How to Hold a Book Launch Without Any Books

I did have one copy to read from

I did have one copy to read from

So I wouldn’t recommend this as a deliberate strategy, but if you do find yourself in the position of having to host a book launch without any books to offer people, here’s how to make it work.

The secret is to have an amazing group of friends and well-wishers who will treat the lack of books as a minor inconvenience, make sympathetic jokes about it, and enjoy the event anyway. It also helps to have delicious food provided by a wonderful caterer working tirelessly in the kitchen while everyone else mingles, and awesome friends and family to help set things up, provide champagne, take book orders, and be generally splendid. I’m so lucky!

 

Oh, and four days later, the books arrived. And they’re lovely!

In all seriousness, I wouldn’t wish a book-free launch on anyone, because as the days beforehand rolled by and I realized that the books were not going to come in time, I was pretty miserable. I debated postponing, but by then it seemed too late, and I knew some people had already rearranged their schedules in order to attend. I opted to go ahead with it, and I’m so glad I did.

So if something like this does happen to you, here’s my advice: Try to keep a sense of humour about it. It’s not the end of the world, even if it’s your debut novel (as this is mine). And try to surround yourself with sympathetic people. I know that’s sometimes easier said than done, but if you know, for example, any bookstore owners or other authors who can share their own tales of things that have gone awry with book launches, it can’t help but lift your spirits. For instance, I may not have had any books to sell, but at least I didn’t have a car crash through the window during the launch party …

The False Doctrine Soundtrack

I have a guest post up as part of Roz Morris’s series The Undercover Soundtrack, which features writers talking about music that helped to inspire their work. It was a lot of fun to look back at the writing of False Doctrine from this angle. I’ve been in the habit of making soundtracks for my works-in-progress for a while, and though the False Doctrine playlist isn’t actually the one I’m proudest of, it helped me along the road to a finished book, which has not been the case for all the others. There’s probably a lesson about process and perfectionism in there somewhere … hmm. Anyway, you can read the guest post here.

Roz’s series is about using music in the writing process, which is something it seems many authors do. But I found myself making a lot of allusions to specific pieces of music within my story, too, and just for fun I compiled as many of these as I could find on Youtube. This is probably of interest mostly to me, but since I just learned how to make a playlist and embed it in a blog post (technology!!), here it is:

Pretty Pictures I Found While Writing My Book

To tell the truth, some of these are pictures that I didn’t need to consult, as they show places I know well that made their way into the story: Victoria College, where I was an undergraduate; Annesley Hall, where I lived for three years; the Epitome Apartments, where I lived some years later. Others are scenes of Toronto in the 1920s, and styles and objects from the period that helped to establish the background and the visual atmosphere for me. Delving into all this was one of the side benefits of writing a story set in the past of my own well-loved city.



Published at Last: FROM ALL FALSE DOCTRINE

I finally understand why people use the phrase “debut novel.” I never liked that phrase, but it’s much more accurate than “first novel.” This isn’t my first novel; it’s something like my fourth, at a conservative estimate, not counting some real juvenalia, of which we will never speak, a large number of unfinished projects, and various things that aren’t quite novels. This is the first one that’s going out into the world, though, and I’m delighted about that. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m ready. The time is right. This is it.

And it’s out!

Well, it’s half-out. For complex reasons which I won’t attempt to explain, the ebook is available now, but the print edition is … not. (PRO TIP: Don’t chose a launch date for your indie book release that’s within a week of returning from a long road trip.) And though I love and read ebooks myself, I confess that having the physical book to hold onto (hug, wave around, etc.) is going to be a big deal. It will be out soon!

But it’s the 21st century, and the ebook release totally counts, so here you go.

I hope you like it.

From All False DoctrineAvailable at:

Amazon | Kobo | iBooks | Barnes & Noble

Toronto, 1925: An ancient manuscript and a modern cult promise the secret to personal metamorphosis. An atheist graduate student falls in love with a priest. A shiftless musician jilts his fiancée and disappears. From All False Doctrine is a metaphysical mystery wrapped in a 1920s comedy of manners.

Thrown together when their best friends fall in love, Elsa Nordqvist and Kit Underhill don’t think they have much in common. But when Kit’s friend Peachy drops off the face of the earth, and the manuscript that Elsa wanted to write her thesis on seems to have something to do with it, Elsa and Kit become unlikely allies. The question is, can their combined resources of Classical scholarship and Anglo-Catholic liturgy save a man from himself?

Oh, and there will be a launch party, replete with physical books, on Saturday, September 20, from 3:00–5:00, in the parish hall at St. Thomas’s Church, 383 Huron St., Toronto. Everyone is welcome!

“The Drawer with the Plan of the Cathedral”: Book Excerpt

This is an excerpt from Chapter Two of my (very!) soon-to-be-released novel, From All False Doctrine. I chose this bit to share because it conveys the tone and some of the themes of the book without giving away too much of the plot.

The setting is Toronto in 1925. The two characters here, Christopher Underhill (Kit) and Peverell Peacham (Peachy), are in Peachy’s apartment, where Peachy has just offered to play a new piano piece that he has composed.

It began as a delicate, almost evanescent melody, built into a passage full of powerful chords, then trickled exquisitely away again. There was a poignancy to all of Peachy’s compositions, even when he tried to be bombastic or modern, as if his essential good nature shone through in spite of himself. This one wasn’t even trying to hide its tenderness.

“It’s beautiful,” Kit said inadequately, when the last note had faded and Peachy had spun around to face him again.

“Thanks … It’s unfinished, of course. It needs something. I have a feeling it’s just the first movement of a suite.”

“That could be good,” said Kit, but with an aching heart. It would be good if he thought the suite had any chance of ever being finished. It would be good if he thought it wouldn’t languish like all of Peachy’s other half-started projects, while Peachy moved on to a new idea for an opera or toyed for a while with an old idea for a jazz band.

Peachy had half turned away on the piano stool and was running a forefinger dreamily across the surface of the keys. “It’s for Harriet,” he said.

“Who?”

It wasn’t Kit’s finest moment; he knew even before Peachy turned an incredulous, glassy stare on him that he shouldn’t have said that, but it had been a genuine question. He was sure he didn’t know any Harriet.

“Harr-i-et,” Peachy repeated slowly. “The woman I am going to marry.”

“What?”

“Marry!” He leapt to his feet. “My future Wife! The partner of all my—”

“Yes, I’m familiar with the concept! Who is your future wife? When did you get engaged? It’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

“We’re not engaged, you horrible realist. This is a private determination of my own. She is to become my wife. To that end are all my thoughts directed, all my—”

“Oh! Is it the girl from the beach—the other one, the pretty one?”

Peachy was giving him another glassy look. “The ‘other one’? The ‘pretty one’? You don’t remember her name.”

“Spencer. I didn’t remember her first name. It’s been a long day. Anyway, I didn’t talk to her very much, until—” Until she decided I might be useful to her, he thought, but he had just enough sense not to say that. “Well, at all, really.”

Peachy sighed and sat back down on the piano stool. “Yes, well, since you have reduced the discussion to such a level, Harriet Spencer is indeed the woman I mean. Although I think you’re too hard on her friend—she was pretty too.”

“No, I think I’m being quite fair. Miss Spencer is pretty. Her friend is … something else. ‘Pretty’ is not the word I’d use.”

“‘What?’ he cries in his turn. And what is the word you’d use?”

“I don’t know … I don’t think there’s quite a word—you might need a phrase. Something-ly beautiful.” He shrugged. “I’m not a poet. Anyway. You were saying. You plan to marry Miss Spencer. You have written part of a suite or something in her honour—which is very lovely, by the way, and bound to impress her.”

Peachy closed the cover of the piano keyboard and leaned back dramatically against it, arms outflung. “She’s everything I have ever wanted in a woman, Kit. Such sweetness, such vivacity, such … such a light, clear soprano tone—stop laughing! It’s quite important—I couldn’t possibly marry a woman who couldn’t sing.”

“No, I suppose you couldn’t.”

“Or couldn’t appreciate music, at least. But that was what struck me immediately, you see—I mean apart from her obvious radiance, her angelic face, her breathtaking … ” He noticed the shape he was sketching in the air and shoved his hands embarrassedly into his pockets. “Her—her figure, which the bathing costume did certainly show off to advantage, and which you must admit was, well, flawless. Not to say … ”

“Breathtaking. You did.”

“Yes, well, I stand by it. ‘Pretty’ indeed! But it was her knowledge of music and Scripture, you see—she said ‘Psalm 55’ even before she said ‘Mendelssohn.’ That was what impressed me. I grant you she seemed rather uninformed in other regards—couldn’t quite picture her as a Political Economy major, to be honest, but—she probably just wants a little building up or something. Women often do, I’m told—the culture doesn’t encourage them to develop their minds, and so they waste their potential. Well, I’m something of an expert on that—the irony is not lost on me, my lad. But … the point is, I love her. I just love her.” Suddenly he looked genuinely desolated. “Oh, I know I sounded confident a moment ago, Kit, but really I haven’t a hope. She can’t possibly love me—how could she? I couldn’t even advise it, from a rational perspective. If I were her brother or something, I’d probably forbid it.”

“Take heart! She may not have a brother. And if I were her brother, I would advise it. Heartily.”

“No doubt, but you’re a fool—I’ve long known it. Kit, it’s no good! Even if by some miracle I could win her love, what then? Could I look after a sweet, delicate creature like that?”

“Of course. You’re not a brute. Anyway, are you absolutely sure she wants much looking after?” This was as close as he could comfortably get to saying: I think she misrepresented herself to you. The friend Miss Nordqvist had described so eloquently hadn’t sounded to him like a particularly delicate creature. Which was to her credit, Kit thought, and would no doubt be better for Peachy, too.

“Oh, I don’t mean … I know I’d be nice to her. I mean … well, this whole idea of settling down and marrying, you know, it makes one wish one had … I don’t know, finished one’s degree … done something with one’s life. How can I offer her a husband who cobbles together an income at three or four precarious jobs, with no prospect of anything better on the horizon?”

“You could look for full-time work.”

“We’ve been over this before, Kit. I can’t leave old Doughty in the lurch—the shop would fail if I quit. And I’m not being self-important, I’m just stating the plain truth when I say Montano could not keep the band together without me. And we have to rehearse in the mornings because Sykes still works the night shift. I know the reviews don’t bring in much money, but they don’t take me long to write, either, and at least they get me free tickets to shows. I’m not qualified to do anything that pays real money—anything that I’m willing to do, I mean. I can’t take handouts from my parents, it simply isn’t right. I couldn’t work in an office or anything like that and still have time for my music—and I can’t give that up.”

They had been over it before, many times, and it always ended the same way, with this recitation of things that Peachy couldn’t and wouldn’t do. Half of it—two thirds, maybe—was about not wanting to let other people down. The rest …

“But you do, actually,” Kit said. “All the time.”

“What?”

“Give it up. Not altogether, obviously, but piecemeal—and in the end, I’m afraid it’ll amount to the same thing.”

Peachy looked at him doubtfully. “You mean because I can’t focus my energies and stick to one type of music? But I’ve explained to you—”

“I don’t mean that. I mean because you never finish anything.”

“But that’s … that’s just a symptom of … that’s just because I can’t devote myself to one form, it’s—I haven’t found—”

“Let me put it this way. Why do you want to make music?”

“Why?” Peachy slouched lower on the piano stool, arms folded, irritated. “Because it’s what I’m good at.”

“But why do you want to do the thing you’re good at? I don’t mean why does one—why do you?”

“To glorify God.” He pushed himself upright on the stool and looked at Kit belligerently.

“Exactly.”

“What do you mean, ‘Exactly’? I thought I’d rather called your bluff there.”

“Not at all. But suppose you wanted to build a cathedral. Would it be good enough, do you think, to scribble a plan on the back of an envelope and leave it in a drawer? Obviously not. The thing has to exist in the world. It’s what we’ve been given the world for.”

“I see what you mean,” Peachy admitted grudgingly. “But there’s so much I want to do—there aren’t enough hours in the day, that’s why … ” He gestured hopelessly. “That’s obviously a very poor excuse. But my music does exist in the world. You’ve heard it, for instance.”

“Yes, but who am I, really? I’m like the drawer with the plan of the cathedral in it. It’s something, but it’s not enough.”

“All right. I suppose I see that, too. But what are you suggesting?”

“You’ve got to finish something. Really finish it, and have it performed somewhere—let it out into the world. It doesn’t matter what it is. You want … ” You want somebody to knock you on the head so you forget about all the competitions you won as a child, everything your teachers and your parents’ friends and the contest adjudicators said about how brilliant you were going to be, how the world was your oyster and you could do anything you wanted when you grew up. “I think you want to stop worrying about what form is the best, what the name of Peverell Peacham will be known for down the ages, and just see something through to the end. Because I don’t think you’re meant to do just one thing—you’re meant to do a lot of things. And you have to start somewhere.”

From All False Doctrine

 

Thanks for reading!

You can find out more about the novel here.

You can also sign up to my mailing list, and I’ll let you know when it’s out!

“7C Goes Down”

Goes Down Cover

The newest installment in the adventures of the tenants of apartment 7C is out! Nick, Takehiko, Cristina, and their boss, Rose White, are back in this one, along with some new characters—but no demonic pigeons this time. “7C Goes Down” is a novella (about 28,000 words) so it’s a longer read than the previous two stories. It’s currently available at Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. I hope you enjoy it!

I’m leaving on vacation for the next two weeks, and when I get back, I’ll be busy with the launch of my debut novel (cue jumping up and down and squealing)! Once the dust settles, I do plan to put together the first three Heaven & Earth stories as a paperback collection, so if you’re more of a paper reader, you may want to hold out for that.

In the meantime, here’s the synopsis for “7C Goes Down”:

Brianna thought she was just doing a good turn, helping out a (very cute) elf knight who was attacked in the parking lot behind the dumpsters. She had no idea it would end with her mother being challenged to a duel. Fortunately, Nick, the werewolf delivery boy from Heaven & Earth Bakery, happens by to save the day. Sort of.

You can find out more about the series here.

What Kind of Arthurian Knight Are You? A Quiz

483px-Boys_King_Arthur_-_N._C._Wyeth_-_p246

This is a quiz I made up for the last day of my Arthurian literature class. I thought I’d share it here, to help you determine how you’d fit in if you found yourself unexpectedly plunged into an Arthurian romance.

1. You meet a beautiful maiden, scantily clad, sleeping alone in a tent. What do you do?

a) Try to steal her jewellery.
b) Hop into bed with her.
c) Ask her if she’s seen Guinevere.
d) Keep riding, because she is probably the Devil.
e) Strike up a conversation, but if she doesn’t seem interested, then move on.

2. You find a magnificent bed, but are told that you are unworthy to sleep in it. What do you do?

a) Sleep in it.
b) Sleep in it!
c) Sleep in it!!
d) Sleep in it (after discovering an inscription on the pillow explaining that this is your destiny).
e) Sleep somewhere else.

3. You meet an armed knight in a forest. What do you do?

a) Kill him with a javelin.
b) Joust with him.
c) Joust with him!
d) Joust with him, defeat him, then seek out a hermit who can explain what he signified.
e) Find out whether he is a close friend or family member before jousting with him.

4. Someone has abducted Guinevere! How do you respond?

a) That’s too bad! My mother told me never to abduct people.
b) It is my duty to rescue her.
c) CATASTROPHE OMG NOTHING WILL STAND IN MY WAY I WILL RESCUE HER
d) I hope she had a chance to confess her sins. Some hermit told me she had a lot to confess.
e) Should we alert the authorities?

5. Someone suggests you should ride in a cart.

a) Sure! What?
b) You have got to be kidding.
c) WILL IT HELP ME RESCUE GUINEVERE? THEN SURE
d) Does this cart have the words “Only the best knight in the world destined to achieve the Grail may ride in me” written on it? Because if not, forget it.
e) I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. It’s just a cart.

6. It is the Feast of Pentecost. Where will you be?

a) I don’t know. I don’t even know what year it is.
b) At Arthur’s court, obviously.
c) Probably locked in a tower somewhere, but I’ll get out.
d) At Mass. Obviously.
e) Uh, I don’t usually do much for Pentecost.

7. What was the last thing that caused you to swoon?

a) The thought of my beloved.
b) Loss of blood after an hours-long combat with a worthy opponent.
c) Catching sight of an item that my beloved might once have touched.
d) The Holy Grail.
e) I can’t recall ever having swooned.

8. Describe your ideal woman.

a) See that goose-blood in the snow? That’s what she looks like. *goes into a trance*
b) Uh, she’s got tusks, and, uh, a beard, and …
c) For the last time, I don’t have an ideal woman. Who told you I had an ideal woman? Did someone mention Guinevere?
d) She’s a nun or something. Also she’s dead.
e) She’d have a great sense of humour, love dogs, and like to take long walks on the beach.

If you answered:

mostly a) You are probably Perceval.
Your knightly career gets off to a rocky start, and you have a bit of a problem with questions, but ultimately, you’ll be able to achieve great things. Too bad you’ll eventually be relegated to second place in your own story by Galahad.

mostly b) You may be Gawain.
Arthur’s right-hand man and loyal nephew, you’re generally dependable but don’t often get the limelight. Mostly your job is to serve as the model of knighthood for others to measure themselves against (or randomly joust with). And what do you get in return? Married to a revolting hag. Thanks, Arthur.

mostly c) You are definitely Lancelot.
Congratulations, you are the best knight in the world. Except when you’re not. Sorry about the crazy girlfriend. That Grail thing totally would have worked out if it hadn’t been for her.

mostly d) You must be Galahad.
Super-virgin, destined to win the Holy Grail, you’re the actual best knight in the world, and you know it. Some people find you boring, but what’s that to you? God clearly thinks you’re awesome.

mostly e) You are doing it wrong.

Digital Book Day

DBDsquareThis coming Monday, July 14, my story “The Tenants of 7C” will be one of the 300+ works available for free as part of Digital Book Day, a new initiative started by thriller author C.J. Lyons to … well, to give away free ebooks. It’s pretty simple!

Take a look; you may discover some great new books!

In other news, I have finished writing “7C Goes Down,” the third of the Heaven & Earth series, and only my “job” and other details of “real life” stand in the way of finishing the editing and getting it out in the world.

 

You Don’t Need a PhD: Things I’ve Learned About Writing from Studying Literature

Christine de Pizan writing in her study, 15th c. MS illustrationIn some circles you’ll find people who suggest that a literature degree doesn’t offer a good formation for a fiction writer. I’ve not found that to be true at all. Of course you don’t need a PhD, or to have studied English in any formal setting, in order to write well. But I’ve found that my studies feed my creative work, shape the things that I write both formally and thematically, and have taught me a lot about ways and reasons to write that I think are valuable and good to know. Here are a few, in no particular order.

Writers can have a moral purpose. Yes, and they can write with their moral purpose in mind without producing trash.

Originality is not only overrated but actually chimeric. Everyone has sources and influences, and learning how to recognize and manage them is a big part of using your creativity in a mature way.

Literary forms and styles go in and out of fashion, and everyone is influenced by their own historical situation. I could try to write in the form and style of a past era, but inevitably I would betray my own period in many ways, and some would be ways in which I would want to betray it (e.g. attitudes toward gender, race, class, etc.). Therefore your best bet is to embrace this to some extent. You can do a lot of fruitful work with the pattern of taking a type of story from the past and telling it as only a modern person can tell it, including perspectives that someone from that time would not have considered (e.g. servants) or using a style (e.g. realism) that they wouldn’t have used.

It’s helpful to think about the traditional boundaries of the genre or form you are working within, but a lot of the best work is done right on or just over those boundaries.

Good writing has themes, but you don’t necessarily have to put them there.

Good writing may require a reader to think a bit, and will certainly repay study.

If you manage your sources and influences well, they can spread out like a web around your writing, becoming part of the experience of your work for the reader.

It’s not about you. The author doesn’t matter as much as the work. In fact, you can create work that is better than you. This is amazing, even miraculous.

You are one of the people who gets to inhabit your work, but when other people read it, they get to inhabit it too. They get to know the characters and draw their own conclusions about the story, and you can’t entirely control or invalidate their experience of it. This is not controversial; this is just a fact, and you shouldn’t really try to argue with it. It’s part of the miracle of creation.

These are just a few big-picture examples, but if someone were to ask me whether I think an aspiring writer should take English at university, I’d say, “Absolutely.”

“The Siege of 7C”

Siege CoverI’m happy to report that the second of the Heaven & Earth stories, “The Siege of 7C,” is up on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords! (Oh, and the first one, “The Tenants of 7C,” is up too, if you missed it.)

The series is urban fantasy, which just means it puts fantastic characters in a modern city. It draws inspiration from Japanese manga, a medieval poem about a werewolf, and my personal love of Toronto’s Kensington Market. (Sounds like a coherent mixture, right?)

I have twelve stories planned in this series, so if you like them, stick around for more! I plan to collect them into paperback editions eventually, but for now they are available as ebooks. They’re novella length; the first two are fairly short, but the third one, which I’m working on now, is going to be significantly longer.

Here’s the synopsis for “The Siege of 7C”:

When you live in an apartment where the rooms move around, with a satyr and a Japanese demon as roommates, fantasy role-playing games aren’t as exciting as they might be. But those dice-roling skills may come in handy when confronted with a flock of otherworldly pigeons. Nick, Takehiko, and Yiannis, the tenants of 7C, return in a second adventure.

There’s also a bonus mini-story, “Birds of a Feather,” which serves as an epilogue to “Siege.” You can find it here.

This is all still so exciting to me. I have two books out in the world now! Two! (Just little books, but still.)