A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Monday, August 27, 2007

Book Review: Jumping the Queue by Mary Wesley

Jumping the Queue is Mary Wesley’s celebrated first novel.

While in McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, I came across a display of Mary Wesley books, all of which have been re-issued with new cover designs.

Wesley started writing at the age of 70 and published a number of books, Jumping the Queue being the first and The Camomile Lawn being her big commercial success. What the Beeb says about Mary.

The opening scene of Jumping the Queue is Matilda writing instructions for her friends and family on how to dispose of her belongings and of the house. She has reached the end of her rope with life and is happily ready to shuffle off with a mortal dose of pills and a nice swim into a strong tide that will pull her out to sea. All is very well with this plan, except the pet gander keeps pecking at her, and when she finally gets to her beach spot there are a bunch of rowdy kids there. No problem. She goes immediately with Plan B and finds a bridge to jump from. Just her luck, there’s a wanted murderer also trying to jump.

Never one to pass by adventure, Matilda invite him home, reprimands him for his behaviour and sets him up in the spare room. The reprimand is for being in her jumping spot, not for murdering his mother, which she is sure her children have thoughts of many times.

Wesley is a fine writer and Matilda is a fine character. I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading more of her work.

Like Matilda, Mary was a bit of a wild one (she died in 2002). She married early for money and societal pressures. She had a unsatisfying relationship with her mother, which definitely comes out in her work. But with wit and style she managed to free herself from those constraints and find love with a second husband and satisfaction writing. There is a biography available called Wild Mary, but none of these books seem to be promoted widely in North America.

Wild Mary is available from McNally Robinson. I love the store. The website could use some work. More on that later.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Book Review: The Book of Stanley

The Book of Stanley by Todd Babiak is one of the funniest books I’ve read all year.

There’s something about books about God that really tickle me. I suppose it’s repressed anxiety from attending the Catholic Church as a kid.

Stanley Moss is an average man. He’s a retired florist, diagnosed with cancer. He’s a putterer and his wife’s the same. They live in Edmonton, across the way from a car dealership, and sometimes in the clear, summer afternoons they can hear the receptionist announcing calls over the PA. It’s the prairies.

So what happens to Stanley Moss? How does he become my hero and favourite character of 2007?

Like this.

Stanley is stricken by ... well, we’re not sure, but afterwards things are different. He’s different.

Stanley can hear what people are thinking. He can convince them of things. He can lift heavy objects. He can throw himself from a cliff.

He’s God.

But he’s also human in a way to which we can relate. Stanley’s nervous about his new self. He’s unsure of what to do. He wants to use his power for good, but he’s surrounded by bad. He makes decision by committee. He gets confused. He starts losing himself.

I think we have these worries whenever we take on new challenges and that’s what is great about Stanley. Stanley’s not a leader. The Book of Stan. Come on. But they do, people come in droves to hear what he has to say, to try to silence him, to try to follow his teachings. It’s a behemoth mess as far as his wife is concerned.

You have to love her for that.

The Book of Stanley is Canadian satire. It’s not British and definitely not American. It’s perfectly Canadian.

I’ve been telling people that The Book of Stanley is “Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Michael Winter.”

Read the book and let me know if you agree.

Todd also has a smart ass blog at ToddBabiak.com, last I checked he was trying to replace Rabinovitch as president and CEO of CBC. He’s definitely an author to watch out for, I mean, watch.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Book Review: Beyond Buzz by Lois Kelly

Cross-posted on Work Industries blog.

Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Lois Kelly is about learning to create meaningful dialogue about organizations and products, instead of marketing blah blah blah.

If you are the lone evangelist in your organization—the one who gets it—print out a copy of the Executive Summary of Beyond Buzz and get it in front of as many managers as possible, especially those in communications, marketing and PR. (Tip from a former lone evangelist: I know, the summary is electronic. You could email it. In my experience, paper in front of nose is more effective.)

There are 5 reasons why conversation is important.

1. Because The Cluetrain Manifesto tells us markets are conversation.

Ok, that’s not one of the 5, but it’s definitely the starting point to understanding #1.

#1. People don’t trust marketing and sales information.

We have trusted advisors. They are our friends and family. We’d rather believe Tom, who’s just bought a new digital camera, than Best Buy who wants to sell us a camera for 20% off.

#2. People are overwhelmed with information.

We trust our friends and family because we can have a conversation with them. They help us make sense out of the information. They are not trying to sell us anything. They have our best interests at heart.

#3. Beyond products, people want to know what it’s like to work with your company.

We want to know that we’re spending our money with the right people.

#4. Explosion of new “talk” communications channels.

There are many, many ways for us to search online for product reviews. In fact, we don’t just check “Ford + reviews”, we check “Ford + repairs” and “Ford + broken”. If you’re not part of that conversation, we’re less likely to care about great reviews, especially if your company is the source of the reviews.

#5. People want to be heard and have a say.

Be an advocate on behalf of customers. Listening and talking can take you a long way.

The Foghound > Beyond Buzz website has lots of other incentives to buy the book:

Buy a copy of Beyond Buzz today.

Enter to win a free copy.
I’ll do a random draw in one week.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Young-ha Kim Comes to Canada

Young-ha Kim, author of I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, will be touring universities this fall. He is sponsored by a Korean organization (not sure which one) and will be doing readings in Korean, but I suspect he might also promote his English books.

The media scoop is he’ll be in Vancouver and doing a reading a UBC. More details to come.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Barcamp: Facebook

Facebook is a social utility to connect to your real world friends. But negotiating personal relationships on Facebook is an interesting challenge. In real life, we can deal with people individually. We decided what we want to share.

In real life, you can be friends with Amy, Sally and Susie. You’re friends with all of them, but each of them may know different things about you.

On Facebook, you have a full profile and a limited profile. If Sally and Susie are in a limited profile, you can’t share photos with just Sally. Sally is part of a limited profile. If you share with Sally, you are also sharing with Susie.

So what do you do?

Reject Friend Request is what Philip Jeffrey does, but he extends an invitation to LinkedIn instead.


Facebook is a crazy thing for me. I would like to share certain things with my active friends. At the same time, I do pretty much nothing on Facebook because I don’t want to manage the complexity of limited profile, full profile.

I’m paying attention to Philip’s presentation now.

Here’s what he says about creating and promoting groups on Facebook:

1. Search and find most popular group within the subject.
2. Decide what name are you going to use.
3. Figure out if that group & name exists.
4. Make sure you are spelling the name correctly.
5. As creator of group, you’re associated with that group. Set for life. You can let other people be administrators, but you’re always associated with that group.
6. There is no one set solution for directing traffic to your group.
7. Concentrate on search optimizing the title of the group.

Barcamp: Magnolia & Twitter

Ma.gnolia.com uses Twitter.com to generate feedback from their community and to get immediate feedback on development and new features. They also use it when they have service disruptions. Instead of having lots of people in the community trying to email notifications when the site is down or something is not working, Ma.gnolia can keep the community up to date on what they are working on, and they can get real time feedback on errors and services disruptions that the community is experiencing.

Barcamp: DIY Ads, Zero to 30 Seconds

James is doing an session on AdHack.com and creating ads with people power and the skills in the room.

This is a hands-on session and I’m supposed to help James.

Ok, paying attention now.


The ads are up! In James’ session we talked about design briefs and how to go from concept to ad in less than 60 seconds. I admit that our ads still need some work and fine tuning, but I think we came a long way in 60 minutes.

Topic: Uncle Fatih’s Pizza

Watch our ads for amusement.

Barcamp: Fight the Complexity

Lee LeFever and The Common Craft Show.

Common Craft is the specialist in non-geek explanations of geekdom.

Check out Social Bookmarking in Plain English.

Behind the scenes:

* What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?
* They script it out. This is the most important thing. They get that right.
* They’ll do storyboards and then divide it into scenes.
* They film it.

Lee says the first couple of videos were harder to film. They are now refining their style.

* No video over 5 min.
* No external sound effects. Lee hums.
* Try to stay copyright-free.
* Educational
* Constraints are good: hands, humming, paper, whiteboard
* Low tech to explain high tech

Common Craft is focusing their business on being good storytellers. It’s not about being good high-end video producers.

So who’s watching these?

Everyone. Lee also says librarians seem to get and like these videos.

Things that are good to get right: sound quality and visual quality.

Here’s how they started making this a business:
“Problems get solved when they need to get solved.”

Lee showed photos of their great, home set-up. Very MacGyver.
They use strings to move things across the screen.

Technical stuff:

* Edit video in FinalCut Express.

* Edit audio first to get it down. Then place video.

* Use Blip.tv to host videos. Lee likes Blip because the player isn’t branded. Better quality.

* Dotsub.com Uploaded video to dotsub so that you can upload video and add subtitles. Then anyone can translate it.

* Vimeo is how they share video with client. It’s never exposed. Client can download video. Secure.

Good books that influenced Common Craft:
Made to Stick

The Paradox of Choice

Other ideas:
Lee has an idea about explaining other things, like solar energy.

Barcamp: Favourite Things

Barcamp Vancouver, August 18.

These Are a Few of My Favourite Things by Tod Maffin
Cool little applets, widgets, haxies, and gadgets that don’t cost much (at all) but make our everyday computing life so much easier!

Here’s the wiki and the links to these tools.

Built in Zoom:
Universal Access. Set Zoom on.
Keyboard hold ctrl option and + or -

Tiny Alarm: add alarm

Address Book on Mac and Facebook.
Update info on Facebook, but then have to manually update

FacebookSync: goes through friends’ list and then checks if anything missing in Address Book, including creating new listing.
Plaxo for PC does this too.

Big file and can’t send it by email. Send large files easily. Take file want to send, can zip. Creates URL for them to go and collect file.

Take photo and post on blog. Easy upload. Set up locations in advance. Can edit, crop photo if you want, nice dropshadow, adjust size. Hit send. Now uploaded it. URL is copied to clipboard. Free.

Checks where your damn disk space has gone. Can see who the worst offenders are so you can get rid of the crap.

I love this tool. Takes a full screen shot. If log in with Safari, might be work around for sites requiring login.

If you have to type something all the time, this is great.

Menu Master
Change menu shortcuts on the fly. If you’re used to keyboard shortcuts and switch programs (different shortcuts), who cares! Just set your own with this.

Silicon keyboard protector. London Drugs. $15. Save your keyboard.

Huckleberry Mirror. Little periscope that is angled to turn build-in camera to shoot in front of you.

Quicksilver from Blacktree
Control space gives you the search box. Type name of any program and it starts it up. Has all bookmarks. Type and open.

Multiple IDs for instant messaging? Use Adium. Lots of not-well-known features. Consolidates everyone under one listing. Logs and archives everything.

Sits in menu bar and tells us the weather in all sorts of places.

Phone and computer talks together. $10 app.

Oh and Tod has an iPhone. My second sighting and touching.

Blackberry sync sucks. Better app is MissingSync.

View PDF as webpage. Hate Adobe. Use Firefox Add-ons.

Ok, PC guys?

Here’s the equivalent in PC.

Want Facebook Sync use Plaxo.com. Sync with thousands of contacts in no time.

FileChute equivalent is YouSendIt.com. Some similar stuff. Or use Pando. Send up to 1 GB. Sends email and can download. Free

ImageWell, try http://www.Quama.com and drag and drop stuff.

Problem trying to sync up more than one friend. http://www.doodle.ch is swiss tool for helping schedule lots of people.

CRM app. http://www.freecrm.com for lead management

PictureSync. Syncs all photos to all places you send your photos. Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, Smugmug. Whereever your photos go, you can upload them.

Facebook pluging for Firefox. Share links from the tool bar. Gives little status flash.

Delicious Firefox add-on that lets you add your tags.

Boost is Facebook plug-in that right in toolbar lets you skim Facebook.

Firefox extensions: Web developer toolbar. Let’s you see site without styles. Can disable images.

Firebug. Jump in and explore, edit stuff on fly. Play with CSS without editing things. Can play with other sites to see how they did it. See CSS associated with, for example, the h2 tag. It’s like viewing source but it does it right in split screen. Kind of like Dreamweaver. See what it would look like. Good for quick, dev. elements.

GMail notifier in top menubar.

Firefox also restores closed tab.

Voodopad from Flying Meat for taking notes in an incredibly crafty way. Link all your thoughts together.

Lynda.com is $25 per month US. It’s online training program. Movie library of any program known to man. It’s the “show-me” tool. This is awesome for courses.

Coda. FTP client with preview, edit, manages sites. Visual CSS. Terminal. Reference books. Good text editor. Auto-completion.

VisualHub takes any video file and converts anything to anything.

VLC. Swissarmy knife of video players. Will play any video.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Apple iPhone

I just met a guy with an Apple iPhone.


It is super cool. The screen resolution is amazing. The image rotates as you rotate the phone. You can double tap the image to get menus, you can make a pinching motion with your fingers to zoom in and out.

YouTube is pre-installed. The videos load quickly and look great. Better than on a PSP.

The internet browse is also cool. It understands divs so you can double tap areas of the website to zoom in.

Wow, wow, wow.

The screen uses optical glass and is really hard to scratch.

It’s much thinner than I expected. It’s like the size of a closed Motorola Razr phone, but a little wider and longer.

My geeky senses are tingling.

Oh, and Evan is a nice guy too.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Publishing Tips from a First-Time Author

I’m not a first-time author but having worked in the publishing industry, I get a lot of questions from writers who would like to get published. The process is fairly simple: You have to get in the door. This is usually by knowing someone in the company, meeting an editor at a conference, having a great agent or writing a compelling query letter.

Simple in theory. Hard in practice.

I read in the Vancouver Sun today that Robert Scott, a 60-year-old Langford resident, is being published by Avalon Books. Bob decided to write a mystery novel in a month. He took it to a writers’ conference, got a 10-minute pitch interview with a New York publisher’s editorial director and, nine months later, signed a three-book contract.

A dream-come true story, and one that is fairly atypical.

The Sun article tells an interesting story about Bob’s experience, but it also includes some helpful tips on what Bob did to position himself.

1. He joined the Crime Writers of Canada: “It was the best 100 bucks I ever spent.” Besides all the resources on their website, the organization provided priceless publicity and contacts.

2. He signed up for the magazine Writer’s Digest, joined its book club and immersed himself in other writing-related sites, listservs and research books. By the time he got to the pitch, he’d already read advice on how to do it.

3. He belongs to a writer’s group that meets weekly from September to June. Shirley read his manuscript, too, and, Scott says, “does a good job of pointing out basic errors” as well as helping with syntax and spelling.

4. He’s dedicated and has good work habits. Scott’s preferred writing time is midnight till 4 a.m. For example, on Wednesday he might write from midnight until 6 a.m. the next day, go to his Rotary meeting, come back, sleep a little, and then write in the evening. He feels comfortable if he’s written 2,000 words a day.

5. He goes to the annual Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Scott says it’s a standout among these types of events, and it’s where he pitched his manuscript.

6. He offered what an in-house editor wanted. He says of Cartwright-Niumata: “I’ve heard comments from her like, ‘Your stories are well written.’”

When she was asked about Scott, she sent back this message through her assistant Faith Black - and there’s hope in it for all aspiring writers:

“Erin met Bob at the Surrey writers’ conference in Vancouver, and they had a great meeting. Bob delivered a great pitch on his book, and Erin knew she wanted to work with him before even reading anything. It was a good, short pitch that reeled her in and got her interested in the project.

“If you write well and you submit properly (following the correct guidelines for submission), anyone can write for Avalon. We are always looking for new and first-time authors.”

All good advice.

(I’d love to link to the Vancouver Sun article but because Canada.com is such a shitty site, I can’t find the article online, and in the unlikely event that the search worked, I’m sure the article would be password protected and viewable only to subscribers. There’s an online strategy for you.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Book Review: I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim

Young-Ha Kim has published four novels and numerous short stories. His latest novel is I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.

I’m not certain that we do have the right to destroy ourselves, but the narrator of Young-Ha Kim’s novel feels so.

I don’t encourage murder. I have no interest in one person killing another. I only want to draw out morbid desires, imprisoned deep in the unconscious.

The unnamed narrator is a bit of a contract killer, but the contract you take out is on yourself instead of on someone else. He wanders the city of Seoul, looking for the lonely. There he finds Judith and Mimi, both women who happen to become in some way involved with the same man, C.

In the Judith story, C and his brother K both fall for Judith. Judith uses them both and eventually leaves them both. In the Mimi story, Mimi is a performance artist who becomes involved with C, who is a video artist. As with Judith, C is unable to connect with Mimi and she too eventually leaves.

The subject matter of the novel is a tad sketchy, especially since it’s being recommended for older teen reading. I’m not sure that I’d want teens reading this type of novel and identifying with any of the characters. At the same time, the writing is highly dreamlike and cinematic. There’s a certain dark brilliance in the writing and how Young-Ha Kim has captured the tone of these listless characters.

I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is well worth reading, but I’d be careful recommending it to anyone lacking strong convictions. It’s not a glorified suicide book, but the intensity and aimlessness of the characters is alarming and the ease with which they seem to destroy themselves is unnerving.

The cover is gorgeous.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Book Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky was recommended to me in 2006 when the hardcover was released. The book was on all the major bestseller lists. It was picked up by countless bookclubs. It was a Heather’s Pick at Indigo. For these very reasons, I avoided reading it.

Books to me are not like movies. I don’t want to read what everyone else is reading. I do like bestsellers, but I like to read them before they become bestsellers. That’s why I love getting advance review copies from publishers. I like to determine before the book hits the market whether it’s great or not. Stuck up, I know.

But I also like to read books that are never going to make a bestseller list but should. The small, quiet books that find a place in the market because someone recognized their greatness.

Suite Francaise was one of those books that I missed reading at an early stage, and once it became big, I wanted to wait until the hype died down.

In many ways, I think Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky became such a hit because of the back story.

When I teach online book marketing, I always talk about publishers and booksellers being storytellers. We have to go beyond the book. The book itself is not the product we’re selling. We’re selling entertainment, education, storytelling.

Here’s the story.

Irene Nemirovsky was born in Kiev in 1903. In 1918, her family fled the Russian Revolution and ended up in France, where she later became a bestselling novelist. When Germans occupied France in 1940, Irene was in the precarious position of being Jewish and Russian. It did not matter that her children were born in France, that they were baptized as Catholic, that Irene had no sentiments towards her Jewish heritage or the Bolshevics. No matter. She was arrested on 13 July 1942, deported to Auschwitz and sent to the gas chamber.

What remained of Irene’s last novel was carried across France and eventually to North America by her two surviving daughters. What they thought was the personal diary of their mother ended up being the notations for a novel in 5 parts.

Irene intended for the novel to be composed much like a piece of music, hence the name Suite Francaise. She wanted the experience of reading about the occupation of France to be like music “when you sometimes hear the whole orchestra, sometimes just the violin.”

Irene was writing about the history of the world, in particular the relationship between charity and greed that befalls even the best of us in dire times. The 2 parts of the novel that exist portray the mass exodus of refugees from Paris. The mass invasion of France by the German army, and the tyranny that followed. That tyranny was, for the most part in the novel, amongst the French. The betrayals in the war that interest Irene are of the government to the people, the army officers to the soldiers, the greedy boss to the impoverished servant, the wealthy landowner to the tenant farmer, the mother-in-law to the daughter-in-law, the pious neighbour to the anti-German neighbour.

Suite Francaise is the beginnings of a masterpiece. It is unfinished. There are chapters that Irene, no doubt, would have continued to modify, and there are 3 sections missing. What makes it a masterpiece are the appendices that fill in the missing sections, that show the parallels in the novel to Irene’s life, and that give us an insight into Irene as a character in this great epic novel.

The appendices by far are what make this book feel whole.

I will likely read Suite Francaise again in a couple of years. It’s almost too much to think about after only one reading.