Reelin’ With the Feelin’, or, Giving My Books Away

LIttleFreeLibraryThe 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.

Book Trailer for “The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner”

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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.

An Interview With the AML

amlEarlier this year, Sistering was awarded Best Novel by the Association for Mormon Letters, an international community that’s been very kind and supportive of my work. They sent one of their best and brightest, Michael Austin, to do an email interview with me–the most Mormon and, interestingly, the least gender role fixated one I’ve ever done. The link to read it is here.

Margaret Atwood Meets Freaky Fan-Girl

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Atwood and Quist, nervous with hands in pockets making her stomach look big

I fall in love easily. Not that kind of love, just regular love, like we’re supposed to be able to feel for everyone. It’s one of the best things about me. But sometimes it causes a scene.

Like all good Canadian girls, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale before I graduated from high school. (Take note, aspiring arts journalists. That kind of storytelling is one way to recognize someone’s vast and indispensable contributions to an art form without using the i***ic word.) When my oldest kid was in high school, competing in trivia tournaments, there was a running joke that the answer to every book-trivia question was Margaret Atwood—unless it was a trick question, then the answer was Margaret Laurence. “I wonder,” my big boy said, “if she knows she’s a meme.” That is another way of saying that when it comes to living novelists from my own country, Margaret Atwood is the big one.

I didn’t know she’d be giving a lecture in a concert hall in the city where I live until Laura, my book-scene-friend, mentioned it. Of course I wanted to go, especially at the deeply discounted student admission for which I technically qualified.

Posters started going up around my university, advertising the lecture. “Margaret Atwood,” a classmate said, “is she an astronaut?”

The day of the lecture, the pitch of my excitement started out low. I didn’t dress up, I left the house calmly, well in advance. And then I distractedly took the wrong route. Late to meet Laura, I dumped my car in an underground parkade and bolted up into the daylight, a big metal door closing behind me as I realized the odds of remembering which big metal door to go back to at the end of the night were not good. I was just starting to run through the streets when, through nothing short of a miracle, Laura saw me and called my name.

She got us great seats—the kinds with brass plaques on them engraved with millionaire donors’ names. Margaret Atwood was right there, elevated on a step behind a podium, a step that had been awkward for the taller people who used the microphone before her. I had heard she was tiny. I liked it.

Her lecture was a slide show, the secret history of the Canadian literary community, the one kept hidden from me while I studied sociology during my own undergraduate degree. Margaret Atwood was funny, quick, and sharp. She definitely knows she’s a meme. I wanted to write down some of her remarks but I was afraid I’d miss what was coming next. Her life story is the story of Canadian literature. By the time the lecture was over, I was in tears. I had fallen in love.

The lights came on and I normalled-up for Laura. She’s a book reviewer and critic, experienced at these sorts of events, and she knew if we didn’t line up to have our books signed right away, we’d be waiting all night. In line, I weirded-up again. I wanted to send Margaret Atwood some kind of signal that she is my benefactor. Saying “I’m a writer too” doesn’t convey as much information as it used to. I needed to say something—strange, not hand-on-my-shoulder strange, but something she doesn’t hear at book events every day.

Laura listened to my stupid, stupid brainstorming. She was patient as I took this sophisticated evening out without her little kids and turned it into a night of being wing-man to a freaky fan-girl. “Maybe I could get her to sign my name in Chinese…I could introduce myself to her doing my impersonation of her voice…I should have totally brought her a Margaret Laurence book to sign, that would’ve been hilarious…Maybe I should introduce myself as ‘the Margaret Atwood of Edmonton’ (which would have been even more hilarious)…” It was all terrible. We moved up the queue and I reconciled myself to just saying thank you, which is actually pretty special.

And then, it hit me. I gasped and hit Laura in the arm with my high school copy of The Handmaid’s Tale. The 2015 Dublin International IMPAC Literary Award long-list—there had been nine Canadian books on it. One was by Margaret Atwood, and one was by me. “That’s what I’m going to say,” I said to longsuffering Laura, “I bet that’s what everyone in this line-up who’s been on an awards list with her is going to say.”

I leapt up to the table a little too energetically. Atwood didn’t recoil but I recognized that look people who aren’t afraid of bugs use to watch advancing spiders. As she wrote “all the best” in my old copy of her most commercial novel, I blurted out the one time our work had been mentioned in the same public breath, on the IMPAC list.

“What’s your book?” she asked.

I told her and watched her write the title on a scrap of yellow paper. “It’s just about marriage,” I added.

“I wouldn’t have known,” she said.

Spectacle successfully made, I thanked her and moved on.

After everything that had happened, Laura was still willing to introduce me to people—people whom I showed that my hands were still shaking. I made it back to my car that night only because Laura, invoking another miracle, found it for me.

It was harrowing and ridiculous and wonderful–taking my big, loopy, overflowing artist’s heart to out where it could fall in love with someone who inspires it, right in front of crowds of people. Do it. I recommend it. Just make sure you bring along someone to take care of you.

Another “Rock Show”

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Voice Industrie, Nov 2015

November 14, 2015

Edmonton, Alberta

A day after maniacs shot up a “rock show” in Paris, France, we go to a concert in our own city.

This is not a case of us soldiering on with our usual routine in defiance of someone’s sick attempt at an awful new world order. The local techno-Goth music scene is not my usual routine. But I have a marvellously large, culturally far-flung family and one of my loved ones is currently in a band called Voice Industrie. It’s been around for years. “We’re a heritage act,” my sister-in-law explains, each of her earrings as big as my face, burgundy lipstick, six feet tall in black and silver high heels, standing in the evocatively shabby Garneau Theatre lobby. Even without any metal in her face, she’s the most striking person here. What kind of life do I have, to be able to say I’ve known and loved her since she was a child?

I greet her with a hug, announcing myself and her older brother with, “The dorks are here!” It’s okay. It’s true. There are no natural blondes at Goth shows. I am a freak of the freak scene.

Next to where we stand, there’s a young, indie author selling self-published copies of his urban fantasy-horror novel  on a white table cloth. He’s done all the art and design for it himself. I buy a book, tell him about the novel I wrote with the word “death” in the title. When he signs my copy I say, “No, not there. Sign it by your name.” There’s a place, a use for me here after all. He gives me his hand and I shake it with that ladylike, finger-pivot-palm-pulse move I can’t keep from using anymore. I don’t know where I learned it.

We have to wait. The show is running forty-five minutes behind and there’s another band on before Voice Industrie. They spell their name with a “9” where most of us would use a “g.” They are not a heritage act. Their front man has his hair bleached swan-white, black pants, white blouse on top, a variation on the dress code our elementary school music teachers used to require at Christmas concerts. He’s a lovely thing, looking like Gerard Way’s long-lost little brother. He can perform too. Breath control—I always envy and admire people with great breath control. Their songs are about despair and gallows and stuff but the fact is, they’re adorable, up there swearing in their skinny jeans. Are their moms in the audience, their big sisters who love them like they’re still kids?

I haven’t been inside this theatre since I was in university the first time around. Nothing’s changed since then. I’d forgotten that the chairs rock back and forth, reclining and recoiling. It’s all the dancing I need, sit-down rocking for not-Gerard and the boys.

When Voice Industrie finally comes on, and people start to gather at the foot of the stage to dance, my husband stands up to join them. He hasn’t danced in public in years and years. “At least take your glasses off,” I say. I don’t go with him but even back in the day, I never did. If we weren’t able to dance without each other from time to time, this thing never would’ve worked so well for so long.

I can’t always see him though the crowd but I never lose sight of the grownup girl with the braids. She’s a beautiful dancer. I hope someone is in love with her. If no one was before, someone must be by now.

I stay in my seat, my rocking chair, right for old broads like me, bouncing back and forth until the lights come on and I stand up to blow kisses at my rock star. She takes her bow and runs off the stage, nimble in stilettos, past everyone else, and throws her arms around the two of us.

This is the “rock show.” For every one one of us–this is love.

The Edmonton Launch of “Sistering”

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This is not what’s usually meant by books going viral

After spending the summer terrified, plunking through oral presentations spoken all in Chinese, this fall’s chance to appear in public, speaking to people about my novel in my native language seemed like a breeze.

Easy!

But there’s precious little in life that turns out to be easy. The week of my book launch, I came down with a cold. Grownups muscle through colds all the time. It’s not heroic or dangerous. However, my family, the MacKenzie family, has a talent for coughs and colds. We cough until we gag. We cough so loudly little children cover their ears. We cough until the blood vessels around our eyes break, giving us a scary petechiae–a rash of red-brown flecks on our skin. In the late 19th century, one of our great-great-grandmothers lost nine of her eleven young children to influenza. I’m not convinced there’s any such thing as a man-cold but I do believe in the Mac-cold: the MacKenzie cold.

So I turned up at my book launch at Audreys Books in Edmonton with a Mac-cold. I arrived still embarrassed about having to leave a lecture earlier that afternoon to go hack in the privacy of a stairwell. All the hopes I had for the event had been reduced to one simple goal. I wanted to make it through the reading without a spectacular, face-bleeding coughing spasm. All that mattered was breath.

I took my medicine, prayed, took comfort in the goodwill of the family, friends, and colleagues who came, and accomplished my reading in a low, smoky but cough-free voice.

Then I came home and crashed, just like the computers at the store.

From the fog of medication and illness, I missed a few event details that would have been nice. I couldn’t taste any of the cake my sister made for the guests. I also failed to set up any proper photos and am left with phone-shots to document the night.

That’s okay. Someone with a Mac-cold is best seen through a fuzzy screen at a far distance anyway. And the more adversity, the more thankful I am to be in the position to be headlining the launch of my own book, for the second time, in a venerable space, surrounded by people who wish me well.

Thank you, from the bottom of my lungs.