Yearly Archives: 2012
Monday, December 31st, 2012
Another guest post from Theft By Chocolate author Luba Lesychyn, who recently held a very successful and packed-out book reading and chocolate education evening in a bicycle shop (yes, you heard that right!) in Toronto! You’ll wish you’d been there…and if you’re reading this in 2012, you have just one more day (till midnight EST) to email me your review (email@example.com).
* * *
At the end of November, I held my first reading of Theft By Chocolate, attracting an audience of 70 people with standing room only. And it was held in a bicycle shop in a semi-industrial area of Toronto. Huh? How did that happen?
As odd as it may seem, the unique setting could not have been more sublime. I had teamed up with ChocoSol Traders, a distinct chocolate-making cooperative to host the event. I knew I had connected with the right group upon first contact with
ChocoSol founder, Michael Sacco, and ChocoSolista, Lauren Baker. The way they spoke about chocolate and the crafting of the delicacy was poetic and intriguing. Furthermore, their concerns about community, on micro and universal levels, combined with their conscious and progressive notions about relationships with farmers and their crops and ethical notions about agriculture and production all resonated with me.
So the idea of having the reading set in a spot somewhat off the beaten path for downtowners, in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, seemed oh-so right rather than oh-so risky. All I hoped was that there might be more people at my reading than at J.K. Rowling’s first reading – which according to Lifetime’s recent made-for-TV movie, Magic Beyond Words, was only about a dozen people.
And then something magical happened – RSVPs started rolling in faster than I was able to keep up with. I suddenly found myself suffering from “careful what you wish for” syndrome. Ironically, I was in the middle of doing Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation series on abundance, but holy smokes, I did not expect it to work that quickly!
Before I knew it, I was facing some dilemmas I could never have imagined. Would we have enough space for everyone who wanted to attend? Was it fair for me to ask ChocoSol Traders to keep their commitment to provide complimentary drinking chocolate and chocolate samplings to my ever-growing audience?
The ChocoSolistas were gracious beyond words, but some scrambling ensued nonetheless. Realizing that my voice might not project to such a large crowd, my friends rallied and provided not just a simple mic and amp, but a full-fledged PA system that could have amplified my voice in a sports arena.
Another friend dusted off not one, but two, HD cameras to record the event – which actually came in very handy in the end. And a number of friends stepped in to help with meeting and greeting, book sales, and managing a raffle.
But the most unexpected turn of events came when I turned up at ChocoSol, a couple of hours before the reading, to discover ChocoSol had enlisted the help of the bicycle shop located on the ground floor of the building, Issie Cycling Services, to accommodate the burgeoning crowd. Okay, I thought, we can make this work. And we did.
Bike shop owners Issie and Kathleen had scrubbed the shop clean and we settled on doing the readings among the throngs of bicycles, and the chocolate tastings and education component in ChocoSol’s loft space upstairs.
As people arrived, they seemed a little confused (why wouldn’t they be? I was). But in the end, a rolicking and enlightening evening was had by all – some called it the “funkiest and most fascinating event they had attended in ages.”
I did three readings from various parts of Theft By Chocolate: The Chocolate Burp; Terrorists in the Museum; and The Bug Room – all of which elicited waves of giggles, some white-knuckling, and some humbling applause.
Following the first reading, the enigmatic Michael Sacco took over and mesmerized the crowd. He spoke of chocolate’s abundant healing properties and expounded on the food’s history, from its Mayan origins as nourishment of the gods and use as currency to its transformation by the Europeans whose production processes (most of which have stayed with us until today) unfortunately strip cacao of most of its antioxidants and remarkable qualities.
Without complaint, the crowd ascended a staircase to the ChocoSol loft where Michael discussed how the ChocoSolistas create their artisanal chocolate using methods reminiscent of Mayan practices.
Everyone had an opportunity to taste cacao in its pure form, to sample a variety of flavored chocolate, including some infused with spicy peppers that led to beads of sweat forming on people’s foreheads, and to purchase some of ChocoSol’s scrumptious wares.
I somehow managed to pull people away from the chocolate and get them back downstairs for the final two shorter readings and for the raffle, a gift assortment of ChocoSol products, which was won by audience member, Kim Ireland.
Entrants who submit a review and who also post their review on an Internet site such as Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, or Goodreads, will have two chances to win the electronic reader. The draw will be a random one.
For a first-time published author, I could not have had a more unforgettable evening. After completing the first few pages of my first reading, I managed to chill out and truly enjoy sharing some of my favorite passages from Theft By Chocolate.
In between readings, it was a delight catching up with old friends and long-time supporters and extremely gratifying meeting so many new people who ventured out on such a chilly, early winter evening.
To add to the feeling that someone had sprinkled fairy dust on me, I sold dozens of books both that evening and from orders received the following day from people who had either attended the reading or had heard about it from friends in attendance. As a result of the sales, I was able to raise some notable donations for some great causes. For every book purchased from me directly, $1 is being donated to American Forests, an organization that plants trees all over the globe ($1 = 1 tree); and $2 for every book sold is being donated to the eLibrary Project which is putting electronic readers into the hands of children in disadvantaged schools in South Africa.
Everyone who helped make the event happen in any shape or form, from schlepping chairs around, taking pictures or video, greeting, hosting, or attending, will have a special place in my heart because for me, that evening was one of the most brilliant experiences I have ever had and this night alone made my long journey to publishing worth every single moment.
1. Introductions (link not yet live)
2. Thank You’s (link not yet live)
3. The Chocolate Burp
4. Terrorists in the Museum (link not yet live)
5. The Bug Room
6. Culture of Chocolate (link not yet live)
7. Making of Artisan Chocolate (link not yet live)
1. Nick Cuda - Audio Visual Support
2. Andy Kulchyckyj – Still Photography
Friday, December 28th, 2012
It’s a favourite for parodies, and I’m afraid I couldn’t resist. We’re still within the ’12 Days of Christmas’, so here it is. Hope you enjoy!
I’d much rather have some of these things than others, and pretty much all of them over a houseful of birds, milkmaids, pipe bands and aristocrats enjoying a second childhood. (I’m not the only one, either…)
The Twelve Days of a Publisher’s Christmas
On the twelfth day of Christmas the publishing fairy* gave to me:
12 authors tweeting
11 agents blogging
10 social experts
9 50 Shades knockoffs
8 debut authors
7 sexy vampires
6 cosy mysteries
5 sta-ar reviews*
4 Kindle Fires
3 for 2 on paperbacks
2 IP debates
And a bestseller in ‘dead tree’***
* * *
* I am agnostic about fairies, but wish this one existed. If she did, though, she’d have to have a few rivals to give everyone in the biz what they want, what they really really want (yes, I grew up in the 90s).
** Nice work if you can get it…
*** See ** – though I’d be happy to have one of these in ‘silicon tree’ (ie ebook) format as well.
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
According to the Mayans, the world’s supposed to end tomorrow.
Of course, that’s the reason I had the Chocolate Nemesis cake at lunch today – so apt…and so delicious! And I may as well get my fix in before the end of days, right?
If you’re looking for YOUR fix before the end of the world: ditch work and curl up with Luba Lesychyn’s Theft By Chocolate. Not only is it a great read, but it’s very appropriate, with a Mayan exhibition, chocoholic heroine and the disappearance of the world’s oldest piece of chocolate.
Read on for an extract from Theft By Chocolate:
I scrambled beneath the humbling granite archway that framed the Canadian National Museum’s staff entrance, water dripping from me as if I had just slipped out of the shower. The quivers that waved through my body triggered an uncomfortable realization, not that I was cold from my drenched state, but that I’d transitioned into the first stage of chocolate detox. I hadn’t had a crumble of the substance for at least eighteen hours. The tinted glass of the door before me mirrored a startling reflection – “harrowing” would have been a kind descriptor.
The morning had started as a good-hair day, but the flash-flood rains that had caught me sans umbrella put a different spin on the do. So not fair. Why was it that Audrey Hepburn looked positively radiant after being soaked in a torrential downpour in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I looked like Breakfast at Wal-Mart. Mind you, I didn’t resemble Audrey Hepburn at the best of times except perhaps for the dark, doe-like eyes I shared with the Hollywood icon.
I tilted closer towards the glass, raised my index fingers to the corners of my eyes and elongated the fragile skin upwards, planing out the subtle crow’s feet. Maybe I did have a bit of Hepburn going on. The image grimaced back at me. Who was I kidding? The Hepburn I was channeling was Katharine when she was fished out of the Ulanga River in African Queen.
“Are you going inside or are you planning on staring at yourself all day?”
Embarrassed that my self-deprecation had been interpreted as vanity, I rotated towards the person with the after-hours-club voice. The young woman I faced sliced away any traces of my self-esteem in a nanosecond, bulldozed past me and vanished behind the second set of doors.
I mustered a handful of dignity only to lose it after slipping and lurching on the stone floor opposite the security control room. Through the triple-glazed, bullet-proof glass, there was a beehive of activity. Security command central was crammed full of people, and I discerned guards who didn’t usually work the morning swing. The news must have broken over the weekend. But I had eyeballed all the dailies before stepping onto the subway – The Globe, The Post, The Star, and even skimmed the free Metro paper, but none referred to the disappearance of the porcelain Tang horse from the Chinese gallery the previous Friday.
One more set of doors steered me to the main security checkpoint where a boyish newbie guard was planted behind the counter of black polished laminate. I instantly dove into his eyes. Emerald green pools like that are a rarity. The combination of those eyes with his dirty blonde faux bed-head was irresistible. His neck was a tad thick, but I suspected there was a body-builder’s frame hidden beneath the uniform.
“Good morning.” I hoped my voice would drown out the sound of my heart palpitating.
“Good morning, ma’am. Looks like you forgot your umbrella today.”
Ma’am? Seriously? Clearly my cougarishly-tight skirt wasn’t fooling anyone.
“You can call me Kalena. And I suggest you drop the word ‘ma’am’ from your vocabulary, at least around here.” I was doing him a favour. He could lose his head if he used that term on one of our resident feminazis.
“Uh…noted. My name’s Marco…Marco Zeffirelli.”
“Like the director?” Franco Zeffirelli’s screen version of Romeo and Juliet was my all-time favourite version of the story of the star-crossed lovers.
“I thought the Director’s name was Carson James.”
“Never mind.” Eyes you could lose yourself in – yes. Knowledge of Italian film directors – no. I plunked my purse down and rummaged for my ID badge. No point asking a keener if he’d swipe me through. “What’s going on in the control room?” I scrounged deeper into my bag with the fervour of a manic dog trying to surface a buried bone.
“They caught the guy that stole that horse.”
Friday, December 14th, 2012
A silly carol game, to suit the season! Many carols are just adapted from Biblical verses, but some, er, aren’t. And some have some rather odd lines…
Match the carol with the description, which may have extra, hidden clues in the way they’re phrased – word choice is not an accident. Answers at the bottom – but try not to look first!
1) Geographically inaccurate ‘nautical’ carol – the Dead Sea is the nearest body of water about 20 miles away, so sailing into this most Christmassy of towns is unlikely.
2) A Massachusetts carol. Causes fierce strife between Brits/Americans about which ‘angel song’ is the correct one – but the words are good anyway.
3) A poem by Christina Rossetti; inappropriate for an Australian Christmas.
4) A Frankenstein’s monster of a carol, or pagan symbolism married with Christian? Either way, not sure what an organ and choir is doing out there in the woods.
5) Football in No Man’s Land? A bilingual carol, originally German, which once famously brought a temporary truce.
6) A Bohemian carol – but with a bit more flesh (not to mention wine). However, there’s still a tiny frozen hand (or rather foot).
7) You’ve heard it ring out on countless TV ads and shows, including the trailer for last year’s adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations.
Inspired by the town mentioned in 1) – the one you can’t sail into. Also likely to cause across-the-pond arguments, but quieter ones (ssshhh, people are sleeping!)
9) A sad carol named after a Blitzed city. Though you can’t blame that part on King Herod.
10) Adeste, fidelis! Sometimes known as ‘why are we waiting?’
ANSWERS (no peeking!)
1) I Saw Three Ships 2) It Came Upon The Midnight Clear 3) In The Bleak Midwinter 4) The Holly And The Ivy 5) Silent Night/Stille Nacht 6) Good King Wenceslas 7) Carol of the Bells O Little Town Of Bethlehem 9) Coventry Carol (Lully, Lulla, thou little tiny child) 10) O Come, All Ye Faithful
Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
So you were intrigued by the idea of a pro pitcher turned English professor turned PI. Curveball author GW Kennedy talks Dickens (still his anniversary year – happy birthday Charles!) and how it influenced him and his writing.
* * *
My mystery novel Curveball, published by Attica Books in October, features a detective who’s also a Dickens scholar. Not surprisingly, readers have asked about this unusual combination.
It’s actually pretty straightforward. I’m a former college professor and have written a lot of academic stuff on Charles Dickens and his works. I’ve long been fascinated by Dickens’ ability not only to tell gripping stories, but to create living, pulsating worlds—everything from Pickwick’s Dingley Dell to the fog-choked London of Bleak House. Ben Barklee, the detective-narrator of Curveball, and Jane Macalester, the wayward college student he rescues and helps redeem, are brought together by their shared wonder at Dickens’ genius.
And then there’s Dickens’ unmatched popularity, the extraordinary ‘reach’ of his fiction two hundred years after his birth. Many writers are said to reflect their times. Dickens surely reflected Victorian Britain, but he helped shape it too. He gave us scenes of poverty and deprivation that will forever be called ‘Dickensian’. But the adjective applies equally to the joyous redemption of A Christmas Carol, a tale so deeply woven into the DNA of the holiday season that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that a single person sat at his desk in 1843 and wrote it.
Even though Curveball is set in modern-day Chicago, Dickens is a guiding spirit for the book. As Ben Barklee points out, the great Victorian never quite made it to the city during his triumphant American tour in the 1860s. But Chicago was, and is, the kind of ferociously energetic place he would’ve loved, and that I’ve tried to capture in Curveball.
Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Since it’s coming up to Christmas, I’ve got into lists (I’m not planning to ask for a good temper though, like Clover Carr in What Katy Did. There’s only so much Santa can do, and he’s already bending space-time to finish his rounds.)
But following on from the 10 Christmas Reads post, I bring you Ten Signs You May Be A Reading Addict. Whether you read fiction, non-fiction or both, do you recognise the following signs?
- When you think of ‘essential items you can’t leave the house without’, ‘a book’ or ‘my Kindle’ comes ahead of keys, cash, travelcard…
- If you don’t have a book, you try to read other people’s when sitting on the Underground/subway/bus. (At a pinch, a free paper will do, but it’s an inferior-grade substance. If you don’t even have that, you may find yourself reading other people’s free papers over their shoulder.)
- Oops, was that my stop? I didn’t notice we were there already.
- Big day tomorrow? Exam? Interview? You’ll go to sleep soon – just one more chapter (and no, that’s not one more chapter of Statistics for Necromancy or whatever it is you’re supposed to be reading).
- You’re packing for your holiday. Clothes? Nah, how many books can I fit in 15 kilos plus one item of hand baggage no more than 10 kilos? After all, my Kindle might fail, or I might not be able to charge it, and besides, this book isn’t available as an e-book yet…Oops, excess baggage fees. A spare Kindle would have been cheaper!
- OK, so you paid all those excess baggage fees for books, but there’s no harm in looking in the airport bookshop. Just something to pass the time while you wait for your airline to locate the crew…
- There’s nothing wrong with reading as you walk. So sorry…oops…OWWW. ‘Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?’
- You’re moving and the number of boxes of books is greater than everything else put together. You have to upgrade to the next size van JUST for your books.
- Yes, sure you like dead-tree books and bookshelves, but look: it’s Sunday night 11pm, your favourite authors all have new books out and…click, click, click…look, all in my handbag now! No need for the book withdrawal panic, or the ‘is it worth me taking this book when I only have 3 chapters left but I really want to find out whodunnit?’ dilemma.
- And the dead giveaway: there are times when you would rather have a book than food. Eating, sleeping, breathing, reading – all basic life processes, right? Why did they not give you that extra mark in biology for correctly naming all eight?
I’m sure this can’t be the whole list – anyone got anything to add to this? Preferably with humiliating examples like no.7 in the above list. (For the record: I may be a reading addict but I haven’t yet sustained a concussion from it. I guess peripheral vision is more useful than we realise.)
Friday, November 30th, 2012
OK, so technically Advent doesn’t start till this Sunday.
And I tend to need some candles, Palestrina and ‘Emmanuel‘ to get into the mood properly (I’m a traditionalist when it comes to festivities). But Christmas is creeping up on us, so I thought I’d compile a list of festive reads, in no particular order. Some of them are our books, or by our authors, some aren’t; some are more famous than others (and some I pinched from other people’s lists). But hope you enjoy reading! (Warning: some of these might be a bit twisted. Caveat lector.)
- Unaccustomed Spirits by Elizabeth Aston. One of ours – a Mountjoy novel and ‘a cheerful, funny, festive read’. With free ghosts: Giles and Lambert, the Elizabethan courtier and Parliamentary officer who still inhabit Haphazard House and enjoy Christmas (however much they deny it) and watching Star Trek. Also comes with a gothic cartoonist, a flamboyant cellist and a ghost-hunter who’s into S&M (think 50 Shades of Grey parody before there was 50 Shades.)
- Mr Darcy’s Christmas by Elizabeth Aston. A novella by one of our authors. More of a stocking-filler – but perfect if you’re a Jane Austen enthusiast and already like Elizabeth Aston, or are open to a good spin-off or sequel and want a ‘taster’ version (was it really wise to invite Caroline Bingley for Christmas though?)
- Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. OK, so this isn’t strictly seasonal and can be read all year round (I re-read it at any time). But there is a wonderful Christmas scene, so I think it can count – plus it’s a brilliant book and lovely ‘I’m on holiday’ reading.
- The Frozen Lake by Elizabeth Edmondson. Another one of ours. Seasonal, but much darker. Complete with scary granny, twisted family secrets, hotpot and a Christmas ball – set against the backdrop of impending war.
- Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. HO HO HO. Has Santa lost weight? He’s looking a little skeletal, and what’s that in his hand? You’d better watch out… For Pratchett fans and, if you somehow haven’t already discovered Terry Pratchett, for A Nightmare Before Christmas fans.
- How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. Christmas is a swiz and swindle as any fule kno, but take Molesworth’s advice and you too can survive a family Christmas. Santa won’t know what hit him chiz. Ronald Searle, by the way, is the genius behind St Trinian’s.
- Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner. Features Frosty the Persun of Snow and Rudolph the Nasally-Empowered Reindeer. Still funny, which in a way is worrying.
- It Ate Billy On Christmas by Roman Dirge and Steven Daily. I have to confess, I haven’t read this one yet. But I came across it recently and let’s say I would have done if it had been around when I was younger, because I was, and am, ghoulish and twisted. A girl gets a monster for Christmas, who eats her horrible brother. (Apologies to my brother, if you’re reading this. But consider yourself lucky…).
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. OK, it had to be done. Sorry. But ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.’ If you’ve had too much of schmaltz, or read it too many times and are a hard, cynical person who doesn’t cry easily, try finding out what Beth actually dies of (yes, I actually went and looked it up because I was curious and knew she was a real person. It’s not as obvious as you think it is; science trumps 19th-century literary convention here.)
- And finally: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Enough said, really – felt I had to include it on Dickens’s anniversary year. A nice reminder that maybe your boss is better than you think, in comparison. Plus ghosts! (NB if you’re into Dickens-related books but not the whole Christmas thing: try Curveball by G.W. Kennedy. Dickens, Chicago mobsters and an ex-pro Cubs player turned PI.)
Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
Personally, I’m not that keen on short stories.
Each to their own – I know there are some great examples of the writing craft out there showcased in short stories. But I just don’t find them that satisfying (with the possible exception of ghost stories which I’ve always loved and seem to suit the format well). I find it’s a bit like having just a starter: however nice it is, I’m left wanting more.
Novellas, on the other hand…somehow they don’t have this effect on me. So they’re not the full monty – but they are more satisfying than a tiny starter - a nice, satisfying bite. Thanks to the ‘digital revolution’, they’re now much easier to find as well, since the economics of e-books doesn’t have problems with producing shorter-length works.
They’re also an opportunity for authors to provide backstory – ever had that slightly frustrated feeling when you finish a book you really enjoy, because you liked the characters and want to know more than the narrative and structure of that book would allow (and even if it’s a series, it’s a while till the next one)? If the author’s thought of a novella, that character you wanted to know more about, or that incident with the goat, might just get his/her/its own showcase (yes, you wanted to know more about the goat, admit it.)
One of our authors, Elizabeth Aston, has done just that. We don’t publish her Darcy series, inspired by (though not intended to emulate) Jane Austen – though we do publish her Mountjoy series (very relevant at the moment what with the women bishops issue in the C of E). However, if you’d like to try either one, novellas are a guilt-free taster for an author, or a nice addition if you already like the author – and it’s got to be a much better way to spend your trip to work than reading multivitamin ads!
Mr Darcy’s Christmas by Elizabeth Aston
The Darcy Code by Elizabeth Aston
Monday, November 19th, 2012
Have you ever wanted to play the violin?
Or maybe you do already. What would you do if just acquiring a new instrument could turn you from an also-ran into a virtuoso overnight?
At a price, of course. What are you prepared to pay? Your soul? And what of anyone who gets in the way of your goal – the ends justify the means?
You might say you have distinguished company here: the violinist and composer Paganini was rumoured to have sold his soul for his apparently unnatural and superhuman musical prowess (a more prosaic explanation was that his extraordinary technique was possible because of the long and incredibly flexible fingers bequeathed to him by the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome). Of course, they didn’t know about that at the time, which might be why it took 36 years for him to be buried in consecrated ground.
Halloween may be over, but November is a dark month, a month of the dead, suited to dark books. So if you were wondering, what price musical virtuosity? - but don’t want to find out first hand, or you just like to send a chill down your spine with stories of ancient evil, you could distract yourself from the darkening evenings with Devil’s Sonata: It begins with a book. It ends in fire.
Meanwhile, here’s some musical accompaniment for your reading – Paganini’s Caprice no.24*.
* * *
* By the way I’m not suggesting Hilary Hahn has sold her soul, even though this is pretty damn amazing.
Friday, November 16th, 2012
Missing Downton Abbey? I wasn’t quite sure about some of the plotlines in season 3 – but nonetheless, I’m missing it.
There’s the Christmas special, of course, but despite what the shops would have you believe, it’s still only November (Dear carol singers in Boots the Chemist: yes, you are very good but like I said: it’s only November.)
So what can you do? There are other things on TV of course, but if you’re looking for a fix of big houses, scary grandmothers* and vintage clothes, may I recommend Elizabeth Edmondson’s The Frozen Lake? It has all these ingredients and more – the backdrop of impending war, family secrets, and a dead body.
And what secrets – if you’re at all familiar with Greek tragedy or Grimms. it will strike a chord. Wyncrag, the Richardson family house in the Lake District, could tell you a lot, if it were able, about what this family has got up to and the pile of skeletons in the closet.
Don’t like Downton? Probably someone y0u know does – or they like big houses and history, and they’re a bit twisted…
* * *
* One review on Amazon describes The Frozen Lake‘s Lady Richardson as ‘a fantastically malign matriarch’, which I love.