Monday, October 29, 2012

Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies on tour!

It has been quite a while since I posted on a Monday, but when Todd from The Workhorsery e-mailed me about a Halloween blog tour he was planning, I couldn't say no. Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies by Victoria Dunn is The Workhorsery's third book and, while this is unrelated to the blog tour, given the recent craziness in publishing it is really awesome to see an independent continuing to publishing interesting and fun Canadian work. The Workhorsery released a book trailer for Alice four months ago. It was the first book trailer I ever watched right the way through and then rewatched immediately. If you haven't seen it, it's posted below. 

So, with all of that in the background, when Todd asked me what I was interested in doing for my stop of the tour (today is Day 1) I knew I wanted to talk about the trailer. The impetus for promotion is increasingly placed on authors as publishing houses lose those resources (both staff and money) and I wanted to explore that a little. I was initially just going to post the e-mail Q&A I did with Victoria Higgins and Meghan Dunn (collectively known as Victoria Dunn), but they got into it even before my questions started, so I've included that part of the e-mail too.

Finally, before the questions start and the book trailer rolls (you really should watch it – the song will be stuck in your head all day), one last bit of business. The Workhorsery is holding a blog tour contest. Whoever comes up with the best answer to the question the best answer to the question "should zombies have human rights?" will receive a special Workhorsery prize pack, which will include:
  • autographed copies of all three of our novels (Victoria Dunn's Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies; Derek Winkler's Pitouie; and Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates)!
  • a genuine zombie crotchet doll, possibly from the book trailer itself, definitely specially-crafted by the author(s) herself/themselves! 
  • some other secret stuff related to the novel that we're keeping top secret!
  • a hand-made, super-limited addition Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies Workhorsery tote bag to carry it all in!
To win, e-mail your answer to or tweet them @theworkhorsery before Nov. 7.

Alright, let the blog tour begin!

(E-mail correspondence below. I'm in black, Victoria Dunn is in purple.)

First, I’m not sure if you would rather answer as Victoria Dunn or as Victoria and Meghan, so I’ll let you choose.

We answered as Victoria Dunn, our evil hive mind, using the royal we. But we’re not stuck up, honest.

But, can you let me know? If you choose to answer as yourselves (or, individually, as the case may be) can you indicate who is saying what? That way, if you squabble about an answer, we can all be in on it.

Victoria Dunn frequently argues with herself. Although rarely about anything pertaining to writing. The most recent argument was whether the cups suit in our zombie tarot deck represents sex, or if zombies and sex are two great tastes that do not taste great together. However, we do agree that tasting zombies is not generally a good idea.
Some background for your readers: Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies began life as an entry in the 2009 International 3-Day Novel Contest, a Vancouver based contest held every Labour Day weekend. We won 3rd place in that competition, and we’ve been doing all of our first drafts this way ever since. We’re both big fans of the creative rush of writing tens of thousands of words all at once, and the inevitable sleep-deprivation leads to some inspired – and occasionally insane – plot twists. 

1. When you were writing/had just finished Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies, did you give any thought to how you might promote it? Did you know that might be part of your job, as authors?

We were working on the promotion before the book was even done. Victoria works at a bookstore, so we understand how important it is to make sure the book gets into people’s hot little hands. We were stalking Trevor Strong of the Arrogant Worms before we even had a publishing contract, having discovered that he writes songs to order (after all, every novel needs its own theme song…). So, at our first meeting with our publisher, the Workhorsery, we were able to propose some ideas for promoting the novel including the book trailer and zombie beauty contests etc. 

2. Whose idea was the book trailer? Had you seen any previously?

The problem with having an evil hive mind is that it’s impossible to figure out which ideas belong to which person. Or even who wrote what originally! Certainly the book trailer was something we agreed on from very early on, sometime between the midnight deadline of the 3-Day Novel contest and beginning the second draft a few months later. Which was, incidentally, when we noticed that in the first draft our airplane had crashed upside down, but had magically righted itself by the end of the chapter. It was several more months before we noticed that we’d accidentally handed a suicidal character a fully loaded gun. You’d almost think it had only been written in three days…

3. As compound authors, you’re obviously okay with collaboration, but were you ever worried about letting someone else handle to creative process when it came to the video?

We trusted Trevor completely, especially as neither of us has any musical ability at all. We still suffer flashbacks to traumatic middle school music classes. One of our music teachers was a Hungarian who’d fled the Soviets and liked to make students cry– this is when young Victoria became a Communist sympathizer.
The rest of the video was entirely our creation. In fact, it was the first video we’d ever made! Can you tell? (The constantly shifting light levels might be a clue.) 

4. Where was it filmed?

On the floor in the room at the front of Meghan’s house that really doesn’t have a name. She has fantasies that someday it will be a library with built in shelves and a sexy rolling ladder. Meghan believes in dreaming big!

5. The very, very catchy song was written and sung by Trevor Strong – did you consult? Were you ever worried he wouldn’t “get” your book?

It’s quite the earworm, isn’t it?
When we hired Trevor, he gave us the option of telling him as much or as little about the book as we wanted. Some people who have hired him have apparently only shared the title of the book, but that seemed counterproductive to us. We wanted more than “Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies is a book! Please buy it!” on an endless loop. So we gave him characters and the basic plot, and confessed our ambitions for becoming fabulously successful authors and selling the movie rights. He ran with it, and we were delighted with the result. 

6. Whose idea was it to crochet the characters?

Meghan was already making little TV characters out of crochet, such as tiny crocheted Starsky and Hutch facing off against little crocheted Satanists. Since we couldn’t afford to pay actors, it wasn’t a stretch to think that we might as well make them.

7. I see you’ve made the zombie pattern available on your website – are you hoping to inspire some Call Me Maybe­-esque spin-offs?

That’d be wonderful! We’re also completely cool with fan fiction, even the really smutty kind (especially the really smutty kind). We promise never to stalk our fans and issue cease-and-desist orders, unless they’re making money off of our book and won’t give us a cut!
We’re also encouraging our friends to come up with creative book covers, like the literary one on our website. One of our friends is currently working on a pulp 1950s magazine style cover. Can’t wait to see it! 

8. With a story this fun, I feel like the sky is the limit when it comes to promotion. Besides the trailer and the blog tour, what do you have planned?

We’ve got more ideas than we have time or energy to execute. But on Halloween night we’ll be doing zombie tarot card reading at Collected Works bookstore. We’ll also be attending the Small Press Book Fair, Fall Edition in November, and in December we’ll be teaching teenagers how to crochet their very own zombie Christmas ornaments at a local high school.
We really enjoy events like the Ottawa Geek Market and Toronto Word on the Street. We also visit bookstores, and have been known to pounce on complete strangers in the street and terrorize them into buying our book. 

9. Both the book and the book trailer have been really well received. What do you think makes the zombie so appealing?

Zombies are adorably tenacious. It doesn’t matter if they lose an arm, a leg or half their body, they never give up on their goals. They don’t get stressed out about failure, either. Despite the whole hunger for human flesh, zombies are never malicious. They don’t hate you. They’ll never judge you. They just want to get up close and personal, because they think you’re a tasty treat. And that’s really a compliment when you think about it.

10. Will you be dressing up for Halloween?

Thanks to the zombie novel, we’ve been hanging out at the local Punk Flea Markets and buying pretty dresses with skull and zombie prints. Also, we have a growing collection of zombie t-shirts. It’s amazing how often zombies are exactly the right fashion statement to make.
Zombie wear also works as a marketing tool, too! If someone asks about the t-shirt or the dress, it’s an opening to hand-sell the novel, or at least give them a bookmark.
Meghan’s considering handing bookmarks out with the Halloween candy this year. If she does, she’ll definitely give them with candy, not instead of candy, because she doesn’t want her house egged.

Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies is available from your local independent bookstore. PLUS, the tour continues tomorrow and Wednesday! Check out The Eyrea on Tuesday and Open Book Toronto on Wednesday for more about Victoria Dunn, Alice Hearts Welsh Zombies an, well, zombies in general.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Too Much Happiness

It's funny how certain books seem to just have a right time to be read. Often, these are books that you buy with the full intention of reading them immediately, and then for one reason or another, they sit on your shelf unread for years. This is not unusual with gifts – books that look interesting and suit your taste, but that weren't on your mental (or perhaps physical) to-read list, and so get slotted in and then put aside until their time comes. For a book purchased with excitement, though, it seems strange that you wouldn't open it right away. Nonetheless, that's what happened to my copy of Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness. I bought it the Christmas after it came out – soon enough that it's a hardcover, but late enough for it to have a cover line announcing its Man Booker win. I have meant to read it many times since then, but it wasn't until we decided to read it for CanLit Knit that I finally cracked the cover.

In classic Munro style, the majority of the stories in the collection are set in southwestern Ontario, and while some are contemporary, many are set ten or twenty or thirty years ago. The collection opens with one of the more contemporary stories. Dimensions is the story of a young woman who, at the beginning of the story, has clearly survived some kind of trauma. She is visiting someone, or trying to, and she has a therapist she has talked to about it. She has cut her hair short and dyed it – very different than the way he liked it, whoever he is – and moved towns. She is quiet and fragile seeming. And slowly, Munro unfolds her story. Doree met Lloyd when she was 16 and he was much older and a nurse looking after her dying mother. They get married, she gets pregnant, and three kids later she's in her early 20s and living in a farm house, largely cut off from other mothers and people her age. Lloyd is controlling, although she doesn't see him that way, and their household swings from fights to uneasy peace. When Doree meets a fellow home-schooling mom, who has a van and can help her with the kids, she allows a tentative friendship to form and one night, after fighting with Lloyd, she goes to Maggie's house to wait it out. He calls, Maggie tells him Doree will stay the night, and in the morning, Maggie drives her home and Lloyd is sitting on the front step. Inside, Doree's children are lying dead. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mister Roger and Me

Last year, my friend Wendy and I went to the New Yorker Festival. The first event we saw was a panel discussion with the New Yorker's books editor and Jhumpa Lahiri, Geoffrey Eugenides, and Nicole Krauss, about what it meant to be a writer's writer. While the entire discussion was really interesting, one of the things I remember most was Jhumpa Lahiri talking about the power of the first novel. It is, she said, a book you write only for yourself, often for years, sometimes without anyone else knowing, and that kind of hard work and lack of outside pressure can make for a kind of purity. She went on to say that writer's writers were authors who were able to get back to the mindset of writing only for themselves, but I have to say that her idea that there is something pure about a debut novel (as opposed to tortured and agonized over, I suppose) has changed the way I read first novels. When I picked up Marie-Renée Lavoie's Mister Roger and Me, translated by Wayne Grady, I didn't realize it was her debut, but knowing that now makes me think Lahiri was really on to something.

Mister Roger and Me is set in Montreal in the early 1980s, and is the story of Hélène – although she would prefer you call her Joe – and her family and their neighbourhood. The story is told by the grown up Hélène (who is okay with being called that), and although there are a few times when she steps out of the timeline to reveal a detail about what happens in the future, the novel is a mostly linear account of her childhood, between the ages of 8 and 11. To begin with, I'll explain the name. Hélène is obsessed with a TV show on the Family Channel that features a young woman who, disguised as a man named Oscar, serves as one of Marie Antoinette's guards. For Hélène, Oscar is the absolute role model, and exactly the kind of man/woman she would like to be: brave, strong, in disguise. To begin her transition to an Oscar-type character, Hélène convinces people to call her Joe. She is quite disappointed by the lack of suffering and hardship in her life, but she does notice that her mom doesn't always have the money to purchase the necessary dinner items, so she lies about her age and gets a paper route.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Gone Girl

I have a tricky relationship with crime and detective fiction. On the ond hand, I love a good mystery. It is, in a way, the ultimate escapist fiction because a good mystery can pull you entirely away from real life while you're reading it, and then keep you thinking about it long after you've put the book away. Intelligent detectives/sleuths, good writing, a little humour – yes, I enjoy that very much. Then, though, there's the more extreme end of the genre, where the reader bounces back and forth between the detective and the killer (it's almost always murder). Generally, the level of detail is extreme, the plot is that much more suspenseful, and the outcome that much more bloody. Not to say those books are bad – I've just lost the stomach for them. This was the general duality of crime thrillers I understood to exist, and then I picked up Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl for a book club and everything went pear-shaped.

Gone Girl was not on my radar at all (despite it being a New York Times bestseller), but as a book club pick I was duty bound to pick it up. It begins on July 5, the day of Amy and Nick Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. All is not well in the Dunne household, that much is clear, but it seems as though some kind of uneasy truce has been reached for the anniversary, and when Nick wakes up, Amy is in the kitchen making crepes. We are in Nick's head, in his first-person, when he goes downstairs for breakfast, which is how we know that the vision of his wife inspires dread. Later, when Nick is at work – he and his twin sister Go (short for Margo) own a bar called The Bar – he gets a call from an alcoholic neighbour saying his front door is wide open. Not thinking much of it, Nick drives home to check up on things and finds that the door inside is indeed open, that the living room furniture has been overturned, and that his wife is nowhere to be found. He calls the police.

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