Archive for August, 2010

August 31, 2010

Faber Academy Hits Toronto

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The world renowned Faber Academy has announced that its first North American campus will open this fall in Toronto.

Miriam Toews

The inaugural course, commencing September 29, is ‘Writing A Novel’ and will be led by Miriam Toews. She is the author of four novels: Summer of My Amazing Luck; A Boy of Good Breeding; the 2004 Governor General’s Award winning, 2006 Canada Reads winning novel A Complicated Kindness; and 2010 novel The Flying Troutmans. Also lined up for guest lectures are big CanLit names such as Margaret Atwood, Michael Redhill and Anne Michaels.

Ken Babstock

Beginning October 1 at the Toronto campus is the ‘Becoming a Poet’ course led by Ken Babstock and Karen Solie. Babstock is an acclaimed Toronto writer and poet. His first collection Mean won the Atlantic Poetry Prize and the Milton Acorn People’s Poet Award; his latest work Airstream Land Yacht won the 2006 Trillium Book Award for Poetry in English; and he is the winner of a K.M. Hunter Award. Currently Babstock is the poetry editor for House of Anansi Press.

Karen Solie
‘s latest book, Pigeon, won the 2010 Trillium for English Language Poetry. She has released two other poetry collections: Short Haul Engine, which won the BC Book Prize Dorothy Livesay Award, and Modern and Normal, which made the 2005 Globe and Mail Best Books List. Her writing has also been included in various literary journals including Geist and Other Voices.

If you’re quick, you can make the September 1 deadline for applications, which applies to both programs. However, the Faber & Faber site stresses that “the course will be selective.” The Faber Academy is widely respected and most of its graduates go on to lead successful careers as professional writers. What more do you expect from the publishing firm where T.S. Eliot got his start?

August 30, 2010

Double Review: Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog and The Gourmet

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by Muriel Barbery

translated by Alison Anderson
Gallic Books
(May 2009, £7.99, 320 pages)

by Muriel Barbery

translated by Alison Anderson
Gallic Books
(May 2010, £6.99, 136 pages)

I read The Gourmet (published in the U.S. as Gourmet Rhapsody ) when I was in bed with tonsillitis. This is not extraneous atmosphere-building information designed to humanise the reviewer – if you suffer from recurrent tonsillitis, you will know this immediately, because nothing is more likely to make someone stop reading literary webzines, rush off to take vitamin C, and aerate the bedroom than being reminded of those vile days when swallowing brings tears to the eyes and the whole world is distorted through a fog of misery (extraneous humanising information – I am rubbish at being ill). In this state, a book about delicate French food might seem an odd choice. But it was short, it had a jolly cover, and the journey to the bookshop stocked with trashy fiction was beyond contemplation. So I set to it, having originally judged the cover favourably by the least justifiable criteria – trendily embossed Art Nouveau typeface and fulsome reviews from sophisticated-sounding French magazine editors.

The thing about tonsillitis (I promise I won’t mention it again) is that it doesn’t encourage you to engage much with the written word, unless it’s the instructions on painkiller packets. However, reading The Gourmet I was gripped with the sort of joyous abandonment I thought had peaked when reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’ at the bottom of the garden in childhood summers, ignoring my family and eating forbidden biscuits. Principally, the main character in The Gourmet is wonderfully unsympathetic. He is arrogant, self-obsessed, cruel and blind – nevertheless, we wait breathlessly for his next pronouncement, the next wrinkle that emerges in his character. It’s tough to pull off a bastard as your hero, especially if he is old and fat rather than young and sexy – but Barbery does it with a confidence and sensitivity that I like to think is particularly Gallic. The fact that this is her first novel is enough to make one give up on the writing lark altogether, but that’s another story.

The bastard Gourmet is Pierre Arthens, dying in his apartment on Rue de Grenelle in Paris at the end of a stellar career as a food critic and all-round offence to humanity. He cheats on his wife, aggressively alienates his children and is a horrendous, inexcusable snob, all the while maintaining his superior veneer of taste and cultivation. All this emerges only in fragments, as he, his family, and friends tell his story. He is dying, and he knows it – but more urgently, he knows that there is a dish that he must taste once more before he leaves this world, and which eludes him. This is the story of his quest to remember, in the process exploring some of the finest meals and most telling memories in a life of extravagant epicureanism, be it a tomato from an aunt’s kitchen garden or the most elevated restaurant meal France has to offer. It is impossible not to be charmed, moved, and full of resolutions to eat better.

After The Gourmet, there is The Elegance of the Hedgehog. We are back on Rue de Grenelle and Pierre Arthens is still dying. Thank goodness, mutters the building’s concierge. Renée is small and plump, always dressed in black, with bunions on her feet, pots of coarse casserole on her stove and a cat in her armchair. But what no one in the building realises is that she is probably better educated than all of its self-important residents, and that their concierge has carefully cultivated her stereotypical image. She excoriates phenomenology while watering the plants, and shuts her inner door at night to secretly watch magical Japanese films.

There are souls in the building, however, who find a way behind her façade: twelve-year-old Paloma, possessed of unusual intelligence and a carefully drawn-out plan to kill herself; blue-blooded Portuguese cleaner Manuela, whose kindness knows no bounds; and the mysterious new Japanese resident, Monsieur Ozu, who buys the Arthens’ apartment. Slowly, through chance and attraction and the power of ideas, Renée’s life changes. Wit, friendship, sadness, loss and beauty in this world become hers – and, by extension, ours. Suffice to say, it is an extraordinary book, both luminously intelligent and completely gripping.

If I go on much longer about Barbery’s novels, the good people at this will cut me off. But please – beg, borrow or steal these books, and consume them, preferably at the bottom of your garden and in excellent health. You deserve it – we all do, once in a while.

~Ellen Hardy

August 29, 2010

Looking For That Special Someone?

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Tired of searching through online personals at Can’t ever seem to find people whose definition of reading doesn’t mean “the T.V. Guide?” Try Alikewise!

Their tag is “Dating by the book” and they mean it, literally. Alikewise is “a dating site that allows you to find people based on their book tastes. Anything from cooking to politics to yoga — we think we can find others who would like to talk to you.”

For women seeking men ages 18 to 35 (users can search any age range and can specify authors or book titles in their search as well), the results include chicagoreader, 35 in Chicago, IL who writes about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 “Not as breathtaking as The Savage Detectives, but I think this is still a Bolano masterpiece” and user WillDuss, a 23-year-old from Ottawa, ON, Canada, whose favorite novels include Doctor Zhivago, Voltaire’s Candide, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and War and Peace.

Men seeking women who enjoy Cormac McCarthy novels might come across 35-year-old crabada from Los Angeles who says she’s “Fortunate enough to know the difference between good & bad [books] with some free time to try it out.”

User mattyp, a 24-year-old in Portland, ME looking for men, writes in the “His Story” section of his page that he’s often found at work, where he’s the assistant manager of an independent bookstore and notes that he can’t live without: “Books. Duh. And my video games. Nerdy, i [sic] know.”

28-year-old Bionicfemme from Astoria, NY is a “Romantic Comedy Writer Seek[ing] Happy Ending with Princess Charming” and has an eclectic book taste that ranges from Ann Bannon pulp fiction to Charles Bukowski to Rita Mae Brown and literary mash-ups.

Book nerd but single no longer! Alikewise brings together lovers of books – from classics to trashics – for a (hopefully) happy ending.

August 28, 2010

Music Review: Fuck the Facts

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Live In Whitby
Self-Released/Band Camp

Spitting on the technology of 2010, Fuck The Facts released a cassette tape last month, Live In Whitby, a recording of a performance at the Wing Shack in Whitby, Ontario on April 11, 2009. Enough to get die hard collectors antsy, the tape was limited to a slim fifty-three copies (they’re already sold out). The album is also available as a Name Your Price download on, where FTF’s punk/grind masterpiece Unnamed EP (February 2010) is also available.

Continuously transforming over eight studio albums, countless singles, splits and compilations, FTF’s ever indefinable style tiptoes around punk, noise, stoner-groove and industrial influenced grind since 1998. Live In Whitby offers a glimpse of the band during peak Disgorge Mexico (2008) era with six of the nine tracks, including “Kelowna” and “Sleepless”, taken from the album. The oldest song on the tape is “La Tete Hors De L’eau,” originally appearing on 2003 release Overseas Connection.

One constant throughout FTF’s distinct grindcore approach is sampling voice and sound into their music. Evidently, this is not a studio-only technique. I was at the Wing Shack show, mesmerised watching drummer Mathieu Vilandrê swivel back and forth between drummer and sound dub roles, whacking at a synthesizer to his side when called for. Nothing is excluded from FTF style when playing live.

Singer Mel Mongeon also impresses with her monstrous stage presence, as intimidating as a ravenous Pit Bull. From her territorial markings spattered into the mic – “We’re Fuck The Facts from fuckin’ Ottawa!” – to her dedicated, intestine spindling scream assault, she shoves a middle finger up the ass of any hollow commercial metal.

Fuck The Facts - Live In Whitby lineup (left to right): Marc Bourgon, Topon Das, Mathieu Vilandrê, Johnny Ibay, Mel Mongeon.

Lead guitarist and band founder Topon Das, along with second guitarist Johnny Ibay and bassist Marc Bourgon, feed you the integral cherry on top of FTF’s approach. Drenched with distortion and devilishly down-tuned, the fellows rip through their unique grind sound with exact precision on Live In Whitby. Not a brow-raising pick squeal nor panic inducing lead is fumbled.

FTF followers will be glad to get their hands, or hard drives, on this, the band’s first live release since 2003’s Live Damage. Whitby brings live new era FTF into your home and an opportunity to salivate over the richness of their performance whenever you desire. The sound quality is undeniable and, aside from the cattle calls between songs, nothing differs from the studio. It is an imprint of a strikingly tight and technical group.

Live In Whitby is dedicated to the memory of Canadian visual artist and musician Michal Majewski, who passed shortly after the event. He designed the poster for the show, seen above. A catalogue of his artwork is available here. Majewski was the bassist for Ontario thrash/grind band F.A.T.O., who opened at the Wing Shack show.

Track Listing:
1. Absence And Despite
2. The Storm
3. Kelowna
4. Everyone Is Robbing The Dead
5. The Sound Of Your Smashed Head
6. La Culture Du Faux
7. The Pile Of Flesh You Carry
8. Sleepless
9. La Tete Hors De L’eau

~John Coleman

August 28, 2010

Reminder: Submission Deadlines

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Don’t forget! The submission deadline for the September/October issue of this is September 1!

Here’s a sample of what you can expect in our September/October issue:
~Great fiction by Cameron L. Mitchell and Kristopher McGonegal
~Artwork by Italy-based artist Pepper Pepper
~A look at the artist Chihuly by contributing writer Ursula K. Raphael
~Our inaugural Poet Spotlight, featuring Hong Kong-based poet Nicholas Y.B. Wong
~and more!

Interested in being feature with our next Poet Spotlight? The Poet Spotlight deadline is November 15 with a publication date of March/April 2011.

August 24, 2010

Book Review: Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

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by K.M. Weiland

PenForASword Publishing
(August 2009, $15.79, 330 pages)

Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland is an historical fiction novel that takes place during the Crusades. Set in “the Holy Land” in 1192, it blends fictional and actual historical characters with vivid descriptions of the people and landscapes. The story begins in Bari, Italy, from the point of view of a Scottish tourneyer named Marcus Annan. Trying to block out his past memories of a place called St. Dunstan’s Abbey, Annan has been fighting in the bloody tournaments, which were still popular despite the Church’s ban in 1130, for sixteen years. His traveling companion, Peregrine Marek, is indentured to him after Annan saved his life in Glasgow, and Marek believes Annan would be better off seeking absolution in the Third Crusade.

After killing a nobleman in a tournament, Annan is approached by a monk known as The Baptist. This monk is one of the few people who knows what happened at St. Dunstan’s, and tells the tourneyer he must bring the man called Matthias of Claidmore to the Holy Land to confront Bishop Roderic about the crimes committed at the abbey sixteen years ago. Annan informs The Baptist that Matthias is dead; while the monk is not convinced this is the truth, he suggests that perhaps the Earl of Keaton may also have knowledge of Roderic’s unholy transgressions which puts him in danger of the Bishop.

Annan reluctantly agrees to the pilgrimage, but still refuses to seek absolution by taking the oath of a Crusader, despite arguments from Marek to the contrary. As soon as the two reach port at Acre aboard the Bonfilia, they are attacked by the “infidels,” but Annan survives to continue his search for the Earl. When he does find his old friend, Annan swears to protect the Earl’s wife, Mairead, from the Norman knight, Hugh de Guerrant, who does the bidding of Bishop Roderic. It soon becomes apparent that Countess of Keaton’s enemies are Annan’s own as well. With the help of Marek, Annan attempts to take Mairead to safety before the Bishop has all of them killed.

Both virtuous and immoral men of God highlight this story, along with corrupt knights and those seeking salvation. Author K.M. Weiland uses the flowery language of historical adventure, and the thoughts of multiple characters, to underscore the Christian themes of the period. Behold the Dawn is a tale of betrayal and redemption that ascends time and location while simultaneously remaining firmly anchored against the tumultuous backdrop of the Crusades. Weiland also includes a glossary of words that are unfamiliar in modern times.

K.M. Weiland does such compelling work of presenting a conflicted male character that many readers fail to realize she is a woman writer. She has been fascinated with history and writing for most of her life, and has written another novel titled A Man Called Outlaw. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and you can visit her website here.

~Ursula K. Raphael

August 23, 2010

Why I Never Get Anything Done

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There are a lot of reasons why I never get anything done and, perhaps oddly, chronic procrastination is not among them. As a kid I procrastinated constantly on every school assignment, from a diorama of the solar system (back in the days when Pluto was still considered a planet) to math homework (I hated math) to adding the finishing touches to my “novel” in the fifth grade. Since those years, it’s become nearly impossible for me to sit still for anything except eight hours of sleep each night, and even that annoys me as I wonder why I’m wasting one-quarter of my day drooling into my pillow.

So if procrastination isn’t the problem, what is?

I blame books. I blame reading.
I may, even, blame the Internet and all its magical portals that lead me to worlds far and wide (also known as the eighteen tabs I have simultaneously opened in Firefox).

I love books and reading both, so it seems unfair to blame them for my problems of never getting anything accomplished. But it’s true. Have you seen my Goodreads list? I’m usually reading several books at time, from novels to non-fiction to short story collections to poetry. No one has ever called me a one-book pony, though I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t get more reading done by focusing on just one at a time.

With so many books being published, magazine articles to read, and blog posts to keep up with, how can I find time to clean my house? Or cook dinner? I have to squeeze reading time into every available nook and cranny in my life if I actually want to get on with my life. I go to the gym only if I can prop a book or magazine on the treadmill for company as I lumber along. While everyone else bops away on their iPods and watches “The Office” re-runs on television, I read about the rise of Cosmopolitan’s controversial femme, Helen Gurley Brown, or a fictionalized account of the pitiful American health care system. Sometimes, I even read The New Yorker. At the gym. On the treadmill. With a five pound weight in each hand. Am I a nerd? Yes. Am I a fit nerd? Hell, yes.

I live in a metropolitan city with great public transportation system (most of the time) that makes for the perfect reading time. Commuting to and from work, to dinner with friends, or to a movie, I skip the sudoku for a book instead.

Despite all my attempts to twist reading around my life, I still feel as if I’m not reading often enough to keep up. An overwhelming number of books are published each year and in the almost 600 hundred years since movable type revolutionized book printing, a nearly infinite number of ancient texts, classic works, and publisher’s backlist beckon to be read.

So I never get anything done. Although, I suppose there are worse ways to spend one’s time. At least I’m not manufacturing dynamite or playing World of Warcraft. I’ll take reading over most pursuits any day.

August 21, 2010

Super Sad True… Whatever. Just Watch It.

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Gary Shteyngart‘s satiric novel Super Sad True Love Story was released in late July and here at this we wonder how we could have possibly missed the book trailer for what is the most star-studded and bizarre-o trailer ever for a book. Shteyngart is listed as one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” though the book trailer leads one to question, does he deserve it?

Authors Mary Gaitskill, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jay McInerney all make appearances, in addition to actor James Franco and some very svelte Mt. Holyoke debutantes.

According to Eugenides, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex “Gary [Shteyngart] has managed to escape the anxiety of influence by the sheer fact that he has never read a word.”

Catch the trailer below. It’s long but totally worth it, especially if you’re a book nerd.

August 20, 2010

Booker Prize Canadian Nominees

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The longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced July 27, narrowing down an initial 138 nominations to thirteen runners. Being this‘s CanLit correspondent, I am pleased to report that two Canadian authors have made it through to this year’s Booker Baker’s Dozen. The Northern hopefuls are Emma Donoghue for her novel Room, and Lisa Moore for February.

Emma Donoghue is an Irish-born writer who settled in London, Ontario in 1998. Writing professionally since the age of twenty-three, Donoghue writes fiction, drama, young adult, historical and literary fiction, and short stories. Hitting the literary scene in the early nineties, her first novels focused on contemporary life in Dublin. Most recently she has published a historical fiction trilogy made up of Slammerkin (2000), Life Mask (2004), and The Sealed Letter (2008), which investigate the British class system from the fourteenth century until the eighteenth century. Room (September 2010) is the tale of young boy Jack and mother, Ma, who reside in a room. Jack has never seen the outside world, until he escapes amidst dire circumstances. Donoghue has won several literary awards, including the 2009 Lambda Award for best Lesbian Fiction for The Sealed Letter (also longlisted for the 2008 Giller Prize), and the 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction for Slammerkin.

Emma Donoghue

Lisa Moore

Lisa Moore is a St. John’s native and studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She has released two short story collections, Degrees of Nakedness (1995) and Open (2002) which was nominated for the Giller Prize. Her first novel Alligator (2005) won the 2006 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best Book Award for the Caribbean and Canada region. Her 2010 Booker longlisted novel February tells the story of one Helen O’Mara who is haunted by the loss of her husband Cal who died in an oil rig accident in 1982.

Food for thought, the entire 2010 Booker longlist is as follows:

–Peter Carey for Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
–Emma Donoghue for Room (Pan MacMillan – Picador)
–Helen Dunmore for The Betrayal (Penguin – Fig Tree)
–Damon Galgut for In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Books)
–Howard Jacobson for The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
–Andrea Levy for The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group – Headline Review)
–Tom McCarthy for C (Random House – Jonathan Cape)
–David Mitchell for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre)
–Lisa Moore for February (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
–Paul Murray for Skippy Dies (Penguin – Hamish Hamilton)
–Rose Tremain for Trespass (Random House – Chatto & Windus)
–Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap (Grove Atlantic – Tuskar Rock)
–Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky (Random House – Jonathan Cape)

The 2010 shortlist of six authors will be announced September 7, 2010 and the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner will be announced October 12, 2010.

August 19, 2010

Book Review: White Masks by Elias Khoury

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by Elias Khoury
Translated from the Arabic by Maia Tabet

Archipelago Books
June 2010, £14.60/$22, 250 pages)

Civil war-era Beirut is a filthy, damaged mess. Posters of martyrs peel from the walls, fridges sit endlessly without electricity and start to smell, husbands take unsuitable second wives, children run mad in the streets and militiamen might loot your house and rape your grandmother or show surprising mercy. Somewhere in this city which is a distorted shadow of itself, the body of retired post office worker Khalil Ahmad Jaber is discovered naked to the waist and full of puncture wounds. Simply another random horror, a line in a newspaper to be swiftly forgotten as just one among many other bodies?

Not so; the fate of Khalil Ahmad Jaber attracts the attention of a bored travel agent and frustrated journalist, though this is no tale of crime-solving or redemption. The narrator opens with the dampening sentiment that the story ‘may not be of particular interest to readers, as people these days have more important things to do that read stories or listen to tales. And they’re absolutely right.’ Intrigued largely by the fact that no-one seems to have had a reason to do away with the victim, he talks to people who knew the man and pieces together as much as he can of the case from newspapers and official reports; the novel is made up of his findings. As people are wont to do, his interviewees talk about their lives as much as they do about the case; the disruptions, losses, killings and sheer surrealist madness that they, one way or another, are surviving. Strength and humanity, tenderness and brutality, damaged minds and the tides of filth and immorality that people casually accept or try to counter – all these emerge in various forms. Through it all, the unexpected soul of Khalil Ahmad Jaber haunts his many biographers, still fretting, perhaps, that he died before he was able to cover the whole city in a mask of white lime.

Lebanese literary legend Elias Khoury published ‘White Masks’ in 1981, but it only became available in English translation this year. As Beirut fractures unrecognisably once more in its post-war incarnation – though through the rapacious appetites of tower block developers rather than sectarian sniping – and the drums of regional war rattle away intermittently in the newspapers, the fetid breath of conflict and the psychological impacts it wreaks that rise from the pages of Khoury’s novel are dreadfully unnerving. The Lebanese are still living with the suppressed memories of their wars, even as their capital city booms wildly, overflowing with tourists and investment. The return of ‘White Masks’ to the bookshelves is an uncomfortable reminder of how close the past is, and of the fragility of the many faces of the city.

~Ellen Hardy

August 18, 2010

Pop Music Tribute to Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury is best known for his novel of a dim, disutopic world, Fahrenheit 451, but over the course of his life he has written eleven novels, almost 400 short stories, and several screenplays. Now 89, we can’t help but wonder what the post-octogenarian Bradbury thinks of this tribute to his life’s work.

August 18, 2010

Book Review: Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile by J.L. Bourne

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by J.L. Bourne

Pocket Books
(July 2010, $15, 288 pages)

When I first discovered Day by Day Armageddon years ago, it was a self-published novel by first-time author J.L. Bourne. Loaded with typos and cheesy gimmicks like black and white photos, the journal format was still a welcomed addition to the zombie genre after The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead mania had ravished zombie fans. There have been two more editions since then (the first one had the simple black cover, the second one had the militarized look, and the third cover looked like a movie poster). By then, Permuted Press had picked up the book, and Bourne gained a massive following.

Day by Day Armageddon, the journal of an anonymous naval officer/pilot/expert-at-staying-alive, reveals the daily struggle of a military man who is on leave when the outbreak occurs. The setting is Texas, and the source of the outbreak is unknown. After finding out that several major cities in the U.S. are scheduled to be nuked, the soldier seeks out a secure location, safe from zombies and nuclear fallout. He finds other survivors, and they form a small group of men, women, one little girl, and a dog. They find refuge in an underground bunker known as Hotel 23. The journal ends with his group defending Hotel 23 from another group of survivors who are more of a threat than the undead. Meanwhile, the zombies seem unaffected by the radiation, and by spreading out from the nuked cities, they increase the threat of exposure to the outbreak.

Many readers described the main character as “right-wing,” and some complained that the book was overloaded with heavy military jargon. Bourne is an active-duty officer, which is why this sequel took so long, and why Day by Day Armageddon has a militaristic style. However, there is reason to believe he took the criticism into consideration when he wrote the sequel, Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile.

The writing has changed between the two books, even though they are both styled as parts of the same personal journal. Bourne still includes a lot of military terminology, but nothing so complicated that readers will have to run to the Internet to figure out what the characters are discussing. The entries in the sequel are much longer and more detailed than in the first book, a lot less like a journal in general and more like the personal story of a survivor divided by dates instead of chapters. Best of all, there are no cheesy pictures, though there are a few hand drawings.

The story begins exactly where it left off, after the battle with the other group of survivors. The explosions have attracted the attention of military convoy; while the soldiers are searching for the source, some Marines get trapped by a zombie horde, and call for help over the radio. An extraction group is sent out from Hotel 23, and they bring the Marines back with them. Although they go to great lengths to keep the location secret, after the Marines leave, they come back with more soldiers. In an attempt to avoid another bloody confrontation, the survivors come to a reluctant agreement with the military group. Soon after, the author of the journal finds himself separated from the safety of Hotel 23 when a scouting mission goes horribly wrong. In his efforts to find his way back he meets a sniper from Chicago and discovers a secret militant organization. When he finally finds safe sanctuary again at the end of the book, it’s quickly yanked out from under him.

It’s extremely difficult to write anything about this sequel without giving away major spoilers, but I will add that the zombies have been enhanced by the radiation. Beyond Exile was one of the very few zombie novels that frightened me at all. Bourne is taking his zombies in the direction of an epic nightmare. I recommend reading the first book, just for the background on the characters, but don’t expect the sequel to be much like it. I sincerely hope that Bourne can get out the third installment more quickly this time.

~Ursula K. Raphael

August 17, 2010

Mind Yer Manners

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JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater is a national folk hero thanks to his dramatic and well-publicized “Take this job and shove it!” exit via the emergency chute from his aircraft.

The full story has yet to be revealed: is he truly a heroic underdog who reached a breaking point after years of abuse from rude, nay assaultive airline passengers? Or is he a bona fide wing-nut who finally cracked on the tarmac of JFK Airport after publicly humiliating a passenger who legitimately required assistance?

The fall out of his dramatic actions, weather viewed as right, wrong, heroic or insane have sparked a number of interesting debates with a common thread: rude behavior has become routine in America.

It is clear, across the board, America needs help with its manners. Pronto. What if we all lived as if we believed like Emily Post: “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others?”

Luckily this is a topic that has been written about for centuries. Unfortunately, it is also a topic that brings about eye-rolls, yawns and disinterested shrugs as most people dismiss it with, “Who cares what fork I use?” (confusing manners with etiquette.) Both are important because both help all interact with others, especially in uncomfortable and awkward situations.

Perhaps now is the time to re-introduce the idea of good manners and etiquette to help navigate through our busy and stressful days. Here are a few suggestions:

Children: It is never to young to start learning manners.

Manners by Aliki
Adorable characters in simple scenarios. It’s a fun read for both parents and adults and it has a delightful ability to spark “What if…” conversations about manners.

Oops! Exuse Me Please! And Other Mannerly Tales by Bob McGrath
This is both a great read-aloud and independent reader children’s book. The focus is on good manners instead of harping on what shouldn’t be done.

How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen
This book is funny, with hilariously illustrated examples of “What not to do at the table.”

Let’s move on to teens. Unfortunately this group is often overlooked in expectation of good manners. Is it due to a cultural belief that all teens must be rude? What a shame!

Teen Manners: From Malls to Meals to Messaging and Beyond by Cindy Post Senning and Peggy Post
You have to love those Post women! The daughter and daughter-in-law of Emily Post have continued her quest to help us all navigate this life in a sophisticated and mannerly fashion. This is a terrific guide for teenagers on manners and why they matter.

Dude, That’s Rude! (Get some manners)
by Pamela Espeland and Elizabeth Verdick
A great book for pre-teens. Very funny age appropriate. Comedy is a better teacher than edicts and ridicule.

Last but not least: Adults. We are never too old to be polite. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all were able to follow guidelines to help prevent the some of the misery that drove Mr. Slater down that literal and figurative emergency escape?

Emily Post’s Etiquette, 17th Edition by Emily Post
First written in 1927, it’s been revamped and updated a by her daughter-in-law Peggy Post so don’t worry, it’s current and it matters. Yes it’s a big book so displayit on your coffee table with other art books!

The Little Pink Book of Etiquette by Ruth Cullen
This is a portable little book, just the size of an address book (remember those?) that is full of helpful bits of information on entertaining, electronics, dating, conversation, job interviews, travel and table manners. If you have to get one small book on etiquette to refer to discreetly and often, this is the one.

Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm by Helen Valentine and Alice Thompson
This fabulous book was written in 1938. It has been resurrected by Chronicle Books and how fortunate we are that it’s available! Siimple and delightful, insightful and funny. Good manners work best when one is charming the socks off those around him or her! It’s really quite simple and if we all behaved as if we respected and enjoyed one and other, what a world it would be.

August 16, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: The Wake of Forgiveness

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Check it out!

The novel The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart is forthcoming in October from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

August 15, 2010

Unquestionably the Best Mash-up Ever

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You know how the hot thing these days are literary mash-ups? You’ve seen them: zombies meet Elizabethan England in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Or Tolstoy meets technology in Android Karenina.

Well, mash-ups have just entered the 21st century.

Remember The Babysitter’s Club? Those sweet, naive girls whose first lesson in Capitalism was babysitting for the Jones’s bratty twins? What if Claudia, Stacey, Kristy and Mary Anne were pulled from Ann M. Martin’s sleepy Connecticut town and dropped in, say, L.A. circa 1982? Would it be all sweetness then?

Thank God for what is unquestionably the best mash-up ever. Reader, we present to you Bret Easton Ellis meets The Babysitter’s Club.

Read an excerpt here or the full awesomeness here.

August 13, 2010

Follow us on Twitter!

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That’s right! We’re hanging out with all the cool kids now!

August 13, 2010

What Are You Watching Tonight?

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Today marks the U.S. release of two big book-to-film adaptations: Eat, Pray, Love and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

The movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir-cum literary-extravaganza stars Julia Roberts in the title role of a woman trying to find herself as she travels through India, Italy, and Indonesian.

Also opening today is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, based on the comic series of the same name by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The film, starring Michael Cera, is about a Canadian slacker who must defeat his girlfriend’s seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to be with her. Watch the trailer below.

August 12, 2010

Green Eggs and Ham Turns 50

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Dr. Seuss’s quintessential book for children, Green Eggs and Ham, turns 50 today. The book was written after Suess’s editor bet him he couldn’t write a book containing only 50 words. Too bad Suess died before the advent of Twitter’s 140 character updates. He’d be in good company.

As an extra special treat, watch Jesse Jackson memorialize Green Eggs and Ham in the video below.

August 12, 2010

Book Review: Fledgling by Mari Miniatt

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Coiree Guardians: Book One
by Mari Miniatt

Animated Liar Media
(May 2010, $15, 218 pages)

Between the Twilight Saga and the True Blood series, you might be sick of hearing about vampires. I personally prefer zombies, although I do partake of other genres from time to time. I had given up on vampire fiction until I read The Strain about a year ago, and I realized that the vampire genre has improved a great deal in the last few years, despite the mainstream vamp-bandwagon fodder. Authors are breaking away from the typical stereotypes of drop-dead gorgeous vamps with sordid love lives and tormented souls. Fledgling: Coiree Guardians is the perfect example of breaking the vampire mold, and redefining the powerful female protagonist.

Indie-author Mari Miniatt introduces readers to Beka, an overweight young woman with a history of mental issues and a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions to prove it. She is a computer geek, with real hacker potential. She lives in an apartment above The Burgundy Rathskeller, a gothic nightclub run by her brother John. John is the only one who has any idea of the horrible secret that has haunted Beka. As her sympathetic landlord, he doesn’t charge her rent, and sometimes asks her to help out for a little extra cash. One night, while working at the club, she discovers that her brother’s friend Vincent is a vampire. Before she has any time to process this information, she’s attacked by another vampire who was hunting on Vincent’s territory without permission. Most female characters would have either broken down and sought help from a handsome stranger, or dressed in leather fitted with weapons to become some supernatural warrior, but Beka has developed a strong will to survive through all her personal trauma, without the added glamour.

Her attacker is a giant by the name of Steopa. Luckily for her, Steopa is more like Vincent than the other vampires; both Vincent and Steopa value the companionship of others. Steopa returns to help Beka make the adjustment to her new existence. She is reluctant at first, but there is the possibility that she might die if she doesn’t accept the link between her and Steopa. Once again, time is not a luxury that Beka has, even as an immortal. Before she can learn to feed herself properly, there are already other vampires hunting her. When she is attacked, she discovers her own unique ability, which Vincent tells her is “cooler than turning into mist.” She also learns that she overlooked a lot of what was going on around her as a human, especially with her friends: one is a berserk, and another is a psychic.

As Steopa teaches her to think more like a vampire, they find out that a string of brutal murders is related to the arrival of another vampire in the city. This mysterious vampire is hunting on grounds belonging to a vampire called Ogden. Steopa and Beka want to stop the mass killings, which have attracted the attention of the police, but Ogden requires proof before he lets them hunt the killer on his territory. While searching for evidence, with the help of Vincent, the four of them — Steopa, Beka, Vincent and Ogden — uncover a plot that is a threat to all vampires.

I don’t think this novel is strictly horror, but more a great blend of thriller and mystery. What begins as a personal evolution ends as the first installment of a chilling saga. There’s no abrupt cliff-hanger, but you are left wondering what will become of Beka and her two vampire companions. You can find out more about newbie author Mari Miniatt here.

~Ursula K. Raphael

August 10, 2010

CanLit Book Review: Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner

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by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Alfred A. Knopf
(Published in Canada, February 2005; U.S., January 2010 CAN $29.95, 287 pages)

Nicolas Dickner’s 2010 Canada Reads Winner, Nikolski, originally written in French and translated into English by Lazer Lederhendler, follows three unknowingly connected characters. As the book opens in 1989, we meet a Montreal bookstore owner, who remains nameless, dealing with the death of his mother. An odd character, he points out trivial things like how he has never left the city of Montreal, and while sorting out his mother’s belongings he comes across a compass, a forgotten gift from the father he never met. The compass does not point to true North, but thirty-four degrees West, aligning with the Aleutian Islands town of Nikolski.

We are introduced to Noah Riel next, a modern day nomad who grows up travelling Western Canada with his mother in their old camper. Noah never met his father, Jonas Doucet, and in hopes of a connection sends letters addressed for General Delivery to various Canadian cities decided on by keen cartographic estimations of Jonas’ nomadic routes. His father’s absence holds strong, a depressing reality that remains with Noah forever, one way or another. Nikolski’s third main character is Joyce Doucet, Jonas’ niece. Joyce is from Tête-à-la-Baleine, a small Quebec town, and is under the assumption that her mother is dead. Raised by her grandfather, Joyce grows up hearing his romantic tales about their ancestors who were world travelling pirates.

In their late teens, Noah and Joyce both move to Montreal. By the mid-nineties Noah is working on a graduate degree in anthropology researching the significance of waste left behind by ancient civilisations, desperate to know why people leave things behind. While in university Noah tries to contact his ever-moving mother by way of more General Delivery letters, only to relive his depressing childhood as they returned unread. Meanwhile, Joyce ends up in Montreal by way of inspiration. Upon reading a news article about a woman running from authorities for piracy, whom Joyce assumes is her mother, she steers her future course: “… the ambition of carrying on the family tradition seeped into her mind,” Dickner writes. “[Joyce] was destined for a pirate’s life, shiver me timbers!” She takes a job at the Poissonnerie Shanahan, and by night sifts through back alley dumpsters in Montreal’s business sector for abandoned computers.

Eventually, Noah and Joyce find their callings. After reuniting with past lover Arizna, a prominent media publisher in Venezuela, Noah meets his son Simôn. Noah then moves to Venezuela to provide the toddler with the fatherly role model he never experienced. Joyce fulfills her burning ancestral calling by hacking bank accounts and stealing identities, an e-pirate of the twentieth century. Eventually, Joyce, Noah and the unnamed bookstore owner’s paths ironically intertwine, and their final destinations become wherever true north lies for each of them.

Nicolas Dickner

There is a strong set of symbols in Nikolski that lead to Dickner’s overall comment on modern society and identity. His main allegorical tool is the sea: from Joyce’s likening to a plaice fish swimming around the streets, deep-dumpster diving, and living off the bounty of larger beings to Noah’s convoluted illusions of inland ships and swimming through prairie fields, Nikolski is filled with images “straight out of Salvador Dali’s surrealist menagerie” as Dickner puts it. These fish-like nomads never stop moving, searching, evolving, and waiting for reality to finally unfold some truth.

Among the seascape imagery there is a lot of Canadiana in this book, often looking like a Richler-esque romanticised portrait of Canada. Noah and Joyce Duddyly romp around Saint Urbain Street, Saint Laurent Boulevard, and other popular CanLit landmarks, becoming contemporary images spray-painted over Montreal’s traditional ambience. But in Nikolski, Dickner brings Canada into today’s generation. Subtle sly comments on the Oka crisis, the Bosnian War, and other political topics of the nineties represent a bigger landscape than inner-border mainstream Canada, which really only turns out to be where the characters in this story are born, nothing else. Searching for something personified by their distant parents, Noah and Joyce are Canada’s minorities, cover-ups forgotten and lost. This survey of contemporary life deeply rooted in the past provides a frank realist interpretation of how one little, yet life changing event, can boggle the compass for generations to come.

~John Coleman

August 9, 2010

What Won’t a Bookseller Do?

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Proving, once again, the extraordinary lengths a bookseller will go to in order to put a good book in your hands.

August 9, 2010

Legends of the Front Lines: What Makes Great Reportage?

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Sometimes, a book must be content with the dubious accolade that its shortcomings serve as a reminder of what one loves about a genre more generally. Finishing Roxana Saberi’s Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran, I immediately began to meditate on why it left me cold. It’s a vital project; Saberi’s account of her one hundred days’ imprisonment by Ahmadinejad’s regime in early 2009 on fatuous charges of espionage is a riveting account of the Kafkaesque posturing she was forced to undergo, a disarmingly honest tale of courage, and a delicately balanced description of the variety and challenges of daily Iranian lives. But it doesn’t tick any of my literary reportage boxes, though Saberi, a Japanese-Iranian-American and former Miss Dakota with Masters degrees from Northwestern and Cambridge, England, seems an ideal candidate to shake things up a little.

We can speculate on why – the rush to cash in while Iran still dominated the headlines? A clash between a journalist’s dispassionate eye and the need to tell her heartrending story? Perhaps we expect too much. More usefully, and enjoyably, we can turn to explore some of literature’s finest reportage, the stuff that thrills and inspires even as it documents humanity’s grittiest realities and history’s most critical events. Let’s consider these five for the sweaty, dust- and blood-spattered crown of reportage:

1. To the End of Hell by Denise Affonço

To go deeper than the headlines surrounding the thirty-five-year prison sentence given to notorious Cambodian Khmer Rouge leader Comrade Duch in July, turn to Affonço’s memoir. She spent almost four years in the regime’s camps, having turned down the opportunity to escape to France in order to keep her family together, convinced by her passionately Communist husband. How she survived and what she lost – including watching her daughter die from starvation – will stay with you forever.

2. Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War by Robert Fisk

Reporting out of Lebanon since 1976, Fisk lived and breathed every gruesome twist and turn of Lebanon’s convoluted civil war. To be sure, at the end of 700-odd pages, you’ll feel like you did too, but it’s a peerless testament to the single-minded devotion of a top war journalist to delivering as much of the truth as possible, and to the dreadful dance of history and power struggles in the region. Though more or less peaceful today, Lebanon has a worthy biographer should it wish to remind itself: ‘never again’.

3. Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda by Romeo Dallaire

Dallaire is no journalist, and the urgent, painful drive to recount what he saw and experienced during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide rings out even truer as a result. Commander of the UN force charged with keeping the peace as events unfolded, his first response to his posting was ‘Rwanda? Isn’t that in Africa somewhere?’ He returned to Canada disillusioned and suicidal, haunted by the butchery and rape of Hutus and Tutsis that claimed around 800,000 lives in the space of approximately 100 days. Dallaire spares us no detail of the horrific events, nor of the obtuse, elephantine bureaucracy that left him almost powerless to help.

4. The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi

Auschwitz survivor Levi’s last literary will and testament; he committed suicide in 1987, shortly after completing it. His writings on the concentration camps are world-famous, and If This is a Man usually the first choice. But ‘The Drowned and the Saved’ is of crucial importance, not just for the well-known clarity and lyricism of his writing, but also for the unnerving contemplation of the role of memory for the witness, and how it can never be taken for granted. His contribution goes far beyond that of a survivor; he is relentlessly critical of the act of witnessing itself.

5. Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński

A timely reminder that reportage doesn’t have to be unrelentingly blood-soaked, and how a damn good book can make all the difference to your work. Famously, Polish international correspondent Kapuściński survived 40 revolutions and four death sentences; but for all that, he was as concerned to celebrate the countries and the people he encountered through literary endeavour as he was with the balder side of reporting. This alternative autobiography uses Herodotus’s The Histories as a frame for the story of Kapuściński’s work; a delight.

August 7, 2010

Head’s Up: CBC Literary Award Submissions

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Submissions for the 2010 CBC Literary Awards are now being accepted until November 1. Go here to enter and get all the information on how to format your submission. A twenty-five dollar (CAD) fee applies for each entry, and you can enter as many works as you want. The CBC Literary Awards competition is the only literary competition that celebrates original, unpublished works, in Canada’s two official languages.

There are three categories, one of which your submission must fall under: Short Story for short fiction narratives 2,000 to 2,500 words; Creative Nonfiction between 2,000 and 2,500 words, including humour, memoir, and research articles written for general audiences; and Poetry for long narrative poems or groups of poems totalling between 1,000 and 2,000 words. You must be a citizen or permanent resident of Canada to enter. All works must be unpublished and original.

Between November and January a shortlist of about twenty or thirty submissions will be decided on by a judging panel of top Canadian literary editors and writers. The winners will be announced in March 2011. There are twelve prizes awarded: For both English and French language works, first place in each category wins $6,000 and second place wins $4,000. Winning pieces will be published in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine, and will also be spotlighted on the CBC website.

There are many different ways to stay informed and get involved with the awards. Join over 1,300 followers by “liking” the Facebook Group and receive ongoing updates about the competition. Get writing tips from 2009 Short Story Juror Michael Helm, who propagates the importance of original writing. Read the 2009 winning entries and gain some indie author inspiration. Most of all, get writing! Only three months left!

August 6, 2010

75 Books

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Inspired by Esquire’s 75 Books Every Man Should Read and Jezebel’s response, 75 Books Every Woman Should Read, we had a few questions: why the number 75? Why limit reading to only men and women? Will the reading lists never end?

We don’t know why 75 is a magical number and we absolutely know that reading lists, or lists of any kind for that matter, are a fact of life on the internet. People like reading lists because they’re short, to the point, and easily downloaded on your iPhone. With this in mind, this brings you 25 Books Every Cat Should Read. (We stuck to 25 because, well, cats spend a lot of time sleeping.)

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. Beginner’s Guide To Cat Yoga
3. In the Napping House
4. City Mouse, Country Mouse
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
6. The Devious Book for Cats
7. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
8. Bad Cat
9. I Can Haaz Cheeseburger?
10. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
11. Cat & Mouse (Alex Cross) by James Patterson
12. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
13. Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist: Fresh Takes on Favorite Dishes by Cat Cora
14. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
15. The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher by Robert Burton
16. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
17. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
18. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
19. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
20. Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres
21. There Is a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems
22. Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline
23. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
24. Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
25. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

August 5, 2010

Book Review: Cursed by Jeremy C. Shipp

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by Jeremy C. Shipp

Raw Dog Screaming Press
(October 2009, $14.95, 218 pages)

Cursed is the perfect blend of mystery, thriller and fantasy. Yet, this strange example of incredible story-telling by author Jeremy C. Shipp is better known as bizarro fiction, a contemporary genre named for its emphasis on the peculiar, with highly unusual plots. Shipp infuses this bizarre quality into an otherwise normal universe, where his character Nicholas is a recovering alcoholic having a real bad month.

Nicholas, our narrator, is fond of explaining everything in the form of lists. Shipp utilizes plenty of straightforward dialogue, without heavy descriptions of the characters or settings, to keep the story going at a quick pace. Some readers may find it annoying to have so many situations broken into one list after another, accented by conversations with few sentences, but others may find the minimalism refreshing.

However, the simplicity of the novel’s structure is deceiving; Nicholas actually has a very complicated problem – a curse. Being used to curses in fiction involving vampires or werewolves, I was a little confused in the first few chapters when nothing blatantly supernatural occurred, but when Nicholas crosses paths with his friend, Cicely, it’s revealed that she is also experiencing a curse of her own.

Every day someone slaps Nicholas, regardless of what he does to prevent it. He soon discovers that Cicely has been dealing with a problem in the same time frame; she woke up one day to find a tennis ball in her hand that she is unable to let go of. The two of them meet up with Abby, who lost all trace of her family at the exact same time the problems began for Nicholas and Cicely. Cicely eventually forms a theory that Abby may hold the key to unraveling the source of their “curses.”

The three of them begin investigating the remaining people in Abby’s life to learn more about her past. After consulting a psychic aptly named Kin, they discover that living with their curses may be easier than confronting the source. By the time Nicholas, Cicely and Abby cross paths with Ruth – yet another character with her own blight – I was thoroughly frightened, and could feel their sense of helplessness as Nicholas considered giving up in order to preserve what is left of their lives.

This is a story about fear. Nicholas is forced to admit his fears about his past, and his relationships with the people around him. Cicely and Abby must also face their own vulnerabilities. Otherwise, they will remain cursed.

Jeremy C. Shipp lives in southern California, and has written other fringe fiction such as Sheep and Wolves, and Vacation. You can find out more about the author at his website.

~Ursula K. Raphael