Word On The Street
And the Word was . . . fun! Well, fun in that literary, learning sense, but I had a blast! For anyone who didn’t make it, Word On The Street takes place in Queen’s Park in Toronto and is a total who’s who of everything biblio. Authors, teachers and publishers all turn up trying to promote reading and literacy. Even TVO Kids turned up to entertain the kiddies (some of whom I overheard talking about what they thought their parents would say if they spent all of their money on books!).
This past weekend was my first time at Word and I was blown away. Very well done – kudos to the organizers. I spent my day attending different lectures (and listening to different authors) that appealed to me, but with 15 different venues, anyone who was there had their own personal experience.
I started at the Wordshop Marquee where I brushed up on the Insider’s Guide to Publishing. Geared towards authors, Cynthia Good (Humber College) was very informative. Her best tip for people trying to get published was to look at the Acknowledgements page in their favourite books. Authors often acknowledge their editors and these are the people that writers need to target to get their manuscripts considered for publication. She also emphasized the importance of telling publishers how your book ties in with current literary trends (can we say vampires, anyone?) without forcing yourself to write to that genre. If you don’t believe in the book you are writing, a publisher probably won’t either.
From there, I wandered over to the Penguin tent to see one of my favourite Canadian authors, live and in person – Stuart McLean. This was definitely the highlight of my day. Granted, Stuart is known for live, public appearances, but it’s the small things that make me happy. Stuart McLean, Ron James and Sherman Alexie are the three names that come immediately to mind when I want to laugh.
Slightly self-deprecating in that Canadian way, it took Stuart some time to find a chair story he thought would be ideal to follow up his Ode to A Potato (the chair battling the rug just didn’t cut it). A short prose piece about an encounter with a boy planning to tow a friend on a rickety chair fit the bill. Stuart’s character (in the story) showed remarkable self-restraint in the exchange. Cue audience laughter.
After the reading, Stuart was quizzed by a father on whether his (slightly embarrassed) daughter should do her impending report on Stephen Leacock or Stuart McLean. Stuart deftly suggested they purchase his newest book, not yet on shelves, and use a piece he had written on Stephen Leacock from it – she would get her mark back long before the teacher realized the source. This also prompted laughter.
Moving on, I caught the tail end of David Miller’s talk. He was speaking of Transit City and how ridiculous some of the mayoral candidates are in their beliefs and promises on the subject. The prime minister, the premiere and the current mayor of Toronto all agree that the plan that’s been developed benefits the right people (those who use the system), fits the budget and is achievable and, as he pointed out, if these three men are in agreement, something has to be really, really right. Other people are promoting unfeasible methods that, even if they were physically accomplishable, require more money than is available. Having listened to the man for about five minutes, and acknowledging my sorely defunct consciousness when it comes to politics coupled with my memory of the mayoral candidates as I had seen them on TV, I couldn’t help but wonder why we weren’t able to keep him for another term.
From there I made my way to the Toronto Star Tent and TIF: Toronto in Film. Nothing like I was expecting, this was really interesting as Linda Barnard and Peter Howell (Rob Salem never materialized) fielded questions from the audience. I learned that us Canadians get the censored version of the film no matter what (pesky old Washington) and that in America you can (and I can’t quite repeat it the same way Linda said it, but it was good) have a field full of bloody, massacred, dying corpses and get a PG rating, but, by God, if it was a bare-breasted maiden (one breast bared, not two) who did the massacring it would be an R rated film. Americans make me laugh.
My main memory of Peter Howell is his story of how he was told repeatedly at TIFF that Ryan Gosling wasn’t going to put in an appearance, but in the end did and when he asked Ryan why he had decided to come, Ryan said his mom had told him he had to. Absolutely loved it. (He also said Ryan was a really down-to-earth person and Blue Valentine was really good.)
I then made my way to the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers Stage to listen to Kim Echlin and Marina Nemat talk about The Power of Story. Accurately named, as their words were very powerful. Marina did most of the talking, and I’ll admit, having never read either of the their books, I was at a bit of a disadvantage. Prisoner of Tehran is Marina’s book and The Disappeared is Kim’s. One woman in the audience recounted how she had made it to the border of Cambodia but couldn’t bring herself to go in having read Kim’s work, and another told Marina how she had wanted to write her to thank her for her book as she knew people who had had similar experiences but hadn’t been able to find a way to contact her. Both authors were deeply moved by the comments.
From there it was Look at Me! Look at Me! – How to use Social Media to Market your Work! Ironically enough, I couldn’t see any of the panelists as they were all on the other side of the podium from where I was sitting (and if that’s not actually irony I apologize to anyone about to yell at me – that was always one literary device I didn’t have a good grasp on!).
Here I learned about Twitter, Facebook and blogging. I’m aware of it all. I’m a Facebook addict. I have a Twitter account. I am blogging (Hey! Look at Me! Look at Me!). They didn’t really give any polishing tips though. This blog is probably completely uninteresting to millions of people. How to fix that? Basically they said to work at it, do the types of social networking you enjoy, and try to keep it to an hour a day. As a slow writer, dear reader, let me assure you I have devoted much more time to you than that today. Hopefully I’ll find some polish in the future :0)
Somehow (after filling out a survey) that took me to the end of the festival where I wrapped things up listening to “How to Develop a Literary Career” in the same tent where I started my day. I should actually say outside of the tent. Under a walnut tree. With squirrels in it. Trust me. You do not want to be under a walnut tree but not under a tent at this time of year when there are squirrels in the tree. Walnuts aren’t little. They come in these casings that look like tennis balls but are quite a bit more solid. And they sound nasty when they hit the tent and then whomp on the ground. A couple of people almost got hit. I almost got hit! But the authors were interesting. One (and I honestly don’t know which was which) survived for a dollar a day on ramen noodles (still wondering how he paid for rent), another gave up a law career to write and the third is a teacher and a writer. All three are doing pretty well, but cautioned against expecting too much. Writers write because they have to, not because they’re trying to make money. Of that there is no doubt! I finally got to ask a question (last one of the day) – I was really curious about what the author perspective was on copy editors. They all loved them. One recounted how when he thought he was done a really good copy editor he’d had had suggested over three hundred fixes on a single page (and I’m not entirely sure that was an exaggeration). It makes me more and more curious about how much of a work actually comes from an author, and how much from the clean up crew.
Thinking on that as I left the park I realized I really hadn’t had time to go to all of the booths where the books were being sold. That was a little disappointing because I had hoped to interact with some of the publishers, but it did save me from trying to come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t buy any books (budgetary restraints). And that was my day at Word On The Street.