6, 5, 4, 3 …

There is a strange, stage-by-stage aspect to finishing a book. One feels done so many different times. Obviously when the last word is typed (for the first time). Then when the manuscript is revised following input from editors, agents, trusted friends, sagacious bus drivers. Then comes the copy-editor, and I review mine – Catherine Marjoribanks – (well, her work) just as she reviewed me. And that, just an hour ago, is what I’ve finished now. I’ve addressed all her notes, and sent the file back for her to clean up our marginalia and send to the publishers. Copy-editors, whatever they are paid, aren’t paid enough.

Catherine thinks she’s done six of my books (just proofreading the first time, copy-editing all the other times). We have a process by now. She knows what I need her to monitor, I know her fetishes. Indeed, this time she triumphantly reported catching me for the first time in an eye colour slip. I always ask her to check eye colour (light blue in an early chapter became dark blue much later in this one). I could say I planted it to give her something to exult about but I’d be lying, and you’d all know it.

These really are comma, semi-colon, paragraph break, tense shift, word-choice wars. And if everyone promises not to tell her, I’ll say I end up enjoying it. I think she does, too. She tells me she does. (‘You probably say that to all your authors.’) We have little dialogues in the margins. It is a pleasure to engage with someone for whom such tiny aspects of language and writing matter, as they do for me. If I use ‘stet’ a lot (‘revert to original’ is what it means) I do so knowing that whenever I do buy a proposed change, it has made the book better. The time I spend assessing and often not accepting is simply part of what one does with a book one cares about.

Next stages involve the production departments. Children of Earth and Sky will now be typeset – it’ll look as it will when people read it – and Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) in some to-be-determined quantity will be printed. The ARCs will start winging forth to selected victims (empowered recipients, whatever) late in the year, ahead of the May release. These go to the early reviewers, influencers, sagacious bus drivers of this world.

Meanwhile, the typeset pages come back to me and to a professional proofreader and we read for errors, slips, gaffes, typos. In theory. I am one of those writers (I know others) who use this late stage to make still more changes. Almost always just a word or punctuation shift by this point, for me, but this is also when I first see the book on a page, and it … just looks different. A version of the effect that happens if you read your writing aloud. I often make adjustments after doing that.

So, a brief downtime now, before I get the page proofs back in a couple of weeks. One nice thing in the interval: next week I go to Ottawa to get my Order of Canada medal from the Governor General. We are members as soon as named (summer 2014, for me), but the medals are presented with formal citations read out and a black tie banquet when a recipient is able to get to Ottawa on one of the dates they offer (some people take years to find time, I’m told). No jaded author here: I’m deeply honoured, and my mother is coming up with us. That part is pretty special.

Protocol does not dictate a curtsy or bow, by the way, but for those who really feel like it…





One Book’s Cover

I don’t know many topics that engage authors and readers as much as do book covers. Blood on the tracks, sometimes. The debates can be fierce, and the authorial cries of pain resound from bars and cafes across all the lands.

Covers do get discussed with intensity, they are analyzed in cultural and political terms (the headless women meme!), there are conversations about the obvious – ‘That doesn’t look at all the way I picture Lord Protector Crum!’ – and strategy sessions about the less obvious – ‘Why don’t we flip the image: have her looking out towards where the book opens, not in towards the spine?’ (I’ve had that done, twice. Er, to my cover, not to me.)


This spring I was working with my American and Canadian editors, and an art director, and a gifted artist to devise and shape the cover those territories are sharing for Children of Earth and Sky.

Contractually, all that the publishers are allowed to use, all they purchase, is the finished version but the artist, Larry Rostant, (http://rostant.com) has generously allowed me to show early versions as they emerged and were changed to show what I want to discuss here – which is about process in the evolution of a cover.


One new aspect of the book business is how soon everything starts these days. Lead times have lengthened greatly. This means, in practical terms, that a publisher needs (urgently desires?) a cover and jacket copy startlingly early. Startling for me, that is. It isn’t ‘when are we gonna be there?’ it is ‘are we there now?’

In this case, my dialogue started with my New York editor Susan Allison before anyone had read the whole book – and that was for the entirely valid reason that I hadn’t finished it. My editors and agents had seen twelve chapters. I wasn’t even thrilled with sending that much out before completing and polishing (that says something about me, I know) but since my UK agent, Jonny Geller, was thinking about submitting the novel more widely in UK, it was necessary for a partial manuscript to be seen (can’t sell to a new house, not as easily as to an existing one, based only on a half page of themes, a snappy quote, and a setting).

Everything was complicated by the fact (sad and happy, both) of Susan’s upcoming liberation/retirement, coming at the end of June. We had done so many books together over the years (we go back to The Summer Tree) that Susan wanted to make a good start on a cover before vanishing on us.

She had read those twelve opening chapters and so we were able to have a good conversation and emails as to ‘what do you see on the cover?’ I wasn’t ready for this, was still in ‘write the book’ mode, but managed to get my head into that space.

We talked about cityscapes and seascapes – merging into a possibility of a walled city and harbour – the ‘big historical setting’ cover idea. (You’ve seen lots of them.) But Susan also said right away that she wanted to do something that linked up in style with the previous books – Ysabel, Under Heaven, River of Stars – and that her preference would be to use Larry Rostant, who had done them. I was entirely onside with this – I love Larry’s covers for those books.

I think I was the one who threw out, ‘Maybe an iron gate … in front of a retreat, or perhaps with the sea beyond?’ And I could hear Susan on the phone scribbling as she said ‘I like that!’

She went off for a chat with her art director. That is generally the next stage: the art director is the one who will shepherd the cover forward, ideally under guidance from the editor who knows the book best. Susan emailed me that the art director was going to see if Larry was free to work with us, and that he was keen on the ‘gate’ idea. In fact, he immediately sent her – just as a concept – a photo of a Renaissance period gate:




Susan and I both felt, immediately, that this would work as a direction for this cover. In fact, looking back over all my books, it is rare for a vague idea and a sample photo to so immediately elicit a ‘yep!’ from everyone. The art director turned the idea over to Larry, who was keen to work with us again (God bless). We’d already agreed the better background was the sea – opening the book up, and making use of both a sequence in the novel (spoiler!) and something interesting when considered with the title.

Larry Rostant did what he does, and came back to us with this first draft idea:


Children of Earth and Sky1st


It was shared with the Canadian editorial and marketing team, who would also be using this cover if it worked for them – and it seemed to be pretty universal, from everyone’s first look … this was a direction that was going make a cover for us. I felt instantly reassured. Even happy. This is not invariably the case, I should add. (You probably know that about me by now.)

Fine-tuning was needed, just as for a book. People were divided on the foreground figure of the digging labourer you see above. I was unsure. On the one hand I liked it, the figure picked up a motif I’d spoken of to Susan (and which she’d obviously relayed) about ‘the lives of those not powerful’ in the book. It also evoked (Too literally? We wondered.) the word ‘Earth’ in the title.

Beyond this, it was my son who first noted something amusing, one of those things you might never see, but once it is pointed out you can’t unsee. He saw a lizard head (someone later said a Ninja Turtle) in the peasant. The actual figure is in profile, of course, with a hood. But looked at slightly askew, the lizard appears – looking right out at us. I knew there would be people who saw this right away, and were distracted and amused by it (we were), and none of us wanted a ‘What colour is the dress?’ debate opening up here!

In addition, someone else wondered, what was being dug by the shovel? Was that a mound of earth – or was it a corpse being buried? In a way, I didn’t mind that, and my NY agent, John Silbersack, liked the visual ambiguity, but we ended up agreeing that Larry would be asked to fix the hood to avoid the lizard (as it were), and he’d also visually clarify it was not a dead body down there.

But in the meantime, it was now July and Susan was headed off to read books for pleasure not work, and travel, and ride horses in retirement, and Claire Zion, my new editor in New York, raised a different issue, and Larry was asked to address this, instead.

Claire’s feeling, along with the art director now, was that my previous two book covers had had more scale, more of the epic to them, and this one, with two visual elements (the digger with his spade and the icon of the sun) wasn’t as focused and didn’t ‘match up’ to the others as well as it could. They had ideas for how to address this.

So the next version we saw, when it came back from Larry, addressed this:


Children of Earth and Sky 2nd

And, essentially, looking at it, everyone said, ‘By George, I think he’s got it!’

Still not quite finished (of course not!). Claire and I continued discussing – within the framework of a new author-editor relationship, too. We agreed that in this version the presence of the sea might be too soft, muted, it was slightly challenging to decode at a glance. And reading at first glance matters.

So the next stages were those that can vex (mild word chosen here) an artist and art director as they ‘cope’ with editors and writers. The sea was made hyper-sharp by Larry in version 3:

Children of Earth and Sky3rd


You can see the difference best on the right side. And looking at it we decided (you know what is coming…) that it was a touch too sharp now. So a split-the difference (it is pretty subtle, look to the right of the word ‘Sky’ in both) shift back took place.

Children of Earth and Sky 4th

After which this cover (which is the one we posted last month) was happily signed of on by everyone in New York and Toronto, including the author. Drinks were had.

There will be light tweaks to come: the title lettering will be embossed, for example, as was done with the previous titles (the typeface and formatting is deliberately the same as those), and the exact quotes and copy for front and back covers are to be determined.

The British cover is being designed as I write these words. It will not be the same. Hodder and Stoughton, my new UK house, do not, for example, have the same rationale to ‘echo’ the previous books. This is their first of mine, so varying considerations apply, over and above the fact that different markets operate in different ways.

There is another essay to be written here some day about ‘styles’ in markets and countries (including foreign-language editions), but for now two of my publishers have a cover we all love, and that’s a really important element done. Now (tomorrow, actually) I dive into my usual slow revision of the novel before it goes to the copyeditor. I have had a month to step away, get some distance, I have notes from several people, I have a book to fine-tune.




Not-a-slow news day

Yes, we did – for those who think something looks different hereabouts. Changed the banner to show the cover for Children of Earth and Sky, and so this represents the beginning of a new journal – for a new book.

Had to wait until today for the cover reveals to take place. Not wise to pre-empt your publishers and their planning. Did any of you see the tweet this week of the secret passage behind the bookcase in the new Penguin Random House Canada offices? There have been rumours of screams. Also rumours they stole the idea from ‘Young Frankenstein’.

A very busy day in media terms.

There were ‘cover reveals’ on CBC Books site and B&N blog this morning. I’m posting a good-sized jpeg here and what will be the jacket copy for the American edition (they are slightly ahead in fine-tuning, Canada will be very similar, UK is in-progress). The book will be released in May. (Yes, it seems early, yes the book world has changed a lot.)

The cover artist is Larry Rostant, who has done several for me now, all gorgeous, and the art director is Adam Auerbach. Stories of disastrous covers are all over the literary world (and I have had a few in foreign language editions, and even early ones in English once or twice), so I am serious when I say how lucky I feel to have talented, committed people engaged in working on these.

Art directors and artists take initial guidance from editors, especially when the covers come early in the process and they haven’t had a chance to read the manuscript. In this case, that means Susan Allison, Nicole Winstanley, Adrienne Kerr, and Claire Zion, who arrived when Susan retired and had some sharp ideas right away. From Larry’s first draft, done after discussions with Adam after visual cues from Susan, we all knew we were going to have a cover we loved. It was that immediate. Part of what everyone wanted was a ‘look’ that matched up with the last two covers (Under Heaven and River of Stars) in terms of scale and effect, and that was where the fine-tuning came in. Yes, I love it.

Here is the cover:



And here is the jacket copy:


The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…


We also can announce something else important.

Children of Earth and Sky will be published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, also in May, under the editing and stewardship of Oliver Johnson. This is a new relationship, and one I’m really happy about. Hodder do smart things in marketing and positioning books, and the challenge I always present publishers lies in how I lie suspended (so to speak) between mainstream, history, and fantasy. (There is very little cookbook in me, though I know quick readers will point back at the Mosaic pair to rebut that!)

Here’s the Hodder press release, which went out today (Yes, it makes me feel self-conscious. Next question?):

We are delighted to announce the acquisition of the latest novel by the legendary Canadian fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay for publication on May 12th 2016. The deal was negotiated by Jonny Geller of agents Curtis Brown UK.

In The Children of Earth and Sky Kay returns to the familiar territory established in several earlier works, a reimagining of the melting pot of the medieval Mediterranean. In his hands well-known places and events are transformed into the wonderful and strange through the lens of fantasy, and brought to life with brilliantly drawn characters and the most graceful of styles, which will seduce his many fans and new readers alike.

Acquiring Editor Oliver Johnson says: ‘To bring a celebrated, legendary author like Guy Gavriel Kay to our list is a truly wonderful moment; an editor’s dream is to publish a writer he has long admired, and this couldn’t be more true for me than with Guy. Though we have no specific genre list we are very proud of our work at Hodder with books that cross the divides of genre as Guy does with his brilliantly written, erudite and deliciously imagined works of historical fantasy. Our hallmark is great writing without bounds and we know we have acquired exactly that in Guy’s new work.’

Guy Gavriel Kay famously assisted Christopher Tolkien in the editing of The Silmarilion. His debut novels in the Fionavar Tapestry established him as one of the most exciting fantasy writers of the last half century. Several of his books (including Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Under Heaven) have been named as among the greatest fantasy masterpieces of the last twenty-five years. His work has been shortlisted for the Best Novel in the World Fantasy Awards several times and he won that award with Ysabel in 2008.  In 2014 he was appointed to the Order of Canada for his services to literature, the country’s highest civilian honour.




I could live with Ella Fitzgerald singing the soundtrack to this post…

It has been a while, and I’m just gearing up again here. I tend to use Twitter now for short comments on things that matter (single malt scotch, baseball, books I love…). But 140 characters doesn’t cut it (or cuts it too much) when there is more to discuss.

I announced on Twitter and via the Bright Weavings Facebook page last month that the new book was drafted. I was touched by the general approval of this. The novel is called Children of Earth and Sky and we’ll have more to share in July, and after. For one thing, we are on the way to having a (gorgeous, for me) cover. Second version of that is in, what are likely to be final tweaks are in progress.

I want to take a moment to say a good bye to a professional relationship, though not a friendship. Susan Allison, my longtime editor in New York, is retiring as of July 1 to (shockingly!) enjoy life. I may forgive her in time.

Susan and I started together with the paperback of The Summer Tree. We parted cordially when I moved to Roc with Tigana, and then re-engaged even more cordially when she ‘inherited’ Roc in a merger (an earlier merger) a number of years ago. It is rare to have a friendship and working interaction with a single editor that spans 30 years. I feel truly lucky. Susan, who may be just a tad emotional this week (rumour has it) has been supremely and wonderfully unruffled to work with. Add a sense of humour, wryness, pragmatism, experience, and – every author wants this – a feeling that she always got my work, from the beginning – and this has been a sustaining relationship for me.

I also feel lucky after a first encounter last week with the editor who now shoulders the burden of, well, me. Claire Zion is that person in New York now at NAL. We’ve had a breakfast (important to be able to deal with someone over first coffee!) and engaged in a flurry of emails, and I feel like Bogie with Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca …’I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

There is a lot to be said (a lot has been said) about the editor/writer relationship. But this, as with so much else in writing and publishing, varies so wildly. The same editor (or agent, too) may need to be an entirely different person, play a very different role for different writers. One of their skills, actually, is to sort this out. But trust and confidence, enjoying dealing with someone, surely matter, and I’ve been friends with a remarkable number of the people I’ve worked with over the years. A tribute, clearly, to their collective tolerance.

So, consider this post a checking back in with the Journal as summer begins. I think as we move towards a release of the book in May there will be a fair bit of news to share. As some will recall, my concept for the journal from the start, many novels back, was to share aspects of the book world – how books get to readers – that even true book lovers might not know about, and I’m still on the case with that. Stay tuned for a new journal for the new book.

Oh. And Angel’s Envy is a really good bourbon. Cheers, as we wrap the River of Stars journal.

Order of Canada, the morning after

Sometimes it is just silly to affect being blasé. It will appear false, contrived. So I’ll repeat what I said yesterday on Twitter: I am feeling honoured and humble, both. I am also truly touched by the responses that have come in the last half day, both public and private. Those Nigerian fellows offering to give me big shares in a diamond enterprise for relatively modest sums of money have been especially enthusiastic.

For those who missed it (most of the world, as it has to be!) it was announced from the office of the Governor General of Canada yesterday afternoon that I have been named to the Order of Canada. This is, I have learned, not our highest civilian honour. It is second. The highest (I love this stuff) is the Order of Merit, which is ‘in the personal gift’ of Queen Elizabeth II (!), with only 24 people at a time, chosen by her from all countries in the Commonwealth. Then Canada has the O.C. The Order was created in 1967 (Canada’s centennial year) to replace knighthoods and other dignities conferred from London to that point.

A formal Investiture ceremony, with a medal presented by the Governor General, and a Citation read out for each person, with details of why they are being honoured, comes later, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

For this holiday morning, I just want to thank those who have expressed their support and pleasure. I also want to extend my congratulations to the others named or elevated in rank yesterday, especially David Cronenberg, whom I’ve known a long time, and Chris Hadfield, who brought a different kind of star status to Canada. I have also declined the diamond mine. Here is part of Penguin Canada’s press release, which went out yesterday afternoon:



– Chris Hadfield, Rick Mercer among other 2014 recipients –

– David Cronenberg promoted to companion, the highest level within the order –

June 30, 2014 (Toronto) – Penguin Canada is pleased to announce that Guy Gavriel Kay has been named a Member of the Order of Canada for his outstanding contributions to the field of speculative fiction as an internationally celebrated author.

Kay is the bestselling author of twelve novels and a book of poetry. He has been called “one of the most gifted storytellers of our time” by The Globe and Mail, and his works have been translated into more than 25 languages, with sales approaching three million copies worldwide.

In the 1970s, he was retained by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien to assist in the editorial construction of Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion. In 1984, Kay’s first novel, The Summer Tree, the first volume of The Fionavar Tapestry, was published to considerable acclaim in Canada, and internationally. In 1990, Penguin Canada’s edition of his novel Tigana reached the national bestseller list, and his next book, A Song for Arbonne, debuted in the number-one position. Kay has been a bestseller with each novel since. The Sunday Times called his most recent novel, River of Stars, “a work to savour” and the Washington Post called it a “major accomplishment, the work of a master novelist in full command of his subject.”

Kay was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and raised in Winnipeg. He received a law degree from the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in Ontario. Kay became principal writer and associate producer for the CBC Radio series, The Scales of Justice, which dramatized major criminal trials in Canadian history. He has written social and political commentary in Canada for the National Post and The Globe and Mail, and for The Guardian in England.

Kay has toured and read on behalf of his publishers and at literary events across Canada, the United States, and internationally. He was awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his contributions to the literature of the fantastic, is a two-time winner of the Aurora Award, won the World Fantasy Award for Ysabel in 2008, and won the Sunburst Prize for best Canadian speculative fiction novel for Under Heaven in 2011. Kay is currently at work on his next novel, due to be published in 2016.


About the Order of Canada

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.

For more information about the most recent appointments to the Order of Canada, please visit: http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=15694&lan=eng




Against: Violence Against Women

I am aware that everyone is always being pushed to donate for charitable efforts (or for Kickstarter!). But I’ve agreed to support and promote a cause I believe in, and I hope readers will share my feeling that this is worthwhile, and spread the word.

Also, that people will enjoy what I’ve done for this. The essence is as follows. I’ve joined a campaign called The Pixel Project which aims to raise money to help resist violence against women, worldwide.

The campaign is taking many forms, and do have a look at their website to see other people who interest you and what is being offered by them in support. In my case, they asked if I’d write them something original, in a format called a Drabble.

No, this is not an homage to English novelist Margaret Drabble. A Drabble, they advised, is a 100 word short story. Supposed to be exactly so. (If I am off by a word, blame Word’s word count!)

I liked the idea, and I wrote one for them. Then I thought about something (I do that.) The first idea that had come to me was for a scene that comes after the end of Lord of Emperors. But, of course there are those who have not read that book (I know, hard to imagine.) and there is an inherent spoiler effect in such a scene, however brief. (The puppy dies??? Note: joke.).

So I wrote them another. This one takes place before the opening of The Summer Tree, so no possible spoiler effect. The puissant Pixel Project People promptly proposed (!) that either Drabble, whichever is desired, be sent to donators of $50, and $75 would get both. Obviously, and in support of the cause, we are asking people not to post them online, though if you like them you are hereby formally given permission to say so. They are ‘themed’. You’ll see.

I firmly believe, as I am quoted saying in the press release, that one of the measures of any culture is the status of women in that society. Inherent, endemic violence against women is more than some ‘black mark’, it is a blight, and working against that is surely a cause for all of us.

One more note. You’ll see in the press release and on their site that this is a ‘Celebrity Male Role Model’ campaign. I have advised the members of my scotch group that if they call me that, I am taking my bottles and going home. On the other hand, both my younger brothers are now instructed to use this ‘official’ phrase in future dealings. Ahem.

Here is the poster they made. Check out the site, do support them if you can. There aren’t a whole lot of things more worthwhile.

FB Poster - Promo - Guy Gavriel Kay-01



Sweet words

No pun this time in the header. Crossing everyone up.

As longtime surfers of these journals will know, I started way back when with the underlying intention of sharing some aspects of ‘how books get made’. Not the writing (so much) as the author/publisher process whereby a title is edited, produced, promoted, sold.

The stage we’re at right now with River of Stars is preparing the paperbacks, in all major English language markets, which means three different houses, of course. (And three covers in the spring, as I discussed last post.)

Shima Aoki, who handles the paperbacks for Penguin Canada, has hit me on the edge of holiday season (hers, writers never rest, you all know that!) with their drafts for cover copy, an author question and answer (to go online when the book appears), a readers’ guide (ditto), and what is called the Praise Sheet.

The Praise Sheet is not the same as blurbs. Blurbs come before a hardcover is released, when an author or publisher tries to solicit advance comments from ‘influencers’. The quote sheet reflects actual critical response to an already-published book.

This sheet is what gives rise to the review quotes that appear inside a trade or mass market paperback on the initial pages (sometimes called ‘front material’). The quotes that say, in various ways, ‘better than borscht and beets!’ to interest a buyer holding the book in his or her hands. These days, in addition, quotes are also added by the publisher to the book’s online page on Amazon, B&N, Indigo, as well (though fewer of them, usually: online moves faster).

The number of quotes that get used in a book is dictated by the final page count, because that determines how many ‘free’ pages there are at the front to work with (and sometimes backlist titles are promoted at the end of a novel so pages are needed there, too).

The sequencing of quotes will vary by market. Obviously each country will foreground its own reviewers, unless there is one so universally respected (The Washington Post, in this case) that it may go first everywhere. Canada will put a line from the Globe and Mail on the front cover, and lead off with the Washington Post inside – and maybe a line on the back, too.

In the meantime, this morning I just emailed my Chinese publishers, at their request, the quote pages for both Under Heaven and River of Stars as they will be releasing them both in 2014. I have no idea which media sources or comments will be most useful there. You have to trust your publishers.

So with all this in mind, and having been really touched as I read  these over (I don’t normally see clips all assembled in one place) I’ll share some of them. The full sheet is way too long to post all, and I’d actually feel embarrassed. I’ll leave you with a question. Does reviewer praise help steer you to consider a book? If you are reckless enough to dive in below, which of the ones here would make you stop and think: that’s pretty extreme love, I should try this book.


Praise for RIVER OF STARS by Guy Gavriel Kay

 “From whatever angle you approach it, River of Stars is a major accomplishment, the work of a master novelist in full command of his subject. It deserves the largest possible audience.”

The Washington Post

 “River of Stars is the sort of novel one disappears into, emerging shaken, if not outright changed. A novel of destiny, and the role of individuals within the march of history. It is touched with magic and graced with a keen humanity … As sumptuous and sprawling as River of Stars is, it is, foremost, a keen example of the storyteller’s art.”

The Globe and Mail

 “River of Stars: Picture Game of Thrones in China: Guy Gavriel Kay’s exquisite Asian-inspired epic fantasy offers a fresh twist on intrigue and adventure.”


 “Kay has the uncanny ability to depict the grand sweep of historical events through the eyes of those living through them…What’s even more amazing is how through his careful rendering of character and environments we are drawn into this history…River of Stars is an exceptional piece of work. History has never felt or been more real and reading about it such a pleasure.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 “There’s a reason that each new fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay is met with so much excitement by a core of devoted readers. These are books in which everything happens–epic battles, forbidden love, violent deaths–yet the threads of story inexorably tangle us in something that goes much deeper. Each book is a journey for the reader, compressed so that the level of intensity remains at the highest setting even in its quietest moments; and what happens on that journey can challenge your perceptions of the world and break your heart . . .With River of Stars, Kay transports readers to a dazzling court and the ravages of war, with language almost impossibly multilayered in its nuance and tone, offering a series of insights that exquisitely build on each other. Even more than in previous books, each sentence seems shaped to further enhance the book’s themes, recalling the craftsmanship of the man-made peony blossom that is a recurring image throughout. Here, too, emotional intensity is amped up more than ever, the shattering catharsis even more complete… one of Kay’s richest creations to date…”

Huffington Post

“It’s a relief to escape into a Guy Gavriel Kay novel and be reminded of the values of honour, valour and sacrifice for one’s country. River of Stars, Kay’s latest epic, is a captivating and beautiful story of an empire on the verge of destruction. Kay’s portrait of court intrigue and the strings the plotting prime ministers pull to orchestrate events is a marvel of craftsmanship…Reading River of Stars is a treat for the language alone. Kay is also a poet, and his writing is as lyrical as his themes of heroism, the power of legend and myth, and the vilification by history of those who deserve better.”

Toronto Star

 “River of Stars finds its greatest success in that it is both a vast, grand portrait of an entire culture, and also a very specific, personal story…each personality in River of Stars is flawed and full of friction, awful and lovely by turns, like the Emperor who loves his garden so much he cannot see the terrible human cost of keeping it perfect. While the densely woven and ever-shifting web of intrigue is masterfully managed and often brilliantly surprising in all its complexities, and the sumptuous, poetic language are also highlights, it’s the connection to the characters that captures the reader’s attention, digs hooks deep into their heart…”

National Post

 “River of Stars exhibits all of Guy Gavriel Kay’s many strengths as a writer: characterization, plotting, dialogue, poetry, the intricacies of the imperial court, and exciting battle scenes.”

Vancouver Sun

 “This is stunning stuff from one of fantasy fiction’s finest. From one of fiction’s finest, frankly.”


 “An elegant, imaginative inhabitation of Song-dynasty China of 1,000 years ago by prolific historical novelist Kay … Lucid and lyrical, and skillfully written…”

Kirkus Reviews

 “It is indeed an accomplishment when a fantasy novel pulls its inspiration from the real world so closely that we may feel that it’s real, that we wonder whether it should be found in an actual history book. Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel River of Stars accomplishes this feat. His book is one of the best fantasy epics of the past few years.”

—Ars Technica

 “The master of the historical fantasy has found a canvas large enough for his ambitions. Guy Gavriel Kay’s second novel based on the Chinese past is his finest work so far, a vision of tremendous scope, achieved through precise, intimate observation of a brilliant culture in the throes of disintegration and rebirth…a book you don’t want to be over.”

Locus Magazine, review by Cecelia Holland

 “Mirroring the glittering, doomed Song Dynasty of China, it 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…”

Library Journal

“Endlessly graceful, perfectly attuned to time and place and character and mood, never a line out of place; the prose in River of Stars is beautifully crafted at the sentence level: lyrical, but in a muted fashion, beautiful but not clamoring for attention, and often bearing the burden of sorrow… River of Stars is a beautifully crafted, moving novel and one I can’t recommend highly enough.”

—Fantasy Literature

 “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Kay is the greatest fantasist of our generation …It’s hard for me to quantify how much I enjoyed River of Stars, but I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.”

—Fantasy Book Critic

 “I wrote in my review of Under Heaven that I was actually reluctant to read River of Stars, since it was all but unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but Kay has done just that.”

—Beauty in Ruins

 “Every two or three years, Guy Gavriel Kay releases a new novel which never fails to amaze me…Spanning decades, River of Stars is a novel about destiny and how individuals and their actions can shape the course of history. Beautifully crafted and complex, populated with well-drawn men and women, it should stand on its own as one of Guy Gavriel Kay’s signature works…I’m aware that it’s still early in the year. But as things stand, River of Stars is now in pole position and will be the speculative fiction title to beat in 2013.”

—Fantasy Hotlist

 “[River of Stars] may be the finest work of a major novelist – and a pretty thrilling adventure tale to boot…Kay is precise and judicious in his selection of scenes to dramatize, in his skill at finding the key moments that define a character or a culture, and in his carefully restrained yet crucial deployment of fantastic elements…This is no innocent Middle Earth threatened by Mordor, but a highly problematical society in which such honor is hard to locate. It’s one of Kay’s recurring themes, and it’s never been handled with such complexity, scope, and insight as it is in River of Stars.”

Locus Magazine, review by Gary K. Wolfe

“Kay maintains the verbal opulence he is famous for… River of Stars is a worthy follow-up to the gorgeous Under Heaven, while still standing strong on its own…readers will appreciate the meticulous hand by which the world of Kitai is crafted, both in the present moment of the story and from the perspective of history. Guy Gavriel Kay’s lush prose brings Kitai to life and keeps him firmly situated as one of the top fantasy authors of our time.”


 “Impermanence, and our attempts to defeat it either through great achievements or the building of legend, is the theme that serves as a foundation for Guy Gavriel Kay’s majestic River of Stars…Kay is less a traditional fantasist than a cryptohistorian, and if the genre can be said to have a great one, Kay’s the man… Kay writes battle scenes with much the same sense of poetic grace as his characters’ more personal, introspective moments. There’s a tangible sense of sorrow over humanity’s march of folly. His narrative is always aware of the bitter ironies, as well as the fantastic good luck, that life’s many moments of pure chance present us. Fate can turn on the most minor occurrence. An empire’s fall can begin when a man is heard weeping in a garden.”

—SF Reviews

“This world lives and breathes. River of Stars reads like historical fiction. . . Once you get involved, you can’t stop reading. . . Emperors, assassins, bandits, poets, soldiers, ghosts, spies, barbarian hordes, courtly machinations, battles, intrigue, love, sex, betrayal, destiny, characters to cheer for, despair with, cry over – what more could you want?”

—Revolution SF

 “The beauty of a Kay novel, to me, is that the stories are so very real…He makes you feel for the characters in such a way that you root for them throughout the novel, and feel those emotions right alongside them…I was immersed in the story until the end, and then felt that subtle form of sadness that only the ending of a terrific book can bring.”


 “…A gorgeous novel. If you aren’t reading Guy Gavriel Kay yet, you’re missing out on some of the very best writing you can find inside or outside the fantasy genre.”

—Far Beyond Reality

 “It is, for me, wonderful escapist fiction. Except that, it’s not. Or not entirely. In fact, I think Kay might actually be, in his own way, a damn fine historian. The difference between Kay and some other fantasy novels, is two things: his historical sensibility, and his writing style. When I read novels by GGK I am constantly struck by how he is able to make the ideas of academic history come to life in a fictional world.”

—Everyday History

“Who is this Guy Gavriel Kay and how does he hijack my imagination so easily?In my review of Kay’s Under Heaven, the 2010 American Library Association Best Fantasy Novel, I asked, “How is he ever going to top this book?”  The answer, with as much certainty as I can express, is River Of Stars...

—Fantasy Matters

River of Stars is a poetic meditation on duty, compromise, politics and power that has an epic, historical sweep grounded in a host of intensely personal, well-realized stories. Fans of George R.R. Martin’s popular “Song of Ice and Fire” books – or the Game of Thrones TV adaptation – who are looking to scratch that itch in the years between new books will find a lot to like here, as Kay’s book is every bit as in-depth a piece of political fantasy as Martin’s work…joining Kay’s early epic Tigana as well as ambitious later works like The Lions of Al-Rassan and Sailing to Sarantium in putting forth a very strong argument that suggests Kay as, quite possibly, the greatest fantasy writer working today.”

—Luxury Reading

 “River of Stars is a success on just about every level. The story is powerful and engaging, the characters are complex and well realized, and the greater themes of the novel such as heroism and man’s role in society are thoughtfully treated. Kay’s prose is poetic without being overwrought or melodramatic. Overall, River of Stars is joy to read.”

—Booked Solid

“River of Stars is an epic of immense scope, covering the rise and fall of empires over decades, with many genuinely surprising twists and turns. But ultimately, it recognizes the familiarity of any human story, and so frees itself from trying too hard to avoid (or slavishly live up to) the rhythms of history and legends repeating themselves. Kay is more concerned with how you tell a story…the novel resonates because of its consistent recognition that it is inhabited by humans repeating history that has already repeated a thousand times, and its confidence that their story is still worth telling. Many of Kay’s characters are based on historical figures, again bringing to the fore the hall of mirrors that is human narrative, seamlessly connecting across fact and artifice, history and legend…Not only are Shan and Daiyan wonderfully drawn characters, so is everyone else in the story, no matter how significant or insignificant…each one’s worldview is explored with such balanced, unbiased attentiveness that empathy is always within reach of the reader, even when we’re in the heads of bloodthirsty warlords or unrepentant assassins. Every action holds a weight that has the capacity to be surprisingly moving or tragic, because we feel like we know the aspirations and fears behind them. By the end of the novel, Kay’s evident mastery over plot and character is nothing short of astonishing. In six hundred plus pages, not a word of this novel feels gratuitous, and Kay’s lyrical prose retains a sense of contemplative calm even in the midst of brutal, heated battles, sieges, and ambushes.”

—Strange Horizons

“I’ve always maintained, and will likely continue to maintain, that Daniel Day-Lewis is among the greatest actors of all time. While he doesn’t always pick roles that have a wide-ranging mass appeal, he only picks roles that meet his incredibly high standards. His dedication to research and to method acting, completely burying himself in a role in a way that few people can even really understand, is what has led to him being the only person to win three Best Actor academy awards. His rate of appearances in movies is low, only twelve films in twenty-four years, but I’ve yet to see a performance that didn’t utterly blow me away. I include the above to really communicate what I am saying when I compare Guy Gavriel Kay to Daniel Day-Lewis. He is similarly non-prolific, with twelve novels in thirty years, and similarly dedicated to his craft in a way that few people seem to be. Each of his books contains an afterword which talks about the research conducted, works referenced, and experts consulted, and it just flabbergasts me. I’ve read his entire bibliography and not only was I not disappointed, I was hard pressed to find a single thing to complain about. You should read this book if you have an appreciation for expertly crafted, character-driven fantasy of the highest order; if you want to really get to know characters, to get a deep sense of them, and their place in their society and their role therein; if you want to close a book’s back cover, take a deep breath, set it down, and not even consider picking up another book until you’ve had time to just appreciate the raw artistry you’ve just witnessed.”

—The Ranting Dragon

The second of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Chinese novels is as enthralling and thought-provoking take on classic historical events as the first, Under Heaven… It’s a hugely enjoyable read and more than just a romp thought the past… Whether you’re feeling philosophical or not, River of Stars is a whole lot of fun, exciting and substantial.

­­––”That’s Beijing” Magazine



Flotsam and Jetsam

I feel a tad remiss here, but console myself by remembering I did alert that updates would slow as the marketing period for River of Stars wound down and I ramped up the research for the next book.

I used to do these Journals only during the marketing/release periods, then wrapped them up for two years until a new book was about to appear. But the online dynamic has changed so much, it felt (and still feels) good to have this as a venue for random (or sometimes less random) thoughts.

So, variously…

– I’ll have a piece next month in Hazlitt Magazine on ‘Breaking Bad’. Will alert when it appears, had a lot of fun writing it.

– Lions is out in Brazil now, and Tigana will appear (in two parts, which is not uncommon in translation editions) in November. I signed Indonesian contracts for Under Heaven and River of Stars this week. New market for me.

– My French publisher, L’Atalante, announced that Under Heaven  will be out in summer of next year. It is already available in French in Quebec, from Alire. (Have I mentioned how much I like my Quebec publishers? Jean and Louise are friends, as much as anything else, by now. They have done every one of my novels, and they are all kept in print.)

– An extraordinary amount of film/tv talk continues to happen, but I cannot (even for formal reasons) discuss anything here yet, and it is always possible that everything will peter out. It is a very, very odd business.

– Cover roughs for paperbacks of River of Stars are being prepared in the States, UK, Canada. They will all have a different look from one another, which has happened before.

– I will read and be interviewed in Toronto this Sunday at 1 PM, at Harbourfront, as part of the International Festival of Authors, then in Halifax on November 13th, at the Keshen Goodman Library, at 7 PM. No other public events I can think of until the new year.

– Amrut Fusion single malt is really, really good.

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.


On Not Giving Advice

I did a tweet yesterday morning that seems to have triggered an enthused response from a lot of people: “My Saturday morning writer’s advice for writers: try not to get hung up on writers’ advice for writers.”

I was being cute with the phrasing but am really serious about the point. It sometimes seems to me that next to Top Ten Lists, the internet breeds writer-advice more furiously than almost anything else. (Well, maybe cat pictures. Or Benedict Cumberbatch photos. Or … fine. We’ll leave it there.)

If you play pick-and-choose with the advice tossed out there is no ultimate harm done. Someone ‘famous’ says something that resonates for you, you have that to work with. Maybe you write that way anyhow? But if that famous person says something that runs utterly counter to your own work method, your creative approach, your life options (“Jog five miles every morning before sitting down to write.”), I find myself worrying about or irritated by what I’m seeing, depending on time of day and what I am drinking (coffee or scotch). “Drink three glasses of Highland Park each time you sit down to write.” (Expensive advice, that would be. Also a tad life-damaging.)

The creative process is deeply and profoundly individual. That applies to the Nobel laureate and the undergraduate poet and the person keeping a journal of his or her dreams and desires.

A writer I know asserted earlier this summer online: never rewrite until you have the whole story finished, then you can go back. I’d never have written a novel if I tried to work that way. A writer declared last week that for success in YA fiction, ‘never kill the dog’. Stop a bit right now and think about how many of the books that reached into us and have never gone away (and perhaps taught us how powerful fiction could be) we’d not have if those authors had followed that advice.

When people ask me about, say, outlining I give an honest answer: I don’t block everything out, I am discovering details as I go. But I add, that’s me. That is reporting something not suggesting a process to other writers. Dorothy Dunnett outlined the shape and arc of the entire six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles before she wrote the first book.

There is so much variation to the writing process, it feels wrong to be prescriptive – from where I sit. If my arm is twisted (hard) to solicit advice I’ll urge writers to travel if their life allows it, because travel does important things to us as people, and that affects us as writers. I try to steer younger writers to read outside their comfort zone, their favourite genres and styles, because we get stretched as people by doing that. But I try hard not to get drawn into technical advice.

‘What worked for them might work for you,’ Robert Frost once wrote in a very different, chilling, context. But equally, it might not. I think we all need to go slow on giving How To lectures … and reacting to them. (But everyone should read Frost’s brilliant ‘Provide, Provide’.)

Parking the soapbox behind the curtain for the night, I can report the NY meetings earlier this month were very good, extremely useful. I did not succeed in getting agent or editor to agree to write the next novel for me, but I wasn’t hugely optimistic when I went, so…

Oh, sharing: Vermeer’s ‘Head of a Young Girl’ (the Pearl Earring painting) is headed to the Frick in Manhattan in October. Just saying. In case that’s closer than The Hague.

In Toronto, we’re in the midst of cover discussions. To stay with the blue figure from the hardcover for the trade paperback next spring, or think about a new look, and if the latter … what? Covers do matter, and different formats can suggest a different look. Or not, if everyone feels the current one works. There is no science to it, this is part of the publisher’s art and, as I’ve said here before, I think, it can also be  different in different markets. I’ve been very well served by my English-language covers for River of Stars, I’m working with extremely good people. Not worried. Will report back when a decision is made.

I’m also hoping to have some breaking news to share soon. That’s a tease, but it is better than another bad pun, right? And if you really want writerly advice as a last note, I’ll suggest everyone go with what Schiller did. He kept rotten apples in his desk drawer. Sniffed when creativity flagged. Clearly the only possible way to get anything written.