Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Celebrate Halloween by Grabbing a...Turnip?

Well, today is Halloween, and it just so happens that the Estonian word for Halloween is my favourite word in the whole wide world. Hingedeöö, the word in question, is pronounced: Hing geh deh eugh. (Actually, this is a terrible description, but it took me a long time to figure out the öö portion and that's the best I can do.) It's incredibly Swedish Chef-ish, with an Estonian - and somewhat evil - bent. Love it.

I'll leave you with some trivia about Halloween (you'll have to scroll down a little): http://wilstar.com/holidays/hallown.htm. The highlight? Definitely:

"The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember. "

Happy Hingedeöö, and be glad we don't all have to hollow out a bunch of turnips.



Thursday, October 26, 2006

Racism in Publishing, Revisited

I blogged earlier this summer about American writer Millenia Black's struggles with her publisher. In a nutshell: Millenia Black, who is African-American, turned in a book that was under contract, and except for one 'tiny' little detail, the book was acceptable (ie. well-written and publishable under the terms of the contract). The tiny detail? They wanted her to change her characters from white to black. Millenia refused.

She has now announced that she is suing her publisher.

Being an unpublished writer means that my understanding of the publishing industry is limited to 2nd and 3rd hand information. I say this because the implication from some is that the decision to change the race of the characters in Millenia's book was a simple marketing decision, one that's done all the time in publishing. If that's the case, why doesn't NYT bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, who blogged about this same issue a few months ago here and here, have to change the race of her characters from white to asian? Why isn't Sue Monk Kidd, a white American writer whose NTY bestselling debut featured black characters, shelved under African-American fiction?

This is what I believe: People should be treated with respect even if we disagree with them. Sadly, the reaction to Millenia's news hasn't been quite so evenhanded; some people have even implied that the lawsuit is an attempt to garner attention for her upcoming novel.

Clearly niche publishing/marketing is a complex issue, one that evokes strong feelings on all sides. (For some interesting discussion on this issue, please take a look at Monica Jackson's blog, or the comment trail in Millenia's last few posts. There are lots of links and trackbacks to other blogs, and the discussion ranges from illuminating to infuriating.)

Ultimately I find the issue, at its core, fairly straightforward: Millenia is saying that she feels that being forced to manipulate a text that she wrote with white characters into black ones based solely on *her* race is wrong.

And I agree.

In an environment where it's more and more difficult to get published - and to stay published - Millenia has put absolutely everything on the line. And *that* takes guts.

I wish her the best of luck with her lawsuit.


International Festival of Authors, Part II

At Word on the Street last month, I discovered Toronto writer Zoe Wittall, who was reading from her latest book poetry book, The Emiliy Valentine Poems. (Which I bought and really enjoyed.) She's currently blogging about the IFOA for NOW mag. You can check her out here: http://www.nowtoronto.com/ifoa/daily_post.cfm?daily_id=177

Friday, October 20, 2006

Toronto's International Festival of Authors, Part I

EDITED TO ADD: Uh, yeah. I'm an idiot. Why? It's not October 28th yet. (I blame the paint fumes.) The Toronto International Festival of Authors is currently taking place, so check out www.readings.org to see if any of your favourite writers are in town.


Well, Toronto's International Festival of Authors is upon us, and naturally, I have front row tickets (okay, they're not actually front row, but they will be once I push a few people out of a few chairs) to an event. Tomorrow I'm going to see Ryan Knighton (who I've blogged about earlier) interviewed by Don McKellar.

I bought the tickets online and was struck by how awful the ordering process in general, and the form in particular, was. Truly, Internet technology is terribly misunderstood by some people. The form wasn't correctly framed in my browser (and I tried two of them) so the whole experience was nothing short of traumatizing. (I almost ended up with tickets to a...let's just say, something I would never go see. Even if you threatened me. With a gun.)

The piece de resistance was the confirmation email saying that: "someone will be calling you to discuss all the details of your purchase". Discuss? Details? The only discussion I want to have is...oh wait. If I wanted to talk to someone I would have ordered the tickets over the home. (Yes, I know, I'm an anti-social urban hermit. What can I say? It works for me.) I was curious, though, about what they would say: Hi Maia, still want the tickets?

Well, yes.

There was a whopping $5 charge to mail the tickets basically down the street, so by yesterday I was getting slightly perturbed that they hadn't showed up. I was going to call them to "discuss all the details" of my ticket-less status if they hadn't arrived by today and, to be honest, I was gearing up to be a little ranty about it.

Naturally, the tickets showed up in this morning's mail.

No one from Harbourfront ever ended up calling me, so I guess that means they don't want to talk to me either. Even though I don't want to talk to them, I have wanted to go to a Harbourfront reading event for a while, so I'm suitably excited about my literary outing tomorrow. One thing that's interesting about Harbourfront is that they charge for readings; $15 per ticket if you're general public, or $12 if you're a member. It's not a huge amount, but I bet it stops some people from attending, which is too bad. I sure as hell hope that money goes to the writers.

In any case, Paint-a-palooza 2006 continues, and I'm covered with a sticky oil-based expresso coloured semi-gloss. Looks like I have a date with some varsol.


Thursday, October 12, 2006


Well, I wasn't able to start posting again in September because of a particularly nasty combination of renovation-itis and a lingering case of pretty-much-feeling-like-hell. This, my friends, makes me a liar. That being the case, I thought I'd update everyone on the state of affairs with a few other - admittedly more famous that me - liars.

#1 Kaavya Viswanathan. It's certainly not surprising that Kaavya has headed back to Harvard, seeing as how an internal review found that their plagiarism rules only applies to work submitted to the university itself. Slightly more interesting? She's now a student advisor. Great to know that she's molding young minds. At Harvard.

#1 James Frey. James and his publisher, Doubleday, have settled the lawsuits brought against them by cranky readers who feel that they've been gypped by reading Frey's fictionalized non-fiction account of his recovery from addiction. I have to be missing something here, because books are already refundable. The only significant difference is that Doubleday will honour the full price of the book, even if it was sold at a discount. What's the price delta here? $10 CDN? $20? Who in the world would launch a lawsuit over $20? If someone can clue me in to what I'm missing here, please post it in the comments.

James has also given his first interview since Freyapalooza, and he seems to have a few bones to pick with, well, everyone. (Except Oprah, because making her angry is Bad.)

First, he disputes the notion that the publishers didn't know that details in the manuscript were alerted (and they dispute this right back at him):

Once he had signed with Doubleday, reportedly for an advance of $50,000, the process of editing altered the book - now billed as a memoir - further, timelines shifted, characters were erased, segments rearranged. "So the idea that nobody at the publishing company knew it was a manipulated manuscript is an absurd idea," he says. "I remember somebody at the publishing company told me that if the book's 85% true there's no problem. Certainly that standard wasn't then applied to it later."
Secondly - and he's always made this assertion, but I'll throw it in here for posterity:

The absence of criminal records is because he had them (legally) destroyed before he published the novel. "I mean, if I wanna go be a teacher, do I want all that stuff to exist?" he asks. "It's not an uncommon thing to do."
And, finally, he's angry at everyone, everywhere (except Oprah, because that's Bad):

(W)hen Frey's American publisher and agent dropped him, and Warner Brothers elected not to make the film of A Million Little Pieces, he was surprised. "My agent just called me and said she couldn't work with me any more because she felt her integrity was being questioned," he says, and frowns a little. "My publisher called and said they were cancelling my new contract simply because they didn't want to honour it." The most curious thing, he says, was that despite the scandal they had made, were continuing to make, an enormous sum of money out of James Frey. "I mean, that's sort of the irony, y'know? My agent said her integrity was questioned, but it wasn't questioned enough for her to stop taking the money."
Well, that's what happens when you sign away 15% of your work in a legally binding contract. Finally, in a delightful twist of irony, both of his memoirs are still holding strong on the New York Times Bestseller list. Gotta love it.

If my lies paid off that well, I'd spend my whole life with my pants on fire. Until that happens, I'm back in the saddle, posting again every Thursday. Hope all is well with you and yours, and that the leaves from your trees aren't blanketing your entire garden. Like mine aren't. See? This lying thing is addictive.