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How to Model Believable Chaos: A Round-Table on World-Building

Book Cover Signal to Noise

We wanted to talk to Canadian writers who delve into the weird and wonderful worlds of science fiction and fantasy about how those worlds get made, the logistics that go into creating fictional universes with laws onto themselves. Writer and editor Charlotte Ashley moderated the virtual panel with a list of excellent questions, and the resulting conversation was inspiring, illuminating and chock full of insights. Enjoy! 

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49th Shelf: What is “world-building” above and beyond the usual task of establishing your setting? 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Detail and consistency, the stage on which your play is performed. You should be able to believe this world could exist and want to explore it.

Kate Blair: We are all products of our environment. A teenager who grows up in New York is going to be completely different to a teenager who grows up in Mongolia, so world-building is central to character. But it's more than that. It's also an opportunity to show what characters choose to surround themselves with, and what they seek out.

Often a story throws a character into a new environment, and how they view and interact with that world tells you so much about them. It's also an opportunity to take the reader somewhere new, even within their own city—a subculture, a hidden s …

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Shelf Talkers: December 2015

It’s that time of year again, that most wonderful time, when the evenings are long, and the air is full of the sound of Year-End Best-Of lists. What, you were expecting carolling?

Sure, the holidays are swell and everything, but as a booklover, the turning of the year is a time to look back, to recall what books brought me joy and, more significantly, to look at other peoples’ lists and see what I missed.

My book budget goes out the window in December, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

The Year-End Best-Of list has become as much a tradition as turkey dinners and fighting with your family around the table. David Gutowski has, at the time of this writing, more than a thousand such lists aggregated over at Largehearted Boy (and yes, I’m spending altogether too much time there).

But the lists, at least in their more formal iterations, are also a recurring cause of frustration. Open a newspaper, flip through a magazine, click a link, and what do you find? Writers talking about the best books of the year. Reviewers boiling a year’s work down to a handful of favourites. Media figures weighing in with their choices.  It’s as if, in the wake of the major prizes, everybody gets to contribute their voices.

Well, almost everyone.

Who don’t you find, as a rule?

Booksellers.

Sure, there’s the occasional broad-based piece: Quill & Quire usually consults with a few booksellers for an article, and Publisher’s Weekly did a great job with a survey of American booksellers last we …

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Five Canadian speculative fiction titles for literary readers/ Five Canadian literary titles for speculative fiction readers (by Leah Bobet)

Five Canadian speculative fiction titles for literary readers

Book Cover Someone Comes to Town Someone Leaves town

Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town: Alan’s father was a mountain and his mother a washing machine, and he lives in Kensington Market, blanketing the neighbourhood with free pirate WiFi, trying to protect Mimi, the winged girl next door, from her abusive boyfriend, and defending his youngest brother, who is a set of nesting dolls, from their dead, wicked sibling—who’s been resurrected and is coming for him.

And all this, which should feel chaotic and undisciplined and wild, fits seamlessly into one of the most sobering, moving, beautifully crafted books I’ve ever read, rawly, complicatedly emotional and luminous, with a million true and contradictory and conflicted things to say about protection, acceptance, and the past.

Book cover The New Moon's Arms

Nalo Hopkinson, The New Moon’s Arms: Hopkinson’s most recent adult novel — she’s branched into young adult for her latest — is kind of note-perfect. Calamity, who is almost the modern Caribbean equivalent of Hagar Shipley, is going thr …

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No Solitudes: Leah Bobet on CanLit's genre-bilingualism

book cover above

Dateline, 2008: I'm in my pajamas on a Wednesday night, wrestling with the first draft of the weirdest little novel I've ever tried to write. I tab over to the AOL chatroom where some of my best friends and workshop buddies hang out so we can write together, despite living in entirely different cities, and announce: "358 words of unsaleable book, 358 words of the boooook!"

Austin-based novelist Amanda Downum, then working on the first of a trilogy of second-world fantasy mysteries set in a world that's more Micronesia than medieval Europe, promptly chimes in with "I bet mine's more unsaleable than yours."

--and then we set up a poll on my blog and made them fight (the only rational response!), and got a hell of a laugh out of the whole thing, but that's not really the point. Both those books are now our debut novels: Amanda's The Drowning City made an award shortlist, and the sequel made a few more. My Above is coming out from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic in March. The point is why we were so convinced, no matter that we loved them and were going to finish them anyway, that those books wouldn't sell. We were both taking some serious leaps with the genres we wrote in, and in my case, you couldn't even say what genre I was writing in. It was a novel that was sin …

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