Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Are Canadians Boring?

From the desk of Senior Editor, Robert Runté

Jeet This Week (June 23, 2015) on CBC's Q gave a fascinating rant entitled, "Canada hides behind the myth of boringness". It's worth the nine minutes and 3 seconds it takes to listen, though I'm most interested in what he has to say in the last half: his theories of why Canadian history is (portrayed as) so boring.

He's not wrong when he says "Canada has constructed a mask of boringness...a facade...." (7.28) It's not that interesting things don't happen here, it's that we don't want to acknowledge anything negative or controversial in our history. Jeet's explanation is, in my view, right on. Worth a listen.

I can't even refute Jeet's statement (8:23) that

    "If I'm working with a Canadian editor, and there's anything that's quirky or funny, that gets taken out right away. Whereas, if I hand the same piece to an American editor, they'll like, again, just circle it and say, 'put that in the first paragraph'."

I would love to say that never actually happens, but...that's been my experience as a writer too. When my co-editor and I turned in our first textbook (Thinking About Teaching: An Introduction) I was really proud of the fact it had a lot of funny bits in it--which the publisher's editors promptly made us take out. The problem was that when the publisher sent the text out to instructors in similar courses across Canada--that is, the book's potential buyers--they all complained that we weren't 'serious' enough about the various topics covered. That made no sense to me: since when did 'serious' equate with 'dull'? But I needed tenure, which meant I needed to get the book published, so what could we do? We took the funny bits out.

I did manage to retain one extended Star Trek reference, and I fought to keep one chapter that was clearly outrageous (because it was an article I had written, and therefore, again something I needed for tenure), but that was the best we could salvage. (Well, it was still a decent textbook, just not what you'd call entertaining.) Significantly, while the text went out of print relatively quickly, that one 'outrageous' chapter has been reprinted in course readers in Education courses across Canada every year since for the last 25 years--because, I suspect, it's really hard to find readings on Canadian education that aren't boring.

The point, of course, is that it doesn't have to be this way. Now that I am Senior Editor with a publisher, I'm finally in a position to say 'no' to boring textbooks. Our series on the Prime Ministers of Canada does not shy away from the controversial, from the negative, or from engaging writing.

Nor have we committed the other crime against history that Jeet didn't get into: textbooks that condescend to their readers. Have you looked at your kid's text lately? These days, most K-12 texts seem to strip out substance for pages of colorful but questionably relevant pictures; include cute cartoon characters to cajole students to read the next paragraph; include 'review questions' that send students on a 'scavenger hunt' to find facts they can pluck out of context to fit in the blanks of meaningless worksheets. Head::Desk. As if students could never find their own history interesting, could never voluntarily read a biography of their Prime Minster(s); could never actually read a block of text without pictures. Perhaps there are students so overwhelmed by hypertext and visual media that they can no longer tolerate actual books, but if those hypothetical kids actually exist anywhere, they are not our target audience. We publish books for readers, and believe that given half a chance, kids, like adults, prefer books that don't talk down to them.

And that aren't boring.

See also:

  • Runté on the Prime Ministers of Canada series
  • Author interviews: The Prime Ministers of Canada series
  • Wednesday, 17 June 2015

    Shadow Song, by Lorina Stephens, called haunting and beautiful

    This reader review recently appeared at Read and Blog.

    Thursday, June 4, 2015

    Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens

    Published by Five Rivers

    Haunting and beautiful, I couldn't put this book down. Partly historical, partly supernatural yet grounded, and always in tune with nature. This is a child's journey to adulthood through very different lifestyles. Beginning in pre-Victorian England, only child to moderately wealthy parents, Danielle sees her world crumble as her uncle, the older son who had inherited from his parents, proceeds to bankrupt his younger brother, Danielle's father. As a result, it isn't long before the family is reduced to living on the streets. The deaths of her parents through starvation, disease and depression leave her an orphan and she is sent to live with her only living relative, the uncle who caused their demise.

    Arriving in Upper Canada, she is amazed at so much living nature...tall forests everywhere, the world feels alive. But she fears her uncle, and apparently rightly so, as kind people are worried for her welfare and do their best to protect her on the long journey she must take before reaching her uncle's hovel. Based upon a true tragedy that occurred in the village of Hornings Mills, Ontario, Canada, what follows is a terrifying escape and run for her life. Her uncle is so ruthless he will hunt her down forever.

    Meeting Shadow Song, an Ojibwa shaman, the story becomes beautiful amidst the horror she will soon face. She has a self-appointed protector in Shadow Song, and he is always watching out for her. I loved this wonderful lyrical story. It will linger with me for a long time. Lorina Stephens is a mesmerizing writer, combining historical settings with mystical story-telling. No matter the horrors that may appear in the story, there is beauty as well. This is a coming-of-age story and an adventure story unveiling itself exquisitely. I am now definitely a fan of Lorina Stephens.

    Posted by nightreader at 9:52 AM No comments: Links to this post
    Labels: Canadian, fiction, historical, Ojibwa, orphan, pre-Victorian England, shaman


    Monday, 15 June 2015

    Eye of Strife 'a page-turner' says Goodreads reviewer

    Tony King's Reviews > The Eye of Strife

    's review
    May 16, 15

    Read in May, 2015

    The Eye of Strife is not a long book, but it is brimming with everything Dave Duncan fans love and have come to expect. The religious and political systems ring true. There's intrigue, romance, action (yes, more swordfighting), gods who take an active interest in the lives of their worshippers, a mysterious, possibly powerful, talisman, and a strong sense of justice. His voice is engaging, devious, sly and humourous.

    It's a book that will appeal especially to those who like the Omar books and The Alchemist's Apprentice series. In some ways, it's a cross between Agatha Christie's gathering of the suspects and Tolkien's quests.

    That this is his 50th book had escaped my notice until today; it's an accomplishment worthy of applause. The Eye of Strife is a page-turner from start to the all-too-soon climax.
     ∙ flag


    Friday, 12 June 2015

    5 stars for Hunter's Daughter at LibraryThing

    Great review in from a Early Reviewer at LibraryThing for Nowick Gray's crime drama set in 1960s Ungava.

    This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
    I received this through the Early Reviewers' program.

    This is by far the best book I have received through Library Thing's Early Reviewers' program.
    A tense crime story, this is not the usual sort of police procedural (a genre I read often and enjoy). The difference was that this is placed in a particular culture clash: between Inuit people of northern Canada and the (mainly and dominant) white Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
    This made for a fascinating story. The police officer, working against incredible cultural odds in northern Quebec, trying to solve a murder mystery in really remote parts of that province. The native people, some of whom have had no contact with 'western' people, have a very different way of dealing with the issues that arise.
    I enjoyed this story from the very start to the end. The setting was just so different from my personal experience that I was in thrall. The culture clash, while set in this story in the 1960s is just as real today in places where native peoples have no way of understanding the ways of the ruling culture.
    For a complete outsider, this was great story-telling. Thank you Nowick. I'll be looking for other books of yours.  )
    1 vote   flagbuttsy1 | May 29, 2015 | 
    Hunter's Daughter is available in print and eBook formats directly from Five Rivers, or from your favourite online bookseller.


    Wednesday, 3 June 2015

    Five from Five: Five Rivers' Book Launch in Victoria BC

    Please join us at 3:00 pm, Saturday, June 27th, at Royal Canadian Region Britannia Branch as Five Rivers launches five of our spring releases. It's a chance to meet and greet (and get your book signed) by our authors: Paula Johanson, Dave Duncan and Nowick Gray.

     At this book launch, we are proud to present:

    • Nowick Gray's quintessential Northern mystery, Hunter's Daughter

    • Paula Johanson's biography King Kwong: the China Clipper who broke the NHL colour barrier released May 1st and the newly revised and expanded edition of her fantasy, Tower in the Crooked Wood released June 1st.
    • Dave Duncan's 50th book fantasy mystery, The Eye of Strife and the omnibus edition of Ivor the Runner series, The Adventures of Ivor. 

    This will be a great opportunity for the BC SF community to come together and celebrate Canadian Literature. There are parking spaces available, and the venue is also accessible by bus.

    If you have any questions, please send it our way through comments or e-mailing info@5rivers.org.

    We hope to see you there!

    Wednesday, 27 May 2015

    The PM Series Interviews: Mark Shainblum

    We asked the same five questions of the authors of the Prime Ministers of Canada series.

    Mark Shainblum is one of those authors. His biographies of John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier will release in 2017.
    Mark Shainblum
    Mark Shainblum is a journalist and communications professional. He has freelanced for The Montreal Gazette, Quill and Quire, Hour, University Affairs and Report on Business, among many other publications.

    He has also worked extensively in communications, media relations, public affairs and digital media management in several sectors. including entertainment, post-secondary for McGill University’s Admissions Office, Faculty of Science and Media Relations Office. His other clients and employers have included the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, Airborne Entertainment, The Lady Davis Research Institute and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. He is now Manager of Commodity Coordination and Communications for the Canadian Horticultural Council.

    Mark was born and raised in Montreal, and currently lives in Ottawa with his wife Andrea and daughter Maya.

    For Mark the most important question of the five we asked was his response to the comment Canadian history is boring. He had this very eloquent statement to make:
    I've thought a lot about this question, especially when John Dupuis and I edited Arrowdreams, the first anthology of Canadian history stories. Canadian history is boring if, yes, as you say, all the rough edges and nasty bits are stripped away from it. And if we teach it in a way that deliberately attempts to de-mythologize it. I'm not saying that history should be taught with deliberate fallacies, like George Washington's famous cherry tree, but by the same token, we shouldn't minimize grand achievements because blowing our own horn is somehow "too American". Just because the Americans overdo it and blow some pretty mundane events and personalities from their revolution all out of proportion, it does not follow that we should teach Canadian history by minimizing great accomplishments (or terrible crimes, such as the treatment of the Metis out west).

    The biggest issue still seems to be that because Canada didn't have a revolution, our history is boring. It's true that we lack that dramatic demarcation, the violent cutting of the ties. But on the other hand, it's arguable that Canada's gradual evolution into nationhood was a revolution of a different sort. 239 years after the American Revolution, and almost 150 years after Confederation, the U.S. and Canada are both sovereign nation states. The Americans did it by staging a violent revolution that eventually killed hundreds of thousands, displaced many thousands more and set the stage for the even bloodier civil war 80 years later.
     We did it by gaining the trappings of independence gradually, in stages, with far less bloodshed and outright genocide against the native peoples. But in the end, both countries ended up in exactly the same place. (Not discussing America's relative power in the world, that's a different issue). So who was smarter?

    The first of the Prime Ministers of Canada series, Lester B. Pearson, by Gordon Gibb, is now available directly through Five Rivers in both print and eBook, as well as from your favourite online bookseller worldwide.


    Friday, 22 May 2015

    Paula Johanson talks about Tower in the Crooked Wood

    Five Rivers Publishing is happy to announce the release of Paula Johanson's Tower in the Crooked Wood June 1, 2015. We asked Paula to share with us the journey in creating the world of her story.
    ISBN 9781927400913 $12.99
    eISBN 9781927400920 $4.99

    JC: What inspired Tower in the Crooked Wood?

    PJ: I've been reading fantasy novels since finding a copy of The Lord of The Rings in my school library at age 9. That's a lot of novels! The inspiration for Tower in the Crooked Wood was learning that a publisher of gaming cards was looking to release novels compatible with their gaming system. It was a reason to try another novel manuscript with a goal in mind. I find publisher's needs to be very inspiring!

    That publishing program folded, but Bundoran Press acquired my novel. When Bundoran retired their fantasy backlist, Five Rivers Publishing acquired a revised edition of Tower in the Crooked Wood.

     The inspiration for Tower in the Crooked Wood was learning that a publisher of gaming cards was looking to release novels compatible with their gaming system. It was a reason to try another novel manuscript with a goal in mind.

    JC: What would you say is the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction?

    PJ: Near as I can tell, there's a big difference in that readers are looking for content in non-fiction, and for style and tone in fiction. There are more similarities than differences. Non-fiction is so much more successful when it has narrative and overt tone and style choices. Fiction has heaps of content but slides past it, which can lead to cultural assumptions.

    JC: Did writing Tower in the Crooked Wood involve research?

    PJ: The new research was learning about the gaming system for the gaming cards and saying to myself, "Holy smokes! These cards are a good substitute for writing scenes and characters and settings." Suddenly I had settings and motivations, and soon I had scenes and characters. It was quite a different experience for me, as usually I begin with dialogue and characters then build from there.

    Gravel pit in Villanueva Alberta
    Gravel pit in Villanueva Alberta, one of the inspiration for the setting of Tower in the Crooked Wood

    JC: Can you give us an insight to the world-building involved in the writing of Tower in the Crooked Wood? Is the setting based on anywhere in reality?

    PJ: Building this world involved incorporating real-life experiences from my visits to construction sites, a gravel yard near Villeneuve, Alberta, a limestone quarry in Stonewall, Manitoba, and islands on the west coast, all of which had happened years before. Every setting shown or mentioned in Tower is based on real locations, which correspond in latitude and longitude to where the places would be in Jenia's world of two moons. Copper Island is a composite of several landscapes in traditional First Nations territory.

    Limestone Quary in Stonewall, Manitoba, one of the inspiration for the setting of Tower in the Crooked Woods

    JC: Can you tell us more about Tower in the Crooked Wood? Would you say it has a character-driven or an action-driven plot?

    PJ: Using the gaming cards to start got me thinking about real places which were good matches for the cards. Putting cards together according to rules for the game made narrative sense, and told me what could be happening. From there I realized that it wasn't essential to write the novel from the point of view of the person who knows everything and is doing the biggest actions.

    The plot is driven by the places in the story, and the actions of the characters are secondary. The thoughts and feelings of the characters might seem extremely important to the characters themselves, yet these elements are not first or second but a distant third in determining what happens. Here's a quote from the book:

    It was not the sort of story Jenia was used to hearing, of one hero's adventure or one traveller's journey. When armies assemble and do battle, there ought to be a story for every pair of feet marching.

    This is the story of one person moving in a very big world.

    JC: Which came first, the story or Jenia, the character?

    PJ: While I knew the settings and the actions first, it wasn't a narrative until I had a voice to follow through the events. That voice was Jenia's.

    Non-fiction is so much more successful when it has narrative and overt tone and style choices. Fiction has heaps of content but elides past it, which can lead to cultural assumptions.

    JC: How was the editing process?

    PJ: The editing process for the first edition was different from this revised edition. For Bundoran Press I added a couple of scenes which really improved the novel and made it more complete. For Five Rivers Publishing I have restored some elements which have made the story stronger, and expanded some scenes. I'm really happy to have this new edition released!

    JC: How long did it take to write this book? Are there moments you had to deal with writer’s block? How did you push through them?

    PJ: The first draft was outlined quickly and didn't take long to write. It was revised for Bundoran, and again for Five Rivers.

    Writer's block is something that writers deal with in different ways. Usually for me it helps to work on a different kind of writing project, such as poetry instead of non-fiction, or a short story instead of a novel, or a non-fiction book on science instead of a book about magic. I try not to force writing. There's always so many things that need to be done around the house. And some things, like laundry, can be abandoned half-finished when writing begins to work.

    For Five Rivers Publishing, I have restored some elements which have made the story stronger, and expanded some scenes.

    JC: Can you describe your writing process?

    PJ: Usually it's very different from writing Tower! I have written a lot of short non-fiction books on science or health or literature for educational publishers. For those books, the editor tells me the topic and asks me to propose a book in the style of their series. By the time I've written a table of contents and book proposal, that kind of book is already outlined in detail.

    For both non-fiction and fiction, the process of writing for me involves finding how to tell someone about the matter at hand. Facts aren't dull when you know how they affect people, and characterization isn't fluff when it connects people and events.

    JC: Can you share your writing influences in terms of fiction?

    PJ: While I admire and have read many classic works of science fiction and fantasy, I'm most strongly influenced by Ursula K. Le Guin and by The Curve of Time, which was the lone book written by M. Wylie Blanchet.

    JC: Are there any writing projects on your table right now? What can we expect from you in the future?

    PJ: Currently I'm writing a couple of biographies of Canadian prime ministers for a series from Five Rivers Publishing. This month I'm presenting a couple of papers at a conference on digital humanities, which in about a year I hope to make the core of an academic book for teachers on bringing a student's real-life experiences to a better understanding of historical and literary works. One educational publisher I write for has acquired the other, and I'm waiting to hear back about a couple of ideas.

    In writing Tower, I was not trying to write a history or a grand, over-arching narrative.

    JC: What can readers expect from Tower in the Crooked Wood?

    PJ: I have grown tired of epic fantasy novels with repeated and endless combat scenes; I'm not sure whether it's worse when the author has some experience in martial arts or soldiering or when the author has none and skates past important factors. In writing Tower, I was not trying to write a history or a grand, over-arching narrative. This is one story, as seen by one person, learning about her world.

    As Alice Meynell wrote: "Art has rightly nothing to do with the history of war, it should be concerned only with its anecdotes. Art should go into the byways of battle. It must love the soldier and love him individually, not in battalions."

    Tower in the Crooked Wood is available June 1, 2015 in both print and eBook formats directly from Five Rivers, or through your favourite online bookseller.