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Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Winners: 2016 Edition

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Michael Tamblyn announces the winners of the Prize. Can you spot me in the crowd? Picture via Kobo’s Facebook.

Earlier this week, the winners of the second annual Kobo Emerging Writer Prize were announced in Toronto.

As with last year, I was on the internal shortlisting committee, sifting through submissions and organizing the Kobo team to pick the shortlist before turning it over to the panel of author judges, this year Camilla Gibb, Lynsay Sands, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. There were a lot of titles dear to me on the shortlist this year; I particularly loved Pillow, Debris, Specimen, Born to Walk, and That Lonely Section of Hell. This year’s genre category was romance, and though I didn’t read any of the shortlisted titles, it’s exciting to see these books ranked alongside the more prominent categories.

The announcement event, held at Terroni on Adelaide St., was a lovely, sophisticated affair with many of the nominees in attendance. It was a delight to chat with Andrew Battershill, Wab Kinew, Irina Kovalyova, and many members of the Toronto publishing industry as well. I’m so excited to see what our winners have in store next.

specimenFiction Winner: Specimen by Irina Kovalyova

Of this winners, Specimen is the only one I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. Kovalyova’s stories are sharp and witty; each one is influenced by her science background. The one that stuck with me the longest was “The Blood Keeper,” a novella-length story about a student and her father who go, separately, to North Korea for research.

Non-Fiction Winner: The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinewwab

Immediately following the announcement of The Reason You Walk on the shortlist, Wab Kinew was elected as an NDP constituent in Winnipeg. Related? Perhaps not, but it was exciting to have such a high profile nominee. This book is a heartfelt story of reconciliation between father and son; I’m interested to read it.

Genre Winner: Fury’s Kiss by Nicola R. White

furyI’m so excited that Fury’s Kiss won in this category because it’s a self-published book. In a time where more authors are turning to self publishing as a means of releasing their work, it’s wonderful to see self-published books legitimized and celebrated. And Fury’s Kiss sounds fascinating, with a Greek-mythology twist. I can’t wait to see more of White’s work!

The winners each receive $10 000 and marketing and promotion support from Kobo for the year. Are you planning to read any of this year’s nominees?

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Mid-Year Reading Recap

2016 has reached its midpoint and I thought I’d pop in and chat about what I’ve been reading lately. I was in a bit of a slow period for reading books in the spring, but summer’s almost here and I’m picking up speed; there’s hope for my reading challenges yet. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

boringgirlsBoring Girls by Sara Taylor

How To Build A Girl meets The Basic Eight in this debut novel about Rachel, an angry teen who forms a metal band with her best friend Fern, and uses their success to take revenge on misogyny in the music industry to violent ends. This book has all the components I love in a book – bloodthirsty teens, mysterious best friends, feminism, murder – but it fell a little flat for me; Rachel was underdeveloped and the characters’ emotions and motivations were not as nuanced as I would have liked. Spectacular cover, though.

In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and the Birth of Modernist Art by Sue Roemontmartre

I picked up this book as a part of my 2016 Nonfiction Challenge, and it was a lovely change to delve into the mid-century art scene in Paris. Art history becomes accessible in this enjoyable portrait of the birth of modern art in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. I really liked how the author framed the artists’ famous works and stylistic breakthroughs by providing context for the political and cultural developments that influenced the modernist art movement, like telephones, cinemas, and industrialization, while also crafting an emotional narrative centring around the artists in Paris’ famous bohemian neighbourhood. The analyses of the artists’ major works is accessible and ties together the social and emotional influences highlighted by the author. I read this book as prep for a trip to Paris, where I planned to visit friends, eat pastries and see as much art as I could. This book really enhanced my experience of all the modernist art I saw.

modernloversModern Lovers by Emma Straub

I’ve long loved Emma Straub – in fact, her first book was one of the first I ever reviewed for print – and you may remember that I first became aware of her as a merchandiser for The Magnetic Fields. Her new novel is a charming and witty portrait of old friends who are struggling with their marriages, their children, and the shadow of their famous and dead former bandmate. This was a quick and fun read with characters that feel human and smart writing. Straub really knows how to write relatable characters – her teenagers are particularly sharp – and I enjoyed the warmth and humour she uses to tackle old wounds, first love and the stress of long-buried secrets.

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Emma Straub and her Modern Lovers muumuu

I was lucky to see Emma Straub in Toronto just this past week, in conversation with Sue Carter Flynn at the Toronto Reference library. She wore one of her fantastic Modern Lovers-print muumuus and talked about her past as a poet, her family, and how many Magnetic Fields secrets are in this book (none, although she did tell me a few!). She was an utter delight and I wouldn’t mind being her best friend, if she’s taking applications.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky

dadmagAs one of my favourite columns on The Toast (RIP), I looked forward to a new “issue” of Dad Magazine every month, and the heartwarming dad stories in the comments. The book is a full issue of Dad Magazine, reporting on hard-hitting issues like how every sport has been ruined these days, what’s going on in the neighbour’s yard, and how to talk to your son about growing a beard. My favourite part were all the hilarious dad ads (“(d)ads,” if you will) advertising things like complete sets of state quarters, the local paper shredder emporium, and yarn-spinner’s workshops for dad storytelling – make sure you read the fine print for extra puns. Maybe it’s because I’m not a dad, but the full issue felt like a it was a little too much. I’m hoping for one more column on the Toast as a send-off.

Now Reading: Not Working by Lisa Owennotworking

I’ve only just started it, but so far Not Working has been a fun Bridget-Jones-esque exploration of a young woman’s struggle to find a job as her life comes undone. The writing is funny and sharp, and Claire feels almost a little too familiar as she scrambles to find a place in the world. I’m looking forward to reading more.

That’s what I’ve been reading lately! What’s your favourite book you’ve read in 2016 so far?

reviews

Review: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

In The High Mountains of Portugal (Knopf), Yann Martel returns to magic realism in three interwoven stories about lost love and journeys taken to reclaim the past.

martelIn 1904, Tomas, grieving for his dead lover and son, sets out in a car he doesn’t know how to drive to find a long-lost religious artefact in rural Portugal. Three decades later, a woman from the same rural village brings her husband’s corpse to a pathologist in the middle of the night, where his autopsy reveals a surprising answer to how the man lived. Fifty years after that, Canadian Senator Peter adopts a chimpanzee and moves to the Portuguese mountains after the death of his wife.

In each of these stories, grief manifests in the loss of language: Tomas struggles to learn the mechanical tongue of the automobile; Dr. Lozora fails to communicate the medical procedure of the autopsy, and Peter faces the double language barrier of Portuguese and Odo the chimpanzee. All three must turn away from the past to discover a new way of life. As in his previous novels, Martel uses animals to ponder larger topics, this time Christianity, where the chimpanzee alternatively represents a crucified Christ, rebirth, and God itself.

I enjoyed this novel more than I was expecting (I, too, was wary after Beatrice and Virgil), and the elements of magic realism are used well, most memorably in the story of Dr. Lozora. While there were stronger religious metaphors present in this book, my favourite had to be the extended comparison of Jesus’s life to an Agatha Christie murder mystery. This novel is one that has grown in my mind since I’ve finished it, walking its way backwards into the peaks of my thoughts.

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This review first appeared in Geist 100.

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7 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2016

The publishing industry has moved to a two-season model, where Fall books are pegged to be the big (Christmas & prizeable) hits, and where Spring/Summer titles sort of end up being everything else. Over the last couple years, my taste in books has shifted to the “everything else” category, with the result that there’s always a lot of books pubbing in the first half of a year that I can’t wait for. Here’s what’s got me counting down til Tuesdays in 2016:

Grace & Style: The Art of Pretending You Have It by Grace Helbig (Simon & Schuster, February 2 2016). This is cheating a little, because I have already purchased and devoured this book. It came out two weeks ago! Grace is one of my favourite Youtubers, and her first book was refreshingly candid. I thought Grace & Style had fewer sincere moments and useful advice than Grace’s Guide, but I still enjoyed it.

martel

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Penguin Random House, February 2, 2016). Ok, I have already read this one too, thanks to an advance copy I received at work before Christmas, but the important thing is that after (what some might call) the misstep of Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel’s new book manages to refigure out the right combination of magic realism + animals to be captivating, if a little heavy-handed on the religious pondering. Favourite part: the comparison of Jesus’s life to an Agatha Christie murder mystery.

oyeyemi

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead Books, March 8 2016). I am cheating a little here, too, because I was again very fortunate to get an ARC from work and am currently devouring it. Boy Snow Bird is one of my favourite books, and Oyeyemi’s writing is simultaneously delicate and sharp. Her new collection of stories is mixed for me, so far: nothing has yet surpassed the first story, “Books and Roses”, in heart. Recurring characters, themes (keys!) and elements of magic realism (guys. I love magic realism) run through the stories, and I have high hopes for the stories that remain.

Dad Magazine by Jaya Saxena and Matt Lubchansky (Quirk Books, April 26 2016). (Finally, you say, a book that she hasn’t read yet and is actually looking forward to). Inspired by one of my favourite columns on The ToastDad Magazine is a satirical look at the modern dad and his interests.If you read any of the Toast articles, be sure to read the comments: that’s where the real heart of the series is, readers’ stories and jokes about their own dads. I can only hope this book is as good as the column. Anecdote: last year at TCAF I met Jaya and Matt and was so excited to meet Toast columnists that I forgot to thank them for the gift that is Dad Magazine. That’s #1 on my list if they’re back this year.

modernlovers

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books, May 31 2016). My interest in Emma Straub began when she was documenting The Magnetic Fields’ tours and selling merch way back in 2008 or so  (sidenote: my brother is in this tour photo of Emma’s; I am standing hidden beside him. I forgot about this until just now!). Admittedly, it wasn’t a very literary interest, but I liked her previous book and look forward to her new novel – coincidentally also following an aging NYC college band. I’m hoping to spot a few parallels.

Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North (Riverhead Books, June 7 2016). A follow-up to North’s To Be or Not To BeRomeo and/or Juliet is a choose-your-own adventure book with Shakespeare’s most tragic pair, coupled with character designs from my darling Kate Beaton, and illustrations from a host of the best comic artists around, including my favourites Noelle Stevenson and Emily Carroll.

Romeo-and-or-JulietHunger by Roxane Gay (HarperCollins, June 14 2016). After reading her essays on the complicated nature of feminism in Bad Feminist, I’m looking forward to more of Gay’s candour and insight in her new memoir about her relationship with her body. This might be the most important book I read all year.

That does it for books I’m counting down for in the first half of 2016, but I’ve already got my eye out on the second half:

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child scripts, Parts I & II (Pottermore, July 31 2016). This goes without saying, right?
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (FSG, September 6 2016)
  • Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (Simon & Schuster, October 25 2016). This title has been delayed by a year already, so my fingers are crossed it makes its pub date this time.
  • The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg (Macmillan, date unknown but I am hoping for Fall 2016). 

It doesn’t escape my notice that many of these titles are second and third books of authors I already like; I tend to play it safe with authors I know and love, but I’m excited to see if there’s any books that come out of left field and steal my heart unexpectedly. I’ll read my way through this list until then. Are there any books you’ve got your eye on this year?

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Review: Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton returns with her signature wit and style in Step Aside, Pops (Drawn & Quarterly), her newest collection of comics that takes on topics in history, literature, pop culture and feminism.

"Look what came early! Clear my schedule, I know what I'm doing tonight!" (via twitter)
“Look what came early! Clear my schedule, I know what I’m doing tonight!” (via twitter)

Beaton’s follow-up to Hark! A Vagrant, her first collection and webcomic of the same name, presents a smart mix of new comics and old favourites, such as the Strong Female Characters, Nemesis, and Napoleon. Beaton can find fresh jokes in even the most hackneyed of subjects.

One of my favourites is her Pride and Prejudice / X-Files crossover, where a delightfully grumpy Dana Scully takes the place of Mr. Darcy at the Meryton ball (NB: this was our group Halloween costume at work). Other highlights include Beaton’s takes on Edward Gorey and Nancy Drew book covers, and comics on notable women and Canadian figures like Ida B. Wells and Tom Longboat. Janet Jackson even makes a cameo in a comic critiquing the idea of the oppression of men.

Emily M. Keeler interviews Kate Beaton at the book launch in Toronto. (via)
Emily M. Keeler interviews Kate Beaton at the book launch in Toronto. (via)

Step Aside, Pops delivers Beaton’s sharp wit and knack for pinpointing humorous situations in history and culture through simple and expressive comics that are charming and hilarious.

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 Reading Challenges: Electric Boogaloo

It’s become a bit of a tradition around here at kelsea oconnor dot com to set reading goals for myself at the start of the year. I’ve learned that while my intentions are good, for the most part I lose interest in all but one or two reading goals over the course of the year. So this year I’ve tried to commit myself a little smarter and stick with ones that have worked for me in the past, with only one new addition. Here are the goals I’ve set for 2016:

50 Book Pledge

I enjoy keeping track of what I’ve read, and the 50 Book Pledge makes it easy. My goal again this year is 50 books, and perhaps I’ll meet it this year. One of the benefits of this challenge is that it helps me keep on track with my other reading goals – I can easily see whether I’m reading enough books by women, or if I made a Reading Bingo square without realizing it. I’m currently halfway through book #5 (How  to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran) and keeping pace.


2016 reading bingo cardReading Bingo

My old favourite Reading Bingo is back this year and I’m pretty excited that it’s a bit more general than last year’s CanLit edition (there was just no way I was ever going to read a book by Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and L.M. Montgomery all in one year. Sorry, Canadian canon!). I actually contributed four squares on this year’s card, so hopefully I won’t embarrass myself by failing to fill them in. I’ve already marked in one square. Onward!

Books by Women

Being mindful about the books I was choosing to read helped me stray farther from my usual reading habits, and tbh I really didn’t miss reading more books by men (actually, I started to find the books I did read by men less interesting!). I’m setting the goal again at 75% books by women, and welcome any suggestions you might have.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2016

This is the year! I’m thinking this will be my February-March reading project. The goal (woefully unstarted from last year): reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for the first time since 2003. It’s only been 13 years! To be reasonable, I’m going to skip the attempt to reread The Silmarillion – gotta save some Tolkien for 2017, right?

New: Nonfiction Challenge!The Game by Ken Dryden

This one ties into some of my other New Year’s Resolutions, which is to learn more about topics that interest me (art, hockey, photography, etc.). For each subject, I’m planning to read a nonfiction book and then do some practical aspect of that topic. For example, I have already met my goal in the most basic sense for hockey: I’ve read a book about it (The Game by Ken Dryden) and attended an AHL game (Utica Comets vs Toronto Marlies). Ideally, I will continue learning about each subject beyond meeting the two goals, but let’s achieve those two goals first. I think this will broaden my interests and knowledge, and also lets me look forward to a fun outing or project.

My goal with setting reading challenges is always to make sure I’m reading new and interesting books that I might not have otherwise read (with one side effect of making sure I don’t fall victim to yet another Harry Potter reread) and I think I’ve put myself in a good position this year. What are your reading goals for the year?

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2015 Reading Year in Review

The year has come to a close, my top books of 2015 are in, and it’s time to see how I did on the year’s reading challenges. It was another underperforming year in terms of my reading goals, but I read some interesting and exciting books this year so I’m not particularly disappointed. Let’s review:

The 50 Book Pledge

I pledged to read 50 books, but I only read 43. I had a few reading slumps this year, especially during the summer, and I sometimes found it difficult to pick my next read, which contributed to longer periods between books (there are too! many! books! to choose from). I’ve noted before that the Pledge is limited to books, and if all the magazines, comics, and fanfics I read counted towards my goal, I’d have far surpassed it.

Random House Reading BingoReading Bingo 2015 filled card

I was a little more proactive with this challenge this year – I kept the bingo card on my desk at the office and filled it in throughout the year. I definitely sought out more CanLit than I would have otherwise, with a view to marking off more squares. I actually ended up not being able to match quite a few books to squares, but alas, I didn’t even finish a line. It’s surprisingly hard to find a Canadian book with snow on the cover! You can see my completed card and the books I read here.

The Great Tolkien Reread of 2015 2016

I didn’t get there, guys. Going to budget some deep-winter reading time for this, as there are fewer books I’m excited about at this time of year; frigid temperatures mean I’m home more, so I will have more time to read my massive illustrated omnibus without trying to lug it around. This is the year.

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

Another challenge I didn’t follow along with during the year. But I actually only missed 8 of the 24 challenges! You can see what I read here.

Picture of Books I Read in 2015
A selection of the books I read in 2015

Reading More Books by Women

This was a goal that I was very conscious of throughout the year, and I stayed mindful of it when I was choosing my next book to read. I only read 10.5 books written by men this year (the half comes from A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson, cowritten by Jeff Rovin. Sidenote: I’m sorry, Gillian, this book was awful. Let’s place the blame on your coauthor), which works out to just slightly more than 75% female authors. That’s up from 53% last year and exactly meets my goal. I’m very happy with that number.

Did you meet your reading goals for 2015? What was your favourite book?

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So You Want to Work in Digital Publishing: Getting an Internship in eBook Production

It’s that time of year, when a couple dozen eager publishing students are released from Humber’s Creative Book Publishing program and begin hunting for an internship in the wilds of Toronto’s publishing industry. Digital publishing has become a more and more popular option as the traditional avenues of editorial and marketing positions become scarcer. Digital publishing, although it has stabilized in the past few years, is still a growing aspect of the publishing industry, and some of the more exciting changes in publishing are happening here. It seems pretty natural that keen young publishing students, with strong grasps on social media and technology, turn their prospecting eyes to the semi-uncharted waters of e-publishing. Maybe that’s just how I felt when I was a new graduate, as I felt that my publishing school education had sort of skimmed over some of the important aspects of digital publishing when I began looking for internships. What are the components of an epub? How do you QA an epub? What is metadata, really? Whatever brief lessons we had on making epubs (with Sigil lol) didn’t seem like it actually translated into helpful experience when I was job-hunting. I did, however, have experience with coding and eReading, and all sorts of other computer skills.

Via Kobo on Instagram
Via Kobo on Instagram

I landed an eBook Production internship at Random House, a Publisher Operations internship at Kobo, and later a full-time job wrangling ebooks and metadata. My knowledge skews heavily towards the retailer end of ebooks, but I also have some experience with the publisher side; I’ve worked with ebooks at every stage of their lifecycle, from conversion to epub to deactivating out-of-print titles. Now that I’ve been working with eBooks for over two years and have been on both sides of the interviewing table, I have some advice for breaking into eBooks. I’m going to avoid basic job application and interview advice, such as doing your research on the company and asking knowledgable questions, and stick to what you should know for ebooks in particular.

Excel

My number one piece of advice: Get some excel skills. Like, don’t just say you know how to use excel if you’ve opened up a spreadsheet once or twice. You don’t need to be an expert (I use it every day and I’m not!) but hands-on experience goes a long way. Learn how to use fomulas. Learn how to do a vlookup. Learn the glory of a pivot table. Filters are your friends. Chances are you’ll be working with spreadsheets with lots of data on a daily basis, so get comfortable with the features of Excel. If you had called me up when I was in university and told me I would have favourite Excel tools (Text to Columns and Compare, fyi) and never use Word documents in a professional setting, I probably would have thought you were crazy. As an employer looking for an intern, show me that you’ve got some solid excel experience and I will swoon.

eReading Experience

Needless to say, probably one of the most basic things you can do if you’re hoping to work with ebooks in publishing is to actually read ebooks. Ideally, if you have a specific retailer or publisher in mind, you should read their ebooks, and be familiar with their devices and apps. What kind of ebooks and devices/apps are they selling, and what sort of features do they have? What kind of features do you wish they had? If you come to an interview without having ever read an ebook, or mention that what you’re actually more interested in print books, or not know the difference between a Kindle and a Kobo, you are not proving yourself as a strong candidate.

Metadata

Metadata is great. It’s the core of ebooks and you can do a lot of cool stuff with it; more complete metadata pretty much means your book has a better chance in hard-to-browse ebookstores. I’ll let you in on a secret: no one likes working with it. ONIX is the industry standard and it’s the worst to look at, unless looking at rows of impenetrable, always-different, non-standard lines of code is really exciting to you. Pro tip: you’ll never have to build an ONIX feed from scratch, no matter what your publishing teacher tells you. You will have to crack open publishers’ ONIX feeds and poke around, though. Know what a composite is, what the difference between ONIX 2.1 and 3.0, and what sort of information is transmitted through metadata. Take a look on booksellers’ websites and see what kind of information they display for a book – there is a 99% chance that information came from the publisher’s metadata. Each ebook retailer also has a proprietary, non-standard Excel-based metadata sheet (see, I told you that excel knowledge would come in handy) that some publishers use in place of ONIX.  Editeur, BISG and Booknet all have good ONIX resources. In lieu of actual experience with metadata feeds, experience with coding (XML, CSS, and HTML are all good; mine was in HTML and TEI (lol)) can make up for it.

ePubs

This is the standard (non-Amazon) file type for ebooks. It’s supremely helpful to know what’s inside one (it’s basically just a bunch of HTML files, images and CSS zipped up), so I’d suggest buying one and cracking it open to take a look. There are different kinds of epubs: reflowable and fixed-layout, epub3, ebooks with “enhanced content” like audio and video; be aware of these different formats and if your prospective employer makes or sells them. I know a lot of publishing schools have their students build epubs from scratch but it’s highly unlikely you’ll have to do that in your internship, as most ebook production is outsourced to conversion houses. The most I ever had to do as an intern was unzip, make a minor change, and rezip, so make sure you know how to do that. Find yourself an epub validator that you like (my favourite is Pagina). It’s best to know what a standard reflowable ebook looks like on the inside, and how to make changes, but if you can figure out what’s wrong with a broken ebook, I will be impressed.

All this might sound like a tall order, especially if your digital publishing courses were less than spectacular. However, employers know that it’s hard to gain practical experience with such specialized files, so if you can show them that you’re ahead of everyone else by demonstrating interest and experience, and the ability to learn quickly, it can give you a real leg up. It’s also important to know that your employer will train – it’s an internship after all! Do you have any questions about getting an internship in ebooks and digital production?

reviews

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Victory is mine!
Victory is mine!

A couple months ago, an advance copy of Welcome To Night Vale came across my desk. Or, more accurately, it came across a coworker’s desk and I literally snatched it out of his hands and claimed it for my own. I love the podcast – it got me through many tedious hours of coding – and saw the live show when it rolled through Toronto last year, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing how my favourite surrealist town translates to my favourite medium.

Set in the desert town made famous in the podcast of the same name, Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is a hilariously dark novel about family, strangers, lethal flamingo lawn ornaments, and the fallacy of memory.

While working at Night Vale’s pawn shop, nineteen-year-old Jackie Fierro receives a mysterious piece of paper that reads “WELCOME TO KING CITY” from a forgettable man in a tan jacket holding a deerskin suitcase. When the paper refuses to leave her hand, Jackie decides to investigate. On the other side of town, Night Vale PTA member Diane Crayton begins seeing her son’s estranged father wherever she goes, even as she works to keep them apart. Jackie and Diane must work together to figure out why these men keep crossing their paths, and find a way to get to King City, a town that seems to exist in a different dimension.

Fans of the podcast will enjoy learning more about their favourite townspeople and how they live in the bizarre cityscape that is Night Vale. I especially enjoyed visiting Carlos’ science lab (spoiler: everyone in Night Vale ships it), and the heist scenario of breaking into the librarian-infested library.

The cast of Welcome to Night Vale at Elgin Theatre, Toronto
The cast of Welcome to Night Vale at Elgin Theatre, Toronto

I had hoped that the novel would focus a bit more on Cecil than it did (he shows up in radio interludes scattered throughout the novel), but thought the novel worked well by following previously-unknown characters. The many new details about the town kept it just as strange and delightful as ever – the kitchen-standard hot milk drawer made me shudder, and the KING CITY paper joke was funny throughout the book. Although I enjoyed the novel, it started slowly, almost grindingly: in parts it felt like it was trying too hard to upkeep the surreal tone set by the podcast; the point that Jackie was nineteen and had been nineteen for decades felt unremarkable by Night Vale standards. However, by the time Diane and Jackie team up, the novel hits its stride and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

While Welcome to Night Vale is just as witty and even frustrating as the source material, I think that the world of Night Vale is better suited to an episodic format, rather than an extended novel. That won’t stop me from consuming another novel (if there is one), or any other media from this franchise – I’ve already got my tickets for the next Night Vale show this fall!

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Kobo Emerging Writer Prize – Winners!

One of the exciting things about working in publishing is the chance to not only discover great reads, but to help build the careers of new authors. Book awards are one way of singling out talent, often helping boost the sales of the winning author’s books and launching a long and hopefully profitable career. With that in mind, Kobo created a literary award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, which celebrates new Canadian authors’ debut books. With three categories – Literary Fiction, Non-Fiction, and a revolving genre (this year Mystery), contestants have a chance to win $10 000, marketing campaigns, and fame and glory. emerging-writer-prize-logo

I was on the committee for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, coordinating the shortlist judging. I read many worthy entries, full of diverse stories, beautiful prose, and suspenseful plots. Some of my favourites made the shortlist; some didn’t. One the finalists had been selected, they were turned over to judging panel of authors: Miriam Toews, Ian Hamilton, and Charlotte Gray, each of whom chose the winner from their respective categories. The winners were announced at a ceremony in Toronto earlier this month, and lo, the writing careers of three authors were changed. Here are the winners of the inaugural Kobo Emerging Writer Prize:

circus-claire-battershillFiction: Circus by Claire Battershill 

Circus is a collection of short stories focusing on the performance of everyday life, whether it be love, family, or working in a miniatures museum. My favourite was probably “Two Man Luge: A Love Story,”  which detailed the rise to Olympic glory for one athlete and his Olympic-sized crush on his sometimes-rival Paresh. Battershill captures small moments and quiet feelings well. At the awards ceremony, Claire shrieked in surprise at her win and was charmingly smily for the rest of the night. She also met a U2 band member in the elevator earlier in the evening, so she has more than one story to tell about that night.

Non-Fiction: Crazy Town by Robyn DoolittleCrazy Town cover

Crazy Town made a big splash when it came out at the height of the Rob Ford scandal, and has been lauded for its clarity and detail amongst the disaster of the Toronto mayor’s downward spiral. Of the winning books, this is the only one I haven’t read, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Robyn Doolittle in the future.

last-of-independentsMystery: The Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe

Of the mysteries on the shortlist, this one was my favourite. I was hooked from the first page, where a new client tells detective Michael Drayton that someone’s been sleeping with the corpses at his funeral home. Drayton is just hard-boiled enough to keep you guessing, and I loved the noir interpretation of familiar streets in Vancouver. I talked with Sam Wiebe at the awards ceremony; he was softspoken and seemed overwhelmed at all the attention his book was getting. He told me he’s got a couple forthcoming mysteries coming from Random House, and I’m excited to see what’s in store for him next.

Have you read any of the winners, or do you have a favourite shortlisted book? Let me know in the comments or on social media using #KoboEmergingWriter.