Just back from the Word on the Street book fair in Saskatoon. It was a terrific visit. The fair, in just its third year, is very much together already. I was interviewed on stage by the generous man and fine author (yes, people can be both) Arthur Slade. Had drinks and dinners with fellow authors, walked the riverside in  glorious end-of-summer sunshine, signed books for lots of readers and chatted with them. What’s not to enjoy?

One reader/volunteer threw me with a question after the on-stage event. ‘Why didn’t you talk more about Ysabel? That’s my favourite.’

People can move you and disconcert you simultaneously. I could have said, ‘Meet me halfway: ask about it!’ (There was a Q&A at the end.) But in fact I was touched and didn’t feel like joking. One of the things I have always liked is how it every one of the books is a favourite of some readers. Ysabel is tricky to talk about, actually. Need to avoid a major spoiler, and it requires some unpacking of my usual process to discuss how it is a mirror-image of many of the books that frame it. Instead of taking readers into a period of history, I brought the past into today, which allowed me to comment on some themes of history. (The different meaning of being ‘young’ through time, for example, or landscape, beauty, and violence.)

Here’s a picture Art had taken late on Sunday afternoon, of himself (on the right), me, and Yann Martel (author of Life of Pi, of course):


News arrived regarding French editions. L’Atalante, my publisher over there, announced that Under Heaven will be published next summer, and Alire, who publish me in Quebec sent a  copy of Quebec’s Book Club’s handsome edition of that book (I’ll upload an image when I get a jpeg). Elisabeth Vonarburg is to translate River of Stars for them, which makes me very happy. She’s a friend, a gifted author, and has done most of my work.

Various discussions in L.A. continue, but I still can’t relay any ‘real’ information. It is a bizarre place, you know. You do know that, don’t you?

Tomorrow I’m off to Italy for a short trip. Partly a fall getaway, but some work involved. I plan to get to Torcello in Venice’s lagoon, to see the mosaics there and lunch at the inn/restaurant where Hemingway hid in 1948 to write Across the River and Into the Trees.

September song

The title isn’t meant to be all that nuanced. I just love the song, and, well, it is the month.

I had coffee with my film agent, Jerry Kalajian, yesterday here in Toronto. He comes in for TIFF, our film festival, this time every year. Each time we sit down I am reminded of how staggeringly different the film world is from the book world. There aren’t really that many Harvey Weinsteins in publishing and the tone and style are rather more controlled. (The knives can be as sharp, mind you.) A salient aspect is that films are so expensive. The risk-factor is enormous, people get cautious and frightened, in direct proportion to that.

One of the amusing aspects of book to film, as Jerry keeps reminding me, is how incredibly hard it is to get Hollywood people to read things. The most common model is for a studio or producer to have a book ‘covered’, which is to say, pay someone to read it and write a précis. That is what gets read. To be covered by someone important is ‘a good thing’. Everyone now thinking double entrendre, just … calm down. It is early in the morning.

I’d share what is playing out except I still can’t and – as so often – it would be a tease, as many, many (many) discussions and explorations end up as no more than discussions and explorations. I will say that Danny deVito is (once more) not part of any process, despite all the endless cries for him to play Ammar, if Lions ever gets done.

Travel is shaping up more firmly for fall. I am in Saskatoon next week for their Word on the Street festival. I’ll be interviewed on the Sunday at 12 by the fine Saskatchewan author Arthur Slade. Another author friend, Derryl Murphy, who also lives there, has promised to give careful thought as to best bars and restaurants. Derryl is reliable in such matters. The other ‘Guy’, the truly excellent Guy Vanderhaeghe, will also be at the Festival, causing too many people to think of the same jokes, no doubt. The good bars may be rendered even more critical.

I’m in Italy later this month, mostly a short holiday, some work, but when you are in Italy the work is a holiday.

I have two events at the International Festival of Authors here at the end of October. IFOA is one of the great author festivals in the world, in fact (just as TIFF is for film). I’ll give fuller details nearer the day. Then, on November 12th I am doing a reading/talk/signing/juggling display (not) in Halifax. More details on that later, too.

Topic shift. Read something very good I want to share. The novelist Jim Crace, shortlisted for the Man Booker this year for Harvest, said in an interview that writing fiction for him involves turning his logs into donkeys.

What did he mean? Seems he was on a desert tour some time ago, woke in the morning and told his guide he’d slept like a log. The guide looked perplexed. Crace gazed around at sand and a distant thornbush and realized there were no logs thereabouts. He explained, the guide said he’d slept like a dead donkey. Crace came up with his point: we need language, metaphors, ways of thinking and seeing, that fit the setting in which we are working. Logs to donkeys. I think it is a terrific way to describe a central aspect of imaginative empathy in fiction.