Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with the Advent Book Blog Crew

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Ten Questions with the Advent Book Blog Crew

Open Book talks to the Advent Book Blog crew, Sean Cranbury, Julie Wilson and Abe, the Advent Book Elf, about their nifty blog, current reading, future projects and a day in the life of a hard-working elf.

Open Book: Toronto:

Julie and Sean, how did you come up with the idea for the Advent Book Blog?

Julie Wilson:

When Sean approached me about a collaboration, I understood immediately what he was going for. I like simple, formulaic projects that ask a lot of people to make little efforts to yield one impressive result. I'm attracted to ideas that draw people in and give them faces. The handsell requires a lot of personal effort just to reach one person. It's catered to the individual, the hope being that if we connect to enough “one persons” we'll make an impact, or it will be paid forward in another recommendation. Projects like the Advent Book Blog ask said “one person” to stand alongside all the others as peers. Then we take off the blindfold to see what we've got. By the time December 25th rolls around, we'll have a nice family album of readers and recommendations.

Sean Cranbury:

This is an experiment in Virtual Handselling and a real-time demonstration of how rich and diverse the books/publishing community is. The idea for this kind of free-form collaboration came to me some time in early November as I struggled to figure out how I was going to do justice to all of the amazing books and people that I was coming into contact with as a result of my Books on the Radio project. It occurred to me that there was more room for interesting things to happen if we tapped into the true passion of the people who work with books and creativity everyday. This is a project that’s built for book fans by book fans, and I think that it’s a sensible alternative to things like the Globe’s 100 Best Books of 2009 or the NYT’s Top 10 or whatever else.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind for the blog?

JW:

This is a definite sound out to the publishing industry, so I expect we thought they'd be the first tier of readers. But we also recognized their ability to share the Advent Book Blog with their readership, broadening the scope. Beyond that, with as many participants, books and authors associated with this project, I think we hoped for a lot of old school word-of-mouth. People have been wonderful about handselling our digital handsell. It's a you-have-to-see-it-to-appreciate-it project.

SC:

My instincts told me that the audience was there, but it’s always hard to tell who is going to show up for the party until they walk through the door. There’s this kind of weird myth that sometimes blows through the industry that "nobody reads anymore." We know that isn’t true. And we knew that if we put this project together that the readers would be there. And they are.

OBT:

How do you select the people who recommend the books?

JW:

One of the cool things about Sean and I working out of different cities (and provinces) is that we've each been able to bring in a host of industry professionals, authors and bloggers who were either unknown to us or we'd never had the opportunity (or pleasure) to work with. Readers have everything to gain from the blog, but we really wanted to create a place where people who have firsthand knowledge of the business of publishing could remove their stripes and offer up a personal pitch, first and foremost as readers. To that end, the original plan was to pick a small group of participants, so that we could repeat the process on a (publishing) seasonal basis, but the feedback was so overwhelmingly immediate that we opened the call to anyone who would like to sell the world a Coke...er...book.

SC:

We started with the people that we knew locally and let it grow from there. Personally, I looked at who attended BookCamp Toronto and BookCamp Vancouver as the core target audience for this since those events are based largely on collaborative/participatory ideals. And Julie’s right, the response has been incredible. It has been a huge learning experience watching this thing develop from the inside. The analytics are very interesting.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

JW:

I'm getting caught up on this year's Canada Reads titles as the guest host for the CBC Book Club. Reading's always for pleasure, but non-work related titles include Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (recommended to me by the effervescent Deanna McFadden from HarperCollins) and The Mitochondrial Curiosities of Marcels 1-19, which Marina Endicott palmed me at the Canada Reads launch. I felt guilty about that for two seconds until I realized that I'm probably going to buy three copies to give away this season, it's that good. Both titles are absolutely fantastic.

SC:

Charles Demers’ Vancouver Special is probably the best popular book every written on the city of Vancouver. It’s hilarious and has a great edge to it, and it will absolutely break the heart of anyone who has lived here and moved away because of the beautiful evocation of those little visceral details of what it’s like to live in this crazy place. Srsly, beauty to the point of heartbreak. Why the Leafs Suck and How They Can Be Fixed by Al Strachan. An amazing book that’s funny, searing and honest. Trying to figure out whether Deanna and Steve will disown me if I put it on the Advent Book Blog! Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel, is for me the best of a very good bunch of books published on social media this year (Trust Agents by Chris Brogan/ Julien Smith and Friends with Benefits by Darren Barefoot/Julie Szabo are also recommended for people interested in this stuff).

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JW:

I'm horrible at this. I really am. Honestly? I'd suggest books I have yet to read; then we could be strangers in the same land together.

SC:

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews and Fatal Distraction by Sonja Ahlers.

OBT:

What's your next project?

JW:

When Sean and I first started throwing names around, I pointed out that “advent” would easily evolve from something seasonal to a state of mind, that thing on the horizon. For this project, it felt like the right time to ask people to move beyond the constant output that Twitter or Facebook creates, to perform as simple reformat so those same messages could reside in one useful, pretty place. If Twitter is a rushing river, the Advent Book Blog is the swim up bar. I think Sean and I both like conversation-starters, but we're also gracious hosts. So the next step will be to allow the guests to mingle and see what they get up to.

Personally, I'm finishing up Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion for ECW Press, under the pen name Rebecca Wilcott. And I'd like to do something again for National Poetry Month.

SC:

Good question. I have some ideas for the next project related to the Advent Book Blog, and I think that it’ll be very cool. Julie and I will discuss it in the New Year after she sleeps for about 12 solid days. Also, Books on the Radio continues to develop, and there are some interesting irons in the fire there in terms of the next stage of development.

Personally, I’m working on my dj skills and am trapped in a kind of freeform late sixties Miles Davis/Donald Byrd Blue Note groove spiral right now, and it’s hard for me to imagine who would want to come listen to me mix weird jazz fusion riffs... * thinks for a moment * ...unless I also served beer. Hmmm....

I’m trying to read as much as I can while also getting some writing done. It’s a challenge but whatever.

OBT:

And now, over to you, Abe. Tell us about the Advent Book Blog.

ABE:

The Advent Book Blog is a place where passionate people come together to talk about their favorite books. It’s a place that’s dedicated to building a community, and it acts as a kind of introduction to people and books that one might not otherwise know about.

It’s about making connections and opening up conversation.

OBT:

What's it like to work for Sean and Julie? Tell us about a day in the life of a Book Elf.

ABE:

It’s fine, I guess. For an Elf this is a pretty sweet gig. I mean, I could be fire dancing for caribou snacks on Baffin Island like my friend Charles or flying around the moon for the amusement of the children of the King of Sweden like my cousin Donna, so I really shouldn’t complain.

Advent Book Lodge is a pretty sweet pad, too. I usually work at my long oak work bench hammering and sculpting the stuff that people send in while Sean threatens to feed the cats to the pack of sled dogs that huddle outside in the biting arctic wind. The cats are always complaining about something. Julie’s usually out sipping cocktails at some palatial residence talking to fabulously wealthy writers or she’s working on her vampire book. As an elf, all that undead stuff kinda freaks me out.

Most of my day is spent working on getting the Advent Book posts just right. Also collecting firewood and working on the augmented cappuccino machine that’s been redesigned to make steamed rum and eggnog lattes.

Oh yeah, and making sure that there’s enough spiced rum to go around.

OBT:

Abe, what brought you back to Canada to work in books? Is there something about Canadian publishing and culture that you particularly love?

ABE:

The police brought me back. In one of those paddy wagons after an unfortunate altercation with a Red Wings fan in downtown Detroit. I had no idea that the woman in question was that man’s mother. Didn’t really seem like an important detail at the time.

Anyway, the thing about Canadian publishing and Canadians in general is that they produce a huge variety of really great things. They possess this limitless imagination and generally have pretty good taste. And they’re funny.

Look at the Canadian book titles that have been recommended on the blog. Look at the cover design for that Mitochondria book for crying out loud! Where else are you going to see that kind of playful audacity? Well, maybe the Swedes would do something similar or the Japanese.

But I guess the true magic thing about Canadians and their publishing industry is that they seem completely oblivious to how amazing they are.

OBT:

Complete this sentence: If I wasn't a Book Elf, I'd be...

ABE:

...inventing Cheese Fonts for the Helvetica Cheese Company in Tucson, Arizona.


Sean Cranbury is a freelance writer, speaker and consultant living in Vancouver, BC. He has 20 years of experience in the book trade as an independent bookseller and indie publisher.

His recent speaking project, "Digital Rights Management vs. the Inevitability of Free Content" has been presented at BookCamp Toronto 2009 Unconference, Simon Fraser University's 2009 Digital Publishing Workshop and BookCamp Vancouver 2009 Unconference.

Sean is the host and curator for the radio show "Books on the Radio" on CJSF 90.1 FM. The show and website showcase new voices and ideas in writing and book publishing.

He is The Director of Creative Awareness for the Vancouver Biennale, a not-for-profit public art installation occurring in Vancouver from 2009-2011 and an organizer at BookCamp Vancouver 2009 Unconference.

Sean spends his quiet times listening to records and arguing with cats.


Julie Wilson is the guest host of the CBC Book Club, founder of BookMadam.com and curator of the literary voyeurism project SeenReading.com.

She lives in Toronto where she is writing Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion under the pen name Rebecca Wilcott (June 2010, ECW Press).

Photo of Julie by Ryan Couldrey.


Abe, the Advent Book Elf, was born during a howling wind storm just outside Iqaluit some time in the mid 70s. He was raised by sled dogs and has dined on fresh salmon with Iditarod champions.

Affable and peripatetic by nature, Abe has traveled widely. He's stowed away on trawlers, gambled away his meager savings in Monaco casinos and worked as an A&R elf for the Helvetica Cheese Company in Tucson, Arizona.

Abe returned to Canada in 2009 and now spends his time communicating telepathically with @seancranbury and @bookmadam .

1 comment

Great interview!

Wonderful to finally get a glimpse into the world of the book elf himself.

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