IFoA: Word. Sentence. Novel.

Paolo Giordano (The Solitude of Prime Numbers), Alexander MacLeod (Light Lifting), and Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn) took to the stage on Sunday afternoon to talk about their creative processes and the art of the written word. The round table, hosted by author Atanas Sileika and titled “Word. Sentence. Novel.”, took a lot of left turns away from the subject at hand to explore the author as a public figure, the sales-numbers-world versus the words world, and how different the European literary scene is from the North American one.

The panelists are possible breakthrough literary superstars, with Giordano’s first novel selling over a million copies worldwide, MacLeod’s first short story collection currently short-listed for the Scotiabank Giller prize, and Marlantes’ 30-year effort paying off with impressive sales, but their clear discomfort with being on-stage affected the enjoyment of the session. Marlantes gave it all he had, with thoughtful and modest sound bites. MacLeod and Giordano, on the other hand, made an effort, but everything from their unkempt appearances (which, on many, can be charmingly disheveled, but here just seemed off-putting) to their slouching posture screamed “I’m uncomfortable on this stage.”

Which they all readily admitted. And that’s fine. After all, not all authors were born to love the spotlight.

Read the rest of this entry »

IFOA: Charles Burns, Dylan Horrocks, Seth Roundtable

IFOA: Charles Burns, Dylan Horrocks, Seth Roundtable

(Composite of self-portraits left to right: Charles Burns, Seth, Dylan Horrocks.)

I’m happy to report the IFOA roundtable of Canadian cartoonist Seth (George Sprott 1894-1975, Palookaville), New Zealand cartoonist Dylan Horrocks (Hicksville), and American cartoonist Charles Burns (Black Hole, X’d Out) Saturday afternoon lived up to the high expectations.

Getting three master cartoonists at the height of their respective careers together in one room (the Brigadier Room to be exact) to discuss the past, present, and future of their craft with an experienced and entertaining interviewer such as CBC Radio 2 personality Bob Mackowycz, created a wonderfully warm and familiar, at times almost confessional atmosphere. It felt at times as if a few old friends were getting together again to get reacquainted in someone’s living room rather than professionals on a stage sitting in front of a packed house of admirers.

Over the course of the hour the artists spoke about the struggles of balancing their commercial and paid work, ; issues around adopting comics to the screen; the different approaches to being a painter and cartoonist; and what may be in store for the next generation of cartoonists.

The artists also spoke about the fact that, because North American comics have only grown into a truly adult medium in our life time, almost all mature comics artists hail from a background in which the comic medium was expected to be written for kids. This transformation means that there is often a residual of that child-based tradition lingering in even the most adult work. The work of younger and upcoming cartoonists will not necessarily be steeped in work for children, a change that should make for new and interesting comic-art forms.

I think the most startling revelation during the afternoon was made by Dylan Horrocks. He did a four year stint working for DC (the company that owns Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), writing stories for Batgirl, in order to make ends meet. He made the observation that today’s superhero comics have moved away from a younger readership to those in their mid- to late- teens, with the story lines becoming quite dark, narrow, brutal, and depressing. So much so, he said, that he had to give up working in that sub-genre.

More upcoming events with cartoonists at the IFOA include:

ROUND TABLE: Fictional Truths: Ideas on Time, Memory and Place
Tuesday, October 26, 8:00pm ( Studio Theatre)
Myla Goldberg, Paul Harding, Dylan Horrocks, and Eshkol Nevo discuss the building blocks of novel writing at this round table discussion moderated by Siri Agrell.

READING: Barry, Bismuth, Laferrière, Martel
Friday, October 29, 8:00pm (Fleck Dance Theatre)
Lynda Barry, Nadine Bismuth, Dany Laferrière, and Yann Martel read from their latest works. James Grainger (The Excerpt’s editor-in-chief) hosts.

READING/INTERVIEW: Lynda Barry
Saturday, October 30, 5:00pm (Studio Theatre)
Illustrator and bestselling author Lynda Barry reads from her new book, Picture This, and is interviewed by Peter Birkemoe.

Manic IFoA Monday

Manic IFoA Monday

This afternoon at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 3 p.m.) the International Festival of Authors hosts a special panel of publishing insiders from around the world. The free round table event, which features five international publishing executives and five world literary festival directors (full a full line-up go here), will focus on the impact of the world economic slump on publishing, the rise of the ebook, the joys of bringing a book to market and plenty of other topics. The event is moderated by literary agent Denise Bukowski, while Lewis DeSoto hosts.

The evening’s sole event is the annual reading by the five nominees for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Fiction at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.). Tonight’s short-listed authors are Sandra Birdsell, Emma Donoghue, Drew Hayden Taylor, Diane Warren, and Kathleen Winter, and tickets for the gala reading are $25, $20 for members (as of this writing tickets were still available).

For a full IFoA schedule go here.

CBC Meets IFoA

CBC Meets IFoA

Today is CBC Day down at the International Festival of Authors. All of today’s readings, interviews, and round table events will contain a CBC component, in the form of a CBC staffer playing the part of interviewer or moderator. Highlights from this afternoon include prodigious author and Canadian icon Farley Mowat in conversation with As It Happens host and author Carol Off (Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay West, 2 p.m.), and for all of you graphica fans out there Charles Burns, Dylan Horrocks, and Seth talk about their latest projects in a round table discussion moderated by the CBC’s Bob Mackowycz (Brigantine Room, 235 Queens Quay West, 3 p.m.). If you missed Emma Donoghue last night , she will be reading along wtih Kevin Barry, Michael Lista, and Alissa York at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 3 p.m.), with Kyle Buckley hosting. And fans of Eleanor Wachtel’s excellent Writers & Company program should head down to the Fleck Dance Theatre at 4 p.m. for a celebration of the show’s 20th anniversary with special guests Dionne Brand, Margaret Drabble, Deborah Eisenberg, and Andrew O’Hagan.

All the venues will be abuzz tonight—if only one could be in four places at the same time. At the Brigantine Room at 8 p.m., the IFoA’s Noir program presents mystery authors Len Gasparini, Louise Penny, Peter Robinson, and Lisa Scottoline reading from their latest books, with the CBC’s Bob Macdonald hosting. The Fleck Dance Theatre hosts authors David Bergen, M.T. Kelly, Claudio Magris, and Karl Marlantes doing a group reading with host Steven D’Souza (8 p.m.) while CBCer Nora Young hosts Louise Doughty, Joshua Ferris, Paolo Giordano, and Matthew Tierney over at the Studio Theatre (8 p.m.). And for those of you who like a little music with your words, the Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West, 9 p.m.) is the site for a special event in honour of the JUNO Awards, which will be held in Toronto in 2011. On hand will be Karen Bliss, Nick Krewen, and Jason Schneider, co-authors of a new book on the JUNOs entitled Music from Far and Wide: Celebrating 40 Years of the JUNO Awards. The event is hosted and moderated by Jian Ghomeshi and features appearances by Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, singer-songwriter Dan Hill, and musician Emm Gryner.

For ticket information and a full IFoA schedule go here. Regular tickets are $18, free to students under the age of 24 with appropriate ID, but it’s best to check online if you haven’t bought tickets in advance.

IFoA: Contemporary Contemplations

IFoA: Contemporary Contemplations

Rachel Giese moderated a lively IFOA discussion with Kevin Barry (There are Little Kingdoms), Emma Donoghue (Room), and Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed) at Harbourfront’s Studio Theatre last night. The foursome explored every writerly theme from where their ideas came from to their work habits, with the three authors coming across as fresh, funny, and humble. It was especially refreshing to see Donoghue—fresh off being shortlisted for the Man Book Prize and the Governor General’s award for Fiction—be candid about the creative process behind Room, which, as well-written and original as it may be, is a deeply disturbing read. Donoghue admitted that the Austrian Fritzl case, in which a father confined his daughter to an enclosed room for 24 years and fathered her own seven children, was the trigger for the story, while Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was the literary trigger.

All three authors agreed that while they are greatly influenced by others work (Ferris mentioned Joyce and Ulysses in particular), it was paramount that they stay away from the work of those they admired during the writing process, as they didn’t want others’ style to infect their own. When that happens, the story is not truly theirs. All three came across as humble and truly worried about the authenticity of their voice—as if it was better to not produce anything than produce something that’s not original.

With all that worrying and the never-ending quest for inspiration, no wonder Donoghue joked that “the overlaps between writing and madness are many,” but the panelists agreed that the writing process is far more methodical than envisioned by fans. Inspiration may come in bursts, but the actual process of writing is very repetitive and difficult. As Ferris put it “as an author, you read and write. Read and write. Repeat.” Being a writer isn’t a magical gift, according to Donoghue, “Everybody has ideas. Writers just make sure they jot them down in the back of the cab.” Ferris admitted to actually doing this, composing the first chapter of The Unnnamed on his Blackberry in the back of a car.

Other topics they broached over the course of an hour were inspiration, character development, the future of fiction, and where a writer’s best work comes from. The panelists did a great job of demystifying what they do, chronicling the long hours they put into work that often gets tossed, sacrificing personal relationships and sometimes their own sanity for the sake of their art, and all that time worrying about where the next bout of inspiration—and the next pay cheque—is coming from.

But the biggest take-home of the evening? Writers find inspiration in anything, write about everything, and when it’s flowing, you just have to get out for your own way. As Ferris put it: “The best fiction I’ve ever written is not soiled by my attempts.”

Tonight at the IFoA: John Waters, Emma Donoghue, and a Whole Bunch of Authors

Tonight at the IFoA: John Waters, Emma Donoghue, and a Whole Bunch of Authors

The International Festival of Authors’ kicked into second gear last night with a pair of well-attended events. At the Fleck Dance Theatre the crowd heard Richard B. Wright and Alison Pick read from their latest novels while Dionne Brand read a pair of evocative linked poems and Michael Cunningham surprised attendees with a preview of his novel in progress, which he said he’d been working on in his hotel room earlier in the day. Over at the Brigantine Room moderator Bert Archer led a lively round-table discussion on seeing things through the eyes of fictional characters with Trevor Cole, Aryn Kyle, and Andrew O’Hagan. The authors were all treated to ego-gratifying line-ups at the signing tables afterwards.

Tonight in the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) filmmaker and author John Waters reads from his latest book, Role Models, and is interviewed by Richard Crouse, with The Excerpt’s poetry columnist Jacob McArthur Mooney doing the hosting duties. In the Brigantine Room (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) crime fiction writers R.J. Ellory and Jeff Lindsay give their fans a taste of their latest novels and then discuss the secrets of their nefarious trade with CBC’s Mary Hynes in an on-stage interview. A special licensed event happens in the Lakeside Terrace (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.), with “literary lads” DBC Pierre, Dan Rhodes, and Wells Tower discussing their manly craft with moderator Richard Poplak, and at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West, 8 p.m.) Kevin Barry, Emma Donoghue, and Joshua Ferris discuss the age-old question “Where do you get your ideas?” with moderator Rachel Giese.

For ticket information and a full IFoA schedule go here. Regular tickets are $18, free to students under the age of 24 with appropriate ID, but it’s best to check online if you haven’t bought tickets in advance.

The IFoA Is Upon Us: Today at the Fest

The IFoA Is Upon Us: Today at the Fest

Last night’s Pen Canada benefit, which featured American author Richard Ford in conversation with CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel, kicked off the annual International Festival of Authors. This year’s edition of the IFoA, the 31st, is full of familiar names, old timers, newbies, and up-and-comers, with Jonathan Franzen’s (now sold out) appearance on October 28th being the biggest attention getter. The Star has its pick for the 11 most intriguing events here, while the Globe has ongoing coverage here, and the Post supplies a Festival preview here.

The theme of this year’s fest is Noir fiction, with plenty of detective and mystery novelists in town to read from their latest works and to opine on the genre in roundtable discussions. Why Noir? Here’s the official statement: “In response to the millions of readers who can’t get enough of crime fiction, thrillers and mystery novels, IFOA highlights these nail-biting genres as part of this year’s IFOA Noir programming focus.” Harbourfront Centre has a full IFoA schedule posted to help you plan out your itinerary. Regular tickets are $18, free to students under the age of 24 with appropriate ID, but it’s always best to check online if you haven’t bought tickets in advance.

Tonight is the first night of regular programming. At 8 p.m. at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West), novelists Dionne Brand, Michael Cunningham, Alison Pick, and Richard B. Wright will read from their latest works. The event is hosted (nepotism alert!) by your humble book site editor and includes a door prize of $500 worth of new books (donated by House of Anansi Press). Over at the Brigantine Room (York Quay Centre, 235 Queens Quay West), a roundtable event features Trevor Cole, Aryn Kyle, and Andrew O’Hagan discussing time and place as it impacts their fictional characters with moderator Bert Archer (8 p.m.).

Canzine Preview: An Interview with Cartoonist Sherwin Tjia

Canzine Preview: An Interview with Cartoonist Sherwin Tjia

Illustration by Kimberley Whitchurch

Sherwin Tjia was born in Toronto, moved to Montréal to pursue an art degree, and has lived there ever since. He’s a poet, painter, illustrator, graphic novelist, author, event planner, all on top of having a pretty cool day job as a medical illustrator. He has illustrated several books published two compilations of the indie cult comic strip Pedigree Girls and the graphic novel The Hipless Boy.

In his less-than-copious spare time, Tjia dreams up charmingly alternative social events, which he hosts garbed in a fabulous LBD and heels. This weekend he will be appearing at Canzine to host three of his events: the Strip Spelling Bee, Crowd Karaoke, and Slow Dance Night.

Toronto artist Kimberley Whitchurch spoke with Tija earlier this week.

Read the rest of this entry »

I Don’t Mean to Idolize: An Interview with Jon Paul Fiorentino

I Don’t Mean to Idolize: An Interview with Jon Paul Fiorentino

Jon Paul Fiorentino, funny person, has written a very serious book concerned in large part with the death of his friend and mentor, Robert Allen, and the relationship with sentiment this event touched off in the mind of one of our country’s great ironists. The final result is a book called Indexical Elegies, new this month from Toronto’s Coach House Press. Jon Paul sat down (electronically) with Torontoist’s Jacob McArthur Mooney last week for a conversation about indexes, misdirection, and the comfort afforded by our intellectual obsessions.

Jacob McArthur Mooney: Hi Jon Paul. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to start us off with a story. A 100% true one, too. It’s set a few months back, while I was waiting in line at the Toronto Greyhound station for a bus to Waterloo. To my surprise and excitement, the young lady behind me was enjoying Stripmalling, your comic novel featuring Evan Munday’s illustrations. I mentioned that I had recently seen you read from Stripmalling, and that I thought you had a new book coming out this fall, called Indexical Elegies.

Anyway, the woman’s reaction was a bit of a smile and then the response, “I can’t imagine this author being into either elegies, or indexing things.” I was too charmed by the answer to press for details. Obviously, Elegies and Stripmalling are wildly different books, tuned to completely different keys. But what, would you guess, did my busmate mean by that? In what ways is this book a unique creation in the context of its author?

Jon Paul Fiorentino: First of all, are you entirely sure she was enjoying Stripmalling? That seems odd. I think your busmate’s response makes perfect sense from a certain point of view. I have written two comedy books (Asthmatica and Stripmalling) and those are the books of mine people are most aware of. I have, however, been writing and publishing poetry since 1998. If you ever see your charming busmate again, please tell her I have range!

I like this idea of being able to write in more than one key. I suppose Indexical Elegies is written in a minor key. It’s a book about loss and the anxiety of loss. It documents and presents an archive of four years of attempting to come to terms with losing my friend and mentor, Robert Allen. Archive theory and indexicality played a large role in the composition the book—for a long time, the poems I had composed for Robert were too raw and lacked a sort of artful disconnect. Putting a theory into practice made these poems work, at least for me.

JMM: She seemed to be enjoying it. I remember muffled guffaws.

That framing work done by indexical theory is interesting. Can you give us a few words on the relationship between the index as style, and the elegy as specific tradition? Or am I getting it wrong, and the index is the tradition, the elegy the style? Or is it something different entirely?

JPF: Every time you fix your gaze on an archive, the archive changes. Or so they say. I wanted to put into practice a way to gesture to this idea. The CSP (Charles Sanders Peirce) sections and the little litanies (the Hymns) are there to distract and defer. I think all successful elegiac poetry has this quality of distraction and deferral. So in this sense the elegies are quite traditional. I guess what I want to say is that I was aware of the theory and practice of both elegy and index. They are both tradition and style in this context, but there is more emphasis on the elegy as content in this book. Otherwise I suppose I would have titled it Elegiacal Indexicalities.

JMM: Right. And it’s too bad, as Elagiacal Indexicalities would have moved 10,000 units on title alone.

That’s two answers now that describe some aspect of deferral. Before you were speaking of theory (not indexical theory, I know, but theory in general) as a way to distance yourself from the pure, sentimentalist, id-machine of grief. And now we’re onto the deferring power of the elegy itself. The mechanics of the approach-avoidance dance we sometimes do with the harsh reality of subject are always interesting.

First off, how certain are you that theory is a distancer, anyway? Because what we’re really talking about here is intellectualization, which is just another word for thoughtfulness. But thoughtfulness carries with it the sense of an intensified interaction with subject (connoting things like meditation and obsession) while intellectualization connotes a coolness (its cousin words being things like survey, study, and your word, theory). I wonder if you could say more about the patterns of approach lent to I.E. by your use of theory, because there’s a plurality of poems here that, while heavily influenced by third-party ideas, are personal, intense, and anything but distant.

JPF: First, I would say that the approach-avoidance dance is something we always do, unless we are terribly unhealthy. And yeah. The mechanics of that dance are always interesting.

I suppose I am not entirely certain that theory is a distancer. It seems a reasonable assumption though. I see what you’re getting at and I appreciate it. If there is any “intellectual thoughtfulness” in I.E.—other than in the title section —it would have something to do with my ongoing fascination with the regional and working against it (the Post-Prairie condition and the notion of the civic poem that is strategically infelicitous), etc. It makes sense that the non-elegy poems would rely less on concealment, doesn’t it? I dunno.

I do tend toward the almost confessional, intense moment in some poems. However, I would like to think that I earn that moment through some sort of process of rigorous play or strategically deployed poetry. What I mean by this is that where there are overt moments of intensity, those moments are hopefully offset by the poetry things of the poem— form and trope.

Read the rest of this entry »

Talking About Ian Tyson: Singer, Songwriter, and Storyteller

Talking About Ian Tyson: Singer, Songwriter, and Storyteller

(Image of Ian and Sylvia at the 2010 Mariposa Folk Festival provided by Richard Flohil.)

Tonight at the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom (1214 Queen Street West) This Is Not a Reading Series presents a unique opportunity to hear Canadian music legend Ian Tyson live in conversation. Tyson will be talking about his long career in folk, rock, country-rock, and straight-up country music and his love of the Alberta landscape, where he spends most of his time when not touring. He’ll also be discussing his new autobiography, The Long Trail: My Life in the West, with veteran music journalist, editor, and promoter Richard Flohil. The event also features an interpretive reading from Tyson’s book by fellow singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan and a musical prelude by Lickin’ Good Fried. The event is free and doors open at 7:30.

Torontoist spoke with Richard Flohil about his long association with Tyson and his approach to interviewing.

Read the rest of this entry »