August 28, 2013

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily

By Steve Locke

Well sorry to say, folks, but it's soon to be the last weekend of summer. It's fortunate that the weather in Winnipeg isn't taking notice, but that won't stop the spinning of school bus tires, or groaning at student services when tuition payments do or don't go through. And if you haven't yet been chained to a desk, and have already made plans to procrastinate with studying this weekend, then there is still the potential for adventure. Or at least, adventures to aspire to.

Take, for example, those of Ontario writer Charles Wilkins, whose work has been shortlisted for multiple literary awards. When you consider that his books are true-to-life, OMG-inspiring stories, one has to wonder if the adventures themselves earned the nominations, or his writing. Because, as far as I know, they don't give out plaques for paddling 12, 000 miles to the Amazon River (with Don Starkell), or rowing across the Atlantic with 16 others on an unassisted vessel, at the age of 61.

5 letters down - Charlie Wilkins: ____ of steel.

Just give him the awards already! Never mind literary devices, word counts, editing.....I mean.....dude.

The latter adventure was the basis for Little Ship of Fools, which Thin Air audience will be privy to at a "Big Ideas" event on September 25, as well as at an "On the Road" event on the following day. There, Wilkins will surely join the ranks of Thor Heyerdahl and Neil Armstrong in the club for "guys who have one hell of a story to tell".

Myself dreaming of being an astronaut: realism as well as delusion.

And if you've ever wondered just what goes into preparing the mind and body for such a trek (including convincing people that you're not crazy so they'll fund your expedition), Wilkins' training was filmed and presented in a documentary called Life is But a Dream. Consider it some conditioning for what's in store at Thin Air.

Warning to students: after watching the video at the above link, you may feel that your life choices in attending university were a horrible, horrible mistake. You may also feel the urge to take your tuition money and spend its entirety at Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Sorry about that. But have fun at the lake, eh? 

August 23, 2013

Visions of Tiananmen Square

By Steve Locke

Freedom. Justice. Revolution.

A student-led uprising. An individual using his body to halt a procession of tanks.

Big images and big ideas, to be sure.

20 years after Tiananmen Square, democracy still struggles to thrive in a China that shuns the west and forbids dissidence. In his book, The Legacy of Tiananmen Square, Michel Cormier unveils nearly a century's worth of failed attempts at revolution, accumulating in the historical student-led uprising in 1989.

Next month, Thin Air will welcome Cormier to share his accounts as the former Radio Canada/CBC correspondent to China, and to put the lengthy struggle for democracy into perspective. As a primer, tune into this CBC interview to refresh your mind with some context and details of the conflict, and be sure come down to the festival to learn about it in person.

On Thursday, September 26, Michel Cormier will be reading at the Great West Life Lecture Theatre at Red River College from 1 to 2pm. See him next at "Big Ideas: China" from 4:30 to 5:30 in the Carol Shields Auditorium at the Millenium Library, and at "Livres en fête: Gala" in the Antoine Gaborieau room at Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain at 7:30pm.


August 19, 2013

Coming Attractions...

By Steve Locke

Last week, Evan Munday from Coach House Books gave us the inside scoop on video trailers as promotional devices for new books. Evan kindly provided a few examples from Coach House's film library, and over the weekend, readers have had plenty of time to hit up the snack bar and load up on sugary/salty goodness.

Now, it's time for this week's showing. Got your popcorn? Your Milk Duds? Your bucket of soda?

Good! Now come take a seat in our digital theatre that is YouTube for our feature presentations. The show's about to begin!

Comebacks are tough.

First off is a trailer from past festival reader and Haiku Deathmatch warrior, Corey Redekop. Attendees at last year's sold out "Forewords" event will remember Corey's rendition of a zombie's struggle to regain his voice - without the use of working lungs. Check out the trailer for the great Canadian zombie novel, Husk, and consider that in acting as well as life, comebacks are truly hard to pull off.

I once took Demonology at the U of W. It was a correspondence course.

Act two of our presentation features a slightly higher budget for literary horror master Andrew Pyper in his trailer for The Demonologist. See Pyper at the mainstage event, "Revelations," on Friday, September 27. 3-D glasses will be sold separately.

And finally, just 'cuz, a tip of the hat to festival director Charlene Diehl with a trailer of her 2010 collection of poetry, Out of Grief, Singing: A Memoir. See Charlene in the director's chair with the megaphone and riding crop at festival events beginning September 20!

August 15, 2013

Book Trailers: Approved For All Audiences

Not that kind of book trailer.

 By Evan Munday

Marketing a book of poetry can be difficult. First off, it's poetry (I kid, I kid!). But seriously, by and large, any new collection by a poet is a compilation of his or her most polished, most interesting new material. There may be nothing linking one poem to the next outside of their writer. And as a publicist, it's your responsibility to boil all this hard work and brilliance down into a simple hook or a few lines. Marketing a poetry collection that falls within this framework can prove difficult; you may have to trade on the past acclaim of the poet or maybe highlight one or two central poems. But this wasn't the case for Jon Paul Fiorentino's Needs Improvement.

Fiorentino's sixth collection has a thematic thread that runs through the entire book; from its mock report cards to its exam-writing instructions and diagrams representing the work of well-known theorists to the title itself, the collection is all about education. Namely our current educational system here in the Western world.

When Fiorentino and I first talked about a marketing plan, it was clear he was keen to work within this theme. This manifested itself in a few ways, most prominently on the cover. I took Fiorentino's idea of an old-timey report card and modified it a bit, updating it to (perhaps) the late 1980s, complete with dot-matrix font and sprocket holes. We emphasized the inherent joke of the title, and handed it to reviewers on a silver platter, really. We even included Nicole Brossard's complimentary blurb as a sort of 'teacher's comment,' which fits, given that she was a formative influence on Fiorentino's work.

We didn't take the educational theme as far as we might have, though. It's not like there are any teaching or trade magazines or journals on my review copy list. Originally, we'd planned to produce a sort of a promotional giveaway: a self-help cassette tape to 'help with the improvement'. The tape would have featured audio of Fiorentino both reading poems and providing advice on how to become a better poet, 'maximizing the poetic potential within!' But this idea was scrapped (or profoundly altered) once Fiorentino began work on a trailer for the book.

"That's my jam!"

We haven't done too many trailers at Coach House Books. As a fairly small press, we don't have the budgets to produce high quality trailers, and I'm always unconvinced of their effectiveness. A trailer could get picked up by various websites and become the world's next "double rainbow" or it could be viewed and circulated only by the author's close friends. As such, the book trailers that Coach House has done have been very patchwork and cheaply made: a compilation of unicorn images for Suzette Mayr's novel, Monocerous; a location-based word search for Gary Barwin's The Porcupinity of the Stars; and an obviously fake endorsement by Leonard Cohen for Subway sandwiches for Spencer Gordon's Cosmo. It was a similar case for Needs Improvement.

The trailer trades on another theme that runs through the collection, and indeed, all of Fiorentino's work: a nostalgia for past cities. But the choice of using the poem "In Perfect Winnipeg" was musician Rob Benvie's. As Fiorentino says, "Rob and I had talked about doing something together for a while. I sent him some poems and he chose 'In Perfect Winnipeg' to set to music. He sang a temporary vocal track, and I sought out Clara (Legault) from Motel Raphael to lay down the final one."

Winnipeg comes up a lot in his work. "I Google Winnipeg every day," Fiorentino says. "I stumbled across this 8mm footage on YouTube quite by accident and I loved it so much, I contacted the person who posted it (Kert Gartner) and asked him if we could use it for a music video." The end result is a dream-like tour of a Winnipeg from several decades ago.

After the trailer was made, the cassette tape idea was abandoned. We instead produced CDs (easier to record, more of an indie-album feel) featuring that song and a few tracks of Fiorentino reading over soundscapes. It makes a nice added bonus to review copies we send or the books we'll sell (I hope) at events. And as we ramp up publicity efforts with Manitoban media outlets for Fiorentino's appearance at Thin Air (a triumphant hometown return to Winnipeg!), I plan to link to this song and trailer in my pitches and press releases. The trailer is a perfect illustration of Fiorentino's long Winnipeg connection. Who knows? The song could be come a minor, if melancholic, anthem of the city!

Evan Munday is the publicist for Coach House Books.

August 13, 2013

Thin Air's Summer Reading List: Road Books

By Steve Locke

Last month, in a rare break from the bottleneck chaos of organizing Thin Air, festival publicist Bruce Symaka managed to compile a recommended reading list for your summer reading pleasure. Consisting of twelve authors and poets, consider it a reader’s map for the various events that will take place in September, including plenty of Canadian roadside attractions along the way.

While on one of my own summer road trips, I had the opportunity to stop for a rest and snack on Lewis DeSoto’s latest novel, The Restoration Artist. Coming off the success of A Blade of Grass, which put DeSoto on the international bestseller map, this was certainly one recommendation I thought I should take advantage of.

A story of the rediscovery of the self, hope and art, The Restoration Artist was perfectly suited to my seasonal state of wistful contemplation and movement, even in its darkest moments. DeSoto’s lead, Leo Millar, is a painter who has lost everything, a character and narrative that parallels the author’s own personal experience. Searching for hope, or at least some inspiration on a quaint island retreat off the coast of France, Millar encourages his senses to hold onto images of his family while he finds meaning in his present reality. Through the relationships that develop with some of the island inhabitants, Millar puts himself to work on restoring his soul - through the practice of making art, of course.

A lovely story that is perfect for daydreaming of far-off settings and artistic endeavours, The Restoration Artist makes for a nice break from the tedium of summer highway travel.

Now, it’s time to hit the road again. Next stop is a gas-up with Ann Shin’s The Family China with the aim to hit up Michael Cormier’s The Legacy of Tiananmen Square by sundown, if the traffic’s good.

August 09, 2013

A Word on Winnipeg From Jon Paul Fiorentino

By Jon Paul Fiorentino

I feel an intense connection to Winnipeg. 

As a young man, I was often off writing poetry at the St. Boniface Cathedral, downtown streets or pubs, or over by the Legislative buildings. The city spoke to me and it still does. The sense of community, that has always been a part of my art and activism, is something that Winnipeg gave me. I remember helping to organize a literary community in Winnipeg. 

I was inspired so much by people like Catherine Hunter, Dennis Cooley, and Robert Kroetsch. These people were my heroes. The way they treated me like a fellow writer is the reason I eventually became a writer. Their kindness, generosity, and warmth made me feel less alone. Their writing made me feel less alone. I learned precisely what writing was when I lived in Winnipeg, and it will always be home, no matter where I go.

More on Jon Paul Fiorentino

By Steve Locke

Before his new poetry collection, Needs Improvement, is released on August 15th, and before he takes the stage at Thin Air's "Poetry Bash!" on September 25, here are some more offerings from returning poet, author, and editor Jon Paul Fiorentino.

Late last year, JPF took part in a unique conversation with poet George Murray for Open Book: Toronto's "Questionless Interview" page. His responses to a series of "unspoken questions" gives readers a perspective on the highs and lows of the publishing sector.

More recently, JPF was on a trip to Australia to promote his new release at the Queensland Poetry Festival. There, he spoke on his return to the festival and sharing the stage with fellow Canadian writers, as well as the early influence of The Smiths on his writing.

Hope to see you at the bookstore next Thursday to pick up the new collection!

August 05, 2013

Ex-Winnipeg Poet Shows Promise

By Steve Locke

Despite what the title of his latest book of poetry might imply, telling Jon Paul Fiorentino that his work needs improvement would be like suggesting to Jonathan Toews to try skating lessons. Well established in Canadian literature, Fiorentino has published numerous works, is the current editor of Matrix Magazine, and teaches at Concordia University. He certainly knows how to keep his stick on the ice, if you catch my drift.

Fiorentino will be carrying the cup home at Thin Air's Poetry Bash! on Wednesday, September 25 - a celebrated homecoming for the ex-pat Winnipegger who now lives in Montreal. Despite the distance, our fair city remains alive in his work from the fragments of Transcona in his first collection, to the aching memories of "In Perfect Winnipeg" from his latest, Needs Improvement.

This week, we'll be exploring the theme of the living, breathing city that exists within the lines of Fiorentino's work, and how you can take the poet out of Winnipeg, but...(you know how the rest goes)

First off is a video poem of "In Perfect Winnipeg," set to haunting music and images that bed well with the lyrics, and lifts the poem from the page into collective imagination.

Also visit Fiorentino's Soundcloud page for audio versions of some of his poems, and be sure to stay tuned this week for a word from the returning hero himself.

August 01, 2013

The Art of the Personal Ad

Be sure not to "miss" Ian Williams at Thin Air!

The equation written on the front page of Ian Williams' website is a short form review of the success he's found with Personals, his latest book of poetry. Being shortlisted for both the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award certainly does add up to a happy author. Winnipeg readers will have a chance to catch a glimpse of Williams' formula at Thin Air's main stage event, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," on Thursday, September 26, where he will be reading from his collection.

In the meantime, in the event that at Thin Air, you miss the opportunity to connect with Ian Williams, this interview with CBC's Canada Writers may help to get you acquainted. If the opportunity does pass, also check out his Griffin Poetry Prize page for a hint as to how one might write their own personal advertisement.

Don't miss him!