Some Indie Books for Your Book Club

Small and independent presses are real treasure troves for great stories that you won’t necessarily see splashed across ad banners and subway stations but they. are. so. good. As much as I love seeing lists like this one pop up, there are so many indie titles that I would have LOVED to discuss with my friends over guacamole and wine (and, in some cases, probably would have helped me cope with my feeling afterwards)! So I’ve decided to make up my own lists, starting today, to spread the book club love around, even though my “book club” is basically just me reading with my cat in the room. (thanks for the inspo Buzzfeed!)
Full disclosure! Some of the books I pick will be from the company I work for, BUT were published before I got here, so I’m calling it a fair loophole.

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In Da Club (Part I)

  1. Wet, Hot, and Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex by Kaleigh Trace (Invisible Publishing)
    Who doesn’t want to talk about sex? But, like, in a funny, positive, honest way with no “grey” in sight.
  2. Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis (Coach House Books)
    If you’ve ever owned and/or loved a pet, this is a must-read.
  3. Every Little Thing by Chad Pelley (Breakwater Books)
    Prepare to yell “What the hell happened to Cohen??” over and over in this love story + mystery.
  4. Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth (Cormorant Books)
    Dive into the Spanish Civil War alongside a killer young heroine you can really root for.
  5. Enter, Night by Michael Rowe (Chizine Publications)
    If you’re going to read a vampire book, make it a really good vampire book!
  6. Infidelity by Stacey May Fowles (ECW Press)
    Cheaters are supposed to be bad people, right? Not exactly. Let’s discuss!
  7. The Indifference League by Richard Scarsbrook (Dundurn)
    Light, fun, and truly super.
  8. Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie (House of Anansi)
    Read this and then tell me you don’t want to devour this book right now.

Happy reading!


10+2 Qs for Bryan Ibeas (Found Press)

Bryan Ibeas was my boss – well one of them – during my stint at Cormorant Books. He tried to fire me everyday. And by fire me, I mean tell me to do something arbitrary and threaten to fire me if I didn’t. (“Alessandra, convince Meryl to drive us to McDonald’s or you’re fired”) But he’s also the rad founder/creative force behind Found Press, a micro publisher that publishes e-book singles from amazing authors that’s kind of like iTunes for literary short stories. And by iTunes, I mean if iTunes came out quarterly, only chose ridiculously good songs and wrapped them up in original cover art. We’ve talked about Found Press before on tBS, (as well as being featured as one of their ShortLit Crit bloggers) but now it’s time to learn a little about the guiding force behind it and how his job works in the scheme of publishing-things. So here is Bryan in his own words, someone doing great things, who I am incredible privileged to know:

Found PressAF: Who is Bryan (in a nutshell)?
BI: Bryan is someone who likes to do things the hard way, not necessarily because he thinks he can do better than anyone else, but because he wants to figure out how and why things don’t work. He was the kid who broke his toys to see how they were put together. And then made his own toys.

AF: How did you come into the world micro fiction publishing?
BI: I came into micro fiction publishing purely by coincidence. It was around 2010 and I was teaching myself how to put together ebooks for work. It occured to myself and Blake Sproule, who helped found (haha) the thing and is now on our board, that ebook was a format seemingly tailored for short fiction. Not having to print anything means not having to worry about length – something that appealed to us, as well as to writers we spoke to. Plus, not every short story writer is interested in putting together collections. Ebooks give them the freedom to write as few or as many one-offs as they want. This was before the e-single had become established as a thing, so like a vain idiot, I thought I was the first person in the world to conceive of the notion.

AF: Besides the length, what is the central difference between a short story and a9781926998336 novel?
BI: Funny, I was chatting with Chad Pelley a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that shaping a story is a bit like gardening. It’s a big dumb analogy in retrospect, but it made sense at the time and I think some of it still holds true. I think it goes something like: consider the story as a plant. Now, a novelist is like a gardener: they want that plant to spread out, to fill our, to bloom, to be as lush as it can be. There’s still a lot of pruning involved – that’s how to really make plants flourish, by cutting some branches in order for other, stronger ones to thrive – but what you’re after is the experience of the whole plant. The short story writer is different. They’re the cook, harvesting an herb. They’re after the essence of the plant, the one bit that sets it apart, makes it magical. And to get that, they have to pick out the part where the essence is strongest. Sure, the whole bloody mess smells lovely, but you need to really focus on what you’re after. When I harvest, say, rosemary, I only pluck the leaves. If I threw stem and root in there, or let it flower, the essence gets diluted. Less effective. You have to be ruthless or else you’ll just make a mess.

Daniel KarasikAF: What do you look for when acquiring a story for FP?
BI: That’s easy. Kick my ass and break my heart.

AF: Found Press includes unique cover designs for each of their stories. Is that part of your job too? What is the creative process for designing a cover for a FP short?
BI: Yes, I design the covers. It’s not something I usually get to do, so I “enjoy” it whenever I can. The creative process involves the team – that’s us, and sometimes the authors – talking about stuff we like about the story. Sometimes I’ll have a concept already part-formed by that point. Other times I’ll have no idea. Then I get to sit in front of Photoshop for hours, sometimes days, just faffing about until I do something everybody likes. And honestly, the results have been about equal either way. Some covers I thought were brilliant from the get-go I’ll look at now and think, I’d like a do-over. And then there are some covers I put myself through the wringer to mock up, alienating my friends in the process – and they’re my favourites now. Art is wonderful like that.

AF: Who is Found Press’ focus audience?Kayt Burgess
BI: Our focus audience? People who like the sort of writers and stories we like, I guess. We are the focus audience. Our strategy is pretty terrible.

AF: Do you have a favourite short story? (It’s okay, you can tell us!)
BI: What a cold question to ask. Who are you, the Joker? “Favourite story”….Well, there’s one story that holds a bit of meaning, only in the sense that it really affirmed to us that we were doing a good thing setting Found Press up. ‘Addresses’ by Cynthia Flood came in super early in the game. It was literally one of the first stories submitted to us. We read it and it blew us away. And we thought, What the hell is a Journey Prize-winning author doing sending this amazing story to us, a bunch of nobodies who’d done little more than munble vaguely about “iTunes for short stories”?  And then – here’s the kicker – Cynthia, who lives in Vancouver, actually met with me when she was in Toronto a few months later, basically to see what my deal was and whether I was serious about it. Like, obviously she didn’t come out here just to appraise the cut of my jib. But it meant a lot, because it told me that we have a responsibility. What we do actually matters to people other than ourselves.

Andrew ForbesAF: FP is a purely digital publisher. What are the main differences from the print publishing model (minus the obvious)? What are the challenges?
BI: I think the biggest difference is the market. At this point in time, it’s much more rigid. Let me put it this way: someone who has no prior experience or interest in poetry, nevertheless may catch a waft of verse somewhere and decide to drop twelve bucks on a chapbook. Whereas no one is going to go to one of our events or visit our website or whatever and think, Yes! Now I shall buy a Kobo Glo! Or maybe I’m wrong and people have splurged because of us and Kobo now owes us a commission. My point is, epublishing is – whether we want to admit it or not – much more closed market. Not everyone will be into ebooks. Not everyone can or will buy an e-reader. But then again: quite a few of our readers are folks who have not and possibly will not purchase e-readers, and we’ve had to walk them through how to read ebooks. Which is pretty awesome because it shows just how much they want to read our authors.

AF: Do you prefer digital or print for your own pleasure reading?Laure Baudot
BI: It’s weird. I’m weird. I read everything digitally, but I’ve also begun assembling a collection of clothbound editions of books that are near and dear to me, which I do not actually read but instead put on the shelf and sometimes look at.

AF: Do you include one space or two after a period?
BI: One space. The only thing worse than people who still use typewriters are people who type on other things as if they were typewriters.

AF: What do you like to read?/What are you reading right now?
BI: Big surprise, I like short fiction. I do enjoy novels too, but the ones which actually coalesce into something more than just a pleasant five or six hours are so few and far between that I’m reluctant to start many. The last non-work novel I read was The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and it was just such a fulfilling experience that I find myself holding onto that rather than rabidly and aimlessly searching for something similar. On the short fiction front, I just finished The Cloaca by Andrew Hood – motivated partly by the recommendations of yourself and the rest of the ShortLitCrit crew, I may add – and it was pretty fantastic.

slcAF: Where can we find FP stories?
BI: FP stories are available in ebook format from Kobo, Kindle, and Additionally, folks can now subscribe to the site and read our entire library of stories online.

10+2 Qs for Angel Guerra

Next up in our Q&A series is Angel Guerra who teaches Humber Publishing students all the ins and outs of cover design, designs for Cormorant Books (and many others!) won the Alcuin Prize in book design… but doesn’t have a website. He does have some interesting stories to tell though.
Here he is in his own words:

AF: Who is Angel Guerra (in a nutshell)?
9781897151938AG: I’m a sometime artist, sometime photographer. I thought I was going to be a musician but after several unruly episodes in my Grade 9 music class I was exiled to the art department. What a lucky break. I could still act up but I was expected to take my animus and apply it to the canvas. I know I should have been able to do that in music class as well but my teacher was a hardcore type. There would be no burning of instruments on his watch.

AF: How did you come into the world of book cover design?
AG: In an off hand way. The thing is I decided not to go to art college. I spent a lot of time around books and writing. Writing I saw as a kin to art—stringing words together is all about image making. Creative writing was not a University specialty back then so I went off to journalism school. Went on to work in the newspaper and magazine business. Quickly wore out my welcome and ended up working in a bookstore. Through a sales rep I landed a job in the marketing department of a Canadian publishing firm. I bounced around a bit and then I got a big break. David Kent (now pres. Harper Collins) introduced me to a maverick publisher named Jack Stoddart. You’d have never thought that looking at Jack but he was outsider to the core. He gave me room to run and the rope to hang myself if I chose to do it. Stoddart quickly was on the end of law suits by the British and Israeli governments. Set a former Canadian prime minister’s world ablaze, published many major bestsellers, and bought firms like House of Anansi Press. We rebranded Anansi, relaunched the CBC Massey Lectures and then like all good and daring enterprises we finally blew up. At Stoddart I met Marc Cote, publisher of Cormorant Books. Marc and I have been collaborating ever since. Marc is a man who thrives out on the thin ice. He’s edited a number of great new voices in Canadian fiction. You could say he’s the farm system for the big boys who gain from his keen eye for talent.

AF: From your experience, what is the relationship between designer and 9781770860872publisher? Designer and author?
AG: You could call it creative dissonance. Everybody is in on the process, aunts, agents, neighbors, even a cab driver or two. The key is to listen to all sides. It is, after all, collaborative work. It helps if you can read the book in question. If you can’t, ask a lot of questions. If I can be a bit flippant here, I’d suggest all book designers learn to sail, know when to tack up wind and when to run the rigging. Know your depth and seize the currents.

AF: Describe your creative process.
AG: For the most part I work late at night. Between 1 and 4 am. I use my days try to live off the publishing grid—shopping, cooking, traveling to my son’s soccer matches. I do try to travel with my camera, a notebook and a pen. An idea can come at anytime, anywhere. When I’m reading a book I take notes. Sometimes an idea for a cover will hit me on the first page. Sometimes it takes a lot of sketch work and map making.

9781770862999AF: How would you describe your own style? How has it evolved?
AG: I don’t know much about my style. The one thing I do know is that if I’m snapping a pic I seem to want to get close up, almost on top of my subject. I’m a detail hunter.

AF: Do you have a favourite cover of yours? If so, what is it?
AG: It’s one of my early covers—Save Me Joe Louis by M.T. Kelly. It was a novel about boxing. It was before I knew how tough designing covers could be. I’ve been trying to capture that experience ever since.

AF: How does the book influence the cover design?
AG: I believe we dissect our world along lines laid down by our native languages. Writers have their own way of saying things. My job is to learn that language and translate it to the book cover. So the voice of the book is a big influence.

AF: How (in your opinion) can the cover influence the book?9781897151068
AG: I’ve heard stories where that was supposed to have happened. But I never experienced it until recently. I was working on the cover for a novel by Gilaine Mitchell called The Breaking Words. It’s due this Fall from Cormorant. Marc was working with the author to create a turning point moment in the story. Gilaine started to consider what that change could be. She looked at the cover rough I did and then it stuck her. A while back I had taken a photograph of a girl after a show in a strip club. That night this girl told the other strippers that she was going to change her luck and picked up a pair of scissors and lopped off chunks of her hair. I snapped the pic to commemorate the moment for her. Gilaine liked the image and wanted it for her book. But when she looked at it again she realized that unlike the girl on the cover, her character had long hair. That’s when she hit on the idea of having her character cut her hair near the end of the book to mirror the cover image.

9781897151730AF: Tell me your philosophy on colour.
AG: I love colour. I don’t see enough of it on literary books. I know colour should be there but I seldom make colorful images. If I use color it’s often muted. I love going into shops like Holt Renfrew and studying the colour techniques used by cosmetic makers on their packaging. How lithe and beautiful those colors are. And yet, it’s not part of my palette. I study book designers like Chin Yee Lai who are masters of the colour wheel. To no avail. My colour palette seems to be made of material from the dark side of the moon.

AF: Besides your own, what style of book cover do you love/appreciate most?
AG: I love anything by Bill Douglas. We brought Bill in to give Anansi a new identity. His work on Sheila Heti, Lisa Moore, Michael Winter and Rawi Hage’s novels set Anansi on the path to a revival. His type work is beyond the marvelous and he has a wicked eye for imagery. Check him out at

AF: What do you like to read?/What are you reading right now?joey
AG: I’m into books by or about scientists. Right now I’m reading two books The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind and a book on analogy as the fuel and fire behind thinking called Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter.

AF: Where can we find your work?
AG: My design work is here and there in bookstores. I’m behind the times. I don’t have a blog spot or website but I’m starting to sell my photographs and art work to private collectors here and in Europe so I’m now in the process of building a website. In terms of my career my wife tells me I’m the only passenger left on the slow boat to China. So maybe it’s time to abandon ship and slide on to the digital slipstream.