Every time I have a book published, I find it’s harder than the last time for the book (or me) to get noticed. This is contemporary publishing. There are so many compelling new books each season, so many talented and interesting writers, that it can take some special magic to stand out. So of course, I was thrilled something was sparking when an email arrived last fall from the Edmonton Public Library’s Capital City Press program offering me a term as their featured writer. It’s a chance to hold some workshops, and use their platforms and resources to meet with local writer and reader communities. The past year has been high on studies and sickness, low on the writer’s life–whatever that might be. Not this morning, when I was out talking on TV about being, above all other occupations, a writer for at least the next few months.
I got to choose the workshops I’d like to run while in this position and I chose one on Fan Fiction (for writers, readers, and the curious–I’m looking at you, parents) and one on building a writing career within a busy household full of little dependent peoples.
Watch the website for details, read my guest blog posts, and show up to celebrate writing with me. Find it here.
This weekend the whole fam will be participating in our city’s annual food drive.
Next weekend I’ll be at two separate, very different writing events.
The first is an event at the University of Alberta where I’ll be sharing some translation I’ve done of Lu Xun’s early modern Chinese writing. Yeah, it’s not everyone’s idea of a fun Friday night.
However, the second event of the weekend is a panel at the Capital City Press Book Festival with the Edmonton Public Library. The library’s downtown branch plays a part in the story and the sense of my latest novel so I’m very excited to be working with them in real life. Always wanted to write something set in an unusual city? Come let a panel of authors, including me, talk you into it.
The world of book marketing is fairly straightforward: the more money a book has behind it, the better it tends to sell. Does that sound cynical? Maybe, but it’s also evident in industry practices like giveaways for newly released books on the Amazon-acquired mega social network for readers, Goodreads.com. Not that long ago, during the heavy marketing phases of my first two novels, anyone could post a book giveaway on Goodreads and hundreds—hundreds—of people would see that book, look at its cover and title, read its synopsis, maybe even the author’s name, and add the book to their to-be-read list in exchange for getting a chance to win a free copy. All it cost publishers and authors, big or small, was the wholesale price of the book, and postage. But by the time my third novel was published, Goodreads was charging hundreds of dollars to give away books on the site. Isn’t that nice? It’s great to see big, well-funded enterprises sticking together.
Like I said, the big marketing pushes for my first two novels have passed. The books are still in print but settled into my publisher’s back catalogue, a place without room for all of the remaining printed inventory. Some publishers would just “pulp” these excess books but mine offered to give them to me as long as I paid to have them shipped across the country. The shipping bill was in the two-digits so I agreed, and for the past few months, the storage room in my basement—the cold room—has been a crypt for overstocked books. Talk about being haunted…
Well, you know what? I don’t need to hoard these books and I don’t need permission or money to give them away. With a new novel to promote, what better ad could there be for it than a bunch of freely available copies of my previous work? And so I spent today driving all over the Edmonton area sniffing out Little Free Libraries. They are adorable little cabinets, or repurposed newspaper boxes (look at that, newspaper infrastructure doing something for book culture again), and even one salvaged doll house set up in cafes, parks, and private citizens’ front yards. The rules of the Little Free Library system are simple: take a book if you want to read one. Be courteous, take good care of it. Don’t use it to balance a table or roll a smoke. Ideally, leave another book in its place or bring it back when finished.
I hit every Little Free Library I could drive to without seeing any cows. When I travel to Calgary later this week, past so many cows, I will hit some more LFLs there—slide my book in between all those copies of Animorphs and the fragmented works of Stephenie Meyer (her Breaking Dawn appears most often). If it turns out the LFLs are somehow centrally catalogued and controlled, I expect a cease and desist order soon. Until then, I’ll keep placing my books, like messages tossed out in bottles, because we all know that’s better than reaching no one.
But my giveaway madness isn’t limited to the domains of cabinet-making-book-swapping-LFL librarians I’ve never actually met. It’s also for all of you, my dear friends. Purchase my new novel from me and get my first two books as a free gift. Or don’t buy anything. The gift is still free. Message me and it’s yours.
Many thanks to the dear people who have given their time and energy to help me celebrate my new novel, The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner. As always, Audreys Books of downtown Edmonton hosted a launch in their basement (a good space for events if not for photos, Ha!) and I got to travel to Montreal to be part of the Linda Leith Publishing launch of its spring season at the Metropolis Blue International Literary Festival. Unlike my first book trip to Montreal, I had a traveling companion this time, my middle son who has been in French immersion education since he was six years old. Good news: it worked!
Margaret of Antioch beating the devil, with his puny chicken-feet-hands, reminds me of the ladies in my new novel
It’s been about two weeks since the book was published and some kind words have appeared from readers. The was a post that went up on goodreads from no ordinary read but from author, scholar, and a former (and probably a repeat in the future) judge of a the AML novel awards, Michael Austin. He says:
So many people have used [the word apocalypse] incorrectly for so long that it almost never pays to know the real meaning–except when one is reading the work of an exceptionally talented modern novelist who always pays serious attention to what words mean.
There is sensitivity and lyricism in Jennifer Quist’s writing. There are keen observations and scenes of exquisite compassion[…]Readers wanting a fast-paced whodunit should look elsewhere. The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner is for those seeking something graver and richer, more nuanced and thought-provoking, something with no easy ending, however the verdict comes back.
And Kerry Clare author and book reviewer, blogger, curator at the 49th Shelf posted a review on her Pickle Me This site, saying
I loved this book. Quist’s narratives are always rich and compelling, and this latest novel is no exception. It’s sad and brutal, but also sweet and funny, and all its characters are so real. It also becomes such a page turner as the story progresses…
So grateful for readers who give writing reach and meaning.
Maybe you don’t feel like reading a book right now. I understand completely. Fortunately, reading isn’t the only way to experience a story, especially if it’s full of music and pictures. And so we bring you a bit of a playlist from my newly released novel, The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner.
(Real-life friends and family: keep reading if you want to be able to talk to me like you’ve read my new novel, even if you haven’t got to it yet. Ha!)
The book’s protagonist is looking for meaning, and art is one of the places she looks first. Not at all an elite high-culture consumer, art for Morgan Turner is the movies, TV, music other people have cued up, and books from the stacks at the public library. Much of it, she doesn’t even like (and, though it doesn’t matter, I don’t like all of it either). But here is a little of what she is watching and hearing.
In trying to understand evil, Morgan watches scary movies–typical canonical horror like Psycho and The Exorcist and, a little farther afield, Nosferatu. The most important movie in the book, however, is one hardly anyone has seen. It’s a movie about home fire prevention produced for Canada’s National Film Board by the Alberta Native Communications Society for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (as it was called in 1975 when the film was made). Its title is He Comes Without Calling. Don’t Google it. Trust me. But please enjoy a few clips of it, including the mesmerizing opening snow-plough scene, right here:
Morgan also watches The Seventh Seal/ Det sjunde inseglet. The first scene, where the Crusader knight returning to Europe plays chess with Death on a rocky beach, is probably what this film is best known for, but don’t miss the final chess scene, in the forest.
The television Morgan ends up watching is much brighter than the films she sees. You’re welcome. It’s Morgan’s coworkers who introduce her to South Korean romantic comedies. Here is one she loves: Secret Garden, where risqué action like this is a big deal.
And here is a show she wants to love but can’t because the heroine falls in love with the wrong boy-band member in the end, stupid You’re Beautiful…
The music in Morgan’s orbit is also out of her control. Sometimes it’s her brother’s electro-goth spooky Skinny Puppy. Sometimes it’s the bittersweet Psychedelic Furs someone is singing along to in her car, and sometimes it’s 我的快乐就是想你 by 陈雅森 。
Many thanks to the cab driver in northern China who had this song playing on repeat one sweltering Saturday morning.
This book has books in it, from the Criminal Code of Canada to the Bible to The Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook itself. The book that figures most prominently is probably a graphic novel version of Inferno from Dante’s Divine Comedy/Divina Commedia. I didn’t have any particular version in mind but I did imagine it illustrated with Gustave Doré’s definitive wood cuttings. Here is one of my favourite pieces from the Paradise book of the Divine Comedy, the Celestial Rose.
I think it’s probably Morgan Turner’s favourite too.
My kids forgot to mention the heavy brown box that arrived today until I found it by the front door myself. I un-boxed my author copies of my brand new novel on the kitchen counter while my charming low-key 16-year-old did some charming low-key cheering. For the first time, the cover is glossy instead of matte, which feels better in my fingers. The colours are from somewhere on the food spectrum and make me a little hungry. Now that it’s here, my husby is reading all of it from start to finish it for the first time. So, yeah, super nervous.
Like many publishers, mine has added book trailers to its repertoire of marketing aids. A book blogger friend of mine once publicly wondered why so many book trailers are terrible. I’m not sure why. But I knew I didn’t want mine to be a lot of panning in different directions over the book’s cover, so I drove my son around Edmonton, the city where the book is set, while he filmed dirty winter street-scapes to use as the bulk of the footage for our trailer. It might not be pretty, but it’s legit.
If you like, you can watch it here on the Linda Leith Publishing website or on YouTube.
I signed a contract today with Linda Leith Publishing of Montreal for the publication of my third novel in Spring 2018. LLP published my first two novels as well and I’m happy to be working with them again. We’re currently in the revision stage of the process and the title is part of what’s under revision so I’m not able to announce it yet. I can say that the book is set mostly in contemporary western Canada and looks into a family grappling with the absurdity of the normalcy of violence, tragedy and evil in human life after one of three siblings is killed in a domestic homicide. I love it and will bring it to you by Spring 2018.
Unlikely as it is, I have done my most intense and productive writing during summer months–except for that one summer when the irises of my eyes got inflamed and I temporarily lost a good portion of my vision for about a month and could not write at all (well, hardly at all). The inflammation may or may not have been the result of too much time spent looking at an old, fuzzy laptop screen, writing.
In light of this–and many, many other things–I am probably not someone to model oneself after, but if you’re out on the interwebs right now looking for a pep-talk to keep you writing through the summer, consider this it.
A writing atmosphere of bad, cozy weather is one of the stereotypes repeated on “Memes for Writers” Pinterest boards where the aesthetic is all sweaters, cats, and hot drinks. Setting up any kind of external setting or internal personality or background as essential for writing is counter-productive, usually elitist, and simply irritating for writers interested in actually finishing a writing project. So enough of that. No more passwords or potions, no rites or effete orthodoxies, no self-indulgent mythologies about who writers ought to be. No more talking about writing in a way that draws only the ‘right’ kinds of people into thinking of themselves as writers, trusting themselves as writers, and braving the risks needed to publish. Enough. Ignore it.
You can write even if:
You weren’t a bookish child. Don’t worry if you can’t stare into the middle distance, all dreamy, and claim your best friends growing up were books. If your best friends were actually people (and I’ll bet that, for just about everyone, they were) you are better off in every way, including as a writer.
You aren’t a voracious reader now. It’s true writers have to read in order to learn who we are and how to do what we do. It’s true writers owe everything to readers. Thanks for reading this right now. But you don’t always have to have someone else’s book on hand in order to have something of your own to write.
You have kids. Writing will be much more difficult and distracted with constant kids in your life. You knew that going into this. But it can be done. Virginia Woolf was wrong about this one. Trust Shirley Jackson, and Ursula LeGuin, and Zadie Smith, and hundreds of other people writing in the teeth of their offsprings’ childhoods.
You don’t drink too much coffee. It’s just short term gain.
You don’t drink too much alcohol. It’s just long term pain.
You aren’t a native speaker of the language in which you want to write. In fact, newness to a language might be an asset (I’m staking my MA thesis on it, so I sure hope so). No one experiments with a language in original ways, no one wrings new things out of the same old lexicon like someone who has learned it as a second language and approaches it free from the cliches and conventions native speakers have been bound by since we were babies.
You don’t have an MFA in creative writing. Whatever your education or experience is, it is part of your training as a writer and the weirder, less prescribed it is, the better it is, in my opinion.
You’re allergic to cats.
You get along with your family. In fact, make sure you write something if you get along with your family. The literary world needs more families who find conflict in things other than breaking each other’s hearts.
There it is. No excuses, no exclusions. All the best this summer!