Home from a few days in a cruelly hot New York City, where I had a blast on a number of fronts. First, I met some new friends at Thriller Fest, including the novelist Sophie Littlefield. I was planning on writing a summary of the panel I was on, but Sophie has already done so, and with her own well-argued interpretation and questions and critique, so all I’m going to do is link to her blog. Thanks, Sophie!
Sophie Littlefield – Pens Fatale
On one of my free evenings, I saw a play. Not just any play, mind you, but the best contemporary play I’ve ever seen. It’s called Jerusalem, by Jez Butterworth. I could link to reviews, or provide my own synopsis, but I honestly don’t want to taint the experience if you decide to see it. And friends, if you have the time and dollars to get yourself to NYC within the next few weeks before it closes, you have to see this thing. Because it’s not only the best play out there, it features the best stage performance I’ve ever seen.
Mark Rylance: you are a genius, sir.
I am a Writers Convention virgin, at least when it comes to the US. No Bouchercon (yet), no Bram Stoker Weekend (definitely curious). But I’m about to lose it (as it were) in New York this year for Thriller Fest. There’s an amazing line-up of top-rate writers, and the panels sound actually interesting (hard to make a panel topic sound intriguing, but they’ve managed it). Though I will be meeting with some of my editors there, and a hardy clutch of Canadians will be in attendance, I’m feeling some first-day-of-school nerves about it all. Excited, in other words.
If you’re planning on being at Thriller Fest this year, or are in New York July 8th and 9th and are inclined to head over to the Grand Hyatt, love to meet you. Otherwise, I’ll let you know how it went once I’m home…
What’s so great about September 13th? No, it’s not a Friday, so it won’t remind you of those horror movies featuring Jason Voorhees, the unforgiving ghoul with the machete in the goalie mask. And no, it’s not my birthday (so please no gifts, unless you had a bottle of Redbreast Irish in mind). I’ll TELL you what so great about September 13th…
It’s the publication date for The Guardians in the US! And it doesn’t stop there: September 13th is also the publication date for The Guardians trade paperback edition in Canada.
Mark your calendars! Clear the day of all meetings! Wash your sleeping bag and spend the night of the 12th outside your favourite bookstore to be the first in line! (Okay, I’m excited. Hyperbole is a side effect).
Me, talking about The Guardians. (Watch out for the clown. No, not me – a real clown!)
The Guardians – Bookends
The Guardians is now available in audio book format, with really great readings, gotta say. It’s available through Audible, the Amazon audio publisher, at:
The Guardians audio book
Judging from the number of questions asked of authors at post-reading Q&As, people are interested in writers’ offices. What’s your desk like? How’s the view? Is there a bar? As for me, I’m of the Discomfort-Is-Good-For-Work school. You don’t want your space to be too fancy. And you definitely don’t want a sofa and/or TV.
But I do have my lucky charms. This piece at cbc.ca runs through some famous writers and their totems. And on the less famous side, there’s me.
Writers and Their Lucky Charms
The Guardians has recently appeared in its Dutch translation, and the reviews have quite possibly been the most enthusiastic of them all (and this is saying something, as I have to say that, overall, The Guardians has been the best-reviewed of all my novels). Here’s a couple samples:
“* * * * * [Five stars]. Beautifully written…The characters are drawn with extraordinary skill.” — de Volkskrant
“Brilliant…The Guardians is an excellent and unique thriller, the kind that makes your heart beat faster and faster. Pyper excels at the ghostly, and the supernatural elements have been worked out perfectly.” — NRC Handelsblad
I am especially happy about these notices because, of all the publishers that have brought my novels to print, my longest relationship has been with Ambo|Anthos. It’s funny, but my Dutch publisher is the only one to have published all of my novels. I love them for this, but also for their publisher, Chris Herschdorfer. On the occasions I have travelled to Amsterdam for booky reasons, Chris always takes me to this ancient bar that serves an equally ancient, yellowy gin. We mean only to have one, but drink three. Also, a few years ago, when Ambo|Anthos was celebrating the 10th anniversary of their Literary Thriller list, they – get this – flew me over to Amsterdam for the party. And it was one hell of a party.
Now that’s a publisher.
Mad Men. The Walking Dead. Breaking Bad. True Blood. The Wire…
The best of cable TV over the past few years has re-invigorated the medium. People talk about television drama now in a way they haven’t for a long time, that is, with irony-free interest and brainy passions. The dinner party intelligentsia can analyze Don Draper at length without shame, without worrying about the conversation being dumbed down or a fellow guest wondering if she has shown up at the wrong address. You hear fewer educated sorts bragging about not owning a television and more of them buying whole seasons of favourite shows and viewing them, in a ravenous swallow, over the course of a few evenings. So how did TV manage this turnaround (or at least partial turnaround) from dismissably vapid to meaty substance? Simple. TV became novels.
People still read, of course. They will always read. But I have this theory: as much of so-called serious fiction has turned its back on story in favour of message or affirmation or obvious theme – as it specializes in handy book club discussion points over raw narrative – TV drama has stepped in to fill the gap. The best of cable (and some broadcast) storytelling does what novels do, or used to do: it draws flesh-and-blood characters and inserts them into high stakes situations and then surprises us with how they respond, what they do, the mistakes they make. The best examples of this (Breaking Bad, in my opinion) don’t show essentially good people doing essentially good things (the Oprah model) but nakedly real people doing nakedly real things. These shows trouble us as they entertain us, leaving aside the pre-chewed moral lessons of so much so-called literary fiction. They trade instead in ambiguity, understandable villainy, the grey zones that make up our actual lived lives (as opposed to life as we might wish it to be).
This is not to say, by the way, that TV has trumped the novel. Not yet. But there are now a growing number of dramas on our screens so good – so literary, in the true sense of the term – that they offer a pointed reminder of not only what television can be, but books too.
I am currently re-reading a thicket of short stories of mine, plowing through basically every non-novelized bit of fiction I’ve written since Kiss Me, my first and only story collection. Some of the pieces go back a decade or more (the oldest being “Haunted Hayride,” published in The Ottawa Citizen in 1998!) It’s like riding a time machine: I remember so vividly the physical places and, even more vividly, the mood and emotional circumstances of their writing that I’m often surprised at the different people I’ve been. No, not different people, exactly, but the different themes I’ve returned to in my life. I can see myself in the preoccupations of these stories more clearly than if I stared at myself in the mirror for a whole afternoon.
It makes me think that what we call personality – the way we know others, know ourselves – is really a walking bundle of themes. For some, it’s Lost Love and Missed Opportunity. For others, Second Chances and The Cost of Lies. Whatever the big concerns might be, they aren’t usually too numerous, as each of them are more then enough to buoy (or plague) a life to the end. So not only are we understandable as themes, but we typically are comprised of only one or two. Three if you’re an especially complicated soul. And there’s not much you can do about changing them either. Just try jettisoning one of your themes for longer than a week or two. They always come back.
My last novel, The Killing Circle, is on a couple of university syllabi that I’m aware of (at both my alma maters, in fact – McGill and UofT). Why does this tickle me so much? I think, quite aside from the fizz of pride, it is the thought of young English and Canadian Literature scholars reading my work, just as I read others during my undergrad years. It’s a bridge between two selves: the student and the practitioner. Sure, it makes me feel a little old. But sometimes the years can bring new and unexpected pleasures.
I bring all this up because the novel that precedes The Guardians, The Killing Circle, is on the reading list of a great course Professor Nick Mount teaches at UofT. Part of its greatness is that some of the authors on the list are invited to present a talk and converse with Nick and answer questions…and this hour is open to the public. The Killing Circle session is coming up on Friday, March 18, at 3PM in the Bader Theatre, 93 Charles Street West. If you feel like bailing from work a bit early, come on by. Leafy quads! Bright young minds! Hitting the pub afterwards!