Video: Fantasy Novels & Fountain Pens

The information published with this video reads: “How to write a fantasy novel by hand in less than two minutes.”

The title of the video is: “How to write a fantasy novel with a fountain pen.”

The actual video is somewhere in the middle.

Jon Skovron’s second book in The Empire of Storms series–Bane and Shadowsgoes on sale next week. Skovron has more information on his website, and he is on Twitter @jonnyskov. If you’d like to share the video with other adventure fans (or fountain pen nerds), here’s the embed code:

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Review: ‘The Life-Writer’ by David Constantine

Review: ‘The Life-Writer’ by David Constantine

The Life-Writer_9781771961011_bd079As anyone who has ever loved and lost can attest, love and mortality are hopelessly entangled. Katrin’s husband Eric makes it clear that he plans to face his own mortality in as matter-of-fact a way as he can. “I don’t want to be like that colleague of yours, Dennis What’s-his-name,” he says, in the opening sentence of The Life-Writer, the poignant new novel from David Constantine (whose collection In Another Country inspired the Oscar-nominated film 45 Years). “I don’t want to be…clinging on…I don’t call that living when all you think about is staying alive.” Eric has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and elects to let it run the course it will. “I can’t complain,” he says, describing his illness as “correct and final.” And, perhaps, the truth is that he can’t. He’s lived a full life, and even a rewarding one.

His death, dignified or not, does not take long. Before too much time has passed, Katrin is his caretaker, and not long after that, he is gone. But, one night right before his death, Eric surprises Katrin when, lucid and energetic, he begins to tell her a story.

It is from these beginnings that Katrin, a respected literary biographer who has devoted much of her career to exploring the lives and works of little-known and largely unpublished writers and artists, will begin to sketch a broader, and yet simultaneously more incisive, portrait of the person she loved. And it is from these beginnings that Constantine crafts a tender, richly observed novel that slices right down to the bone of the state we universally define as love.

The story Eric wants to tell – and that he cannot finish – is the story of a long-ago summer spent in France, when he thought  that “the land and its roads and traffic would never be anything but kind to him.” It is also the story of his first love – a woman who is still alive and well in Paris.

After his death, left with his letters and with the memories of one of his closest friends, Katrin, with her biographer’s eye, begins to read between the lines, picking out the instances that, eventually, made the man she knew.

Ordinarily, a reader would expect this premise to lead them one of two ways – either to a catastrophically painful revelation, or on a trite journey of self-discovery. Under Constantine’s steady, gentle touch, however, The Life-Writer becomes something quite different and truly rare: a honest and objective story of grief and acceptance.

The Life-Writer is perhaps at its most powerful, in fact, when Constantine is examining not only the acceptance of a loved one’s death, but acceptance of the life they inevitably lived before they met you, outside of the orbit of your shared existence. Few readers will have trouble relating to Katrin’s particular brand of fascination with the parts of Eric’s life she missed out on – the chapters of his biography penned in the decades before they met. Who, after all, has not felt some keen interest – neither wholly innocent nor malevolent and jealous – in the long-ago experiences, routines, friends and lovers of a person they later loved themselves?

It may be that the most loving thing we can do is to delve head-on into that past. It may be that the truest way to grieve is to tell stories.

Learning and telling the story of a life can be gratifying, surprising, and mesmerizing. It can be painful, too, but it is the kind of pain that goes hand-in-hand with love. It is in examining a life, in learning its minutiae, that we acknowledge and even overcome our grief. It is in telling stories, Constantine shows us, that we come to terms with just how close love and mortality truly are to one another.

In The Life-Writer, David Constantine points us right at the intersection of love and grief, and rolls us quietly, kindly through. We are better for the journey.


The Life-Writer by David Constantine (Biblioasis | 9781771961011 | October 11, 2016)

The Shelf Life of Shelf Talkers

The Shelf Life of Shelf Talkers

What is the purpose of the shelf talker? I think it allows the bookseller to have a voice for those times when one can’t attend to everyone in the store or when a customer prefers to “just browse” on their own. A well-placed shelf talker can draw attention to a gem of a read and point out to the browser that not only did you take the time to read this book, you also took time to pen your thoughts about it so others might read it, too.

Those amazing shelf talkers are beneficial to all. Until they’re not.

I believe shelf talkers have a shelf life. Well, maybe “shelf life” isn’t the right analogy. Perhaps “shelf space” would be better. There are only so many shelf talkers that will arrest my eye. Too many, and I do not see any — nor do I see the books they are supposed to highlight.

On a recent visit to Minneapolis, I found myself at DreamHaven Books. I think there was only one shelf talker in the entire store. It was printed on 8.5 x 11″ paper and was laminated. And it certainly captured my attention *and* my imagination. So much so that I took this picture of it.

Now, one shelf talker in the entire store is a bit extreme, but I actually prefer it to too many.

Today I recommend that you use your 300 marketing seconds to cull your talkers. Spread them out between the sections and let a variety of booksellers have a voice, but really give some thought to the books you’re highlighting. If a talker has been displayed for years and the employee doesn’t even work there anymore, it’s probably time to retire it to the file.

Video: ‘Rhino in the House’

In this new video, Daniel Kirk provides the background for his new biographical picture book, Rhino in the HouseIt’s about the true story of rhino champion Anna Merz and the black rhinoceros Samia. The release date is March 17, 2017, and a portion of the proceed will be donated to the Lewa Downs Conservancy.

For more information, Kirk has a pretty comprehensive website. And if you’d like to share the video, here’s the embed code:

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Cioran-uary at Seminary Co-op

Cioran-uary at Seminary Co-op

I love reading bookstore newsletters and discovering unique promotions that you create. One that recently piqued my interest is Seminary Co-op Bookstores “Cioran-uary” promotion, which features one quote from Emil Cioran every day throughout the month.

Marketing manager Alex Houston explained to me that this is in fact their third year of Aphoristic Januaries.

“With the expansion of our marketing department beginning in 2014, and in recognition of our customers’ (near and far) appreciation of quirky, esoteric, and unexpected things, we decided to try a ‘Lichtenberg Appreciation Month’ in January 2015,” she said.

Every day that month, one aphorism from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s Waste Books was posted across their social media accounts.

“Aphorisms fit nicely into the social media format, while also overcoming it. They’re brief in terms of character count, but contain a great deal of wisdom–often not the case on social media!” she said.

Both the book and the execution of the promotion were well received, so Houston said they turned it into an annual tradition, featuring an aphorist each year since.

“Last year we highlighted Joseph Joubert’s Notebooks (Joubertuary, we called it), and this year we’re doing Cioran’s whole oeuvre (Cioranuary),” she said.

They’ve used the same marketing formula each year: a quote in the weekly newsletter, social media posts, and in-store display; and Houston said that every year they gain more followers and subscribers.

“It’s actually one of several ‘traditions’ we’ve started over the last few years–in February, we highlight a major piece by Theodor Adorno (Adorno-a-Day) and in July we highlight the Library of America–and people seem to enjoy the continuity, focus, and daily bits of wisdom each one provides,” she said.