Letterbox

Bookish & Filmish

Walking the Red Carpet of Book Covers.

Momentum is building for Pull Focus, and I’m excited. The edit, copy-edit, layout and the proof-read are complete. In a couple months, Pull Focus goes off to the printer. 

In the meantime, publicity has started. Advance reading copies are being pitched to long-lead media and trade journals; in April, digital ARCs will be posted to the two industry sites where book reviewers and bloggers access them.

While fall events will be subject to the Covid protocols that are in place six months from now, we’ve so far put plans in place for live events in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with more cities in the works. We’re also exploring Canada and UK options, which will be some combination of live, virtual and hybrid.

It’s a challenge programming in the midst of uncertainty, and ever-changing news cycle, but as one of our NYC partners said, ‘let’s focus on the art of the possible.’ Love that attitude, and certainly easier to adapt an existing event than pull off something good with too little time.

Many of you have asked how to pre-order Pull Focus and bless you for that. Pre-orders are an essential help for publishers, especially independent Canadian-owned ones, as they plan print runs.

It’s also has definite impact with booksellers, as well. Knowing there is early and strong interest in Pull Focus puts the book on their radar screen. Who doesn’t get excited being part of buzz? 

Word-of-mouth by indie bookstores has been an essential way that Canadian authors, especially debut ones, find an audience.

For indigo and Amazon, their algorithms are based on sales (+reviews once the book is out). That will determine how Pull Focusis displayed and promoted on their sites, which is really critical to its success.

So, drum-roll, please. . . Pre-orders for Pull Focus is now available at all your favourite booksellers. The options are HERE or click on any links below.

Canada

IndieBound

Indigo

Amazon

ECW Press

US

Bookshop.org

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Powell’s

Hudson Booksellers

Books-A-Million

UK

Amazon

Phew! I’m well-accustomed used to making fundraising pitches (as many of you kind and generous people know. . .) but never a pitch for myself. But as wise writer friends tell me, writers are also small business entrepreneurs. Who knows, maybe an IPO is next. 🙂

Many thanks to Caroline Suzuki for her beautiful photography and cover design.


Share


Ashes, re-emergence, and all that Winnipeg jazz. 

Ash Wednesday came late for me this year.

Ours was not a very religious family, my father raised an Irish Catholic, my mother a Scottish Presbyterian, although both of them eventually turned their back on organized religion because a too-powerful institution too often squished people whose ways of living they deemed wrong. 

As an adult, I often give something up for Lent, the forty days in the Christian calendar that start with Ash Wednesday and end the night before Easter Sunday, because for me occasional restriction and sacrifice brings into stark relief the ‘occasional’ part of that sentence.

The English word Lent is a shortened form of the Old English word lencten, meaning ‘spring season.’ And of course, many religions and countries have observances timed around the March Equinox including Ramadan, Passover, Holi, Nowruz and more.

It’s the time of year when the sun crosses the celestial equator, and day and time are equal length. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s the threshold to longer days, warmer sun, new crops and the sloughing off of winter.

As an outsider, I’ve fallen in love with Winnipeg over the past decade.

We’ve all heard the jokes about Winterpeg and yes, it is certainly cold that last week of January when you’re searching for the underground entrance to cross Portage and Main and the tears of frustration freeze on your cheeks.

And yes, we all read that Macleans article labelling Winnipeg Canada’s most racist city, a click-bait denial of the systemic racism that exists everywhere in this country.*

But, at its core, a city is nothing more or less than a collection of people. People willing to invest in and build their community – not when money is abundant but more importantly, when it’s not. People who deliver casseroles to their neighbours when crisis strikes. People who spend $150 for dinner in a pop-tent on the frozen intersection of two rivers at -30°c to support a local restauranteur and because winter’s long, you better have some fun

(Not the city’s snowbirds, mind you. They’re already in Palm Springs for the season.)

A city of only 800,000, Winnipeg amazingly boasts The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Winnipeg Jazz Festival, The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Manitoba Opera, The Winnipeg Folk Festival, Manitoba Theatre Centre and Prairie Theatre Exchange (+ Manitoba Theatre For Young People, Sarasvàti, Le Cercle Molière, Theatre by the River, and more), Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, Guy Maddin’s films. . .

It’s a city of marathoners that makes things happen with grit, not deep pockets. Meeka Walsh, editor-in-chief of Border Crossings magazine since 1992, has kept the magazine alive and at the top its game as a pre-eminent visual art journal. Same for Mitch Podolak’s founding of the folk festival in 1974, and its subsequent growth.

Name me another city in Canada of comparable size who citizenry buys season’s tickets, every year to everything, in order to build and sustain this kind of arts community.

I imagine Winnipeggers on this list rolling their eyes as I type this. Am I glossing over the challenges, the inequities, the wrongs? Yes, I am, but I’m an outsider, those are not mine to detail.

What I do think is fair to talk about is my experience of this city, once the main hub of Western Canada before that damn Panama Canal was built and ships were able to take goods to Vancouver, shifting the balance of economic power.

And those experiences are memorable.

Sitting with a thousand people in Centennial Concert Hall in the dead of winter for opening night of a New Music Festival. Producing sold-out talks with Cornel West, Winona LaDuke, Chris Hedges – left-wing speakers who drew 500-750 people each in this city whose 1919 general strike remains the largest strike for workers’ rights Canada has ever seen. 

Bike-jams where more than a thousand people showed up to rock the music and ride the streets. Tough public conversations in the North End’s Thunderbird House about what reconciliation really means, or with Cindy Blackstock about the inexcusable federal funding inequities for Indigenous children.

I’ve produced hundreds of talks and performances across Canada, none more vibrant than in Winnipeg.

On the preservation of historical buildings, Winnipeg has a decidedly mixed record. But I love the Downtown’s Exchange District with its mix of housing, office, retail and restaurants like the Peasant Cookery with gnocci so light and flight you don’t mind having three meetings there in as many days.

Overall, Winnipeg is flush with culinary options, from Turkish Eggs at Clementine’s to Sri Lankan in The Forks to the entire menu at Enoteca Wine Bar to the Sunday brunch chocolate fountain at the Fort Garry Hotel (followed by the best hammam in the country upstairs at TenSpa). 

And don’t even get me started about the tapas at Segovia, for which I’m still sitting shiva after learning those big wooden doors closed for good last year.

I rarely rent a car when I’m in Winnipeg, so my experience is primarily related to the downtown, but I’ve been out to visit the polar bears at the Zoo/Assiniboine Park, to Birds Hill Provincial Park for the multi-day extravaganza that is the Winnipeg Folk Festival and of course to McNally Robinson bookstore.

But mostly I like to wander. From the Fort Garry where I often stay, down through the old Via train station to The Forks, where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River, a place of importance for thousands of years for the Nakoda, Cree, Anishinaabe and Dakota. 

The 14-acre site, once an abandoned railyard, is a dynamic mixed-use space with walking trails, a market, hotel and restaurants, theatre and museums (including the Canadian Museum of Human Rights), public art and more.

From there, you can cross the bridge into St Boniface’s Francophone community; or west along Portage, to the University of Winnipeg, the provincial legislature (possibly the prettiest in the country with its limestone, Golden Boy and strange masonic symbols scattered throughout the building – that’s the quite the tour), and from there south across the river to hipster Osborne Village, past its colorful street murals to enjoy some stand-up comedy or burlesque, live music or dive bar, boho stores and custom cocktails.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of the weird and whacky, but the rest you’ll have to discover for yourself. At the end of the day, though, Winnipeggers are the very best thing about the place. They’re funny, talented, straight-forward and generous. And above all, committed to their city, even when it drives them crazy.

Ten days ago, my house was gutted by fire. My books – those old friends – all gone. Ditto for all my clothing, shoes, furniture and furnishings. The art may yet be saved, fingers crossed. The loss of it would break my heart, again.

The firemen told me to count my blessings; no-one was hurt, that was the main thing. And of course, that’s true, although at the same time it’s not that simple. The things in my home, while only things, represented the tree rings of my life. And beneath and between the endless pragmatic details that need attended, pokes a grief as resolute as the front garden’s irises, whose green tips can be seen amidst the charred remains.

But. Here I sit. 5am Sunday morning, the waning hours of the equinox. The sky will soon turn a burnt sienna as the sun prepares to come out. Warmer temperatures tease, and the promise of spring is evident in the gorgeous white flower bouquet sent by my partner’s sisters, colourful tulips from my friend Sujin.

And I’m thinking about with the collection of people in my life with whom I hold community, including all of you. Thank you.

* The April issue of Maclean’s about the mistakes of the pandemic is a must-read.


News & Gossips

News & Gossips

That Margaret Atwood is up to good again. Long a supporter of other writers through organizations like the Writers Trust and PEN Canada, she’s involved in a new project to benefit the Authors Guild Foundation. I noticed this item in Publishers Marketplace: 

Margaret Atwood, Douglas Preston, and the Authors Guild's FOURTEEN DAYS, a collaborative novel set in a tenement in New York City during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns, in which neighbors left behind when the rich flee the city gather on the rooftop to share stories; each character is narrated by a different major author, including Angie Cruz, Emma Donoghue, Dave Eggers, Diana Gabaldon, Tess Gerritsen, John Grisham, Maria Hinojosa, CJ Lyons, Celeste Ng, Mary Pope Osborne, Ishmael Reed, Hampton Sides, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Monique Truong. For publication in spring/summer 2022.

**

Of course, all things marketing is of interest to an author with a book to sell, and I’ve been participating in some great workshops including Farzana Doctor’s on lessons she learned promoting a book during a pandemic.

So, the article in the NYT about the rising influence of TikTok in book publicity was fascinating. “Videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending.”

Shannon DeVito, director of books for Barnes & Noble noted they hadn’t seen these types of crazy sales – tens of thousands of copies a month – with other social media formats. Arguably, these are primarily books that appeal to teenage girls (fantasy and YA), but great that these young women are such passionate book readers.

“I want people to feel what I feel,” said Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and now has nearly 200,000 followers. “At school, people don’t really acknowledge books, which is really annoying.”

A month ago, Refinery29 wrote about the ‘wholesome’ nature of BookTok, the incentive for these users to join the community. “A sanctuary for literature lovers of all kinds, the #booktok tag currently has over 4.4 billion views as creators discuss their favourite reads through video reviews, recommendations and book nerd memes.” 

**

I’m a complete addict of cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi, so I’m delighted that Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love will be available this fall, featuring veggie-forward dishes and diverse influences from their test kitchen, as well as tops on how to tweak and modify. Oh, to be one day back in London eating at one of their restaurants instead of to cook his food for myself!


Bye for now. Thank you for joining me for this sixth issue of Letterbox. Please connect with me on Twitter​, ​Instagram, ​Goodreads, Clubhouse: @helenwalsh, and my website.

Share Letterbox

Leave a comment