The other day I received an inquiry from a chap in Jamaica (gotta love that world wide ‘net) regarding my play “The Break: Ten the Hard Way”.
It’s a a drama composed of ten monologues, employing a wide range of perspectives, radically different characters reacting to the impending end of a relationship.
“The Break”, like so many of my projects, started out as a writing exercise. I wrote one monologue and another character, another scenario, immediately presented itself. I didn’t know what to do with “The Break” once I’d finished it…and then, by chance, I caught an interview with two young Saskatoon actors, recent graduates of the University of Saskatchewan drama program. I noted their names and contacted them. Sent them the script and some time later “The Break” made its debut at the Refinery Theatre in Saskatoon, Josh Beaudry handling a very grueling acting assignment brilliantly.
I always thought this one would make the perfect “Fringe” show so, Josh, if you’re ever interested, lemme know.
CBC Radio producer Kelley Jo Burke also excerpted some of the monologues on her “Sound XChange” program.
I was delighted by the reactions this piece elicited and I’m pleased to be able to present it to you, for free reading and downloading.
I’m certain some of these voices, at least, will sound very, very familiar to you…
Go to the “Rarities” page (above) for your free copy
or click here for the free PDF of The Break
As promised, I’m posting the longer version on my radio play “The First Room”. The version that aired nationally on CBC Radio’s OutFront program was drastically reduced and while it still packed a wallop (largely thanks to Kelley Jo Burke’s peerless production), the piece was originally intended to be thirty minutes long.
Here it is, The First Room, full-length and in all its glory. I’ll leave it up to you, dear Readers, to decide which of the two (long or short) you prefer.
Recently, a collective cringe went through the Canadian arts community when the braintrust at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) announced a major shortfall in their budget.
Now, we can debate how a publicly financed, (supposedly) world class organization can end up $171 million lighter in the pocket than expected another day…what I want to talk about this time around is the importance of the CBC to individual artists in this country.
I have my complaints with the Mother Corp. and I often take exception to their namby-panby, politically correct stance, their absolute abhorrence of the notion of offering offense to the smallest segment of the general public (and slanting their supposedly objective point of view accordingly). But for many of us working in the performing and literary arts in Canada, the CBC is, quite honestly, the only game in town.
My very first sale was to CBC Radio here in Saskatchewan. This was back in 1985, youngsters, when Wayne Schmalz was the arts and culture czar down in Regina. I’m teasing: Wayne is actually one of the nicest and most unassuming guys you’ll ever meet. He was also a superb producer with eclectic tastes and an infallible ear. He aired selected material on “Gallery”, which, at the time, was a literary arts program, and took a number of my early stories, raising my profile and putting some much needed cash into the pocket of a young scribbler.
After Wayne left, Dave Redel took over the big chair and did well enough to earn himself a promotion to the regional office in Edmonton.
And then along came Kelley Jo Burke. Kelley Jo loves the arts and is a huge booster of the cultural scene here in Saskatchewan. She knows everybody and is respected throughout the province, not just for producing fine radio shows, but also for her own highly accomplished literary and dramatic efforts. Along with her colleagues Shauna Powers and Bonnie Austring-Winter, Kelley Jo helped transform the weekly CBC Saskatchewan arts spot into SoundXChange, a celebration of all aspects of the performing arts here in “living sky country”.
But the looming cuts do not bode well for local shows like “SoundXChange”. Despite its much-touted mandate to represent all regions of Canada, CBC will be closing bureaus and cutting staff in some of the far-flung places that help provide Canada with its true, diverse identity. This will mean that more programming will originate in “central Canada” (God, I hate that term) and the perspective at the Ceeb will be come even more Toronto-centric than it already is.
Over the past week, I’ve heard rumbles within the tightknit arts community here in Saskatchewan, whispers that “SoundXChange” will be drastically scaled back, if not scrapped completely. What does that mean for folks like Kelley Jo and others down there in Regina, who have worked so hard to give new and established artists a valuable venue for their work, one that won’t ever be replaced? Shows like “SoundXChange” and “OutFront” (another favorite that was dropped) give voice to people in remote places (geographically, politically, emotionally), living in unique and fascinating circumstances. Without those voices being heard, we become a poorer, less representative society; homogenous and one-dimensional.
During tough economic times, there is a temptation to view the arts as “fat” and trim, shave, hack it away. Never mind all the studies that reveal what an economic stimulus a healthy arts industry represents and the amount of spin-off dollars it creates. Nah, just cut the arts and be content with the thin, tepid gruel that’s left over: talk radio, commercial jingles and vacuous pop.
It is my hope, my expectation, that organizations, guilds and entities that support the arts and artists in this country will speak out collectively and demand that public broadcasting in this country be funded at least at a level that’s comparable to similar counterparts around the developed world.
An enhanced, secure source of funding would ensure the continuing existence of programming that shows the true face(s) of Canada; we are a complex, multi-faceted society, well-schooled and highly literate.
Why in God’s name should we settle for anything less?
Postscript: My colleague Dale Estey contacted me through my Redroom page and sent along this link to a petition protesting the cutbacks at CBC.
Drop by and add your name to the honour roll. Let’s see if we can turn the tide. And while you’re at it, check out the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting site. They’ve been advocating and lobbying on behalf of homegrown, made-in-Canada programming for many a moon…
Yes, this just in:
Kelley-Jo Burke, uber-producer at CBC Radio Regina zapped a note to yers truly, letting me know that my radio drama “The First Room” will lead off the next installment of SoundXChange (Saturday, 5:05 p.m.; CBC Radio 540 Saskatchewan).
For those of you who might have missed it the first time around or desire to hear it again.
God bless ya, Kay Jay. If there’s a bigger backer of my odd body of work in this neck of the woods than Ms. Burke, I dunno who it would be.
Be sure to check out SoundXChange every weekend. There’s always something for anyone with a good ear and an open mind.
Okay, Kelley Jo Burke, producer of my adapted radio play “The First Room”, just e-mailed me with the date and time it will air on CBC Radio’s OutFront program.
OutFront is a nationally broadcast program so this is a real coup for me. What makes it triply pleasing is that Kelley Jo has done a brilliant job with the piece, blending and cross-cutting the voices, creating a powerful and intense listening experience. I listened to the final mix she sent me about ten days ago and was absolutely gobsmacked.
I don’t write memoir, detest it as a vehicle for whinging, suck-ass apologists who’ve fucked up their lives and expect our sympathy for their travails. Or else they lie and embroider to lure in more suckers.
“The First Room” is not factually true but it is emotionally accurate and that’s an important distinction.
I hope you’ll get a chance to tune in–either listening to your radio at the appointed hour or streaming it from CBC. As well, Sirius Satellite (137) will be broadcasting “The First Room” throughout North America. I believe there’s also a podcast.
“The First Room” airs from coast to coast to coast Friday, February 6th at 8:43 p.m. For further information, here’s a link to the “OutFront” page.
If you do manage to catch it, drop me a line afterward with your thoughts.
I’d appreciate hearing from you.
It’s an annual ritual, dating back more than two decades.
Right after Christmas I sit down and take stock of the past year, assaying it in terms of the quality and quantity of work I’ve composed, what I feel I accomplished and where I fell short. This assessment is rarely kind: I can be awfully hard on myself. On that point, I’m not alone:
“It is now sixteen years since my first book was published and about twenty-one years since I started publishing articles in magazines…There has literally been not one day in which I did not feel that I was idling, that I was behind with the current job, and that my total output was miserably small. Even at the periods when I was working ten hours a day on a book, or turning out four or five articles a week, I have never been able to get away from this neurotic feeling.”
George Orwell wrote those words in a notebook he kept during the last year of his life. His heroic work ethic unquestionably contributed to his early demise; this fact is not lost on me. You can literally write yourself to death.
Cheery thought, innit?
But I’m not going to let my neuroses get in the way of celebrating a productive and creative year. Not me. No, sirree. I mean, I should be pleased with what I accomplished and a fair summary of 2007 would probably go something like this:
It was, to my mind, a year of retrenchment and learning. Retrenchment in that I finished a couple of longstanding projects and, re: the latter, thanks to my blog I got a real education as to the scope and limits of technology and came to a clearer understanding of the possibilities inherent in cyberspace.
I get the sense that during this past year I was tooling up, doing my utmost to marshal and focus my skills, honing them to razor sharpness.
Preparing for things to come…
The high points:
- In the early part of 2007 I completed final edits on Voiceworks. It’s a thin volume (71 pages), made up of 50 or 60 of my favorite monologues and short, spoken word pieces. The material is drawn from the past twenty years and includes offerings like “Cranes” and “A.I.” and a number of monologues from The Break (my one-act play).
- I finally put the finishing touches on my Redbook poetry collection (so named because of the red notebook I scribble the first drafts into). Sherron helped me paste it onto the background I wanted and it looks great. This one took a mere decade to whittle and pare into shape.
- Revised two older stories, fleshing them out and coming up with luvly new versions of “Adult Children” and “Matriarchy”. I especially treasure the latter and was pleased when CBC Radio producer Kelley Jo Burke picked it up for broadcast on “Gallery” (air date: October 27, 2007).
- Sewed up the movie deal for “Kept”, acting as my own agent and going through about twenty drafts of the contract with the increasingly frustrated producers and screenwriter. Used the Writers Guild of America’s model contract to help me restrict the option period, secure compensation for sequels and remakes, protect literary rights, etc. A time-consuming, frustrating, annoying, nerve-wracking process but it got done and now we’ll see what happens.
- I revised a few of the short stories from my venerable (1990) short story collection Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. It gave me the chance to tighten up the prose and fix the last line of “The Cattletruck”, which never seemed right to me. The new versions are leaner, tighter, superior to the originals. Worth the weeks of murderous edits.
- In March, I finally heeded Sherron’s prompting and allowed her set up this blog. Beautiful Desolation. One of the smartest decisions I ever made. Started out as an experiment, a lark. And then it grew and grew as I added rants, commentaries, reviews, loaded on stories that hadn’t seen the light of day for years, an excerpt from the best unpublished novel kicking around (So Dark the Night). Presently, we find ourselves victims of our own success. Far more hits than we expected, people expecting new content on a regular basis—sheesh. So we’ve expanded the site and intend to utilize new publish on demand and podcasting technologies to…well, there are big plans afoot and we’ll leave it there. Stay tuned.
- But the absolute best thing to happen (writing-wise) in 2007 was undoubtedly finally summoning up the nerve to commence work on a longer effort, my novella “Of the Night”. Took every ounce of courage and willpower I had to stick with it but I did (thank you, Creator). You’ll be hearing more about this one in the months to come. Sherron loved the draft I gave her just before Christmas and I see big things ahead for this 160-page, 40,000 word beauty.
* * * * * *
When I actually list what I’ve done in the past 365 days, at first blush it seems like a pretty significant amount of work. What do you expect, I write every day, often failing to pace myself, working overtime to the detriment of my fingers, shoulders and back (to say nothing of my mental state).
But when I stack myself up against some of the truly prolific writers out there, I’m a time-waster, a lazy, itinerant asshole. Look at the sheer amount of titles folks like L.E. Modesitt, Kevin Anderson, Timothy Zahn or Robert Jordan can thrash out. These guys have bibliographies that would choke a fucking stegosaurus. How do they do it? I’m not talking about the quality of the work, I mean how can they physically produce that amount of prose, year after year? How can they put out so many pages a day when I can manage only a fraction of that while maintaining a schedule that sucks my strength down to the last dregs? How? How? How?
“What we write with difficulty is written with more care, engraves itself more deeply…”
Well, all right, granted, there’s that. The guys I just mentioned aren’t exactly literary stylists, straining to compose brilliant sentences, so lyrical they practically serenade you from the page. They’re hacks and their readers have minimum expectations when it comes to their work.
But what about authors like Anthony Burgess, Joyce Carol Oates and William T. Vollmann? They produce(d) a flood of pages every year and, for the most part, have secured their literary reputations and earned the highest awards in the land. Hugo, Balzac, Stendhal, Dumas pere et fils—huge canons, literary immortals.
It baffles me. Are they that much smarter, more efficient, better focussed than I am? While I struggle and grope for words, does the prose flow from their hands, whole chapters emerging fully formed, committed to the page with hardly a correction? Didn’t I read somewhere that Kevin Anderson dictates most of his books into a tape recorder and has them transcribed later?
My mind reels at the thought. If I did the same thing, the best I would likely manage would be a few constipated groans and a string of scatological profanities. And that’s on a good day…
I know it’s ridiculous to draw parallels between my career and that of other authors—everyone is unique, each of us a prisoner of psychology, circumstance and other factors harder to label and categorize. But the whole physical aspect fascinates me—I completed a good draft of my novella in about 3 1/2 months. I worked on that novel from the first week of September until Christmas, taking only 2 days off for Thanksgiving. 160 pages. Some of these fantasy fucks can excrete the equivalent over a long weekend. Knock out a novelization in a month or six weeks to help pay the rent….
(Long, drawn out sigh.)
But you knew me better than that…
I know…I’ll close off my last posting of 2007 by listing the things I’m grateful for, the people who remind me life is worth living and some of the stuff that redeems my boring and uneventful existence:
God. Yup, I’m serious. I am inspired and sustained and strengthened by the knowledge that my life, my work is serving the aims of a conscious, enigmatic Creator, an entity encompassing every square nanometer of our universe and a similar proportion of the other 10 dimensions currently thought to exist. So there.
Family. Couldn’t do it without you. Sher, boys, thanks for everything.
Friends. The people who care for me despite my long silences and busy schedule, who stick around despite my inattentiveness, who persist in believing in me against all evidence to the contrary.
Writing. Obvious, huh? But writing isn’t only about putting words on paper; it’s also prayer. It’s when I feel closest to my Creator—often, when my talent and resolve falter, something takes control and gets me back on track again. How many times have a looked up from a paragraph in wonder, not remembering having composed it? Those are the moments I live and pine for…
Books. I’ve repeatedly insisted the printed word saved my life and I mean it. God bless you Arthur Conan Doyle and Philip K. Dick and L. Frank Baum and William S. Burroughs and Cormac McCarthy and Homer and Franklyn W. Dixon…
Music. Soothes this savage beast like nothing else. Electronica, soundtracks, alternative, metal…and Glen Campbell singing “Wichita Lineman”.
Movies. Not as many as the old days, just not enough time. But doing my best to see some of the classics I’ve missed, discovering for myself the genius and vision of artists like F.W. Murnau, Tati, Georges Henri Clouzot and Val Lewton…
Sports. Every Saturday night (from September to June) finds me in front of the TV set, watching the nationally broadcast hockey game (a rite going back about, oh, 40 years or so). Whenever I can, I try to squeeze a few quarters of a CFL football game in between marathon revision sessions. I’m a frustrated athlete, if I died and could be reborn as anyone, it would be Joe Montana, two minutes left in the game, the ’Niners on our own ten yard line…
Radio. Old tyme radio dramas, CBC documentaries and features, BBC World Service…the possibilities nearly endless since we started piping in high speed internet. Radio Moscow anyone? NPR…
Art. Blame Sherron for this one too—every so often words fail me and only a visual image will suffice. Collage, acrylic paint, short films…over the past few years I’ve dabbled in just about everything. Sher’s a great teacher in that she does the best she can despite her student’s ineptitude.
Canada. I really do live in the best country in the world. I bag about the stupid cultural bureaucrats and the mediocrity I see all around me…but, cripes, I’m free to speak my mind, there’s nobody strapping a bomb to his ass and hopping on a bus behind me, nobody telling me what to think or say…my home and native land. I despair for it sometimes but I wouldn’t trade citizenship with anyone, anywhere.
You. Didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you? If you’re a repeat visitor or if this is the first time you’ve popped by—don’t matter, I’m grateful to you for seeking me out. The amount of “hits” this year surprised me and convinced me that there’s a potential audience out there, smart folk with an appreciation for good writing, good company and who appreciate (or, at least, tolerate) a certain amount of hyperbole and/or satire. Hang around because there’s more good stuff coming in 2008. A change in format, lots of new material including—
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again. But I’m really excited about what the next year will bring. I have a strong hunch 2008 is gonna be a good one.
And I sincerely hope it’s the same for you.
More late, breaking news:
“Matriarchy”, a particular favorite of mine, the best of a recent crop of mainstream short stories, airs on CBC Radio (Saskatchewan) this weekend (October 27th). The show is called Sound Xchange and it starts at 5:05 Saturday afternoon. The producer is Kelley Jo Burke–Kelley’s always been a big backer of my work and I’m sure she did a smashing job with “Matriarchy”.
The story is perfect for the radio. It was originally conceived as a writing exercise, the initial drafts were only four or five pages long. Later on, I went back and saw immediately that it needed an expanded narrative, which brought out more of the back story, which added layers to the narrator’s character, nuances not apparent in those early versions. I love this little beauty. More bitter than sweet, with a last line that just hums.
Here’s a link to the SoundXchange blog, where Kelley says such nice things about yours truly, I blush to repeat them.
Skye Brandon reads “Matriarchy” and another tale, this one by me old crony Art Slade (Art Slade’s Page). Art and I have known each other for eons and it’s been a pleasure to watch his career flourish. “Stubb” is a solid effort and will give you a good idea why Art has achieved the stature he has.
If you somehow manage to miss the initial airing…well, you’re probably out of luck. I asked Kelley Jo but she said WGC rules stipulate she can’t podcast or post the story (that way you could download it later). So it looks like a one-shot deal. Enjoy it…and, afterwards, if you think about it, maybe drop a comment or two my way. I welcome your feedback.
Have a great weekend, folks.