It’s a wrap

Yes, fine, I like puns. This is news?

The header is a riff on the fact that the linked image here, shows the full wraparound cover for River of Stars for the first time. I just got it. This will be the Canadian version – the American is likely to look identical in artwork but employ different quotes. This makes sense – the British will use different quotes again (and different cover art, too). Each market decides what works best in its territory. I just feel lucky there are such generous comments from which they can choose.

I also want to give a shout-out and thank you here to Larry Rostant, the artist responsible for a number of my current covers. Among others, he did the American and British Ysabel, the stunning green horse for Under Heaven, the beautiful new jackets in the States for the Mosaic pair, and now this genuinely gorgeous (well, the author thinks so) cover for River of Stars.


Book Lover’s Ball

I did promise there might be a bit of news on Monday. And I’m able to announce, as it is online now.

This isn’t anything major, but it pleases me for a few reasons. Each February in Toronto the Book Lover’s Ball takes place. It is a black tie gala fundraiser for the Toronto Public Library system. There are 50 (very expensive) tables, mostly corporate commitments, and 50 authors (mostly not incorporated!) attend, one at each table. They do a red carpet, take classy photos (sometimes not so classy, the Toronto Star last year decided to be playful with lenses), auction items for a very good cause. It is an evening I’m always happy to be a part of.

The main BLB webpage is here:

Each year they also offer entertainment inspired by 5 or 6 books by authors attending. This year they picked River of Stars as one of these.

That’s nice in itself, but then something even better happened. There’s a backstory.

When I was researching Under Heaven I came across a refernce to a historical change in the way the pipa was played (it is often called the Chinese lute here). I love bits of information like this. Some may recall a scene in Sailing to Sarantium where there is an argument about the best way to lay down a ‘setting bed’ for mosaic tesserae, the traditional one or something new. That was exactly the same thing, for me. A chance to do something with character and, er, setting by way of the debate and transition.

So in my slightly crazed fashion I started trying to find experts in the pipa who might tell me something about this. I came across the website of a performer named Liu Fang, Chinese-born and trained, living in Montreal, recording widely, hugely admired, and performing around the world.

I wrote her (of course) and she wrote me back a lovely email full of interesting information. We kept in touch. She and her husband/manager, Risheng, both read Under Heaven when it came out and were wonderfully enthusiastic about it. I bought her music (she sent me other CDs), we attended a concert of hers here in Toronto and met them both.

Long story shorter, I dropped her a note when the BLB people indicated they wanted to do ‘something’ this year with River of Stars. Usually Fang is in Europe in winter, and she will be by late February. But she’s in Canada before that, and said she’d be delighted to be part of the gala fundraiser and to be connected to River of Stars. I put the BLB showrunners in touch with them, everyone clicked and coordinated, and on February 7th, Liu Fang will be coming into Toronto to perform a solo pipa number at the Book Lover’s Ball in honour of River of Stars.

I couldn’t be happier about all this. She an exquisite performer, a truly classy person, and the number she’s chosen is just perfect for evoking the book. None opf this counts as ‘major news’ but sometimes the book world gives you connections and moments that feel just right, seriously cool, and this looks to be one of them. We’re hoping to be able to get a recording that night, to share.

Her website is here. Listen to what she can do on the pipa and the guzheng. There’s a video of a concert she gave in St Petersburg recently, too.


UK news bulletin

Many people have asked, but I’ve been waiting (which is proper, really) for my UK publishers to finalize our timing and details, and that happened today.

HarperCollins UK will publish River of Stars on July 18. But – and this will please and interest some people here, I know – they will lead with the e-book edition on April 2 … the same date River comes out in Canada and the States. With the increasingly interconnected book buying world, it just make sense for a publisher to have their electronic edition out when others do.

The trade paperback edition for Australia (and other territories) will also be out in April, with the same cover the Americans and Canadians are using. This timing is dictated by Australian law now, as I have mentioned before. Australia became tired, many years ago, of being included in UK rights sales, but then not getting books till long after they were available everywhere else. They mandate now that actual physical books needed to be on sale there within (I think it is) six weeks of appearance anywhere else in English, or else Australia will be an ‘open territory’ and other publishers (from the US, normally) are free to sell their editions there.

The July timing in the UK is interesting, and I am onside with it. They are planning a new cover, and a shift of imprints, from my current Voyager to one where authors like Tracy Chevalier are published. Part of a strategy to position the book for literary/historical/mainstream readers, in addition to the core of fantasy readers.

I have always (my own stubbornness!) been challenging to slot or categorize. I know this. In fact I hated the tendency to force books into categories even before I was a writer! (Seriously, the first award-winning student paper I ever wrote was a near-rant on absurdities underlying The Classification of ‘Troilus and Cressida’ … a commercial bestseller theme if ever there was one!) But this category-issue has forced my publishers in different markets and different languages to work harder (and involving very different ideas, sometimes) to try to find the books access to readers who might well be excited by them — if they learned about the novels. (That’s a reason the covers are often so different, too.)

My own solution? Everyone hanging out here go off and tell people! Come back when you are done and we’ll play beach volleyball and toast marshmallows. (It is really cold here, I am fantasizing.)

And though that’s flippant (moi?) it is still, for me, the key, core, definitive way readers come to books: word of mouth. Whether it is a librarian or a trusted bookseller, a blogger, newspaper or online reviewer, a friend, a sibling or parent or child, or the person sitting across from you on the bus who looks up crying from a book and says, seeing you looking, ‘It’s great. You have to read him!’

That’s what’ll ultimately sell books. Though, I am currently conducting an experiment to see if puns on Twitter play a role.

But I am always grateful, when my publishers bring innovation and imagination to the process. I’ll get the new UK cover up as soon as we have it, of course, and will fill in other details as they emerge.

Oh. A Terrible Tease: should have something else fun to share on Monday, maybe Tuesday.



The blackbird tweeting or just after…

The title is a riff on a poem by Wallace Stevens. (I had lunch last week with the woman translating him into Chinese, which was pretty cool.)

My very clever UK agent, Jonny Geller, tweeted today about starting a fee-for-service business of chasing authors off Twitter and back to work, said he’d do it for other agents, and charge them. We shared an email and a laugh about it. (I lost some time yesterday to a much-too-much-fun volley of puns about wine, after finding a Slate magazine piece describing someone with a glass of wine in hand ‘pouring over a map of Game of Thrones‘ instead of ‘poring’. Ouch! I said the map would have more ‘clarety’ after that. Ouch, encore.)

Every generation has its sins in the eyes of the older generation. Sinatra then Elvis, then the Beratles (not to mention the bad boy Rolling Stones) led straight to sex. Movies, D&D, computer games, texting on smart phones … Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram. All pernicious distractions from right thinking and diligent work. (We are not discussing fantasy baseball here. Don’t go there! Though I will note that my league is called Stan the Man, and the great, great Musial died last week and is being quite properly mourned. Class act.)

By the way, I do not deny that technology can and does change us and how we relate to and function with each other. My go-to book on this, one I urge on everyone, is Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, where the Gershwin title says so much about us today.

I did a radio interview a year or two ago with the great Shelagh Rogers and another author, promoting a fundraising book for PEN Canada in which we both had essays. We were discussing the ‘online’ question, as it applied to writers. He lamented the disappearance of the ‘sacred space’ for creativity, due to the seductions of the Internet. I don’t use language that mystical, but I agreed completely that the difference between today and the days when a writer avoiding work would wander down to the cafe or bar is that today our work space is identical to our play space. And I added something else: despite my own agent’s teasing, most publishers and agents want their authors promoting themselves all over social media (we’ve been discussing that here).

I’m not as sublimely sure as Elena Ferrante (see last post) that quality will always emerge, whether in a few years or posthumously. I think our sped-up culture can very very easily cause something to be lost. I dislike it. I don’t like the extreme convergence of author and work, but I do see it as a core element of today’s book world. So I allowed myself to be lured on to Twitter by the tandem Sirens of Penguin (they even have Penguin Canada’s publisher out there now, though her corporate role will make it hard for her to be funny and casual). And I also find myself laughing a lot at the back and forths, over and above steering people to things I find interesting – or disturbing.

It is easier for me to hang out in this way right now as I am in the very first ‘incubation’ stages of sorting what might be a next book. One reason I am slow is that I always feel the need to let the last book fade before starting to properly address a next one. I don’t want language and themes to ‘bleed’ from one to another (I don’t mind if that overlap of themes happens because it feels interesting). And so this is the ‘marketing stage’ and that process has changed a lot … which is something I’m trying to share here.

Received the first two sets of email interview questions for pieces that will appear online on two websites. The publicity teams will sort out timing. I am also trying to figure something out, maybe people here have thoughts. I did a very enjoyable AMA on Reddit last year, typing as fast as I could to reply to funny/smart questions. We’ll do another this spring. Here’s the dilemma, and it was the author Brandon Sanderson who posted something and started me thinking about this.

Should we do it just as the book comes out and make it a wide open, general discussion, or wait a few weeks for epople to buy and read River of Stars and set up (as Sanderosn says he’ll do) a Spoiler Zone AMA where anyone there that night (or reading the transcript after) is on notice that questions will be about the new book?

One complication: predictably, I dislike over-explaining. I often avoid spelling things out in interviews, I don’t want to take away the reader’s ability to shape their own response to the text.

For example, I never have (and never will) address the last sentence of Tigana!


Long views, short views

I’m delegating part of this post to two very funny pieces I found. One is recent, in Salon, the other is a 3 years old bit I love, from the New Yorker. Both are about book marketing.

The older one, first:

I sent this to all my publicists and marketing people back when, with urgent assurances I did love them and I didn’t think the industry was bailing on writers this much, but … it was still killingly funny. From the first two sentences on.

The second is in a long tradition of Author Tour From Hell accounts. This paradigm is actually what I used to inspire my first Tour Journal, years ago … the idea that I might try to be both funny and informative, in sharing the stages of how a book got out there on bookstore shelves (e-books as a major alternative were a gleam in Jeff Bezos’s eye back then). Evoking some of the pieces I’d read when young about authors on the road.

This is a very funny addition to the tour disaster canon. I almost did a follow-up tweet about it, but Twitter is tricky. Brevity means you lose the space to make clear what you are not doing. I don’t remotely want to needle Mansbach (who wrote the linked piece). I loved his riff, winced and laughed. But it has occurred to me, thinking about this, and my own Journal posts: if publisher-funded author tours are dying out – and they are – does it become a humblebrag to talk about the chaos and fumbling associated with your own? I’m big enough to be having a disaster tour?

Or, as I do here, to be writing about aggravations with overseas contracts or sorting out a book video, or a day spent with a (patient!) production editor reviewing the last stages of a manuscript (when most people don’t get that chance)? I hold to the notion that I can (sometimes) be amusing and (sometimes) informative about a subject most readers don’t get to glimpse, and seem to enjoy seeing, but –

I worry about it. I think, often, about the whole process whereby our culture foregrounds the artist as least as much as the art. We write about our parents and pets, we share cute kid pictures, or our favourite scotches and coffee brands. And people seem to want this. But if I start reflecting now about privacy I’ll be getting into Jodi Foster country (and I am not retiring, not lonely, and I loathe Mel Gibson).

But here’s another quote I saw this week, from an Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym), profiled in the New Yorker. She’s highly regarded, not prolific, not anything like a commercial name. At the outset of her career she wrote to her publisher (as quoted by James Wood):

I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t … Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.

Wow, one might say, suavely. There’s someone willing to take the long, long view.


It is still a book

I almost never reread my own novels, once they are printed and on sale. The small exception is the period when I am choosing reading passages for a new one, and once or twice when I needed to help with a pitch for an older book for Hollywood purposes.

I think this is true of most writers I know. We don’t reread our earlier work, or even the current one once it is truly finished. Philip Roth made news late last year when he announced that when deciding if he would retire, he reread all his own books over a period of time. Pretty unusual, and it was deemed noteworthy.

There is an odd byproduct (for me) in this fact of not rereading. It gets too easy to slip into thinking of River of Stars as a property, a product.The discussions are about packaging and book videos, touring, promotion, who gets ARCs (and when), interviews, launch events, ads, PR letters … and, really, a lot more.

So, this morning, I had a good moment. It came about because I was writing a note about Friday’s over-coffee marketing meeting about the book video being planned. The meeting had left it to me to think about voice-over passages that might be used from the book, and to do that, I started reading certain scenes again.

This is going to sound appallingly self-indulgent (not normally me, I hope!) but … I really liked them. I liked it, the book. I kept reading, well past the passages that offered possible lines to be spoken in a video.

The exercise was a feel-good moment. And it reminded me that behind all of what is now going on there’s a novel, a story, characters, a setting, something about to be shared. And shared in the hope that it will catch readers and engage them … and holds them for a while after.

It is a novel, and I still believe novels can matter. I write them in the hope they will.

Rainy Sunday entry

There is always a lot of talk on book-to-film, the issue of fidelity to the original material. Everyone knows the main parameters of discussion. That they are not the same medium, that they have different strengths, that a film fails if it tries to slavishly be the book on screen, and can fail (for readers) if it deviates too profoundly, in plot, casting, tone, or themes.

Leaving The Hobbit aside, since I try not to talk to much about Tolkien-related issues, the mixture of outrage and bemusement over the casting of Tom Cruise recently as Jack Reacher (in the film of a book by Lee Child) has been extreme. Reacher, for those not in the loop, is vividely described in all the books as being really big and strong, about 6’5″ or so, and it isn’t just a throwaway fact, it is at the core of the character: a man who causes other men to shrink a bit, whenever he enters a room. He is massively physical. Cruise … isn’t. Yet despite readers’ howls of dismay, Lee Child is on record, whether sincerely or as a good soldier, in saying he thinks Cruise ‘nailed it’.

We’ve done ‘Casting Couches for my various books. In the Bright Weavings Forums, on the Pinterest board, and recently on the Facebook page as part of a draw for an ARC of River of Stars. I make Danny De Vito jokes and (mostly) enjoy the indications of how readers ‘see’ people. I do remind people that hair colour or anything like that is not an important criterion. Easy to adjust. Go for the acting skill. I have my own wishlist (for directors, too) but tend to keep boringly quiet on this, too, as there are real discussions going on all the time. It wouldn’t be smart to diss someone who might be part of a major proposal. (I may have killed the De Vito-as-Diarmuid option already.)

I’m also intrigued by artists offering their takes on scenes or characters from the books. The very nature of visual art seems to allow more room for interpretation. (Not always, this week sees a lot of debate over the unveiled first royal portrait of Kate Middleton.) In fact, when Deborah and I were discussing Bright Weavings, one request I made was that the site try to encourage submissions of scholarship and art.

So to round this rainy morning post off, I’m attaching two works from the Art Gallery on the main site (get there by clicking at the top here, to see some other artwork submitted over the years – Deb, consulting with my artist friend Martin Springett, acts as curator in selecting).

The first is by Naomi Tajtelbaum. Her comment on the site reads, in part,

“My sister introduced me to GGK’s works when I was a teenager, starting with Tigana, which has remained my favourite novel ever since… I chose the riselka since it is a fantastical creature and therefore I felt I could use license to give it an abstract image… I tried to bring in imagery from the book; if you examine it carefully you will find three faint paths and faces. One of the paths includes some gold, whereas one of the faces looks drawn, possibly ill, and one of the paths is branching. The colours mirror the colours used in the description of the riselka, the greens and blues and purples…”

The other piece (there are many I could have picked) accompanied the Washington Post’s review of Under Heaven. Artist Goni Montes called it a ‘dream job’. The piece is called ‘Peony’ and the slight irony is that this image would also be a terrific one for River of Stars, because a Peony Festival in springtime plays a role in the novel. (It was called the ‘king of flowers’ by some, though there is irony there, too, as neo-Confucian purists saw it as too ‘feminine’.) Here’s that one. I like the way the horses, so critical in the novel, are quietly integrated:



The scribbling trade teaches you a few things, if you stay with it. (Save. Back up. Check for hair in chaos before readings.)

But one of the strongest, earliest lessons for me was realizing that writing books is a dialogue not a monologue. Readers bring themselves to your books, to their responses to your books. That means their literary preferences, their nature, their mood of the month, week, hour.

One’s person’s erotic scene, as I have often said, is another’s pornography and a third person’s boring skim-the-pages. Same with a character’s inner monologue, a battle scene, a historical reflection. Well, that last is unlikely to be anyone’s porn, but you know what I mean.

That truth is what underlies the idea that no artist can please everyone encountering their work. Beyond that, it is why, as readers, we often try a book once, put it aside as not working for us at all, then read it later (sometimes not that long after) and love it. Or why we love a book at 15 and wince, re-reading it at 40.

I had a very early encounter with someone willing to fail a university course because he refused to read The Darkest Road. It was not a considered literary judgment. He had, I learned from his professor, actually ‘fallen in love’ with my character, Kim Ford, and was revolted that the author (moi) could be so vile and degraded as to have her sleep with an old man when they weren’t even married. He would not give any more of his reading time to such a person. I learned something from that. Dialogue, not monologue.

A theme of Ysabel is how being 15 today here in the west is radically different from what it has meant in earlier cultures. Ned’s progression in the novel, his taking charge at the end, his parents’ accepting this, feeds into that theme, and there are pretty explicit references to it (I wasn’t being hypersubtle with this.) Juliet, in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was, famously, twelve years old. But some readers have been startled or even angry that there is erotic banter and a half-promise for the future between Ned and Melanie at the end of the novel. The age gap, and today’s sexual ethics trump all for them (including any thinking about what has just happened to Melanie, what she has been, and is just emerging from). So, for these readers, that motif is just inaccessible, it crashes too hard into ‘what they are’ as I mentioned at the top here.

Responses to the core theme of Tigana, the obliteration of cultural identity, range amazingly widely. From those who just don’t get it, don’t even register it, just see the novel as another fantasy adventure (good one, bad one, whatever … look at the on-camera discussion on “Sword & Laser”), and other readers (often in parts of the world that have experienced such cultural oppression) who ask me, powerfully and often, ‘Were you writing about us?’

Those questions are deeply moving. So are comments from readers who stress that they are not normally made emotional or deeply thoughtful by books, but found themselves in that space reading mine. How do you not feel rewarded by such shared feelings. Such as a comment like this one, to an earlier post on this Journal:

I also have been reading for as long as I can remember. I am a military man with several tours to combat, decorated for valor, and awarded the purple heart. I tell you this so you will understand I am not a man that falls prey to emotion. Your writing, all of it, speaks to something inside me. A part I keep buried safe so I can do my job. It is poetry, beautiful to read, and never fails to bring strong feelings out of me. No other author has moved me quite as much. Thank you. I look forward to the journey your next story will lead me on.

I was told a story in Zagreb one night, by a very big, physical man, who had also been a soldier, doing a forced tour of duty in the terrible wars of 20 years ago. He said (late night, after many drinks) that he would end up back in his barracks, with men he felt nothing in common with at all, after a day of horrendous violence, put on headphones to block sound, and use The Fionavar Tapestry, re-reading it, as a way of centering himself again, and accessing some elements of grandeur in the world and people. And he offered thanks, as well.

So let me, in turn, say thank you. When readers come forward to share stories, tell how the novels took them away from their usual responses, or offered access to ones they normally keep sheltered … it means a very great deal.

That is, I suppose, another aspect of the dialogue.

ARC Sightings

Well, ARCs are being sent out, people have started tweeting that they have them, which feels strange, I have to say.

It is an odd time for me, this stage, with every book. Probably so for any author. (Though I should qualify that, as the range of responses probably goes from catatonic terror to blithe indifference.) I am curious, edgy, have time and energy for a bit. Anyone need their roof reshingled? (Old joke about a handsome, inebriated guy who comes up to a woman in a bar and murmurs, ‘I will do anything for you that you can imagine, or think to ask. Anything. As long as you can say it in three words.’ She gazes deeply into his eyes and whispers, ‘Paint. My. House.’)

Thing is, every reader of a novel, up to a certain point, is someone personally connected with the writer or with his or her ‘partners’ (agents, publishers, marketing people). It can be fine-tuned, revised. Then there is a point where … it is in the wild, as I said in the header. No more amendments, revisions, no more working on the cover or jacket copy…

There’s another very old meme about revised famous last words. So for Admiral Farragut the revision goes, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! … No! Wait!’ Authors can be like that. Paul Valery said, ‘A poem is never finished, only abandoned.’

But a novel being sent out, as River of Stars is now, isn’t so much abandoned as released to the world. Different feeling.

There is a two-tier process at work with the ARCs. Review newspapers, magazines, online journals get them now, because many of them need a long lead time to assign a book for review (or for an author interview or profile). They observe the convention of holding reviews back until publication date (so that people can read a review and go buy the book).

Bloggers tend more often to be solo operators, need less time (generally, there are exceptions) to get to a book, and so that batch will go out in February. And the dynamic for these things online is very different. I’ve had, easily, some of the most thoughtful, engaged, informed reviews of my work from online sources. For one thing, there’s more room, usually. That matters. 400-500 words let you say what ia book is about (sometimes with spoilers!) and whether you like it. Not much more. Give a smart person room to explore a book and … you might get something  worth reading.

The Author as Dread Pirate Roberts

Nothing about e-book piracy, no. Benign New Year’s mood this afternoon, en route soon to a January 1 levée some friends hold every year. Host makes superb Bloody Caesars (Canadian riff on Bloody Mary). A good way to start the year.

My wishes to all gathering or sojourning here for a healthy and rewarding 2013.

No, the header is anticipating the nervous circling of desks for protection-from–ferocious-author at my various agents and publishers when the break ends. As I mentioned before, I get a huge burst of energy when a book is finally out of my hands. Some of it is time freed up, some is busywork to distract me from sadness and the usual feeling of ‘if I had another few months …’ but mostly it is a response to accumulated to-dos that get shelved as the books are pushed hard to the finish line.

Once that happens (finish line) there are a lot of post-its on my desk and notes on my desktop and in what I am pleased to call my memory for things to check on or request.

The range is ridiculously broad. Examples. We are changing publishers in China for Under Heaven and thus for River of Stars. My existing house in Shanghai has been folded into a government controlled house in Beijing and the entire publishing programme changes when that happens! (And this is a new one for me in a long career of international editions and houses.)

We need to sort out the charity fundraiser auction for the first book off the press in Canada for River (we have done this four times now, a gesture I always like). Tour dates and gigs have to be firmed up fairly soon for April (some have already been posted online by the venues – Vancouver on April 17th). Some of this comes from the ‘other end’ as bookstores or media request gigs or interviews. (Interviews are, more and more, done online these days.) A UK announcement/press release for River is in the works. Any day. There is film stuff. Always. Usually time-consuming, usually amounts to a tease. But…

The terrific Elena Stokes and Tanya Farrell of Wunderkind PR come on board again this week (they were with us on Under Heaven) to help with marketing and publicity, and coordination is going to be important. Theirs are names I’ll likely mention often as the next months unfold. I may also tease. Actually, it is a lock that I will.

ARCS start going out from NY and Toronto, a few already have (and the winner of the FaceBook ARC contest will be sent hers this week, too). Negotiations are underway at my agents for various foreign editions and I want to have discussions with about a couple of countries where they are getting tangled. (The recession in Europe is hitting the book world, too – no surprise.)

A book video needs to be made. For reasons I’ll explain later (promise), we’re hoping to have it done by early February.

Book videos are a newish and interesting aspect of the business and again everyone is still figuring them out. My own sense is they matter most for YA books, as the target audience views them again and again (‘Is that actor hot enough to play Biff?’). But they are in play for all books now. My filmmaker son has even formed a company, Kove Productions, to do these for authors and publishers. ( I may do a longer post on this topic later. Someone remind me.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg in the River (ahem). I don’t want to even think about metaphors of crashing into it.

How ’bout that Adrian Peterson? Vikings will very likely lose in Green Bay on Saturday, but it was quite the game Sunday.