“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.
Events / September 12, 2012
What is Canada? Who are we as a people? How has our land and its unique history formed us, and how do we face a future striving for diversity, transparency and innovation?
Forget Social Studies and everything you thought you knew about the Plains of Abraham — We Are Canada will change the way you see your country.
We Are Canada Book Launch
5:30 pm Thursday September 13, 2012
Ben McNally Books
366 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5H 4B2
News / July 16, 2012
Do you write short fiction? You do? Well, have I got news for you...
The Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick’s daily newspaper has just launched The Salon Fiction Prize for works of short fiction (in English) between 1,500-3,000 words.
The winning story will be published in the Telegraph-Journal’s art and culture section, Salon, and the author will receive a prize of $1,000. The winning piece will be selected by a trio of judges from Atlantic Canadian universities: Thomas Hodd (University of Moncton); Alexander MacLeod (Saint Mary’s University); and Sue Goyette (Dalhousie University).
The contest is open to all residents of Canada. All entries must be unpublished material and not under consideration in any other contest of competition. Entries will not be returned, so make sure you keep a copy!
210 Crown Street,
N.B. E2L 3V8.
Entries must include a contact email and telephone number where the author may be contacted.
News / February 17, 2012
Results are in this year's National Book Count and the results are very good. Books sold and circulated in Canadian stores and libraries are up and for the first time e-book sales are counted too. All the results are here.
- The library community in Canada is truly amazing, especially the Canadian Urban Libraries Council. Jefferson Gilbert at the council worked with 28 public library systems across Canada to individually tabulate their weekly circulation. Jefferson is polite friendly and efficient, just the same tone you find at your local library.
- The independent book store community is alive and well. Over 260 independent bookstores helped out in the book count this year and they sold a lot of books. I was at the BC Winter Book Fair in Victoria last weekend where the keynote speaker Oren Teicher from the American Booksellers Association spoke about the renaissance in independent bookstores. His comments came on the heels of reports showing a 15% increase in indie sales over Christmas. Bodes well for a healthy book ecosystem.
- The large chains were extremely helpful, especially Indigo. They do so much every day to ignite a passion for reading and hot books this is not too surprising. And BookManager, BookNet and la Société de gestion de la Banque de titres de langue française (BTLF) the aggregator folks who work behind the scenes. They provide weekly reporting on book sales and they found time in their hectic schedules to follow up on queries and double check numbers. They are like the accounting firm who count the Oscar votes... without them we have no Oscar show.
News / October 04, 2011
Kate Walker and Saffron Beckwith have announced that Kate Walker & Company will change its name to Ampersand Canada’s Book and Gift Agency inc., effective immediately. The company will continue to focus on growing existing markets and cultivating new opportunities.
“Kate Walker & Company Ltd. has a longstanding history in the book publishing industry, handling both international and Canadian publishers.” said Saffron Beckwith, Vice-President and partner. “The choice of ‘Ampersand Inc.’ reflects our company’s vision as we continue to connect, curate and champion our exemplary list of publishers and gift clients to a growing network of retailers, wholesalers and libraries across the country.”
"Ampersand Inc. is the next and logical evolution of a company that has been part of the book industry for over 50 years.” said Kate Walker. “As a part of the company since 1978, I have seen the tremendous growth and change within the publishing industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."
Ampersand Inc. (formerly Kate Walker & Company, Stanton & MacDougall, Douglas & McIntyre; and earliest as J.J. Douglas Agencies) has a legacy in Canada and through its national sales team, deep relationships with retailers, wholesalers and libraries across the country. In the last ten years, company people have won the Canadian Bookseller’s Libris Award for Rep of the Year more times than any other publisher or sales group in Canada.
Saffron Beckwith is charged with the possibilities that lie ahead, recognizing a growing demand by Canadian retailers for more options in the competitive market. “We will continue to service our longstanding customers, while representing companies in our gift division to give Canadian retailers, and ultimately Canadian customers, more choice,” says Beckwith.
MACMILLAN ANNOUNCES RAINCOAST AS SALES AND DISTRIBUTION PARTNER IN CANADA FOR INDEPENDENT, LIBRARY AND SPECIALTY ACCOUNTS
June 9, 2011 — Raincoast Books has reached agreement in principle with New York-based Macmillan U.S. to handle sales, fulfillment and marketing for the Macmillan imprints previously sold by H.B. Fenn and Company in Canada.
Raincoast will be responsible for the independent bookstore, library, and specialty markets as well as for Costco Canada. Farrar, Straus & Giroux will continue to be sold by Douglas & McIntyre in Canada.
Both companies will begin the transition immediately. Raincoast will be responsible for selling in Macmillan’s fall lists and books will be available to ship from Raincoast in early July.
In a unique arrangement to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, larger Raincoast accounts located in the eastern half of Canada will receive books directly from Macmillan’s Gordonsville, Virginia warehouses. The sales, billing and customer service for those shipments will remain with Raincoast in Vancouver.
John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan said, “We are pleased to have found an excellent business partner in Raincoast for Canada. Raincoast has a stellar reputation, knows the market and was creative in helping us find ways to make the fulfillment portion of the agreement more sustainable.”
Alison Lazarus, President of Sales added, “We met with many fine companies in Canada, but Raincoast’s systems and reporting strength, adept and creative marketing, modern warehouse and network of award-winning sales representatives made them a great fit. We are looking forward to working closely with them to renew our strong Canadian sales.”
John Sawyer, CEO of Raincoast said, “In discussion with Macmillan it soon became apparent that the two companies share common values; total focus on customer service, respect for the environment and great optimism about the future of quality publishing. Our partnership with Macmillan sends a strong signal about the book market in Canada and the importance of Canadian customers.”
Paddy Laidley, Executive Vice-President of Sales & Marketing agrees. “The independent and specialty market in Canada has always been core to our business. We choose our distribution partners carefully; for the quality of their publishing, how they fit with our other publishers and the way they do business. We look for companies that can make us better at what we do. Macmillan fits the bill perfectly.”
Macmillan is a global publisher of books, magazines, textbooks, scientific information and digital content and services. In the U.S., the group includes Farrar,Straus & Giroux; Henry Holt; St. Martin's Press; Tor Books; Picador; Macmillan Audio; Bedford St. Martin's; W.H. Freeman; Worth Publishers; i-clicker; Hayden-McNeil; Palgrave Macmillan; Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group; and Scientific American Magazine.
Macmillan is a subsidiary of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, GMbH, a global media company based in Stuttgart, Germany.
Founded in 1979, Raincoast offers full-service sales and marketing expertise for leading publishers from Canada and around the world, along with a wholesale division that drives our customer service standard. Raincoast has been awarded an Ethics in Action Award for Environmental Excellence for our commitment to sustainable environmental practices and has been voted Distributor of the Year by the Canadian Booksellers Association more times than any other publisher or distributor.
Education / May 18, 2011
The National Reading Campaign is a devoted group of publishers, librarians and educators. Their site is treasure trove of reports and analysis on the state of reading in Canada — reports on everything from reading programs for parents and babies in Quebec to First Nations programs in the west.
The NRC recently posted some video from their second conference that took place in Montreal back in January, and I want to recommend two that are worth watching.
John Raulston Saul gave a speech on reading and new Canadians in which he declared that reading for kids is "a Declaration of Independence" and than goes on to show why business managers and educational bureaucrats claim to support reading, but actually discourage independent reading. He makes the observation that in the many years he has spent visiting schools he can always tell which schools have teacher librarians and which don't (owing to budget cuts). In schools with a librarian, the kids speak in complete sentences. In other schools the don't. Reductive yes, but it does frame the issue pretty starkly.
The other video from Jon Scieszka is very funny, seemingly very off the cuff and full of practical experience about how boys and girls read differently. His topic fits in beautifully with a book we have on our list Why Boys Fail Saving Our Sons From an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind, which is well worth a read.
Jon also use a memorable image when arguing that boy and girls often like different types of books. Imagine if you could only read the books that are sitting on the bedside table of your spouse and vice versa. I know my wife would quit reading pretty quickly...
The third and Final National Reading Summit is scheduled for Vancouver in 2012 stay tuned for more developments.
I picked up this month's Walrus Magazine on the newsstand. I'm a passionate magazine reader and was struck by the provocative cover tease: 'Where Are All the Big Bold Canadian Novels?'
It delivers a little less than promised as the article in question is actually 'Supersized: How Mordecai Richler Taught a Generation of Writers to Think Big', by Charles Foran.
Foran riffs off his very well regarded biography Mordecai: The Life & Times and argues for an speculative literary history: What Solomon Gursky Was Here had won the Booker prize in 1990 instead of A.S. Byatt's Possession? What if Solomon Gursky Was Here went on to become the template for what we think of a the successful Canadian novel? Canadian novels could have become known as large sprawling stories of history and ideas instead of carefully observed novels of the domestic and the interior life that seems to predominate today. I am grossly oversimplifying Foran and in fact his own argument is a simplification of reality (there are over 14,000 trade books published in Canada every year, so it stands to reason that all sorts of novels get published).
But what I like about the article is that it displays the health of Canadian letters today. Our literature is mature enough that establishment writers like Foran, writing in establishment magazines like The Walrus can take a run at conventions, try and gore some sacred cows and generally shake things up a bit. My wife and I have completely different takes on the article, again a good thing. She has an advantage over me because she has actually read Solomon Gursky Was Here.
What do you think?
Graphica / March 16, 2011
The Doug Wright Awards, Canada’s premier comics awards, have just announced their 2011 finalists.
The nominees for Best Book are:
- Bigfoot by Pascal Girard (Drawn and Quarterly)
- Chimo by David Collier (Conundrum Press)
- Lose #2 by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)
- Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen (Top Shelf)
- Streakers by Nick Maandag
The nominees for Best Emerging Talent are:
- Aaron Costain, Entropy #5
- Alex Fellows, Spain and Morocco
- Keith Jones, Catland Empire (Drawn and Quarterly)
- James Stokoe, Orc Stain Volume One (Image)
- Tin Can Forest (aka Marek Colek and Pat Shewchuk), Baba Yaga and the Wolf (Koyama Press)
The nominees for the "Pigskin Peters Award" (recognizing non-traditional and avant-garde comics) are:
- Indoor Voice by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn and Quarterly)
- Stooge Pile by Seth Scriver (Drawn and Quarterly)
- So I’ve Been Told by Maryanna Hardy (Conundrum Press)
- Spotting Deer by Michael DeForge (Koyama Press)
- Wowee Zonk #3 edited by Patrick Kyle, Ginette Lapalme and Chris Kuzma (Koyama Press)
In addition, this year’s inductee into "The Giants of the North", the Canadian Cartoonists Hall of Fame, will be legendary Vancouver cartoonist David Boswell, the creator of the influential alternative comic Reid Fleming: World’s Toughest Milkman.
The 2011 nominees were chosen by a committee from a long list of works and submissions published during the 2010 calendar year, which for the first year officially included web comics. This year’s committee included Chester Brown, Seth, Jerry Ciccoritti, Bryan Munn and Sean Rogers.
The 2011 winners will be decided by a five-member jury and will be announced at a gala ceremony as part of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF). The jury will include Sara Quin (musician; one-half of Tegan and Sara), Michael Redhill (poet; author of Consolation and Martin Sloane; publisher of the literary journal Brick), Anita Kunz (artist, award-winning illustrator), Marc Bell (artist, cartoonist of Hot Potatoe; winner of the 2010 Pigskin Peters Award) and Mark Medley (National Post Books Editor).
News / January 06, 2011
It is with great pleasure that I can (finally!) announce that Raincoast is now the Canadian distributor for Sourcebooks Inc..
Sourcebooks has had 15 New York Times bestsellers over the last decade and is one of the leading independent publishers in North America.
Founded in 1987 by Dominique Raccah, the Illinois-based Sourcebooks is the leading publisher of Regency fiction and has had success across many genres including reference, cooking/entertaining, self-help, children’s and young adult publishing, student aids and study guides, including Harlan Cohen’s The Naked Roommate series (which has sold over a whopping quarter of a million copies!).
Equally well known for its innovative marketing, Sourcebooks has been one of fastest growing publishers in the United States for each of the last five years.
Catalogues and more information about Sourcebooks can be found here.