Monday, September 15, 2014

Me on the 49th Shelf

So today is actually my birthday, and the morning started off with many fine things: a series of delightful gifts from my wonderful wife; weekday waffles (so decadent!) for breakfast; and the good folks at the 49th Shelf posting this piece by me, "Lives Abroad", on their website. In this essay, I talk about a number of works by Canadian authors that either helped inspire Sad Peninsula or share a kinship with it. I include fiction by Margaret Laurence, David Bergen, Esi Edugyan and others. I consider this a nice little intro list into Canadian expat writing or writing about life aboard, so you should check these titles out if you haven't already. (And Sad Peninsula, too, of course.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Interview with me on the Dundurn Press website

So I'm very grateful to Dundurn for publishing this interview with me on its website yesterday. Here I talk about the themes and some of the inspiration of my new novel, Sad Peninsula, how I came up with the title, and the level of research involved in writing the story.

Dundurn has been pushing the book pretty hard since it was released last weekend. It's available in bookstores nationwide and also available through many online retailers. Anyway, I'll have more news to report on the book shortly, so stay tuned for that!


Monday, September 8, 2014

My Quill and Quire review of Sons and Fathers, by Daniel Goodwin ...

is now online on the Q&Q website! I really enjoyed this novela lot. Being someone with a hefty background in journalism and corporate communications, not to mention a few fraught male relationships myself, I really found quite a bit to relate to in Goodwin's debut. More to the point, he writes extremely well, making the transition to fiction seamlessly. I'd be happy to read something else by this guy.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sad Peninsula officially on sale!

Sad Peninsula, available for sale today!
Alright cool cats - today's the day. After four years of writing and another two and a half years in the queue, Sad Peninsula officially goes on sale TODAY nationwide. I'm just so incredibly grateful and relieved to see this thing finally out and about in the world. Bookshops around the country have it on shelves; libraries far and wide are ordering copies; and rumours of reviews are emerging. All in all, I couldn't be happier right now.

I just want to take some time here to thank Shannon Whibbs, Jim Hatch, and the entire team at Dundurn for taking a chance on this novel and bringing it to the market. These folks fight the good fight every day, and my cap goes off to them. I also want to thank my wife, acclaimed short story writer Rebecca Rosenblum, for her continued support, encouragement and advocacy for my work (and treating to me to celebratory drinks tonight in a ritzy, TIFF-infested section of downtown Toronto). Big kudos to my parents who have just been extraordinary in encouraging me throughout my now 23-year journey of writing fiction. And thanks to all my friends around the globe who have happily lent a sympathetic ear and eyeball to this long, complex project.

Anyway, happy shopping!


Friday, August 29, 2014

Sad Peninsula Toronto launch party

So here are the details for next month's big launch party for Sad Peninsula here in Toronto. If you're in the city and can make it out, it would be great to see you. There will be a reading by yours truly, some wine and (possibly Korean-based) nibbles, and lots of mingling.

Where: Ben McNally Books - 366 Bay St, Toronto. (At Bay and Queen)
When: Tuesday, September 30, 2014.
What time:  6:00 - 8:00 pm (Reading starts at 6:45)
RSVP?: Yes, please RSVP on the event's Facebook invitation page. If you're not on Facebook, just drop a comment here on this blog post saying you plan to attend, just so I can let Ben McNally know a rough estimate of the number of expected guests.

Also: there are other dates coming, including a brief tour in the Maritimes later this year, so stay tuned for that.

And finally: if you're an literary-based organization and are interested in having me out to read from or discuss the novel, please drop me a line.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sad Peninsula update: Early reviews!

So I thought I'd share a few advance reviews of Sad Peninsula that have been making the rounds over the last little while. Here's hoping there'll be reason to do this several times over the coming months, but I'll try to group them in bunches so I don't hijack the blog with each one individually (if it comes to that!).

Up first is Stephen Knight's review from the July/August issue of Quill and Quire. In his piece, Knight says that the novel handles its take on both Korean culture and Seoul's expat nightlife well, and states: "The fact that readers are so emotionally engaged in discovering the answers to [novel's] questions indicates that the author has done a lot right here." It was great to see the book get reviewed in this long-standing industry magazine, as I've been reviewing for it myself for a number of years now.

The book blogger behind the site "Whatifknits" ran a review of Sad Peninsula a couple of days ago under the headline "The Necessity of Reading that Hurts." Here, the reviewer praises the novel but notes several times that it's a "painful" read - painful in a necessary way. She says, "While this is a painful novel to read, it is also a very worthwhile read. The history of the 'comfort women' needs to be told and retold precisely because it is a painful history, the sort that societies attempt to wish away through forgetting ... [T]his kind of cross-cultural understanding, the placing of one’s self into the experiences of others, is essential to a world in which sexual violence may someday be eradicated."

A less favourable review appeared a few weeks ago on the Brenda Agaro book blog. Ms. Agaro places a series of "trigger warnings" at the top of her piece about the novel and expresses some concerns about the sexual violence described in the book and about Michael's likability as a character. While her strongest criticisms are based on a couple of factual inaccuracies (Michael doesn't successfully kiss Jin on their first date; and it's Jin, not Michael, who expresses concerns with her wearing traditional Korean hanbok clothing), she does make some valid points throughout her thoughtful review. While she only gave the book 2 stars on GoodReads (where the review is cross-posted), I do appreciate Ms. Agaro taking the time to read the novel and share her insights with her audience.

That's it for now. Just a reminder that the book is officially on sale September 6 and I'll be doing a number of reading throughout the fall and early winter. See my events page for the latest.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Look Who’s Morphing, by Tom Cho

There is an unspoken observation in the literary circles I run in that that when a relatively unknown writer puts his own photo on the cover of his book, we’ve officially entered amateur hour. I’m happy to report that Tom Cho’s short story collection, Look Who’s Morphing, bucks this fairly reliable prejudice. Yes, his book does sport a rather pouty picture of the author with grandiose bouffant, leather jacket and a slash upon his cheek dripping a freaky neon purple blood. But these stories don’t, for the most part, fall prey to the pitfalls most associated with self-published works by authors with an overinflated sense of themselves. Indeed, Look Who’s Morphing found some acclaim in Cho’s native Australia and has been recently released here in Canada by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Pop culture provides the cornerstone to Cho’s subject matter and sensibility. Many, of the stories in this collection take their premise from a well-known Hollywood movie or TV show and twists it into something bizarre and slightly startling. The opening tale, “Dirty Dancing”, recasts the classic film as a kind of surrealist gay love story when Patrick Swayze’s dance partner becomes a man, not a woman. “The Exorcist” involves the narrator’s Chinese aunt who buys a haunted apron that has fake plastic breasts on the front and becomes possessed by a demon as a result. “I, Robot”, set in the year 2136, is a gleeful romp of destruction when our narrator is transformed into a mechanical being as part of an Australian make-work program.

I have to admit that a lot of Cho’s pieces felt a bit too easy in their attempt to be weird for the sake of being weird. I often thought that the concepts for these stories, in their attempts to be “transgressive” (a term that grows more tedious with every year that passes) didn’t really challenge the writer, and therefore didn’t challenge me as a reader. Still, one cannot deny that Cho has some serious writing chops: his stories have a way of being funny, sensitive, rebellious and revolting all at once, and he shows great control over his form.

The final story, “Cock Rock,” borrows heavily from various pop culture incarnations of Godzilla, and is, in Cho’s hands, almost entirely unadulterated id. The story is about a gigantic rock star (standing 50 metres tall) who ends up getting tied down like Gulliver and pleasured by a group of women. The story has little emotional resonance, but one can’t help but be impressed by Cho’s zestful and insouciant approach to prose.