Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas, CanLit!

Dear Canada:

I love you and your writers so much that I wrote you a Christmas poem. See below.

Two notes: Steven Beattie is a writer and a critic. Steven Beattie is the real Slim Shady.  And Erin Balser is the ballsy brilliant woman behind, among other things, CBC Books and Canada Reads.

I heart them both. I hope you can tell.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the CBC,
There were writers and readers chatting ‘neath the big tree.
They were all in attendance for a special big do—
Canada Reads For the Season! Just CanLit and You!
The day had been filled with some fine author schmoozing,
Some great, lively reads, and the requisite boozing,
(‘Cause that’s just what happens when CanLit gets together,
Regardless of feuding, or inclement weather),
CBC Books had lined up a great author collage,
Atwood, Edugyan, Winter, Boyden and Hage,
Along with some others whose names we’d forgotten,
(But well, c’est la vie, and while you might think that’s rotten,
It’s really just how one can keep staying ahead,
With no more than five authors at a time in one’s head,
Rest assured next year the names won’t be the same,
With a whole other five books thrown into the game!)
The day was a smash and was now winding down,
With authors and readers getting set to leave town,
When all of a sudden, we heard a thump on the roof,
Followed by prancing and pawing from something like a hoof,
And before you could say Christmas, there appeared at the door,
A jolly old man with a red suit, and more!
He was dressed in black boots, and his nose was quite red,
That looks just like Santa, some people whispered and said,
Though oddly, in place of the usual sack,
Santa seemed to have a satchel strung over his back.
He nodded to all, and ventured into the fray.
Then he strode right on stage and said, “Greetings! Good day!
I’ve come to you all with a proposal, of sorts.
I’m on a tight schedule, so I’ll keep it quite short.
But before I say anything else, Seasons Greetings!
I’m glad to see such a fine, bright festive meeting.
You writers and lit folk sure do put on a good show.
(And I’m sorry if I’ve happened to track in some snow).”
Santa then turned to Ms. Atwood, and bowed,
“It sure is a pleasure, ma’am, and I hope I’m allowed,
To say that I’m the biggest fan here in this gang!
You’re a real inspiration,” and his jolly voice rang
Right up to the rafters, so loud it made some of us heady,
“Do you mind,” he said, lower, “if I just call you Peggy?”
But Margaret, our Grand Dame, seemed rather put out,
As did the rest of the authors, the night now in doubt.
(Because really, in the presence of none other than Santa,
Who gives a fig about books, or whether one’s published in Granta?
Leave it to Saint Nick to tear the evening asunder,
Shake everything up, and then steal all the thunder.)
So Margaret said nothing, but rather just stood and glowered,
And in the face of her silence, Santa got strangely empowered.
“Oh, Peggy!” he said. “You’re a right jolly old elf. I laugh when I see you – in spite of myself!
Then he chortled and chuckled and gave her a poke,
But Peggy, it seemed, was not in on the joke.
Instead she just glared – the old “M. Atwood Freeze”
Until Santa coughed, shrugged, and muttered, “Well geez—
I thought you Canucks were supposed to be funny. What gives?
Is this country a place where fun no longer lives?”
No one responded—we just looked at the floor,
Until Santa sighed and said, “Joking no more.
I’m really quite serious, so please just be nice,
I want to publish a memoir, and I’d like some advice.”
Well—the room just exploded in shouts of pure glee,
 As Santa then gathered us quick by the tree,
“Advice, why of course! We’d be happy to share.
We writers just love flapping our mouths everywhere!
What would you like—some suggestions on plot?
Or some thoughts on pacing, a fake name or not?
Just ask us! We’d be happy to help. Overjoyed.
(And we all have the time, as we’re underemployed).”

“Well then,” said Santa, quite visibly shaken,
“Thank you!  I’m touched. It’s the best step I’ve taken
Thus far, and I’m sure it will all turn out great.
I just need to sell the damn thing—I can’t wait!
Canadian scribes are THE BEST, so I’m told,
I want to learn how you do it—my gig’s getting old.”
(From the snorts in the crowd, CanLit’s skeptics were showing,
But Santa, oblivious, just kept right on going,)
“No one knows what I go through,” and he just shook his head,
“My story needs telling. It has to be read.
You try flying around in a sleigh every year,
And holding the reins of those fucking reindeer,
Without having a breakdown! It’s completely exhausting.
I can no longer hide it with milk and some cookies with frosting.
I needed an outlet, and so I wrote down my story.
In all of its pain and its elf-centered glory.
And I want it out there – I think it’s only fair,
That I get the big bucks for being willing to share
The ups and the downs of the North Pole lifestyle.
It ain’t all fun and games, as I’ve known for a while.”
“That’s all well and good,” someone said, from the crowd,
“But misery memoirs are done. Not allowed!”
“It isn’t all gloomy,” Santa snapped, right away,
“There are plenty of laughs. I assure you. Okay?”
“How’s your technique?” shouted out someone new.
“Will you need a ghostwriter? (I’m for hire, if you do.)
‘Cause you know, it’s actually harder than it looks
To string words together and make beautiful books.”
“I’m aware,” Santa said, seeming kind of offended.
“I know it’s not easy. But I assure you, I’ve tended
My words with real care. They’re not filler.
And besides—it’s not like I’ll win a GG or the Giller.
I just want to be published! I just want the fame!
I just want a book that has my own name
On front. Is that so terrible? What’s wrong with you folk?
You’re all so bloody serious – is there no room for a joke?”
“We don’t like to laugh in CanLit,” Peggy said.
“Well, Leacock did, once, but that was then. Now he’s dead.”
But her eyes were now twinkling, and the shake of her head,
Soon gave Santa to know he had nothing to dread.
“We’ll get you set up,” Peggy said then, with a smile,
“You’ll become an author in true Canuck style!
We’ll get you a mentor, someone to keep you inspired.
Maybe Alice Munro, now that she’s gone and retired?”
Santa shook his head. “I’m honoured, but no.
I’d be tongue-tied and scared in the room with Munro.
And—don’t get me wrong – I know all about Alice.
But Nobel or not, she’s just no Terry Fallis!
I want funny! Some ha-has! Some chuckles and laughter!
And then maybe a show with some big stars, and after
All that, then I’d like to retire.
To spend my days eating and watching reruns of The Wire!”

He finished his speech and stood flushed on the stage,
His red cheeks a-thrumming with blood, love, and age,
His heart pumping madly, his eyes all agleam,
His jolly old self just so thrilled with the dream.
So thrilled, in fact, that at first no one could speak,
Since to do so would make the room gloomy and bleak,
But sooner than not a voice came from the back,
“Santa – you’re joking. Or perhaps you’re on crack?
No one in CanLit makes that kind of money.
You said no more jokes, but that’s really not funny.”
“What do YOU mean?” said Santa, “I like my chances!”
“I hear all the time about six figure advances.
And if Snooki can publish, then I sure as hell have a shot!”
The room’s holiday enthusiasm now so obviously curbed,
The voice from the back came again, unperturbed.
“Well Santa, you know, those are all in the States.
The writers up here all have different fates.”
He stepped out from the crowd, this naysayer of doom,
Calm and bespectacled, quiet wielder of gloom.
Made his way to the stage and then shook Santa’s hand,
“My name’s Steven Beattie. I sure am a big fan.”
“Well now,” said Santa, a little nonplussed,
“That’s as may be, boy, but why all the fuss?
Celebrity memoirs are in! Big appeal!
We’ll sell a million books off the bat, no big deal!”
And while no one could deny the mass market appeal
(I mean—a memoir from Santa? Get out! Totes for real!)
The writers around him just kept looking sad,
While Steven continued, “It’s not really that bad,
You’ll have lots of friends here, and it might just amount,
To sixty new followers on your Twitter account,
They’ll love you. You can bond over watching The Wire,
And when the book comes out I’ll showcase it in the Quill & Quire!
But, uh, if you’re wanting millions, then it might just be best,
If you took your memoir down south, and talked to New York execs.”
Santa just stared for a moment, then sighed.
“Truth be told, folks, I have already tried.
I went down last month, and it all looked quite grand –
I had a full contract, and my tour was planned.
But then Megyn Kelly got all weird on Fox News,
Said, “Santa is white, kids, and so were the Jews,”
And I just can’t have that. It’s bizarre. It’s far-out.
It’s entirely not what Christmas is about.
And I thought—screw the US! I know a place
Where the literature’s just as like to put a smile on your face.”
Then Santa’s voice changed just a smidge, just a bit,
A threat plainly there, in the talk of his lit,
“And so I came here, with my memoir already written.
You’d best get it quick, or I’ll take it to Britain.”

Well. Faced with this future, it was then no surprise,
To see panic and scheming flood our publishers’ eyes.
Before you could say auction, they began to place bids,
All of them screaming and shouting out like little kids,
The deal was snapped up in the blink of an eye,
Though the price, shall we say, made Santa a rather sad guy,
“The truth is,” said Steven, “writing won’t make you rich.
It might get you some fame here, but the whole gig is a bitch.
If you want a sure source of income? A good guarantee?
Get your reindeer together, and go on reality TV.”
And then, right on cue, Erin Balser stepped up to the plate,
Her eyes all a-sparkle, her smile wide and so great.
“That’s perfect!” she said, “I know just what this needs!”
“Santa, we’ll get your memoir on Canada Reads!
It’s like American Idol for readers, but better
Like some kind of posh celeb panel love letter
To books, and their authors, and it would just be so great,
If you and your memoir deigned to participate!”
“I’m flattered,” said Santa, “I’d love to. Let’s do it!”
“Well hold on,” said Erin, “there’s lots more still to it.
For one thing, your book won’t get on without votes.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” said Santa, “Everyone dotes
On me and my reindeer! They love me. It’s true.
I’ll have all the votes before you can say Cindy-Lou Who!
(And if someone’s against it, and starts the trash talking,
You can guess what THEY’LL get in their red Christmas stocking!)”
“But Santa,” said Steven, “you still need to publish the book.
And edit, and promote, and get people to look
At what you’re trying to say—you need an AUDIENCE, my friend,
Something just not as easy as gifts without end.
Are you ready for people to dislike your story?
For the reviews on Goodreads in their snide and bored glory?
And hey—while we’re at it, do you make do with rhyme?
You can’t piss off our poets—that’s ALWAYS a bad time.
(Though I will say your luck will most likely endure.
White, male and privileged! That’s a hat trick for sure.)
The Gilmours will love you, and so will the Listas,
They’ll say that your memoir builds new and broad vistas
Of what it might mean to be a man, by and by,
An earnest, and serious, heterosexual guy!
If nothing else happens, you can certainly bet
That your book will be taught in some classes, and yet,
You should know, just in case, that the CWILA fine folk,
Might take you to task for that small Atwood poke
At the start of this business! And they’ll want to know,
Where Mrs. Claus sits in the grand scheme of snow
Because surely the magic of Christmas, as planned,
Like literature, cannot be the work of one man,
Or woman! Just like books, Christmas is composed of a tribe,
A million broad penstrokes that all come alive.
When you read on the page and get carried away,
By the stories, the voices, the thoughts of the day.
I believe in you, Santa, so don’t look forlorn,
But if you’re going to do this, then you’d best be forewarned.
CanLit is no limping, weak maid in distress.
She’s a TIGER! A seething, gyrating, hot mess!
Are you up for that? Are you game? Are you ready?”
The entire room blinked, all their tears at the ready,
(Because as much as we squabble, our lit love is true, and it’s steady)
But Santa just yawned and then gave back the words,
“Blah blah blah blah TIGER—that’s all that I heard.
You lost me at ‘work’, son. I’ve done all I can.
This book is ready. I like this Canada Reads plan.
I’ve got good lawyers, and a PR firm to boot,
(So many lawsuits I’ve settled over the ol’ ashes and soot.)
I think I can take it! I’m calm. I’m at ease.
So that’s where I’m going to go, if you please.
And if people protest—well then who cares? Not me.
I’ll be living it up on the beach, fancy free.
My authorial millions all tucked safe at the bank.”
Poor Steven—you could just see his heart as it sank.
Yet another poor bastard suckered into illusion
Of the Big Money in Lit—the world’s greatest delusion.
But all things now settled, Santa looked mighty clever,
His cheeks just as rosy and dimpled as ever.
He reached in his satchel and took out manuscript pages,
And scrawled his name on them in clear, loopy stages.
Then he gave out the papers to hands in the crowd.
Everyone jostling and shouting their names all out loud.
Erin, meanwhile, began to scribble away,
Her thoughts focused on panels, and who might defend Santa’s sleigh,
While Peggy and all of the other Reads writers,
Now thoroughly pushed to the side, took their lighters,
And held them up high, cheering Santa Claus on,
As he scribbled and scrabbled and excitedly shone.
(A record! A milestone! A true big deal, surely,
For no author has EVER signed their books this early!)
And when that last MS page had been signed and snatched up,
When the revelers had left and all gone home to sup,
Santa put the cap on his Sharpie and turned to the crew,
“My sleigh will be waiting,” he said, “Toodle-oo!
I’ll come back here in the spring, and we can talk about books.
I’m excited! I can’t wait to see how everything looks.”
“Just make sure,” said Erin, “your editor has a copy to stet.
I know you’ll be busy tonight—don’t forget!”
“Oh, dear,” said Santa, his face suddenly white.
“Didn’t they already do it? A bit earlier? That’s right?”
Erin put down her pen. “Is this some kind of caper?”
“They didn’t copy. They all wanted a paper
With your name scrawled on it! Do you mean to say,
That your only copy was the one you GAVE OUT TODAY?”
“Well um,” said Santa, now bumbling and scared,
“This is all new. Perhaps I am unprepared.”
Honest to God, that was practically a crime!
Now I’ll have to contact everyone who was here!”
While Santa slunk down on the stage, trembling with fear.
“It’s okay,” he said then, “I’m quite sure you can do it.
I have faith. It’s a small thing—I’m sure that I didn’t blew it.”
“Didn’t blew it?” Erin snarled, waving Saint Nick to the door,
“That’s some excellent grammar. This will be such a chore.
Now go home and look through your old drafts right quick,
You can take tonight off, but tomorrow there’s no calling in sick.
You’ll be great on the show, Santa, I have absolutely no doubt.
But there’s a long road ahead, so right now—get the fuck out!”
And Santa, thus chastened, made his way through the door,
His tarnished old boots leaving soot on the floor,
And in two quick moments, Erin heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof,
As the sleigh then took off with Santa snug inside,
His Big Writer dream now all shining with pride.
Erin sighed out quite heavy, and then calmed herself down,
After all—books take a while to become the talk of the town.
In the meantime, next year held a great writer montage,
Atwood, Edugyan, Winter, Boyden, and Hage!
“I’ll just focus on that for right now,” Erin said,
“And when all of that’s done, I’ll think Santa instead.”
But she just couldn’t help one more thought for the day,
“You know, Santa might not become rich, like he’ll say,
At least he’ll have fun though. I think. That makes sense.
(I’ll make sure that no bloggers snark at his expense).”
As she went out the building, Erin stopped and gave thanks,
For a book culture so varied and filled with good chance,
That Santa was happy to cast in his lot,
With our motley crew! “What a bright spot
Of joy in an otherwise crummy
Canadian winter. How delicious, how yummy.”
And as she slipped around on the ice on her way home to bed,
(No emergency in TO! Never fear! Do not dread!
We might fight over books here, but at the end of the day,
Mr. Rob Ford’s in charge, so it’ll all be okay.)
Erin thought last of Steven’s choice words for CanLit:
A tiger! A hot mess! What a glorious fit!
I’ll say,” she muttered, glad that no one could hear.
“It’s certainly been one hot heck of a year!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night,
He won’t hear it from me, but man—STEVEN BEATTIE WAS RIGHT!”

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