Cover Reveal

And … here’s a first look at the elegant HarperCollins UK cover for River of Stars. It’ll be out in July there, though e-books are already available in that market .

This is an ambitious positioning of the book for a literary mainstream market, to be accompanied by targeted marketing to fantasy readers already established over there. Some talented, committed people are putting their heads to this process.

UK cover, River of Stars

UK cover, River of Stars

Homeward, Bond!

Back at my desk. Home for a bit.

I earned the much-coveted ‘Warrior Poet’ designation from the NY publicists after that crazy Friday dash to Seattle and the PBS studios. That, of course is far, far higher up the Secret Service echelons than a mere Road Warrior. It even gives up a license to make really bad puns in your headers. (Like I needed one…)

The PBS interview out there was a surprise, and I told the host, Terry Tazioli as much. Usually television is a fast 4-6 minutes on a morning show. (I’m in town, I wrote a book, I’m reading here tonight, I can tell a bad joke.) But we went close to 20 minutes of pretty lively conversation. Terry explained (and it was an explanation, that his own background is in print.) The show, ‘Well Read’ is broadening its outreach significantly this spring, beyond the Seattle (and Vancouver) area. It will be distributed to PBS stations nationwide, about 80 of them. A coup for them, and obviously useful for getting word out on River of Stars when the episode airs in May. Was worth gunning the Aston Martin through traffic from the airport to get there.

The evening at U of W bookstore Friday was – as I had anticipated – lovely. Could have gone longer but they wanted to close the bookstore for some reason (something about, er, staff wanting to get home, y’know). Nancy is so generally and generously enthused about books (and about mine) it is hard not to be on one’s game on a stage with her. The sequestered reading/events space was filled, with people standing at the back and it was a fun audience. (That means, in part, they decided I was funny when I was trying to be.)

It may be my imagination, but it seems to me after Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, that there may be an increase in Fionavar fans as I head for the coast. Interesting. The west coast is home ground for a lot of Tolkien fans, hence, maybe, traditional fantasy… probably a random sampling error, but had quite a few questions about the trilogy when I reached the Pacific.

Tomorrow morning is another favourite interview, every book. I’ll be in CBC studios here in Toronto, to be interviewed on the air by the wonderful Shelagh Rogers (who’ll be in Montreal this time, though we are both in Ottawa for their Writer’s Festival on the weekend). Shelagh is one of the best in the business, seriously smart, terrific sense of humour. She has already tweeted about putting on a ‘pun muzzle’ tomorrow. (Like that’ll help.)


Tracking the Boston news on a difficult day. Wordsworth wrote ‘The world is too much with us…’ and it has never been more true. We know (or are led to believe we know) so much, so quickly, and we see so much, at speed. The intensity can overwhelm even those calm by nature.

I’m in what feels to be a tiny, trivial irritation stage. Morning flight to Seattle from Victoria harbour was cancelled by fog. Scrambled onto the 1 PM, and publicists back in NY scrambled my noon tv interview to 3:00 which will require very fast driving. Frazzled Author Enters Studio – Celebrated Composure To Follow!

A good night here, interviewed on stage by novelist Rob Wiersema, after a short reading (Shan’s intro again). Signed a lot of books, urged people waiting in line to make friends with each other, because – I always say, and mean – I have really interesting readers. The mother of one couple – who ‘met’ on the forums, and later met in life, and married – came to get a book signed for the two of them, to mail to England. Too cool. Really.

Tonight will be on stage and television with the utterly splendid Nancy Pearl at U of Washington bookstore. Look forward to it hugely. Nancy was just in Bosnia on a world of books tour, pushing reading as a way of bonding. That’ll be a pre-event dinner topic, probably. Fascinates me. And we can use things that bond us these days, and always.


Sometimes an evening comes together unexpectedly well. I had no idea what to anticipate from the Vancouver Writer’s Festival event last night at the main library branch. It was a shared reading/Q&A with the writer Ruth Ozeki (who lives in B.C. now). I’d read her book and liked it a lot, and was looking forward to meeting her. But one academic friend had emailed me last week saying he’d only learned of the event from me, when I emailed about saying hello beforehand.

His miss, not the organizers’, it turned out. I walked into the library with my brother about 30 minutes ahead (for the Green Room meet-up) and there was a major line or 200+ already snaking through the corridor, waiting for them to open the doors. Yes, evidence there’s a crowd does reassure.

In the Green Room, Ruth turned out to be smart and fun, and then we got a surprise request back there from a Chinese tv crew asking for fast interviews to air over there for World Book Day next week. Couldn’t have been better timed: last week I signed off with my agents on a new two book deal in Chinese for Under Heaven and River of Stars with Chongqing Publishers. (Some will remember that Under Heaven was sold in China, before the house doing it was merged – or bought out – by another, and the joint entity officially withdrew from doing foreign language translations of fiction. They reverted the rights to the book to us, and the agents got to work.) It was nice to be able to talk about this to viewers in China.

On stage, it was a seriously full house. Ruth read exceptionally well from A Tale for the Time Being – she did her own audio book recording (unusual) and it was easy to see why they’d asked her. She does short sections to offer the ‘voices’ of several characters, and since she’s being touring awhile, the reading was polished and engaging – and ended right on time, a sign of a pro.

I talked a little about context for River, after a few thank you remarks, then ‘introduced’ Shan to the audience in the reading from Chapter 2 I’ve been alternating with the passage from Chapter 8. By now I can almost always tell if an audience is with me, and I had that feeling last night.

After, Hal Wake, who runs the Author’s Festival came on to say some over-the-top generous things about the two readings (‘I’ve heard a lot of readings, trust me…’) and we had some terrific questions. Ruth and I were already easy enough together to turn to each other and hand off comments and have some dialogue, riffing on what we were asked. It was just relaxed and enjoyable, even warm. I did have (alas?) one frivolous moment (to offset a few ‘curmudgeon’ mini-rants). Someone asked what I’d tell my 20 year old self if I could talk to him, and I said (forgive!) ‘Buy Apple.’

I then played it straight and did a short bit on the idea of ‘don’t imagine all your decisions and choices are of apocalyptic significance, things shift and evolve’… (But buy Apple, too. When it is invented.)

We signed for a long time, and I was reaffirmed, yet again, in a career-long sense of what generous, thoughtful readers I have. Signing lineups are (pretty obviously) not the place for any kind of real conversation, but people manage to make their intelligence and decency show through. I feel lucky every time. It was a good night.

To Victoria in an hour, the little float plane I love. What I don’t love is having a winter coat (read Winnipeg entry, below!) as I pass through mild coastal weather. I feel like I am lumbering down from mining in the Yukon. Kay of the Klondike, at a bookstore near you!

Home… and away

It is a challenge to do proper Journal posts on the road, though it is a part of the whole idea of the journal, so I shouldn’t wimp out right?

Yesterday was a complex day. On the local level, a snowstorm hit here in Winnipeg. I joked on tv and radio interviews it was clearly a ‘welcome home’ message for me, and I was duly appreciative.

Midway through a day careening about town in snow with Rorie Bruce, publicist here, we learned at CBC radio, waiting to do an interview, about the Boston bombing. I ended up making reference to it at the outset of my booktalk at the splendid McNally Robinson event last night. Would have felt wrong not to. I made that my (small) point: how the larger events of the world are, and always have been, backdrops to the traumas and joys of our own lives. In the Sarantium books I am probably most explicit about this in my writing, The death of an emperor less important to the couple having their first child, or the farm family that loses a crucial labourer to a broken leg just before harvest time.

The evening itself was warm and even nurturing, which is part of returning home sometimes – if we are lucky. I talked for awhile about the underlying motifs of the two main characters in the novel, then read from chapter two, introducing Shan, the female protagonist. There was a really good-sized crowd for what turned out to be a mild enough night after a miserable day.

Really good reviews and some further interviews are continuing to pop up online. One thing I like: it actually looks as if some reviewers are trying to raise their own language game as they address River of Stars. I feel touched by that, too, to be honest. But I want to write something sometime about book reviewers who describe a story then add or discuss language separately. For me, the way I write a book, the language used, is completely part of the story you are hearing, or reading. It isn’t icing on top of some cake. And that applies to how I read other writers, too.

Vancouver, later today. Am assuming (relying upon?) better weather. Event is tomorrow night, reading in tandem with Ruth Ozeki, at the main library. Free tickets needed, same as was the case in Toronto. That’s a library thing, it seems.

Photo Op

So, when your editor chooses to add #borntojudge to her tweet saying she’s ready to deal with the photos entered in the ’50 Shades of Kay’ contest, it makes you pay attention. In the end, I said, ‘we’ve been together too long’ as the two of us were in startling agreement. Nicole did send this note for posting here:

It was a tougher decision than I expected it to be because so many of the submissions were thoughtful, bold and clever, but I did find myself especially drawn to the photos of people reading in settings that reflect their own lives.  Reading is such an important part of our lives but the experience of it is different for each of us and I was really struck by the photos that showed that.

That made sense as a way of thinking for us. Trust an editor/publisher to angle it that way. More than just the book, people intersecting with it. I actually noted 7 or 8 I smiled at. One with a beer and a pipe at sunset outside, one in a snowbank, a couple of witty riffs on the contest title, one in a museum with an ancient bronze. All the others can be seen at the Twitter hashtag #riverofstars and I think that photos are also being uploaded to the Forums at, for those without access to twitter, and to archive them there.

But we actually got to three pretty smoothly, using a lovely little webtool that gathered them all – created for us by the splendid Anar Simpson of llearth (@llearth). And so, first, here are the two that just missed.

Shh! Mommy's reading

Shh! Mommy’s reading

This was funny, ‘real’ and demonstrated impeccable low-key taste in blending robe and bedspread! The tbr pile on the beside table marks a reader, too.

And then this:

River of Stars in the wild, both figuratively and literally

River of Stars in the wild, both figuratively and literally

This was beautiful and evocative: a really professional shot and composition, matched with a witty caption. I had used ‘in the wild’ to refer to the book being first released and seen ‘out there’. There’s even a slight hint of the ‘bound’ theme that (alas?) got into the contest with the ’50 Shades’ idea.

And finally, our winner:

Squeezing an air refuel in between chapters...

Squeezing an air refuel in between chapters…

As Nicole said (and I had to agree) it really is hard to top (!) a setting like this for a book photo. A lot of us read on the job. Few of us can … well, you know. I am guessing all viewers of the picture are grateful for the presence of the other pilot!

And I am grateful to all who entered. It was a small, fun idea when it started – and when the devious people at Wunderkind PR leaped on the joke about ’50 Shades of Kay’ – but it played out beautifully. Thanks to everyone, especially Nicole Winstanley, a good sport and a gamer if ever there was one.


The List

Yes, to champagne.

River of Stars debuted in publication week at #1 on the hardcover bestseller lists of both Maclean’s – Canada’s national newsmagazine -and the Canadian Booksellers’ Association. The lists are very different (bestseller lists often are) but River tops both.

It means a lot, personally, and for the publishers, and going forward in all markets.

An author writes his or her books, but needs help, even if self-publishing, in bringing them to the world, or the world to the books. The people at Penguin Canada have collectively done a great deal to make this happen.

Looking ahead, this means that ‘National #1 Bestseller’ can be used in ads, in all press releases, on the next editions. Other markets can do an old variant which is ‘International #1 Bestseller’ and, as my agent in New York said today, ‘people pay attention in this business to a #1.’

So it is all good. I’m still thinking about that moment on publication day when I closed the door here and just paged through the novel, keeping it a story, something shaped over time with a lot of care. I hang on to that sense as much as I can.

But we’ll have a glass of champagne at dinner, and I have a long-booked single malt tasting group later this evening. I’m expecting all the scotch to taste good tonight.

Project Bookmark

Today’s post is mostly about Canada, and books, but the concept should appeal to everyone who reads, and there’s a giveaway at the end. I’m the ‘face’ of Project Bookmark for April 9th.


Canadians are often accused, and often accurately, of not flashing any measure of pride – or even awareness – concerning our own history. Quick, name three Fathers of Confederation. For American or other contestants, let’s try: quick, name a Canadian not named Justin Bieber. (Yes, Virginia, he’s Canadian.)

It can be argued that muting a sense of national identity means not getting caught up in the craziness that can go with that. But it is also true that it can leave a people feeling rootless, unconnected, lacking a history, lacking stories. And people who have read me know I see a lot of value in historical awareness and storytelling.

Project Bookmark is a national campaign to place plaques with words – from books and stories and poems – on buildings and at sites where those very scenes and images are set. They don’t honour military or political leaders from here or anywhere else. They recognize the writers and the narratives and the places. They tell anyone walking by that here, right here, something happened in a creative work. That this exact place plays a role in a work of art.

Have a look at their website. Tell me you don’t think this is cool:

This month, Project Bookmark has asked a number of writers to help them raise their profile, generate national (and international) awareness of an exercise in honouring storytellers and their stories and places and history. How, seriously, would I have declined to participate? There’s a movement afoot, they tell me, to place one of the plaques on Philosopher’s Walk at University of Toronto, to recognize the scene in The Summer Tree that takes place there.

Each writer has a designated day. I’m today, April 9, and anyone coming along with me in donating $20 to Project Bookmark today – and thus becoming a ‘Page Turner’ for them – will be entered into a draw to receive a signed copy of River of Stars. That’s a bonus, though I’m extremely happy to offer it. The cause is the reward.

Join me?

Afternoon before…

Quiet Sunday, which I can use, to be honest. I just drafted another small essay on request, likely it’ll go online during the coming week. Was naive enough to be startled by just how ‘powerful’ Ars Technica is. That video interview I did in New York went online yesterday and I’m told that a search for my name with a limited time range shows page after page of that and various other sites linking to it. I’m grateful for Cesar Torres who did the review, discussion, and edited the interview. As I said when I wrote about it here, you never know how an interview went until you see it. I do bite my tongue once on the video, laughing, because Cesar asks a ‘nature of the universe’ question about what my books show. Call it my Michael Jordan imitation (basketball fans will get that). The piece is here:

Spent part of the day at the Ad Astra convention yesterday and read from River again: a longer passage, as there was no interview to follow. The longer scene that seems to work is from chapter eight, in Chunyu (for those who have gotten that far). In the evening, sat in on a concert by Martin and Rebecca Springett, they played ‘Shan’s Theme’ from his River of Stars Suite, among other pieces.

What is the collective noun for a gorup of booksellers? (Go ahead, give it your best shot!). An index of booksellers, a shelf of booksellers, a biblio of booksellers? In any case, I am lunching and chatting tomorrow, escorted by Trish of Penguin, with about 30-35 of them at the head offices of Indigo Books here in Toronto. I like book people, for all the obvious reasons, and I find it interesting to get reports from the front lines. How are the books selling, where are they shelved, who are the buyers? Word of mouth is still a dominant factor, and I have always been generously supported by the people in stores who actually sell the books.

Tuesday, as I mentioned the other day, is a different kind of meeting. I’ll be online from 8-10 EDT at the huge website, reddit, ‘the front page of the internet’. The discussion is called AMA, for Ask Me Anything, and the last one I did there, last year, was a lot of fun. The discussion page goes live on Tuesday morning for questions to be posted, and I show up in the evening with a drink at my elbow and fire away with bad puns, er, cogent, lucid replies. You get there Tuesday by clicking here:

Thursday evening I am reading and talking and signing for the very fine Words Worth Books in Waterloo. Starts at 7, but not at the store. They’ve booked the Princess Twin theatre on King St, and to defray that they are charging $5 a head, although 2 free tickets are being given for each copy of River purchased. Independent bookstores need to defray these costs when they have to book an external space for a large crowd and Words Worth is a great indie. We like those.

Morning after the night before

I worry about sounding banal in doing descriptions of events. How interesting is it to read, ‘It was a really enjoyable night.’? Not very, I suspect.

The dynamics of a launch event are, as I’ve said, affected by the venue. A pub gives one vibe, a formal theatre another. This room in the library was not where I read three years ago. It was a more newly-built upper reception room, really beautiful, a few people said it would be a great space in which to get married. They did have a bar, there were a lot of people, full house it turned out, and the reception hour before going on stage gave me a chance to say hello to some friends, and for some readers to come by and do the same. That’s a good thing, doesn’t always happen. These things can be impersonal, this one wasn’t.

I read from chapter two, introducing Shan, the female protagonist. Short reading, as I knew the interview/conversation was to follow. Then walked over over to the armchairs where Laurie Grassi, Books Editor of Chatelaine was waiting. I said, ‘Ready to pounce,’ she said, ‘I’m not that tough.’

She wasn’t, but she was really good. Witty and sharp, well-prepared. Good questions and a skill I have mentioned, which is responding to the answer given, not just moving on the next query on the prep sheet. There were some surprises, which I always like. I prefer being made to think by a question, not just roll out answers I am familiar with by now.

You can almost always get a feel for an audience during a reading or talk by how they react to the small jokes. If you get a laugh from throwaways, that’s a good thing. And a part of my own mantra about respecting the reader spills into these events: I really try not to do glib sound bite answers. (I will on television, or they never want to see you again.)

We got a chance to talk about why I infuse elements of the supernatural into history, the theme of ‘exile’ I’d just written an essay about, a smart question abut whether the ‘universality’ of using the fantastic means any story could be in any setting (it can’t, and the query let me spell out why). The way every society (and every person) shapes an interpretation of the past, usually to serve a purpose. Also, roles allowed women in periods of history in general, and the Song Dynasty in particular.

And, don’t ask me how, Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the 1960 World Series came up, and then again, and then again. We had talked about how all the themes in a novel aren’t worked out ahead of time (not by me, anyhow), that some slip in and establish themselves: that’s what that damned home run did last night!

After, I had my usual angsty feeling facing a long signing line. I never want to rush people, often they do have things they want to say or ask and only this one chance, but I am endlessly aware that there are people way back in the room and they’ll have a long, long wait. I tell people that I have interesting readers, they should make friends while waiting.

One of my own oldest friends waited it out and spirited me away for a drink and a bite to eat after. He knows the period that inspired River of Stars really well, is about to defend his later-in-life Ph.D dissertation on it, and made me laugh by saying after the reading and talk he could not read the novel till he’s done – or he’d be terrified of blurring my ‘quarter-turn to the fantastic’ and the real period he needs to focus on for another few weeks. I laughed, because it happens to me while writing all the time. I shift back and forth in names, even my sense of ‘what happened’.

It was good to wrap the night with someone I’ve been so close to since we were in school.