Wednesday, April 22, 2009


This is pretty interesting: trailer for "Between the Folds".
See also this great 18 minute TED talk on Origami. First rate, worth your time!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The first two chapters of Edward Willett's lastest SF novel, Terra Insegura, are available as a podcast. Willett has the advantage over other authors that as a long-time radio personality (regular science guy stuff on CBC Regina) he is completely comfortable with the podcast format.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

100th Birthday

Sunday, April 5th, was my mother's 100th birthday. It was a small affair, attended only by myself, my wife, and our two daughters. There were several reasons we didn't want to make too big a deal out of it.

First, my mom has good days and bad days, and I didn't much care for the idea of having a lot of people descend on my mom's nursing home if it turned out to be one of the bad days. In the event, she was mostly okay. (The nurse told me that mom hadn't wanted to get out of bed that morning, but that they had coaxed her into her wheel chair because they knew we were coming.) She was awake for most of the two hours we were there, and not in too much pain, and alert and in moderately good spirits, so we could have had more visitors, but you never know.

Mom having a cup of tea as one of the nurses we really like joins us for the celebration.

Tigana, Kasia (just peeking in over Tigana's shoulder), me, and Mary with my Mom on her 100th birthday. Mom is appreciatively cuddling with the extra soft, fuzzy purple blanket we gave her as a birthday present.



Second, we had had a big reception for mom's 90th, when she still lived on her own, and Mary had catered for about 60 people. But when we looked at the invitation list from that birthday, except for a few relatives, there wasn't actually anyone left on it... Mom has managed to outlive all of her friends and contemporaries. The one niece who still lives in Edmonton offered to come, but had to cancel at the last minute as her husband came down with a terrible cold -- and you don't take a bad cough into a nursing home (unless you're looking for an earlier inheritance).

Third, I wasn't sure how big a deal to make of the fact that mom had made it to 100. When we last discussed her age earlier this year, she thought she was about 92. When I told her she was actually 99, she became very depressed, and said "Well, if that's true, then I'm done!" Fortunately, she forgot the conversation, and when I returned the next day, thought she was in her 80s.

One of mom's surviving nieces (a woman Mom considers the daughter she never had) sent a great card. It's almost impossible to find a card that says "Happy 100th", 'cause, let's face it, there's not that large a market. And being blind, mom can't actually read her cards anymore. So they picked a birthday card that played "The Age of Aquarius" (which Mom could hear if not see); and the card read: "On your birthday, free you mind — it's not the age you are it's the age you believe in". Which is way too funny, given my mom's situation!

Most of the time Mom is in her Mother's back garden, having tea with her mother and her sister Evie, with occasional visits from either her brothers Tom and Charlie, or my brother Doug. It's 1948, she's 39, and her father has just passed away. She spends a lot of her time there, which in my view is a perfectly good place to be if the alternative is bedridden, blind, mostly deaf, and bored in a nursing home. The only problem for me is that mom isn't always clear on who I am, since in her world I won't be born for another 3 years; but she does seem to remember my daughters, Tigana and Kasia. I think their having unusual names helps her keep them straight. She hasn't remembered who Mary is since Mom went to the nursing home.

On my last visit up to Edmonton, Mom had started talking about her aunts, Rose, Daisy and Violet, whom she believed were staying with her at her house. As she chatted away about them, I thought, "say, here's a chance to take some notes!" because it is a part of the family genealogy I don't know well. (Mom was the one who kept all our relations straight, with Doug as our backup, but since her memory has failed and Doug is gone, there is no one left to ask who is who.) So I started jotting down some things and asking mom a few questions, hoping to probe a bit, but had to stop when mom mentioned that her dad had recently died (in her world) as the result of being attacked by raccoons. Oops. I'm pretty sure if it had been raccoons, someone would have mentioned that somewhere along the line, so I had to concede that mom's Alzheimer's makes her an unreliable source, and abandon my note-taking.

Her 100th birthday visit was good. She only eats pureed foods now, so we mashed up a piece of birthday cake with some tea (her drink of choice) and she wolfed that down faster than anything I've seen her eat in the last decade. When I commented that I hoped it wouldn't spoil her supper (her not eating enough being an issue) she responded that the birthday cake was a heck of a lot better than supper! (Actually the food in this particular nursing home is better than most; even pureed, Mom usually says how much she enjoys the food. She's just, at 100, not that interested in eating any more.) We gave her an extra soft, cuddly, purple fuzzy blanket for her birthday present, as she is perpetually cold, and she seemed to really like it, refusing to let go of it for the duration. And I got her a cup of tea, the one thing she can never get enough of.

For us, her reaching 100 is great in the sense that she has had a long and largely good life. She was taking care of herself right up to her move to the home two or three years ago; and was mostly lucid up to my brother's passing last year. His daily visits provided the stability she needed to stay anchored in this world, though she had already started to visit with her mom and Evie on a regular basis. But actually being 100 kind of sucks, and it saddens me to see how far her health has declined this year. Still, as long as she is happy visiting relatives, and she is not in too much pain, well and good.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rejection Letters

Lorina Stephens, author of Shadow Song reviewed here previously, has posted to her blog the rejection letters she received from the mainstream press before turning to self-publishing. I found the letters -- the reasons she was given by various publishers for not publishing her historical cultural fantasy novel -- fascinating, both as someone who read and loved the book, and as an aspiring writer myself. I asked Lorina if I could reprint her column here; my own commentary on the letters follows:

Every writer gets them, those dreaded letters, forms, slips of paper or, more currently, emails that either cryptically or in detail describe why it is their work won't be appearing on that publisher's list.

Given the reviews and success I'm meeting as a self-published author, who grew weary with excuses and the ritual of the publishing world, I thought I'd post five of many rejections I received for my novel, Shadow Song. You may, or may not, find them of interest.

You write well, and you've obviously done homework on the Indian ritual and custom, but it seems to me that the book is too quiet and 'domestic' in its tone to do well for us just now.

Susan Allison
The Berkley Publishing Group
July 26, 1990

Though I liked your storytelling I'm afraid that I was unable to stir the enthusiasm of the powers that be for the Canadian Frontier subject matter.

Brian Thomsen
Senior Editor
Warner Books, Inc.
August 28, 1990

The event you have chosen to focus on is indeed loaded with possibilities however, the novel you have chosen to write about it seems to me to fall right between the genres of adult, almost romantic, fiction and young adult. By that I mean, I regret, that it is neither one nor the other -- it is too coy for adult readers and too violent for the younger readers (although I realized young people are reading and watching things that would probably terrify me."

You are also flying in the face of current sentiment about non-native writers (I am making an assumption about you here that could be quite incorrect) writing about native people. Native readers and writers are becoming both hostile vocal about their portrayal by non-natives and there will be opposition.

Susan Girvan
Editorial Co-ordinator
Macmillan of Canada
October 20, 1990

The premise is very interesting indeed, but the story moves along rather slowly. In view of the fact the sample is around 12,500 words long, yet it includes only the first two paragraphs of the synopsis, it looks to me as if the book is well over 100,000 words. This is not an economically feasible length for a first novel. You might want to think about conflating incidents and varying the emphasis to both shorten the book and speed up the narrative.

Laurel Boone
Acquisitions Editor
Goose Lane Editions
April 8, 1996

The following are the reasons that we found your submission unsuitable:

  • requires a fair amount of editing, which we don't provide to that degree
  • writing in first person does not appear to enhance the protagonist's development
  • not enough fantasy, too conventional
  • characters seem extremely predictable

  • We hope that this does indeed help you to better target your work for the market it is suited for.

    Kimberly Gammon
    Editorial & Sales Manager
    HADES Publications

    Posted by Five Rivers Chapmanry at 4/02/2009 06:20:00 AM


    That first rejection (from Berkley) leaves me banging my head against the wall. "Too quiet and domestic?" What the ???! Because, writing from female point of view is domestic, is it? Three rapes, four murders, and being stalked relentlessly is now considered "too quiet"? I guess Lorina needed to work in a couple more car chases?!

    I sympathize more with the Warner rejection. Thomsen clearly liked the book but couldn't sell Canadian content to an American publisher. That has a very long Canadian tradition -- Lorina is in fine company with that one.

    I get Girvan saying that it crosses too many genre boundaries to be marketable. Never mind that that is one of the big pluses of the book for me as a reader (Lorina's book certainly taught me a thing or two about historical romance -- I promise to stop making disparaging remarks about that genre ever again) the fact remains that publishers today are driven by the marketing department not the editors, so clear market category is a necessity of commercial success, if not artistic integrity. So I understand that they didn't know how to market Shadow Song, but it doesn't make me happy with the state of publishing.

    The comment on cultural appropriation is also understandable, if quite wrong in this instance. I can see a publisher not wanting to put themselves in the middle of a controversy when it has 200 other manuscripts with no such potential baggage. But aside from the fact that controversy is as likely to sell books as not, no one who read this book could accuse it of appropriation because it is clearly written from the point of view of the English heroine, not the natives. I think this comment must come from reading the synopsis rather than the book itself.

    I never heard of Goose Lane Editions, but since when does a Canadian publisher complain a book is 'too slow'? "Moves along slowly" is quintessentially Canadian, and one of the things I loved about this book. You don't get the sensual descriptions, the depth of character, the underlying tension of the relentless pursuit in a fast paced narrative. I am so tired of TV pacing that introduces a problem and solves it within 22 minutes (plus commercials). This book needs all the space it takes, and there isn't a wasted word or a redundant scene anywhere.

    I am more sympathetic to the economic reality that it is harder to justify the risk of a thick book on a new author, but by god, did they READ the book? Some risks are worth taking, and this book definitely will find its audience. I think what they are really saying is that they are too small time to be able to afford it.

    As for Hades Publishing, what can I say? I would have to agree that there are not enough fantasy elements for the book to fit comfortably within their fantasy line, so I would be okay if they had just said that, though again, it must be frustrating for Lorina having a great book nobody is able to market within their little niches -- but the other comments are just completely off the mark. I have to say, this has certainly given me pause about sending them my own manuscript. Some of the books Hades has sent me to review are appallingly bad (too bad for me to actually review) so I just thought they were having trouble finding the great books -- that they were so dismissive of Lorina's manuscript is... troubling.

    Though again, to be fair, the problem may be that they are responding to a synopsis, rather than the book itself. Could anyone sell a synopsis based on Romeo and Juliet? McBeth? The plots are stupid and predictable, if viewed in that light, but the writing...! And while I didn't see Lorina's novel as predictable -- certainly not the ending I expected -- I wonder how any plot synopsis can really do justice to any book, let alone one so based on characterization, sensual description, and spirituality.

    I wish more authors would print their rejection letters. It certainly will help me face my own inevitable rejection letters if I see books as good as Lorina's garnering such comments. But then I and other beginning writers have long been sustained by the stories of great novels which had been repeatedly rejected prior to their ultimate publication to critical acclaim and financial success. Alexei Panshin's first novel, Rites of Passage comes to mind, published by legendary editor Terry Carr as part of the initial round of the Ace Specials in the mid-1960s. After what? 28 rejections? Or was it 43? The details are a bit hazy at this remove, but the point was Panshin had just decided to give up on the novel, shelved it permanently after receiving the latest rejection, when Carr called him up and asked (based on having read a couple of Panshin's short stories while editing a best of collection) 'You don't have a novel kicking around by any chance, do you?"

    I can't imagine what Grade 10 would have been like for me without Panshin's fiction. I wrote my first English paper on a comparison of Rite of Passage with (mandatory Grade 10 novel) To Kill a Mocking Bird. The adventures of Anthony Villiers was 3/4 of the basis of the subculture of the group I hung with in high school. (Okay, admittedly we were total nerds, but come on --Anthony Villiers, people! This was the 60s after all.)

    Anyway, one cannot help but reflect on how many Alexei Panshins out there never got that phone call, never ultimately got published; and whether they would have availed themselves of the print on demand options available to modern authors; and whether we, the readers, could have found them -- the signal -- among all the noise....

    However reassuring it is to realize that one's book can be still worthy, even if repeatedly rejected -it is also necessarily terrifying. What if nobody ever gets it?

    Well, not nobody, I guess. I love my book, even if no one else ever will....

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    April Fools

    Well, we did a couple of childish pranks on our kids. On our way to bed, at 12:01 AM, we woke Tigana up and told her it was time for school. "You're kidding," she protested, "it feels like I just got to sleep!" which is pretty accurate. She got as far as the bathroom for her morning shower before she spotted the clock. "Oh, you guys! I knew it all along!" Back to bed.

    So then we went around setting the clocks an hour ahead. We originally thought we'd get them up an hour early, driving them to school to find the doors still closed, but that would have meant us getting up an hour early, so we went with plan B. The alarm goes off, and mom jumps up shouting, "Oh no! We've overslept! You have to be at school in 20 minutes!" followed by much running around getting ready -- complicated somewhat by Tigana telling Kasia that today was Pajama Day as her prank on Kasia -- jumping into the car and racing off to school. We got about a block before Tigana spotted the car clock, and called us on it. So we just drove to Tim's for breakfast.

    Enroute a little voice from the back says, "I knew it wasn't really PJ day either!" "That's okay," says Mom, "We've brought your day clothes to change into at school"
    "What? No, I want to wear PJs all day! It will be funny being the only one in PJs." Funny how different the kids are. Tigana would be mortified to show up in the wrong costume, but not Kasia.

    Waiting now for the other shoe to drop. What do the kids have planned for us/me? At 11 and 5, the only thing they agree on is their addiction to the show Prank Patrol. Memo to self: get kids to bed by 6PM, before they can do anything....