The pace picks up

You know how runners in a long race save a sprint for the final kick? That’s how today felt, as if the bell for the last lap just went off.

There’s no formal reason why so much hit today, but a blizzard of things happened all at once. Late yesterday Penguin/NAL in New York learned that River was getting a starred review in Library Journal next week. We had to wait for confirmation that it was all right to report this before publication, and offer a quote. That came this morning. Starred reviews are really important, over and above being really nice. They play a big role in library orders. With budgets obviously limited, librarians will often take cues from LJ as to what the big or best books are in a given season and those are the ones they order.

The quote clip? I’m sure the PR/marketing people will ‘pull’ their own, but this sounds awfully good to me:

“Kay’s historical fantasy … portrays a world of changing traditions, casual cruelty, and strict codes of honor and respect… A powerful and complex tale told with simplicity and elegance.”

If I’m betting, I’ll wager that on the paperbacks next year just the last line will be used … shorter is better there, usually.

Just after that exchange, I heard from my New York editor that she’d received their first copies of the book this morning, it looked gorgeous, and she was having a first one rushed on to me. (I’ll get a box or two in due course.) Then my Toronto editor tweeted she’d just received her first book and it ‘made her day’. She also sent over a bottle of single malt (Ardbeg, which happens to be really, really good). And then one of my UK editors reported that their ARCs had arrived on her desk (remember, UK is coming out later, in July).

Meanwhile publicists in New York and Toronto reported in emails through the day of interviews firmed up and pitches being made to major media (these may or may not hit, obviously, but people are working hard here). And then my agency confirmed that details of our recent agreements in France (for Under Heaven) and Macedonia (for the Sarantine Mosaic) were both now being announced.

As I said, it felt like a lot was picking up, all at once. It is misleading, of course, as there can be – there will be – utterly quiet, uneventful days (weeks!) ahead, but from first morning emails until now it has felt like a high-octane day.

Well, with the caveat that an idiot referee made a complete hash of a wonderfully dramatic, high stakes game at Old Trafford between Man U and Real Madrid today. Hate when the officials take over – and destroy – a game.


Sunday morning: Stoppard the press!

One coffee and a bad pun hits the header. What else is new?

I have Tom Stoppard on my mind this morning, though, and I haven’t even seen the production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead that is in town. But I did watch Parade’s End this week, and Anna Karenena last night, and both are written by him.

The television mini-series is exceptionally good, the film is a misconceived mess. Go figure. Or, perhaps, think about how incredibly hard it is to make great art, how much ‘accident’ comes into it – especially when collaborative work is involved, as is the case with film and television.

Parade’s End, adapted from the Ford Madox Ford novels, has gotten some smart, superb reviews but most of them seem to be guarded, suggesting it is ‘no Downton Abbey‘ and that the characters are ‘harder to relate to’. Yes, thank God. What is so good about it, for me, is that it is so wittily and movingly (both!) grownup.

People are sometimes difficult to relate to, or to fully grasp. Not everyone in our life, or in a book or film, behaves in ways that we ‘get’ immediately. People can be complex, so can relationships. Not everyone in a work of art is someone who will be either our best friend forever or deeply and obviously evil. (I suppose someone can theoretically be both if we see ourselves as Loyal Henchperson #14!)

(You can probably see where I am going with this by now.)

Parade’s End (which is not flawless as the tone wobbles at times) features a really difficult man, and part of the series is about that. It is explored. He is so ‘virtuous’ he can be impossible to live with. Rectitude and principle can be a problem in personal lives. His wife  Sylvia (a stunning, can’t take your eyes off her, Rebecca Hall) is manipulative, maddening, sexually disloyal, and yet in complex ways (that word again!) a victim of her husband’s nature. It is a relationship that does not satisfy any desire for ‘clarity’, it isn’t easily summarized, and that’s what I found so wonderful about the acting and writing (and directing). If an audience (or the reader of a novel) want spelled-out simplicities, some works will frustrate. If they want a window into the way life works, in all its inconclusiveness morally, Parade’s End is wonderful. (It is also often very funny.)

Anna Karenina, the book, is even greater. It is greater than almost anything written. Tolstoy’s genius (which he seems not to have understood himself, later in life – read Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox on that) is to have an huge and intuitive grasp of so many different kinds of people and relationship. His compassion and his ‘eye’ give us a sense, reading him, of living the lives in the book. The new film undermines this with an almost shocking completeness. By choosing to emphasize artifice, setting the film mostly (not even entirely, abandoning consistency) in a theatre setting, the writer and director declare everything to be artifice. We are set back from the tragedy of Anna (and the eventual harmony of Levin and Kitty). The film becomes all about its own cleverness, and the subtext is: a modern audience cannot ‘relate’ to 19th century Russia. The story needs a ‘window’ of fakery to give us distance, just as we are distant from that time.

Almost every shot draws attention to its own cleverness. We watch the movie being made, not the story being told. And somehow – I would never have thought this possible – talented people conspire to actually make Anna herself unsympathetic.Tolstoy is natural and humane and encompassing. The film is smart people putting a gimmick on screen. It dances as fast as it can to distract. It juggles and plays the kazoo.

For me, the takeaway from the two works, aside from the remarkable fact of the same scriptwriter (a brilliant man) doing two works in the same year or two with such dramatically different results, is this: Parade’s End on television respects the viewer. Anna Karenina on screen doesn’t trust its material or its audience at all.

For some time I have been saying, as a riff on Tennessee Williams in Streetcar Named Desire, ‘I have always relied on the intelligence of strangers.’ I do. I try to trust my story and my readers, both. To not be afraid of subtlety, ambiguity, complexity, or the attempt, as best I can manage, to be thoughtful within a page-turner.

The two Stoppard works I just watched have crystallized my awareness of all of this. I am also, as it happens, re-reading War and Peace, and I just wrote an essay on re-reading in general. (I’ll let you know where it ends up.)

Needed to do something to get over the apprehension of how bad the Yankees are likely to be this year.


Love of Reading 1st book Auction

Last month’s charity auction of an ARC (I ended up offering 3, to raise $1000) for the Grim Oak fundraiser for paying medical bills for people in the sf/fantasy community was an unexpected one. I learned about Duane Wilkin’s medical issues and contacted Shawn Speakman to offer an ARC for his fundraiser. (Scroll down here or check the archives to get that story).

This current one is dear to my heart, with some history. This will be (unless I have lost count) the 4th time we’ve auctioned the worldwide first book off the press of my newest title. The details of the charity are below, I’ll just say that I have always seen literacy and reading as empowering, a way forward for young people, whether girls in Pakistan or underprivileged children in Canada. That’s why we’ve used Indigo’s “Love of Reading” charity as our beneficiary.

The auction of the first book of River of Stars went live last night on eBay and word is being spread this morning. The same person has ‘won’ all three of the previous auctions, he’s probably going for a collection! I will hope people challenge for it, and make this a good event for a good cause. I am really grateful to Penguin for setting this up, and to Indigo for partnering. The auction ends on March 10th.

The bidding link is here:

And here’s the formal announcement by Penguin. Go crazy.

A chance at auction to win the FIRST copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s RIVER OF STARS

To celebrate the worldwide launch of international bestseller Guy Gavriel Kay’s much anticipated new novel River of Stars, Penguin Canada is auctioning the first book of the first print run, autographed by the author. Signed and verified by the printer and the publisher, this first copy includes a product identification slip and letter from the printing press identifying the book as the first copy printed of the first edition.

All proceeds from the auction will be donated to Indigo Books & Music, Inc.’s Love of Reading Fund ( The fund directly supports high-needs elementary school literacy programs across Canada.

Inspired by the glittering and decadent Song Dynasty, River of Stars immerses us into an epic tale of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, nomadic invasions and of a woman fighting to find her place in the world. Guy Gavriel Kay, once again, astonishes with his skilled balance of fantasy, historical fiction, romance, and literary style and craft that results in an unforgettable journey destined to be one of his greatest achievements to date.

River of Stars will go on-sale in Canada and the United States on April 2, 2013.