On Bookers, Booksellers & The Bookshop Band

IMG_0476 On Tuesday morning, I sat down at my computer to find my inbox flooded with the loveliest messages of congratulations. It took me a while to figure out why. My well-wishers seemed to think that A Tale for the Time Being had been longlisted for the Booker Prize, but I figured it must be a mistake. Only the day before, I'd learned that a kind reader had nominated the book for the Guardian's Not The Booker Prize, and so I assumed that my friends had gotten the two prizes confused. Silly friends. How awkward. But then it occurred to me to check the Man Booker Prize website, and I discovered that in fact they were right, the book had been longlisted, and as usual I was the last to know. This is what happens when you live in Desolation Sound.

Thank you, everyone, for your kind wishes.

I just got back home to Whaletown after a wonderful trip to Spain, France and the UK, doing promotional stuff for the novel. It was fascinating to realize that while I think of the book as A Tale for the Time Being, that's only its English name and identity. In other countries, it has different identities, since each country has its own take on both the title and the cover design.

Here is the French Belfond edition:

Mise en page 1

They're playing with the line from the English translation of Dōgen Zenji's essay, Uji, which reads "For the time being, the entire earth and the boundless sky." The wave and the grey sky reflect this beautifully.



And Planeta has done something entirely different with the Spanish title and cover design:


They're playing off of the notion of the "Butterfly Effect"—the flutter of a butterfly's wing in Japan. It's a lovely image.



Canongate's UK editions have been stunning. The hardcover has an exposed Nepalese binding on the spine, which I love, because of the way it echoes one of the themes of the book, which is the hacking and deconstruction of the book-as-object. The paperback is equally clever, and it has an augmented reality feature which you activate with smart phone app called Blippar. The cover image animates, literally comes to life, and leads you to various online resources, and this again recalls the virtual realities evoked in the story.

Hardcover_UKThere have been several interesting articles written about the design, which you can read here on the Canongate.tv website.

The occasion for the UK tour was that A Tale for the Time Being won the 2013 Independent Booksellers Award, which is a special prize given by the UK Indie booksellers during Independent Booksellers Week. I was honored and delighted to receive this award. I love Independent bookstores. They are a lifeline for writers like me, and I doubt I would be publishing books without the support of the booksellers who are so passionate about books and know their customers and can take the time to hand-sell the titles they love. I wrote an essay for The Bookseller weblog, which talks about independent bookstores as the keystone species that determines the health of the cultural ecosystem.


Oh, and here's a picture of me receiving my award from Patrick Neale, at the lovely Jaffe & Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton.

The UK Indie Bookshop Tour was really wonderful. It seemed to me that although many expressed concern about the sustainability of indie bookstores, the ones I visited were thriving. They'd built devoted communities of readers, were sponsoring all sorts of interesting events and offering a brilliant range of customer services, including book clubs and book spas and personal consultations with bookish professionals. And British bookshops serve wine at author readings...it really helps!


One of the highlights of the UK Indie Bookshop Tour was the visit to Bath and my reading at Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights. It's an absolutely lovely bookshop, and they were celebrating its 7th birthday. (Among Mr. B's specialized customer service offerings is a Proust Support Group. They are on Volume III, Chapter 2. How can you not love this? It's enough to make me want to move to Bath.) After the reading, we had sushi and wine and a beautiful birthday book cake (which I'm cutting it here, wearing my "fictional character" shirt from Village Books, in Bellingham, WA).

But the highlight of the evening for me took place before the reading, when The Bookshop Band performed two songs inspired by A Tale for the Time Being. The band is a trio comprised of two guitarists, Poppy Pitt and Ben Please and a cellist, Beth Porter, who write songs based on books they read and then they play them at bookshops before author readings. They started out performing mostly at Mr. B's, but since then they've gotten quite famous and now they travel all over. The two songs they wrote about my book were heartbreakingly beautiful, and as I listened to them sing, big fat tears just kept rolling down my face.

And it seems I'm not the first author to be so moved by their performance, and here's why. To a writer, a book is a gift. It comes to you more or less unbidden. If you're paying attention and you're willing to put in the hard work and the long years, maybe your book will find its way onto the page, into the bookshops, and into readers hands. At that point, your work is done and the book is no longer yours. You've given it away, because that's what you do with gifts. That's the nature of gifts, to be freely given.

But then, by some remarkable serendipity, a lovely trio of musicians reads your book and they are moved by it to write beautiful songs, and these songs are gifts, too, and they are unspeakably precious because rarely do writers get to experience their work so exquisitely received.

Here is The Bookshop Band, performing my two songs: With Words Alone and For The Time Being.



Thank you, Bookshop Band!

Thank you, Booker Prize judges!

Thank you, Independent Bookshops!

Thank you, dear publishers & editors & translators & book designers!

And most of all, thank you, dear Readers, because really, it's all because of you.




ALA panel & some thoughts on libraries

On Friday, January 25, from 4:00 - 5:15 pm, I'll be on a panel at the American Library Association's Midwinter meet-up to discuss the topic "The Novel is Alive and Well" with Seattle authors Terry Brooks, Ivan Doig, and Gregg Olsen. I'm looking forward to this because I love librarians, I have always wanted to be one, and I do believe that the novel is alive and well so talking to these guys about this topic should be fun. studentonperch

Regarding libraries—one of my summer jobs in college was in the library, where I was hired to put little magnetic theft prevention strips into the books. This required physically taking each book from the shelf and opening it in order to slip the strip into the spine. Needless to say, this was extremely time-consuming work, because how could you open a book without spending at least a few moments reading it? I remember the thrill of pulling books one by one from the shelves, skimming through them, and watching ideas form in my mind, triggered by these random juxtapositions. It was hugely exciting, and I kept a notebook next to me so I could write down all the stories that emerged. I'm surprised I wasn't fired, but now when I think about it, I imagine all of the other students hired to do this work were similarly occupied, and none of us were working with much efficiency.

That summer, in the library, I discovered the generative power of randomness, juxtaposition, and browsing. Browsability is something we are losing in the Internet age, where so many of our searches are controlled by algorithms, which deliver results that are pre-shrunk and tailored to what we think we want, or we've wanted before. How can we stumble across anything new? Google and Amazon doom us to the rut of our habitual mind where, as we find the same things over and over again, our interests narrow and we grow smug, believing that everyone in the world is just like us, like we are and used to be.

That summer I also learned the approach I still use to write novels, an approach that requires a high degree of randomness, juxtaposition, and browsability. It reminds me a lot of meditation, because it requires keeping the mind alert and open enough to allow disparate elements to filter in, accumulate, and combine into a story. Inspiration is this happy convergence of random factors, which if you are lucky and awake, you can notice and put to good use.

Prelinger stacks - photo by Peter Richardson

I started thinking about browsability several years ago in the Prelinger Library, talking to my friend Rick. Rick is an archivist and a maverick librarian, who started the Prelinger Library with his wife, Megan. Together, they have raised browsability to a fine art. The stacks are arranged in a way so as to maximize browsability. Here's how they describe it:

The main shelves are organized according to the library’s unique geospatial taxonomy. This arrangement system classifies subjects spatially and conceptually beginning with the physical world, moving into representation and culture, and ending with abstractions of society and theory. It can be summarized as a walk through a landscape of ideas, from feet-on-the-ground to outer space. Within that framework are dozens of associative links between subject sections, moving from site-specific, to mediated, to abstract; from particular to general, and from micro- to macro-. The geospatial system is set up in five rows, each row holding part of the structure in a consistent series of smaller sections. The system begins at the front of Row One and ends at the back of Row Five.

Each labeled section on the main shelves is a composed set of juxtapositions, bringing together government documents, periodicals, monographs, and occasional works of fiction, in greater or lesser order, to illuminate a subject area. Within these sets, the compositional structure is fairly loose.

If you haven't been to the Prelinger Library and you find yourself in San Francisco, you really should make an effort to go. And if you are going to be in Seattle next weekend and you happen to be a librarian, please come to our panel and say hi.

Rick, Megan & library patron


Hapa-Palooza is a very cool festival for all of our hapa/hybrid/half-blood/cross-bred/métis/mestizo/mixed-race/halved-and-doubled selves. It's a celebration of mixed-roots arts and cultures, and goes from September 12 - 15. And to kick things off next Wednesday, Wade Compton, Julie Flett and I will be reading and talking with Sandra Singh about identity and writing and other interesting things. The event is called Mixed Voices Raised, so please come join us. It's at the Vancouver Public Library and its free!


How to Re-Occupy Your Mind - writing workshop

This writing and meditation workshop is a benefit for the very cool 826 Seattle, a nonprofit space traveler & literacy drop-in center, and the Seattle chapter of novelist Dave Eggers' 826 National network of writing and tutoring centers. 826 Seattle sponsors an adult workshop series, entitled How to Write Like I Do, as a benefit for the kids' programs, and okay, the hubristic title kind of makes me wince, but I promise that in How to Re-Occupy Your Mind I will not make you write like I do. Instead, I will help you write like you do, only better. Here's the workshop description:

So, you love to write, only these days all you ever seem to write are texts and email. You don't have time, and even if you did, you no longer have the ability to focus. Sound familiar? It's time to intervene. In this workshop you will receive practical training designed to re-focus your writer's mind through meditation and to bring an awakened creativity to the page.

The other very cool thing about 826 Seattle is that it's also houses the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co., so if you want to pick up a dark hole starter kit, or stock up on uncertainty  (essential for writers) or some replacement quarks, or a t-shirt or hoodie, plan to come early, because the shop closes at 6:00pm, when all good astronauts should be in bed.

Vortext! a 3-day writing workshop at Hedgebrook

Vortext is a very special three day women's writing workshop that I'm going to be leading, along with Dorothy Allison, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth George, Jane Hamilton, and Gail Tsukiyama on June 1 - 3, at Hedgebrook. This is an outstanding line-up of writers, and the only problem is that I'm teaching, too, so I can't  sign up and participate in the the other teachers' sessions. However, I'm honored to be included, and it promises to be an amazing three days of writing, learning, lectures, open mikes, conversations and community. I know space is limited, and it's really a once in a lifetime opportunity, so please sign up!

“Too many Ps”? - a reading & conversation at UC Santa Cruz

Personal, Political, Publics and Potatoes - a conversation about the politics of food and kinship and other world-changing matters, at U.C. Santa Cruz on April 5, 2012 from 2 - 5pm. I will be reading from All Over Creation and then will join specialists in the fields of geography, anthropology and agroecology for a conversation hosted by Joan Haran (CESAgen* at Cardiff University), who says, "We will talk about public engagement with agricultural technoscience, genetic modification of crops, non-violent direct action and the creative use of generative metaphors.  We will tease out some relationships between genes, gender and genre along the way." Location and more information to come.

*CESAgen (The Center for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics) is a collaborative research centre based at the universities of Lancaster and Cardiff.

Writing Sesshin: a guided writing and meditation retreat @ Hollyhock

The word "sesshin" in Japanese means "touching the mind" or "touching the heart."  Sesshin is a special time in the Zen Buddhist calendar, when monastics step away from their everyday schedule and dedicate full days to meditation practice. As writers, we need these same periods of retreat and intensive practice to deepen and clarify our expression on the page. This sesshin will help participating writers touch the mind and heart of their writing practice. We will divide our time between guided meditation and writing exercises, discussions of craft, individual writing practice, supportive group work, and individual meetings with me about work-in-progress. Writers will leave with practices that will help sustain meditation and writing in everyday life. I've been wanting to do this kind of retreat for a long time, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Here's some information about Hollyhock:

An internationally renowned centre for learning and well-being, Hollyhock impacts personal, professional and social development through over 100 programs, and when space allows offers visitors a fantastic British Columbia island holiday, where you’ll enjoy wonderful Cortes Island accommodation.

Our spectacular natural setting on Cortes Island is an ideal backdrop for transformative experiences. We are linked intrinsically to our ecology, assisting us in providing a comfortable and safe environment where people can deeply connect with others, gain creative insights, and renew hope that a better world is possible.

Hollyhock is Canada’s leading educational retreat centre with over 28 years experience, but you can also think of us as a “refuge for your soul”, a place that allows you access to what matters, or simply time to rest, play and achieve wellness in BC.

For more information and to register, please check out the Hollyhock website.

Re-training the Writer's Mind @ Taos Writers Conference

This summer I'll be teaching Re-training the Writer's Mind at the Taos Writers Conference. I haven't visited Taos for many years, and I'm really looking forward to it! Here's a link to a version of the workshop that I taught at Hedgebrook. The content will be similar, a five-day workshop with a focus on developing meditation and writing practices that inspire and support us as writers. But the Taos workshop will be part of a conference, rather than a retreat, so participants will be able to engage in a wealth of other writerly activities, too, including roundtables, readings, workshops, as well networking and just hanging out. And I'm really happy because my dear friend, novelist, and editor, Carole DeSanti, will be there, too, and offering a weekend workshop of her own. (More on Carole's workshop and her new novel, The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R. to come!)

Pain Free: a creative conversation with Ruth Ozeki & Susan Squier

2012 Modern Language Association Convention 143. A Creative Conversation: Ruth Ozeki with Susan Squier

Thursday, 05 January 7:00–8:15 p.m., 604, Washington State Convention Center

Ruth Ozeki and Susan Squier will have a conversation on the theme Pain Free. Their conversation will wander from such agricultural innovations as genetically engineering animals so that they feel no pain, to questions of affect and academia, to Zen and suffering. The conversation will be interspersed with readings.

Susan Squier is the Brill Professor of Women's Studies, English Literature, and Science, Technology and Society at Penn State University. She is the author, most recently of, Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet (2011). Her other publications include:  Virginia Woolf and London: The Sexual Politics of the City (1985); Babies in Bottles: Twentieth Century Visions of Reproductive Technology (1994); Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism (1984); Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (1989); Playing Dolly: Technocultural Formations, Fantasies, and Fictions of Assisted Reproduction (1999); Communities of the Air: Radio Century, Radio Culture (Duke University Press, 2003), and Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontiers of Biomedicine (Duke University Press, 2004).

Guided Writing Intensive - a summer writing workshop at Hollyhock

I'm really excited to be collaborating this summer with my friend, Linda Solomon, in leading a six day intensive writing retreat at Hollyhock. Linda and I love teaching together. While the focus of our writing is somewhat different--Linda is a journalist and writes non-fiction, and I write more fiction and poetry--we both have experience writing in each other's genres, and together we have a lot to offer other writers who are looking for mentoring, encouragement and guidance. Here's the description of the workshop:

Every once and a while, a writer needs to dedicate time to retreat from the world and to concentrate on writing. We set an intention. We clarify a goal. We work on building new skills, or grappling with an old writing project that continues to haunt us. We acknowledge our persistent love of the written word, strengthen our resolve, and then we write.

This retreat is open to all writers, including those who do not yet think of themselves as “writers” but who know they have something to say. Linda and Ruth are long-time colleagues, who have guided countless writers through the process of putting words on the page. The retreat will focus on individual writing, with time set aside everyday for discussions of craft, work sharing, and mentoring for those who want it.

Linda is a Pulitzer-nominated journalist, creative nonfiction writer, and founder and editor of  the award-winning online news site The Vancouver Observer.

Ruth is a novelist, Zen priest, and author of All Over Creation and My Year of Meats. She writes fiction, poetry and memoir.

And here's some information about Hollyhock:

An internationally renowned centre for learning and well-being, Hollyhock impacts personal, professional and social development through over 100 programs, and when space allows offers visitors a fantastic British Columbia island holiday, where you'll enjoy wonderful Cortes Island accommodation.

Our spectacular natural setting on Cortes Island is an ideal backdrop for transformative experiences. We are linked intrinsically to our ecology, assisting us in providing a comfortable and safe environment where people can deeply connect with others, gain creative insights, and renew hope that a better world is possible.

Hollyhock is Canada's leading educational retreat centre with over 28 years experience, but you can also think of us as a "refuge for your soul", a place that allows you access to what matters, or simply time to rest, play and achieve wellness in BC.

For more information, or to register for this workshop, please visit the program page on the Hollyhock website.