One Book’s Cover

I don’t know many topics that engage authors and readers as much as do book covers. Blood on the tracks, sometimes. The debates can be fierce, and the authorial cries of pain resound from bars and cafes across all the lands.

Covers do get discussed with intensity, they are analyzed in cultural and political terms (the headless women meme!), there are conversations about the obvious – ‘That doesn’t look at all the way I picture Lord Protector Crum!’ – and strategy sessions about the less obvious – ‘Why don’t we flip the image: have her looking out towards where the book opens, not in towards the spine?’ (I’ve had that done, twice. Er, to my cover, not to me.)


This spring I was working with my American and Canadian editors, and an art director, and a gifted artist to devise and shape the cover those territories are sharing for Children of Earth and Sky.

Contractually, all that the publishers are allowed to use, all they purchase, is the finished version but the artist, Larry Rostant, ( has generously allowed me to show early versions as they emerged and were changed to show what I want to discuss here – which is about process in the evolution of a cover.


One new aspect of the book business is how soon everything starts these days. Lead times have lengthened greatly. This means, in practical terms, that a publisher needs (urgently desires?) a cover and jacket copy startlingly early. Startling for me, that is. It isn’t ‘when are we gonna be there?’ it is ‘are we there now?’

In this case, my dialogue started with my New York editor Susan Allison before anyone had read the whole book – and that was for the entirely valid reason that I hadn’t finished it. My editors and agents had seen twelve chapters. I wasn’t even thrilled with sending that much out before completing and polishing (that says something about me, I know) but since my UK agent, Jonny Geller, was thinking about submitting the novel more widely in UK, it was necessary for a partial manuscript to be seen (can’t sell to a new house, not as easily as to an existing one, based only on a half page of themes, a snappy quote, and a setting).

Everything was complicated by the fact (sad and happy, both) of Susan’s upcoming liberation/retirement, coming at the end of June. We had done so many books together over the years (we go back to The Summer Tree) that Susan wanted to make a good start on a cover before vanishing on us.

She had read those twelve opening chapters and so we were able to have a good conversation and emails as to ‘what do you see on the cover?’ I wasn’t ready for this, was still in ‘write the book’ mode, but managed to get my head into that space.

We talked about cityscapes and seascapes – merging into a possibility of a walled city and harbour – the ‘big historical setting’ cover idea. (You’ve seen lots of them.) But Susan also said right away that she wanted to do something that linked up in style with the previous books – Ysabel, Under Heaven, River of Stars – and that her preference would be to use Larry Rostant, who had done them. I was entirely onside with this – I love Larry’s covers for those books.

I think I was the one who threw out, ‘Maybe an iron gate … in front of a retreat, or perhaps with the sea beyond?’ And I could hear Susan on the phone scribbling as she said ‘I like that!’

She went off for a chat with her art director. That is generally the next stage: the art director is the one who will shepherd the cover forward, ideally under guidance from the editor who knows the book best. Susan emailed me that the art director was going to see if Larry was free to work with us, and that he was keen on the ‘gate’ idea. In fact, he immediately sent her – just as a concept – a photo of a Renaissance period gate:




Susan and I both felt, immediately, that this would work as a direction for this cover. In fact, looking back over all my books, it is rare for a vague idea and a sample photo to so immediately elicit a ‘yep!’ from everyone. The art director turned the idea over to Larry, who was keen to work with us again (God bless). We’d already agreed the better background was the sea – opening the book up, and making use of both a sequence in the novel (spoiler!) and something interesting when considered with the title.

Larry Rostant did what he does, and came back to us with this first draft idea:


Children of Earth and Sky1st


It was shared with the Canadian editorial and marketing team, who would also be using this cover if it worked for them – and it seemed to be pretty universal, from everyone’s first look … this was a direction that was going make a cover for us. I felt instantly reassured. Even happy. This is not invariably the case, I should add. (You probably know that about me by now.)

Fine-tuning was needed, just as for a book. People were divided on the foreground figure of the digging labourer you see above. I was unsure. On the one hand I liked it, the figure picked up a motif I’d spoken of to Susan (and which she’d obviously relayed) about ‘the lives of those not powerful’ in the book. It also evoked (Too literally? We wondered.) the word ‘Earth’ in the title.

Beyond this, it was my son who first noted something amusing, one of those things you might never see, but once it is pointed out you can’t unsee. He saw a lizard head (someone later said a Ninja Turtle) in the peasant. The actual figure is in profile, of course, with a hood. But looked at slightly askew, the lizard appears – looking right out at us. I knew there would be people who saw this right away, and were distracted and amused by it (we were), and none of us wanted a ‘What colour is the dress?’ debate opening up here!

In addition, someone else wondered, what was being dug by the shovel? Was that a mound of earth – or was it a corpse being buried? In a way, I didn’t mind that, and my NY agent, John Silbersack, liked the visual ambiguity, but we ended up agreeing that Larry would be asked to fix the hood to avoid the lizard (as it were), and he’d also visually clarify it was not a dead body down there.

But in the meantime, it was now July and Susan was headed off to read books for pleasure not work, and travel, and ride horses in retirement, and Claire Zion, my new editor in New York, raised a different issue, and Larry was asked to address this, instead.

Claire’s feeling, along with the art director now, was that my previous two book covers had had more scale, more of the epic to them, and this one, with two visual elements (the digger with his spade and the icon of the sun) wasn’t as focused and didn’t ‘match up’ to the others as well as it could. They had ideas for how to address this.

So the next version we saw, when it came back from Larry, addressed this:


Children of Earth and Sky 2nd

And, essentially, looking at it, everyone said, ‘By George, I think he’s got it!’

Still not quite finished (of course not!). Claire and I continued discussing – within the framework of a new author-editor relationship, too. We agreed that in this version the presence of the sea might be too soft, muted, it was slightly challenging to decode at a glance. And reading at first glance matters.

So the next stages were those that can vex (mild word chosen here) an artist and art director as they ‘cope’ with editors and writers. The sea was made hyper-sharp by Larry in version 3:

Children of Earth and Sky3rd


You can see the difference best on the right side. And looking at it we decided (you know what is coming…) that it was a touch too sharp now. So a split-the difference (it is pretty subtle, look to the right of the word ‘Sky’ in both) shift back took place.

Children of Earth and Sky 4th

After which this cover (which is the one we posted last month) was happily signed of on by everyone in New York and Toronto, including the author. Drinks were had.

There will be light tweaks to come: the title lettering will be embossed, for example, as was done with the previous titles (the typeface and formatting is deliberately the same as those), and the exact quotes and copy for front and back covers are to be determined.

The British cover is being designed as I write these words. It will not be the same. Hodder and Stoughton, my new UK house, do not, for example, have the same rationale to ‘echo’ the previous books. This is their first of mine, so varying considerations apply, over and above the fact that different markets operate in different ways.

There is another essay to be written here some day about ‘styles’ in markets and countries (including foreign-language editions), but for now two of my publishers have a cover we all love, and that’s a really important element done. Now (tomorrow, actually) I dive into my usual slow revision of the novel before it goes to the copyeditor. I have had a month to step away, get some distance, I have notes from several people, I have a book to fine-tune.




Not-a-slow news day

Yes, we did – for those who think something looks different hereabouts. Changed the banner to show the cover for Children of Earth and Sky. Had to wait until today for the cover reveals to take place. Not wise to pre-empt your publishers and their planning. Did any of you see the tweet this week of the secret passage behind the bookcase in the new Penguin Random House Canada offices? There have been rumours of screams. Also rumours they stole the idea from ‘Young Frankenstein’.

A very busy day in media terms.

There were ‘cover reveals’ on CBC Books site and B&N blog this morning. I’m posting a good-sized jpeg here and what will be the jacket copy for the American edition (they are slightly ahead in fine-tuning, Canada will be very similar, UK is in-progress). The book will be released in May. (Yes, it seems early, yes the book world has changed a lot.)

The cover artist is Larry Rostant, who has done several for me now, all gorgeous, and the art director is Adam Auerbach. Stories of disastrous covers are all over the literary world (and I have had a few in foreign language editions, and even early ones in English once or twice), so I am serious when I say how lucky I feel to have talented, committed people engaged in working on these.

Art directors and artists take initial guidance from editors, especially when the covers come early in the process and they haven’t had a chance to read the manuscript. In this case, that means Susan Allison, Nicole Winstanley, Adrienne Kerr, and Claire Zion, who arrived when Susan retired and had some sharp ideas right away. From Larry’s first draft, done after discussions with Adam after visual cues from Susan, we all knew we were going to have a cover we loved. It was that immediate. Part of what everyone wanted was a ‘look’ that matched up with the last two covers (Under Heaven and River of Stars) in terms of scale and effect, and that was where the fine-tuning came in. Yes, I love it.

Here is the cover:



And here is the jacket copy:


The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…


We also can announce something else important.

Children of Earth and Sky will be published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, also in May, under the editing and stewardship of Oliver Johnson. This is a new relationship, and one I’m really happy about. Hodder do smart things in marketing and positioning books, and the challenge I always present publishers lies in how I lie suspended (so to speak) between mainstream, history, and fantasy. (There is very little cookbook in me, though I know quick readers will point back at the Mosaic pair to rebut that!)

Here’s the Hodder press release, which went out today (Yes, it makes me feel self-conscious. Next question?):

We are delighted to announce the acquisition of the latest novel by the legendary Canadian fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay for publication on May 12th 2016. The deal was negotiated by Jonny Geller of agents Curtis Brown UK.

In The Children of Earth and Sky Kay returns to the familiar territory established in several earlier works, a reimagining of the melting pot of the medieval Mediterranean. In his hands well-known places and events are transformed into the wonderful and strange through the lens of fantasy, and brought to life with brilliantly drawn characters and the most graceful of styles, which will seduce his many fans and new readers alike.

Acquiring Editor Oliver Johnson says: ‘To bring a celebrated, legendary author like Guy Gavriel Kay to our list is a truly wonderful moment; an editor’s dream is to publish a writer he has long admired, and this couldn’t be more true for me than with Guy. Though we have no specific genre list we are very proud of our work at Hodder with books that cross the divides of genre as Guy does with his brilliantly written, erudite and deliciously imagined works of historical fantasy. Our hallmark is great writing without bounds and we know we have acquired exactly that in Guy’s new work.’

Guy Gavriel Kay famously assisted Christopher Tolkien in the editing of The Silmarilion. His debut novels in the Fionavar Tapestry established him as one of the most exciting fantasy writers of the last half century. Several of his books (including Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Under Heaven) have been named as among the greatest fantasy masterpieces of the last twenty-five years. His work has been shortlisted for the Best Novel in the World Fantasy Awards several times and he won that award with Ysabel in 2008.  In 2014 he was appointed to the Order of Canada for his services to literature, the country’s highest civilian honour.




I could live with Ella Fitzgerald singing the soundtrack to this post…

It has been a while, and I’m just gearing up again here. I tend to use Twitter now for short comments on things that matter (single malt scotch, baseball, books I love…). But 140 characters doesn’t cut it (or cuts it too much) when there is more to discuss.

I announced on Twitter and via the Bright Weavings Facebook page last month that the new book was drafted. I was touched by the general approval of this. The novel is called Children of Earth and Sky and we’ll have more to share in July, and after. For one thing, we are on the way to having a (gorgeous, for me) cover. Second version of that is in, what are likely to be final tweaks are in progress.

I want to take a moment to say a good bye to a professional relationship, though not a friendship. Susan Allison, my longtime editor in New York, is retiring as of July 1 to (shockingly!) enjoy life. I may forgive her in time.

Susan and I started together with the paperback of The Summer Tree. We parted cordially when I moved to Roc with Tigana, and then re-engaged even more cordially when she ‘inherited’ Roc in a merger (an earlier merger) a number of years ago. It is rare to have a friendship and working interaction with a single editor that spans 30 years. I feel truly lucky. Susan, who may be just a tad emotional this week (rumour has it) has been supremely and wonderfully unruffled to work with. Add a sense of humour, wryness, pragmatism, experience, and – every author wants this – a feeling that she always got my work, from the beginning – and this has been a sustaining relationship for me.

I also feel lucky after a first encounter last week with the editor who now shoulders the burden of, well, me. Claire Zion is that person in New York now at NAL. We’ve had a breakfast (important to be able to deal with someone over first coffee!) and engaged in a flurry of emails, and I feel like Bogie with Claude Rains at the end of Casablanca …’I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

There is a lot to be said (a lot has been said) about the editor/writer relationship. But this, as with so much else in writing and publishing, varies so wildly. The same editor (or agent, too) may need to be an entirely different person, play a very different role for different writers. One of their skills, actually, is to sort this out. But trust and confidence, enjoying dealing with someone, surely matter, and I’ve been friends with a remarkable number of the people I’ve worked with over the years. A tribute, clearly, to their collective tolerance.

So, consider this post a checking back in with the Journal as summer begins. I think as we move towards a release of the book in May there will be a fair bit of news to share. As some will recall, my concept for the Journal from the start, many novels back, was to share aspects of the book world – how books get to readers – that even true book lovers might not know about, and I’m still on the case with that. Stay tuned.

Oh. And Angel’s Envy is a really good bourbon. Cheers.

Seasonal note

Depending on your perspective, I’ve either been remiss, or doing what I am supposed to be doing.

Focus on the new book, primarily, has led to few posts here through the fall. Of course these journals were envisaged as each being specific to a book release, tour, chronicling various events and ideas associated with those. On the other hand, the online world has changed a lot since I did my first tour journal here and the concept has expanded. I’m good with that, and with the idea of having an ongoing journal as a place to share thoughts and news – at more than 140 characters.

Holiday season calls for my good wishes to friends, readers, amusing and generous people I’ve encountered online. There are some very funny, thoughtful, clever people in my Twitter feed: I tend not to hang with those waking up every morning to discover what wildly outrages them for that 24 hour cycle. I do comment at times on world events, I try to do so judiciously, with respect for those who might think otherwise. Some issues make that harder than others. Vaccine truthers? Not my people.

I’m writing steadily. Too soon to give details or set out an estimated time of arrival, but I should be able to do the latter towards the end of spring. For a variety of reasons I never like talking too soon about what the novels are about, or the periods that inspire them. I’ll ask indulgence for that this time around, too.

There are various ‘plans’ in the works from publishers and elsewhere and the strong possibility of news bulletins from me early in 2015. I prefer these to be really tangible before sharing, but I will absolutely share when ‘tangible’ happens.

2014 was probably most memorable, professionally, for my being made a Member of the Order of Canada on July 1. Didn’t expect it (recipients aren’t supposed to know it might be coming) and I was very deeply honoured. Small trivia: you are supposed to wear the lapel pin they send you, or other members (or just those in the know) will call you on not doing so if they see you without. Had it happen to me twice, early, when I felt a bit self-conscious about putting it on. I work to remember it now when I wear a jacket. I do not wear it, no, with my Montreal Canadiens jersey. There will be no photos thereof. Hold not thy breath.

I was really happy to have the Chinese editions of Under Heaven and River of Stars appear this year, with absolutely gorgeous covers. (You can see them in the Art Gallery section here at Bright Weavings, if you haven’t.) Brazil saw the release of Tigana (in two volumes, which is not uncommon) and probably the most assertive and generous set of online reviews and commentary for any foreign language edition yet.

There were a number of other foreign language editions of different titles; I tend to report these and reveal covers when I get them over on Twitter or at the Facebook page coordinated by Alec Lynch and Elizabeth Swainston. Elizabeth also has created a Pinterest page on my work. I owe them both a great deal. Neither drinks, which kills the ‘single malt scotch as a gift’ vibe.

I did have some extraordinary single malts, and a very good time with a group that (I’m sorry) included Australians, at World Fantasy Convention where I was a guest of honor this year. The Hungarian Lentil Growers Agrarian Cooperative (HLGAC) was formed there. Of course everyone understands about that, right? Right? Our next meeting is slated for Saratoga Springs at World Fantasy in 2015.

Finally, before I wrap, a thank you to my readers for, among other things, ongoing patience. I write continuously but don’t emerge swiftly. When I talk to younger writers I feel their pain as many of them discuss the intense pressure to be ‘a book a year’ authors. The gift my readership around the world gives me (and always has, really) is the best gift they can: the opportunity to take my time, do the books as well as I am able, to be as faithful to the work as I can be. I have always believed that if I am being faithful to the novels, I am honouring my readers.

My best wishes to all, for the season and for 2015.





Party in Fionavar

So, there seems to be a party afoot.

Blame Chris Szego, the manager of Bakka Phoenix Books, Canada’s oldest Science Fiction and Fantasy bookstore (since 1972!). And blame HarperCollins Canada while you are at it. Do not blame me. That needs to be very clearly understood.

It seems that somehow, inexplicably, this autumn marks 30 years since The Summer Tree was published, beginning my career as a novelist.

I have used various calculators, an abacus, and fingers, toes and forks (don’t ask) to make the number come out smaller, but it don’t work. Thirty years. Ye gods and little fishes, as they say, when they aren’t really swearing.

And I have made my joke about being 14 years old at the time too often. Won’t do it here (well, sort of won’t).

The truth is, in a culture where the newnewnew is king and queen, where books disappear (off shelves, out of print) with increasing and alarming speed, I feel deeply grateful and profoundly honoured that Fionavar has remained out there, throughout the English-language world (and in many other languages) all this time.

So even curmudgeons sometimes say yes to a party.

There will be music from Martin Springett (backed up by Sam Alex Kay). The absurdly multi-talented Sue Reynolds, who did the map for the trilogy (and the maps for Tigana, too, in fact) has promised to attend ‘with bells on’. Linda McKnight, who acquired the trilogy when she was Publisher at McClelland & Stewart Canada (and later became my agent) will be there, rather pleased with her early judgement. (She likes to be right.)

We hope John Rose, the original founder/owner/god of Bakka Books will join us. He hosted the original launch for The Summer Tree in the store. My publishers brought me a tree as a gift. There were jokes about binding me to it. There may be a photo of that night. It may be on display. I will look younger in it.

There will be gifts and door prizes, Martin’s original cover paintings will be on display, with signed posters available. Add food, drink, wild carousing and glasses smashed on the – no, scratch that last.

So, original launch to thirty year anniversary at Bakka. All are invited if you can get to Toronto on the evening of September 19th. Here’s the evite.






Order of Canada, the morning after

Sometimes it is just silly to affect being blasé. It will appear false, contrived. So I’ll repeat what I said yesterday on Twitter: I am feeling honoured and humble, both. I am also truly touched by the responses that have come in the last half day, both public and private. Those Nigerian fellows offering to give me big shares in a diamond enterprise for relatively modest sums of money have been especially enthusiastic.

For those who missed it (most of the world, as it has to be!) it was announced from the office of the Governor General of Canada yesterday afternoon that I have been named to the Order of Canada. This is, I have learned, not our highest civilian honour. It is second. The highest (I love this stuff) is the Order of Merit, which is ‘in the personal gift’ of Queen Elizabeth II (!), with only 24 people at a time, chosen by her from all countries in the Commonwealth. Then Canada has the O.C. The Order was created in 1967 (Canada’s centennial year) to replace knighthoods and other dignities conferred from London to that point.

A formal Investiture ceremony, with a medal presented by the Governor General, and a Citation read out for each person, with details of why they are being honoured, comes later, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

For this holiday morning, I just want to thank those who have expressed their support and pleasure. I also want to extend my congratulations to the others named or elevated in rank yesterday, especially David Cronenberg, whom I’ve known a long time, and Chris Hadfield, who brought a different kind of star status to Canada. I have also declined the diamond mine. Here is part of Penguin Canada’s press release, which went out yesterday afternoon:



– Chris Hadfield, Rick Mercer among other 2014 recipients –

– David Cronenberg promoted to companion, the highest level within the order –

June 30, 2014 (Toronto) – Penguin Canada is pleased to announce that Guy Gavriel Kay has been named a Member of the Order of Canada for his outstanding contributions to the field of speculative fiction as an internationally celebrated author.

Kay is the bestselling author of twelve novels and a book of poetry. He has been called “one of the most gifted storytellers of our time” by The Globe and Mail, and his works have been translated into more than 25 languages, with sales approaching three million copies worldwide.

In the 1970s, he was retained by the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien to assist in the editorial construction of Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion. In 1984, Kay’s first novel, The Summer Tree, the first volume of The Fionavar Tapestry, was published to considerable acclaim in Canada, and internationally. In 1990, Penguin Canada’s edition of his novel Tigana reached the national bestseller list, and his next book, A Song for Arbonne, debuted in the number-one position. Kay has been a bestseller with each novel since. The Sunday Times called his most recent novel, River of Stars, “a work to savour” and the Washington Post called it a “major accomplishment, the work of a master novelist in full command of his subject.”

Kay was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and raised in Winnipeg. He received a law degree from the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in Ontario. Kay became principal writer and associate producer for the CBC Radio series, The Scales of Justice, which dramatized major criminal trials in Canadian history. He has written social and political commentary in Canada for the National Post and The Globe and Mail, and for The Guardian in England.

Kay has toured and read on behalf of his publishers and at literary events across Canada, the United States, and internationally. He was awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his contributions to the literature of the fantastic, is a two-time winner of the Aurora Award, won the World Fantasy Award for Ysabel in 2008, and won the Sunburst Prize for best Canadian speculative fiction novel for Under Heaven in 2011. Kay is currently at work on his next novel, due to be published in 2016.


About the Order of Canada

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.

For more information about the most recent appointments to the Order of Canada, please visit:




China, and the cover for Under Heaven

Book covers are such chancy, variable things. Over all these years and books, I’ve been delighted and, well, aghast at different times. It gets even more uncertain when it comes to foreign-language editions. As a rule, by now, I have ‘cover consultation’ for all such sales of rights, but in practice this really can mean nothing.

Sometimes a publisher forgets. The contracts person doesn’t remind the art department or editor they have to check with the author. Or the rush to get the book finalized (there is alays a rush!) causes a very simple overlooking of that detail. Sometimes they do send the cover image to you – but too late to have input to effect any meaningful change. Screaming ‘Oh, my God, no!’ at this juncture may be a therapeutic release of extreme emotion, but achieves little else.

One can double down on the technical breach of contract, but this just means the book cannot be released as planned, it must be shelved for up to a year while a new cover is devised, and – in the real world – this is a bad course of action if the idea is an ongoing, working cordial relationship to everyone’s theoretical betterment. I have closed my eyes, swallowed hard (often swallowing a drink hard) and accepted some covers I hate.

Sometimes even really strong publishers go astray in their conception and execution, and one does that swallowing hard thing and waits to see if they are right. I disliked, to be honest, the covers for HarperCollins UK for Lions and for Under Heaven in hardcover, but then again I absolutely loved both their hardback and paperback for River of Stars. Win some, lose some?

I’ve been very lucky in North America with the last several novels, good art departments, artists, and steady, congenial consultation and discussion back and forth have produced covers I love – and reader feedback suggests you feel the same way.

But if you sit authors down in a bar and catch them early enough, while they are still coherent, cover discussion will be a frequent topic, and happiness will be … intermittent?

All of which is a prelude to this: I am happy to now share what might be my favourite cover for any of my books anywhere. Chongqing Publishing in China is releasing Under Heaven in July. I saw a rough of this a month ago, after waiting with some anxiety as they promised I would see it (with me having no idea at all what it would be). The rough was gorgeous, the finished is even more so. I flat-out love this.

Under Heaven Cover


Not only is it beautiful as a design, and profoundly suited to the book, it is original and inventive and subtle. What you need to know (it may not be evident in the jpeg) is that the cloud cover overlay is just that: an overlay! It flips back if you open it up from the jacket flap, revealing the entire painting, as if clouds had parted. Truly imaginative, and unique in its effect. (And, not incidentally in this business, really expensive design work.)

Then there is the chosen painting itself. It is a celebrated Tang Dynasty work by Li Zhaodao called ‘Ming Huang’s Journey to Shu’ about the emperor journeying to the far west, framed small against a magnificent landscape. And anyone who knows the novel (inspired by the Tang) will recognize how wonderfully well this suits the story.

Here’s a link to the original work, for interest:

But there’s even more to this cover. Classic Chinese artwork is usually marked with a variety of red seals on it. These are the personal seals of whatever distinguished (or imperial, if the artist is lucky!) figure has seen and held the work – and then shows this by putting his stamp on it.

It is a process alien to western art (well, maybe Byron carving his name on Greek ruins!) but in China it enhanced the value and prestige of a painting to have illustrious figure put their seals on it. So, here, the art director uses a brilliant, small red seal of – a heavenly horse. I am touched by the attention to detail and awareness of the nature of the book this shows.

In short, my appreciation of Chongqing, who are publishing this is extreme. I think this cover is brilliant and beautiful and evocative, and I hope others agree.



A post about my father

This morning I went to the cemetery where my dad is buried. I always go on the weekend of his birthday, and I had some nice news this week (which I’ll share when I can) and I often visit his grave at such times, too.

We planted a sapling there when he was buried, and it is a genuinely majestic tree now, tall and leafy in this springtime. Probably the only measure of time’s passing there that doesn’t conjure sorrow.

My father was a surgeon, but as far from the cliché of the surgeon as arrogant ‘lord of the ward’ as possible. He was brilliant and gentle, both, and I have often thought about how rarely those are conjoined. Essentially he was an urban, internationally-trained surgeon with the compassion and bedside manner of an old-fashioned country doctor. His patients adored him. Even as a child I could see that, and even as a child understand why.

He’d stayed on in Europe after the war, did his surgical residency at a teaching hospital outside Edinburgh. When he finished, and indicated he felt it was time to come back to Canada, they tried very hard to keep him there. After he died I found a letter among his files from the head of the hospital, describing him as the most gifted surgical resident he’d ever seen. Typically, my dad had never shown that letter to my mother, or any of his sons.

I’m aware that many artists find their access to art in hardship and suffering, whether within the family, or in the larger contexts of their lives (I am thinking of George Seferis, the Greek Nobel laureate and a personal icon, and how he was shaped and marked by the tragedy of Greece in WW2 and the savage civil war that followed). Other artists draw strength from their background, discover a willingness and ability to take risks from that sense of being anchored in love. There are no rules (that’s my own only rule about this) but I know I am of that latter group.

I had a conversation very recently with a man who talked of how he’d worried if he could be a good father, because his own hadn’t been, and his role-modelling was difficult. He spoke of how happy and relieved he was to discover that he had the ability, and the desire, to be a loving father to his son. (There are no rules there, either, only norms and likelihoods.) I know that I am a better person and father because of the example my dad set.

I have written (most directly in the two Sarantium books) about our desire to leave a name, a legacy, a marker of having been here. For most of us it lies in our families, the way what we were may be passed on to those we marry, parent, befriend. My dad’s legacy is partly in the lives he saved, partly in those who (still) remember him with affection and admiration, and partly in his wife and sons, and what may ripple down through us to grandchildren and perhaps through them one day. That last is the way it is for most of us, I think.

The first poem in Beyond This Dark House, my selected poetry, is the only one I’ve ever been able to write directly for him, or about him, since he was killed. I’m going to post it here this week as another memorial, with thanks to Penguin Books Canada who published the book.





Driving through Winnipeg this autumn

twilight, a sensation has lodged

somewhere behind my breastbone

(impossible to be more precise).

It is at once a lightness and a weight,

press of memory and a feeling

as if tonight has insufficient

gravity to keep me from

drifting back, so many

long years after leaving here.


Quiet streets, the slowly darkening

sky (it can take a while). I turn

on Waterloo and stop outside the house

where we first lived. No curtains drawn

on the living room windows. I can see

into the past, almost. The willow in front

is so tall now. My parents planted it.


We played football on this lawn

(and the next one down, and next,

as we grew older, needed room to run).

Used the willow sapling when cutting

pass patterns, slicing in front of it

to shake a defender. I hear

my mother from the porch, ‘Don’t

break the tree!’ A car approaches,

slows, someone looks at me

in the gathering night, moves on.

So do I, gliding a little further

to Mathers Bay, where we’d race

our bikes, the finish line

right at the intersection,

so we’d be flying flat-out

and sometimes have to brake

in a squeal and sideways skid

(black tire marks on the road)

if a car was coming east.

I wouldn’t let my sons do that today.


The houses along the bay,

down to the curve and back

up the other side, were homes of friends,

or girls I longed for, and their

parents – men and women mostly

dead now. Each address marks

a grave. Ghosts water the night

lawns, rake leaves under stars,

look up as I coast by

and then turn away, as if politely,

not to seem to stare as this rented car

stops again, this time outside

our second home, the one

my parents built when I was nine.

I am heavy and light tonight,

entangled and drifting, both

at once. The city

is so full of my father.


I used to ride with him to Saturday

morning rounds at the hospital.

Proud, anxious not to show it (Why

was that? Did he know?) as we’d step

off the elevator and onto a post-op ward.

I’d read a book by the nursing station

then cross the street to the

Salibury House (long gone now)

and order two sandwiches, a milkshake

and a coffee, but only at the exact

minute he’d told me to. And he’d

arrive from his last patient just

as the waitress set the food in front of me.

I’m guessing he’d watch from the window

or door, to time it so exactly, for his son.


East on Mathers now, imagining kids

on bikes careening into my path forty

years ago. Waverley, and south. I’d

hitchhike this route to campus, winter

mornings, dreaming of away, anywhere

away. My parents had their first

date at a nightclub out here on

Pembina Highway. My father just back

from overseas. She thought he was

phony-British, using words like ‘chap’

and ‘bloody,’ all night long. Still, (she’d

later tell her sons), that night she

went home to Enniskillen Avenue and woke

her mother. Sat on the edge of the bed and said

she thought she’d met a man she could love.


We never tired of that story.

Our pretty mother,barely into her twenties,

her immediate certainty, the dashing

image of our father, home from away,

away, winning a woman for himself.

The city’s quiet on a Thursday night.

The forecast was rain but the sky’s been clear,

the air cooling down; football

games and burning leaves. Back north now,

on what seems to have become

a night drive entirely unplanned. I steer

with one hand at twelve o’clock and

an elbow out the open window.


The downtown ‘Y’ has been demolished.

My Uncle Jack would take me there

on Sunday mornings for a steam and

a swim. Such a sweet man. White hair

my father always joked of envying, ruefully

shaking his head in admiration. Dad’s

was a duller, white-grey, nondescript. Except,

it seems, the morning of the day he was

killed in Florida, my mother said to

him over breakfast, ‘Sam, look at your

hair! It’s white as Jack’s!’ Salt water,

winter sun, had bleached it bright.

I imagine my father surprised

and pleased, and thinking of his brother

when he took that last walk

with the dog along the coastal highway

in too much twilight.


There seems to be no crossing of streets

tonight where I can avoid

hitting my father or myself. Wellington

Crescent now, west towards the park

where I first kissed some girls, broke up

with others, dreamed of going away. My father

took a troopship to England in the

last year of the war, stayed over there

in Scotland for five years, came back,

came back, married, had three sons.


He taught each of us to catch a football, lost

deliberately (to each of us) in table tennis,

grimacing elaborately at a drive mis-hit

into the net, not fooling anyone. He’d look

shocked, shocked when we accused him

of letting us win, as if the idea

couldn’t have even crossed his mind.

He quizzed me before high school tests,

tsking with dismay at wrong answers

that were clear evidence of insufficient

application. He worked so hard.


I think we knew that, even very young,

but still assumed he’d have infinite time

and room for us. I wince, tonight, remembering

the absolute sureness of that. How did he

elicit so much certainty? I wonder

if he ever looked for and found

clear signs of his own nature in

three very different sons,

or if that kind of thinking

required too much vanity.

I liked coming home from a downtown

appointment with him. Walking to

the Mall Medical Building, waiting

in the doctors’ lounge, listening to the

talk of football and politics, grabbing

myself a Coke from the little fridge, and then

the feel of the room altering as he came in,

loosening his tie, hanging up the white coat,

raising an eyebrow at my soft drink

before dinner. The drive back home,

just the two of us, end of a work day. He’d steer

with one hand at twelve o’clock and

an elbow out the open window. No one

ever born had hands I’d ever rather feel

enclosing mine. Then. Now. The day

the son we named for him was born.


If it was summer, turning west on Grant,

the sunlight would be on us. We’d put

the visors down. (I was too short for that

to help, but copied him.) Or it might have been

darker, cooler, under a prairie sky

in a twilight like the one that started

and compels these images,

if it was autumn then, as it is now,

above this ground of memories.


Heaviness, and that so-strange

sense of weightlessness. I thought,

before, I couldn’t locate these feelings

precisely within myself. Not so,

in the end. They reside, together,

anywhere my father was in this city

and in me, which is pretty much

everywhere, and he’s been

dead too many years now already,

with more years and more years

and more long years of being gone

still to come.


Against: Violence Against Women

I am aware that everyone is always being pushed to donate for charitable efforts (or for Kickstarter!). But I’ve agreed to support and promote a cause I believe in, and I hope readers will share my feeling that this is worthwhile, and spread the word.

Also, that people will enjoy what I’ve done for this. The essence is as follows. I’ve joined a campaign called The Pixel Project which aims to raise money to help resist violence against women, worldwide.

The campaign is taking many forms, and do have a look at their website to see other people who interest you and what is being offered by them in support. In my case, they asked if I’d write them something original, in a format called a Drabble.

No, this is not an homage to English novelist Margaret Drabble. A Drabble, they advised, is a 100 word short story. Supposed to be exactly so. (If I am off by a word, blame Word’s word count!)

I liked the idea, and I wrote one for them. Then I thought about something (I do that.) The first idea that had come to me was for a scene that comes after the end of Lord of Emperors. But, of course there are those who have not read that book (I know, hard to imagine.) and there is an inherent spoiler effect in such a scene, however brief. (The puppy dies??? Note: joke.).

So I wrote them another. This one takes place before the opening of The Summer Tree, so no possible spoiler effect. The puissant Pixel Project People promptly proposed (!) that either Drabble, whichever is desired, be sent to donators of $50, and $75 would get both. Obviously, and in support of the cause, we are asking people not to post them online, though if you like them you are hereby formally given permission to say so. They are ‘themed’. You’ll see.

I firmly believe, as I am quoted saying in the press release, that one of the measures of any culture is the status of women in that society. Inherent, endemic violence against women is more than some ‘black mark’, it is a blight, and working against that is surely a cause for all of us.

One more note. You’ll see in the press release and on their site that this is a ‘Celebrity Male Role Model’ campaign. I have advised the members of my scotch group that if they call me that, I am taking my bottles and going home. On the other hand, both my younger brothers are now instructed to use this ‘official’ phrase in future dealings. Ahem.

Here is the poster they made. Check out the site, do support them if you can. There aren’t a whole lot of things more worthwhile.

FB Poster - Promo - Guy Gavriel Kay-01



To Market, To Market?

Help me out, everyone. Comments this time will be useful.

I wrestle sometimes with my own nature, and the changing nature of the book world and our culture as a whole. As I have said before, the pressure on writers (especially younger ones, but not only) to do more than ‘just’ write their books is more and more obviously undermining people I know. Add this to expectations of speed in delivery of books, and the home run or strike out mentality of the industry, and it is too easy to see some sad, stressed author behaviour (sad for me, at any rate).

But that ‘sad for me’ is the point of this post. I may just be out of step. I don’t think so, obviously, or I’d be acting differently, but I have friends and colleagues making a case regarding authors and readers and the need to use, to mobilize, one’s reader base. I called this the ‘Release the Fans’ idea in a newspaper op-ed a while back. I just don’t think of readers as there to be mobilized, but that’s the issue.

This all came up again in discussions over the last ten days or so. CBC in Canada ran an book awards competition called the Bookies, across many categories. Voting was online. River of Stars was nominated in one category, with the immensely distinguished Margaret Atwood as the favourite.

I didn’t post anything about it here on the journal while the voting was open, or allow (or request) the Bright Weavings team on Facebook or the main website to alert that the competition was even on. I did a generic tweet about the entire multi-category event, and another at the very end expressing (real) pleasure at being runner-up to Atwood’s Maddadam.

But I didn’t want to campaign. I never want to campaign. And I am now being told by culture-astute and web-savvy friends and professional colleagues that this is because I misunderstand the real nature of what is going on. So I want to open it up for discussion.

The shrewdest one lecturing me, probably (an unfairly sharp cousin), says I am over-focused on these things in terms of the legitimacy of the award. In other words, I don’t want to turn winning or losing into who cajoles most or loudest, or who has the most fame or Twitter/FB followers (this happens for other awards too, of course). I am, she says, too hung up on the ‘legitimacy’ issue.

Her take is that these awards are never going to truly be about the ‘best’. That the Oscars, say, have long had aggressive ‘for your consideration’ campaigning. (All thanks to Harvey Weinstein? I think it pre-dates him but he made it a modus operandi.) These popular vote awards are about empowering readers to be more than merely passive enjoyers of a given writer (or writers), she argues. They let readers participate, fight, lobby, engage, be active. She tells me I am denying my readers the chance to do that by staying quiet when the votes come up.

And there are writers I respect who obviously agree. They treat the Bookies (and others) as a game of sorts – though some think of them as mattering more than they do, I suspect. They rally their online forces, spread the word often … do the ’empowering’ thing, if that is what it is.

It therefore becomes, some are urging me, about the new age of active consumers of any art. Passive enjoyment is old school. This is an age of real time tweeting of a television show (building community), of Kickstarter campaigns to revive cancelled favourites (why does the network get to decide?), or even, on the very dark side, aggressive online threats to actresses (usually actresses, alas) who are disliked. I’ve written an essay about how this level of consumer activism can’t help but shape the art produced when the work is ongoing and the feedback is continuous and urgent. (I’m not saying this is automatically ‘for the worse’ but I’m noting the process.)

I have argued before, perhaps quixotically, for the value of some distance between writer and work, writer and reader, preserving a space where the reaction to the books (in this case) is not bundled with a reaction or ‘relationship’ with the writer.

Let me digress, but it isn’t really a digression (just looks like one!).

When I was young, first reading and writing and studying poetry, Robert Frost was seen by most of us as safe, bland, boring, the whole crusty New England thing was uncool. It took the outstanding critic Randall Jarrell, with two superb essays on Frost’s brilliance to change my mind (and I’ve tried to be an advocate ever since). But something else happened when I was still young, and it had to do with the man, not the work.

A three volume biography came out on Frost and it pretty much savaged him, left him in the dumpster. Frost was an evil, odious, selfish, vain, unfeeling near-monster. This biography stamped him in the minds of my generation (those who cared). It was long, long afterwards that we learned that this biographer had had a huge, compromising, personal agenda, a reason for vilifying his subject. But when a far better, balanced, biography came out it made very few waves: the image was set too hard, even among those who knew or should have known better. (Joyce Carol Oates wrote a recent story using Evil Frost as a character and I admit I was disappointed. To be fair, she now says, apparently, she was ‘commenting’ on the phenomenon, not endorsing it.)

The good news is, just this month the first volume of Frost’s Letters has appeared and reviews seem to be (finally!) working to correct the entrenched maligning view of the man and poet. I’ve seen several pieces to this effect in the last few days.

My point here (see, it wasn’t a digression) is that focusing on the artist, accurately or otherwise, can lead us to lose or devalue – or overvalue, in other cases – the work. This, as I have said here before, is part of my ambivalence about social media.

It is possible I am just out of synch in this. On the other hand, I have (this post is evidence!) spent years crossing towards the new online world order, sharing tour information, industry norms, and very personal reflections with readers (and non-readers, in theory) here, through Bright Weavings or its Facebook page, and more recently on Twitter. If I’m hiding, I’m not doing it very well.

But I still wonder about the Darwinian analysis of the process today. It is being argued that only those who ‘get’ the new system, who plug in all the way, campaign, lobby, hit book clubs non-stop, pop onto each others’ blogs, make deals or promises to vote for each other,  essentially looking to create a readership (or fanbase, but I prefer to speak of readers, not fans) in order to leverage it … these are the writers who will succeed.


Leaving aside  issues of excellence (another essay, maybe?) I’d argue, that this take on things may leave open what ‘success’ is in the larger scheme of art and life.

If people are driven to exhaustion, are made deeply stressed and anxious, feel fearful if they don’t have a good blog idea for a given day, or a witty tweet lined up (or are afraid their latest tweet will elicit hate), if all this subverts their writing, who has won? Do readers win if a liked writer hurries a weaker book out? Do we care about quality or about connecting? Is there a role for grace or restraint? Are we always served by more intimacy – or (very often) the illusion of it?

I’m not sure. That’s why I’m throwing out these questions. They are real ones, not rhetorical. I’m interested in the answers. And thanks.