Poetry Preview: Mrs Romanov by Lori Cayer

I’ve always had a fascination with history. I mean, what self-respecting book lover doesn’t have a soft spot for what is essentially a giant, complicated, never ending story that plays out in front of his or her eyes?

Mrs Romanov CoverNaturally, when the manuscript for Mrs Romanov by the wonderful poet Lori Cayer crossed my desk, I knew I was looking at something special. A historically grounded and exceedingly well-researched poetry collection about the notorious Romanovs? Sign me up! I was immediately pulled back in time, to a Russia on the cusp of revolution. We get a sense of the glittering Imperial court and the political complexities faced by the European royals–many of whom were related to each other. We also get a sense of the rumbles of discontent in the background, of the looming Russian Revolution, and the sense that the world was beginning to find itself at a crossroads between the old ways and the new technology.

But I was even more fascinated by the depth of thought and feeling that went into fleshing out Mrs Romanov herself, the last tsarina of Imperial Russia. She was unpopular due to her reserve as well as her German upbringing, but she was nonetheless a dedicated wife and a loving mother. She was guilt-ridden for having passed on the hereditary condition hemophilia to her young son, Alexei, and the poems in Mrs Romanov definitely capture the emotions of a desperate mother willing to do anything—even ally herself with the notorious mystic Rasputin—to heal her son.

Lori Cayer has done a fantastic job of creating a portrait of a complicated and imperfect person in whom I think many of us can see aspects of ourselves. Keep reading for a sneak peek of this book, coming soon from the Porcupine’s Quill:


Excerpt from Mrs Romanov

Broken iterations, toward a purified body

the boy, ever in a steady state of death-pain
the mother howling silently in a gorge of sorrow

there is no cure for the screaming at night
he runs and bleeding erupts between bones

cranks his knee to his chest
so he can’t walk for months, he throws a ball

and his arm retracts into a rusted axle
I am not afraid, Mother, let it come

from state dinner parties I endure with sweating
lip, I gather my skirts high for running

the long halls to his room, tear off the jewels
re-enter the wound in which he scrapes

no-one can say we are not swallowed whole
by all this dying, then living again


Unseen, the harp string at my core

I move simply among my man and my children
as birches sieve and scatter the sunlight

my affection filters them, keeps them pure
they should rejoice in my strong and proper action

my two selves
bound to earth, made of fractures and leather

mother, splinter, wife, nurse, damned splinter
damnable empress, splinter and shard

in my eyes, a true duty-book of restraint, knife edged
reflecting photographic tones, long seconds

unsmiling so the picture will not be blurred
but what of the men who will dig my grave?

my death dress, my code of privacies and sewn scars
the forms of my loving, scrawling forward across time

will they understand my splendid purpose?
the earth will never be rid of my bones


About the Author

Lori Cayer is the author of three previous poetry collections, including Dopamine Blunder (Tightrope Books, 2016), Attenuations of Force (Frontenac House, 2010) and Stealing Mercury (The Muses’ Company, 2004). Her poetry is endlessly informed by her editorial work in scientific research publishing. She lives in Winnipeg.


PortraitTake my word for it—you need to read this book. And if you happen to find yourself in Winnipeg this month, don’t miss the book launch on Wednesday, September 12 at McNally Robinson Grant Park!


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 24 Aug 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



Happy Friday Quill Fans! Thanks for stopping by to see what’s new and interesting in bookland this week. Hope to see you again soon.


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The Porcupette’s 7 Steps to Writing a Good Book Description

It’s the end of summer, so naturally we’re thinking about … Spring 2019 titles! I know, I know, it seems early, but actually, while our bodies are focused on printing our upcoming fall titles, our minds are busy preparing all kinds of bibliographic data for next year’s titles.

I’ve been spending a lot of time these last couple of weeks preparing product descriptions for each of our spring releases. What does that mean? It means I’m writing up the description you’ll see, in some form or other, on our website, on vendor websites, in our catalogue, on the book’s back cover, and in any number of other places. It’s a process that every book goes through, and managing that process is a good skill for any publishing professional to have in his or her back pocket.

Here are some tips I’ve gleaned over a few years writing up these bookish blurbs:


1. Read.

The first step is an obvious one. Read the book. No seriously. Read it. Read every last bit of it. Don’t just skim it—take notes, jot down important quotes, keep a list of important themes, images, ideas and emotions. Be thorough. Make sure you understand the main point of the book, whatever the genre. You’ll probably keep referring back to these notes, not just when writing the description, but also when you’re pitching to sales reps or coming up with Q&A questions or talking up the book to booksellers. I’ve never regretted taking the time to read carefully and make comprehensive notes.


2. Determine your audience.

Once you’ve got a firm handle on the manuscript itself, it’s time to decide who’s going to want to read it. Think about the style, action, reading level and purpose of the book. Who is the author writing for? Who are you pitching the book to? What are some other books that those people like to read?

Are you hoping to attract to poets? You’ll probably want to include a couple of lyrical tidbits to whet their appetites. Maybe you’re reaching out to a younger crowd? Stay clear of too much jargon and make sure the reading level is appropriate to their skills. Looking to appeal to historical fiction fans? Make sure you let your reader know where—and when—the action is happening. Once you’ve determined who you’re writing for the next step is…


3. Read some more.

Yes, that’s right, more reading. This time, refer back to your audience research and delve into the other books that your readers enjoy. Take a look at their product descriptions. From your point of view as a reader and book lover, think about what you think works well … and what doesn’t. You might notice some trends in how certain genres of book structure their book descriptions. For example, I often notice that short story collections have a very specific style, providing tantalising hints of what some of the stories are about before providing a thematic link or an encompassing plotline. These kinds of conventions may help you figure out what kind of information to include or not include in your description.


4. Write.

Finally, it’s time to put pen to paper—or cursor to screen—and start writing. For fiction, this often means starting with the 5 Ws and communicating the setting, the major characters and the basic plot of the story. For poetry, I like to think about overarching themes and maybe include a particularly beautiful line or two. For non-fiction, it’s about distilling a sort of general thesis is trying to briefly explain the author’s purpose. I find that starting with a few pull quotes or lists of themes and images help to get me thinking about what is important to communicate to a reader.


5. Edit.

At this point you’ll probably be thinking, “Boy, those product descriptions sound dry as dust. All steak and no sizzle!” Well, that’s what this next step is for. Once you’ve got all the meat on the plate, it’s time to add some seasoning, and maybe a side dish or two. Rearrange your sentences and reword your phrases to add interest and a hint of mystery. Make sure you’re not giving away too much—or too little—about the plot or characters. Ensure that you leave readers with a question. What is going to happen to the main character? Why are the bad guys after the protagonist? How is the author going to prove this controversial or important point? What insight does the poet have into that theme that is relevant to my life? You’ll not only want to channel your inner advertising executive to sell the best features of the book, you’ll want to channel your inner reader, too, and ask yourself what would make you interested in the book. Most of all make sure the description is an honest representation of the book. There’s no point in appealing to a wide audience if the first thing a reader does is crack open the book and decide it’s completely wrong for them.

6. Get a second opinion. (And a third. And a fourth…)

No man (or woman) is an island, and no two readers are alike. If you want a wide readership, you have to take into account that different people have different tastes, and sometimes, you have to appeal to multiple readerships in order to get the best results. How do you do that? Ask for help! Ask the author for his or her take on the description. Ask an editor. Ask your boss. Ask your best friend. Ask a neighbour down the street. Find out if they’d pick up the book—and if not, why not. Take into account their varying perspectives and, if applicable, incorporate them into your copy.


7. Revise.

Congratulations—you’re in the home stretch. At this point, you should have a pretty appealing book description on your hands. Now it’s time to polish it to a mirror finish. Eliminate any typos and factual errors. Check that you’ve used the right word to capture your meaning. Make sure that any keywords you want to use to advertise the book later are properly integrated into the text. Make sure any special characters like em dashes or accents are properly encoded. Basically, check every fiddly thing you can think of until you’ve got an engaging and entertaining book description ready to sell books.


PortraitAnd there you have it—seven tips for writing book blurbs. I hope this helps all you writers and budding publishers out there come up with some dynamite product descriptions to help get your books noticed. If you have any tips for writing successful book descriptions, write us in the comments below—we’d love to hear from you!

Happy writing,Steph

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PQ Weekly Roundup: 17 Aug 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



Thanks for stopping by and checking out our most clickable links this week. See you back here next week for another collection of bookish news.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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This is What Happens When the Porcupette Goes on a Walking Tour of NYC’s Literary Landmarks

Earlier this year, I found myself in the Big Apple, so what’s a porcupette to do but amuse herself by visiting a few literary landmarks while in town? I ventured from my Times Square hotel and started walking, stopping every so often at a couple awe-inspiring bookish places.

It was a hot, humid day, but undaunted, I started down 42nd street, passing through a very crowded Bryant Park. From there, I caught a glimpse of the famous New York Public Library, a bastion of learning that is appropriately awe-inspiring to look at!

The steps were populated by tourists and book lovers alike–people who wanted to beat the heat by lounging in the shade, or who just wanted to soak up a little inspiration.

Of course, I had to get a photo of one of the iconic NYPL lions! Dappled by sunlight, they looked appropriately regal for the occasion.

After that, it was a long trek down 5th Ave. before I finally got to experience the Amazon Books store on W. 34th.

Amazon Books was an interesting animal. It’s not like any bookstore I’ve seen before. If you’re looking for a particular title, well, good luck.

It’s not organized in a way that would be recognizable to a typical book lover, but I can see how it would appeal to people who aren’t quite sure what they want to read. With quirky categories and an emphasis on user reviews, it is more of a recommendation engine than a traditional bookstore, which probably fits with the Amazon brand anyway. Plus, with all those face-out displays, it is pretty to look at!

After a quick stop in Amazon Books, I was off once again. I took a shortcut through Union Square Park and after a block or two down Broadway, it was time to visit the place that was the impetus of my pilgrimage: the Strand Bookstore.

With construction happening on the front steps, pretty much, I couldn’t get much of a glimpse of the building, but that’s OK. There was still plenty to look at. Outside, the discount racks were packed with readers browsing for an inexpensive treasure.

But inside … books, books as far as the eye can see. Floors of books. Stacks of books. Book cases so tall the main floor was dotted with ladders to reach the top shelves. Copies of most every book you could want.

If there’s a heaven, it looks like this.

After all that, exhausted, carrying a book or two, it was time to make the long trek back to my hotel. I was footsore, for sure, but I was also high on books, and excited to crack the spine (figuratively) of my next great read.


PortraitHope you enjoyed this little walking tour of NYC. I would definitely love to go back and revisit these sites, but also many of the other fantastic and unique little bookstores in and around the Big Apple. Literary tourism? Yes please!


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PQ Weekly Roundup: 10 Aug 2018

pqroundup2Every Friday, the PQ Weekly Roundup collects the most shared links in our social media network—bookish articles, reviews, quizzes, recommendations and more—in convenient digest form.



And there you have it. Another week, another PQ Weekly Roundup. Hope you enjoyed your bookish links this week.

Have a happy Friday!

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.