ALU Book Club: Intro to Echolocation

We’re kicking off our annual summer book club with Echolocation, a debut collection of short stories by novelist Karen Hofmann, published by NeWest Press!


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There’s more than a summer breeze making us feel fine this July: book club is back for another round! This is truly a fun time of year for us as ALU staff don’t often read and discuss the same books at the same time. And for this year’s July edition our collective pick is Echolocation (NeWest Press), a debut short story collection from seasoned author Karen Hofmann.This collection of 14 intimate, at times haunting, stories asks us to consider human nature, how we inhabit our space, and how we perceive the world around us. It’s a study of below-the-surface desires and connection; it dares us to dive into the depths alongside its fully-realized characters and come up for air with fresh perspectives.Hofmann’s stories are wide-ranging in style and tone, and there’s a magical quality to her writing that shines in the darkest of subject matters — we’re hooked.Before we share more our own thoughts next week, we went behind-the-scenes with the team at NeWest Press who brought us Echolocation to find out what drew them to Hofmann’s work and the editorial and cover design process for this gem of a book.* * *All Lit Up: This is Karen Hofmann’s third book with NeWest Press and her first short story collection. What first drew you to her work?NeWest Press: We have been drawn to Karen Hofmann’s work three times over now by her intimate descriptions of many different kinds of families as well as the terrain of the Okanagan. Hofmann imparts heavy themes throughout her work, like child neglect, ageism, and class struggle, but does so with a light touch that makes for enjoyable and thought-provoking reading.With Echolocation, we were especially excited that Karen brought an international flair to her work, especially in the stories “The Birds of India” and “The Bismarck Little Peoples’ Orchestra.” Her subtle sense of humour was also on display in “Vagina Dentata” and “Unbearable Objects,” which deal with misbehaving Arts faculty members and toddlers, respectively.ALU: How was the editorial process different for Hofmann’s collection of short stories as opposed to her novels? How did you consider which stories to include in the collection? What about design — how did you select a cover for the book?NP: When figuring out the shape of the collection, we went with Karen’s intuition for the order of the stories after swapping out a few very short ones for the longer “Instant,” but we insisted on the haunting and elegaic “The Flowers of the Dry Interior” as the last piece. It’s a perfect topper for the collection, similar to After Alice in that an older protagonist looks back at the state of her life and makes a difficult decision.The superb Natalie Olsen (Kisscut Design) has designed the covers and interiors for all of Karen Hofmann’s books with NeWest Press. One thing about having good and long relationships with authors AND designers is that you can create a partnership for more than one book and create design elements or patterns across the projects. All three of Karen’s covers contain repetition. After Alice has lines of five trees that become sparser towards the top of the book. What is Going to Happen Next has five houses that stand in for the ‘A’s in the title that represent the five Lund children from the book. Echolocation has letters being replaced as well, with the ‘O’s replaced by sonar rings to represent the audial element of the title, and the title is laid out in 4 letter lines: ECHO LOCA TION.For all our books, we collaborate with our authors and editors to gather ideas and to create a design brief to send to our designers. Our feeling is that an author will speak more excitedly about their book if they love the look of it. For Echolocation, we wanted to hint at water, as water often appears in the stories. We also really wanted the idea of sound to be apparent when looking at the cover. We thought about a bathymetric map (basically a topographic map for underwater) as one option. Because Karen trusts Natalie because they have worked together before (with What is Going to Happen Next ending up on multiple best cover lists) the process was very smooth. There was no disagreement about the cover. We all loved it. Natalie had mentioned that she would be interested in looking into using “foil” to make the sonar rings pop even more. We had never used foil before, so we coordinated between the printer and Natalie to bring about a cover that really shines.ALU: What was reader response like?NP: Reader response in-office was what we expected: Karen Hofmann is such a gifted storyteller and there is a tightness to her writing, even in longer works like her novels. So we were certain that people would respond to the sheer craft Karen has with words. Beyond that, readers have been responding to the empathy Karen has with characters that are in tricky situations, often of their own making. Reviews are still coming in because the book has only been out just over a month, but we have been excited to see how positively readers are responding. R.W. Gray, whose short story collection Entropic won the 2016 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, praised Hofmann’s characters who bump “against one another in the shadows” and who then take “mad leaps from the dark into the light.” Kerry Clare of 49th Shelf and Pickle Me This has been a consistent fan and bolsterer of Karen’s work and said Echolocation “lived up to our high expectations,” which is great praise indeed!
ALU: Did anything surprising happen on the way to publication?
NP: The publication process was smooth sailing. This would be a more interesting answer if we had some great hurdle to get over, but working with authors over multiple books forges trust and an understanding of the way both sides —author and publisher — work. With three books together, we couldn’t have asked for an easier process.
* * * If you’re ready to deep dive into Echolocation, why not get your feet wet first and read the short story “Virtue Prudence Courage” and then buy your own copy for 15% off?Here’s what’s in store for book club throughout July:
  • July 10 – All Lit Up staff discussion + reading questions (for your own reading crew)
  • July 17 – Interview with Karen Hofmann (make sure to submit your questions to us by email or through Twitter, @alllitupcanada!)
  • July 24 – Follow-up reads to Echolocation from the ALU bookshelves
And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for further, impromptu discussion. Hop on the hashtag #ALUbookclub to send us comments and questions!