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Blunt rejections stymie Giles

Former North Bay resident and now famed novelist Giles Blunt listens to a question from a fan Wednesday night at Canadore College. Photo by Phil Novak.

Former North Bay resident and now famed novelist Giles Blunt listens to a question from a fan Wednesday night at Canadore College. Photo by Phil Novak.

Breaking Lorca has yet to break through, and Giles Blunt can only speculate on why publishers continue rejecting it.

Blunt, who lived in North Bay for seven years while growing up, returned to the city Wednesday night to give a reading at Canadore College’s Weaver Auditorium.

The reading was sponsored by PEN Canada, and Blunt shared the stage with writers Ameera Javeria and Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, and poet Goran Simic.

Inextricably intertwined
While Blunt has written three novels that have been published--Cold Eye, The Delicate Storm and Forty Words for Sorrow, the latter of which won the British Crime Writers’ Macallan Silver Dagger Award for Fiction and which was shortlisted for the Canadian Crime Writers’ Arthur Ellis Award—he chose to read several chapters from Breaking Lorca.

Blunt wrote the book nine years ago, and it takes place in Guazapa, a fictional Central American country based on El Salvador.

Breaking Lorca tells the story of a torture victim and an accessory to the torture, and how their lives become inextricably intertwined.

Highly charged
The first part of the book is set in a clandestine jail where suspected guerrillas are detained and tortured, Blunt said.

“It’s a highly charged political situation and to be fair it’s possible that I could have overdone it,” Blunt told following the reading.

“I tried to bend over backwards to not sensationalize the terrible things that they do to people. It’s hard to do a book about that subject and it may be that I failed to do it correctly.”

Blunt said Breaking Lorca doesn’t “rub your face” into the violence either.

“It states what happens and goes on to tell a story that isn’t about the violence. It’s about how one cowardly soldier redeems himself later with one of the victims of the torture he was involved in.”

Certain subjects
Regardless, Blunt said, the subject matter “scared away” publishers.

“There was one who turned it down and said there are certain subjects that can’t be written about and she thinks torture is one of them, but she also thinks the holocaust can’t be a good subject for a novel,” Blunt said.

“I don’t think that’s true. I think the author of Sophie’s Choice would disagree, and Schindler’s List and other books. I think anything is open to portrayal in fiction.”

Terrorize them
Blunt said he based Breaking Lorca on real, documented cases in El Salvador, and scenarios from Argentina and Brazil.

The paradigm remains the same in all cases, Blunt said: an army that wants to terrorize the populace because the populace is asking for things that the upper class doesn’t want to give them.

“So the point becomes not to get information out of your victims, but just to terrorize them,” Blunt said.

"You extinguish them and send them back into the community often, and then who else is going to come up and ask for land rights if somebody comes back with his tongue and his eyes missing.”

Hideously brutal
In searching for an answer, Blunt draws an analogy from the film world: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

“Some people loved it but most people thought it was just hideously brutal and kind of pointless because it showed what it looks like when a person is whipped for two hours,” Blunt said.

“I’m sure Mel Gibson didn’t want to revel in the violence. I’m sure he wanted to portray a moving story, so it’s conceivable I made that kind of mistake.”

More likely, Blunt said, people “hate” Breaking Lorca’s subject matter.

“They hate to think that Western society is involved in these things and they don’t want to know,” Blunt said.

Trying to help
One would have thought a rising star like Blunt wouldn’t have any difficulty in publishing a novel.

But in a way, Blunt said, his fame may have made matters worse.

He’s known for writing crime novels—John Cardinal, the protagonist in his second and third books, lives in the North Bay-inspired Algonquin Bay—and Blunt said his current publisher may be just trying to help him out by rejecting Breaking Lorca.

“To be fair to them, they’re trying to establish my series of books as this marketable thing and they want lots of people to read them,” Blunt said.

“They don’t want to muddy the marketing waters with a different kind of book. They could even say ‘hey, we’re looking after your best interests too.’”

Outrages me
It still sticks in his craw, though.

Blunt said torture remains an important subject and a subject that people sweep under the rug, and he believes fiction writers should write about things they really care about.

“Torture is a thing that outrages me,” Blunt said.

“I’ve been a member of Amnesty International forever I think an organization like PEN is a wonderful thing that deals with silenced writers who are silenced by intimidation, exile or imprisonment.”

On the other hand, PEN may not be able help with what Blunt calls the much milder form of censorship he's now dealing with, “and that’s the marketplace.”

Remain vigilant
In the interim, Blunt, who moved to Toronto after spending 22 years in New York City, has finished Blackfly Season, his third Cardinal instalment, which will be published in April.

He’s also mapping out a fourth Cardinal book.

Regardless, Blunt said he’ll remain vigilant in his quest to have Breaking Lorca published.

“Forty Words for Sorrow went to 16 publishers before it got published, so I’m hopeful something like that will happen with this too,” Blunt said.

“On the other hand it may never happen.”