Kobo Writing Life Podcast

What if some of the artists we feel as if we know – Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Bill Murray – turned up in the course of our daily lives?

That’s the basis of this collection of linked stories that follow Rose McEwan, an ordinary woman who keeps having extraordinary encounters with famous people.

Nora Parker, Merchandising Coordinator at Kobo, interviews Marni Jackson, author of Don’t I Know You? Published by Flatiron Books in New York.

In the interview, Nora and Marni discuss:

  • Marni’s turn to fiction from her previous books such as Pain: The Science of Why We Hurt and Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest
  • The accidental manner by which these stories ended up converging into the linked-stories novel that it became, starting with a short story Marni wrote called “Bob Dylan Goes Tubing” which was originally published in The Walrus in September 2012
  • How that same “Bob Dylan” short story was inspired by a painting that her son created one afternoon when they were at the cottage
  • How Jackson choose who to include in the stories and how Rose McEwan’s relationship to celebrity evolves throughout the tales
  • How Bill Murray is a great character in the book because of the carefully curated and crafted persona of “Bill Murray” that he deftly manages and uses to connect with his fans (or, to use a very Canadian term, as Marni does: “Stick-handles” his fame in a really interesting way
  • The interesting relationship between celebrity and audience and how the audience or fans actually “author” a celebrity’s fame
  • The manner by which celebrities don’t necessarily exist “out there” in the distance, but that they are very much a part of our creative lives (ie, we may put on one of their songs while we are having sex – a perfect example of how they are incorporated into those intimate moments)
  • The juxtaposition of the journalist in Jackson who enjoyed documenting real elements from the celebrities in this book with the fun and fictional encounters with Rose
  • Jackson’s interest in our relationships with celebrities and our relationship to fame rather than in the cult of celebrity
  • The Al Purdy stage show project that Jackson is currently working on based on the film al purdy was here which she co-wrote that her husband, Brian D. Johnson, directed
  • The concerns regarding the mention of famous people in the book and the fact that Jackson’s lawyer went through it with her line-by-line to ensure there was nothing that could be construed as libelous or defamation of character

After the interview, Mark Lefebvre, Director of Kobo Writing Life and Author Relations, shares some thoughts regarding Author Branding, outlining some ways in which an author can ensure that they are curating and presenting a consistent author persona or brand out into the world. He draws upon a couple of examples that, like in the Bill Murray reference Marni Jackson uses, are Canadian. He uses his own example of the use of the life-sized skeleton Barnaby Bones that he employs for his Mark Leslie horror/paranormal/ghost story author persona. He also explores Hugo and Nebula Award winning science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer who uses the “Dean of Canadian Science Fiction” element throughout his persona, including the name of his website: SFWRITER.COM. As a final example, Mark looks at the fonts uses in the title for the Netflix original STRANGER THINGS and how that makes a promise to potential viewers.

Other links of interest:

Marni Jackson's Website

Marni Jackson's Books on Kobo

Flatiron Books

The Walrus Magazine

Branding for Writers – from Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn

Direct download: KWL_Podcast_067_MarniJackson.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:34am PDT

Recorded at Kobo's headquarters, this episode features Toronto-based literary agent Sarah Heller, from the Helen Heller Agency. Why did Sarah become an agent? What are some benefits to being an agent in Toronto? What are some key tips for authors planning to query an agent? Tune in as Sarah and US Manager Christine Munroe discuss all of this and more.

  • Sarah has a background is in fine arts, but her mother (Helen) started the agency in 1988 so she grew up with publishing in the background. Sarah joined the agency 11 years ago.

  • Growing up she always loved reading, was surrounded by books, and all of that fell into place when she started agenting.

  • Why Sarah loves working in Toronto; it offers the benefit of being easily accessible to other international publishing centres, New York, and London, but is separate enough that there’s a vibrant Toronto/Canadian writing and publishing community.

  • Why she loves being an agent. She can wear many hats – introduce people and projects to one another, dig into the creative process with edits, negotiate contracts.

  • “With the advent of being able to publish quickly online…it’s a very viable way of publishing your book and doing well with it financially and critically.”

  • She helps her authors make best use of all of their work. Many authors have projects stowed away that haven’t been published, or have gone out of print, so there’s great new potential in digital publication.

  • Their agency manages a KWL account and helps authors publish digitally to Kobo. “The landscape is so fluid that you can publish a book online…that can then retroactively be picked up by a publisher if that’s ultimately what an author wants… There are also cases of certain territories not having access to a book that now they do.”

  • They want to take advantage of all opportunities to help their authors advance their careers.

  • How to stand out when querying an agent:

  • Get the name of the person you’re addressing your query to. Never, “Dear Sir or Madam” (no “sirs” at their agency, for example!).

  • Research what kind of books the agency handles – and does not handle.

  • Brief and to the point query letter, synopsis and your background.

  • No gimmicks necessary.


Sarah Heller has developed an internationally and New York Times bestselling list. She specializes in establishing new authors with a focus on front list commercial YA and adult fiction. Sarah received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University, and is a graduate of the Advertising Design program of the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Direct download: Sarah_Heller_interview.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:00am PDT