Culture & Conversation

An Inspired Folly

At a time of life when most are contemplating retirement, I went out and bought a publishing house. Not just any publishing house, mind you, but Guernica Editions, which has been in existence for more than three decades, and has produced almost 500 books.

So what possessed me (along with my partner Connie McParland, who is in the same situation) to plunk down a hefty chunk of money in what many believe is a dying industry? The not-quite-facetious response: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Like most decisions in life, the real answer is more complex.

For one thing, I had always wanted to own my own publishing house. In the early 1980s, a group of us started a satire magazine called Uranus. It lasted six issues before sinking into the abyss known as “distribution blockage” (“Sir, would you come and retrieve your magazines from our warehouse as we need to make room for double-ply toilet paper?”). Aside from the bitter taste, it left a feeling of a task not completed.

So, when rumours started to fly that Guernica’s Antonio D’Alfonso was ready to throw in the towel, my partner and I stepped into the breach. We signed the papers, forked over some money, and began our excellent adventure in publishing.

We’re now three months in. During that time we have undergone, among other things, a Flying Squad consultancy. That’s where the Canada Council pays handsomely to have someone go through the entrails of an enterprise in the hope of divining ways to make it more profitable. We’ve also managed to produce our first book, The Young Maria Callas, and are well on our way to several more, due out at the end of May –just in time for our Guernica coming out party.

We’ve learned that the first year or so still runs on the previous owner’s clock, as books are commissioned that far in advance. So writers we’ve signed up will only have books come to fruition sometime in 2011. We’ve also learned that the amount of work involved is staggering and never-ending: from running an office to invoicing and order fulfillment, from processing incoming manuscripts to editing and proofreading outgoing galleys, from carrying on correspondence to dealing with printers, graphic artists and distributors, from organizing launches and readings to sending out books for reviews and contests, and press releases and other eye-catching come-ons to the media. Oh, I almost forgot: spending huge chunks of time filling out grant application forms. (You had better do this if you want to survive in the world of Canadian publishing.)

The other question I am often asked: So, is it fun yet? I don’t know, I say. Was it supposed to be? I tell myself as often as possible that running Guernica means being at the helm of a significant purveyor of a Canadian culture segment that is all too often marginalized, that we try to give a voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one, and that we are making a difference, especially when it comes to producing translations of Quebec writers so they can be heard outside the confines of the French language in Canada.

Is it true? Well, it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Besides, as George Bernard Shaw said: “What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn’t come every day.”

I found mine — thank goodness. Otherwise, I might have had to actually contemplate retirement!

Guernica Editions is taking part in two events at this year’s Blue Metropolis. Today at 7:30 p.m., five Quebec poets will read their own poems in French, and Michael Mirolla and others will read the English translations: TRADUCTION ET POÉSIE : LA PAROLE AUX ÉDITIONS GUERNICA. As well, Michael Mirolla will take part in the launch of the anthology of the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers: REFLECTIONS ON CULTURE: AN ANTHOLOGY OF CREATIVE AND CRITICAL WRITING, Saturday, April 24, at 1:30 p.m.

Michael Mirolla calls himself a Montreal-Toronto corridor writer. He’s a novelist, short story writer, poet and playwright. Publications include the novel Berlin (a finalist for the 2009 Indie Book and National Best Books Awards), and two short story collections—The Formal Logic of Emotion and Hothouse Loves & Other Tales. A collection of poetry, Light and Time, was published in 2008, with an English-Italian bilingual collection of poetry, Interstellar Distances/Distanze Interstellari released in early 2010. A second novel, The Facility, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2010. His short story, “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence,” was selected for The Journey Prize Anthology, while another short story, “The Sand Flea,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Picture by Poetry Quebec

  • 5 Responses to “An Inspired Folly”

    1. CT Moore

      You are proof incarnate, Michael, that there is, indeed, no rest for the wicked.

      Congratulation, sir!

    2. James

      There's no folly in making a life-long dream a reality. Great piece Michael, and congrats on the new adventure!

    3. Charles O. Goulet

      You are an inspiration! Canadian publishing needs more men and women like you. Congratulations!

    4. Laura Fabiani

      I understand follies—it's part of what makes artists do what they do. Seems like you're tackling your new adventure with enthusiasm and hope, something Canadian authors need, especially aspiring ones. Congratulations to you, Michael and Connie!

    5. Ann Diamond

      Speaking of money, and its absence in the Montreal scene. And looking at who donated to the Rover Art Fair: a micro-brewery, a winery, a couple of publishers, a chocolate museum, and other fringe outfits, I can't help wondering, I just can't, WHY it is that in a city whose economy is dominated by pharmaceutical companies and the military, someone can't squeeze some real cash out of these enterprises? Is it because these industries stand AGAINST everything the arts stand for: freedom, beauty, self-expression, the best things that humans have going…?

      And if so, is there nobody out there with the gift of persuasion, who could (perhaps) use reverse psychology to these giants who dominate our landscape — before they manage to trample and strangle and poison and kill all life (and art) on the planet? Couldn't they be made to PAY for some of the destruction they are causing?

      And isn't it schizophrenic of us, in a way, to agree to exist on the fringes, in the margins and tunnels and undergrounds of this city — without ever raising our voices, individually, collectively, to tell them "Enough is enough, get lost, STOP!"

      Could that be why "the arts" can seem, at times, irrelevant to much of the population which has to struggle so hard to survive in a militarizing world? Maybe it's time to stop thinking small, and start looking for ways to come together in what some people seem to think is a time of crisis?

      I don't know. But I do think it's brave and wonderful of you to have taken over Guernica Editions– whose name alone at least acknowledges what art can embrace in this world…


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