Monday, December 06, 2010

Toronto Life Regrets The Error

"For one thing, Toronto may have dodged a bullet: Smitherman was a lousy candidate who never managed to define what he believed in ... He struck me as nervous and shifty -- not a natural leader."
-- Toronto Life, Editor's Letter by Sarah Fulford, January 2011

"[T]he city is ready to bust out of its self-stifling punctiliousness … We need a brash mayor who will throw some weight around. Which brings us to George Smitherman, the oddsmakers’ favourite in the October 25 mayoral election … Smitherman is staking his campaign on the issue of job creation, while his rivals are proposing no end of brazen ideas—from subway networks to privatizations to casinos—in an effort to be what he already is: larger than life.

The Conservative strategist Jaime Watt—one of the architects of the Harris Conservatives’ two majority election victories and a partner with Navigator, the PR firm, and now one of the key players on Smitherman’s campaign team—once said that the key to image management isn’t to make a politician into someone he’s not, but to convince voters that a particular politician, warts and all, is the person they want to elect for the job at hand. And George Smitherman is looking more and more like the proverbial right guy in the right place at the right time."
-- Toronto Life, 50 Reasons to Love Toronto, Philip Preville, June 2010

Funny Person Jessica Holmes Writes Funny Book

Funny Ladies
Canadian Jessica Holmes is the latest female comedian to trade stage for page
Chatelaine | October 2010 | Ryan Bigge

In January 2009, exactly two years after Vanity Fair claimed women aren’t as funny as men, Tina Fey got revenge by appearing on the magazine’s cover. Not only are female comics as hilarious as their male counterparts, they are also now storming bestseller lists as well as sitcoms and stages. And their rising popularity means female funnybooks are now being taken very seriously (so to speak) by publishers and readers alike.

Royal Canadian Air Farce’s Jessica Holmes is the latest comedian to humorously over-share with her new memoir, I Love Your Laugh: Finding the Light in My Screwball Life. Her book combines family zaniness (her father’s predilection for buying crappy brown cars) with an emotionally revealing look at various professional and personal humiliations (such as going to a drugstore to return a box of condoms during the height of her Air Farce fame).

Holmes’ philosophy is that you cannot die from embarrassment — it will only make you stronger (and funnier): “Whatever you experience at the time, hopefully in the end it’s something you can laugh about.”

Today Holmes has plenty of company on bookstore shelves, including The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee (I Know I Am, But What Are You?) and Sarah Silverman (The Bedwetter). But this wasn’t the case when she began the book. “It was only after I started writing that Kathy Griffin’s book came out,” Holmes explains. “I thought about studying the technique for writing a book, but in the end I just decided to literally put what was in my brain down on paper.”

While Holmes jokes that “books don’t pay the mortgage” because most authors earn “six cents an hour,” the quip isn’t entirely accurate. In October 2008, Tina Fey signed a book contract worth an estimated $5 million — proving that female punch lines can be very good for a publisher’s bottom line.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Steve Martin Name Checks Deborah Solomon In My Chatelaine Interview

I interviewed Steve Martin for Chatelaine back in September and he mentioned Deborah Solomon as an art writer he admires. Given the recent hullabaloo about Martin's recent appearance at the 92nd Street Y (where he was unsuccessfully interviewed by Ms. Solomon), I thought I'd post it here. I should also mention that, like Solomon's Q&As in the NYTM, my interview with Martin was condensed and edited.

All About Steve
We talked to the master comedian, actor and banjo player about his love of writing and his new novel, An Object of Beauty
Chatelaine | December 2010 | Ryan Bigge

From culture blog
Steve Martin remains best known for his comedy – be it as an Academy Awards co-host, Tina Fey’s one-time love interest on 30 Rock, doting boyfriend to Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated or, of course, his wild and crazy stand-up days. But over the past 10 years he has quietly developed a respectable career as a man of letters. Along with a couple of novellas, 2001’s Shopgirl (about a sad young woman selling gloves at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills) and 2003’s The Pleasure of My Company (about a young man with obsessive-compulsive disorder) Martin has also written the memoir Born Standing Up (2007), which details how he conquered the stand-up world before quitting forever in 1981 to focus on feature films. The newest addition to Martin’s book list is An Object of Beauty, his first full-length novel. “I wanted to blend art history with a novel,” Martin explains. “And making the narrator an art writer gave me an excuse to recall what I thought were some fascinating historical stories about the art world.”

Spanning 18 years, An Object of Beauty is a dark and wry look at the 1990s boom and eventual bust of the contemporary art market in New York. The novel follows the exploits of a young, stylish and ambitious woman named Lacey Yeager who starts as an underling at Sotheby’s auction house and eventually opens her own gallery in Chelsea. Along the way she breaks a variety of hearts, inflicting multiple fractures on an art-collecting playboy named Patrice Claire. Narrated by Daniel Chester French Franks (an art writer and friend of Lacey), An Object of Beauty is filled with sharp and witty observations about fashion, Manhattan rituals and the culture of money. And, as an added bonus, the novel includes various colour reproductions of famous artworks (including pieces by Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha), providing Martin with an opportunity to dabble as a curator.

Despite recently turning 65, Martin has no desire to slow down. “I don’t even know what that means,” he says. “Sometimes for me, retiring is sitting down to write a book and doing nothing else. But in a sense I am retired since I don’t have a job.” Chatelaine spoke with Martin by telephone from his New York home about his favourite kinds of literary characters, his brand-new Twitter account and the financial (and artistic) genius of Andy Warhol.

What inspired An Object of Beauty?
I have been fascinated with art and the art world and how they overlap my whole life. I’ve also been fascinated with a certain type of character that exists in both men and women: the narcissistic personality or sociopath, although I don’t like to use those terms because I think they ruin books. I’ve seen these characters come and go throughout my life and since I’m a writer, I’m always looking for things to write about.

Why did you decide to include colour reproductions, like Pablo Picasso’s Woman with Pears and Willem de Koonig’s Woman I, in your book?
I found myself describing the pictures – and I really enjoyed writing those descriptions – and I suddenly thought “Why not create an illustrated novel?” Which, by the way, is not unique: they used to do woodcuts in novels. It felt interesting to have colour photographs of paintings in a novel. I hope the images help the description’s poetry rather than inhibit them.

An Object of Beauty includes a lot of references to Andy Warhol: There’s an image of his Marilyn silkscreen; the character Lacey Yeager buys a Warhol and you describe the work of Picasso and Warhol as equivalent “objects of beauty.” What’s so appealing about Warhol?
Not only is Warhol important as an artist, like Roy Lichtenstein, he was also a financial wonder during the period of time I describe in the novel. He was really leading the way in terms of the art world and the auction houses. As I explain in the book, his phenomenal prices were actually making work by new artists more valuable.

You’ve written two novellas before, but this book is your first full-length novel. Did you experience any significant challenges while writing the longer work?
I tend to write terse. And I knew I wanted to write a longer book. So I wrote about a longer period of time. Both Shopgirl and The Pleasure of my Company were about events that occurred over about two years. This book takes place over 18 years. So that was one way I tricked myself into writing a longer book.

You’ve written a number of screenplays, including L.A. Story and Roxanne. Do you approach fiction and screenplays differently?
Yes, completely different. A screenplay is an interface that is not an end in itself. It’s almost a shorthand or a guide, while a book is the final thing. You craft every sentence. You let it stew. You put it down for three months. You pick it back up. You read it aloud to yourself. I read it to my dog. I worry over individual choices of words for weeks.

Who are some of your favourite authors?
In terms of this book, I would say my favourite authors are art writers. Adam Gopnik – but he hasn’t written about art lately. Peter Schjeldahl. John Richardson. And Deborah Solomon, who only writes sporadically about art. She wrote the Joseph Cornell biography and is working on biography of Norman Rockwell.

Is there something you’re reading right now that you’re exciting about?
Not right now because I’m overwhelmed. But I do recommend the John Richardson biography of Picasso.

What projects do you have coming up next?
I’m working on another bluegrass-banjo album that will be out in February. It’s called Rare Bird Alert. And I have a movie coming out next year that I’m quite proud of called The Big Year starring Owen Wilson and Jack Black.

And you also recently joined Twitter. Last week you wrote “Reading other people’s Tweets, I think I’m getting the hang of it now. 9:23am: cleaning toenails.”
Yes. I do jokes. I don’t do personal stuff. I’m not sure how long it will last. I’m just experimenting. But it’s fun.

SMS MLS = Stned Dk Hdwd Thruout

The recent downturn in the real estate market apparently means that agents can no longer afford to use vowels.