25 am:
We have a winner.
OK, it isn’t really nice to be funny at the expense of hardworking journalists, and telephone interviews aren’t easily fact-checked at all, but sometimes what you read is so damnably hilarious, resistance is futile. I will not source this one, but here it is, from a newspaper this week:
Kay is credited with creating a new literary genre with his historically based fantasies — the Vikings’ sea travels to settlements in the British Isles are evoked in the new book, with ships powered by fire-breathing dragons —
In Odin’s name, men, there’s a dragon behind us! The ship is on FIRE, we will land and settle in … the British Isles!
This is what happens when you tell someone the raiders had dragon-prowed ships. Dragon-prowed becomes, naturally, dragon-powered, and an immortal howler is born. I’m actually grateful, I’ll be able to tell this one for a long time (so will you!).
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, March 07, 2004 – 10:05 am:
Robert Wiersema’s review in today’s Toronto Star is remarkably generous. Here’s a link (which probably will expire at some point) but there are spoilers, so avoid until you’ve read the book, if you don’t want plot elements revealed.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, March 07, 2004 – 10:02 am:
Question asked (quoting Updike on loathing interviews because he needs/prefers to frame and measure his thoughts):
I wonder, Ser Kay, do you ever experience, or have you ever experienced, this feeling when doing interviews, especially when you’re just shifting out of writing mode or when dealing with an interviewer for the first time? Most of your experiences sound refreshingly positive, with the exception of the “Passion” fanatic, but are there many times when you long for the sanctuary of the writing studio and the structure of the written word?
Short answer is that my enjoyment of the process goes (in descending order) print, radio, television. A newspaper or magazine profile will almost always be a conversation, room to expand, digress, get a sense of the other person and they will often (most you can hope for) have read the book. Radio usually involves people who have simply not have time to read the novel and more of a sense that I’m processing them, and they are processing me. (Morley Walker, of the Winnipeg Free Press, and I talked about this last week.) Television will always be brief, sound-bite and good-profile oriented, and inimical to any considered questions and answers – with the rare exception of some book-specific shows (say the Mark Askwith interview I did two weeks ago on SPACE). I don’t ‘hate’ the game the way Updike does, though I can hate individual portions of it. I’ve enough background in media and law to be fairly relaxed in front of a microphone or camera and – as I think I said before – I try to find ways to keep myself amused or alert as the tour goes on.
Once, years ago, a publicist booked me into a country and western station for Arbonne and I bet her I could mention Johnny Cash within the first 2 minutes of the interview. It was, I have to say, easy: troubadours roaming the countryside from castle to castle have what modern musical equivalents? C&W singers in their trailers going venue to venue…
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, March 06, 2004 – 5:19 pm:
The great (if transitory) pleasures of one’s own desk, one’s own view, family, favourite scotch glass …
Alarming flight. It boarded on time, left on time, arrived on time. The Apocalypse is upon us.
Whole slew of reviews and articles so far today. National Post profile (the interview I did just before the tour began, and the photo in the bar passed the ‘Laura likes it’ test), very good Globe review, wonderful Calgary Herald review, # 4 on Globe bestseller list, #1 on Quill & Quire new releases.
I ought to come home more often.
Some more stuff percolating, too, from an unexpected direction, but it’ll have to wait until I have a lunch meeting with the people in question, when the tour’s done. If anything happens, Deborah will know, and it’ll get posted on brightweavings.
I see from the latest schedule Debby De Groot sent from Penguin that I have a meeting/chat with Elizabeth Holden in Ottawa on Monday. That’ll be fun. Elizabeth is a very acute reader and, among other things, won the first-ever (maybe the only, I don’t know for certain) Dorothy Dunnett Trivia Contest, in Edinburgh, with questions Dorothy made up herself, and asked those gathered at the small convention in her honour. Dorothy had told me, beforehand, that she was doing this and that she expected a score of 65% or so would win. Elizabeth aced it. 100%. I saluted a Canadian triumph, of course.
I should add that I am amazed, aghast, appalled, and stupefied at the trivia questions (and answers!) on my own work being recklessly batted about elsewhere on brightweavings this past little while.
The author would be dismissed in the very early going in this contest. Really. Though I have thought of twins the assembled hivemind has missed, so far.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, March 05, 2004 – 10:31 pm:
Lovely evening at McNally’s. Chatted with Holly beforehand and she said she also thought my mother might have been her first customer. Wants to try to set up a reading at her Saskatoon store later this year. The stores are a class act, and if they can make it work, I’ll do that.
I read the opening section again. I find I like it as a reading passage, abetted by a (hard to pin down) sense that there’s something appealing for a listener about starting at the outset of a tale, even though we’re all conditioned to authors reading from somewhere in the middle. Really attentive, generous crowd.
Home tomorrow, for about 24 hours, then the eastern segment begins.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, March 05, 2004 – 6:51 pm:
Long day, with a reading to come. Started over breakfast with Morley Walker, Entertainment Editor of the Free Press. Morley and I overlapped social circles ages ago, back in university days, but never really knew each other. He’s been in the business a long time, shrewd, ethical, um, slightly disorganized (forgot his notebook, but it was before coffee.) We discussed, at the end, the whole ‘dance’ of the book touring author and interviewer. Author has an agenda, has things publicists want him to say, interviewer knows this, appreciates it, but if he or she is a professional, also wants to get author ‘off message’ and also not to buy in to the message. I confess I like conversations about this sort of thing.
Next interview was the only bad experience of the trip so far. Won’t name it, but a major radio morning show. One of those freewheeling, call-in, fire your opinion shows. The guest before me was someone I know – on the phone from Toronto, Geoff Pevere, a bright guy who reviews films for the Toronto Star and had ripped up the Mel Gibson film.
Basically the host went after him like a bully on his own turf, surrounded by his chums. ‘Geoff, how could you? How COULD YOU? You called the Passion of Jesus Christ pornography!’
Geoff did the best he could, long-distance, and being interrupted, to defend his review and his view of the film. I haven’t seen Gibson’s film, so couldn’t weigh in on the merits, but the tone and hectoring, and the defiant ‘what do you smart guys really know’ thing truly irritated me. There are a wide variety of ‘takes’ possible on that movie, and we’re already seeing a lot of them, but bullying a guest doesn’t work for me.
So when he turned to me, and essentially just said, “Guy Kay, sixty seconds, tell us about your life,” I shifted back to Geoff. I pointed out that Pevere had NOT called the religious Passion of Jesus Christ pornographic, he had called the Passion of Mel Gibson that. That it was not only his right to assess it aesthetically, as a film, it was his job to do that. I then made a few of my old jokes about becoming a writer when I realized I wasn’t going to become a hockey player, and at the next commercial break I left. With, I confess, a sour taste in my mouth.
Had a good lunch with Jason, the publicist driving me about through the slush here, and then did a television interview, two drive-by signings at bookstores (I do love that term … refers to when we drop in, chat with managers, sign stock, and run). Final interview was on campus, my alma mater, University of Manitoba. I said that it seemed to me the chair I was sitting on had been at the station when I was an undergrad in the 70s.
Debby emailed from Penguin with the filling-up Ottawa schedule, and mentioned the reading there might actually need to be split into two sessions, there are too many people signing up to come. Fair warning to surfers here to go early, then. Fair warning to me to watch my voice – though I’m actually fine now. (Thanks Dean.)
The Fort Garry Hotel is so infinitely cool this week, with the film festival anchored here. I have a sense they’d kick you out if you didn’t wear black. Laura has, clearly, saved me again.
McNally Robinson Books, where I’m reading tonight is a wonderful store … small store that made it big … very big. My mother still claims to have been Holly McNally’s first customer, when Holly opened a small store in a strip mall on Grant at Kenaston more than a quarter-century ago. Now she’s one of the preeminent book people in the country, with several stores. The one I’m reading at is in the (expanded) mall where I used to cut high school classes, across the road from my school. First time I read, I asked people in the audience to let me know if a ‘goodly, portly man’ with black-rimmed glasses and a dour mien appeared. He would be Mr Hallonquist, the Vice-Principal, and I would be skipping out the back door.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 04, 2004 – 7:22 pm:
Impatient people, too, over there in the comments thread. No tolerance for the idea that I might only decide when I got to the phone. Tsk, tsk.
I read the first page and a half. Spoiler-proof as it gets.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, March 04, 2004 – 7:18 pm:
(Author-on-road made journal glitch and tucked this into the comments thread. Nice crowd there, mind you.)
[webmistress interjects..it’s no longer in the comments thread…I deleted it having seen you’d moved it here. – Deb]
Company halt! A glance at the comment thread reveals the manner in which things can (will?) be misconstrued. I know people are being playful but: do not send bottles of scotch! Really. I was simply trying to acknowledge the unexpected arrival of a dram of very good whisky in the midst of a signing – not suggest it as a precedent, or for one-upping. All clear?
Winnipeg now, at the venerable Fort Garry Hotel, surrounded by ever-so-cool types, as a film festival is in progress and this is the base hotel. I’ve also migrated back to winter, on that three hour flight east – cold, clear (as Winnipeg so often is), snow piled high along the boulevards. The gingerly careful-of-the-ice shuffle is the order of the day on the streets. I remember it well. I grew up here.
That may partly explain why Rorie Bruce, the local publicist (publishers use freelancers in each city, to arrange and coordinate tours such as this) has managed to line up 10 interviews in a day and a half.
Today started very nicely with a breakfast with George Amabile, now retired from University of Manitoba. George was my first English prof, forever ago, and then acted last year as Penguin’s editor on Beyond This Dark House, the poetry book. He told one of those stories that chill the blood of any writer: he lost 3 months of work on a poetry book he was writing when a virus annihilated his computer. One averts one’s eyes at the very thought. (And one backs up data.)
Then I was picked up to begin the media sessions. The lunchtime interview was with Bruce Symaka, who writes for a weekly arts magazine here, and whose acuity and questions make him a pleasure to chat with. I’ve been asked on the comment thread if there are people I look forward to: when I saw Bruce’s name on the list I knew I’d have an engaging hour. The downside is that we get too sidetracked by other topics, start just enjoying ourselves (how irresponsible!). The thread today had to do with how hungry we are for artistic excellence, and how that desire sometimes causes us to overpraise what really amounts just to competence.
After, I met one of my oldest friends, Tim Walker, for a second lunch (I just had a drink with Bruce, it wasn’t really a lunch. Honestly.). Tim and I go back to fourth grade, and memories are alarmingly vivid. We met by bumping heads in class picking up the dropped pencil of a girl we both liked. A decade and a half later she married Tim’s older brother. Draw morals, ye who dare.
An hour before the next interview now, and that gives me a window to check in here. Simon’s asked about routines, post-tour. I’ll take the family away for a week, down south. It’ll also give me a chance to drop in on the academic conference on the fantastic, which takes place every March in Ft. Lauderdale.
Someone else (or Simon again?) asked about the percentage of a writer’s time that goes to promotion, media, business … there’s no quick answer as the figures will vary wildly from person to person. I’m not prolific, really, so the sustained tours come only every 3 years or so. These are mixed with tours for foreign-language publishers, or to the UK, and the occasional conference or convention. I try to keep a rein on these last, because I have so far found no way to have anyone write the books for me while I go wandering about. (Working on it.)
The business side of things takes up more and more time every year. I have exceptionally good agents in Toronto, London, and Los Angeles, but when decisions have to be made, obviously the author has to be involved. These can be significant ones (negotiations on a contract) or fairly minor (cover consultation on the Korean or Finnish covers – both are very fine.)
Back when I can … I just remembered (really) I have to call the Globe&Mail and record that five minute clip.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, March 03, 2004 – 1:18 pm:
A very strong candidate for Reader of the Month emerged last night at the signing. Early in the autograph lineup a suave, courtly, urbane, distinguished (get the idea?) fellow named (I believe) Dean knelt beside the table, opened a backpack he was carrying and said, ‘Before the signature, something much more important,’ and displayed two bottles of exceptionally mature single malt. ‘Take your pick,’ he added, and held a (forgiveable) plastic cup ready.
Bemused, I chose, adroitly he poured an (entirely foregiveable) 4-5 ounces. It got me through a long signing session, even helped my scratchy throat (no microphone, large crowd – some up in the balcony), and there was no (significant) deterioration in the legibility of my signature as the session wore on.
Another scholar and gentleman, I’d say.
The evening was, as always with Jill and Walter and their regular customers, a real pleasure. The only difference this time was that because they couldn’t fit the expected crowd in the store, they booked this church/community centre space, and it was much more formal and less intimate than I like for bookstore readings. I was on a stage, behind a table … a bit removed. Showed in the absence of from-the-floor questions after, though there were dozens during the signing segment, which slowed it down a bit. I am always torn at such times, wanting to give legitimate time to readers at the desk, aware that others are waiting a long time behind them.
A very good telephone interview this morning, from Calgary. Fellow named Brad Simkulet (that’s how it’s spelled in the publicist’s sheet I have) from FFWD. Someone asked over on the comments thread if there are pleasures on the road in these things, and good conversations with people who have read the book (step one) and thought about it as they frame their queries … these are a genuine pleasure. A reward, even. The sense that ideas underlying the book are reaching people.
The schedule updating email this morning from Debby, Director of Publicity at Penguin contained a response to my (ritual) lament about early morning gigs. She reminded me about a certain author needling a certain publicist and noted, ‘teasing a publicist is a blood sport, isn’t it?’ Touche. She has pretty much annihilated my ‘free day’ in Winnipeg … two flat-out days now.
Oh. One more thing before I pack and head for the airport. The new itinerary has added a phone call to the Globe & Mail tomorrow to record a five minute passage from the book to go up as an audio on their website. What a good idea … and it fits nicely with the idea of this journal, trying to expand the ambit of the tour to those who (on the comments thread) are labeling themselves as being from Lower Corte, because not in a tour city, or country.
So, engage, all who want to: sometime today, if you’ve read Last Light of the Sunfeel free to post the page numbers of the 2 pages (that’s probably about 5 minutes)that you think would work. I’ll look at them and think about it. I have my own quick thought, but will read others with interest.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 – 7:45 pm:
Morning (very early morning) helicopter back to Vancouver. The publicist’s rep, Heather, turned out to be another Winnipegger (we are everywhere, you understand. We did a telephone interview to Quebec City (another advance-of-appearance thing)then a radio session with Rafe Maire, a long-established morning show host here. It was a pleasant twenty minutes actually, in the off-air breaks for commercials, we talked about Winston Churchill and John Lukac’s book on Churchill – Rafe is a Churchill buff, and was vaguely pleased I knew and had read some of the books about him. I’ll conjecture tonight’s signing got two or three extra mentions because of that. Small things matter?
Local tv interview in a hotel lobby (!) then lunch and a few hours with my brother. Final interview was a last-minute thing, and I confess I was initially bemused: an Icelandic weekly newspaper in Winnipeg called and did another telephone session. Made sense, on reflection, given the nature of the novel, drawing upon the Sagas. Tolkien fans take note: Canada’s largest Icelandic community is based in a town near Winnipeg called, truthfully, Gimli.
Walked around with brother and his dog after, another gorgeous day here. Threw a football in the park, chanting verses fromthe Sagas back and forth to each other. (That’s a joke. Really. It’s a joke. We didn’t. Chant the verses, I mean. We did throw the football.)
White Dwarf bookstore reading and signing in a couple of hours. Jill Sanagan and Walter Sinclair, who own the store, are two of my favourite booksellers, and I’ve been doing events with them for almost twenty years.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 – 1:38 am:
Beautifully stocked bookstore, Bolen’s, well-laid out, roomy aisles, some surprises … such places are dangerous. The reading was a lot of fun. A good crowd, and with a sense of humour. The listeners, though they might not realize it, are always a huge part of how these things go. Any performer knows: you take your cues and your energy level from the audience. And a reading is a performance; what works when you read it to yourself on the couch is not necessarily what works for you when you hear it (or read it aloud) in a public space.
I read the beginning of chapter three, to the end of the scene in Rhiannon’s room. Tomorrow I’ll probably try the passage in chapter two that I read at Worldcon last summer, in the first-ever reading from the book. Tonight’s bit is action-based, harsh, underscores that aspect of the story and world; the earlier one is a mood-piece and says some things (many things, I suppose) about the Cyngael. I might tease out a third choice, on the way to Winnipeg, Wednesday.
But first, a helicopter back to Vancouver tomorrow, 7:45 am. to make a morning radio interview. The glamourous life on the road.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 01, 2004 – 9:14 pm:
Just informed that Last Light of the Sun is currently #2 on amazon.ca’s bestseller list. Went and looked: behind Da Vinci Code and ahead of the G.I. Diet. And what abstruse, arcane message lies therein?
Well, actually the only real message to take from that list is the ephemeral nature of such things … the amazon lists bounce wildly, by the hour.
Take pleasure when you can, though. I shall doubtless also be advised when it is at 1127.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 01, 2004 – 9:07 pm:
The predictable, annoying thing about technology is that just as you adapt yourself to it, it’ll go off on you. Hard, for example, to keep an up-to-date tour jornal when the Fairmont IT guys are ‘floating about’ (in the words of the front desk) trying to figure out why their net connection’s down. Could this be why, when I travel normally, my notebook is … a notebook? The kind you write in. With a pen.
Oh, well, this’ll just get posted a bit after the fact. And I can report that the Japanese cherry trees are in blossom here in Victoria, pink and white, and they are glorious. A sense of good fortune being here for that. (Though I thought I saw a sign, when leaving the university this afternoon, that the magnificent Cassandra Wilson is singing here on Saturday, and if I’d known that, I’d have tried to arrange my life just a little better, to hear her.)
Lunch down by the water with Dave Duncan, author, friend, a scholar and a gentleman. Dave’s a man of considerable intelligence, as evinced, in part, by his decision a few years ago to winter here in Victoria. He told a funny/woeful story … how his new computer glasses, adjusted for the distance of his screen, didn’t work because they left his keyboard blurry … he’s a hunt-and-peck typist. (So am I, and similar issues aren’t, alas, too far in the future, I surmise. Funny, woeful, indeed.)
The charming interview today was with a woman named Jacquie Hunt, at the FM station based on campus. She reminded me we’d done a interview for Lord of Emperors by long-distance telephone because I didn’t get to Victoria on that tour. One learns to expect, in radio and tv interviews, to be interrogated by someone who hasn’t read the novel. Jacquie had read Last Lighttwice in preparation. Seems that mine are her ‘desert island novels.’
Learning this can disarm even a curmudgeon with an ongoing throat irritation. Good questions help, too. She asked about something she said she wavered on, herself: should one read the novel then go to the sources, or check out some history first? She opted for the former when I turned the question around, but I told her there was a discussion thread on brightweavings on exactly that topic.
She asked if the research was burdensome, I said (truthfully) that it was the fun part of the labour …you are simply learning things, with no responsibilities. Yet. Those come when the writing starts.
Off in an hour or so – as I type this, but probably past tense when I post it – to the first reading, at Bolen Books. I’ve had a new thought as to a possible reading passage, two choices now. Will probably defer picking till I get there.
Hmm, the floating tech guys came through.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 01, 2004 – 3:16 pm:
A.S. Byatt, in her essay, “Fathers” which opens her book of essays:
“During my working life as a writer, the historical novel has been frowned on, and disapproved of, both by academic critics and by reviewers”
Byatt, (she wrote Possession among other fictions) clearly dissents. She mentions her sister, the novelist Margaret Drabble, as one of those offering the view that fiction must be about “the present” to be significant. (Can imagine some good dinner table arguments here, but I don’t think the two actually speak to each other any more.)
Byatt notes a renaissance in writing about the past, offers several reasons, many of them I’ve been offering for a while, too (focusing on motifs of the past that apply today, addressing the ‘stories’ of the marginalized), but adds this, which strikes me as interesting: “…the aesthetic need to write colourful and metaphorical language, to keep past literatures alive and singing, connecting the pleasure of writing to the pleasure of reading.”
This seems to be to be nicely observed. I’d add that it isn’t just language but character scope (whether the history is direct, or ‘spun’ through fantasy, as I do it) that feels expanded through this form. Certain kinds of language and certain types of figures can be kept alive – or brought back to life.
I’m glad I brought this little book along.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 01, 2004 – 2:54 pm:
It is such a cliché, I know, but Vancouver’s setting is so ridiculously beautiful, it catches me again, every time I’m there. The helicopter flight this morning to Victoria (where I am now for the day and night) was breathtaking. Sunshine and the islands below, mountains beyond. Why, exactly, don’t we live here? The question does arise.
Flew west yesterday, also a hard, bright day. The inflight film was “Master and Commander.” I saw it at a preview screening, just before it opened. We had a speech from the fellow who was hired by Peter Weir as an historical consultant. Talked about how hard they all worked to ‘get it right.’ I wanted to love the film, for many reasons, but couldn’t quite get there. Respected it, honoured the unflashy narrative and – yes – the manifest desire to capture the flavour of the period and the life at sea.
But my memories of the books (I’ve read about eight of them) reminded me of how much joy and exuberance were part of Jack Aubrey, and how artfully (and entertainingly) O’Brien manages to play life-at-sea off against Aubrey’s often reckless course on land at parties and balls, always watched by the austerely judicious Maturin. There was little of that life in the film (well, the ‘lesser of two weevils’ joke, maybe), and my own sense is the filmmakers made a mistake (tempting as it must have been) in keeping the whole story, essentially, at sea. I liked the movie, couldn’t get myself to feel more. It held me at arms-length.
Another line of thought, triggered by someone else’s art. On Tuesday, Laura and I saw Ronnie Burkett’s new show, “Provenance.” Burkett is close to royalty among modern puppeteers on this continent (google him, you’ll see what I mean). He works with life size puppetts, classic puppets-on-a-string, very small face puppets (attached by wires in front of his own head) and others. He’s mischievous, confrontatioinal (this one has its share of that), inventive, lyric. The theme of “Provenance” is a search for beauty, conducted in a Viennese brothel by a drably unbeautiful Canadian art historian named, wonderfully, Pity Beane, who chases down a painting she’s always loved in that unlikely setting. The skill, at times, is exhilarating.
But what I also came away with, was a sense that Burkett has another, overarching theme of his own, this puppeteer in a tuxedo. The seriousness (and wit, and sexuality) of his work is entirely grownup. Almost defiantly so. It’s as if he’s declaring, on stage in front of us, the capacity for significance of his chosen art form, refusing to let it be trivialized or dismissed.
I relate to that. Obviously, I suppose.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, February 29, 2004 – 10:23 am:
So, airport in 45 minutes. Over on the comments thread Paul (whose pseudonym is Robin of Lox, which I do find funny) has made a wondrously useful suggestion for easing throat problems and I’m duly grateful. I hadn’t realized that medical science had caught up with Darren Nash’s predilections yet. Live long enough, and it all comes around?
Oh. Books. Took Frayn, Byatt, Banks. Play, essays, novel. Will be in Vancouver for the Oscars. Yes, I’ll watch. Cheer for The Barbarian Invasions (though I have issues with it as Boomer self-indulgent, it is genuinely intelligent) and Sean Penn (though Clint could have helped by cutting away a bit sooner once or twice).
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, February 28, 2004 – 10:55 am:
Books. Well, what I’m reading I’m not taking. Peter Spufford’s Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe is gorgeous and weighs more than the laptop.
Piled by my desk for choosing (I always do this before trips) are:
Once Upon the River Love, Andrei Makine
Consider Phlebas, Iain Banks
(both of these have been on the to-read pile a long time)
On Histories and Stories, A.S. Byatt
“Copenhagen,” Michael Frayn (the play – I expect to enjoy his writing and have issues, as some of you will know, with the use of the scientists as characters)
Mark Haddon’s, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Requiem Shark, by Nicholas Griffin (A pirate book! I had never heard of this, but read a to-die-for rave and ordered it this week. This would be a case of a book jumping the queue. That happens all the time, too.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, February 28, 2004 – 8:43 am:
One might fairly ask, ‘What is an author doing up so early on a Saturday?’
One might endure a glumly saturnine, only-marginally-caffeinated expression. Short answer: throat cold looming, it woke me up. Everyone knows you can get a cold on airplanes and in airports. Can you get one from airport bookstore managers? Send all favourite voice-restoring cures. Post, post haste.
(I do expect to be OK, don’t need to be especially articulate till Monday night in Victoria. I’m seriously irked by this, but better today than in a day or two.)
I’ll do the all-over-the-map, books-to-take shortlist here a bit later, since some people have asked. Doubt there’ll be as much time to read as usual … I undertook to do a tour journal, you see.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, February 27, 2004 – 9:03 pm:
Joyce Carol Oates, who is a Force of Nature, and almost insanely productive, has a long review-essay on Anne Tyler in this week’s New York Review of Books. I bought it for the plane, but cheated a bit.
I like Tyler a lot. I steer people to Morgan’s Passing and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.
Oates makes a splendid, accurate observation about her narrative tone: “Tyler’s voice is unfailingly reassuring. It’s a voice in which authorial omniscience is qualified by human kindness of the sort we might all wish to narrate the stories of our muddled lives.”
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, February 27, 2004 – 7:33 pm:
Some people are exceptionally lyrical, or can be moved, I suppose, to a lyric mode.
Just got this from Penguin, from the Georgia Straight, Vancouver’s equivalent (I suppose) of the Village Voice in NY. John Burns is the Book Editor there.
Title: The Last Light of the Sun
Date: Feb. 26-March 4, 2004
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, February 27, 2004 – 5:34 pm:
Darren Nash was my editor at Earthlight in the UK, is now located at Orbit, and very probably near a bar. He is a doughty (the ‘t’ is so important in that word, isn’t it?) fellow.
I see on the Alien Online that you are going to be keeping a tour journal of your upcoming adventures. Might I suggest that a comprehensive record of your single malt consumption – amount, distillery, cost, place of purchase, etc. – would be of immense interest to your many friends and fans? Also, some sort of idea as to how many games of football/baseball/ice hockey etc. you had to miss, and how much you resent your publishers for making you undertake this tour in the first place, would be gratefully received.
Just a thought 🙂
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, February 27, 2004 – 3:29 pm:
Perfectly decent media day. There goes my cover as a curmudgeon. Bright sunshine and crisp air when I managed to step outside for a bit, usually waiting with publicist for a cab.
The National Post first over breakfast coffee. James Cowan. No manifest ‘agenda’ (sometimes there is), had done a fair bit of background research, interested in the way I seem to occupy a space between genre and mainstream. We talked about differing countries and how the books are seen and registered. Politically attuned eastern Europe, and now Korea asking for a new foreword to Tigana, focusing on them. Also about what specifically in the period that inspired Last Light I saw as particularly relevant to today. These are things I enjoy talking about. Coffee was good, too. Photographer had me pose in the bar. At ten in the morning. This is how urban myths start. Or get continued.
When people ask how an interview went, right after, I’m almost completely unable to say, unless it was live tv or radio. Given that we talked for an hour, that he’ll have about 800 words, everything lies in the selection … I can say, ‘We had an interesting conversation,’ but I can have no idea what will be extracted from that for the piece.
Same with the television one that followed, with Mark Askwith at the Space Channel. But Mark has interviewed me before, has read all my books, knows both genre and mainstream worlds – and also knows his medium and his audience very well. He picked, as he always does, two short passages for me to read, and – as he always does – picked very good ones. Says he goes for mood and tone, not plot. That makes complete sense in a one or two minute reading. Both of these involved the sea, and light. Mark’s good.
Then the fast telephone interview, from the Space offices, with the Winnipeg Sun. Here, with both got too interested in something that has NO usefulness for an interview, can’t possibly be used. We started talking about the whole process of phone or email interviews, and then the disappearance of the old-fashioned published correspondence of two celebrated figures (the Wilson-Nabokov letters, say, sadly truncated when Vladimir met his end in that infamous dungeon under Book City on Bloor St.). Will we ever read the emails of two modern figures? Their collected IM exchanges? U rool?
It was a pleasant sidebar to the day’s business, but I did see Nav, the publicist who had me for the first half of the day, looking askance. Shifted ground dutifully to ‘useful’ things. This one will likely be a brief, ‘Kay has done this and will be reading here Friday,’ piece.
Then to the bookseller lunch which was actually very pleasant. (See ‘eroded curmudgeon image’ supra) A new-ish chain which is taking over the bookstore space at most Canadian airports had its first annual store managers’ meeting here in Toronto, and Penguin co-sponsored a lunch for all of them to meet me, and for me to chat with them.
I confess I like book people. I’m interested in how books get sold (or not sold). Talked a bit, between jokes, about regional differences in buying habits (what works in Ottawa, doesn’t in Halifax, etc.). I discovered that trade paperbacks sell better for them now than mass market (a surprise, I’d have thought small books, for carrying on a plane), that the international terminal outlets do a lot of hardcovers (well-off travelers) and that people sometimes buy 4-5 books at an airport store, often when they are going home, as they don’t have enough time to get to bookstores in normal course of life. They use the airport downtime to shop.
Reminded me I need to figure out what books to take on the road, Sunday.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, February 26, 2004 – 6:50 pm:
Thursday evening. Signed a few crateloads of books for the Book City people in what felt like a dungeon beneath the Bloor Street store early this afternoon, old, dark bloodsmears below the iron manacles on the soundproofed walls. Bones of long-forgotten authors … In one corner, some poor wretch had scrawled his name on the damp wall itself … Vladimir Nabo … but the signature trailed away, like a fading butterfly…
They released me (somewhat reluctantly, it felt) when I managed to scribble my signature in the last book.
Read some of the postings on the comments thread. What did I start? We’ve had a politically incorrect (not really), a self-declared rant, and two very witty tries at the ‘ours’ challenge. Bear with me. (Hmm, that’s a pun.)
I did invite questions, and will try to deal with some, as they emerge, and time allows. Having said that, let’s avoid spoilers for all the books in this tour journal and its linked discussion. There are book-specific threads on the Forums here, and places where I’ve tried to address queries before, and where discussion (debate, fierce argument, flamboyant imbroglio) is fairly waged without marring a book for anyone innocently wandering by.
The same, come to think of it, for the denizen in-jokes? It would be alarming if someone checking in here felt they needed a backstory concordance to understand the comments thread.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, February 26, 2004 – 11:28 am:
It may be that I should think more carefully about Spartans and armour, after all. (Pause. I am Canadian. There WILL be ‘ou’ spellings here. Armour, rumour, honour, colour, glamour … hmm, someone use those in a good sentence? In order.)
Émilie, who may well be a dulcet and decorous person, has posted about ‘confronting’ an author. Alarming images insidiously emerge: the besieged scribbler, armed with only a much-loved, well-worn autographing pen (same one for almost twenty years) assailed by readers brandishing heavy 500 page tomes … pictures at 11.
I do feel this morning as if the tour is starting. I am off in a bit to Book City to sign the rest of their stock as the first batch signed has sold out. My itinerary for tomorrow’s being faxed. Morning breakfast with the National Post, a telephone interview with the Winnipeg Sun (this happens when they want to run a piece before an author gets to town, which is good, actually), then SPACE tv with Mark Askwith, and then a bookseller lunch set up by Penguin with 10-12 store managers in the Toronto area. These tend to be fun. We talk a bit about my novel, then I switch to other books and baseball, dodging repressive glances from the publicists. They aren’t subtle. neither am I.
Me: I think ATONEMENT was the best book I read last year.
Bookseller 1: Me, too.
Publicist: Guy, where DID you do all that research on Viking ships?
Me: Books, emails to experts in Denmark. What do you all think about the A Rod trade?
Bookseller 2: Hate it! Destroys the game even more.
Bookseller 3: Love it. Compelling drama emerging. Curses, vendettas, feuds, evil empires…
(Very intelligent bookseller, here, I must say.)
Publicist: Um, Guy, which character in the book is Arod?
Ahem. More anon.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, February 26, 2004 – 10:58 am:
Already got a laugh or three from the comments thread. Of course I’m not on the road yet, and so easier to amuse.
For those arriving at brightweavings (in brightweavings, on brightweavings?) for the first time by way of this journal, a public service message may be in order. The regular denizens here should not be recklessly encouraged. They tend to find each other highly diverting. Do not feed them. Best to avert one’s eyes, drink up …
Yes, I know, I just gave them an incentive. My bad.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 – 5:20 pm:
It is compulsory, you might possibly know, for writers to complain about their book tours. We risk expulsion from the Guild if we don’t. Travel at this pace is tiring, airports are hell (this is news?), signings unpredictable, interview questions repetitious, and a sequence of hotel rooms grows old very fast.
Still, it bears noting that the people who complain more than writers on tour are writers not being toured. Careening about means publishers have deemed you a worthy careener. Their budget extends to your pirouettes. Budgets are finite, the book business floats precariously at times, commitments to one book and writer do mean fewer resources for another.
I try to keep this in mind when I can’t figure out how to turn down the heat in a very dry hotel room and the alarm is set for 6 am in order to get me into a studio make-up chair early enough to give them a fighting chance of rendering me vaguely human.
The other upside (one of the few positives to getting older) is that after one has done this sort of thing many times routines get established. In each city there are interview conversations I look forward to, with journalists I’ve spoken with before. There are bookstore owners or managers who have become friends over the years, and readers who have spendidly appeared at reading after reading, spanning fifteen or twenty years now.
I keep this in mind, too, when stoically sorting out what to throw in my suitcase. In the ancient Peloponnesus, Spartan women would say to their warriors, ‘Come home with your shield, or upon it.’ The modern woman tells her warrior-author, heading off for battle, ‘Pack black.’ Times change so little, don’t they?
Well, in some ways they do change. I remember reading, many times, in a variety of magazines, a book tour chronicle by an author just off the road. The pitfalls and pratfalls. The bookstore that didn’t have books for the signing, the bookstore that had books and no one to buy them, the reading scheduled to conflict with Christmas carolers two aisles away … in a good story, of course, this last would take place in April. (There’s a Woody Allen joke in a short story that works off this idea, points for whomever first notes it.)
As I said at the outset, we’re expected to grumble, wittily, if possible. It used to happen in those articles (or memoirs) after the fact. The web has changed this, along with so much else. It allows … in-progress, real time grumbling. Hence, this tour journal’s origin, something old, something new, though I hope I’ve made clear I don’t really think we authors on the road (or heading there soon, which is where I am just now) need to feel so terribly badly done-by. Of course you may want to check in with me again the first time there are no books at a signing stop … I do High Dudgeon, Blistering Rant, and Fulmination fairly well.
Bottom line, for this first entry? I think it is reasonable today to extend the ambit of author contact to readers who don’t happen to live in the city or country of a given tour, or who had a babysitter bail on them when they did plan to attend a reading. (If you live in a different country AND your sitter bailed, well, we weren’t getting together anyhow, were we?)
(I use parentheses a lot in this sort of thing, by way. You’ll see.)