Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Canada Council report analyzes PLR program for writers

It's here at last: the Canada Council's third and final report on this country's Public Lending Right Program (PLR). Entitled Options for Renewal, it runs to 58 pages. Exhaustive and authoritative, it lays out the array of choices that face the Public Lending Right Commission. Hats off to Roy MacSkimming, the author and ex-publisher who wrote this superb report and also the two that preceded it.
Full disclosure: I was one of 20 "key informants" interviewed. Having served as chair, vice-chair and past-chair of Canada's Public Lending Right Commission (PLRC), while also representing The Writers' Union of Canada (TWUC), I moved on not long ago, passing the TWUC torch to Vancouver writer Genni Gunn. But as a Canadian author, I remain keenly interested.
MacSkimming makes no recommendations. Instead, he offers comparisons, notes disagreements (sometimes extreme), and lays out options. What drives the report? Since the program's first year, MacSkimming writes, "the number of participating authors has risen by a factor of 4, from 4,377 to 17,885. But the payments budget has risen by a factor of only 1.8 when adjusted for inflation." Again, "the maximum PLR payment in 1987 was $4,000 – the equivalent of $8,016 in today’s
dollars. In 2012 the maximum is $3,360." How does the Commission deal with the new reality? What options does it have? Now, you can see for yourself.

Monday, July 29, 2013

When Amazon cuts book prices, how do authors fare?

As an avid reader, an inveterate "consumer" of books, I welcome lower prices. But when Amazon and overstock.com start slashing list prices of books by 50 per cent and more, I feel driven to give a shout-out to my fellow authors.
That's because most contracts between writers and publishers include a royalties clause that slashes a writer's earnings at a certain discount level.
I know, I know. Writers usually receive only 10 per cent of the list price to begin with: a $30 book earns a writer $3 (applied against any advance, which has to be "earned out"). But when the discount clause kicks in -- for example, on Amazon-style discounts of more than 50 per cent -- then as a rule, whoosh, suddenly the author is entitled to 10 per cent of what the publisher receives.
Consider that $30 book. At best, given the hefty Amazon-style discount, the publisher receives $15 . . . and the writer $1.50. The author's earnings have been cut in half . . . and that, as I say, is best-case.
This explains why, when Amazon tussles with book publishers, authors tend to side with the latter.
[Next day: I love Obama. But on this issue, judging from this development, he has yet to discover the bigger picture.]

Circling Calgary with John Rae on board

Those who check this page religiously (hi, mom) will have noticed that Our Hero "updated" his last posting, taking out a reference to venue. Yes, the Scots are still marching to Calgary and we're on our way, too. Originally, to give our talk about explorer John Rae, called Return to Rae Strait, we were making for the downtown Calgary Public Library. Unfortunately, during the recent flooding, that Library sustained some damage. It's being repaired, but is closed until further notice. So the organizers of our event, leaders of the dauntless Clan MacRae, are working diligently at locating another venue, complete with comfortable seats, sound system, projector, and screen. We're on our way and all systems go, but the venue is yet to be determined. Please stay tuned. As for the accompanying photo, it's from our 1999 expedition to the Arctic site where John Rae discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Scots Are Marching to Calgary

The Calgary Highland Games were good enough for Rick Mercer. He turned up, tossed the caber (admittedly shortened), and generally had a grand old time. You can see for yourself right here. This year, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of these Scottish games. As luck would have it, this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Rae, the Scottish (Orcadian) explorer who solved the two great mysteries of 19th century exploration. Because I wrote a book about that intrepid individual (Fatal Passage), Clan MacRae is bringing me to Calgary to give a presentation about Rae called Return to Rae Strait. It happens August 30, the night before the kickoff of the Highland Games. You have to wonder if somebody planned it that way.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Canada's Celtic Connection . . . .

That's the headline on my column in the latest issue (August-September) of Canada's History magazine. The piece touches on JFK, the "coffin ships" that brought so many immigrants to Canada, and the new statue in Londonderry that matches one in Halifax harbour. It begins as follows:
Some years ago, while driving with friends in Canada, an Irishman heard a Newfoundlander warn a third party against stepping out of a car into traffic: “Don’t get out on the Ballyhack side.” The visitor, astounded, asked the Newfoundlander to explain. The man said the expression meant, “Don’t get out on the right.” But why it meant that, or where the word “Ballyhack” came from, he had no idea.
The Irishman, who hailed from New Ross in County Wexford, explained that, for someone travelling the short distance south from his home town to the Atlantic, the village of Ballyhack lies to the right. Not only that, but the Irishman could account for how the expression crossed the ocean: generations of fishermen had sailed from New Ross to fish for cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
The man who told me this anecdote, Patrick Grennan, shares an ancestor with former American president John F. Kennedy. Grennan has developed the original Kennedy Homestead, just outside New Ross, into a tourist attraction. Once the home of JFK’s emigrant ancestor, Patrick Kennedy, the Homestead was being renovated this spring in anticipation of a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of a 1963 visit by JFK himself.
The New Ross extravaganza was just one of the highlights of this year’s nation-wide Gathering, expected to attract 300,000 visitors to Ireland, among them tens of thousands of Canadians. Roughly 4.8 million Canadians claim Irish roots, or almost 14 per cent of the total population (34.6 million). Many will visit Ireland in search of ancestral connections and, indeed, a desultory quest of my own is what brought me and my wife to New Ross. . . .

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Eastern Canada joins the Creative Nonfiction Revolution

It’s a revolutionary milestone. Two weeks from now, on August 4, 2013, the University of King’s College in Halifax will launch Canada’s first master’s degree program in Creative Nonfiction (CNF). This two-year, limited residency program is designed to help emerging writers turn nonfiction manuscripts into published books. Our Hero is thrilled to be one of the first mentors. Until now, all the energy and fight have come out of western Canada, led by pioneering writers at the universities of British Columbia and Victoria. The Creative Nonfiction Collective holds its annual conference in Alberta. And the only literary festival devoted to CNF is Edmonton’s Litfest. This new MFA program plants a first flag in the East. Overnight, the invisible crusade becomes a national movement. What? What crusade? Why,
the one bent on overthrowing the prevailing orthodoxy, and specifically the notion that in the world of books, Fiction constitutes the Heavyweight Division and the literary novel is the Main Event. In the international arena, no less a figure than Nobel Prize-winner V.S. Naipaul has insisted repeatedly that nonfiction can be just as "literary" as fiction -- just as imaginative, just as important, just as profound. Wait. What’s that sound? Is that . . . is that the marching song out of Les Miserables.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hurrah! All-Time Greatest Facebook Hits . . .

Over on Facebook, Our Hero's All-Time Greatest Hits, as "liked" by FB friends, include the following . . .

Hurrah! My ship is finally coming in. I've just received a letter from France. A lawyer indicates that a safe deposit box containing $4.2 million will be opened, and half that total will come to me, if I simply follow his instructions. Of course I will comply. Checking in here has been swell, but I'll be managing many new investments now, so you'll find me on FB less often. This just proves that if you work hard and keep to the moral high road, you will, in the end, receive your just reward.

Sheena's Irish show. Saturday, March 9, at Arts on Queen in the Beaches, 1-4 pm. Here's one of my favorites.
You can see more at this site.

Wow! The B.C. poet Lorna Crozier gave the Margaret Laurence lecture. I've heard quite a few of these, and I can tell you: she RAISED THE BAR! Sentence for sentence, I do not believe she has been matched . . . a truly wonderful piece, and I hope she publishes it somewhere before too long. So you don't have to take my word for it.

How much I love newspapers. Saturday morning coffee, peanut butter toast, sifting sections, reordering them. And the range, the serendipity, chancing upon items I would never encounter online. The flipping back and forth, the pace, the cut-this-piece-out-for-my-files. Face it: I'm with newspapers for the duration.

Hurrah! I've just sent the final, edited draft to HarperCollins Canada. Fifty Canadians Who Changed the World. Coming your way in September. Are you with me?

Waterstone's bookstore in Edinburgh. Glorious. And one entire wall -- long wall, floor to ceiling -- is devoted to Scottish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children's, crime. It really works. We went wrong, in Canada, when we moved away from sections and walls featuring Canadian books. Let's admit it and revert.

If I were a better man, more disciplined, I would adhere to one simple rule: no Internet before lunch. No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no checking for the latest on Rob Ford. Think of the reading and writing I would get done!

Thrilled to be part of a new, Nova Scotia-based program offering an MFA in Creative Nonfiction.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

What, me worry? It's just metadata . . .

So it's just metadata? Forget about it, eh? That, I confess, has long been my mantra. But now I read this piece by John Naughton, one of Britain's (and Ireland's) leading experts on all things Internet. Naughton writes for the Observer and teaches at University of Cambridge. At the end of his short, sobering think-piece, he supplies a link that enables gmail-users to see what can instantly be discovered about them. I tried it out. And I am still reeling. This is just emailing. Add facebooking, tweeting, clicking through on links here, there, and everywhere. The mind boggles. Don't take my word for it. See for yourself. (If you enter the Immersion program, you can afterwards remove access.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

We Are Ford Nation . . .

OK, it's far from polished. But I came across this little marching song on YouTube. It's called WE ARE FORD NATION.
The fourth and final verse runs:
Never mind the video of Robbie smoking crack/ He says it does not exist, they stabbed him in the back/ We hear that they took his bong and other things of note/ Oh, we can hardly wait to vote.
As for the chorus: Oh we chanted our slogans and sang our songs/ Swore to each other we’d go motoring on/ We can always buy Rob a Big New Bong/ We are Ford Nation

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The days fly away like wild horses over the hills

So Keriann McGoogan has been blogging up a storm as a Savvy Reader at HarperCollins Canada. Not only that, but she turns up a piece written by Our Hero three years back . . . on that same blog: here. It began by celebrating The Ba, "the lunatic game the Orcadian Scots play at Christmas and New Year’s." I soon made clear that, while I love the idea of someone else participating in The Ba, I did not wish to see my grandson, James Jerzy McGoogan, embrace the tradition.
What strikes me today, comparing images of then and now, is how the days fly away like wild horses over the hills.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Canada Day . . . en francais aussi!

One of the great things about VIA Rail's Destinations magazine is that it speaks both official languages. In French, the "extrait exclusif" included in the July-August issue (see previous post) begins as follows . . . POUR ECRIRE 50 CANADIANS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD (A PARAITRE CET AUTOMNE), LE CELEBRE AUTEUR CANADIEN KEN MCGOOGAN A CHOISI 50 MILITANTS, VISIONNAIRES, ARTISTES, TRAVAILLEURS HUMANITAIRES, INTERPRETES, SCIENTIFIQUES ET INVENTEURS NES AU XX' SIECLE, QUI ONT MARQUE LEUR EPOQUE, AU PAYS COMME A L'ETRANGER. Par Ken McGoogan Inevitablement, 50 Canadians Who Changed the World reflete mes valeurs, mes opinions, ma vision du Canada. Si mes idees et mes fawns de voir s'averent provocantes ou discutables, c'est tant mieux. Si ces doges manquent a ce point de modestie qu'ils ne paraissent presque pas canadiens, je ne m'en excuse pas. Ces 50 Canadiens ont change le monde. Bon nombre d'entre eux ont regu un don hors du commun. Tous ont decou-vert des possibles que les autres ne soupconnaient merne pas. Ils se sont fixe des objectifs, ils ont pris des engagements et s'y sont appliques avec energie et discipline. Ils ont surmonte les obstacles, fait du chemin, laisse un heritage. Ils nous renversent et nous inspirent, nous enseignent l'humilite, nous laissent fiers d'être Canadiens et heureux d'être vivants . . . OK, we've lost an accent or two in this rendition. I recommend . . . l'originale!