Welcome to GGK’s Under Heaven journal. Similar to the Ysabel Journal, he will be using this space to share with us his thoughts/experiences in the run up to publication of the new book, due out in April 2010. Posting will be sporadic rather than daily, and on this page, unlike the others, the newest post will appear at the top, rather than the bottom. If you want to receive new posts via email, you can. First, register as a forum user – which means send me an email with your required username and password, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once I’ve confirmed your registration, go to the bottom of the screen where it says ‘edit profile’ – log in, and you can sign up to receive emails of new posts in any of the topics on the boards.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, July 01, 2010 – 8:16 am:
Well, ‘there and back again’ seems like the proper time to wrap another tour journal, as I think I suggested I’d do – after the trip to China was done. I’m sorry the spambots have messed up the Forums here, forcing various lockdowns on comments. I’m told Deb & Co. are working on a migration of some sort to protect the site and it ought to be in place soon.
As always, I’ll be ‘here’ on the site at intervals, and bw will always get any major (or, frankly, minor) news first.
China was an exceptionally interesting two weeks. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, if a man is tired of travel he’s tired of life, and though Shanghai and Beijing can both be tiring (noise, size, crowds, the intensity of urban life) they are also exhilarating. If there was a major surprise, it was the level of media coverage that was arranged for my being there, both in English and, towards the end, in Chinese. This was all due to seriously strong support from Penguin China, my publishers, SFW, and my two literary agents from Nurnberg China. The owners and staff of â€œThe Bookwormâ€ in Beijing also came through generously.
The single most unexpected moment was walking into the symposium arranged by SFW at Beijing Normal University last week. I’d been led to expect 20 people or so and a casual meet-and-greet with some other writers, critics, scholars. There were 70-80 people in a handsome boardroom, the major figures around a massive table, attendees in chairs along the wall, and hslf a dozen quite formal papers on my work were read in Chinese by academics and writers and critics â€“ and then I had half an hour to respond, also formally before another 20 minutes of questions. It helped that I had a genuinely able translator at my elbow throughout and the need to go slowly to let her keep up with my remarks also made it easier to formulate what I wanted to say.
One aspect of what I did offer was a link between using the fantastic to address various themes and the way in which Tang Dynasty poets (and those of other dynasties, actually) used to set their political and social commentaries behind a fictional ‘screen’ of being about earlier times and courts (usually the Han Dynasty of many hundred years earlier). My sense, after discussions with many people, is that the Chinese ‘get’
the idea both in their recent and their distant past.
I’m actually expecting some ‘breaking news’ from China on various projects in the next while, and will relay these as they come, to Deborah and Alec for bw’s ‘News’ section.
I just checked and I see that I started this journal in late September, right at the end of summer here. That means I’ve run it for a little bit longer than the Ysabel journal, and the timing feels right to bring it to a close. The end of a major trip and terrific reviews from the Washington Post and NPR are nice exit cues, and the other salient fact is that right about now various annoying alarms will start going off in my head that I need to start figuring out what comes next.
I’ll be back. Thank you, as always to Deborah and the Bright Weavings denizens, and to other surfers checking in. I enjoy this more than I probably should.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, June 25, 2010 – 10:52 am:
As this book tour winds down (and this tour journal) I find myself a long way abroad and double shifting online somewhat, after accepting a commitment to post for two weeks athttp://bordersblog.com/scifi for Borders Books. I’m trying to focus on a few themes there (which include travel and book promotion issues, mind you). You can catch me at that link, too.
Meanwhile, the most important Under Heaven news the past few days has been the exceptionally strong responses at the Washington Post and on NPR (by way of Laura Miller of ‘Salon’) to the book. These are both names to conjure with, and their comments may help the book to a few summer read tables, and will useful for the paperback cover.
In a sense, hardcover reviews are often about that last – setting up paperback covers, with quotes that can catch the eye of a browsing book buyer. On the other hand, a newspaper like the Washington Post, running a long review by Michael Dirda, who is very widely respected in the book world, can have an immediate impact sometimes. Or not. These things are so hard to calculate.
In the meantime, over here, after meetings and interviews in Shanghai, and then several more in Beijing, where we are now, I am reassured and even touched by the understanding of Chinese journalists and scholars as to the underlying approach I took in Under Heaven. I met several academics and novelists today during a rewarding session of papers and discussion at Beijing Normal University, and they were unfailingly thoughtful – and open to the blending of history and fantasy I’ve been exploring. There are going to be other views that emerge I am sure – how not? – but today involved some terrific exchanges.
Good food, too, at the lunch banquet after. Many toasts back and forth: this is still a formal, deeply courteous culture in such settings.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, June 20, 2010 – 10:13 am:
Seldom is it given to an author to fly to Shanghai and find himself on stage at a theatre attached to the Ritz Carlton Hotel leaping into a pile of 200 stuffed alpacas. There is, of course, a story.
As I think I’ve mentioned earlier, the prime cause of our being here is an invitation extended by the World Scholar’s Cup. The finals of this exceptional competition, involving 600 students (in teams of 3) from 30 countries were hosted here, and just ended a couple of hours ago. Their set-novel was The Lions of Al-Rassan and I was asked to be the guest of honour – to make a couple of speeches, answer pre-competition questions from the students at two assemblies over the weekend, and then participate in the final ‘Bowl’ questions and the awards ceremonies right after at the theatre, today.
That’s where the alpacas come in. The alpaca, for reasons infinitely too arcane to explore here, is the symbol of the WSC. They had the aforesaid 200 stuffed versions on stage through the ceremony today (until they gave them away at the end, one to each team). In a fit of what can only be called rashness, I announced, as I prepared to read the questions on Lions (which I hadn’t seen) that if any team got 100% I would leap into the alpacas and stay long enough for photo ops with any students who wanted to come up on stage.
Unwise, Kay. (Well, not really.) Of course several teams aced the questions, and I took off my shoes and leaped for a good cause. They declared an instant recess break, and an awful lot of international students decided that leaping into alpacas with an author was a splendid idea, and an awful lot of cameras recorded the fact.
It really was a lot of fun. Dignity can sometimes be overrated, and the students were just fabulous, all weekend long.
The more ‘professional’ aspects of the trip are all going well. Good meetings with publishers, a really elegant venue for a luncheon speech last Friday, (â€œM on the Bundâ€), several media ‘hits’ here, in anticipation of an upcoming reading in Beijing Wednesday night at â€œThe Bookwormâ€. Actually, as to that last, a new experience for me: there’s a new-ish English-language newspaper here, wants to do a piece Tuesday before the event, apparently. But three different reporters have tried to chase me down for an interview (I’m not that hard to find): one through Deborah, one through Penguin China, and one through the bookstore. I suddenly feel like breaking news, somehow. Ready to announce
And this was all before they had any way of knowing about the Shanghai Alpaca Leap.
More from Beijing, next week.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, June 14, 2010 – 9:46 am:
Very much pre-trip mode – we leave tomorrow – which is why I haven’t been here in a bit. All engagements on this side of (any) ocean are essentially done until fall when book fair season starts, and I’ve committed to World Fantasy Con in Columbus at the end of October.
The dance card for Shanghai and Beijing is pretty much set, though more emails came in this morning and two other meetings were slotted. It feels banal to say, but â€¦ I have no clear memory of how working trips like this were processed before email. We used to fax. It used to not work as well.
For the big Shanghai speech, at â€œMâ€ on the Bund I have elected, perhaps prudently, not to go for ‘funny’, though I reserve the right, always, to ad lib. I’m going to offer them a shortened variant of my ‘defense of fantasy’ as a form with some substance, and pick up on ways in which Chinese literary (and art) traditions have incorporated the fantastic, as well. Maybe I’ll joke in the Q&A. If anyone is still awake.
A few more really good reviews came in, and word of others still to come. It isn’t unusual for reviews to still be appearing some time after a book is out. Generally the most useful come close to release date, but a strong review at any point helps – at the very least it ends up on the paperback edition jacket.
Midori Snyder, a sharp reader and strong writer, had a generous take on the book at her own website, and so did another writer who emailed me first thoughts, with a review to come. (A focus on the ways in which Under Heaven is a book about aspects of power.) Rightly or wrongly, I am always especially pleased when other novelists react positively to the novels. Peer approval matters, in part because thoughtful writers do know what goes into shaping certain elements and it feels rewarding to see that they’ve ‘caught’ things.
All going well, next entry from Shanghai.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, June 07, 2010 – 11:26 am:
That last journal entry was a reflection and a half, wasn’t it? I also got serious (though in a mildly amusing way, I hope) in a guest piece I did for a website called BSC review:http://www.bscreview.com/2010/06/guy-gavriel-kay-guest-blog-under-heaven-and-the-book-world-under-siege/
I need to get to a baseball game or something. Summer’s almost here. Actually, did that yesterday. But pre-China demands are fairly intense right now, so downtime will be limited. For those interested, the World Scholar’s Cup people did their last and most up-to-date press release last week, and that pretty much explains what the original cause of the trip is. (ie, they are the guilty parties): http://www.prweb.com/releases/worldscholarscup/globalround/prweb4090114.htm
I’m looking forward to this. 600 students from around the world is a major event and I’m impressed as hell with the organizers. (They even have all of them doing a Scavenger Hunt at the World’s Fair the first evening, to get to know each other. How cool is that?)
But from this beginning, the trip has grown multiple dimensions, including a formal luncheon and speech on The Bund (Shanghai’s most famous riverfront street) and a reading/signing in Beijing, along with an event hosted by my Chinese publishers (SFW) to meet other writers and critics. And there’s more. It’ll be a pretty packed time. I’ll do what I can to keep updates coming here, brings back memories of the tour to Croatia and Serbia a few years back, when it seems to me a lot of the posts turned out to be about food!
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, May 30, 2010 – 4:43 pm:
Long post alert!
Quiet Sunday, did an email follow-up to a telephone interview from New Zealand (the UK publishers ‘have’ NZ and Australia, so they’d set this up).
A very good evening in Waterloo back on Wednesday, after a really slow rush hour drive out there. The bookstore, Words Worth Books uses a downtown theatre for their larger events. They were terrific hosts and it was an interesting, energetic evening. In the Q&A after I had some awfully good questions. One man asked about how deliberately in Under Heaven I had gone about melding Daoism, Confucianism and shamanistic traditions. I warned him we were all in danger of my being forced to think up there. (They were nice to me: it got a laugh.)
One of the store managers, introducing me, had riffed earlier on a male customer saying, â€œDude, he made me cry!â€ (talking about Fionavar) and she got a laugh for that, but that story also made me think a bit (dangerous, I know).
When I was learning some skills of criminal law, eons ago, one frequently repeated mantra was a line variously credited to this famed lawyer or that one: â€œIt’s easy to make a jury cry. But they can be crying and still convict your client.â€
There are writers I’ve loved whose effects are deliberately quiet, less intense, dealing with and eliciting emotions that don’t â€¦ spill over. And I know I’ve gone after that effect many times over the years, and experienced a real satisfaction, inwardly, if I felt a passage did what I wanted it to in that way. (The wonderful Penelope Fitzgerald is an example of someone who does this sort of thing beautifully, time after time.)
But it is still, very often, the showpiece heartbreak scenes that readers will come and talk to me about. I’m equally proud of some of those â€“ because, contrary to some annoying, long-dead lawyer’s easy one-liner (!) generating a real emotion is enormously hard, and demands a reader’s investment in the characters in a major way. And it remains true that many people are simply not accustomed to being moved to tears by a book; it counts as noteworthy for them, and a writer can only be honoured when someone confides as much. (I’m drawing a distinction, and it does need more time to explore than an already long post allows, between emotion and quick-hit sentiment. I may get back to this one day here.)
But from a ‘craft’ point of view there’s a different aspect to the topic.
We live in a very hearts-on-sleeves world. Confessional. TMI. Laying it out there. Texting it. In touch with our inner selves. Real men do cry.
But as a writer, if I’m developing characters in a setting meant to evoke a dramatically different, much more controlled society, to have figures emote or react as we might, ourselves, or to ‘open them up’ to readers right away, as if they were on the next bar or cafÃ© stool â€¦ feels like a betrayal (even a large one) of the characters and the culture. This isn’t to say that every person in a controlled culture will be controlled, just as not everyone in ours is tweeting their innermost thoughts â€¦ but to offer contrasting types, one needs to establish the baseline.
Under Heaven, interestingly, seems to be eliciting both kinds of response. Some reviewers and readers writing of being moved to tears (I almost wrote ‘quiet tears’ but I don’t actually know that, do I?) and others writing as if they wished they had been â€¦ and that is so utterly normal in the way of how individuals respond to art, it is almost not worth noting. But what I’m getting after today is the point that just as language needs to suit setting, so does playing with emotions.
To this day I still remember the impact the very first page of Huizinga’s classic The Waning of the Middle Ages had on me as an undergrad. He writes of how the sheer intensity of life was so much greater in European culture then, how people showed emotions more, men fainting with sorrow or joy, rage consuming people visibly, delight doing the same. He writes of the ‘violence’ of sentiments. Thinking about that had a deep impact on how I write. Some cultures and characters need to be drawn in such tones, others will simply be wrong if offered that way. I use this thought as an underlying principle. The world and people of Last Light cannot be the same as the world and people in Lions.
Hmm. Didn’t really mean to go on at such length about that. It interests me, though (obviously!) and I am also aware this approach can place a demand on readers: they might be asked to empathize with, or project their awareness out towards people in a novel whose approach to life and emotion is very unlike their own, or that of our time. But this is part of why I write, actually. To do that stretching to myself, and to those who read me.
But now, lamentably, I feel an almost irresistible impulse to end with a riff on the theme song of â€œFamily Guyâ€. You know, â€œâ€¦ who positively can do all the things that make us â€¦ laugh and cry!â€ I didn’t resist, did I?
Honestly, it was my kids who got me watching. It almost depresses me I have that damned song memorized. Don’t tell anyone.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, May 24, 2010 – 1:29 pm:
I’m feeling a tad overexposed these days, and that isn’t a reference to shirt buttons undone on a hot holiday afternoon in Canada. I’ve done so many interviews, in person and online and on air, and have had so many appearances that I start to feel as if it is too much. Several publicists have expressed extreme amusement at the very notion of ‘too much’ in this regard, and they are almost surely right.
But here’s a story Shawn Speakman of ‘The Signed Page’ told me in Seattle. He often records a conversation with authors coming to personalize books for him to distribute to those who have signed up for them. (We’re doing something a bit different: an online chat, open to reader questions, at suvudu.com on Wednesday June 2nd). So Shawn asked a very well known writer if he could do that and the writer said, flatly, ‘Nope’. Then explained: he has, he said, only one routine he does in appearances, one way he discusses his book. Says if he has that all over the place online, there’s nothing new for people to hear when they come see him.
I don’t feel quite that way, I can tailor comments and jokes and readings to a given setting and audience, but here’s an example of where I do agree with that other author. In Winnipeg, at the McNally Robinson reading (a really wonderful night) I told a story about the origins of the opening scene of Under Heaven. It was the first time I’d told it to an audience, and I realized it ‘worked’, it was interesting, the right length of time, and really did offer an insight into the start of the novel. I’ve told it several times since.
But that story is now online at the McNally’s website. They videoed the evening, and put up that portion of it. There is nothing wrong with this, I saw their recording equipment and knew they did this. I even like the idea that people not in a tour city can hear that anecdote (it was linked by the brightweavings.com Twitter feed). But it does mean that anyone attending a later appearance, or reading or listening to something I post or say along those lines in an interview may be gettingâ€¦ ‘old news’.
It doesn’t actually matter a whole lot, I suspect. And very few people are industrious enough to chase these things down (ie: very few people care enough!) but as I answer the same questions yet again in another email or radio interview I start to feel repetitious to myself.
I do expect that in China, which is coming up in a few weeks, the questions at interviews and readings (and I have 3 speeches to give) will be quite different, just by virtue of the setting. In addition, there’s a great difference between a reading audience where the majority of people there are already readers of the author’s work (or partners dragged screaming thither) and a venue where most might only be curious to encounter a writer they don’t yet know who happens to be in Shanghai or Beijing.
I expect to find it energizing, to be honest. And it is also important to keep all this ‘exposure’ discussion in perspective. The woman who does the weather report on the evening news is recognized more often in a summer cafÃ© than 99% of all writers, even those on the bestseller list.
And no, I’m not doing the weather this week. (Sunny and warm.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, May 21, 2010 – 1:12 pm:
A really enjoyable night on Wednesday at the Flying Dragon bookstore here in Toronto. They have a set-up downstairs for a small audience which allows for lots of questions and chat, and that’s how it played out. When I’m not on the road and worrying about work time lost and publisher’s money spent, it can actually be much more relaxing and engaging to do a small event. Fewer sound bites and set remarks and more interaction with readers – and I have often said (and meant it) that I have interesting readers.
Three different times there were specific single-line quotes from Under Heaven used as preludes or jumping off points for a question and they were really smart ones. (Can’t quote, spoiler free zone here!)
The thank you card from the bookstore staff was cleverly signed ‘The Flying Dragon Palace Army’ … for anyone who has read the book, the joke’s very good. (And that does not enter spoiler country, no.)
Under Heaven was on the Maclean’s bestseller list again yesterday, at #3. If we stay on another week that’ll make 2 months, which is really good in a busy, major-book filled spring season.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, May 17, 2010 – 10:18 am:
I always find it interesting how fast travel fades when it is over. I’m home, generally functional, and digging down through what piles up, inevitably, during three weeks away. I may see my desk through the papers any day now. What paperless office?
It feels a while ago now, as I said, but the evening at Borderlands in San Francisco was a lot of fun. Alan and Jude run a smooth, professional event, and I had dinner beforehand with friends from ‘Locus’ magazine, which is based in Oakland, still in Charles Brown’s house on the hill. We toasted Charlie before dinner, as we always do. I expect to miss him every time I’m in San Francisco, or at each convention I attend for a long time now.
Questions at Borderlands were very good; one issue that came up was my argument that the boundaries between genre and mainstream are seriously blurring these days. I have suggested this for years, but the evidence keeps getting stronger. Jude Feldman mentioned, from behind the cash desk, that when they named the store, long ago, one aspect of the name was meant to represent how they felt sf/fantasy represented the borders or margins of literature â€¦ and she’s no longer feeling that way, either.
Seattle is engaged in what has to be a devious and intricate campaign to seduce me. Every time I am there it is sunny. I am told that the odds against this are prohibitive, and I believe it, rationally. But it is always beautiful when I get there, four or five trips now. This time the highlight was an evening interview at a branch library in Sammamish (my spell checker isn’t happy with that name!). It was a tricky venue for some people to get to, abut 45 minutes out and through rush hour, but the commuter town is lovely (yes, it was sunny) and the library brand new. I had dinner beforehand with my interviewer, the truly splendid Nancy Pearl, aka the Rock Star Librarian. We’d met three years before in Seattle doing a tv interview for Ysabel, and picked up right where we’d left off, talking books and travel, sharing opinions on new and older works, with a remarkable overlap of yea and nay.
During the interview, I actually wanted to more or less continue this general discussion (did work in Rosemary Sutcliff and Dorothy Dunnett) but Nancy’s too professional, and knew that the room wanted to focus more, and she wouldn’t let me off the hook, even going back to The Silmarillion briefly. It was an easy and relaxed way to end the tour. Did I mention the sun was shining? Through the floor to ceiling windows on one side of the room.
Next morning I signed books at ‘The Signed Page’, a service offered by Shawn Speakman, whereby people can order personalized books from him for authors who get to Seattle on tour but not their own home towns. Among other things, Shawn runs the websites for the authors Terry Brooks and Naomi Novik, so he knows his way around a meta tag. He also lives unnervingly close – like just across the road – from a good bar and a couple of good cafes, and we had a last coffee outdoors (guess the weather, go ahead) before he ran me out to the airport to finally fly home.
Under Heaven is still at #2 on the Maclean’s bestseller list here, which counts as extremely good news, and the bumped-up US print run is still shipping. Borders have already re-ordered I am told. Re-orders are always good news, though it can also mean that there might be gaps in stock till they are filled, and that’s frustrating, for buyers and authors, both. Shawn said he’d needed twenty more books than he was able to get in time. This is an ultimately positive sort of frustration, though, way better than the opposite.
Today and tomorrow I have to polish and deliver an essay I promised for a PEN International fundraising book being edited by Jared Bland. This is not his quid pro quo for the onstage interview at the worldwide launch, it is best seen as a punishment (PENishment?) for my (ludicrous) pick of New Jersey for the Stanley Cup. On the other hand, he called Pittsburgh, so what do either of us know?
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, May 09, 2010 – 12:50 pm:
So, do I sound different here, now I’m in sunny California? Actually, at the moment, a fine rain’s falling. I’ll take some credit for the San Jose Sharks win (hockey, for the uninitiated) right here last night. Too far away to help my Montreal Canadiens in Pittsburgh, though. Karma only extends so far.
But is it karma that has me back in the San Jose Fairmont six months after the first time? It was here that I did the first-ever reading from Under Heaven during the World Fantasy Convention last fall. I remember, among other recollections of that afternoon, Cecelia Holland, the truly splendid novelist, giving me a hug after and whispering ‘When do I get to read this?’ And now it is out, and she’s already reviewed it, and I’m back in the same place (good Illy coffee cafÃ© attached to the hotel, by the way) on tour.
Need more of said coffee this morning or this could even slide towards the mystical. (Um, no, not really. Not my style, even in California.)
Last night was a re-encounter after three years with Rick Kleffel who multi-tasks with a blog, a podcast, reviews, and NPR radio shots, among other things. With so much free time on his hands, Rick is launching a new concept â€¦ radio and podcast interviews with selected pairings of authors. Last night was his first, and he’s using a lovely bookstore cafÃ© in Capitola, about 40 minutes south of here as his venue.
The other author last night was a writer named Zachary Mason, with a first novel called The Lost Books of the Odyssey, and I’ve already bought it. Sounds like a sly, clever post-modern riffing on the tales not told in Homer. We had a good time up there, with Rick feeding softball pitches to both of us, left and right. He kept reaching for (and sometimes finding) parallels in how our books worked, but was also wide open for teasing on that. I held back: Rick’s a really good guy, this is a promising debut venture for him, and I don’t take every teasing chance I’m given.
Really. Not every single one. Besides, he took me down to see the Capitola beach towards sunset before we started. That gets you immunity for awhile. We’re doing an interview at his radio station in San Francisco Monday, too.
This afternoon is likely to be (don’t quote me) a â€¦ delicate gig. It is Mother’s Day, everyone forgot (bookstore, publicists, author) way back when as the tour was being laid down â€¦ and so I expect a small crowd of orphans this afternoon at Kepler’s Bookstore. On the other hand, it is a gorgeous store, and I know a old few friends planning to come so I’m calling this one a ‘for fun’ appearance and if it turns out crowded, that’s a bonus. (And yes, I called my mother, already. The book is dedicated to her, after all.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, May 06, 2010 – 12:28 pm:
It can get too easy to fall behind here as I move around. The tour’s going really quite well. I am in danger of enjoying myself. Victoria on Tuesday at Bolen Books was a fine evening. Rob Wiersema, the novelist/critic who also manages the store always puts on a smooth event, and spoke very generously to introduce me.
I could have killed him, of course. He went on and on about how over more than twenty years I had ‘played a major role in changing the nature of important literature in Canada’ and on, and on. And by the time the son of a bitch finished I was ready to ask for a walker to help me make my stately, clumping, semi-obsolete way to the microphone. Jeez, how does one change from angry young author to eminence gris that fast?
The audience for me there is always great, and I had a few touching and interesting chats with readers during the signing after. Then Rob and I and a few others repaired for the now-routine drinks at a bar across the way and during the second round he shared some seriously good gossip and anecdotes about the literary world (he gave me some great stories, and no I am not posting them here. Don’t even ask.) His new book is out in fall, I’ll cross fingers for him.
Then the float plane back to Vancouver yesterday morning. Gorgeous ride over the islands, it really is lovely out here when the sun shines. There were a cluster of new reviews and interviews waiting in my inbox when I landed, and it is hard not to feel really good about what seems to be the response to Under Heaven.
Last night was a new sort of gig. CBC Radio does a ‘Book Club’ before a live studio audience of 120. Two hosts, the regular one and a guest host who knows the work of the evening’s author well. My guest host turned out to be the son of someone I knew way, way (way) back when while doing radio drama. See ‘use a walker to get on stage’ supra. Sigh.
The producer, a very cool, focused woman made the mistake of mentioning in the Green Room that their best radio shows had been the ones where listeners were most aware of the audience being there. This can mean only one thing: make ’em laugh. I fear I did see this as her coded invitation/request to go that way, and the really terrific studio audience were clearly in a mood to be amused. We had a very good time. (Yes, of course, I was mostly serious, but â€¦)
The signing had a new wrinkle and I think I liked it. They had a chair beside mine and people tended to sit down so it was easier for them to ask a question or chat. I said I felt like a banker, but saying ‘yes’ to everyone. Signing lines always make me feel a conflict: I never want to rush people, but if I can see the length of the line I start feeling guilty about how patient people have to be. At McNally’s in Winnipeg they (shrewdly?) set it up so a big bookcase hid my view of how long the wait was, and I could only keep asking those who came up to me, ‘How are they doing back there?’
TV interview (midday show) in a couple of hours. These are usually very, very brief sound bite spots. The absolute key is no asparagus in the teeth. And name the book at least twice, in order to not be killed by the publicist. (Being killed kills subsequent events, might even get the poor publicist fired. Anyone ever see the Monty Python sketch on ‘Life After Death’ with a panel of dead people? There you go.)
Signing at White Dwarf Books this evening, a sort-of impromptu event (because they were asked to not advertise extensively till CBC sold out). Jill and Walter are old friends by now (no, they don’t use walkers) and I’m very happy to be able to be doing something with them. There are so many pressures on independent bookstores these days, I like trying to steer sales that way.
California tomorrow morning.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, May 01, 2010 – 1:13 pm:
Terrible weather here in Winnipeg, I was counting on prairie skies and doing some walking around. Memory lane walks, since I grew up here. Non-cooperative rain, however. It’ll be a quiet Saturday, which isn’t so bad, mid-tour. Coffees with friends.
Thursday evening’s reading was exceptionally nice. McNally Robinson always does a really well promoted and set-up reading for me, and there’s always strong advance media coverage, partly because of the ‘local author’ aspect of things (though I haven’t lived here in 30 years). Saw some old friends, and friends of my parents, in a large crowd. Nostalgia revisited.
I did a telephone interview to Beijing on Thursday, as well, which was a first. There’s some coverage now in anticipation of an event I’m doing there in June, and I have another phoner set for a magazine in Shanghai for later this week. The Beijing interviewer was the niece of the really fine British historian, Simon Sebag-Montefiore (Russian history specialist). She turned out to have some startlingly detailed and sharp questions about Fionavar (no idea how she’ll work those into an interview piece for ‘Time Out Beijing’!) I got a kick out of that.
Under Heaven was on the Maclean’s national bestseller list again, 4th week, at #4, which counts as really positive news. We are seeing and will see first print reviews in US and UK in next few days, too, as their pub dates were this week. It is strange to realize the book is just out, since reviews have been appearing online for a long time, and interviews. But these really are the opening days for those markets. When I head south to California and Seattle at the end of this week it’ll actually be quite tight to the book’s release.
I have a vivid memory of doing this same prairie to San Francisco run three years ago. It was February, freezing cold and snow here, and I had sweater, winter coat, hat, boots. I was met at the San Francisco airport by Jude Feldman of â€œBorderlandsâ€ bookstore where I was reading that same afternoon. Jude was worried about timing and wanted to go straight to the store.
Cantankerous author vetoed. I insisted we stop at hotel so I could change to suit the gorgeous afternoon weather. I did not want to arrive for a reading looking like a figure from â€œThe Shooting of Dan McGrewâ€ just down from the Yukon. Memorable, yes. Apt, hardly.
It ought to be easier this time. I just have a new leather jacket I bought in Montreal. (Expensive hour and a half between events that day. Always dangerous, that in-between time on the road!)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 – 10:31 am:
It can get a wee bit of a tad of a smidgeon frenzied, this touring game. Got home late last night. This morning started with a run to CBC Studios downtown and an interview with the wonderful Shelagh Rogers (airs Saturday, on Radio 1 and their Sirius station). Shelagh now lives on one of the Gulf islands off Vancouver and has a studio set up adjacent to her home. She meanders over there, connects to her producers in Toronto or Vancouver, and does her interviews with guests in the main studios. Pretty sweet process, and couldn’t happen to a better person. I really enjoy chatting with her. Major force in broadcasting here.
Then two more interviews yesterday by phone, one by email, and a lot of breaking news of one sort of another (because it was release day in the US, tomorrow is formal UK release, though the book is evidently out already).
This morning was to start at 9 with a long interview with Beijing’s ‘Time Out’ magazine, but the time zones messed us up – a Time Out? – (I am assuming that is what it was) and the call came late and we had to postpone a bit – because I had another call coming in from Ottawa (the don’t-ask-why-it-is-by-phone-when-I-was-just-there call).
Now taxi to airport in half an hour, so probably wise to finish (re)packing. I’ll do the Beijing call tonight (!) from Winnipeg … they are 13 hours ahead of CDT, so it’ll be late morning for her.
Mantra: the only people who complain more than authors on a book tour are authors not on tour. Keep. Reminding. Self.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, April 25, 2010 – 8:51 pm:
Well, one semi-cure for a classic Tour Cold â„¢, over and above (and around and below) single malt scotch or hot gin toddies is a generous audience. The Ottawa Writer’s Festival crowd at the Mayfair Theatre was about 160 people (they told me after, it was hard to see as they used stage lighting which essentially blinds you up there). They were terrific, including good questions after the on-stage interview with the programming director went to the floor. (I mean questions from the floor, not that we started wrestling. I have a head cold, remember.)
After the signing session beside the stage I had a coffee with Peter Robb, Penguin’s senior sales representative and two people from a new festival in Kingston with an invite for September. Peter reminded me of the day, a long time ago when he was driving me around to bookstores and we saw a hit and run and chased the fugitive car … he drove like, well, like a sales rep late to a bookstore signing, and I got the license number (by leaping out of our racing car, somersaulting across the hood of the one beside us and … well, er, no) and he later confirmed a conviction had been registered. Just another day in the life of a touring author and his intrepid rep. (“Our work here is done?”)
After the coffee meet came a catch-up dinner with old friends here: the author Charles de Lint and his wife MaryAnn Harris, and Rodger Turner of, among other things, the World Fantasy Convention executive. Margaritas helped take the edge off some sober talk of the state of the book industry.
It was all nearly enough to cure a cold, too, but not quite. My voice was amazingly hoarse by dinner’s end and they mercifully dropped me back here at the hotel to chill.
Tomorrow I run around here, mostly to bookstores, some media, then airport for the evening flight home. I have two nights there (and four or five interviews), then head west. Ironically, one of the interviews in Toronto, a ‘phoner’ Wednesday morning, is with a radio station here in Ottawa! Don’t ask. (I don’t know the answer yet, will try to find out.) Another, interestingly, is with ‘Time Out Beijing’ magazine, also by phone (rather obviously), as part of the run-up to media in China in late June.
This might make that trip start to feel more â€¦ well regulars here know what ‘T’ word applies.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, April 22, 2010 – 2:40 pm:
I do feel some responsibility to post more often now that I’m actually on the road. This is a tour journal, isn’t it?
This isn’t apropos of anything specific but â€¦ had some down time this morning here in Montreal, and a sunny, crisp day, so went walking. Ended up at the art gallery and there’s a really fine Tiffany exhibition. One table lamp, the ‘Dragonfly lamp’ is beautiful enough to be worth the trip and admission by itself. (Interestingly, the notes say it is not by Tiffany himself, but from his studio â€¦ raises some interesting thoughts about why it can still be prominently showcased here, whereas paintings by pupils of a ‘master’ like Rembrandt lose so much attention and value when they are de-attributed from the senior artist’s oeuvre. Is it part of the difference between decorative art and fine art? Am I way too far afield with this parenthetical? Don’t I always do that? Did anyone notice Phil Hughes almost pitched a no-hitter last night?)
Across the way from the Tiffany, and a flight down, there was a small room of ancient art and I wandered in. One lovely floor mosaic from 5th century which is roughly the period of the Sarantium books, and I’m always drawn to mosaics these days, for obvious reasons. Right opposite it on the far wall was a display case of ancient Greek art, essentially 1000 years earlier, such a long span of time in a small room. There’s a truly lovely, almost certainly ‘unimportant’ horse from the 6th century BCE, and it had me thinking about the impulse towards art, towards making things and how far back this goes â€¦ right back to cave paintings. Is it self-expression (not in all cultures, that’s for certain) is it ‘sharing’?
I was asked in one interview this week (here’s where I tack back into being â€“ marginally â€“ relevant, right?) why I write, and I answered in terms of Yeats: ‘nothing but comes readier to the hand/ Than this accustomed toil’ (I misquoted a bit for the newspaper, from memory, or what I am pleased to call my memory.) But that’s only part of it: the sharing’s another part, and that’s an element of what makes touring complex and interesting â€¦ because we’re sharing in a different way. Hearing a reading aloud isn’t reading a book. Hearing an author interviewed isn’t, either. But they can shed light.
Segue to cute reference back to Tiffany lamps and shedding lightâ€¦
(I know. I know. I’m even getting post-modernist and meta-fictional here now. Never know what you’ll get in the Tour Journal.)
Reading’s tonight at 8:30 â€¦ the Montreal Gazette says 7:30, apparently. They lied.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 – 1:26 pm:
Hotel bar, Moncton, to airport in 90 minutes. My work here is done. I was about to type that that’s from the Lone Ranger, which is how I remember it, but a quick google says Mary Poppins also used it! (And Mel Brooks, in â€œBlazing Saddlesâ€ but that’s a parody or echo of, surely the Lone Ranger line.) See the things you learn if you check the Tour Journal here?
Today’s lunch was genuinely nice. It was arranged to honour high school students tutoring grade schoolers in reading (and math) skills. There are over 100 students in the programme, and about 60 of them were there today, along with about the same number of adults sponsoring (or just come for a fast lunch and to hear an author make a few remarks).
The analogy that occurred to me, sitting at the head table, and I spoke of this, was how this tutoring takes us back to the idea of the one-room schoolhouse, where the paradigm included the older students helping the younger ones with their work while gaining certain skills themselves. (You knew I’d get a history reference in here, didn’t you?) I think this is a great programme, and I told them so in the speech. The auction of the first copy of Under Heaven was also to promote literacy in young children by making more books available to them.
Last night was another short reading and an interview with Stephen Saunders, a semi-regular on Bright Weavings. He drove the 2 Â½ hours up from Halifax to do it (then drove right back) so this counts as above-and-beyond, and he was fun and sharp (both) on stage. We only had about 35-40 minutes to chat, so I don’t think he got to all his ambushes.
Montreal tomorrow night at their book festival. Just heard that one of the other two authors I was reading with is now a volcanic ash no-show (she was to come in from Amsterdam). There were two writers who didn’t make it here to Moncton for the Frye Festival, as well, from Europe. Add the undoing of the London Book Fair which was last weekend, and the book world shares in the wider chaos created. Trivial, in the larger scheme of things, mind you, but pretty obviously cause for discussion among writers. (The London fair is really important, a lot of business is done there.)
I suspect Ottawa’s festival is facing the same issues with some planned guests. I’ll find out Sunday when I get there. I’m on at 2 pm Sunday. No, don’t ask me where. I’ll go where they point me! No â€œHi-yo, Silver, away!” jokes, either. For one thing (depressingly) it occurs to me that younger surfers may even need to google that to get it!
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, April 16, 2010 – 2:17 pm:
Here’s another aspect of the New World Order. When I began the first of these journals, one of my thoughts was to let people who couldn’t attend a reading or event get a bit of a sense of what happened from me, after. I still think I should be doing that, or this isn’t really a ‘tour journal’ any more, and I will lose all sense of order, time, and place and drift, confused, in the vasty depths of cyberspace.
Something like that. But â€¦ I’m going to be late to the party a lot, I now realize. People will be blogging or tweeting events a lot sooner than I can get here. Yes, perhaps the author’s ‘take’ is somewhat different, but I’m no longer going to be bringing the news from Ghent to Aix (Robert Browning riff, sorry).
Bottom line: last night’s launch was a lot of fun. Everyone seemed to end up happy except fans of the Washington Capitals, and there may have been a few who couldn’t get books â€¦ the attending bookstore sold out, Penguin reps dashed off to grab what they call ‘car stock’ and I think they succeeded in getting extra books back in time for everyone. Hope so.
There was a private cocktail reception beforehand, nearby. By a really nice coincidence, Penguin’s Sales Conference was this week, and the reps from all over the country were in town â€¦ so we had a drink together and they walked us over to the library for the launch. It was a treat to have them there in support of the book.
My editor/publisher/friend Nicole Winstanley started us off in front of what they tell me were about 300 people. I made my one or two absolutely mandatory jokes, read briefly from the end of chapter one, then Jared joined me on stage (in really comfortable chairs, actually).
He unscrolled a worrisomely long list of printed-out questions, and many of them had (sharp, acute, often damnably unfair) quotes from the book to precede them. Why unfair – aside from a rhetorical flourish? Because many were the perceptive sort that demand either quick sound-bite amusing non-answers or long semi-scholarly ones. I tried to slalom back and forth but tilted mostly to serious replies. The questions deserved them. The audience was exceptional, really obviously with us, and that makes it easier to feel confident that a ‘real’ response will be all right. It ended up being a very relaxing 45 minute chat among a large number of friends. He picked Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup (not this year, mon ami) and I played contrarian (moi?) and threw out New Jersey, though I don’t really think they’ll do it. Of course, if they do, I will point to this post and say I called it, in public.
The long signing line-up was â€“ and this gets to me every time â€“ composed of really pleasant, really patient people, some of whom had genuinely interesting or touching things to say. I made the comment on stage that I am lucky in my readers, and I feel it every time I do a signing session.
To Moncton next, for the Frye Festival, their annual literary event named in honour of Northrop Frye, the great literary critic, who was raised there. I’m doing three different things, one of which is another onstage interview, this time with Stephen Saunders, an occasional denizen of Bright Weavings. Stephen has a lean and hungry look about him, and may be laying some ambushes. Or he could just be clever and engaging. We shall see.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 – 12:23 pm:
I’ve been thinking about changes in the book world again today (call it a motif here?). When I first conceived of these journals on Bright Weavings, with Last Light, my template was the articles I remembered reading by authors being funny about the mishaps of their book tours. I thought I’d use the online journal to include readers who didn’t happen to be in a city (or country) I was touring, and develop some themes about how books get produced and onto shelves.
So, we arrive on the eve of the official launch of Under Heaven here in Toronto tomorrow, and it feels â€“ oddly â€“ as if we’ve been ‘launched’ for a long time already. Before someone throws a cyber-axe at me, I do know that readers in all countries other than Canada are still awaiting books. Really. I do know. But from the point of view of marketing, promotion, e-mail interviews, advance reviews, online ‘touring’ â€¦ I’ve been increasingly busy with this book since not long after 2010 began.
The lead-time, as I have said here before, is really lengthy these days. I analogized to movie trailers that appear months before the film is out â€¦ and Penguin Canada even have a movie trailer for Under Heaven. Two of them, actually, the longish one on their website for my work, and a 15 second mini that’s running for a month in movie theatres here. (It is in front of a lot of films including â€“ and figure out the common denominator â€“ â€œClash of Titansâ€ and â€œDate Nightâ€. Points for figuring out the best linkage between those two. No points for saying ‘I saw both. That’s the link!’)
Having said this, there is something very special about the formal launch event. I have really good memories of many of them, going back to the wonderful second floor library at U of Toronto’s Hart House, before we outgrew it. I loved doing events in that room, partly because I had (and still have) memories of escaping law school studying long ago, to walk over and read the magazines in the Hart House Library. We’re in the Metro Toronto Reference Library tomorrow, a far newer, grander space. I’m going to read briefly (I do know what I’ll do â€¦ last part of chapter one) then chat on stage with Jared Bland of â€œWalrus Magazineâ€. The magazine is co-sponsoring and promoting the event, giving out issues, and Jared has already been extraordinarily generous in his response to and writing about the book. We may talk single malt and hockey. He likes the Penguins for the Stanley Cup; given my publishers, a prudent, political pick.
I enjoy these onstage interviews, I like having another presence with mine up there; did a few for Ysabel and have several more slated for this tour. I think there’s more energy and interest for an audience when two people are going back and forth. It turns on the questions and the chemistry, of course, but I’m with good people this spring (including the wonderful Nancy Pearl in Seattle in May).
In any case, I wrote here a little while back ‘We have a book’ and now, I suppose, ‘We have a launch’. I’d better start thinking about the next novel. Actually, no. Not yet. Shut up, Kay. Practice summarizing the plot of Under Heaven in thirty seconds, for tv interviews. (I hate doing that. I really hate doing that.)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, April 12, 2010 – 1:36 pm:
So, as far back as The Lions of Al-Rassan, and I am pretty sure even earlier, I have been making the formal case for the use of the fantastic in writing about history.
I do this argument in a variety of ways, emphasizing one aspect or another, depending on where I am speaking, or for what forum I’m writing. But one aspect of it, in the last six or seven years, is usually this:
I argue that if I make the world of the novel be as my characters believe it to be, I can help readers (today’s readers) shake some of the smug superiority that sometimes sneaks into our reading about past behaviours and beliefs. You know: ‘Isn’t it quaint? People used to think that …’
When we read of characters in a book fearing demons, magic talismans tossed in the grave of someone newly-dead, the way a stolen horse could destroy a funeral and create an enraged ghost, this ‘modern’ wryness gets in the way of our respect for them. It isn’t insurmountable, and different readers will experience this to different degrees, but I see it as worth wrestling with, as a novelist.
With Last Light of the Sun I found myself formulating these thoughts in a very specific way (and I date my speaking of this point most directly to that time). I was trying to address the entire notion of faerie, and the inner (and outward) clashes that occurred between ‘formal doctrine’ and what people actually knew they’d seen … and I wanted to write a book that made this vivid. The characters (some of them) did have evidence that cut against what their religion taught. I let this process infuse the novel in many ways. The presence of faerie wasn’t presented as idle superstition or naive innocence. It was made manifest. And I spoke about the device, the literary device, in these terms on the book tour, and after, to the present day.
Yesterday, in the New York Review of Books, I am reading a review of a major bio of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and encounter this sentence:
“Martin [the biographer] helpfully defines magic realism as a story in which the world is as the characters believe it to be … without any indication from the author that this world-view is quaint, folkloric or superstitious.
Well, damn. This amuses on so many levels. For one thing, it is ridiculously close to quotes I’ve given in interviews or speeches for seven years or so now, even to word choices. For another, I have also long been saying (including an interview just last week) that when literary figures of a certain generation or style want to like a book that employs the fantastic, they’ll label it … magical realism.
I think this echoing is cool, interesting, and useful. I like seeing the thesis offered by others. In a matter like this it is comforting and reassuring to not be (or no longer be) on a soapbox alone.
There’s lots of room on the soapbox as the genre borders blur.
And as the metaphors mix!
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, April 06, 2010 – 4:24 pm:
I’ve been doing this for a long time. That counts as a rueful confession. I’ve been lucky enough to be generously reviewed almost all the way along. Not universally, but pretty generally. Having said that, I cannot remember so many extravagantly enthused reviews for a book as the ones that are coming in for Under Heaven these days. It generates a strange internal sensation of feeling simultaneously humbled and rewarded.
One of the things that pleases me most is that the responses are coming from all across the spectrum: core fantasy reviewers, historical fiction readers and reviewers, romance fiction sites, the trade press (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal) and seriously influential mainstream readers and writers (Nancy Pearl of NPR, Rob Wiersema in the Globe & Mail). I have argued and spoken for so long about the gradual eroding of boundaries, borders, barriers in literature. The increasing use of elements of the fantastic by ‘mainstream’ authors, and how this â€“ to my mind â€“ means that the so-called battle for credibility is largely over. There will always be bad books of every sort, and there will always be light entertainment of all kinds, but authors working ambitiously will, less and less often, find themselves judged or slotted by label.
That’s my view, and I’m sticking to it.
My sense (and it is very early days with this book, it isn’t even out other than here in Canada this week) is that Under Heaven, whatever its merits (and each reader will make that call for him or herself) is gaining the benefit of this blurring of labels and genres. There will be reviewers who don’t love (or even like) Under Heaven. There have to be. But the idea that a book can be evaluated for itself, not assigned or squeezed into a category, seems more and more embedded to me. Having made these points at a time when they were deeply unfashionable, having had professional colleagues ask me, as far back as fifteen or twenty years ago, why I didn’t shift to more a conventional approach, this feels very good, I have to say.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, April 01, 2010 – 4:50 pm:
Another interview done here yesterday morning, for the Globe & Mail, another photographer rattled by the recalcitrant material he had to work with (seriously: he forgot his flash and had to come back for it, the man was shaken). I admit to feeling some curiosity as to how the two national press interviews will compare â€¦ two very smart journalists, each sat in the same chair and drank a latte, but quite different styles (as to interviewing, not drinking).
Also did, in a rush, an online interview for a blog that is based (I think) in the UK, a newly-launched one, shared by four people, steering reviews and such from their individual blogs. (It is linked somewhere in the brightweavings forums here). The noteworthy thing here (and I am now tattling on a publicist) is that Barbara said a week or so ago that she could agree that I’d do it for their launch/debut on April 1st â€¦ then forgot to send it to me until early afternoon the 31st. I have told her she is now obliged to laugh at my jokes for the month of April even the (very rare!) unfunny ones.
I will go on record here as saying I’m being made nervous by how over-the-top the early responses to the book seem to be, from a very wide range of people. Three more online reviews in the last 24 hours. My wife’s line put it in perspective: â€œWould you be less nervous if they were negative?â€ TouchÃ©, as I have to say to her far too often.
Signed a hundred books or so for Book City, from their warehouse, and remembered that one of my first Tour Journal posts here, years ago, was about the ‘dungeon’ in their basement, with faint scratches of author-initials on the walls and the evidence of manacles and human bonesâ€¦
Then, as I anticipated earlier here, a really pleasant lunch with Jared Bland, the Managing Editor of ‘Walrus’ magazine, who will be doing the on-stage interview on the 15th. We didn’t do a whole lot of advance planning. I like to be surprised a bit by questions and he likes to react to answers. We did agree to keep the sports and single malt scotch components of the discussion down to reasonable levels.
Official publication date here in Canada is Saturday. As I’ve explained before, pub date is a bit of a fiction as books may well be on sale in some places before it comes. But that’s the day when the publishers are confident (sometimes a misplaced confidence!) that they’ll have titles shipped across the country, and so print reviews can run, since people will be able to read a review and go out and buy a book. In theory.
Reviews are often much later than publication date, by the way, if a title is even covered: there’s a serious diminishment of book space in daily papers everywhere. A glum reality of the day. The Internet is picking up some of that slack, but that raises other issues, some of which I’ve discussed here earlier. We’re living, in the Chinese phrase, in interesting times.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, March 26, 2010 – 3:33 pm:
The auction of the first book has ended. I’m told by Penguin Canada it went for $535. They’ll have details next week in a press release I suspect. I’m really pleased by all of this.
Sightings of the book in Canada are here and there now, I gather, and amazon.ca is shipping. Someone asked how that can be, since formal publication date is April 3rd.
Only in rare cases (like a Harry Potter title or Dan Brown) do publishers enforce a rigid pub date embargo to avoid bookstores jumping the gun. (The threat is: no re-orders will be allowed.)
Essentially the pub date is the date on which the publisher believes full national distribution will have been accomplished – and therefore reviews can run. (No, it is not the date when everyone goes to a local pub and gets drunk to celebrate … though that is a perfectly good idea.) The polite agreement (I did write about this earlier I think) is that print media will not review a book until it is available. That’s the meaning of the date: books are supposed to be fully shipped and stocked.
But in some places, obviously nearest the publisher’s warehouse, books can start arriving in stores as many as 7-10 days ahead of pub date … and that’s happening here, and it is normal. One of the great wake-up phone calls of my life was from my wife, phoning on a Saturday morning to Florida where I was at a conference, to tell me A Song for Arbonne was at #1 on the Globe and Mail bestseller list – and pub date was a week away.
I suppose books on bookstore shelves require Tangible to have a capital ‘T’. It has been a long journey, this book that started with an idea about the Silk Road in 2003. It feels good to be at this point. Now we’ll see what happens.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 – 9:03 am:
Houston, we have a book.
First copy here arrived by FedEx yesterday afternoon. As I discussed last week, there’s little ‘surprise’ factor any more in the book world, in the sense that I knew (and everyone who cared about it knew) what the cover would be like: ARCs have been going around, cover images widely posted to the web. But, with apologies to e-book lovers (e-books in a month or so, by the way), there remains a very special and very deep satisfaction in unwrapping a package and seeing one’s book for the first time.
I actually have a funny story about one of these moments (I first told it on a two-person panel years ago, when Terry Pratchett and I were one-downing each other with publishing horror stories) but this doesn’t feel like the moment for it. I’m simply too pleased to be wry about this. I was even briefly relaxed, in a time period that isn’t all that conducive to tranquil reflection, if you know what I mean. There should be book sightings in bookstores here in Canada next week.
Two more interviews have also been booked for next week in the run-up to formal publication date on April 3rd, and a meeting with Jared Bland, the magazine editor who is doing the on-stage interview at the launch event for Under Heaven on the 15th of April here in Toronto. I have now learned that Jared’s another sports fan â€¦ we may never get off baseball and onto the book that night.
I was also informed yesterday that â€œRomantic Timesâ€ magazine gave Under Heaven a 4 Â½ star gold review and rating which, I am told, is their highest rating possible. (Why 4 Â½ star gold is highest and not 5, I leave for more subtle minds to parse.) I’m probably too reflexively inclined to make clever remarks about this review, because that doesn’t feel like my ‘natural’ niche, but doing so would be foolish and I know it.
For one thing, it assumes those who read romance invariably have a narrow range of taste, and I know too many people of whom that is simply not true. In addition, part of the thrust of the packaging and marketing for my last few books in North America has been to ‘alert’ a wider readership that they are out there and worth reading, and a review like this achieves exactly that. So I’m pleased to have literary magazines noting the book, academics, historical fiction blogs, romance magazines, genre websites, daily newspapers â€¦ in an ironic way, I have spoken out for years about the need to break-down or blur genre and category distinctions: perhaps the very best way to do that is to be recognized or lauded in many such categories. Never thought about it like that before, but it makes sense.
Auction for the first book off the press ends tomorrow, I am already really happy with how that’s gone. The cause (books for schools and libraries that lack funds for them) is important to me.
Oh, and there’s a Russian tv clip (really!) announcing the release of Under Heaven in the English-language world. My editors everywhere were startled. The word ‘â€amazingâ€ was used and editors are chary with that one. This comes way ahead of any possible translated edition in Russia. In other words, they treated the English book as newsworthy in itself over there. I admit that’s pretty cool. The video is on Youtube, has been linked at the Facebook fan site. There’s no prize other than undying fame on the level of Achilles, but both Facebook and Twitter (for Bright Weavings) have tossed out a mini-contest to identify the three other writers in the photo the Russians use. One will be a challenge (though he’s a prominent literary figure here in Canada). I’ll be curious to see if anyone grabs the brass ring on this one.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, March 19, 2010 – 8:55 am:
A short post, to follow a long one (keep you guessing?). I am really pleased that Penguin Canada have again set up a charity auction for the worldwide first book off the press.
They did this for Last Light and then for Ysabel and the cause – books for students in schools that can’t afford proper libraries – is both a really good one and entirely appropriate for a book auction, I’ve always felt. They’ve also committed to a matching offer themselves, which they didn’t have to do – nice gesture.
The auction is on eBay at http://tinyurl.com/ykhxotg
(and everyone is permitted to be briefly dazzled by my adroitness at using TinyUrl!)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, March 17, 2010 – 9:32 am:
Long post alert, two completely different things on my mind, neither very directly about Under Heaven but both linked to the appearance of a new book and the culture in which it is appearing. I suppose I could split them into two posts, but I am going to refuse to simplify (Even though a recent, hilarious piece in ‘The Onion’ online suggests people can’t read long prose passages any more. It isn’t true hereabouts, I say! Not in this corner of the web.)
Call the first bit a rant in a minor key, because I’m more reflective than irate. This is one of those ‘in my day we walked to school through eight foot snowdrifts uphill both ways’ comments, so grin and be indulgent.
A story first. I remember, vividly, walking into my local public library one day as a teenager and doing my usual glance at the ‘New Arrivals’ shelf at the front. What followed was less usual: I shouted aloud. In the library. Generally not prudent: draws attention, elicits shushing sounds, witheringly stern glances. Librarians do good wither.
But I had just spotted The Ringed Castle, the penultimate volume in Dorothy Dunnett’s quite wonderful Lymond Chronicles, and I’d been waiting a long time for it to be published. I grabbed the book. I checked it out. I remember thinking someone in the checkout line might try to wrestle it from me. That would have been a mistake on their part.
The point is this, about a more innocent age: I had had no idea the book was out, had had no notion it was even due to appear, no advance word on content or cover or â€¦ anything other than that it was one of the books I was most keenly awaiting. The arrival was a thunderbolt that day, remembered as such, all these years after.
And here I am now, sharing pre-publication information which is widely available, watching the covers for the new book (and various backlist reprints) come up online at various sites to be debated and compared, seeing catalogue copy out there as soon as it appears on publisher websites – because it is ‘grabbed’ by online booksellers for their pre-orders pages. Entire books are serialized on their author’s sites (I’ve agreed to let chapter one of Under Heaven go up on Penguin Canada’s site for my work). Book videos are produced, to sell a book with a mini-movie (and there’s one of those, too, stylishly done, on the same Penguin site).
If I thought all of this was inherently ‘bad’ I wouldn’t be participating or permitting it. Times have changed, the culture is dramatically different. Readers not only know when a new book is due, they get up close and personal with an author if he or she is deemed tardy with the manuscript. And writers tweet daily word counts or weekly updates, or even ask for help from fans. (â€œWhat’s a good synonym for ‘tardy’?â€)
I’m still not sure how I react to all of this. I’m feeling my way, I suppose, looking for a comfort zone, a balance between privacy and accessibility, publicity and over-exposure, information and â€¦ too much of it. I think, in fact, that we’re all engaged in finding that balance. In the book world, and beyond. But there’s a part of me that regrets how much rarer it will ever be for someone to have that sense of excitement I felt that day in the library. They’ll almost have to be hiding, avoiding learning anything in advance: and that’s not the same thing. With gains come losses, often.
Mini-rant off. Now here’s some nice news. The Humanities have been under siege in the university world for the last long while as we turn towards short-term issues of ‘practical’ education. We want tech men and women, engineers, biochemists â€¦ what good’s a historian? A recent government initiative in the UK put all university departments on notice that to receive grants they needed to establish, for a non-academic panel, the utility of the research proposed, and this utility will be assessed in terms of direct economic return. Not good for a history department, or Classics, or a study of the Romantic poets.
I do have a fair bit of cynicism (moi?) about modern university teaching, trends, and dogmas (what? dogma? on campus?) but I am also an almost naÃ¯ve believer in the importance of the Humanities (sometimes filtered through awareness of the social sciences). So the announcement yesterday that Natalie Zemon Davis had received the Holberg Memorial Prize from the Norwegian government, and the $700,000 plus that comes with it, was pleasing. She is 81 now, teaches here in Toronto (she’s also associated with Princeton) and was quoted as saying this morning that history ‘enriches people’s understanding of the world they live in’.
She’s most widely known for The Return of Martin Guerre â€¦ it was Zemon Davis who unearthed that extraordinary 16th century story, proposed it as a film (a superb film, in the event) and also wrote a book about the ‘case’ of aman – or an imposter – returning from war to his village. She’s probably best seen or understood as part of the Annales group of historians, originating in France, who introduced methods to history that allowed a look at the invisible, ordinary lives of the past, not just the doings of the aristocracy and higher levels of the church and army.
I have always seen the sometimes bitter fight that emerged between this group (and those influenced by it) and the more traditional storytelling historians with their focus on important people and events as being â€¦ somewhat silly in a way. It is not – surely it is not – a zero-sum game where knowledge can only come from one method or the other. I’ve always found tremendously engaging and useful insights from both ‘schools’ and, as it happens, Zemon’s a good storyteller, too. Her award counts as upbeat news, both for an individual scholar and â€“ though it may well be just whistling in the dark â€“ for the culture.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, March 12, 2010 – 9:20 am:
There’s a cute line in the trade, where someone once said, ‘How can I know what I think until I read what I wrote?’ I don’t function that way in commentaries or speeches (I usually start them because something drives me crazy and I start ranting or venting) but I do have an element of that with the novels as they gradually begin to reveal to me what they want to be about.
Where this phrase feels really apposite though, is with print interviews. Whenever someone asks me how one went, my honest answer is that I won’t know how I sound until I see what they have me saying. From a one hour conversation (that’s pretty normal) the writer will have about 800 words or so, which might mean five or six direct quotes, some paraphrasing, some of his or her own ‘take’ on things and often they don’t know where they want to take that 800 words until they listen to their tape and start writing, find a ‘way in’ to a given profile.
So from my point of view, I can say if a conversation was fun or intelligent or (sometimes) unexpected, but I have next to no idea how it’ll be rendered in the eventual piece. For radio and television, or email online interviews, obviously, I do know what was said or typed and there’s a more immediate feeling of ‘how that went’ â€¦ although if it turns out that there was broccoli in one’s beard or teeth â€¦ well, that just kills an email interview! (Yes, I’m being funny, or trying to be. First coffee.)
I enjoyed my first long interview Tuesday, a few questions made me think pretty carefully. One issue we discussed was how someone changes when they’ve been on the road touring for awhile, compared to the first conversations about (in this case) a book. The tendency to go on auto-pilot, or in that direction gets pretty strong when you are doing several interviews in a day and have heard the questions before â€“ which is flat-out inevitable. In an early conversation the issue is the opposite: I’m just starting to figure out what I want to say about Under Heaven. And I’ll start finding out what interviewers want to hear me as saying.
I had confirmation this week that Seattle and San Francisco are being added to the tour, right after Vancouver. Exact timing and details are still being worked out by the publicists. There are book world people in both cities that I like a lot, so this is good, even with more airplanes and hotels.
One of the realities these days, and I had an email exchange with an entertainment editor for one major paper about this, is how brutally the space for books is being cut in newspapers and magazines â€“ as in 70% in one case I just learned of yesterday.
There’s a serious fight among publishers and publicists for a diminishing amount of media real estate to ‘cover’ their books. (This is a reason for more of an online push.) Editors are ruefully aware that they are not doing an especially good job of covering what’s being published, because they can’t. And given that the size of any review is limited, the money paid is pretty trivial, and it takes time to read and carefully consider a book, the odds against (and this was the editor’s point) thoughtful engagement with a novel and a well-written review are â€¦ extreme.
In theory, online reviewers have no such space pressures or need to rush, but all sorts of other considerations come into play when you get to the book blogging world. Among others, it is widely noted that the Internet tends to steer us towards communities of the like-minded, and so you find a lot of online reviewing that is targeted to narrow genres or spheres of interest, and for many books, an appraisal that comes only from a specific perspective might be a problem.
Having said that, it can also be an asset â€¦ someone targeting historical fiction or photography books or any other specific area is far more likely to alert people to titles in that field than any newspaper and to be well-grounded in that field. That’s an upside. As I think I said earlier in this Journal, editors will speak, legitimately, of the role of the gatekeeper, the man or woman ensuring some measure of quality or appropriateness and credibility, and perhaps a push for revision or fine-tuning, to a review. But my sense is that credibility can arrive over time for some people online too, just from the craft and care they bring to their work.
I have a general sense that the decline of newspapers is taking with it the importance of covering books, and it saddens me. I’ll get more of a sense of this, I suspect, over the next two months or so.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, March 08, 2010 – 9:31 am:
This week marks a shift of gears, or â€“ perhaps better â€“ a getting into gear for me, in terms of media for Under Heaven. I’ve done a few email interviews by now, and taped one in San Jose for a podcast, but the questions and timing weren’t directly about the imminent coming-out of a new novel. In fact, last week I did one with a Korean interviewer, asking about Lions as that is now out in that market. And over on a website called goodreads.com I am dropping in on a book club discussion of Arbonne.
But starting tomorrow, with a newspaper interview here, and then a videotaping at Penguin’s offices on Wednesday, the discussions begin to be much more focused on the new book â€“ since Under Heaven will be on sale in Canada in three weeks or so.
What this means is I’m now about to learn what I seem to want to say about it. I’m not being cute with this. Just as the books themselves are (for me) a discovery process (what does this one want to be about?) so is the interview circuit that is beginning now. I don’t think in terms of preparing ‘sound bites’, I don’t like over-rehearsing interviews for on-stage or taping. I try to resist, for as long as I can, going on auto-pilot with my answers.
Inevitably, it does happen: when you are on the road for a month or two, doing interviews and readings and Q&A sessions, you find questions repeating and you learn your own most concise or effective answers to them. But I like to learn these, not prep them ahead of time. It keeps my own energy level up a lot more.
The very best interviewers (and they are rare) are those who don’t just arrive with a shopping list of queries and dutifully tick them off. They do have those lists, it would be unprofessional not to, but the stars of that field are the ones who listen to the answers â€“ and then shape the next question to a just-given answer, ‘digressing’ for a bit before getting back to their checklist (except that these aren’t really digressions, they are the heart of the exchange).
These are the conversations that feel â€¦ like conversations. That can actually be enjoyable. In fairness, this is just about impossible in an email interview â€¦ all those can do is throw follow-up questions, and that does happen sometimes â€¦ although, again to be fair, many interviewers are conscious of trying not to impose on your time too much. It is the in-person encounters that can involve this element of the spontaneous, and when it happens it can be fun, and I learn things about my own book or process, or about how people respond to these.
I’m not going to name names, because I’d be dead-certain to leave someone out after so many years, but I’ve had some genuinely good experiences to balance the deadly dull or the ones where the author is being sandwiched between the person who has invented a better edge trimmer and another who has determined a new way to find the G-spot (not with an edge trimmer, no).
My friend George Jonas has a wonderful anecdote along these lines. He was in Washington, D.C., years ago, on tour for his bestseller Vengeance, the book adapted (in a distorted way) by Spielberg for his film, â€œMunichâ€. George went on a morning television show to discuss his non-fiction work about Israel’s response to the Munich Olympic assassinations, and discovered â€“ live and on-air â€“ that the host thought he had written a book about tropical birds and was asking questions accordingly.
My friend was and is both quick-witted and possessed of a wry and ironic sense of humour and he â€¦ played along. Did an entire, genial conversation about tropical birds. I doubt the publicist back-stage was best-pleased, but George has been dining out on that one ever since.
And yes, there are a few references to tropical birds in Under Heaven, why do you ask?
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, March 06, 2010 – 5:12 pm:
This is a bit tangential (as opposed to tangible?) because it is about an earlier work, The Sarantine Mosaic, and more or less amounts to a guest post of sorts â€“ but it is also really cool, and pleases me a lot, so I thought I’d include it here in the Journal, and not just as a Forum post on Bright Weavings.
In the fall of last year a Canadian classical composer named Paul Frehner (http://www.smcq.qc.ca/smcq/en/artistes/f/frehner_pa/) got in touch to ask permission to use the Sarantine books as the inspiration for a commission he’d received for a new work. This week he wrote again to say it was done, and that the world premiere of ‘Sarantine Polyphony’ is this month in a concert evening that includes Haydyn’s â€œSurpriseâ€ Symphony and Beethoven’s â€œEmperorâ€ Concerto. (Personally, I get a wry kick out of another Emperor in this context!)
Paul wrote this: â€œThe premiere is March 15, 7:30 PM, in Pollack Hall, 555 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal. Boris Brott is conducting the McGill Chamber Orchestra. Here is a link to the concert ad on the orchestra’s website.
I asked him to give me a short summary of the piece, and he sent this, from the programme:
â€œSarantine Polyphony draws its title from Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay’s historical fantasy series The Sarantine Mosaic. The action in Kay’s novels takes place in Sarantium, a fictional city and empire modeled after Byzantium in the time of Emperor Justinian, ca. sixth century AD. In the novels Kay vividly paints a sophisticated society that is both rich in culture and custom and filled with political intrigues and complex sub plots. Dichotomy of theological beliefs is a central line of inquiry. Though Sarantium is by imperial decree a monotheistic society, pagan superstitions and physical manifestations of the half-world are ever-present and hold sway over the lives of its inhabitants.
Sarantine Polyphony consists of three movements. The music is not narrative in nature but is rather evocative of the imagery I received from place and character settings in the story. Melodically, I use at times an invented type of folkloric string writing that alludes in some ways to ancient Byzantine instrumental music.
Movement I â€“ The Zubir
The Zubir is the physical manifestation of the pagan bison god of the forests. Here I am trying to capture its terrible and awe-inspiring presence as it emerges from the mist on the Day of the Dead demanding the sacrifice of a soul.
Movement II â€“ Shirin’s Dance
Shirin is the daughter of an alchemist and the most celebrated exotic dancer in the city of Sarantium.
Movement III â€“ The Sleepless Ones
The Sleepless Ones are a holy order of clerics who keep prayerful vigil all night long while the god fights through the darkness of night to ensure the light of a new day. In this movement my intention is to create the impression of the clerics’ chanting echoing in the vast space of their great basilica.â€
Interestingly, Martin Springett, well-known hereabouts as a musician, has also composed a piece called … “Shirin’s Dance”. The woman gets around. I like it.
I’d love to be there for the premiere but the timing, for a lot of reasons, probably makes it impossible. I’d be interested to hear reactions if anyone has a chance to attend. Paul says he’ll look into making a recording available online: but that gets tangled in the rules for orchestral musicians. We’ll see.
In any case, I find this entirely cool.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, March 03, 2010 – 2:29 pm:
Third guest post now. First one was Catherine Marjoribanks, copy editor, then Martin Springett, Cartographer Emeritus. Now Sandra Tooze, the production editor for Under Heaven takes the podium. Sandra’s work on this (as for Ysabel) isn’t just for the Canadian edition, as the US and UK houses are both working with files from Canada … so her labours on the book apply to everyone’s edition in English.
I think I’m being teased here. I am also being flattered. Not sure which makes me wince more. Probably the flattery: I tease, and deserve it back. Small alert: she mentions comments on page proofs … the usual process is that by that stage the author and proofreader and anyone else checking is just supposed to be looking for errors. I go … a bit further, admittedly.
The attentive reader of the below will see an early alert for The Return of the Dingbats, coming soon to a movie theatre near you. I love it. And I’m still wincing.
As Guy Gavriel Kay’s production editor at Penguin Group (Canada), I am responsible for overseeing the copyediting and proofreading of his manuscript, and many other tasks that have to be completed before his book goes to the printer. I have learned that when I see a Guy Kay book on my schedule, I have an intense experience to look forward to.
During the production process, Guy frequently feels the need to remind me that I like him, but he doesn’t usually need to do that. It’s a rare pleasure to work with an author who cares so passionately about his books, although this blessing can also be a challenge.
For example, he forges his own rules when it comes to punctuation, yet every comma that may appear to be misplaced, every colon, is there for a reason. Most authors leave that â€œsmall stuffâ€ to editors to fixâ€”not Guy. It’s exactly as he wants it when he submits the manuscript. It shows how precisely he crafts his stories that each point of punctuation is there to signify how that passage should be readâ€”its rhythm and emphasis.
His inquisitiveness is unrelenting; he is curious about every stage of production and the reasons behind it. Long explanations are sometimes required. This is not an author who feels his job is over once the manuscript has been delivered.
Guy’s involvement includes the interior design of his books, a privilege we don’t extend to most of our authors. It is unusual to receive notes from an author regarding specific design requests and a preferred page extentâ€”but Guy has considered these issues carefully and has some definite opinions. And who would have thought that selecting the dingbats and the horse icon for Under Heaven could be quite so arduous? Or that one map would have to be changed innumerable times?
Sometimes someone in our production department may voice her wish that Guy would tell his stories in a more economical wayâ€”working on one Guy Kay novel is usually the equivalent of three â€œnormalâ€ sized ones. Yet the freelance editors I hire who work on his books really enjoy the experience. A cynic could conclude that it’s because they get paid by the hour, but I’m pretty sure it’s because they appreciate a clean manuscript and a rousing tale.
I almost had to be reminded that I like Guy Kay when I received back from him the page proofs for Under Heaven. Red marks were scratched across nearly every page. But when I look at what he does at this stage, I once again remember his formidable skill. He invariably crosses out unnecessary words and phrases, leaving the language more direct, more powerful than before. This process of self-editing is a real lesson in effective writing, one that any prospective author could learn from.
Yes, working with Guy can be a challenge, and I know the experience will be intense, instructive and time-consuming. But it will never be dull, andâ€”so far, at leastâ€”he has remained unfailingly cheerful and maintained his sense of humour throughout. And, most important of all, at the end of the process we will have produced another eagerly anticipated book by Guy Gavriel Kay for his legions of fans to treasure.
Sandra B. Tooze
Senior Production Editor
Penguin Group (Canada)
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, February 26, 2010 – 4:30 pm:
Is it time for the T-word again? Tangible it is, as first feedback starts to show up, from reviewers who got ARCs, and we do my initial appearances for the book, and media requests arrive.
I did a signing of ARCs at the Ontario Library Association’s annual conference yesterday morning, met some lovely people (none of those you ‘just want to pinch’, as Woody Allen once put it!) and grabbed a seductive copy of the Oxford University Press catalogue for 2010 (way too many titles I want).
Have done an online interview for my Korean publishers this week (they are bringing out Lions next month), and agreed to do two others in early March here, one for a newspaper and one video interview for a website. The latter will be taped in the Penguin Canada boardroom. I asked Barbara, lead publicist, to be sure there was mead available, she replied that all events at their offices were BYOMead. Cute.
I really should bring some.
Also beginning to get really encouraging news from the sales reps in the field in Canada (remember, they are some weeks ahead in release date), strong orders and â€“ just as good â€“ terrific feedback from the bookstore people who were given ARCs a couple of weeks ago. I was sent a couple of email examples. Remember, I said that these galleys have been traditionally meant in part for buyers for bookstores and chains, or for staff at stores (not just for reviewers). These are the people who can ‘hand sell’ a title, creating their own word of mouth. The sales reps are really important to an author at this point, and so are bookstore people. The reps have to pitch whatever’s in the catalogue, it is their job, and sometimes the big book for a season isn’t what they themselves enjoy or respect, so it helps enormously when they, and the people in a store, are excited about a book. It becomes their baby, too, and that matters.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, February 21, 2010 – 10:53 am:
I find the whole issue of ‘spoilers’ in reviews to be interesting. I’m one of those who finds it irritating to have a plot twist in a film or book spoiled by a reviewer who happened to get to the work first, but I’m also aware that I can dodge this by simply not reading reviews. It is my choice. The snag is that sometimes you do want critics you tend to trust to help you decide whether to buy a book or invest an evening in a film or play.
When it comes to my own books, I’m worse: I put a lot of care into shaping a narrative that mixes character, language, and plot hooks to keep a reader engaged, and to allow the themes to slip in quietly (my usual line is that I prefer a stiletto to a hammer as a weapon of choice). It makes me wince when a reviewer, either online or in print, ‘kills’ an important twist. Even publishers can do it if they aren’t thinking: the back jacket of the German paperback of Tigana revealed the single biggest surprise at the end of the book â€¦ I couldn’t believe it.
On the other hand, there are some who disdain the entire ‘avoid spoilers in a review’ mentality. John Clute, the immensely respected critic, is on record (and has repeated it in conversation with me) that if he is evaluating the overall nature of a work, discussing it with attentiveness and thought, he cannot and will not avoid addressing how the book unfolds and resolves, even if that means writing about some plot hooks. He regards these surprises as overrated in the response to a book, and points out that we often re-read with great pleasure when we (obviously) know the story. I’ve argued that there can be different kinds of pleasure obtained from a book or film, that re-reads (or repeat viewings) offer those different pleasures, and this doesn’t mean that the plot surprises are unimportant.
There can be two approaches here, it seems to me. One for a review piece that comes out just as (or online, sometimes well before) the book does, when it might be a courtesy to some readers who want a critic’s thoughts and want the book unspoiled, to avoid giving things away, and another sort of piece when dealing with, say, Anna Karenina where such aspects need not be considered. (The Tolstoy novel is my example because it is part of family legend. I think I mentioned it a few years back in one of these posts: my youngest, university student brother crying out in pain, ‘You ruined it for me!’ when my mother described something as being similar to Anna’s suicide under the train.) What is the statute of limitations on spoilers, one wonders. I take the view that Tolstoy is fair game! So is â€œCitizen Kaneâ€.
I was put in mind of all this (again) reading a review of Scorsese’s â€œShutter Islandâ€ in New York magazine this morning. In the online comments thread the reviewer is lambasted for a plot spoiler and people get pretty intense (What? On the Internet? OMG!). The spoiler, such as it is, is fairly subtle, and I’ve seen much worse. But it reminded me of how volatile this whole topic can be. In the case of Under Heaven I’m more aware of it right now because some reviews will begin appearing and the book is still six weeks away in Canada and almost ten in the US and UK, not to mention the various foreign languages (people reading a work in translation have to work even harder to come at it ‘cleanly’).
When I read from the novels on tour or at festivals (for many years now) I always try to pick something from very early, to offer a taste but not give anything major away, or require extensive back story explanation. I riff on this, have turned it into a bit of a joke. I’ll read from Chapter 1 in Under Heaven and talk about why, and my reasons for a particular tone and style in the opening passages. I will not send the teeming (or modest) hordes forth with torches and pitchforks to pursue reviewers who spoil the book, but I’ll hope it doesn’t happen too much.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, February 18, 2010 – 8:27 am:
I am assuming that everyone has been waiting patiently for a post on the distinctions between Old and Middle Chinese (including an exegesis of Early Middle). Sit back, relax, it is here, like Lafayette. (Mildly obscure historical reference.)
Actually, not. I’m a kinder person when I’ve had my morning coffee. This is all triggered by an email from Penguin USA yesterday that the producer of the audio book of Under Heavenwould like to have Simon Vance do the reading, as he did for Tigana and the Fionavar trilogy. I am completely onside with this, as Vance is a star in the audio book world, with several â€œAudieâ€ Awards to his name and status as a â€œGolden Voiceâ€ in their hall of fame. But the note that caught my eye me was a mention that he has a working knowledge of Mandarin. This is all to the good, but I had to grin a little here and wonder about working knowledge of Early Middle Chinese! Aside from the core fact that my Kitai is not China but inspired by it, pronunciation of the language has changed greatly in a millennium (think about Old and Middle English, say). Still, knowing the more modern language is a huge head start for a reader and it’ll help the director/producer enormously. They’ll be going into studio soon. I’m going to suggest pipa music for the intro theme.
I’m not an audio book person, but a growing number of friends and professional contacts are. I suppose it turns in part on whether one wants a story told and in part on attitude to someone ‘between’ the reader and the author. In some cases an audio book can offer major bonuses (with risk). With A Song for Arbonne the reader chosen, Euan Morton, is an accomplished Broadway and West End singer and he and the producer worked with a period music specialist to offer the songs of that book. For a book significantly about troubadours, this can really add to the experience for some listeners.
A number of people have asked: the e-book for Under Heaven will be available this spring, as well. The Canadians, who have the book out a few weeks before the US and UK, have courteously agreed to delay their e-book until the others publish, in order not to cannibalize sales. This underscores, if you think about it, how complex the issue of ‘acquiring rights to a territory’ becomes in the modern book world. Add the fact that people can buy from amazon in any market (technically they shouldn’t be able to, but enforcement is flat-out impossible) and you’ll get a glimpse of some of the fights that are unfolding among publishers, retailers, and authors. And that isn’t even to mention google. I was in Bermuda recently, had dinner with a bookstore owner who is living with dread, anticipating the growing impact of e-books on the island’s readers and her survival as a bookstore. Mary Renault, the splendid historical fiction writer, a lifelong favourite of mine, had a line in one book I’ve always remembered: â€œChange is the sum of the universe, and what is of nature ought not to be feared.â€ We do fear it, though, and there are casualties, even if the end result is (and it often is) positive.
Come to think of it, that’s a good note to end on this morning, because so many of my books are about societies adjusting to the force and scope of change.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 – 9:52 am:
It is a quieter time, and I should enjoy it more, but it feels too much like the calm before the storm, and it gets hard not to think about the storm. I am aware that this particular choice of metaphor might resonate differently for those snowbound these days.
Canadian tour locations are as firm as they ever get, so I can relay the destinations. We’ll launch, as mentioned, in Toronto on April 15th. The book will be on sale in Canada at least 2 weeks before that, though. ‘Official’ publication date is April 3rd.
I’ll then go east to the Frye Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick, most likely the 20th and 21st. I’ve never been to the Frye, but am told by everyone they run a really good festival. Then Montreal for Blue Metropolis, their literary event, the 22nd, 23rd. (All dates are slightly provisional.) Then Ottawa for that book fair, 24-26th. Winnipeg towards the end of that same week, then Vancouver and Victoria at the beginning of the following week â€“ first week of May.
Events elsewhere, in the States or southern Ontario, will fall into place for later in May (the American on-sale date is late in April, as is the UK) but I can’t pin them down for you yet. Touring, as I’ve said before, is a tricky calibration of invitations balanced against time and cost and a lot can be done, obviously, by email and telephone.
In all of these cities there are publisher reps and local publicists who do a great deal of work lining up media for an author tour. Over the years I’ve gotten to know a number of these people and a number of the regular interviewers and book store managers. It is a compensation for being on the road and moving fast â€“ that I can expect to see friends in a variety of places. On the other hand, as everyone knows, arts coverage in newspapers and other media outlets has been dropping, so it means that people have to work a lot harder, even for established writers. For young authors starting out, a full-blown tour tends not to make much sense any more.
It is by luck of timing, that Under Heaven in launching in Canada during the spring season of author festivals â€¦ it makes sense to work with these because that tends to be a time where the media are more aware of books and writers in a given city. We are less likely to have to juggle, display a favourite yoga position, demonstrate a recipe for borscht, or offer an aria from Aidaor a rap number. I have dropped my preparations for all of these. My voice instructor is a happy man.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, February 04, 2010 – 9:46 am:
A couple of good questions in the comments thread, and I thought I’d use the second cup of coffee to answer them. (That’s metaphorical, you do understand?)
Timo wants to know if the New Era has added to pressure and general busyness for authors with a book out, or pending. I think it has, yes, both for established writers and for those looking to get a toehold in the market. There are many factors, but the main one seems to me to be the venue in which we are now communicating: the online world. The run-up to a book starts much earlier than it ever used to, for one thing. And the expectation that all writers will blog/tweet/Facebook/video/etc. is extreme. I think I mentioned in the fall the conversation I had in San Jose where a very smart UK agent told me he checks the web presence of any potential client as an element in deciding whether to take them on. ‘Will they help me sell them?’ is his question.
Here, try this brilliantly funny parody of the state of play:
Timo also asks if it is more work than writing a book. For me, not even close, but I worry that for some younger writers, or those working very fast, publishing often, the two to three hours a day they spend ‘working’ the online spaces even as they write represents a major paradigm shift in the writing life. Writers feel they need to do this, or risk disappearing in the general chaos. This, to my mind, isn’t good. The celebrated/notorious assertion that the writer John Scalzi blogs a million words a year comes to mind.
In a tidily parallel question yesterday, Audrey asks how and if publishers can determine if an old-fashioned tour actually ‘works’. First comment: touring is way down, across the board. Cost versus return is the always-key issue. And with local media in all cities cutting back drastically on book coverage, it starts to make less and less sense for author and publisher to invest time and money. There are fewer independent bookstores in a position to commit to major promotion of a book event, too.
How are these things judged for success? Well, in some ways, it isn’t that hard these days. With databases showing bookstore sales (almost real time) in the industry, as long as the store has chosen to be in the collective retail database, we can see if there is a regional spike in a given market around the time an author shows up. Some of this is banal â€¦ if you read for a large crowd in Ottawa or San Francisco and sign books there, that will spike sales. The question becomes â€¦ would they have been sales even without the author arriving? But if the spike lasts, goes beyond the immediate signing event, and there was media related to the tour to that city, it becomes fair to connect the dots and conclude that the PR generated made some difference.
Sometimes, also, there are smaller ripple effects, long term aspects to touring and meeting people. Over the years I’ve been able to have coffee, drinks, conversations in a bookstore with publisher’s reps, with bookstore managers, or people working in a store who are fans of my writing. ‘Hand-selling’, the term for when an employee urges a customer to try a writer, or a manager leaves a given book on prominent display a bit longer than normal, or a publisher’s rep works a book harder with his or her accounts (the bookstores) because they met the author â€¦ these can all produce quieter but significant long term results. Same for a reporter or a book page editor or radio host â€¦ an interview in 2007 can generate another in 2010 if the experience was entertaining, if a connection was made.
I have two anecdotes along these lines I’ll share. In 1986 the Books editor of a major newspaper interviewed me himself. I was a young author, was touring The Darkest Road so I was just starting out. We had a genuinely engaging talk (in the cafÃ© of the newspaper building) and I did an early version of my explanation of some of the literary strengths of the fantasy genre (I hadn’t even moved towards historically-grounded fantasy yet). At the end, this fellow, who had read the trilogy (unexpected, back then, he was the editor) said, ‘I’m making a prediction: you’ll be selling internationally and in a big way soon. I’m expecting a lot from you.’ He gave me generous coverage that year, and later â€¦ maybe to help make his own prediction come true. But my memory is of a generous, intelligent man and a huge shot in the arm for a young author.
Another tour memory. In Calgary, same year, same tour. The publisher’s rep, running me to interviews around the city, explained that we were stopping to do a signing event at a chain store in a downtown mall. It was a Thursday, at noon. Think about that. This is, for all the obvious reasons, a dreadful time for a signing. It was even worse. She ruefully explained that payday in the oil industry – Calgary’s economic life’s blood – was every second Friday, so people were low on cash on every second Thursday (this was a second Thursday) and so she didn’t expect much of a crowd. ‘Um, why are we doing this then?’ I asked diffidently (I used to do diffident better). She explained that it was mainly for me to meet the store manager who had become a big fan as the trilogy appeared.
We were walking through the mall as this conversation took place. We reached a junction, turned, and saw the store â€¦ there was a crowd buzzing around the entrance, a press photographer waiting, and people snaking in a lineup all around the walls of the store. I had never come close to signing that many books anywhere. The newspaper ran a photo the next morning of the ‘event’. I hadn’t actually been a publishing ‘event’ before either. It was solely and entirely due to that store manager (Eric Jensen, now VP and director of publishing with McClelland & Stewart, 24 years later) that this crowd had gathered. He was a much-liked manager, his taste was respected, and he knew his customers and had been pushing my trilogy. We went for coffee after, hit it off (big surprise?), and as long as he was running bookstores, before he switched to the publishing side, Eric did wonderfully generous, creative work for my novels (he even decorated a store window in the jacket colours of Tigana a few years later).
The personal still mattered back then. It may matter a bit less now, replaced by the sometimes artificial ‘authenticity’ of blogs and tweets, but I think it still plays a role.
So I’ll be in some airports this spring.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, February 03, 2010 – 9:34 am:
Randomly, on a Wednesday morning. Yesterday felt busy in a disconnected and, well, random way. Emails and calls and two meetings on radically different aspects of setting up Under Heaven. This is supposed to be the downtime for me, right? Foolish to think it.
It started with a session with Christina at Penguin Canada, looking at her computer screen and making tweaks and additions to the design and content for their website â€¦ which is going live very soon, maybe as early as next week. I don’t think I’m tattling if I say they’ve done a gorgeous job with the look of it and Christina has a cartload of ideas, going forward.
Then coffee with Barbara, the lead publicist, more issues relating to the April tour dates and venues. Setting up a major tour is always a headache for a publicist, but is also a very big part of their job. Tours are expensive, the publishers want a real return on their investment in terms of media, bookstores promoting the signing events, and the authors obviously don’t want to be wasting their time and energy in airports and hotels and bookstores to no obvious purpose. Publicists can get caught in between and it is stressful. I’ve never had a bad tour in Canada, though, and I dodge the prima donna label like a skinny kid trying to win a dodgeball game in gym class. (I was that kid.) Barbara has a handle on this, very clearly, and the issues (venue in Vancouver, timing flights and interviews for Montreal, etc.) are the usual ones at this point. It may seem like a long way off, but in the book world a couple of months is nothing as dates and locations do have to be locked in so the local publicists in each city can start booking.
Meanwhile, the American publicity team (Rosanne, Elena, Tanya) have co-opted the US courier and postal services, it feels like, and sightings of ARCs of Under Heaven are popping up all over. Tanya lobbied for, and won, a very large number of ARCs, more than I can ever remember. Mostly, through the day yesterday, one or another of them was reporting ‘Contact made!’ with one reviewer or interviewer or magazine or another. They did have some work for me to do (drafting a short piece for NPR, coordinating something with the UK, relaying a file of a speech I gave last year). I hate to say it (I really hate to sound this benign) but I’m impressed with all of them so far. I’m way too young to be mellowing.
Over in the UK, ARCs are landing in about three weeks. First interview request arrived, to be done by email this week, requested for the March issue of a print magazine. This raised an issue.
Generally, publishers want (I think I’ve said this before) reviews and coverage to come right around publication date for the book. Media begets media is the phrase used, and memories are short, so media that comes too far before the book does, over weeks or months, tends not to be ideal. All print outlets are good about the publication date rule, and â€“ this is a shift â€“ more and more internet reviewers and online magazines are starting to honour this. The publicists see it as a growing online desire for credibility, to be ‘serious players’.
At the same time, there is value to advance word, buzz, a build-up of interest and attention. I use the analogy to film trailers (in theatres or online) which often start many months before a film is released. So the publicity team(s) actually don’t mind if some online reviewers are early, or if some interviews or heads-up articles beat the book by weeks or months. Talk helps. They were all happy to have a number of websites post the cover art towards the end of last year, for example. So when I checked with Jane Johnson, my editor in the UK, about the interview request and early timing, she was just fine with it. I did check, though â€¦ each territory plays differently.
On another topic, I admit I winced when I read over Martin’s very clever guest post (just below this one) and saw that he’d done a Firkin hundred files for the map. More beer is clearly owed. (â€œSo, a cartographer and an author walk into a barâ€¦â€) His work will be on the Penguin website, incidentally (and linked here): including music, a poster, and a gorgeous sepia-toned, decorative version of the map for download. Martin’s been a good friend for a long time now; somewhere on his own website he has a photo from last fall of the two of us standing behind his original painting from early in the 1980’s for the cover of The Summer Tree.
Not sure who the next mystery guest poster will be. I have a few candidates.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, February 01, 2010 – 6:06 pm:
It appears to be time for another Guest Post. This time Martin Springett, artist, musician, friend, cartographer to the court in the Imperial City (or at least the publishers). Martin calls his post ‘Mapping the Kay’ to which I must (I really must) reply that my angle on it was as an exercise in ‘Okaying the Map’. Here’s Mr Springett.
Mapping the Kay.
I was delighted to get a call from Guy in February ’09 giving me a heads up that I was going to be creating the map for his new novel, Under Heaven.
This might seem like a lot of lead time but Guy likes to be organised, ahead of the wave as it were. He was starting to think about where things were in the world of this new novel, and how readers in this case should have some clear idea about that. Not every novel needs a map, The Last Light of The Sun did not need one, but he felt that this particular story needed that graphic guide.
After I had had a look at actual maps of the region of China where the action is set, we had an initial meeting at my place and mapped out our cartographic battle plan. Guy drew what I can only call a sublime rendering in my wee sketch book, to give me an idea of where the major places of action, towns, cities, mountains, rivers etc were in relation to each other. This was hugely helpful actually, I referred back to this small sketch many times in the early exploratory stages.
As the map progressed Guy and I met to consult at rather grand places like the Quail and Firkin, The Fox and Firkin, and the other Firkin place whose name I can’t remember, for lunch and refreshment, planning out the map and what was absolutely essential for the reader to know. Scale is always a problem in maps like these. Guy was very keen to have a clear visual representation of the travel times between the main places of action, two days by horse here, a five day ride there. This was straightforward enough until you take the scale aspect to mountains rivers and cities. If you draw an entire mountain range within a five inch area then logically a city should be a small black speck, which is daft of course, so you have to create a certain set of visual parameters to make sure the map makes sense when you look at it. So this is what Guy and I had to figure out. This led to miniscule changes constantly being made as we moved forward. The fort must now be moved an eighth of an inch to the west/the lake a little smaller/smaller again so it looks like it’s in a valley/actually east is left and west is right, thank you/the bricks in the wall, do we need that/the fort should go north/the Shen Estate is important but not that important/that city should move a sixteenth of an inch east as we are in the saddle for three days after leaving the fort/can I buy you another beer? All of this was essential to the final clear reading of the map, including the beer.
The main problem layout wise with a map being printed over two pages is of course the dreaded gutter. Some of us have our eyes on the stars but our concern was with the gutter, and how to avoid that sucking sound as half the image disappeared. The simple solution was to split the map in two, and by erasing the border in the centre it would appear to connect up.
One more technical mapping note. Apart from the original rendering of the map, which is pen on water colour paper, much of the map was created on the computer; that is all the changes, type, resizing, textures etc. It would not have been possible to finesse to the degree we did without digital technology, at least within the time frame allowed. At last count I have over 100 files on the Under Heaven map ! I expect the map budget would have been used up in couriers alone in pre-computer days. There is a whole other topic here about the how the nature of work and communication has changed in the digital age. There’s always The Quail and Firkin though, beer is much the same as a lubricant to communication and creative endeavour as ever.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 – 12:16 pm:
A long Monday morning at Penguin Canada, starting with Sandra, delivering the manuscript. The typesetting ought to go smoothly now. She showed me the reformatted map, and they solved the problem we’d all seen: just a layout thing across the two pages, which will be ‘wrong’ in the ARCs, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot if it is fixed for the book â€¦ many things are fine tuned between ARC and final book.
She called later to say that â€¦ page 340 was missing! I have no idea where it is. It’ll probably end up on eBay. Not a big deal, since we have it all electronically and I was able to check that and remember that all I’d done on the soon-to-be-legendary p. 340 was delete one word and take an italicized one back to Roman.
I walked down to Yvonne’s office for a needed coffee and a printed-out agenda from her to discuss. Mainly the Canadian tour cities and dates. I don’t want to post them to Bright Weavings yet in case things change but it ought to be locked in soonish. April is author festival season in Canada, and I’ll be appearing at three of them, it seems.
The worldwide launch is set, as I mentioned here a while back. I just signed off on the contract. To repeat: we’ll debut Under Heaven at the Toronto Reference Library on the evening of April 15th. There will be an onstage interview (of me, yes, but good question!) conducted by Jared Bland, Managing Editor of Walrus Magazine (probably best described as Canada’s Atlantic, or Harper’s). Jared and I have been on stage together once before and he’s smart and smooth and appeared (or pretended) to find me funny when I was trying to be, which is always a positive.
At the end of the touring period there are, on Yvonne’s master sheet, about five or six additional gigs, at bookstores in and around Toronto, late May, dates still tbd. Details on these, too, will be posted on the site when they are firmed up.
She briefed me on a number of other aspects of their marketing plan, and I’m going to be a tease and hold these back, as well, till they are fully ready. Yvonne thinks it will be necessary for her to go to Marbella again, to coordinate some of this properly. The sacrifices Marketing VPs have to make for their authors…
One clever idea: the cover will be on the website Penguin are preparing, and bookstores (or readers) who want a poster-sized version will be able to download it in very high resolution and print to whatever size and on whatever stock they like. This means that a point of sale poster will be available for any store that wants one, but avoids overprinting and shipping posters everywhere, to have them often end up wasted, or grabbed by someone. I think it is a much smarter way to do this. Good use of technology.
Then Yvonne gave me two first ARCs (authors need to fight harder for these than for books!) and, well, tangible is a good word to drop in right around now. I’ve got one on my desk. Looks really good, this cover. I hear the same about the American ones from Susan and Rosanne – these are also going out, pretty much as I type. (UK will be February.)
ARCs are also heading to foreign rights agents in various countries, from Natasha Daneman at WCA, who coordinates foreign language sales, and five quick ones went from New York to Jerry Kalajian yesterday – our film agent in L.A. He’d promised one to a producer for tomorrow. Energy will now start picking up, it seems, all over the place. This is a distracting time. The manuscript is out of my hands, so an intense focus has to dissipate, and first public responses will begin. If I ever get blasÃ© about this, or jaded, that’ll mean something’s wrong with me.
Actually, is it too early in the day for a good single malt?
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, January 24, 2010 – 9:39 am:
At the risk of offering four or five endings like Jackson’s LotR film, or evoking (for those old enough) George Burns’ multiple ‘Farewell Tours’ I can say that Under Heaven is now a finished entity and will be dropped off at Penguin Canada tomorrow morning to head to the printers.
I did say, early in this Journal, that books have many stages of being ‘done’, from the drafting through to where we are this morning.
I reminded Sandra Tooze, the production editor, that she likes me. I did this because I know I’ve added to her workload because I’ve made cuts and trims in the typeset manuscript and you are really not supposed to do that. The problem, from her point of view, is that if I cut a line (or even a phrase that causes a short line to be dropped in a paragraph ending) it shifts the whole chapter. This means she has to check for orphaned lines in a section, single lines alone at the top of a page, or (as another example) a poem where the last line might now spill over onto a separate page – which is always avoided, somehow. With luck, this doesn’t happen, but if an author is busy doing final polishing, there’s a decent chance something will need adjusting, and in any case it does have to be checked.
I found very few typos, same for Linda and the professional proofreader. Linda found no other authorial slips (though I did catch one, myself … I thought about upbraiding everyone else for missing this, but I am a magnanimous, forbearing sort … really.) The proofreader queried three repeated phrases. Twice I wanted them for an effect, one I cut. I’m always grateful when people read this carefully at this stage.
Will meet with Yvonne Hunter, VP Marketing, after Sandra tomorrow, and go over the proposed tour schedule and marketing plan, which she says will be printed and ready for coffee-fueled discussion. She also says the galleys have arrived, so I’ll get a look at those. Seeing the ARCs (galleys) isn’t as dramatic as seeing the real book, but it is a pretty cool moment. These will start going out this week in Canada, and the American ones are also due this week, and will start being distributed.
This means that people will be starting to read Under Heaven a few days from now. That’s a publication stage, in itself.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 – 1:19 pm:
Authors can make mistakes. I am half-inclined to modify this stunning, world-shaking asseveration by saying ‘some authors’ or even ‘other authors’ but it feels as if it is time to face the music, bite the bullet and come clean. I may even be adroit enough to do all these simultaneously.
Here is the story. My splendid agent Linda McKnight whom I adore (we all have to adore her, or else her propensity to get into arguments on any and all political and cultural issues would have us defenestrating her) volunteered to be another proofreading pair of eyes. (She did volunteer â€¦ at this point Linda’s is paradigmatically un-coercible.) As former editor and editorial director, she’s good at this.
Perhaps too good. With utterly unfettered glee she reported spotting a small time sequence error early in Under Heaven. I say small and I mean it. This was missed by editors in three countries, by a sharp-eyed webmistress (looking at you, Deborah), by a honed, trained, and praised copy-editor (hello, Catherine), by a sibling of the eagle-eyed sort (Yo, Rex) and even by an overworked, weary, under-myriad stresses, er, author.
It ought to have brought warmth to my heart to see how very, very, very happy Linda was to catch me out. I was able to rally with some astringent remarks about how her delight was, in itself, an indicator of how rarely it occurs but we both knew I was fighting a rearguard action â€¦ I hate when this happens!
The fix is easy enough, it is already done. But there is no question the timing in the passage was slightly off and she caught me fair and square. I could say ‘she caught Catherine and the others’ but I am much too much of a gentleman to hide behind that, er, manifest truth.
Frivolity aside, errors creep in to everyone’s books, ranging from trivial to significant (and those assessments of significance will vary from reader to reader). I know with absolute certainty that some reader would have also spotted that sequencing slip and written me â€“ either more in sorrow than in anger, or with glee and relish â€“ to comment. My friend, the late Charles Brown of Locus magazine, was so delighted to find a moon-mistake in Ysabel at the galley stage (in time to be fixed) he put it in his editorial in the next issue of the magazine. He just about chortled in print! And I still wince remembering a retired British military man who wrote me (snail mail) from Madeira with a diffident but meticulous assembling of some passages inLions that suggested, to his mind, a chronology dilemma.
I dropped what I was doing, I seized the book, I tracked his assertions (they covered three different sections) and â€¦ I smote my brow (since he was in Madeira and I couldn’t smite his). The man was right. And no, I will not elaborate. I did write him, I explained how it had happened (reconstructing it was easy, I could see exactly what I’d done). He never replied. I think I had shattered his confidence (he had begun the letter by explaining that he was accustomed to finding such mistakes in other authors, had never found one in me, and was therefore quite sure he was wrong, he’d made an error). I hope I didn’t kill the man, admitting he was right.
Of course it almost killed me, that admission. I’m making a face right now as I type this, and remember. Quick, change the subject!
Oh. Yes, another Linda-bit. She finds ‘dingbat’ to be an egregiously tacky, modern, unpleasant word for the ornament dividing sections. Says the older word, much lovelier, was ‘fleuron’.
She turns out to be right about that. Too.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 – 9:02 am:
It worries me that many people here might have endured sleepless nights and anxious days waiting to hear this, so let me say right off the top: The Dingbat Affair has been resolved.
The smaller one has been approved after samples were seen by Sandra, Nicole, and myself yesterday. Never will the oversized mutant version that was the first draft overwhelm the pages or pixels of the book you, gentle reader, will read.
I am proofing, about 1/4 of the way through. As usual I am not a good proofreader at this stage. I get caught up in small tinkerings with the text, word changes, deletions, linking up paragraphs, dropping more italics. I’ve caught only three or four outright typos so far and a few awkward alignments. Often at this point ellipses, the ‘…’ things, will end up orphaned, on a line alone, and it looks terrible. The typesetters will fix this if it gets caught, and it is an easy catch.
A few new bookstores/cities have weighed in with tour requests in Canada and the States. Tours, as I think I said before, are tricky. In many ways they are just not a smart investment of publisher money and author time these days but in a few cases, when a writer has some sort of track record or core readership, they do generate media and a local buzz at a strong signing. There is also a balancing act for the marketing people … do you send an author to places where he or she has established a following, or do you ship them to new places to start a local groundswell, or even to places that didn’t ‘work’ before, when the sales reps and publicists in those cities are newly excited? In my case, with three years between books, it is entirely possible that the landscape in a given city can change greatly.
In America, the publicists (Elena Stokes and Tanya Farrell of Wunderkind PR) working on Under Heaven in tandem with Roc/NAL’s own team want to have a lot of galleys made. A whole lot. More than I can ever recall. This is part of the new style of marketing/PR that makes a big deal of the Internet.
Here in Toronto, Christina Ponte, the webguru for Penguin Canada is disarming me by being impressive as she finalizes the website they are preparing. Turns out the lead designer from the team she hired to prepare the site is a fan of all the books and I’ll break radio silence on this to say it is pretty damned gorgeous. That should go live soonish with a few bells and whistles.
I think there will be more announcements soon. Galleys will arrive in Toronto next week and start going out in Canada right away. I’m not sure yet of drop dates in New York and London but their releases of the book are a few weeks later in April so there’s time. Not a lot of time. The next couple of months will be busy, though more for other people than for me, in fact.
Hmm. I could get used to that.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, January 07, 2010 – 7:27 pm:
A dingbat, aside from the better known meanings of the word, is a printer’s ornament. It is the term used for the symbol, icon, asterisk that separates sections in a book when the author wants them more decisively, more tangibly demarcated.
We have reached the stage with Under Heaven where we are evaluating dingbats. This is generally regarded as a sign that you’re at the finish line. Sandra Tooze, the production editor, asked me which of four proposed dingbats I’d prefer. I picked one (consulting with my friend Martin Springett â€“ this sort of thing is what we keep Martin around for, and maybe for a map, music, and a guest post here later). But when the manuscript was typeset (this is what it’ll look like when you buy it) Sandra emailed today and asked if I thought the dingbat was too large. I felt like saying, ‘I’m not going to touch that line!’ but in fact I agreed: it is too large. It will be smaller when you see it.
We also needed to resolve a problem with how the map was laid out. Sandra’s on it. The novel is going to come in at just under 600 pages in the font and leading selected. This feels just about exactly right. It is, however, either two pages too long or fourteen pages short.
I should probably explain. Books are bound in page counts that are multiples of sixteen. (Some printers will allow publishers to work with an eight page multiple, but generally it is sixteen.)Under Heaven, as currently laid out, is two over a sixteen count. That means they either have to lose two pages, or grow about eight or ten (it is okay to have a few blank pages at beginning and end, it can even be stylish, uncrowded â€¦ but ten or twelve empty pages looks like sloppiness). It is actually difficult to lose two pages once the book is typeset, so they will look to grow it a bit. Some things are easy. You can be more elegant by having a blank page on the back of ‘Part 1’ and ‘Part 2’ and so on (right now we don’t) and after other pages at the front (cast of characters, dedication, back of mapâ€¦). Sandra says she has other arcane tricks known only to members of the legendary Production Editors Cabal. The yearly dues are insane: I declined to join, so I’ll never know exactly what she’s doing. A new ending is not being appended. She promised.
But in the meantime, the 600 pages landed on my desk this afternoon. I have a decent time to proofread, about two weeks. Others will read it too. We are all on the alert for stray (and oversized) dingbats. In my own case, I also do find myself making changes that have nothing to do with proofing and everything to do with an author still fine-tuning. They humour me in this.
The pages look really good, by the way. I like the typeface, the layout, the map is terrific (and Martin has also done a gorgeous colour version, with decorations, that will be on Penguin Canada’s website for the book, and his own site, and here, quite soon). When a book is typeset, when it reaches this stage, it starts to look and feel like a book. We’re there.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, January 04, 2010 – 1:59 pm:
I just heard from Barbara Bower at Penguin Canada. They made their choice for the debut. The worldwide launch for Under Heaven will be at the Toronto Reference Library at 7 pm, on April 15th.
The reference library is large, impressive, and they have a really flexible atrium-style central space that can adapt to many different audiences. The library has also become very effective in getting word out, I am told. I’m pleased, it should be a good venue.
Am I allowed to say ‘even more tangible’ again?
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, January 02, 2010 – 9:52 am:
Tangible. Tangible. Tangible.
Ah. The feeling of relief is … well, it is tangible. Funny how much of an elephant in the parlor it becomes to be aware (self-inflicted pain) that a word must not be used. It is 2010, and I have my vocabulary back. (Those who are late to the dance here will find all of this utterly inexplicable, if not at least marginally indicative of authorial instability. Do a search in this Journal thread for ‘tangible’ and all will become clear.)
I was just alerted that the first interview that extensively references Under Heaven is now online. This was recorded with Alex Telander of Book Banter in San Jose during the World Fantasy Convention. I enjoyed it. Alex is a good guy, expanding his website reach from print interviews and reviews towards podcasts. This does seem to be the way (or one way) that blogs and sites are steering. I can see an upside to a recorded interview (or a video, which some others have started to try) but I also find value in print (major value) … for one thing, you can read over what someone has said. You can process it, consider it, decide if it represents shimmering insight or blithering nonsense, at your own speed. I’m not sure a rewind button offers the same. Still, consistent with the tilt of the whole book business towards foregrounding the authors more and more, I suppose hearing a voice or seeing someone counts as a ‘value-add’ in today’s culture. Is there an irony here? The written word advanced by the sound or sight of the writer? I guess not, really: no more than a musician or filmmaker or painter being interviewed in print. The various media blur, that’s an element of our society, I think.
In any case, here’s the link: http://bookbanter.podbean.com/2010/01/01/bookbanter-episode-23-with-guy-gavriel-kay/
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 – 8:36 am:
A sad post, a note to lament the news yesterday that McNally Robinson Books, one of my very favourite independents here in Canada, have filed for bankruptcy protection.
This feels more than slightly relevant to the ongoing theme here, which has to do with aspects of the book business in the run-up to the new novel.
They will close two stores, including a very large new one they opened here in Toronto (first one in the east) only eight months ago. They will try to keep two others (in Winnipeg and Saskatoon) and their online store, but it’ll be tricky, with the number of creditors involved. McNally’s more or less expanded into a perfect storm: economy declining, book retail morphing and shrinking. (There’s a store in Manhattan, too, run by their daughter; that one is a separate corporate entity, and not affected by this, legally.)
The news coverage specifically notes the added hit that real world retailers are taking as e-books begin (and they are just beginning) to enter the picture. In this case, my guess is that they played a relatively small role, the bigger one being major outlays for two big new stores at exactly the wrong time in the economic cycle. One article suggested that even major name authors were only getting single-digit audiences at their evening readings here in Toronto. McNally’s has always been about the ‘destination’ idea, readings almost every night, good food (not just a cafe), and the marriage of a very large store with a personal touch. If the readings were that ‘flat’ that really was the canary in the mine.
This is hardly a unique story, or solely about independents. In the UK, Borders has closed the last of what were at one time 40+ stores. We can feel less connected to a major chain, many book buyers even deride them, but that’s a lot of people out of work, and a major disappearance of places to buy books.
But McNally’s feels personal. My family go back with them to when Holly McNally opened her first small bookshop in Winnipeg thirty years ago or so. And the main Winnipeg store has been an absolute favourite place for me to do readings (even in -25 weather!) over the years. I’m going to hope this process works out well enough for them, to let me be there again, in April. The hope is that 250 of 425 jobs can be saved. That matters.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, December 28, 2009 – 6:17 pm:
Hmm. Tan-gerine. Tan-gram. Tan-talize?
I know, I know. But if I’m having fun that makes it all right, right?
Odd time, with all publishers ‘down’ for the holidays. Actually, to be fair, the Canadian Penguins are back in the office tomorrow, many of them; emails of profound and pervasive sympathy and support for sadly suffering publishing people to be sent to Dastardly David Davidar, who runs the show there. Although, in truth, David’s a terrific person, and a fine novelist in his own right/write.
To be unfair, on the other hand, I’ll note that Yvonne Hunter, VP Marketing, is in Hawaii. Yvonne, it will be remembered by those who remember (ahem), is the Marketing Personage who shipped me to the Canadian prairies in February on the Ysabel tour, whilst herself heading to the Costa del Sol. She has tried, since, to suggest that the trip was purely for business meetings, almost all in London, with a very short period in Spain. I prefer my version. It was -25 in Winnipeg, the night of my reading. I really should have looked up the weather in Marbella that night but my internet connection would probably have, er, frozen.
April ought to be a better month, this time around. It is too early to post details, but the tour seems to be expanding, with new venues making requests for an appearance and Penguin’s reps in those areas supporting the idea. I should explain (since that is what this journal is supposed to be about, not just an excuse for me to make tan-gential puns and jokes) that book tours are tricky animals. There’s a balancing of cost to the publisher and time for the author against good will and more tan-whatever returns. You want a commitment from a bookstore to aggressive promotion for a reading/signing, but the publishers also look for indicators from their sales reps in the territory that the media (print, radio, sometimes tv) are interested in talking with the writer. It usually isn’t worthwhile to fly someone somewhere just for a signing gig. Complicating the equation is something I’ve mentioned here earlier: the gradual demise of book coverage in the major daily papers.
All of which is to say I was a bit surprised to hear that a few cities we hadn’t expected to get to this spring appear to be back on the radar, or newly on the radar (as in: I’ve never been sent there before on a book launch tour). Are tours worth it? A question that needs to be asked, actually, and one that also has to be decided case-by-case. My usual sound bite line is to say that the only people more unhappy than an author on a book tour are the authors not having a book tour. Factor in seriously reduced budgets for marketing, and increased travel costs (and hassles) and reduced media opportunities, and the calculations tend to tilt towards reducing, not expanding a tour, which is why I’m surprised (and pleased, insofar as a curmudgeon can be) by the requests coming in.
The formal launch event will be here in Toronto, mid-April. I’ll save the details until they are really firm, next month. January is going to be busy. The page proofs will come in, and along with the proofreaders I’ll have to read those carefully (they are also the lastlastLAST chance to do anything to the manuscript). All the publishers will have to sort out their lists of where ARCs are sent and I have a few ‘targets’ of my own, including the to-be-announced winner of the brightweavings ballad competition who gets one as his/her prize. Then the website will go live, and need reviewing before it does, and then â€¦ and then I really should save some things for the next post. No?
Happy New Year to all.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 – 5:12 pm:
Off the top, my best wishes to all navigating hither, for the holiday season and for 2010.
It is with some care that I post, avoiding the use of the t-word for another 8 days, at least (see earlier entry â€“ November 10 – for what that is all abut, if you missed it!) but the sense the word conveys is growing. I now have the typescript in galley form, the version that will be bound into the ARCs and sent out in mid-January. Normally I proofread this version, but in the three years since Ysabel production of books has changed and this stage is an interim one before the actual typesetting/page layout. The ARCs go out as-is in this temporary font, and there will certainly be typos. (There is always a cover note calling them ‘Uncorrected Page Proofs’ and reviewers are asked to check quotes against the final version. I wonder if anyone ever does.) These typos will be hunted down by a hired proofreader, and the book is then typeset in the final, selected font. At that stage I’ll proof it, and so will yet another hired reader, and my agent here, Linda McKnight, always does a read, and often one or two others volunteer â€“ and there are still typos, invariably.
It looks as if Under Heaven will come in at about 615-620 pages, which is what I hoped. There is always some latitude in book size, since publishers can play with font and leading (as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago), within limits.
Penguin Canada are preparing a couple of advertising surprises (details later, not to spoil them) along with the new website which should launch in January. Roc, in New York, are also now sorting out their list of bloggers to receive ARCs. As I discussed last entry, galleys going out to book bloggers changes the rhythm of a release, because word begins to spread well before actual publication these days. There are always a finite number of ARCs, so it does involve judgements on the part of the publishers. Although blogs are without boundaries geographically, it still makes sense for the publishers to contact those living in their territories, so the British, Canadians, Americans will all deal with the bloggers in their jurisdictions, just as they send copies to their own print reviewers and major bookseller accounts.
HarperCollins Voyager in London have nearly finished their new cover for Ysabel in paperback (it has only been a hardcover in the UK, so far, from S&S). It’ll be in line with their use of actual models/photographs for their Under Heaven which can be seen here at Brightweavings. The two books will appear at the same time, in late April. The rest of the backlist will come out with the paperback of Under Heaven in early 2011. Covers for those will need some thought, to create a ‘brand’ effect.
And no, I am not inclined to be branded with a Double G or some such, thanks.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, December 14, 2009 – 10:00 am:
Pretty much a wrap, for Under Heaven, it seems. Catherine will finish in the next day or so, she said, and send the files to Penguin. I finished the Acknowledgements and the Character List and delivered the ‘author’s letter’ to them last week. The Canadians will bind the letter inside the bound galleys at the front. (I still tend to say bound galley, but they are often â€“ more often â€“ called ARCs today, Advance Reading Copies.) I think the Americans and British may use them as a more conventional ‘letter’, part of the package sent with the book. Letters of this sort are not that unusual. Sometimes they are written by the acquiring editor or even the publisher, sometimes by the writer. In this case I treated it as a chance to make a few comments on why I use the fantastic to deal with history â€¦ a point that still needs addressing, given that it makes my work harder to slot or categorize. (I’ll get the letter up on brightweavings as soon as the galleys go out â€¦ in about a month or five weeks, I think.)
Next step is the actual typesetting of the book. which will take place almost immediately (despite the season). The typesetting will need to be proofread. About five people read it, including me and at least one hired proofreading specialist. Someone once told me the best proofreaders read backwards, right to left, to avoid getting caught up in the narrative and assuming words are spelled correctly when they aren’t. I don’t actually believe it, but I understand the idea. Errors invariably slip in regardless of this. One just hopes they aren’t embarrassingly bad. I always ask readers to alert me on brightweavings if they find any â€“ because they can be fixed for the next edition.
The bound galleys, with the cover on them if the publisher budgets for that (or with just a bland cover with title and name, otherwise), go out to ‘the trade’ â€¦ reviewers, selected blogs (part of the new trend), major booksellers, journalists who might do a profile piece and need lead time. I arrange to send a few to the academics and writers who helped me. One will go to the winner of the brightweavings ballad context (deadline is tomorrow, by the way). They always say ‘uncorrected page proofs’ because they are usually made up before the proofreading is done (that’s the ‘uncorrected’ part.)
The rules of the game in reviewing have greatly changed. It used to be that the galleys were sent out, assigned by book page editors, and read by reviewers, but the reviews never appeared until the publication date printed on them. (Pub date is a bit of a fiction itself, as it represent the day when books are expected to be available everywhere in a given market – but often they are on shelves in major cities well before that.)This is still the rule for print media. The reasoning is pretty basic: it doesn’t help nearly as much if the New York Times raves and no one can buy the book for another two or three weeks. (Leaving aside a discussion of how much reviews help, in any case.) So newspapers and magazines have always been good about honouring publication dates, just as film reviewers in print media will wait for the release date of a movie.
But the blogosphere functions very differently, and publishers are aware of it and trying to adapt. It is now expected that blogger reviews of a title can come out well before publication date. If a galley is sent to a blogger, it is not really expected they’ll wait. These then function, if positive, in the way of generating buzz, anticipation. They can even â€“ and this gets interesting â€“ affect the print run for a book, because if that advance buzz is really strong, a house can decide it might have underestimated the potential for a book, and ramp up their first printing numbers. (I should note that print run numbers have also changed â€¦ publishers have become much more nimble at doing reprints and getting them distributed rapidly, so they are much better than they used to be at reacting to good sales and they also don’t overprint as badly as they sometimes did. The caveat to this is with something like a Christmas season book, where it matters much more to make sure you don’t run out of stock in early December, as it is incredibly hard to get books back on bookstore shelves in time for Xmas sales.)
But bloggers can have this sort of impact, particularly as review space in daily newspapers declines. It is another measure of our general shift to the online world. All major houses now have lists of them and send galleys to the ones they think have some reach and are appropriate for a given title (though some publishers are still a bit ham-fisted about this, and send galleys to blogs that are entirely wrong for a book – and can offend people in the process: â€œAt least read what I blog about before you send me something!â€).
My analogy is that blogs function something like a trailer for a movie. Letting word emerge that ‘something’s coming’. In the same way, advance publicity in general is more common now. A website (the one for Under Heaven will go live in January when the galleys go out), perhaps a video for a book on Youtube or the publisher’s site, other teasers, all these are far more common than ever before. Hmm, even an author journal online, come to think of it.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, December 07, 2009 – 1:56 pm:
Back from the Penguin offices where I drove with the finished manuscript this morning. I was actually a bit edgy, heading over. This is the only stage in a book’s progress these days where the most current version is not backed-up somewhere. That’s because I was working with hard copy of Catherine’s notes and making my own additions, deletions, acceptances, rejections, queries and teases.
It brought back a memory of writing (longhand) in Agia Galini on the south coast of Crete, ages ago. I woke up one morning with the realization that I’d been writing for months and had only my notebooks. If anything happened to them â€¦ In a low-grade state of anxiety, I took the (long) bus ride over the mountains to Rethymnon on the north coast and found a mom-and-pop shop with a photocopy machine. Paid a lot of money to laboriously copy, two page spread by two page spread, the notebooks.
It was a bit easier this time, but I also felt a lot more relaxed driving home.
While at Penguin I met with Sandra Tooze, production editor, who is (almost) too nice to tease. I told her she is sworn to secrecy that I delivered on time, as it’ll (further) kill my image if that gets out. Oh. Right. Ahem.
She and I have been going back and forth on typefaces and line spacing (it is called ‘leading’, pronounced like lead pencil). Under Heaven is a big book, but everyone wants to bring it in at nearer 600 than 700 pages in hardcover. Bigger books cost more, raising the price. (It’ll grow, they always grow, for mass market paperback â€“ though not necessarily for trade paperbacks.) Sandra has been emailing me various fonts and leadings and we pretty much made this decision this morning in her office. I am, incidentally, deeply grateful when publishers give me the chance to have input on things like this. It is not normal in the industry. It takes time, but I enjoy it. Some authors just don’t want to know: write the thing, let others take over. But I find it interesting, and I do believe that things like paper, typeface, line spacing, margins play a role in the reading experience. (This is all affected, going forward, by the emergence of electronic books.)
I’ve also just completed the Acknowledgements, which I tend to put at the back of a book now, since it can actually operate as a spoiler. So can a cast of characters, as I’ve mentioned before, but that really does have to go at the front, and I try to be careful.
As soon as Catherine has inputted all our work into the file, the book will be typeset and a number of people will proofread that before it is bound into the galleys in January. It’ll also go out electronically, as soon as next week, from my foreign rights agent, Natasha Daneman, at WCA. She sends it to the co-agents in each country/market, and they relay to the houses they feel appropriate. In the old days there was a real accumulation of petty cash expense and post office trips for the agents, shipping multiple copies abroad for multiple agents and houses. And books got lost, took forever, etc. These days some editors still prefer to see the galleys (or even wait for actual books) but for those who want to move quickly (or compete quickly) sending the book as an email attachment saves a ton of time and money.
I am now off to the agency, actually â€¦ a contract for Ysabel in Hungarian is there to be signed. First appearance in that language.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, December 02, 2009 – 8:45 am:
About 60% through the manuscript as I prepare to enter the fray this morning. I’m still aiming to be done next week. This remains a hyper-focused exercise, but strangely satisfying, every time. I know I am making the book sharper, and I know that Catherine did. Even when I decline a suggestion she makes (and my approach to writing, alas, causes me to do so often), the process of evaluating it forces me to think clearly about why I am passing on her idea, and that has really useful ripple effects as I push on.
She wrote of ‘arguing’ on various topics, but it is such an odd, amusing kind of scrap â€¦ because of course we are not actually talking or even emailing much. I conduct a dialogue of sorts with her in the margins of the manuscript. Because I like her a lot, I rarely just do the Robertson Davies thing and go ‘stet’ (revert to original) without comment or explanation. There have been moments when she has ‘caught’ an outright slip (using the wrong name, say), and the sportsman in me notes, ‘One point for CM’ in the margin. Then I find one myself that she missed and I can’t help but write, ‘Point for GGK’ beside that one. I have even (generous soul that I am) given her half points when I pass on an idea but it was a good one.
Some aspects reveal the differing author/editor mentalities clearly. For example, she has noted that I call something ‘Brightweavings Fortress’ sometimes (not really that!), but call it ‘Brightweavings Fort’ as well, and she’s carefully marked this throughout. But I did it intentionally. In speech (or thought) we sometimes use a shorter, more casual form of titles. Still, her notes on these are useful â€¦ because a couple of times I’ve decided the more formal, ‘Fortress’ suits a context, after all, and I’ve made the shift.
I am giving myself way more grief (so to speak) than she’s giving me. Every page, just about every paragraph, finds me deleting a word or phrase, or amending, well beyond what she’s alerted me to. At this point 99% of what I do is to trim and that’s why this is slow. It is really rare for anything to be added now.
I’ve argued over the years that fantasy, used properly, can sharpen the focus on history. This pass-through, the way I like to use it, can sharpen the focus of the book. There will be one more run-through, when the typeset book comes back and is proofread by several people, including me, but in my experience, that one does become essentially a looking-for-typos exercise. This is the last careful-edit review.
I had an amusing email exchange with Ray Lundgren, the really excellent Art Director in New York, who worked with Larry Rostant, the artist, to create this cover (and the last several in the States). Basically, after seeing the first version of the cover, we all agreed to see how it looked when the horse was ‘flipped’ to face right and we all agreed it was much stronger, for various reasons, this way (the way you see it now). But I had a sudden worry last week that when it was flipped, we westerners might have reversed the calligraphy! So I checked with Ray, and he wrote back, ‘Actually, that was the first thing I checked when the artist sent me the revised flipped image. I was paranoid about that, too.’ Reassuring, when you get emails like that! I’m really impressed with the work he and Rostant have done the last few books. Authors and their covers is worth an essay in itself (and I’ve done a couple of convention panels on it, too).
There are all sorts of discussions going on as to marketing ideas, but it feels premature to discuss them yet. Things do change. But … we are going to do the first book auction again, for charity. I’ve always liked that idea. I match the winning bid, and so does Penguin. Penguin Canada’s catalogue is now out, they sent me a couple of copies. This is the one with the Under Heaven image on the front. It really does look strikingly dramatic. So does the book’s page, and the two page backlist spread inside. (Deborah has them posted here on Brightweavings somewhere.)
All right, back to the salt mines. Catherine and I are pretty much tied in the scorekeeping game. And yes, I play fair.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, November 25, 2009 – 11:01 am:
Herewith, the first Guest Post on the Journal! Catherine Marjoribanks, who has finished the copy-edit on Under Heaven (until I get it back to her in two weeks and she has to input all my changes to her changes plus my new changes) has been good enough to offer another window into the process whereby books emerge. As you all know, this is one of the purposes behind these journals, and I’m grateful to her. She offered me a chance to play editor on this, but she’s delivered the cleanest journal entry in the business (you’ll get that joke when you finish hers!). Here’s Catherine:
The role of the copy-editor is to bring a fresh pair of eyes to a manuscript once everyone else â€“ the author, the substantive editor, the author’s trusted friends, family, letter-carrier â€“ has stuck his oar in and added his two cents. (A copy-editor would suggest that this last is a terrible mixed metaphor and cross one out.)
The copy-editor, then, picks up the manuscript as a work in progress and attempts to do just whatever needs to be done. This might include making suggestions for structural changes, offering a fresh perspective on character development, toying with sentence structure, or simply polishing grammar, punctuation, and spelling. (Note the use of the serial comma in the sentence preceding: copy-editors care deeply about punctuation choices.) As Guy has noted, we also fret about keeping track of eye colour and compass points.
Authors have described the process of being copy-edited as being â€œnibbled to death by ducks,â€ or invoked the imperial Chinese â€œdeath by a thousand cutsâ€ (either way, you will note that death looms large in the experience). I once told an author who is very thoughtful but also easygoing when it comes to suggested deletions to her non-fiction text how authors often lament that cutting their favourite phrases is like â€œkilling their babies.â€ She thought about that for a moment and said, laconically, â€œCatherine, I think maybe those people are over-invested â€¦â€
I often wonder what this process feels like for the author. He turns in what he believes to be a final, polished, maybe even perfect copy of his work, and a few weeks later it comes back to him with innumerable pencilled cross-outs, punctuation changes, suggested rewordings, and other callous (copy-editors don’t confuse â€œcallousâ€ with â€œcallusâ€), schoolmarmish corrections. If the manuscript exists on paper, it might also have hundreds of yellow Post-it flags attached, each with something less than flattering jotted on it.
If the manuscript has been edited electronically, using the Track Changes function in Word, it will come back with electronic strike-out marks and bold formatting to show where text has been inserted, deleted, or moved, and typed comments of a seemingly heartless variety. This is the experience that Guy is going through right now, working through the electronic edit of Under Heaven and no doubt wondering why I feel entitled to take such unwarranted liberties with his writing.
The process of editing onscreen (the copy-editor will note that this is the third use of the word â€œprocessâ€ in this short piece and recommend another word) is dangerously liberating because it can be done so freely and, by turning off the option to view the changes onscreen, even invisibly. I fear I become more heavy-handed as an editor when working electronically, for this reason. Feeling an undeserved ownership of the manuscript she is editing is a professional trap for a copy-editor.
Back in my early days as a freelance editor, when I’d finished editing a manuscript I would meet with the author. We’d sit together, usually at a kitchen table with a pot of coffee, and go over each page. I’d explain my suggested changes and we would cheerfully argue. It sometimes took two or even three days (which is possibly why most publishers choose not to invest in that practice any more). But I think we both learned from it. (The copy-editor might question starting a sentence with â€œBut.â€) Now the author is more likely working along, wondering what the hell I was thinking (a copy-editor might flag the use of â€œwhat the hellâ€ in this sentence as a jarring shift in tone).
I work with authors whose concern is all for story, and they are quite happy to give me a free hand to reconstruct dialogue and description. Others might feel confident in their ability to develop characters and create mood, but recognize that spelling and grammar will never be their strengths: they are happy to accept a strong hand in these areas.
Guy is famous for â€“ and justifiably prides himself on, I’m sure â€“ submitting the cleanest text in the business: every plot turn and character point carefully constructed and considered, every page checked, re-checked, tweaked, errors corrected. From my point of view, this means that I can focus instead on the text’s nuances and finer points. We end up getting very, very fussy about dashes and semicolons, paragraph breaks, word origins, and subtleties of the past tense.
Working with Guy is a pleasure for a copy-editor because he finds the balance between caring intensely about the words on the page and the choices he’s made, and being open to an editor’s suggestions. I can trust that he will consider any and all suggestions respectfully, and then accept or reject them according to what he believes is right for the novel. Arguing is a welcome, creative part of the process.
This is collaboration at its best!
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, November 22, 2009 – 8:51 am:
Well, Catherine was right on schedule. Under Heaven is printed out with her queries and suggestions, and back on my desk. For the next 2-3 weeks that’s my job, to review and finalize. She claims to have caught only one name that changed midway, and just once, which is pretty good (there were others, I caught them, with help from early readers).
Two meetings so far this week are lined up. One with Martin Springett to make the map ‘final’ … at this stage it is just shifting a couple of locations a smidgen one way or another. He already sent in a draft version adjusted for the ‘gutter’ at the spine of any book. In other words, he and the production people are on this issue, too. The new wrinkle, which I like a lot, is that he’s done a really beautiful, sepia-toned, more decorative version for the web (it’ll be here, on his site, and on the website being created for the book). Readers can download it (easier than flipping to the front of the book?) and they’ll be able to buy a signed poster-version from Martin as well.
The other meeting is a marketing lunch with Yvonne Hunter of Penguin. It is early but not that early because some aspects do need a longer lead time. Beyond those two, I plan to hunker in the bunker, working through the manuscript. As soon as this is done and Catherine has input all my adjustjments it goes to be typeset, but my foreign rights agent, Natasha Daneman, at WCA, also wants it to send electronically to certain of the overseas co-agents, to begin that process. In some markets, the book may well appear in 2010, not long after the English editions. More often there is a lag of a year, or sometimes much longer: each country represents a different challenge and situation … part of the complexity of handling foreign rights. Complexity notwithstanding, the foreign sales represent one of my own favourite parts of the business … I really enjoy being in direct touch with editors and translators, learning what goes on in their territories, and often I end up with new friends.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 – 9:13 am:
This has been one of those intervals where the book is briefly out of my hands and I go into displaced-energy overdrive. All the other things on the to-do list get attacked. My agents and editors are too polite to say they hate when I get this way, but â€¦ they probably do. Actually, on reflection, Linda McKnight, my principal agent here, has known me long enough to not be so polite. She needles me when I start firing emails on all the accumulated issues.
I wrapped the book review I did for the Globe & Mail, that will run Saturday. I finished the Acknowledgements and drafted an ‘Author Letter’ to go out with the galleys early in 2010. These letters aren’t uncommon. They are an attempt to offer some personal angle or perspective on a book galley, for reviewers or major booksellers when they get them. I still decline to write about the cat, but I did do a bit about my reasons for merging history with fantasy.
Penguin Canada sent the proposed jacket copy for the entire backlist relaunch for me to review. This involved their picking a front cover reviewer quote for each book, writing a short text for the back (these are paperbacks, it has to be short) and choosing quotes to go there, as well. They are good enough to let me review, and suggest amendments. It takes a little time, but I much prefer to do it. In fact, my younger son saved us all by catching something none of us had spotted: they’d forgotten to put ‘The Sarantine Mosaic’ and ‘Book One’ and ‘Book Two’ on those new jackets. A seriously good catch! It underscores why many pairs of eyes are useful at all stages. (My older son spotted a visual glitch in the American Tigana re-packaging a few years ago, in exactly the same way.) Four or five different people will proofread the typeset pages before they are bound as galleys. Everyone spots different typos â€“ and some of them still get into the books!
Barbara Bower, the Canadian publicist, has continued an email/phone exchange with me, as to the launch and tour in April. It can get surprisingly political and delicate, choosing bookstores in each city, and sometimes tour dates need massaging (coordinated with NY, or some stores want and deserve an event, but they have someone booked for our best date, things like that). The launch in Toronto has a couple of options, still. We’ll see how that plays out. Monthly media outlets need a long lead time for pieces, so proposals and queries will start going out right now for those. A couple already have. Weeklies, websites, newspapers are addressed much nearer to pub date.
And Catherine just emailed â€¦ she’ll be done the copy-edit by Thursday, she says. So I’ll get the book back Friday late, or Monday morning and get very focused for three weeks with my red pen. The agents will be so happy.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 – 8:53 am:
Penguin Canada are moving quickly and creatively on many fronts, and have given a go-ahead for brightweavings to post both the backlist catalogue spread and the image of the catalogue cover itself, with the artwork for Under Heaven on the front. They are both on the site now, here:
The covers for three of the backlist books are brand new (no points for figuring out which, it is too easy!) and Penguin have done a terrific job of keeping a look or ‘brand’ for all of them. In the book trade, a ‘dump bin’, which is the casual name for that display rack you can see on the left, is a strong signal from the publisher to retailers that they are being aggressive with books.
Skimming the previous posts (something I should do more often!) I note that I used the word ‘tangible’ twice in three posts, referring to exactly the same thing. How slack can one get? I need a copy-editor! As a self-punishment, herewith an offer: if I use that word once more in a Journal entry here before 2010, first person to spot it and post to the comments thread gets a paperback of their choice of my current books.
Catherine would approve. Hell, she may try to win.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, November 06, 2009 – 7:46 pm:
A busy late Friday in this corner of the book world. The current version (not quite final) of the UK cover for Under Heaven is now up on the HarperCollins website, and on amazon.co.uk. Then Susan Allison and Nicole Winstanley, my editors in New York and Toronto, both signed off on allowing Brightweavings to be the first place on the web to show their cover (it’ll be the same in Canada and the States). Again this is a next-to-final version, minor tweaks will be done before release in April.
US/Canada is here:
UK, dramatically different, is here:
In addition, Yvonne Hunter, VP Marketing of Penguin Canada just sent me the near-final version of their really gorgeous two page spread in the catalogue for the backlist titles, which they are re-launching with a new look and bookstore display bins, to coincide with Under Heaven‘s appearance. I’ll get that to Deborah for Brightweavings as soon as it is final, and cleared.
And then (what were they doing at the office so late on a Friday?) Nicole called again to say it had been confirmed that the Under Heaven cover will be the front cover for Penguin Canada’s catalogue this spring. Really nice news, to my mind as much a tribute to the look and design as to anything else. (They did this for Ysabel, too, actually.)
I spoke too soon, clearly, about some vague notion of a lull before the storm. And I confess that having done a first reading in San Jose, and with cover images online, there’s something more tangible about the book’s emergence, something that feels closer to a reality.
And there I was thinking the Yankees and the World Series would be the last major news for the week here.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, November 05, 2009 – 10:47 am:
Submarine warfare was once described to me as weeks of deadly boredom then an hour of utter hell. Right now I’m in the brief lull before a period of complete chaos. Under Heaven is with Catherine (who has agreed to do some sort of guest post here, by the way, and that’ll make it easier for me to twist other arms, I suspect). She has it till the 19th or so. After she’s done I need to work very fast to meet the importunate demands of Sandra Tooze, in charge of Production at Penguin. (In fact, Sandra is a sweetheart, and the deadlines are pretty much external and forced by now, stages that have to be ticked off en route to the printers.)
One example: Sandra just reminded me this morning that they need the List of Characters as soon as possible to start figuring out how to format that. Perfectly fair, as formatting can vary (you’ll see that if you look at the character lists in several of my books). But I already had the clever (I thought) idea to wait for Catherine to finish before attacking the character list â€“ because she prepares a full (really full) list of names as she goes through â€“ to check that spellings don’t change, in part. Her master list makes my life a lot easier in selecting which names should go into the front of the book. (Arranging them remains a challenge.)
This is the sort of utterly technical detail that crops up all the time as we near the final stages. I just proposed that Penguin wait for Catherine to finish her work, and I’ll tackle the list before anything else when I get the copy-edited manuscript – and send that over immediately. I expect to be in something of an over-intense state for the last part of November and the first week of December, addressing the copy-edited manuscript and doing so as fast as I can. I apologized to Sandra last week for needing as much time as possible, but she said it is ‘wonderful’ to have a writer who ‘cares’ about the small details and that most authors don’t (I like to see typeface options and I agitate for good paper!). Honestly? This is a book I’ve worked on for years. Every book is. Who else is going to care as much? But I do know many writers happy to leave all these issues to their publishers. It feels like an abdication, to me.
On the other hand, those authors may live more relaxed publishing lives. On the other other hand, the baseball season just ended very well last night, so I’m pretty relaxed this morning.
Off to the agency now, to drop off the just-signed contract for the Czech Republic edition of the Mosaic pair. One benefit of an agent here in Toronto: business done over coffee. When I get back a couriered copy of the new Philip Roth novel should have arrived â€“ I agreed to review it for the Globe & Mail. The timing is perfect (see ‘brief lull’, above) and I read all of Roth’s work anyhow.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, October 31, 2009 – 1:16 pm:
I had a genuinely rewarding hour reading yesterday here at World Fantasy Con in San Jose. (Offering this comment runs a real risk of subverting the curmudgeon image, but I’ll get it back, I’m not worried.)
A really generous, extremely focused audience in a nicely-arranged reading room. It was exactly 25 years since the appearance of The Summer Tree, at WFC in Ottawa in 1984. My desperate joke has been that I was 12 when it came out. People are laughing with rather too obvious a mien of kind indulgence.
I talked a bit about the origin and underpinnings of Under Heaven, then read for much longer than I normally do (close to 40 minutes). I wanted to test the passage (most of chapter one) and the mood it creates in a reading. I’ve written in these journals before about how different the experience of reading a book in privacy and hearing it in a public setting always is. What works in one may not work nearly as well for the purposes of the other. Picking a reading passage is an interesting exercise.
Under Heaven opens quietly, and that is part of the test for the passage and, I suppose, for an audience. That’s why I called this one ‘generous’ – because they gave it exceptionally sharp, vivid attention. They also laughed where they were supposed to, which is infinitely better than either of the obvious alternatives: NOT laughing when you hope they will, or giggling when you are being meditative and judicious.
I have a pretty good idea what I’ll do to streamline this for future readings and the tour when it comes, but there was a terrific vibe when this was over from the audience and from experienced people whose opinions I trust. Cecelia Holland, a splendidly gifted novelist, came up after to give me a hug and say some wonderful things. Another remarkably generous person. (She’d coordinated a memorial dinner the night before for our friend Charles N. Brown of LOCUS. We toasted Charlie many times, and told off-colour jokes in his honour. He lived for a new, good joke. I took it as a responsibility, every time we had dinner together, anywhere, to arrive with one or two.)
It feels, this morning – the book now with the copy-editor, the first reading done, the covers about to show up – as if Under Heaven is a more tangible public presence now.
Maybe it is time to start a tour journal? Oh, wait. Right.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, October 26, 2009 – 5:27 pm:
I just received v2 of the US/Canadian cover and â€¦ it is sensational.
I liked it a lot in first draft, and after agents and editors pooled suggestions, it came back from the art director in New York looking really exceptional. I am very happy. My low-key film agent, Jerry Kalajian, took a look at a jpeg and emailed back, â€œIt’s stunning!!! I love it!!!â€ I told him he’s not using enough exclamation points for Hollywood, no one is going to hear him.
This version will get a couple of very minor adjustments now, then be final. At which point â€“ since it’ll be in publisher catalogues â€“ I’ll make sure Deborah gets it for brightweavings, and it can finally replace the ‘?’ at the front of the site, beside this Journal link. There is no truth to the rumour we were going to go with a question mark on the cover itself.
I should have final UK art fairly soon, too. This one involves an approach that is not my own aesthetic inclination but it represents some very smart, senior people at Voyager/HarperCollins thinking hard about their market and ‘branding’ Under Heaven and the entire backlist in forthcoming reprint editions. At a certain point an author, having made his points, needs to trust the people he’s working with. Jane Johnson at HarperCollins has been doing this a long time; she and I go back together to Fionavar at Unwin Hyman (the original Tolkien publishers) before it was bought by Harper and Jane, still very young, was suddenly steering a very large imprint.
If I’m going to use a baseball metaphor (and this particular week you might get one or two!) sometimes you trust your starting pitcher to have the stuff to get you deep into a game.
Meeting Catherine Marjoribanks Wednesday to do an overview discussion on the copy editing, then I am off to San Jose for World Fantasy Con. I’ve printed chapter 1 for the reading Friday â€¦ it’ll be a passage from in there, I need to choose between two options. Odds are, I’ll read from each over the first 3-4 readings this fall and winter, see which feels best. I do like offering a section from very early in the books â€¦ less backstory explanation needed, among other things, and the passage feels to listeners like a way in.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 – 7:57 pm:
Try a challenge: the photographic cover image posted on the comments thread to this journal last week (Natae’s, on October 13th) started me thinking. It is unfair to challenge people to do images like that – it takes a lot of time and camera skills and lighting … and make-up!
But have a look here on brightweavings at the some of the book covers using art gallery or architectural images. I’m thinking in particular of the L’Atalante covers for Tigana, Arbonne, Lions.
Please try to observe copyright protocols, but many gallery paintings and sculptures exist online in versions that are not protected. See if you can find images that work for any of the books already published. If you want to tackle Under Heaven, sight unseen, go ahead, but it makes more sense (I think) to offer your own approaches to titles published. Obviously some skills with software to superimpose title, name, even a jacket quote if you want will be needed, but I suspect those are pretty readily found in this community.
Part of the idea, as it was three years ago with the dust jacket copy exercise, is to discover how people ‘see’ a cover, and I’m hoping you’ll (politely?) critique and suggest amendments to any attempts that show up.
If you surf through the Art Gallery here, and look at the remarkable range of cover ideas used in different countries (or even the same market, for different editions), it underscores just how wide-open this sort of exercise of wrapping a book can be.
And, for the record, we really don’t need variations on the theme of the original Polish Summer Tree. Nope.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 – 3:27 pm:
Manuscript has gone out, to Penguin Canada, for relaying to copy-editor. (Protocol demanded that it go this two-step way, rather than straight from me to Catherine. The publishers get anxious around now, and feel a need – a legitimate one, really – to control the process.)
One nice thing for me, the last few books, is that everyone plays pretty nicely with each other. The US and UK will take electronic files from Canada – after Catherine finishes, and I do my response to her notes – and do their own printing from those. Sharing files brings down costs, obviously, and simplifies the author’s life in terms of proofreading.
Penguin Canada are on target with the website, aiming for January launch. This links up to my last post about media and publicity preceding the book’s appearance by more and more. UNDER HEAVEN isn’t out until April.
US cover is at second stage. This will also be the Canadian cover (more sharing). The UK are doing their own, an entirely different look, as I mentioned earlier, I think. Catalogue copy is finished in all three markets, which means some more material about the book will be in print and online (at publisher websites) soonish. Often sites like amazon.com ‘pull’ this copy and set up a pre-order page.
I’ve agreed to one interview in San Jose so far, next Friday, which will probably be the first media discussion of UNDER HEAVEN. It would probably be a smart idea, between now and then, to figure out some of what I want to say about this one. I know I’ll read from very early in the book (also on Friday) – I almost always do now – but haven’t decided what.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Sunday, October 18, 2009 – 7:32 pm:
I remember Orson Welles, in a television ad he did late in a complex life, intoning (magnificently) that Paul Masson would ‘sell no wine before its time’. To the amusement of some of my colleagues, and the bemusement of (usually younger) others, I’ve never even liked having my novels read â€“ even by editors â€“ before I’ve honed and revised and, most importantly, finished them.
The book world has changed, as I think I’ve noted once or twice here. Now, agents make compelling cases for why a manuscript is best sold as a ‘partial’ in some markets â€“ and this obviously means it isn’t going to be polished, let alone finished. Marketing and publicity executives make cogent arguments as to how the selling of a book has to begin a long time before publication date, both online and in traditional media, and in author appearances. We all know about the big books and films a long time before they are out. (‘Avatar’, anyone?)
I regard it as part of a writer’s deal with his publishers that he or she help in selling the book (don’t get me started on the idea that the writer IS his or her sole marketing person, but read this week’s New Yorker for a killingly funny parody of that idea). That means I need to adjust, and I have been, to the notion of marketing campaigns, publicity, interviews, even (ahem) online journals rolling at least six months before the release of a book regarded as important.
There isn’t anything so new about a novel being seen in excerpts well before release. ‘First serial rights’ as they are called have been around a long time. Whether in Harper’s or Asimov’s, a fragment of a larger work will often be run ahead of the book’s publication. And authors on the circuit of book festivals will commonly read from a work-in-progress. I’ve just never done it.
I still haven’t, but I’ve just decided to do the first reading from UNDER HEAVEN in San Jose two weeks from now, at the World Fantasy Convention. I was actually urged to do it in August at Worldcon in Montreal, but managed to talk my way out of it. But with the book essentially done, in the hands of the copy-editor by that point, there’s no logical reason to not read from it and I’m going to pass on the non-logical ones.
In addition, WFC is a nice place to start. It is a classy, smallish convention, very professional, a lot of peers, and it plays down the hype-factor. The programme announcement for each reading doesn’t even say what the author is reading. They also have a provision that previous winners of the World Fantasy Award can have a full hour, not the usual 30 minutes, and for a first talk + reading, it feels better to not be rushed. I also like the relatively quiet context because I spend my first two or three public appearances with every book figuring out just what it is I want to say about it, and what passage I want to read. (I think I wrote about ‘reading passages’ in one of the earlier journals here on Brightweavings.) WFC will give me a chance, two Fridays from now, to play with these things in a low-key setting.
This does, it occurs to me, open up another posting, for later, if I remember: about how no setting is ever truly low-key any more, because someone can always be blogging it live, or blog it after.
Did I mention the book world has changed?
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, October 09, 2009 – 9:08 am:
A funny thing happened on the way to the journal …
I had actually drafted a long post last week, triggered (that’s a pun, you’ll see later when you read it) a spate of spats in the literary world, a couple of them turning on genres and categories. When I’d mostly finished, I looked it over and it read much more like an essay or op-ed piece. So I got in touch with the Globe and Mail and they are running it next weekend. That’s why I’m late here. I am very much aware that one of the keys to internet posts and sites is frequency, but given how I envisage this journal, until the publishing energy for UNDER HEAVEN ramps up, the rhythm here might be erratic.
I did have my first conversation with Catherine M, the dangerous copy-editor (“How dare you use a semi-colon there?”) and have filed a note to ask her next time if she’d want to do a guest post here, as someone suggested. I like the idea, may expand it to others who are part of the process. Catherine will get the manuscript in about 10 days, so yes, I’m pretty close. (Another reason for relative journal silence.)
Other good news: yesterday I saw the first roughs for the US/CDN cover (they’ll be the same this time) and I am very positive. We’re all in agreement as to how it should be fine-tuned, but the concept is classy and sophisticated. They are aiming for some of the same effect they achieved with YSABEL (the US version, though I also loved Canada’s).
My agents placed their orders for galleys (also called ARCs now … Advance Reading Copies). These are the early, soft-bound special copies that go out to reviewers and important bookstore buyers (and maybe brightweavings poetry contest winners – stay tuned). The agency needs them (about 25-30 copies) for those foreign markets that might want an early chance to bid on UNDER HEAVEN. This is a bit of a paradigm shift: translation rights used to more normally be sold after a book appeared in English.
After the manuscript goes to Catherine I get 2-3 weeks of relative downtime. I was going to slot making a list of characters for the front of the book as one task in there, but Catherine and I realized that she HAS to do a full character name sheet, to check spellings, and that’ll be a gift to me, in preparing a selected list of ‘important’ names, so I’ll wait for her.
I’ll use the time, in part, to attend World Fantasy Con in San Jose at the end of the month. It is always a good gathering. I wrote some friends I’ll be seeing that I may actually be in a good mood this time, eschewing ritual curmudgeonliness, with the book out of my hands. Not sure how any of them will handle that.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Friday, September 25, 2009 – 1:35 pm:
Not to go all tmi on those reading this, but I am editing (halfway home, now) with a miserable head cold. Actually, I’m editing with a keyboard, mouse, computer monitor, butâ€¦
This condition does impact upon the revising. As in:
â€œProtag sneezed, then cautiously opened the door to the dark, damp corridor. It creaked (the door). Coughing as quietly as he could, the doughy adventurer made his way towards eerie music and a flicker of light. Suddenly a spectral apparition rose up before him â€“ a Viroid! Hacking and coughing, he hacked with might and main at â€¦â€
This is from chapter twelve of the new book. Not.
I’m not going to keep linking sites and articles I’m sent about book blogs, marketing, the metamosphosis of the author into entrepreneur/marketing person. It all interests me, however, even without the added responsibility of working with people to negotiate what feels appropriate for me, going forward. Every writer will have a different comfort zone (and different readers) and sometimes these variations can be considerable.
One quick example. I was steered this week to the web site of a writer (won’t name her) who offered her ‘rules’ for a blog tour. One rule was that, in her view, any blog wishing to be part of a tour has to agree to do a review. I have trouble with this. Surely the subtext is, ‘agree to do a good review’. The author isn’t going to show up if the book’s been panned on the site. Put another way, if the blogger dislikes the book, why would they want to promote it? And do they not compromise their position if they promote a book they’ve declared (or later declare) to be not much good?
Do bloggers feel they have a position to protect? That last is easy: I said it before, there is a very wide spectrum here. Some are thrilled to be cited in a press release for a review or comment, that suggests they’ll tilt to the positive in their comments to get cited again. Others take their reading and reviewing with real seriousness, and the web format allows, often, more thoughtful and detailed critiques and discussions of books than 600-800 words or so (often even less) in a newspaper.
This is all, truly, a work in progress.
Martin’s pretty well done with the Under Heaven map, has been busy with it all week. I am going to give it to Catherine Marjoribanks (haven’t told her yet) who has SO little to do as copy-editor… Makes sense, though, that if the draft map is in-hand, she have it with her to double check as she reads, and maybe even suggest details to add.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 – 9:15 am:
Yesterday involved some serious multi-tasking â€“ I needed to be 16 years old, or something like that, for my brain to be properly wired for it, if all that we’re reading about rewired cognition is true.
Started with a four in the morning wake-up with a jolt â€¦ the realization that a particular scene HAD to be revised, because the actions of one character simply did not make sense for the person she already was by then. I was guilty of wanting the scene to go a certain direction, and taking it there, without giving enough weight to the people in it and how they’d already been established. That became a long morning’s work.
Then two phone calls to NY discussing marketing issues. (I was late with the calls, because I was lost in the revisions and shot right past my promised ‘I’ll call you’ time. Not like me.)
Then I had to bomb out the door for a lunch meeting with the Imperial Cartographer â€¦ aka Martin Springett, who is doing the map for Under Heaven. Martin has read the manuscript, of course, in order to do this, and as I talked about my morning’s revision â€¦ he started to shake his head, amused, and noted that 99% of readers would simply not have noticed the point that made me so adamant about changing a scene that was good as it was, for him. Odds are he’s right (not guaranteed, though, I tend to have sharp readers). The underlying point, and we talked about this, is that some of us are writing for ourselves, a book, a scene, a character need to work for us, first and foremost â€¦ and that can make the fine tuning process take a long time. And involve 4 a.m. epiphanies.
The map will be just fine. There are technical challenges to book maps, too â€¦ dealing with the ‘gutter’ – the spine of the book – and how names and places can be lost there, is one of them. But Martin has done this for me before, and knows the game. We discussed some wrinkles, extra ideas, involving online and ways for readers to print it, or get a different, more ‘decorative’ version. Martin is immensely creative musically as well, and already has a guitar composition done based on his response to the novel â€¦ he’s got a cellist friend joining him later this week to lay down a track for it. I love when these things unfold â€¦ what’s not to love?
Should be seeing the US/Canadian cover roughs in a week or two. I’m already ‘busy’ with the Canadians in working out their re-jacketings of the Mosaic pair and Lions â€¦ Penguin Canada are repackaging the entire backlist in April (except Fionavar, which is with HarperCollins) in the ‘premium paperback’ size they used for Ysabel. Even Ysabel gets a new cover here â€“ the American one, by Larry Rostant. This is a major statement. I have a lot of confidence in them, which will not, in any way, shape or form, deter teasing here, as and when required.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Saturday, September 19, 2009 – 3:06 pm:
Well, at least I now know what a blog tour is.
I mentioned in my first post here that a lot has changed in the online world, as it relates to books, even in the three years since YSABEL. There’s a simmering scrap between book bloggers and hard copy book reviewers and their editors about ‘credibility’ turning on ideas like ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘old media’ and ‘everyone’s a critic’ â€¦
There’s a very delicate dance going on between publicists and the bloggers, and often between authors and those bloggers directly, as publicity departments get cut back, and budgets disappear and writers are sent forth on their own to come home with their shields or upon them. And of course the book blog world isn’t remotely monolithic, it contains an expanse as wide as that between People Magazine and the TLS on the matter of books.
I think this last, actually, is critical: some bloggers will jump at the recognition implied by being offered a book galley if they promise to plug the book, others will be deeply offended by the implication they can be bought (at all, or so cheaply).
All of this, and too many other thoughts were triggered by my being sent a link to the following post on Roger Sutton’s blog (he’s the editor-in-chief of The Horn Book) and the long, fascinating discussion thread that follows it. Have a look, see what you think.
PS Thoughts on the whole blog tour thing, anyone? At least it is environmentally friendly! One problem, seems to me, is that there are (and I know this from experience) only a certain number of good questions and if an author is whipping around cyberspace doing interviews in a week or two, and surfers/readers are following him or her from blog to blog, which seems to be the idea, there is going to be an awful lot of repetition. You probably get to the cat, sooner rather than later.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Thursday, September 17, 2009 – 10:00 am:
I’m answering short queries in the ‘discussion’ thread and keeping the main Journal here for more substantial posts. That’s what I did the last two times, and it seems to make sense.
This first note isn’t really about UNDER HEAVEN, but it is part of the background process, so I’ll mention that I had a lunch meeting with Jerry Kalajian, my film agent, this week. He’s in Toronto from L.A. for the film festival, described himself as ‘the living dead’ which is pretty normal for someone ‘working’ TIFF as hard as many agents and producers do. There are, as always, a number of possible book-to-film (or television) developments, and I tend not to discuss these since it tends to end up that nothing happens. The film industry lives on rumour and buzz, but it isn’t that nutritious.
Briefly, since these have been noted on brightweavings â€¦ LIONS is still in-play, being developed by Bedford Falls (Ed Zwick) and Mandalay Productions (Cathy Schulman). It feels like it has been forever, but Hollywood works that way, especially for expensive films in a difficult economy. They want a new script, they are exploring who can give it to them. YSABEL’s Canadian production team couldn’t put funding together, so their short-term option has expired and that property is back with my agents. LAST LIGHT and TIGANA continue to be discussed, in various permutations. UNDER HEAVEN will go out from Jerry’s office when the revisions are done. If anything tangible happens, Deborah and brightweavings will be the first to know.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘spoilers’ lately. At the Worldcon in Montreal, one of the core brightweaving denizens (Alec Lynch) gave out t-shirts to the denizens coming for an evening of drinks we shared. The t-shirts essentially spoiled every novel with a one-liner giving away a major plot twist. I laughed, then found myself unable to even LOOK at them, it was so painful.
The spoiler issue comes up for me now as I have promised to prepare a cast of characters for the new book. This is not as straightforward as it might seem. Think about it. It is easy to undermine a plot development. Just listing (or not listing) a character carries resonance. (He’s not in the cast list, does he die early? She’s in there, I guess she becomes significant.) If Robinson starts as a village smith but is press-ganged twenty pages in, into the British navy how is he listed? As ‘Robertson, blacksmith’, or as ‘Robertson, British sailor’? What if he’s recruited in chapter five, not chapter one? Organization of the character list is also a challenge, because there are so many ways to do it. I didn’t do a list for TIGANA, in part because any such list would either be a deception, or reveal something. Consider: ‘Sandre, Duke of Astibar, deceased’, and there are others.
Not everyone avoids spoilers. John Clute, the reviewer/critic has declared that he sees no reason to dodge them in a critique of a novel. That he can’t properly discuss or assess a book if he can’t â€“ for example â€“ consider it’s conclusion. He claims ‘surprise’ is overvalued in our reaction to fiction, noting we so-often re-read books, and still enjoy ‘Hamlet’. I take his point, but have argued that the experience of ‘Hamlet’ for someone who has no idea what happens has to involve an enormous added dimension that first time â€¦ after which the other elements of response kick in. I’ve urged an approach where initial reviews take care not to give things away (and jacket copy takes even more care!), but critiques after some time need not be so cautious. It is okay to reveal that Anna Karenina dies.
My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read â€¦’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ â€¦ the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.
By Guy Gavriel Kay (Ggk) on Monday, September 14, 2009 – 3:26 am:
The new book is called Under Heaven, as most of those reading this will already know. It will come out (in the English-language markets) in April of 2010. I wrote ‘spring 2010’ in one message, and was (quite properly) chastised by an Australian reader, since it’ll be autumn there!
After meetings, phone calls, and emails with various publishers, it looks to be time to debut another book journal here at brightweavings.
One of the things I try to do with these journals is give readers a glimpse into the changes in the publishing world, and what is involved in the process by which an author’s manuscript (often just electronic these days) morphs into a book you buy on shelves, or download in e-book form, or as an audio book. (Those last two are part of the changing landscape, of course.)
Deborah will set up a comments and queries thread for this journal, and I’ll keep an eye on that. Last time I set readers here a few challenges, to give an idea of what is involved in things like preparing jacket copy, and I’ll try to do that sort of thing again.
I tend not to write about our cat.
I do write about (read: tease) publicists, editors, and marketing people, among others, although those who have read earlier journals here will know that this can be reckless on my part. These people have the power to book you for crack-of-dawn winter interviews on the prairies. There was even a photo shoot last time in Winnipeg, in February, outdoors. The photographer thought bare wintry trees made a good backdrop to an author developing Keatsian consumption as he stood without a coat (orders) and watched lenses being (slowly) changed.
I remember, in the first of these journals, for Last Light, describing one editor as ‘doughty’ and then musing on the awesome importance of the letter ‘t’ in that adjective. I still like that one. He’s decent enough to pretend to do so, even though we no longer work together, so he doesn’t have to!
That is all a ways off at this point, of course. I am currently engaged in the ‘final’ pass-through on the book (about a quarter of the way through) with editors’ notes and requests to hand, from Canada, US, and UK. I use the quote marks because it really isn’t final.
Reality is this: when I’m done, likely early-to-mid October, the book goes to the copy editor, Catherine Marjoribanks (extremely happy to have her again). She’s the one who makes sure all spellings stay the same, logs all names, helps prepare the cast of characters (there will be one), ensures that people walking east aren’t suddenly going west when they reappear five chapters later, that eye colour stays constant (unless I have a reason for changing it!), and she monitors punctuation and diction and adds notes as to clarity and phrasings in general. Copy editors, by definition, have to be obsessively detail-orientated.
When it comes back to me from her, I have about two weeks or so to turn the manuscript around again. This is supposed to be a read just to respond to notes and queries, but it always turns into a one-more-time pass-through, for me. The awareness that when it leaves me it is just about what you’ll read is strong at this stage.
But it still isn’t final. The manuscript then goes to the printers and is typeset. Decisions as to typeface and paper quality (good paper, please!) will have been made by production departments by then. I always have some idiosyncratic wishes: if there’s a closing quotation, I like the novel proper to end on the left side, so the quote faces it, without requiring the reader to turn a page. That sort of thing.
When the page proofs come back that is truly meant to be a ‘just check for errors’ read-through (and many people do that â€¦ editor, production director, author, agent, copy editor) but again, I always cast a wider net â€¦ this is the last time, and a novel looks different when it is typeset. I make changes because of that. Small example: italics seem much â€¦ louder in page proofs than on screen. I tend to delete many of them in this last read.
And then it is done, goes to printers. Likely end of year, early January. In the meantime, through this fall, many of the marketing and PR decisions will be made, and I’ll do my best to keep you posted on these as they unfold – except for the ones that involve national security.