Sunday, November 14, 2010

OF CABBAGE PATCH KIDS AND TRIVIAL PURSUIT AND SMALL, ELEGANT PRESSES

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Nov. 25/10 update: Here's a video of how Gaspereau makes books. Now, back to your regular programming!

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In 1982, the board game Trivial Pursuit appeared on the radar of seasonal must-haves. Everybody wanted it, especially if you'd had a chance to play it. I ordered one at Toys-R-Us in Toronto, there was a wait of I forget how long, and the day they arrived I still had to line up outside while guards let a few customers into the store at a time. The next year everyone wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. When the odd, yet strangely anthropomorphic dolls suddenly became the latest fad, people hoping to get their hands on one lined up at department stores where fights broke out. I remember watching this very clip with a mixture of disbelief and horror. 

But you know what? I suspect everyone who really, really wanted to play Trivial Pursuit and everyone who wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid eventually got one. It's not such a bad thing, anticipation.

I just spent twenty minutes looking for a book of poems. I have a lot of poetry books, as it happens. I'm a bit of a junkie that way. I house them in white IKEA shelving units on the wall behind my desk downstairs. They are in alphabetical order, by author. Which is why I was completely flummoxed just now when I went to get George Elliot Clarke's Execution Poems and it wasn't under the Cs. Well, as it turned out, it was, but as it was snuggled between the attention-getting green of John A. (Jack to his legion of friends) Charters' 1981 chapbook, The Dragon Tree and the black spine of Leonard Cohen's Stranger Music, I missed it the first two times I looked. You can see how this happened.



Over coffee this morning I was talking to my husband, Ted, about how annoyed I was by some of the snarky remarks I've seen online lately (reader comments on stories posted at the Globe and Mail and National Post and CBC, for example) pitched at Gaspereau Press ever since Johanna Skibsrud won the Giller for her 2009 novel, The Sentimentalists.


Skibsrud had the temerity to get her novel published by Gaspereau Press, a Kentville, Nova Scotia company who announces itself on its very shingle as being "Printers and Publishers". Note the order.

The original print run for The Sentimentalists was ± 800 copies. Gaspereau says it can only make about 1000 copies a week (which, to me, is pretty impressive in and of itself), but thanks to the big win there is suddenly demand, and the Indigos and Chapters of this world are indignant as hell because they can't get copies of the book as fast as they'd like. Which is yesterday. After all, it's all about sell, sell, sell, making hay when the sun shines, books are business, baby, and if you don't believe that, get over it.

People are incensed. They want to read Skibsrud's out-of-the-park home run NOW, but there are no copies to be had, anywhere. As of this writing, Amazon.ca has links to two used copies, one for $685 and one for $1600. ABE has none, although they do have a copy of a Glimmer Train anthology that includes a short story by Skibsrud. "Highly coveted and very hard to find," says the ad for one of the available second-hand copies of The Sentimentalists. No kidding.

I was looking for George Elliott Clarke's book because I wanted to show Ted what by a Gaspereau Press book is about. Come to think of it, I probably shouldn't have "looked" for Execution Poems. I could find Gaspereau Press books, at least the three I own, by touch, in the dark, thanks to their enormously tactile and touch-friendly letterpress jackets. (For an interesting look at how such covers are produced, have a look at Gaspereau Press's own blog on the subject.)


Gaspereau Press books feel different. They have texture, not shine. Open them up and the attention to detail is obvious.



Thomas Wharton's The Logogryph), comes in three parts. There's the book itself, perfect bound with a card stock weight cover, a dust jacket, and a sleeve that fits over both.  This book was responsible for my reading Wharton's blog of the same name until he closed it down last year as he found it was taking a lot of time, as blogs do, if they're done with much thought. I was one of those lurking readers (like a number of you, I expect). Never commented on, but appreciated his posts.










Throughout the book are images of Wesley Bates' exquisite wood engravings. 


In June, 2009, my friend Heather and I were handling a book table at a writers' weekend in Creston. Poet—well, not just a poet; essayist, teacher, mentor, novelist, short story writer—Tom Wayman brought in some of his books, including one little 4.5x7 inch number that caught my eye immediately. Songs Without Price, subtitled The Music of Poetry in a Discordant World, was originally presented by Tom when he was giving the Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet Lecture at Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo, BC, October 2007. Production of the accompanying book was done through the publishing workshop at the College. The series is presented by The Institute for Coastal Research. 





You have to get past the cover to the back page to find where it was printed and bound: Gaspereau Press.


Gaspereau's archive of press releases and list of authors is a who's who of many of our literary greats: Don McKay, Tim Bowling, George Elliot Clarke, Thomas Wharton, Jan Zwicky, Anne Simpson, Ven Begamudré, Patrick Friesen, Wanda Campbell, who recently published Looking for Lucy with BC's own Leaf Press (another of my personal favourites as far as presses are concerned), the list goes on and on. 








What a conundrum it is, this getting published. There are not a whole lot of publishers in Canada. There are a lot of writers looking for publishers. Arts' funding has been cut, cut, cut, everywhere. Out of the hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions they get, publishers only accept a handful of books every year. Skibsrub herself has two poetry collections with Gaspereau Press: Late Nights With Wild Cowboys (2008) and I Do Not Think That I Could Love a Human Being (2010), in addition to her 2009 award winner that inadvertently prompted this post. Try and find a copy of any of her books right now. 












And while you're wandering around over there at Gaspereau Press's website (and as of this writing I will allow that the link to their books is not working, and I'm not surprised), read their submissions guidelines, something any author who is serious about getting published will have done before they take the time and trouble to send off their work.  Gaspereau Press, say the guidelines, publishes "short-run editions of both literary and regional interest." Short run. As in, they're not equipped for large runs, and nor do they want to be. Any of their authors know this. 










And in spite of the unwritten caveat that in the event of the lottery gods smiling and a mega-prize being won, the press may not be able to keep up with demand which may result in the loss of a few sales, I can't think of any of my writer friends who wouldn't love to be published by Gaspereau Press. 




Hats off.




UPDATE

Nov. 15, 2010  This just in via Quill and Quire: Gaspereau Press has sold the rights to print the book to Douglas and McIntyre. 30,000 copies will ship November 19. Here's the link to D&M's press release. Sounds like a big win all around.

Oh, and Gaspereau Press is still doing what they do, and I'm ordering a copy through them. I don't mind waiting.

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1 comment:

Savannah said...

Hi Linda!! I was delighted to find you in The Daily Poem and followed the link to your lovely blog!! You live in paradise! The shot of the Jay in the feeder is wonderful as are your words. I'm glad to have finally met you at the Honeymoon Bay Retreat. Over the years, I have heard so many wonderful things about you from Rhonda - so good to have finally met you!
Hugs,
Savannah