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Writer’s Studio grads get Penguin, HarperCollins contracts

October 11, 2011
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Harry Karlinsky, an author and a graduate of
The Writer's Studio. Submitted photo.

By Amy Robertson

Two graduates of The Writer’s Studio, a creative writing program at SFU, got career-changing news this fall: contracts with two of the world’s largest publishers.

HarperCollins UK will publish a second edition of Harry Karlinsky’s historical novel, The Evolution of Inanimate Objects: The Life and Collected Works of Thomas Darwin (1857–1879), in February 2012.

HarperCollins has also offered Karlinsky, who graduated from The Writer’s Studio in 2009, a contract for his second novel, which is in progress.

Gurjinder Basran, the award-winning author of Everything Was Good-bye, has also received a contract with a major publishing house. The Penguin Group will publish a second edition of Everything Was Good-bye in March 2012.

Basran graduated from The Writer’s Studio in 2006.

Karlinsky makes the leap from academic publishing to fiction

Karlinsky, a psychiatrist, has been publishing academic work for years. About 20 years ago, he says, out of a longtime interest in Charles Darwin, he began a fictional story about evolution. Karlinsky hoped that positioning the intellectual premise in fiction rather than non-fiction would help him reach a more general audience.

The novel stars Thomas Darwin, Charles Darwin’s (fictional) son. Thomas, who becomes a patient in a London asylum in the late 19th century, is fascinated with the idea of applying his father’s evolutionary theories to the physical world—including inanimate objects like knives and forks.

The biography, while fictitious, is heavily supported with historical research.

The Writer’s Studio helps Karlinsky get ‘closure’ for his novel

Karlinsky, who calls himself “slightly obsessive,” began to realize he needed help getting “closure” for his story. He also wanted to study the craft of writing, so he enrolled in The Writer’s Studio in 2009.

His time with the studio was “a tremendously positive experience”—he says it fostered his identity as a writer: “By the end of the year, instead of wanting to be a writer, you feel confident you’ll become a writer.”

Anne Stone, Karlinsky’s mentor at The Writer’s Studio and an acquisitions editor, helped him secure a publishing contract. Insomniac Press published The Evolution of Inanimate Objects in the fall of 2010.

In 2011, Karlinsky approached two agents, Kris Rothstein and Carolyn Swayze, with his work. They pitched it to HarperCollins UK, which signed Karlinsky for both The Evolution of Inanimate Objects and his upcoming novel, tentatively titled The Stonehenge Solution.

He says that his new novel, like The Evolution of Inanimate Objects, will be blend of fact and fiction, which will allow him to take advantage of his love for archival research.

“Of course I was very excited,” he said about HarperCollins’ offer. “It’s very satisfying … to see your own words in print.”

Gurjinder Basran.
Photo by James Loewen.

Basran’s Everything Was Good-bye receives critical praise

In 2005, Gurjinder Basran began a journaling project with her sisters. The project evolved into a series of fictional stories about a young Indo-Canadian woman named Meena.

Basran, a telecom manager and a mother of two, enrolled in The Writer’s Studio several months later. With the help of her studio mentor, Wayde Compton, she planned to turn Meena’s stories into her first novel.

The critical praise started in 2008 and snowballed: That year, Basran was a semi-finalist for Amazon.com’s Breakthrough Novel Award.

Two years later, she won Mother Tongue Publishing’s Search for the Great BC Novel Contest, and the publisher released the book in the fall of 2010.

In April 2011, Everything Was Good-bye won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for an outstanding work of fiction by a BC author. Later that year, the novel placed third in the CBC and Scotiabank Giller Prize Reader’s Choice Contest.

Basran believes none of it would have happened without The Writer’s Studio.

“Being around other people that are doing the same thing, and being in a space where you can believe that you’re a writer and you’re not just playing at it—it makes it very real,” she said. “It makes you take yourself seriously.”

Everything Was Good-bye to go national with Penguin

In August 2011, Basran got an email from an editor at Penguin who was surprised that her novel hadn’t received more national attention.

“I was thrilled,” Basran says.

The editor, Basran’s agent, and Mother Tongue Publishing reached a deal in October 2011 that will give Everything Was Good-bye what Basran calls “a second life”: Penguin will release it on the national stage in 2012 with a new cover, an author interview, and a book club guide.

Several readers have asked Basran whether they’ll hear more about the characters in Everything Was Good-bye.

Basran says it’s a possibility: “Even I’m interested in learning and writing about what happened to [Meena’s] parents.”

For now, Basran is working on a novel that will tell a very different story.

Read more about Basran’s journey with Everything Was Good-bye.

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