Category: Author Q & A
“I always hoped that Canadians would take it as a kind of delicious literary revenge on the US.”
We have just passed the 50th, terrible, anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and images of Camelot our fresh in our minds. We are perennially fascinated with the personalities and images of the age: as the American Century morphs from the conventions of the Cold War into New Frontier and then beyond. It has me thinking of beguiling new novel that paints the period an entirely new way.
What if there has been an innocuous Canadian spy at the heart of the great events who was covertly titling the balance of history? What would his story look like? The American writer and publisher, Peter Warner, answers that question in his new novel; The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates.
Peter kindly consented to an email exchange over the last few months. Here are some highlights.
JAMIE: I loved The Mole. One of the smartest books I have read in a long time. The texture of Washington seeps through every page and the dyspeptic and very funny pace at how great events unfold struck me as entirely believable. Winston Bates is the classic anti-hero. He’s sad, but not really—Forest Gump meets George Orwell meets The Hundred Year Old Man Who Fell Out of the Window. Is this a sly joke about Canada?
PETER: I really never envisioned Canada as the butt of the joke. One of the jokes is surely about a kind of American negligence, in which Canada is taken so for granted, not really thought of as a foreign country, that it could never be imagined Canada would spy on the US or that Winston is a Canadian mole. But I didn't see this as a joke about Canada. A Canadian mole at the heart of the US manages to turn the so-called American Century into a series of mishaps. I always hoped that Canadians would take it as a kind of delicious literary revenge on the US.
In light of the NSA scandal, could you have imagined the Canadian government bugging the President’s telephone, or would that be too wild even for fiction?
Peter: Yes, I can imagine Canada listening on the US president's phone calls. My guess is that it would be opportunistic rather than a large scale project like the NSA, especially since Canada, as part of the Five Eyes, seems a little implicated the NSA's large scale surveillance, if not the direct spying on world leaders. And I think it would be done with great trepidation, but if opportunity and necessity collided, yes. As for the idea that it is far-fetched to think of close allies spying on each other I have a two word reply: Jonathan Pollard. He’s the American intelligence analyst, who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987.
The Suez Crisis and the Cold War are distant memory for many people, were you concerned that readers wouldn’t relate to the events in the book?
I take your point about Suez being a distant memory for some people but I don't think this is too different from any historical novel about distant events. My job is to make it plausible and give it a believable context. Also I am frequently and happily surprised at how much the Cold War is still part of the conversation, what with Russian moles living in the suburbs of New Jersey and Snowden reviving Russian/US tensions and even movies like Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy getting wide acclaim.
Have you read Charles Ritchie’s diaries? I kept thinking about his account of being Canadian ambassador during the days of JFK’s Camelot. In his first volume, he says that Canadians love to feel quietly superior to our American cousins (so brash, vulgar and successful!), yet we become very protective of our American cousins whenever any other country mocks the United States. I think his observation goes some way to explaining the dynamic of the Canada and the US, and your book sits on the fault line.
I did read in the Ritchie diaries, as well as several other memoirs by distinguished members of External Affairs. (And then there was that memoir by Sondra Gotlieb, Wife of…,the sort of thing novelists love because it makes diplomacy seem so personal.)
A ‘real life’ Winston Bates—a Canadian who infiltrated the US government—doesn't immediately come to mind. Was there a reason the mole is from Canada?
I came up with the idea partly because I was thinking about the kind of person who could hide in plain sight. And that leads to one of the essential themes of the book, which is identity. Winston is someone whose major rubrics of identity are all a little compromised: he is half Jewish, half-Canadian (or half-American), his sexual identity is also ambiguous (at least to other people).
Also, I am of that generation of American men for whom Canada was a potential refuge from the draft during the Vietnam War. I have occasionally reflected on the fact that if I hadn't belatedly lucked out on the draft, I might be a Canadian. My own personal experience in Canada is not extensive, just 25 years of going a couple of times a year to sales conferences. But I always found the Canadian sense of irony attractive, both about Canada's own identity but also about Canada's relationship with the large, often oblivious, always impending entity to the south.
What are you working on now? Will you be returning to this fictional territory in the future?
I have been doing some research about the amazing collection of cultural figures, mostly refugees from the war, who gathered in Los Angeles in the 1940s—Thomas Mann, Stravinsky, Brecht, Jean Renoir, Bunuel, Dali among many others. I am thinking of some sort of comic but noirish fiction about their awkward encounters with their strange New World. But a couple of readers of The Mole have asked if I have a sequel in mind. I didn’t when I finished writing the book, yet the way it ends does seem to suggest that Winston could go on to wreck havoc in the 80s and 90s….
Thank You, Peter.
In 2011, Canadian writer Hilary Davidson won the Anthony Award for her debut novel The Damage Done. The book also earned a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards.
I met Hilary a year later when she came to back Toronto to promote her second novel The Next One to Fall. I was positively taken aback that someone quite so charming and successful spent so much time thinking about how to dramatically kill people! Appearances can be deceptive, apparently...
Now a resident of New York, Hilary is a travel journalist and the author of 18 nonfiction books and countless short stories. You can also find her all over the web, including on Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.
With the release of her Evil In All Its Disguises tomorrow, Hilary (being so nice and all) kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the Raincoast blog about her writing, travel, social media and more. Just remember, however lovely Hilary seems while you're reading this, she is out there secretly plotting something dastardly. Take my word for it...
Do you remember when you first became interested in becoming a writer?
If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll say it’s a lifelong obsession. When I was in elementary school, I won a short-story writing contest in Crackers Magazine. It was called “Ameteafear’s Tomb,” and I blame it for putting me on this dark and twisted path. That, and Nancy Drew books, or course. They’re the gateway drug to crime novels.
What was your first writing job?
Paid or unpaid? I started early, founding a newspaper at my elementary school when I was in Grade Five. In high school, I worked on the student newspaper, which was rather appropriately called The Cuspidor. At the University of Toronto, I worked on a couple of newspapers and interned at the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, writing for its newsletter. But it wasn’t until I started freelancing while I was on staff at Canadian Living magazine that I made money from writing. The first cheque I earned was for writing a travel piece about New Orleans’ cemeteries for the travel section of The Globe & Mail.
What was the appeal of travel writing?
I’ve always learned so much when I travel, and I want to share that when I come home. I remember visiting Pompeii and being amazed by the brothels there. They have some very vivid murals on their walls! That was a kind of delightful surprise, and it turned into another travel story for The Globe & Mail. A few years ago, I spent three weeks in Peru, and that gave me a tremendous amount of inspiration, both for fiction and nonfiction. I’m obsessed with Inca history and culture, and my second novel, The Next One to Fall, let me explore that in great detail. Killing a (fictional) tourist at Machu Picchu was an unusual way to show my appreciation, but I was struck by both the grandeur of the site and the danger there when I visited.
Where are you going next?
My upcoming travels are all related to my tour for Evil in All Its Disguises. I start at the Tucson Festival of Books, then hit Scottsdale, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Denver, Colorado Springs, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Toronto. After that, who knows? Last year, I did a weeklong tour of BC with Ian Hamilton, Robin Spano, and Deryn Collier, three of my favourite crime writers, and we’ve been talking about doing something similar this year, possibly in Ontario. Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Israel and Argentina. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go anytime soon, but I’m dying to visit Cambodia.
How has your journalism informed your fiction?
Being a journalist teaches how to grab your audience’s interest quickly, and it makes you shameless about asking questions to figure out how things work. Even though I’m writing fiction, my books are set in the real world, and I like to get the details right. That’s made me do things like go to a gun range to shoot targets, because I wanted to feel the weight of a gun in my hand before writing about it.
What else inspires your crime writing?
Sometimes things that have happened to me or someone I know have a way of getting into my work. Evil in All Its Disguises is the third book featuring Lily Moore, but it’s a standalone mystery about the disappearance of a journalist in Acapulco. It’s the first time that the scenario for one of my books was directly inspired by real-life events — in this case, the disappearance of a Frommer’s Travel Guides editor who vanished while on a press trip to Jamaica in 2000. The book is a work of fiction, but the circumstances around her disappearance have always haunted me, and I wanted to explore that.
Who are some of your favourite crime writers?
It’s such a long list! Some classic favourites: Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Dorothy L. Hughes, and Donald Westlake. For contemporary crime fiction, it includes Laura Lippman, Walter Mosley, Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, Linda Fairstein, Kate Atkinson, Chris F. Holm, Dennis Tafoya, Jennifer Hillier, Louise Penny, Denise Mina, and Dennis Lehane.
What is your next book about?
It's the story of a wealthy, adulterous couple who go away together for a weekend and are abducted. The strange behaviour of their kidnappers makes one of the victims wonder who they’re really working for. After the couple’s bodies are found—apparently killed in an accident—it's up to the dead woman’s brother and one of the kidnappers to figure out what really happened that weekend.
When can we expect Lily to return? Readers are going to miss her!
I definitely have more plans for Lily! She will be back. My first three books — The Damage Done, The Next One to Fall, and Evil in All Its Disguises — follow her through a short space of time. They’re set just a few months apart. When readers see her again, more time will have elapsed.
Are you still writing short stories?
Absolutely. Short stories let me explore all kinds of characters and voices and scenarios that I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow throughout a book. I also love writing short fiction because it’s helped me reach audiences who wouldn’t necessarily have picked up my books otherwise. I’m up for a Derringer Award right now for a story about a couple whose relationship is falling apart because one of them wants to visit a dominatrix. I’ve got stories coming up in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and in a new publication from Macmillan called the Malfeasance Occasional.
When did you become interested in vintage fashion?
When I was fourteen, I started shopping in Toronto’s Kensington Market, so I got hooked on vintage early. My mom and grandmother were always very stylish dressers, so they inspired me. I love the idea of wearing clothes that have a history — it’s like they have their own stories to tell.
Who are some of your fashion icons?
A few years ago, I saw an exhibit about Elsa Schiaparelli, and I instantly fell in love. Her approach to fashion was just so irreverent and playful. For instance, she designed a pair of glamorous, elbow-length black evening gloves with pointed gold talons attached. They look like bear claws! To me, that’s the ultimate in chic.
You’re very engaged with social media. As a writer do you find being online a help or a hindrance?
The best thing about social media is that it introduces you to a lot of interesting people. The worst thing is that some people mistake it for a megaphone, and they think it’s just a means to publicize their own books. For me, it’s all about the social — I get into a lot of interesting conversations with people, and I was invited to the first-ever QuebeCrime conference thanks to Twitter. It’s definitely a help, but I have to limit myself, because otherwise I’d be online chatting with people all day instead of getting any work done!
When we’ve finished reading Evil In All Its Disguises, what should we read next?
I’m looking forward to reading Brad Parks’ latest, The Good Cop, and Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist, which I’ve heard wonderful things about. My TBR (To Be Read) pile just keeps growing and growing. That’s true for everyone who loves books, isn’t it?
Check out her appearance below along with the book trailer and for more information pick up her book Eat Naked: Unprocessed, Unpolluted and Undressed Eating for a Healthier, Sexier You.
The Eat Naked Book Trailer
You might have heard of this dog named Boo. You know the one. He has 1,338,984 Facebook friends, Khloe Kardasian is a fan and he's even going to be on Good Morning America in August !! So what's up with this dog? I'm not sure but with almost 1.5 million Facebook fans he must be doing something right!
Chronicle has this charming book with exclusive new photographs of Boo doing all of his favorite things: lounging around, playing with friends, exploring the whole wide world, and making those famous puppy-dog eyes. It's not yet available but you can per-order off of Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca but if you would rather, please head on over to your local bookstore in August and pick up a copy!
What type of dog is Boo?
While some say Boo looks like a Teddy Bear, he is actually a Pomeranian
with a unique hair cut.
How old is Boo?
He is five years old.
Who is Boo's best friend?
"My best pal is Buddy, another Pomeranian who lives with me."
What is Boo's favorite thing to do?
It's a tie between lounging around the house and playing follow the
leader with Buddy. (He is always the leader)
Does Boo think he is a little human or is he happy to be a dog?
"I love being a dog and playing with other dogs, but I also like to get
dressed up and hang out with my human friends."
Does Boo like to travel?
Boo enjoys going on fun trips and has been to New York, Chicago, and
Los Angeles. He jumps right into his carrier without needing to be asked.
Does Boo like music? What type?
He likes all kinds of music, but prefers songs that go light on the drums.
They scare him.
Does Boo have any favorite charities?
He is a fan of Operation Smile. For his 5th birthday his fans raised over
$5,000 for the charity. Boo loves kids and loves smiling, so it's a
Does Boo get fan mail?
Most fans leave messages for Boo on his Facebook page. He likes to read the messages after dinner.
What is Boo’s favorite TV show?
"It doesn't matter who is playing in the Super Bowl, as long as
the Puppy Bowl is on at halftime."
And here's a pretty adorable video of when he did a tour up to Chronicle. Enjoy!
I'm also doing a giveaway!
Comment below for your chance to win! And you have more than a month to enter! I'll be sending a copy of Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog with a 'pawtograph!!'. Deadline is August 12th. You can comment as many times as you like but your name will be entered only once.
Claire Blicker (our gift rep who attended) wrote:
...Bonnie wanted to bring back diaries and family reunions, Leslie wanted to bring back elegant train travel, discreet voices in public, and electric fans. David noted that we actually watch more cooking shows now, but cook less. When he asked his fans on twitter what they wanted to bring back, one wanted to see more potluck dinners where people bring something they made, and David agreed...
Big thanks to the panelists, The Society and The Bay for putting on such a successful event!
Are you feeling jaded about Valentine's Day? Maybe you're thinking about love in the wrong way...
In her new book, The Case for Falling in Love: Why We Can't Master the Madness of Love - and Why That's the Best Part, Mari Ruti proposes a new way of looking at love. A call to liberation for those frustrated by today's self-help shelf, this book also showcases all the ways in which life's sorrows, hardships, and disenchantments can render us deliciously alive -- and maybe that's what the real purpose of love is.
You can read a Q&A with Mari Ruti on MarieClaire.com., where she talks about the Mars/Venus concept, self-help books, Gossip Girl, online dating and more.
I'm not expecting anyone to turn around say, Now I'll be completely different, but I think we can be self-aware enough to understand that what you're doing now is not what you absolutely have to do. You can start doing things differently over time. Love has been about the Mars/Venus model for so long and I'm hoping that this book will make people thoughtful and that there is an audience that is ready for this.
He spoke about what to do if you got attacked by pirates, how to disarm an irate golfer and how to get yourself out of other quirky situations.
Take a look at the clip here.
There's tons in the series so it's tough to list them all, but here are a few of our faves!!
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook Junior Edition Boxed Set available in September
Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books (published by London's Laurence King) was one of my favourite books last year. It's an incredible cross-section of design books that would be a beautiful addition to any design enthusiast's shelf.
But Bibliographic is not – as the author Jason Godfrey points out in his introduction – a history of graphic design or even a definitive list of 100 books on the subject.
So I wanted to know how the selections were made.
Fortunately, I was able to speak to Jason and ask him a few questions about Bibliographic and what it took to be included in the of 100 classic graphic design books...
Dan Wagstaff: What was the inspiration for Bibliographic?
Jason Godfrey: There was a need for a illustrated resource of graphic design publishing. Many books and articles contained very good reading lists but I had always found them rather detached without the visual reference. The best graphic design books are important artefacts in the history of graphic design and many of the books are becoming difficult to find and access.
DW: What criteria did you use to select the books?
JG: The only rule that was applied throughout was that the books had to be visually interesting, there seemed little point in photographing books that would not look appealing on the page. That the books were designed by some of the cream of graphic design this turned out not to be a big problem but it did mean that some important critical analyses had to be put to one side.
DW: Did you ask other designers for their recommendations?
JG: Whilst mentioning to other designers that I was working on Biblographic I found that they were very keen to promote their own favourite titles and it did help extend the list and also confirm the importance of books that had already been chosen. As part of the book I asked about 20 designers to give me a list of 10 books from their own library, this was an idea borrowed from the designer Tony Brook at Spin who had earlier published a newspaper Spin 2 with reading lists from 50 designers.
DW: Was it difficult to decide which recent books to include?
JG: To gauge which newly published titles will come to be seen part of the canon of graphic design books is not the easiest of tasks. Looking back from a distance helps to establish the relevant trends and lends more perspective to any choices. Regardless the best books all seem to be those that can tell a good story. One recent book, Mark Holt and Hamish Muir's 8vo: On the Outside (Lars Müller Publishers, 2005) did just this, exploring the process of the studio's work and the effect of technological on this process and output in a thoroughly engaging book .
DW: There are photographs of every book included in Bibliographic. Were any of the books difficult to locate?
JG: A number of the books are from my own collection others I borrowed from friends and colleagues. Some were so precious I had to send the photographer Nick Turner over to where the their owner could keep them in sight at all times. A handful of books I could only locate at the St Bride Printing Library who were kind enough to facilitate their shooting.
DW: Were there any books you wanted to include but couldn’t access?
JG: Early in the process of compiling my list of 100 books I decided that many of the early examples of early 20th Century graphic design books particularly those of the typographic revolutions of the 1920s and 1930s would be too difficult to access as they are now the preserve of museums. It would all have taken me too far from my premise that Bibliographic could be representative of a working studio library.
DW: Which books came close to being in the 100, but didn’t quite make the final cut?
JG: Tough choices had to made particularly where an author or series of books were successful. Alan Fletcher is very well represented in the book and I couldn't justify putting in the excellent Identity Kits: A Pictorial Survey of Visual Signals (Studio Vista, 1971) a book he co-authored with Germano Facetti the then art director at Penguin Books. Another book that came very close was Robert Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographical Style (Hartley & Marks, 1992) which I felt lacked the visual punch necessary for Bibliographic.
DW: Of the books you don’t own in Bibliographic, is there one that you particularly covet?
JG: The 1926 Deberny & Peignot, Specimen Général would be a welcome addition to my library. There was copy in a studio I worked for and I was forever using it as a point of reference or just to admire the elegant section dividers designed by Maximilien Vox.
Vancouver translator Andrew Wilson was on CBC Radio's “On The Coast” yesterday discussing the “invisible art” of translation. It was an interesting conversation--especially to anyone who has learned another language, or has read a translated work.
If you missed the show, you can listen to it online (follow the link filed under “Monday, September 14”).
Andrew Wilson's new book, Translators on Translating is being published this Fall by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing (CCSP) Press.