Thursday, October 28, 2010

Drive-by Saviours is Essential Read

Exciting news all - Drive-by Saviours made the Canada Reads longlist of "Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade."

And we the people will decide which books make the top 10 list. You only get one vote.

If you want to vote Drive-by Saviours, just go to Canada Reads and click the circle next to Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin, scroll down and click the vote button. You have until Nov 7 - but really why wait until Nov 7 what you could do right now?

Btw, here is the Top 40 list, and there are some damn fine books there. What say you, dear reader? What books should have made the list but didn't. Any on the list that you don't think are so hot?

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Conceit by Mary Novik

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin

Elle by Douglas Glover

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Far to Go by Alison Pick

February by Lisa Moore

Galore by Michael Crummey

Heave by Christy Ann Conlin

Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Moody Food by Ray Robertson

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Room by Emma Donoghue

Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Fallen by Stephen Finucan

The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon

The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.

Unless by Carol Shields

Chris Benjamin

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Apparently I'm Big in Germany

We left Lachutes in what we thought was plenty of time. But we hit Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic at the outskirts of Montreal. "City squirrels go to the cottage and their kids come back from school," Jeff said, his fingers tapping frantic rhythm on the wheel.

We crawled another hour-and-a-half to our turnoff, then bolted through downtown as the rain hammered everything. We drove by the Canadian Pacific sign and scanned the streetscape with stretched eyes until Jeff pulled the truck into the drop off. We fist bumped; I grabbed my bags and ran, glancing at the gates I passed until I found Campbellton and flashed my ticket. "Moncton?"

"Yep. Hurry down and just say 'Moncton' at the foot of the stairs."

From my seat I texted Jeff. "Made it."

Seventeen hours later, the red-headed Hertz guy picked me up at the train station and drove me 20 minutes to the airport for paperwork. He's a Moncton lifer, spent time in the states but after 9/11 things got too weird there and he came to the small town he knows and loves.

We were all set to go until I gave them my wife's credit card - no can do. And mine was in Halifax. No cash deposit. I was stuck at Moncton airport, two hours until my reading in Fredericton. The Hertz guy (another one) asked the Budget girl if they cioiuld rent me a car on cash deposit. Nope, but Delta could, back downtown.

Tristan needed to get some fresh air anyway, he said. He's a Nova Scotia boy, north shore, stuck in Moncton too long. "I hate it," he said. "It's a giant industrial park that people happen to live in. It's ugly and there's nothing to do." I found the outskirts pretty anyway, with the fall colours, but he hopes to move to Halifax as soon as he can.

Delta was empty. I knocked on the glass and a guy came out with a broom and dustpan. "You the one who called?"

It was an all paper, no computer business, with a mandatory vehicle walk-around, and several spots to initial on the long form. He put my cash deposit in an envelope, sealed and signed it, had me check to make sure the tank was full, pointed me to the highway and I was gone, red-lined to Fredericton, only 10 minutes late for the reading.

It was a small group but I sold a few books and met a women who'd already red Drive-by Saviours and is recommending it to her book club. And I met Corey Redekop, author of Shelf Monkey - soon to be on Canada Reads top 40 must-read list. We bantered on canlit and the mneed for authors to embrace our inner pimps - be self promoters that is.

I nabbed a few hours sleep at an old friend's place, a suburban household of 11 - her stepdaughter, several international billets, a visiting German family of five, and me. "I'll take the ISBN and get it back in Germany," the mister told me. "They'll order in anything for me!" And that's how the book tour pays off, I think, the face-to-face that gets your book in a German store before it's even translated.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010


I'm writing from Lachutes, Quebec, about 40 km northwest of Montreal. A good friend of mine is Superintendent of a golf course here and he's putting me up. Tonight, (Thurs Oct 14), I read at 8:00pm in Montreal, at Argo Bookshop, 1915 Ste Catherine W. There will be three writers reading tonight, starting at 7:30 pm. Also up will be Susan Gillis, author of Volta, and Claudia Coutu Radmore, author of A Minute or Two/Without Remembering. Hopefully more authors means more people, more energy.

It's been thrilling meeting book lovers in small towns and large cities. In Lindsay, at Kent Books, we had a small crowd of five, but somehow sold 10 books. In Kingston, at the Princess St Indigo Bookstore, I didn't read at all, but signed and sold 10 more books to a sparse crowd on Thanksgiving Day. I met aspiring writers, a military woman who blogs with Chatelaine, and one very young woman who has her first book coming out, about a girl battling with anorexia, later this year. Her mother did most of the talking but you could tell how excited they were. Some folks were kind enough to want to support a first-time novelist, others had heard of the book and were keen to read it. The staff were particularly supportive and several of them bought copies.

My host in Kingston, friend and prolific freelancer Meredith Dault, organized a Thanksgiving Monday potluck and let me read to an intimate and highly receptive audience. They were mostly cultural studies grad students so it was slightly nerve wracking and their questions were astute. I'll have to steal some of them for future book club questions.

At Octopus Books in Ottawa (where even the t-shirts lean left), I was given the warmest welcome I could imagine from Jenn Farr, who does promotions for the store. "Your not the Chris Benjamin are you? You are? Hoorayyyyyyyy!!! Would you like some apple cidar?" It was a small but enthusiastic crowd, including a woman I'd met in Kingston who lived in Ottawa. (My first groupie? Nah, just a kind book-lover with two gorgeous black labs.) Jenn video'd the whole thing and hopefully it'll end up on Octopus' website.

That night I stayed with a friend of mine who I met in Indonesia, where the seeds of Drive-by Saviours were sewn in the form of graduate research. I had an 'I really hope I got this right' moment with her at the reading. There was little time to talk old times though because her three-year old had a lot on his mind, including the complete lyrics to K'naan's 'Waving Flag'.

Boarding the train early the next morning I felt a bit like the lyrics to that Credence song 'Playing in a Traveling Band': take me to the next show / baggage gone, oh well / someone got excited / had to call the state militia / gotta move

OK, maybe not quite that dramatic but the stop-and-go can be a bit jarring. It's nice to have two whole nights in Quebec. The reunions, reminiscing and celebration continue as I introduce my creation to Eastern Canada, and hope people take notice.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Doing the Bookstore Hustle

I met Ivan Prokopchuk the other night, in person. He's long been one of the most colourful personalities I've met as a blogger, and a character who consistently captures my imagination.

But there he was in the Lula Lounge, in full colour, three dimensions, in the flesh, across the table from me with his book, The Fire in Bradford, in hand. "I'll show you mine if you you show me yours," he grinned.

[That's me in the pink shirt, reading to an enthusiastic crowd at the Lula Lounge.]

But with Another Story Bookshop on hand selling Drive-by Saviours I didn't have any swap copies. The swap had been my suggestion, but with all the insanity of travel, visiting family and friends, organizing book launches and an Eastern Canadian book tour, I'd forgotten. I promised to send Ivan a copy in the mail and he gave me his book, shook my hand and heartily congratulated me. And he was gone, making way for the next in line.

It was one of a series of surreal encounters I've had lately with old friends. The support has been overwhelming - people I haven't seen in years, people I've only met online, have come out to my two book launches in Halifax and Toronto to celebrate my accomplishment.

And now, writing from a friend's home in East Toronto, planning to head up to Kent Bookstore in Lindsay Ontario in a few hours for another reading and more old friends (and to meet a boisterous one-year-old), I'm feeling a deep easy happiness in that willingness to celebrate what others among us do.

At the same time, I ache for my wife and son, who flew back to Halifax yesterday morning at about crack o'clock, and I long for my own bed where I could properly nurse this worsening cold. Suddenly I'm a lone drifter again, something I missed and didn't expect to experience again so soon. Last time I was a young man, full of abstractions and equipped with an eager pen and ink-hungry notebooks. It all seems a little more businesslike this time - I'm a drifter with a mission, a product to move. I feel like a huckster with a money-bulge in my pocket.

That's not a complaint. I'm loving meeting people, sharing my art with them, and experiencing their kind and enthusiastic responses - their questions, comments and cash. Living the dream for me has moved beyond sloganism and into reality.

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