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

ECW Press

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Book Review: The Miracles of Ordinary Men & The Metamorphosis

I don’t normally review two books together but I do often have two books on the go. This time it was a fiction book and nonfiction book and I’ve never had such a pair. Amanda Leduc’s The Miracles of Ordinary Men is about a man who wakes up an angel and through a series of coincidences attempts to figure out God’s greater plan for him. Bruce MacNab’s The Metamorphosis: The Apprenticeship of Harry Houdini is about Harry Houdini’s Maritime tour in the years before he became a famous escape artist and all the coincidences between his fame and that tour.


In both we have a transformation from ordinary man to extraordinary being. We have magic. And we have the coincidence problem. (Aside: If you haven’t read Stephen Osborne’s The Coincidence Problem please do so!).

From the Foreword of The Metamorphosis

Harry Houdini died in 1926. By 1959 only three biographies detailing his life and legend had been published. Today, in 2012, there are literally hundreds of books about the great showman, and almost all of them share the same problem. They concentrate on the part of Houdini’s life when he was a star, one of the most well-known personalities of his time, a time when he maintained an almost daily relationship with the press. He was one of the most photographed men of his time.

The Metamorphosis looks at the time before the fame, when Houdini was travelling with his young wife who was also a performer and they were getting the barest of audiences. The book’s focus is 1891-1899, in particular a tour of Nova Scotia that Houdini and Bessie undertook in their second year of marriage, and it’s full of photos from those early years both of the Houdinis and of the locations where they performed. In short, it’s a fascinating read and Bruce MacNab’s research highlights all the small stepping stones that took Houdini from the Marco Magic Company all the way to the big time.

The first chapter of The Miracles of Ordinary Men is labeled Ten, and the reader goes backwards in chapter numbers but not necessarily time.

From Chapter Ten

Sam’s cat crumpled like paper under the truck’s wheel. He knelt down to touch her and then something like heat, some sudden shock of air, surged through his hands.
Suddenly she was breathing, blicking up at him through a mass of matted fur. Dead, and then not-dead, and his were the hands that had done it.

From there we follow Sam and Chickenhead (the cat) through the death of Sam’s mother, the reconnection of Sam with Father Jim (who can see the wings) and Sam’s eventual discovery of Timothy, who also has wings. Timothy has taken to the streets, not knowing how to cope with his transformation, and his sister Lilah becomes another connection to Sam.

The two storylines that intersect are that of Sam and Timothy/Lilah. Lilah, or rather Delilah, is a wandering soul who is dating an abusive, power hungry man who is also her boss. The Boss is a bit of a dark force who’s the counterbalance to the mediocre, weak angel that is Sam.

The novel is philosophical in its open-end questions about God’s plan, our time on earth and the role of evil. I can’t say it’s an uplifting read but what it lacks in optimism it makes up for in eloquency.

Want more? Check out the publisher websites:

Monday, April 08, 2013

Celebrate National Poetry Month

April is national poetry month and I thought that I’d celebrate by re-reading some of the poetry collections on my shelves.

Excerpt: “at night cooley listens” published in Sunfall by Dennis Cooley (Anansi, 978-0-88784-580-2)

at night cooley listens to his body
an answering service he bends over now
          the day’s over the day’s messages
the rest of the day he does not listen
does not pay it much attention, his neglect shameful
cooley knows he shld do better shld take it out more often
          show it a little more affection

once the noise of the day drops like shoes untied away
every night when the tired switch clicks night on
the body becomes importunate spouse
it’s about time you listened to me
you self-centred bastard the body says you barely listen
the body rehearses a long list of grievances, sniffling
                        there are violins

Dennis Cooley is one of my all-time favourite poets. I find his poems to be flamboyant and a little crazy. Some of them are incredibly heartfelt, while others use tone and timing to turn otherwise casual observations into challenges or wisecracks. He’s the only poet I keep coming back to. Others I enjoy and soon forget whereas I’ll eagerly read, and re-read, Cooley. This poem in particular makes me giddy in the same way that episodes of Seinfeld do.

Excerpt: “Wolf Tree” by Alison Calder published in Wolf Tree (Coteau Books: 978-1-55050-359-3)

The wolf tree’s arms reach out
in a question that is also an answer,
as we seek another name for what we have.
The tree embraces us in its branches,
holds the buds of our tender dreams.
What happened, it says, what happened
to the farm grown over, the buildings
sagging into slope-shouldered grayness.
The wild comes back, as lilacs
explode over the woodshed,
irises and roses bloom beside
decaying doors.

Alison Calder’s whole collection of poems is wonderful to read, in particular because each poem offers a wonderful balance of dream and reality. I also like her poems because many are set on the prairies. Calder grew up in Saskatoon and I first met her at the University of Manitoba where she was teaching CanLit and creative writing. I’ve admired her work ever since and perhaps became a fan of prairie poets because of her and Dennis Cooley, along with David Arnason, Robert Kroetsch and newer poets like Alexis Kienlen. I enjoyed the “bee” poems in her recent collection 13.

Poem: “The Home Inspection” by Jamie Sharpe published in Animal Husbandry Today (ECW, 978-1-177041-106-7)

Before I even step
into this house
let me point out
something about
the foliage

Those leaves on
that there bush
were new in spring;
given it’s late July
I’d say they have
two months tops.

I doubt they’re
under warranty.

Jamie Sharpe is new to me, and I appreciate that he sent me a copy of this collection of poems because I’ve been enjoying exploring it. Like the poems above, Sharpe’s poems are accessible while still being lyrical. It’s a great collection.

What poems strike your fancy? If you’re keen to share, consider checking out the poetry contest on 49thShelf.com for a chance to win a prize package of new Canadian poetry.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Review: Idaho Winter by Tony Burgess


Idaho Winter is one of those books that is going to mess with your mind. The cover makes it seem like it’s a reprint of a book published in the 40s or 50s. The opening scene is reminiscent of Harry Potter, in that Idaho is the boy cramped in a tiny room and unloved by his family, and Back to the Future, where McFly is bullied by Biff. Like Harry Potter, the reader learns what’s happening at the same as Harry does. In this case, the reader learns what’s happening at the same time as the author, who is our narrator and main protagonist, that is once it switches from Idaho. Very post modern. Like Back to the Future, Marty McFly can mess things up and prevent his parents from getting together. In this case, the author, or any character, could, and has, messed things up.

Confused? Let me tell you a little about the story.

Idaho gets beaten up, flees to the river, where he finds Madison, who wants to be his friend, but the kids, dogs and adults of the town chase him down and sic the dogs on him. But the dogs get Madison instead. Then Idaho becomes a giant and there are Mom-bats and secret caves and people turn into chocolate. Not kidding.

Idaho Winter is one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. I don’t mean that critically either. Do you know how dream stories are bizarre when told in the light of day? Well, that’s Idaho Winter. Characters morph into other characters. Perspective changes. Landscape shifts and changes. Things that are unexplainable make perfect sense, at the time.

Related Links:
Amazon Search Inside
Buy the Book from Publisher ECW Press
More reviews on GoodReads

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hint Fiction, Selected Aphorisms and Love

Happy Valentine’s Day. For some this is a day of love poetry and candied hearts, for others it is a day of willfully ignoring the former. Regardless of your state, I want to share two books with you:

Hint Fiction: An anthology of stories in 25 words or fewer
Edited by Robert Swartwood
(Published by WW Norton)

Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms
by George Murray
(Published by ECW Press)

Both slim volumes are big on the poetry of brevity. And in honour of Saint Valentine, I have plucked some love stories for you.

Hint Fiction: Edited by Robert Swartwood

Rapunzel by James Burt
The boys waited below the tower-block for the paper planes. They fought over them, to be the one to carry them back to her.

Ideal by Ha Jin
The boy dreams of becoming a panda who makes money by meeting visitors. For such a pampered celebrity, even a girlfriend is provided.

The Time Before the Last by Marcus Sakey
He held her crepe-paper hand and summoned an autumn day, sepia and smoke, and dancing, and music that sounded nothing like the beeping of machines.

Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms by George Murray

Writing the erotic poem is like ironing in the nude—sexy for women, dangerous for men.

She looks like a million bucks, but it’s all in fives.

In martyrs and poets both, the rumour of greatness is enough to starve off criticism.

Monday, March 16, 2009

SXSW: No Think for Old Publishers

New Think for Old Publishers panel at SXSW drew a lot of frustration from the crowd of book lovers and supporters.

The official description of the session was:

This is not a discussion of whether ebooks are killing treebooks, or whether it’s possible to get cozy with an Amazon Kindle. It’s about how participatory culture and the online world interact with good olde book publishing.Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, Deborah Schultz, and fellow panelists will share with the audience a variety of perspectives on what’s going right and what’s going wrong in publishing, assess success of recent forays into marketing digitally, digital publishing, and what books and blogs have to gain from one another. Penguin Group (USA), which houses some 40 plus imprints and publishes an extremely broad variety of physical and digital products everything from William Gibson’s first ebook in the 90’s to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (the source for HBO’s True Blood) is deeply involved in exploring ways that old and new media might better collaborate. Audience members are invited to speak up about what they think book publishers could/should be doing to better provide relevant information and content to blogs, websites, and online communities. Come tell old media what you want and how you want it.

Clay Shirky ITP
John Fagan   Mktg Dir,  Penguin Group (USA)
Deborah Schultz   Founder/Chief Catalyst,  deborahschultz.com
Peter Miller   Dir of Publicity,  Bloomsbury USA
Ivan Held   Pres GP Putnam’s Sons,  Penguin Group (USA)

They certainly told publishers what they think. The summation was “you suck at this is the biggest way possible.”

I think it’s unfair to attack the folks on that panel but as representatives of the industry they do have to go back to their houses and understand that they need to convey, not that bloggers are an unruly bunch, but that publishers need to get off their asses and get involved with social media. Enough is enough.

BookSquare says
If you’re going to hold a session called “New Think for Old Publishers”, you gotta come with some new thinking. Either that or tell the audience that it’s a research session…and the audience is supposed to bring the new thinking. Good idea, needed better execution. Nobody read the panel description to mean “we want the audience to tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it”.


The publishing people on stage said, essentially, tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it. You have 300 people who give up an hour of their lives to hear the cool things the traditional publishing business is doing…and you can ask them to consult on your business?

Watch a video of the panel here.

Other links to conversation about this panel:
Medialoper has a fairly neutral assessment of what unfolded.

Twitter stream of comments on this panel #sxswbp

Monique’s summary
What went wrong is this:
* Publishers have not listened to the crowd for a long time.
* The crowd is restless.
* Publishers wring their hands about the web.
* The crowd offers options publishers don’t like.
* Publishers weep into their hands.
* The crowd wants to help and offers other suggestions.
* Publishers act like deer in headlights.
* The crowd plows down publishers and reinvents the industry without them.

What this panel really came down to is that the wisdom of the crowds is not being tapped. The crowd is now sick and tired of trying to help people who won’t help themselves.

Hold me to this: I’m going to organize a panel in Vancouver. We’re going to create a model for publishing and marketing books. We’re going to move forward as an industry. Leaders will be identified. Roles will be assigned. If you’re not open to totally change everything you’re doing, then you are not ready for this revolution. Don’t come.

Who’s in?


Peter Miller Glibness. “Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Tips from a panelist who barely survived” in Publishers Weekly.
Read the article.

Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada on 6 Things That Revolutionize Publishing

Monday, May 26, 2008

Online Marketing Tools for Book Publishers

Cross-posted on Boxcar Marketing ...

This Sunday was the 2008 AGM for the Association of Canadian Publishers. I moderated the first professional development session of the day, which was a panel discussion on online marketing.

The panelists were:

There were several interesting sites mentioned in the session that I’ll post here for audience members interested in following-up on those discussions. I plan to post some notes about our session too.

Annick Press Livebrary Blog: A great resources for publishers, educators, librarians and anyone interested in what’s happening online in children’s publishing.

Emarketing101.ca: A fantastic source of information on search marketing, pay-per-click campaigns, search engine optimization and anything related to search—the most cost effective online marketing spend.

SeenReading.com: Julie Wilson, also of House of Anansi, keeps a blog that is a perfect example of how to play with books and the web. Simple. Engaging. One of my favourite web sites.

MyNameIsKate.ca: Marketing and Technology Consultant Kate Trgovac’s personal blog, which is a hotbed of links and brilliant posts on marketing and technology.

W8NC is a Canadian marketing and communications company specializing in emerging technology.President is Wayne MacPhail.

OneDegree.ca: The best and most interesting source of marketing news, case studies and interviews related to marketing in Canada.

Boxcar Marketing’s Underwire Newsletter: Full-Support for Non-Techies: Monique Trottier’s monthly newsletter on online marketing, technology, social media tools and tips for web design and email marketing. Free advice. What more could you want?

HorsePigCow.com: A marketing blog for those who see the online world as a place for creativity, community, conversation and collaboration. This girl has it together. Another of my daily blog reads.

Follow the AnnickPress Twitter feed. See how it’s done.

Monique’s presentation to the Centre for Chief Marketing Executives: A list of Social Media Marketing Tools. See the list and examples of the tools being used by businesses.