Signed books or a story?

I’ve always found that moment particularly difficult. Someone is asking for a signature and you’re supposed to make up something personal and witty on the spot. For years I tried to write something nice and worthy of the 20 bucks someone spent on the book, but they mostly just ended up boiling down to “thanks”, so that’s what I sign now for everyone but my besties. I remember watching a very famous poet do this over and over. Just “Thanks,” and his name. Even for people he knew well. It was so freeing. Once I could worry less about the inscription, I had more time to worry about the fact that I should really know this person’s name, but I don’t so I’m going to ask for them to spell their name out slowly to make sure I don’t misprint any letters. Works better with Catherine/Kathryns than with Bobs. But it’s a strategy I developed over 45 years of living with undiagnosed ADHD.

All that said, this guy has really broke the mold and turned the personalized signature into a piece of art itself. He signed 1000 editions of his book with one word written in pen on the title page of each. Put those words together and you get an extra story. Someone is now trying to track down all 1000 words to see how well it worked.

Last month, writer Will Maclean’s debut novel The Apparition Phase was released into the world. To mark its publication, independent London bookstore Goldsboro Books released 1000 signed and exclusive first editions to members of their monthly book club. But rather than just putting his signature on each one, Maclean had another idea.

“On the title page, you’ll see a single word handwritten by me,” reads a note from Maclean distributed with each first edition. “That word, although meaningless on its own, is part of a piece of writing precisely 1000 words long.

“Each of these 1000 Goldsboro exclusive editions has one single word of that original piece written in them, dispersed among the people who own them. That piece of text is recorded nowhere else but, collectively, in those 1000 editions.”

On the changing faces of fantasy literature

Two essays tackle the genre that’s been dominated by white men for too long. At Aeon, they look at the change that’s coming to the Oxford School of high fantasy (basically, Tolkien and Lewis), and at the Independent, they look at the diversity problem, how it’s being handled, and how it’s changing things. Some of the best SFF I’ve read in years comes from authors of Colour, like NK Jesimin, Marlon James, and Cixin Liu. Given how much of this genre I consumed as as teen and how much I’m watching my own nerdy teens continue that tradition, it’s great to have these options.

Yes, there were always women in fantasy. But, with the exception of perhaps the great Ursula K Le Guin, they were forced into the margins. Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, Robin Hobb, Anne McCaffrey, Margaret Weis, etc, were never part of the canon of authors you “had” to read (there is also JK Rowling – but she is better thought of as a children’s writer). Nor were minority novelists, who stood about as much chance of landing a fat publishing deal for a doorstopper trilogy as a pacifist dwarf had of surviving the Mines of Moria.

That finally has started to change. The most acclaimed science fiction/fantasy author writing today is probably African-American NK Jemisin, whose Broken Earth trilogy uses dystopian tropes to explore racial, gender and environmental issues. A recent Time Magazine countdown of the 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time, meanwhile, gave prime billing to new authors including Kuang, who had two books on the list – more than George RR Martin or Robert Jordan.

Grimes gets grimy

So Grimes, who doesn’t live in Canada, who is successful on a level most Canadian artists can only dream of, and who is currently attached to one of the richest people on the planet (who ironically wants to haul-ass off this planet), took $90K of arts money from FACTOR. Saw this story go by and rolled my eyes, but here is FACTOR’s response. Looks like people are understandably skeptical. What are your thoughts on this? When I’m on a CC or provincial jury I tend to frown even when finding tenured profs (surely making $120K+ a year) applying for a $25K grant that would make a real difference in the life of a working artist without a job (IE: currently ME, these days.) It’s certainly bad optics, at the very least.

Wanna Bjork…

During the last few weeks, FACTOR has been at the centre of an increasingly ugly controversy surrounding Grimes. Now the non-profit Canadian music fund has responded in attempts to set the record straight.

Earlier this month, stories with headlines like “Grimes Got Over $90,000 In Funding As A Quebec Artist & People On Twitter Have Questions” and “A $90,000 Canadian arts subsidy for Grimes, who lives in California with Elon Musk” began circulating online. This led to more than a few raised eyebrows, as well as some pretty heated online conversation.

Apparently, things have got so bad that FACTOR has now issued a statement trying to clear things up, explaining that the label Crystal Math — home not only to Grimes in Canada, but also Metric, Half Moon Run and Emily Haines — was the applicant for the grant, not Grimes herself. As the 2020 FACTOR recipients list shows, however, Grimes is indeed listed as the artist connected to the grant money in FACTOR’s public records.

White folks, let’s get our shit together

Remember in the summer when all the good-comrade allies, including me, ordered a bunch of anti-racism books from Black bookstores? Turns out quite a few people never showed to pick them up and actually pay for them. Dudes. Years ago, before Facebook and Twitter even (I know, my Millennial friends… THE BEFORE TIMES), I wrote an article on how easy “activism” has become in an age of point-and-click. It’s a little dated, but threads follow through. If there’s anyone who hates me being right more than my two or three stalker-like enemies, it’s me. Especially about shit like this, given what a pessimist I am. Go pick up, pay for, and read your damn books, people. It’s not a donation pot. It’s a chance to better ourselves.

“We have two full walls of orders not picked up between the two stores, and the vast majority are titles from this summer,” Oliver Depp remarked.

As for Subtext, Keliher is “looking at the stacks of books still needing to be picked up from web orders placed in the days and weeks following the uprising here.” When I asked what will happen to the books if the customers never pick them up, he remarked that he “hadn’t really figured out what to do.” Mullen believes that about 30 percent of those orders never even get picked up from her store. She took the practical approach though, sending the excess books back because “there was no real need to hold on to them.”

Now that the election is over, it’s hard to know what to feel. While I do appreciate the white people who marched beside me, yelling that Black lives did indeed matter, I worry that some of them went home, placed their handwritten signs down, and will never pick them up again, except to place them in the trash. I worry that white customers ordered these books and simply thought “I did a good deed today,” and rolled over to sleep.

Friday news dump

Here you are again. Another meaningless unit of time marked off. The jar of jellybeans is slowly emptying, people. And there’s no refill. Where do you stand in terms of preparedness for the days of the empty jar? Take that into your weekend and try to get something you find meaningful done.

What’s your word of the year?

The Guardian offers a few choices. Doomscrolling has made it into ours, along with necessary others. I think for us, it’s “Bubble”. The fucking Bubble arguments with teens were legion. And still are. “Karen” bothers me, mostly because I only really know smart, caring, calm Karens. And “BLM” should get its own classification and award separate from all this noodling about buzzwords. Well, it really should have gotten that years ago. But this year saw it everywhere.

How do we get new words and how do old words get a fresh twist? In normal times, it’s a well-worn process, linguistic business as usual. There will be a new invention or thing to buy, such as “wifi” (1999) or an “iPod” (2001). People will pick up on trends or changes in behaviour and give them labels such as “crowdfund” (2008) or “catfish” (2012). Last year, the Guardian identified “femtech” and “cancelled” as among the words that embodied 2019. This year, you may have noticed, has been a bit different, the verbal equivalent of a dawn raid: a few insistent items of vocabulary have smashed down the front door and pointed guns at us while we cower under the duvet. And while it’s right that the changes wreaked by the virus dominate this year’s list, there have been other developments. As the big dictionaries unveil their wotys (words of the year), we ask which ones – for good or ill – best capture the spirit of 2020.

Today in Random Penguin Schusterhouse coverage and other newses

Happy Colonial Oppression Day, America! Or is that Columbus Day? I can’t keep up with you crazy kids.

My editorial note for today: just as we have to stop thinking that other people in our business are our friends (they’re just our colleagues, which you find out pretty quickly when you try to be actual friends with 99% of them), we also have to stop thinking of the even-more-distant publishers (or employers for many of us) as reflective of our views. They are not our pals, no matter how many free books and nice cards your editors send you. The publisher will go where the money goes. PRH may be made up of left-leaning, art-focused do-gooders like us, at least at the bottom, but up there on 12, the boardroom is answering to shareholders and a bottom line. And that’s why we have a giant amoeba that wants to publish a piece of bacterial shit like Peterson, and we’re the ones who will end up with The Scoots.

Virtual book tours… in video games

Years ago I sat on an arts jury that had a proposal come forward for building an arts hub inside a video game. The idea was people could “gather” to listen to poetry, view art, theatre, and live music, etc. While I am EXACTLY the sort of person you’d think this would appeal to, I voted against funding it. Not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because I knew the game, hot at that moment, would be shortly gone and the money spent building the infrastructure would be better spent in the real word until we figured this stuff out. (Also, the game was a mostly a vehicle for pervy nerds to make CGI porn they couldn’t really get in real life.) Looks like we’re starting to figure it out. To the point that this Roblox series might be the biggest book tour in history. Much like readings and shows at various bars and venues that come and go, a good publicist can now book you into Roblox, or Minecraft, or WoW or whatever. There are millions of nerds who never want to leave their homes in here. If you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. etc. A guerilla approach to this sort of thing really seems to be what’s best. Pop from hot platform to hot platform as needed. We just all need 12 year old publicity assistants now to tell us what to book for next year.

This kind of digital collaboration is, unlike these times, not unprecedented. Phoebe Bridgers has performed in Minecraft; Animal Crossing has hosted poetry readings; Lil Nas X performed a concert in Roblox which racked up a whopping 33 million views. The popularity of these events bode well for the Ready Player Two tour; Roblox and Cline are touting the Ready Player Two tour as the “biggest book tour in history,” which honestly could be true, as Roblox has 150 million users.