Re: RARA-AVIS: Canadian Noir

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 14 Apr 2007

At 10:32 PM 12/04/2007, you wrote:

>One of the main things that bothers me is that we have a lot of presses here
>propped up by government grant money. I appreciate the fact that, were it
>not for these grants, these publishers wouldn¹t be in business. And I
>accept that as a reality, but it means they do not need to concern
>themselves with marketability and sales.

Selections and decisions about grant applications are usually made by panels of artists, which makes for a lot of kafkaesk arts politics. You think intrigue on RARA can sometimes be intense...

There's also often a sense that focus shifts to please the government of the day, however slightly, and governments often express policies toward the arts that they believe reflects the eminently sensible views of the folks who put them in office, so the marketplace gets in there somehow, in the end. The nice thing about this process is no one actually has to actually read the book, or view the art, to know whether it's any good or not.

> In my wildest quirk outside of my
>usual reading I actually really enjoy H. Mel Malton¹s Polly Deacon series,
>but publishers like Rendezvous depress me. They would have us think the
>cops are all stereotypical donut-eating, bumbling idiots who can¹t connect
>two dots, and thank goodness the realtors and puppet makers are out there
>solving murders.

I suspect the folks at Rendezvous felt they were taking a pretty big risk at the time they started up. The only other line I can think of devoted to Canuck crime is Castle Street over at Dundurn Press. Ours is a small market and the existence of publishers, even the once dominant M&S, is precarious. Raincoast's recent success was largely gained by having secured rights to sell the Harry Potter series here, not from the sudden popularity of any of the Canadian authors. We've still a somewhat colonial attitude to culture, so I don't begrudge anyone writing or publishing what they think will succeed. And some Rendezvous authors have written darker stuff which we published in the Canuck Noir anthologies. Even got a nice little noir from Eric Wright (now with Dundurn) at the start.

>The reality is that authors such as Giles Blunt have demonstrated that the
>setting can sell to readers if the writing is strong.
>Margaret Laurence was about as bleak as it gets. Toss in a crime and I
>could write books set in Canada... I¹d just have to call it literature.

Not that it was all that easy for Margaret. And if it ever got easier, it was because Hollywood made Rachel, Rachel, based on her Stone Angel. The talent was always there, the work strong, but she had to be validated by the dominant culture before becoming acceptable here. Even then, I seem to recall that she was not very welcome back in the small Manitoba town where she grew up. And there was a push to ban her books in the Ontario school district where she spent the the last decades of her life.

Again, this is all magnified by Canada being a relatively small market- one tenth the size of the US, but I think this also feeds into what Willow is saying about self-perception (we're too nice and polite to murder anyone) becoming a difficult to overcome reality (we're too boring to host noir fiction.)

Would you describe Giles Blunt's fiction, definitely good stuff, as noir?

Best, Kerry

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