The Tiger’s Wife

January 8, 2020

I just finished Tea Obreht’s remarkable The Tiger’s Wife, another of the best novels of the 2010s that I am working my way through. Set in an unnamed Balkan country created after the wars that dismembered Yugoslavia, Obreht creates a devastating portrayal of a society ripped apart by centuries-old ethnic and religious animosities, told in a series of overlapping stories saturated with peasant folklore and magical realism.

A young doctor from one side of a border crosses the boundary to help orphans on the other side and to find the body of her recently dead grandfather, also a doctor. In her journey, she discovers and re-discovers the life of the old man and how he was affected by the second world war, life under “the Marshall” (Tito), and in the subsequent civil and independence wars. Central to it all is a tiger, freed from its captivity in the City zoo by Nazi bombardment. The tiger wanders the countryside until it takes up residence around an isolated village where the grandfather is a boy. Its effect on the villagers drives much of the book

It is a compelling story of one family’s experience of some of Europe’s worst times. But this narrative is shot through with long, perhaps fabulous (in its original sense) episodes in her grandfather’s life that illuminate the role of Death (in its multiple guises) in a peasant world forced to deal with the madness of the twentieth century. It is filled with an array of fascinating Balkan characters and the whole is suffused with dreadful superstition and a kind of black comedy.

I thought this was a marvelous book.


Western Tales

December 23, 2019

In my continuing effort to read all the best novels of the 2010s, I sat down yesterday to read Denis Johnson’s novella Train Dreams.  I read it in one gulp — in the time it took to do the laundry, and for the Seahawks to lose to the Cardinals — and wished it would never end.

This is a masterpiece of storytelling in which we follow the life of Robert Grainger, a woodman in the first half of the twentieth-century. In simple direct prose, in paragraphs that could be poetry, we see his tough upbringing, the loss of the family he makes, the daily trauma of life as a lumberman, and the extraordinary changes that were transforming the west in those decades.  Without the slightest sentimentality, we are touched deeply by his tragedies and his ability to continue against awful odds.

This is work of genius, reminding me of Richard Brautigan but without the comic surreality.  I was certain it was the best book I had read in 2019; but then ….

I turned to The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka which covers much of the same period,  I gulped this exquisite gem in just two bites, almost not breathing throughout because I was so entranced by its magic.

In a marvelous and innovative way, Otsuka recreates the lives of a group of Japanese women shipped to San Francisco as mail order brides at the beginning of the century. Each chapter describes in vivid and intimate detail a portion of their lives: the trip across the Pacific; the first night with their new husbands; learning about how to deal with white folks and the hard work they were forced to endure; having babies; raising children who often reject their history; the shock of internment, and life after.

Her method — a sequence of linked narratives, often of a sentence only, which works throughout the novel — is hard to describe. I hope this small excerpt does it justice:

“We gave birth under oak trees, in summer, in 115-degree heat. We gave birth beside woodstoves in one-room shacks on the coldest nights of the years. We gave birth on windy islands in the Delta, six months after we arrived, and the babies were tiny and translucent, and after three days they died. We gave birth nine months after we arrived to perfect babies with full heads of black hair. We gave birth in dusty vineyard camps in Elk Grove and Florin. We gave birth on remote farms in the Imperial Valley with the help of only our husbands … we gave birth in Rialto by the light of kerosene lantern on top of an old silk quilt we had brought over with us in our trunk from Japan …”

I feel privileged to have read this.


Writing For Dollars

December 21, 2019

For some, writing can be a very lucrative business.  Forbes magazine has compiled a list of the top five earning authors of 2019:

  1. $92m — J.K. Rowling
  2. $70m — James Patterson
  3. $36m — Michele Obama
  4. $20m — Jeff Kinney
  5. $17m — Stephen King

Other than Michele Obama, the names will be familiar to those who saw the report in March this year that tracked the top writers’ earnings from 2008-2018.  As I wrote then, the rich get a great deal richer.

I doubt that the new anti-transgender controversy concerning Rowling will affect her income to any great extent.

In A Lonely Place

December 17, 2019

While waiting for my next 2010s novel to arrive at the local library, I decided to read something rather older, a crime novel that was recommended to me some while ago,  It is In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, published in 1947.

Set in Los Angeles, In A Lonely Place was one of the first literary portraits of a serial killer.  In a vivid and fast-paced mix of first and third person views she gets deep into the mind of a murderer, detailing his confident highs and his anxious lows. Never judgemental, Hughes traces his isolated life through a period of several weeks, including his desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create a normal relationship with a girl he falls for.  In the finest noir tradition, Hughes paints an intense impression of Los Angelenos going about their daily lives beneath a cloud of deepening dread as the number of murders increases and the police are unable to make a breakthrough in the case.

Her writing is clear and direct, drawing fine believable characters in swift sketches. She is expert at precisely building tension, releasing it, and then rebuilding it over and over again. How many victims are there? Can he get away with it?  Eventually, the string is pulled so taut that the end seems a relief for everyone concerned.

The 1950 Humphrey Bogart movie adaption great though it is as a noir cinema classic, makes a number of major changes to the story, and I prefer the book.

What a marvelous book this is.  I read it in three big draughts, not wanting to put it down.

Well worth the read!

The Real Joy Continues

December 15, 2019

I love to cook, and I have a decent library of cookbooks of all types.  Not only that, but these days I get recipes and inspiration from a number of great sites on the internet.  That being said, The Joy of Cooking is one of the two or three always there, always handy, gotos when I want information.

I had used The Joy of Cooking (probably the 1975 edition) throughout the 1980s and 1990s; and then lost it with the breakup of a relationship. During our first Christmas together, the Everloving gave me the 1997 edition which now, twenty years later, is dirty and drip-stained through constant use. Some of the pages have even come loose through excessive visiting.  There are only a few recipes that I use straight up these days (pizza dough, pancake batter, chicken stir fry, Spencered fish, a few others) but it is a constant source of great knowledge and assistance about technique, and the handling of less common meats, vegetables, and fruits.

So I was pleased to see that a new edition of the classic upon us, still edited by the family — this time by John Becker, great-grandson of Irma Rombauer (the originator), grandson of Marion Rombauer Becker, and son of Ethan Becker who produced the last version.  John Becker and his wife Megan Scott have updated the book for the 21st century while retaining the family style — the action method — that generations of cooks have learned to trust since 1931.

There is an interesting interview with John Becker at Literary Hub which gives us much family history and explores the methodology of updating so many classic recipes.

“I think that this addition, we really were trying to kind of go back to the way that Marian and Irma revised, kind of being responsible, basically personally responsible, for everything in there. In the last few editions, despite some great contributors and work, there was a disconnect and you could tell. There were just too many cooks in the kitchen,  so to speak. We felt we needed to do this ourselves, to go back to what made the 1975 such a good book.”

I’ll stick with my collapsing old copy but I am sure the new edition will be a great hit for new and old cooks both.

A Visit From The Goon Squad

December 13, 2019

Continuing my attempt to read all of the books on Literary Hub’s Top Twenty Novels of the 2010s, I have now just finished Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad which, apart from its dazzling brilliance, is about as far from my last read as its possible to go.

Goon Squad is a very modern novel. It is written as thirteen unattached but inter-related stories with timelines that go back and forth to the 1970s and forward to the near future (i.e, about now as the book was published in 2010).  There are few if any direct narrative connections between the stories.

The stories are about parts of the lives of Bennie Salazar, an ageing record producer, Sasha his long-time assistant, and various children, friends and acquaintances of theirs. Set mostly in New York City, there are also sections in San Francisco, Kenya, and Naples. The background is the music business and that plays an important though only supporting role.

Goon Squad is a treasure trove of technical virtuosity, shape shifting and mind bending. But it is also filled to the brim with empathy and understanding of the various human conditions that affect so many of us.  I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

December 8, 2019

About a month ago, I posted the list of Literary Hub’s choices as the best novels of the 2010s and I was surprised that I had not read a single one of them.  Well, I’ve made a start on the list and just finished The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.  Mitchell is best known as the author of Cloud Atlas.

Jacob de Zoet is an historical novel set in the Nagasaki enclave of Dejima around 1800. Dejima was the furthest outpost of the Dutch East Indies Company and, for a long time, was the only contact point between the extraordinarily reclusive Empire of Japan and the rest of the world.  De Zoet arrives as a junior clerk for the Company and is soon thrust into the corrupt world of the Dutch traders and the dangerously isolationist attitudes of the Japanese they deal with.  He also falls in love with an educated Japanese woman and in many ways it is her story that drives the narrative.

This is a hefty tome: 500 pages of dense prose that took me some time to get through.  Mitchell is a master at feeding immense amounts of both historically interesting information and brilliant descriptive observation into the storyline, and I was certainly never bored. There are wonderful set pieces, a keen ear for dialogue, and even the hint of melodrama.

It gets a full recommendation from me.

Are These The Best Novels of the Decade?

November 19, 2019

Literary Hub, one of the most interesting sites I visit regularly, has issued its list of the Twenty Best Novels of this Decade.


I have to admit that I have not read a single one of them, nor, indeed, any of the eighteen “near misses” that are also listed.  Given the amount that I read, I am rather surprised that that is true. But then again, I rarely buy new books due to costs, relying instead on our excellent library system.

This is a fascinating reading list and I will now turn to the VPL and see how many of these I can get read in the next 12 months.

Turnbull/Saklikar Reading: November 23

November 19, 2019

Former Vancouverite Chris Turnbull returns to town for a reading with Renee Saklikar at the People’s Co-op Bookstore on Saturday, November 23.

Chris Turnbull is the author of Continua (Ottawa: Chaudiere Books 2015; Picton: Invisible Publishing 2019) and [ untitled ] in o w n (Vancouver: CUE Books 2014), one of a trio of poetry books alongside work by Heather Hermant and angela rawlings. His chapbook publications include Shingles (Vancouver: Thuja 1999); continua 1-22 (Ottawa: above/ground 2010); and The Great Canadian (Buffalo: Low Frequency Press 2015), which combines images from Turnbull’s site-specific rout/e project and text from Rawling’s forthcoming echolology. Undertones, a collaborative chapbook with text/artist Bruno Neiva, is emerging with Low Frequency Press in 2019.

Renee Saklikar is the author of Listening to the Bees (2018) and children of air india (2013).  She recently completed her term as poet laureate for the city of Surrey.

The launch is a free event at 1391 Commercial Drive, and gets underway at 7:30 pm.

Jack Irish

November 18, 2019

Peter Temple

Once again I have made a mad dash through an author’s works. This time it was Peter Temple’s 4-volume series of novels about lawyer/investigator Jack Irish.

I recently watched an Australian TV series based on the Jack Irish character, which I enjoyed very much, and that propelled me to blitz through the four novels (as an aside, the TV series was not based on any of the books — just the characters — which made it like a bonus volume for me).

I say “blitz”, but in fact these marvelous books were impossible to read quickly.  The complexity of the plots, the depth given to even the most peripheral characters, and the detail of the architecture, the everyday life, and the mood of modern Melbourne suburbs, of Australian lawyers and crime, and of the horse racing scene made these a much slower — and more satisfying — read than I had anticipated.

It is an enormous shame that the author died before completing many more.

Australian TV made movies out of three of the books, and there is also another TV series that I suspect is independent of the novels. I’ll be tracking them down.

Nabokov on Nabokov

November 15, 2019

Regular readers will probably be aware that Vladimir Nabokov is one of my favourite authors, and Ada is one of his best books, in my opinion. In 1975, the French translation of Ada was about to be published in France, and Nabokov agreed to give an interview with Apostrophes, a TV literary talk show.  The transcript has now been made available at the TLS.

Nabokov was famously opposed to TV and only agreed to be interviewed if the questions were sent to him in advance.  In addition, he needed a tea pot full of whiskey to boost his courage before the lights:

“To boost his courage [during the live broadcast], he wanted to drink whisky. But he naturally didn’t want to set a bad example for French viewers. We had poured a bottle of whisky into a teapot. Every quarter of an hour, I would ask him: ‘A little more tea, Monsieur Nabokov?’ And he would drink with a broad smile. He was a great comedian, incredible for his joking, his warmth, his humour, his artful dodges, his impudence, and of course his intelligence. In my memory Nabokov is an icon. He spoke for more than an hour. I have an almost religious feeling for that programme”.

I agree with the interviewer Bernard Pivot. Any lover of Nabokov’s work — or indeed the work of many 20th century greats — will find something to admire in Nabokov’s responses.

“[A]t twenty-five, at thirty, energy, caprice, inspiration, all that kept me writing until 4:00 a.m. I would rarely get up before midday and wrote all day long, stretched out on a divan. The pen and the horizontal position have given way now to pencil and austere verticality. No more fits and starts, that’s over. But how I would adore the birds’ wake-up, the fluted and sonorous song of the blackbirds, who seemed to applaud the last sentences of the chapter I’d just finished composing …”

“What’s your preferred language: Russian, English, or French?

“The language of my ancestors is still the one in which I feel perfectly at home, but I will never regret my American metamorphosis. French – or, rather, my French – doesn’t yield so readily to the twists and turns of my imagination; its syntax forbids me certain liberties that I take perfectly naturally with the other two languages. It goes without saying that I adore Russian, but English surpasses it as a work tool, it surpasses it in richness of nuance, in frenzied prose, in poetic precision …”

“The story of my life resembles less a biography than a bibliography. [In moving to America] I discovered a total incapacity to speak in public. So I decided to write in advance my hundred lectures a year on Russian literature. That makes two thousand typed pages of which, three times a week, I would recite twenty, having arranged them in a position not too obvious on my desk before the amphitheatre of my students. Thanks to this procedure I never got muddled and the auditorium received the pure product of my knowledge. I repeated the same course each year, introducing new notes, new details…

Nabokov is Lolita: aren’t you ultimately annoyed by the success of Lolita – which has been so emphatic that people have the impression that you are the father of this unique, slightly perverse daughter?

“Lolita isn’t a perverse young girl. She’s a poor child who has been debauched and whose senses never stir under the caresses of the foul Humbert Humbert, whom she asks once, “how long did [he] think we were going to live in stuffy cabins, doing filthy things together…?” But to reply to your question: no, its success doesn’t annoy me, I am not like Conan Doyle, who out of snobbery or simple stupidity preferred to be known as the author of The Great Boer War, which he thought superior to his Sherlock Holmes.”

It is a marvelous view into the mind of a true genius.

Nomado’s 50th at People’s Co-op Bookstore

November 7, 2019

Quoting the People’s Co-op Bookstore email:

“Come and celebrate local literary publisher Nomados’s 50th — chapbook, not anniversary — at the People’s Co-op Bookstore on Thursday, November 14.

Nomados authors Joanne Arnott (Pensive and beyond), Renee Rodin (Ready for Freddy) and Fred Wah (Articulations) will be reading at this event. Nomados chapbooks, bookmarks, photographs, and refreshments available.

The event gets underway at 7:30, and admission is free.

The People’s Co-op Bookstore is at 1391 Commercial Drive.

On Crime Writing

October 31, 2019

Regular readers will know that I am a voracious reader of crime fiction.  I have written before of my binge reading of Vancouver’s own Laurence Gough, Norway’s Jo Nesbo, P.D. James, Michael Dibdin, Ian Rankin, and many others.  Even today I am bingeing my way through Peter Temple’s excellent four-book Jack Irish series set in Melbourne, Australia.

Back in April I reported on some discussions on the genre at the 2019 Edgar Awards. Now, at Boucheron, we have a long and often informative debate on the current state of the crime novel as discussed by crime writers themselves.

The second question asked (after the now-obligatory nod to diversity) asked whether crime novels had a responsibility to grapple with real world issues. It received a mixed response. On one side, Alex Segura noted:

“The best crime novels, for my money, also serve as cutting social commentary—they put a mirror up to our world, and show us how we live and are, warts and all. I don’t think crime novels should—or can, really—come up with solutions to all of society’s ills, but they should damn well try to show us a world that is like our own, so readers can at least take their vitamins with their dessert.”

While James Ziskin disagreed:

“Not at all. Sometimes we want to be entertained and other times we want to change the world. There’s room enough under our tent for pure escapist fare, farces, capers, and comedies of manners as well as fiction with social themes or conscience.”

I probably agree with Ziskin although my own reading tends to match Segura’s take.  For example, the Jack Irish books I am currently reading are teaching me a great deal about modern life in suburban Australia, and Jo Nesbo’s pieces did the same for me about Scandinavia.

There is a lot to take in here, not least a long list of writers I have yet to read. One thing to notice, though, throughout this long piece, not one of my favourite crime authors (see first paragraph above) is mentioned.  Hmmm.


In Honour: Dylan Thomas

October 27, 2019

Alfred Janes - Dylan ThomasToday would have been the 105th birthday of Dylan Thomas, one of the finest writers (for me, perhaps, the finest) of the generation before mine.

Thomas was very popular when I was a boy and I was lucky enough to be in two different productions of “Under Milk Wood“, as well as doing a solo turn reciting large sections of “A Child’s Christmas“.  For decades, at least into my 40s, much of my own work was highly derivative of Thomas’ style, with aggregations of melodious adjectives cascading through the sing-song lilt of a Welshman speaking English.

He was a master poet, able to craft the most exquisite sonnets and villanelles, difficult forms to manage, concerning both the ordinary and extraordinary things of life and death.  “The Force That Through The Green Fuse“, “Fern Hill“, and his paean to his father’s death, “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night“, are sublime beyond measure..

His mastery of prose was equally fine, shown best in “A Child’s Christmas In Wales” which needs to be heard as read by the poet himself.

And then there is the extraordinary masterpiece, the radio play “Under Milk Wood“.in which Thomas’ talent, both as a writer and as an observer of rambunctious village life, are shown to the full.  If you can get a chance to listen to the Richard Burton version, then that is an experience not soon forgotten.

Thomas didn’t think much of being Welsh, let’s be frank about it.  And in just a couple of weeks we will celebrate the 66th anniversary of his sorry and inebriated death at the early age of 39. But he was an original, a genius, and I suspect he got more out of his 39 years than most of us do with three-score-and-ten.

Nightmare Alley

October 19, 2019

nightmarealley_02I read “Nightmare Alley“, published in 1946 by William Lindsay Gresham.  It was marvelous.

The novel tells the story of Stan Carlisle who, after a disturbing youth, joins a cheap travelling carnival, and starts to make his way in that world.  He becomes a mentalist, running a fixed game to get cash from vulnerable punters.  Eventually, Carlisle becomes a full-blown spiritualist, holding rigged seances, looking for the big mark, and running roughshod over his wife/partner and his few lovers. Finally, morbidly alcoholic and cheated by his erstwhile partners, a penniless Stan returns to a low-life carnival, offered a job as the geek — the wild man who bites heads off chickens — a humiliating position that he has detested since the first pages of the novel.

Gresham writes the story in a stark modernist style and manages to bring us deep into the worlds of the travelling carnival and spiritualism in the first half of the last century.   This is not the magical realism of Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love“.  Rather, this is a story of hard-scrabble life, poverty, drunkenness, and the vagaries of “love” in a world where everyone is a mark, everyone is a potential step out of the mud.

A tough and wonderful read.


Umberto Eco’s Prague Cemetery

October 15, 2019

ECOLike millions of others in the 1980s, I read The Name of the Rose, and I later followed it up with Foucault’s Pendulum in about 1990.  But I haven’t read another novel by Umberto Eco since then.  Therefore, I was excited to pick up Prague Cemetery and devour it. Unfortunately, I don’t believe I digested it well.

Prague Cemetery tells the story of a rather despicable man, Simone Simonini, and his place in a history that ranges from Garibaldi’s campaigns in Sicily and Naples in the 1860s, through the Paris Commune in the 1870s, to the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s.  In fact, as I was somewhat less than surprised to learn later, Simonini is the only fictional character in the entire book — all of the major players and most of the lesser ones are entirely historical.

Simonini is a forger and a vicious anti-Semite, working for various Secret Services, although it is still not entirely clear to me whether he believed the dastardly material he wrote about the Jews, or whether this was just another way for him to make a living within the context of his times.  Among the numerous important historical documents that Simonini is purported to have forged, are the bordereau that convicted Dreyfus and, most significantly, the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion which would later influence Hitler’s Final Solution and various Russian pogroms.

One of the conceits of the book is that Simonini starts writing a detailed memoir/diary in the late 1890s as a result of meeting with an obscure Austrian doctor who, he thinks, is called Froide, and who has persuaded him that writing down his history will alleviate some phsycological problems he is having.  A second conceit is that, for much of the book, we are not aware of whether Simonini is writing as himself or an alter ego called Father Dalla Picolla who, it seems, enters Simonini’s apartments at night and adds his own comments to the diary/memoir.

The book is thoroughly infused with late 19th century Continental fascinations such as Masonic lodges, anti-clericalism, mesmerism, food, and of course anti-semitism.  The research that Eco has performed is stunning in its detail. The language is often sublime and there were times when I was certain I was back with my beloved Nabokov. However, by the end, the insistent intrusion of so much historical incident takes away from the novel qua novel, in my opinion, and I was rather glad to reach the end of it.

Roger Farr at People’s Co-op Bookstore

October 12, 2019

Next Wednesday, 16th October, at 7:30pm Roger Farr will be launching his new book at People’s Co-op Bookstore, 1391 Commercial Drive.  As per their flyer:

“It ain’t no Lonely Planet guidebook.  Roger Farr‘s I Am a City Still But Soon I Shan’t Be … The nine-part, book-length travelogue takes the reader through the streets of Vancouver, New York, Berlin, Siracusa, and Nanaimo, exploring the sites of capitalism’s domination of the urban subject. It’s Farr’s first book since IKMQ (2012), a finalist for the Dorothy LIvesay Prize, and should help allay the concerns, of some, that what he writes isn’t really poetry at all.”

As always, this is a free event and everyone is welcome.

Boyles Blistered

October 11, 2019


Sometime in the 1990s, I read “Water Music” by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

This is a mind-stretching, boisterous, epic, bawdy and violent fictionalization of the life of African explorer Mungo Park who, having “discovered” the Niger River for the white man and become a national hero in the process, was killed, along with the remnants of his party, near the end of his second expedition in 1806.

More, Park’s story is intertwined with an equally mind-stretching, boisterous, epic, bawdy and violent fictionalization of the life of a London derelict and crook, Ned Rise, who, in the book’s own sweet time, would be a member of Park’s second expedition.

The book is written in a rollicking tone and seems comic if one can put aside the seemingly endless degradations and violence these two men have to put with up. I thought it was wonderful and couldn’t wait to read more.

I have a habit of binge-reading a particular author that I like, reading all of their books in sequence.  I did that with Boyle.  By the time I caught up with him he had written perhaps a half-dozen novels and several books of short stories.  I read them all, one after the other, back to back.  And I never found another thing by Boyle that I really cared for.  Terrible disappointment.  “Road to Wellville” was OK (and certainly a much better book than the movie they made of it), but only OK, I thought.

Once I’d caught up with his publications I read one or two more as they came out.  But then I couldn’t do it any more.  That was perhaps two decades ago.

So, a few weeks ago, I picked up the old copy of “Water Music” and read it again.  Just finished it; it was hard going at times.  I still enjoyed it, still think it is worth the read; but it can be a hard slog sometimes.  In this novel he writes about fascinating things, places, people, ideas with passion and verve.  But there is just so much of it, the constant disappointments, the constant torment and complaints.  Damned hard work for a leisure activity!

Michael Tregebov at People’s Co-op

October 2, 2019

East Vancouver’s homegrown progressive publisher, New Star Books, is hosting a reading and meet and greet next week with author Michael Tregebov:

“Our own, modern day, Jewish-Canadian Balzac will honour the West Coast with his presence at the end of the week. Michael Tregebov, pen and skates in hand, hand to his chest, his voice loaned to the CBC for three shows and counting (Weekend Morning, The Next Chapter, and Here & Now), will be in Vancouver to spiel and schmooze about his third and newest novel, Shot Rock: the tale of Blackie Timmerman and his curled and curling troubles.”

The event takes place on Tuesday, 8th October at 7:00pm at People’s Coop Bookstore, 1391 Commercial Drive.

“Expect shtick, curling sticks, and Trotskyite (-ist?) undertones. As well as sundry copies of his novel, available to purchase.”

So You Want To Be A Novelist

September 30, 2019

It is said that we each have a novel in us, or at least we like to think we do.  And I am sure most of us dream of the New York Times bestseller list and the money and fame that will flow from that success.  Well, don’t hold your breath.

In An Agent Explains The Ins and Outs of Book Deals at Electric Lit Kate McKean demystifies the mysterious world of the advance and other esoterica of the book deal.

“the total advance depends on so many things, including the quality of the work, the sales potential of the work (not the same thing!), the author’s platform and/or previous sales, the zeitgeist, the “market,” how many  other editors are interested (if any), how similar books have performed for the publisher and/or other publishers, and many, many other things. Because there are so many factors, there’s no “average” book advance. $1,000 is rare. $1,000,000 is also rare.”

This is well worth the read for anyone contemplating their first novel.