The many faces of IFOA

How quiet the office seems now, a few weeks post-IFOA—such a contrast from the blur of famous faces and inspiring conversations. The Festival was a huge success thanks to the authors and their publishers, the hardworking staff and volunteers, our partners and sponsors and, of course, all of the book lovers who came down to the Harbourfront Centre to soak it all in.

We’re still sifting through the photos taken during the Festival, but in the meantime here are a few.

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Thanks also to our fabulous bloggers and everyone who followed the Festival from afar! We’re on to planning IFOA 2013…

– Nicole

The Future of the Novel: story is here to stay

By Vikki VanSickle

Saturday’s round table discussion, Zombies, Witches, Killers and Cowboys: Visions of the Future of the Novel, featured a group of authors from various genres with a wonderful natural chemistry. The scope of the discussion was large, touching on themes such as genre, love, the imagination and the writing process. The audience was very welcoming—and obviously full of Jo Nesbø fans.

Moderator Andrew Pyper kept the tone of the discussion light and fun. At one point Nesbø described storytelling as inviting people to your house; if they like it, they will come again. The event very much felt like we had been invited into a cozy collective living room. The discussion included a number of personal anecdotes and I’m sure if given the opportunity the audience would have stayed all afternoon to hear these mix of authors talk.

Andrew Pyper, Deborah Harkness, Alen Mattich, Jo Nesbø and Corey Redekop at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

The question of genre and categorization was one of the more interesting and heated discussions. Genre writers often feel sidelined or undermined by the literati. According to Nesbø, crime fiction is respected and prestigious in Scandinavia, but this is not the case in North America or England, causing Pyper to surmise what a M.G. Vassanji or Anne Michaels crime novel would look like, to much laughter from the audience.

Redekop brought up the case of Margaret Atwood, who made her mark as a literary writer and poet before diving into genre fictions such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood. Redekop wondered if she had written these novels first, would she be considered “merely” a science fiction writer? Atwood herself refers to these novels as “speculative fiction,” which many sci-fi writers find evasive and suggest that in using this term Atwood herself is aware of (and avoiding) the stigma of genre writing.

Deborah Harkness and Alen Mattich talked about the constraints of genre. Harkness referred to genre as a weapon, used by critics and literary award committees to demean so-called genre writers and exclude them from the literary elite. She also talked about genre policing, in which readers and critics are quick to exclude titles based on an arbitrary set of rules or perceived notions about genres.

Harkness is a historian and a professor and talked about the snobbery of her own colleagues, who assumed she would write her fiction (which features witches and vampires) under a pseudonym. Mattich agreed that in North American and British literary circles there is some derision of genre fiction, but he felt that the constraints of genre fiction benefit the writer. With no constraints, Mattich believes it would be harder to succeed. The framework provided by these categories, as arbitrary as they may be, allows the author a framework to push against or an opportunity to test the boundaries and perhaps come up with something fresh and new.

There was some discussion as to why we categorize. Harkness believes the categorizations exist only for the reader, and Redekop confessed that as a librarian, categories are are a useful tool when readers are seeking something to read.

Nesbø pointed out that genre is all about expectation. When a reader picks up a crime novel or a paranormal romance, they expect certain conventions. Like Mattich, he felt that these expectations make it easier to frame a story. So what of the cross-over novel, that holy grail sought by publishers, which seems to defy genre or categorization? The panel agreed that to write for the masses, or seek something as elusive as the cross-over novel, would endanger the story. As Nesbo says, don’t go to the people, invite them to come to you.

As for the future of the novel? The group steered away from discussion of format (re: e-books) and instead focused on content and what readers want. The panelists all agreed that story is here to stay. As Mattich says, people don’t like random events or information. We like a story to explain things.

Redekop took this one step further, suggesting that we are genetically predisposed to create stories in order to understand the world around us. Nesbø suggested that some of the most interesting writing is not in the novel, but in other formats, pointing to cable TV and shows such as Mad Men. He believes that in the future readers will want to be challenged, and that writers of all forms and genres should be ready for a world of intelligent readers.

This event was part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, in partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council.

Follow VanSickle on her blog, pipedreaming, or on Twitter @vikkivansickle.

Five questions with… novelist Corey Redekop

© Judd Dowhy

Corey Redekop will be at IFOA to share Husk, a novel about a struggling actor turned zombie.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival, and why?

Redekop: Aside from all the authors I “know” through Facebook and Twitter but haven’t yet met in person, there’s one individual I’m truly excited about (two if you count Cory Doctorow, but as we’re in the same event, I’ll just assume we’ll actually shake hands). I’m not sure if I’ll get to see him because of scheduling, but I do hope I’ll get chance to see and maybe meet China Miéville. Right now, pound for pound, Miéville’s one of the best fantasy writers on the planet, one of those rare writers able to infuse fantastical scenarios with absolutely believable characters (others being Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker). His prose is second to none, and The City and the City is one of the best fantasy thriller novels I’ve read this millennium. At heart, I am a huge geek, and while it bugs me that I’m actually older than many of the authors I geek out over, I’ll probably shriek with glee if I meet him.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Redekop: I typically read a few books at a time, my version of channel surfing, I suppose. I just completed Michael Tregebov’s very funny Jewish comedy The Shiva and Emily Schultz’s just so damned good The Blondes. I’m currently devouring Gemma Files’ A Tree of Bones, a great wrap-up to her Hexslinger trilogy, and I’m quite enjoying John Scalzi’s comic fantasy An Agent to the Stars. On deck, I’ve got Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, Heather Jessup’s The Lightning Field, and Mark A. Rayner’s The Fridgularity.

IFOA: What’s the coolest thing about being a zombie?

Redekop: Well, you don’t need sleep, so you get a lot of work done. By “work,” I mean rampant cannibalism, but it is work, especially when your lunch refuses to sit still. Also cool? You can easily win any “how long can you hold your breath?” contests.

IFOA: We’ve heard you’ll be here for your birthday. What do you usually do on your birthday?

Redekop: Normally, I take the day off work and lounge about the house in a bathrobe or, sometimes, completely naked. Should make for an interesting round table. IFOA is a clothing optional festival, right?

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Redekop: A massive timesuck, made of cats, a warning sign of the dumbing down of the world, and the greatest thing ever made.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Redekop: Eclectic.

Redekop will participate in two IFOA events: an October 25 reading and a round table called Zombies, Witches, Killers and Cowboys: Visions of the Future of the Novel on October 27.