By Jenn Watt
Published Nov. 3 2016
Technology closes spaces and opens worlds. In the publishing industry the advent of e-books allows people living almost anywhere on the planet to download a story instantaneously. And it makes way for small publishers to come together to put their art into the world with relative ease.
In Minden Hills those new digital pathways are already being trodden by author and playwright Michael Fay and publisher and Caribbean island resident Susan Toy.
“Just around 2012 [Toy] kind of looked forward and saw this emerging e-publishing thing which really meant that one didn’t need a lot of capital to launch” says Fay from his office near Minden where he dreams up fiction while looking out over the forested landscape.
“New imprints were popping up all over the place.”
Toy launched IslandShorts an e-publishing business from her home on Bequia Island an 18-square kilometre bastion in the Caribbean part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Michael Fay had mentioned to me that he was reworking a series of short stories written at the Banff Centre writing workshop he attended during the ’70s” Toy told t he Times in an email. “At the same time I had been sharing news articles with him about the rise in the popularity of short stories and that they were now being published in e-Book format. We both liked the idea of producing shorter works for readers who were interested in reading in a more bite-sized manner. I had already published a novel under the imprint of IslandCatEditions so the new name IslandShorts just seemed to be perfect as a description of what we were offering.”
In the five years that followed she has published five of Fay’s wor ks: The Healer The Whirlabout Tenderness Passion and most recently Draft Dodger.
She has also released her own wor k: That Last Summer.
Cover illustrations for Fay’s works are done by Karen Sloan a local artist and owner of Wallflower Studio in Minden.
Fay’s and Toy’s lives have overlapped somewhat over the years with both of them moving in literary circles in Alberta for a time and also through their connection to Minden. Fay has lived in the Highlands for the last 10 years and Toy spent summers here during her youth. However it was the online world that brought them together through the power of Facebook.
“We had a number of writing friends in common so when I saw a comment he made about living in Minden I asked if that was the same Minden close to South Lake where our family cottage had been located. With that connection and our shared love of books and writing we quickly became friends” Toy says.
“I was working in a Calgary bookstore in the late 70s at the same time Michael was setting up the city’s Alexandra Writers’ Centre; I grew up in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood and had left in the early 70s just before Micheal moved to Canada and rented an apartment about ten blocks east of where my family lived. It was as though we were always fated to eventually meet in person! I have since visited Michael numerous times and discovered that a woman I knew through high school friends also lives in Minden. Judy Gibson-Mirams is now providing the art work for my own publications for IslandShorts.”
While he has written short stories and plays Fay says this particular form of writing fills a specific niche. His e-books run a bit longer than a short story but are significantly shorter than a novella. “They’re a stronger piece of writing than the simple classic short story” he says.
“It gave me more room to exercise the ruminative part of my brain. I enjoy that.”
His most recent work Draft Dodger explores the life of an American college student who decides to move north rather than fight in an unjust Vietnam War. Canada is more peaceful than the place he left the description reads “but [is] also a place where the conflicts turn out to be much more personal.”
Being electronic books means that all of the work IslandShorts publishes can be accessed night or day and in multiple formats. You can read on your Kindle or Kobo computer or smartphone. You can buy them outright on Amazon or iTunes or KoboBooks or you can get them through the library’s e-book service Overdrive.
Fay acknowledges that the weight of a book in your hand and the familiar waft of paper and ink is missing in the digital format but he sees it as its own form of art.
“They’ve never had paper associated with them” he says of his five e-books. “I wrote them on the computer and they live now in that world.”
There’s a magic to the opportunities presented by digital creation Fay says. That e-books have allowed remote rural artists to connect with one another and create something accessible universally.
“[Toy] lives on a small isolated island on the Caribbean and she has contacts all over North America” Fay says.
The technology allows more people to participate in publishing Toy says. “E-publishing is very democratic in that anyone can publish what they write. Self-published authors can no longer afford to put writing out there that might not otherwise have been picked up by traditional publishers.”
From a personal standpoint e-books have kept Toy engaged with literature.
“Since I live half the year in the Caribbean access to print books other than what I own myself is nigh on impossible. So I appreciate that e-publishing has made books available to me no matter where I happen to be and have made my books available to other readers no matter where they happen to be” she says.
For Fay the medium has allowed him to live in a place he adores and continue the work that fuels him.
“I love living here. I love looking out at all the trees that I see … but I also love being in my office with my little Macbook connected to the rest of the world.”
You can buy IslandShorts books through Amazon Kobo Apple iBooks and Overdrive. Go to https://islandeditions.wordpress.com/islandshorts for more information.