“Time to break with long-standing tradition. No room for humility, maintaining artistic ‘Purity’ and all that bullshit. Gotta get with the program, boy! Right now, you have the profile of a blind mole and you gotta do something about it, capiche? So, let’s hop to it…”
That’s the publisher part of my brain, giving me a good dressing down. Lately that impatient, cigar-chewing entity has been making his presence felt, insinuating his way close to my psyche, whispering his poisonous advice.
Unfortunately, it seems I’m starting to listen to him. I’m behaving very much out of character and as evidence I offer up the following:
First, I’ve entered a couple of my books for literary prizes.
I know. Spooky, isn’t it? I usually have zero interest in such things—couldn’t tell you who won the last Pulitzer or Booker or what have you. But my publisher got his way and I popped four copies of The Last Hunt off to the judges of the Western Writers of America’s “Spur” Awards and a similar number of my New & Selected Poems to the folks behind the Saskatchewan Book Awards. Rather dubious bids to draw attention to my work, I thought, but those misgivings were completely disregarded.
Second point: I’m submitting a tale to the annual “CBC Short Story Prize”.
Sherron sent me the guidelines for this year’s competition and my Muse, with uncharacteristic glee, supplied me with a 1450 word offering that I’ll be mailing later today (just ahead of the deadline). Weird. Not only am I sending them a tale, I’m also paying a $25.00 “administrative fee”, a practice I’ve always derided in the strongest terms. “Ripping off writers,” I snorted. “Isn’t it supposed to be editors paying authors, not the other way around?” Etc.
Something’s going on. The problem is, I’m an independent author and publisher. There are two sides of my personality to satisfy and right now they’re pretty much at war with each other. The writer in me has no interest in shilling his books, evincing a distaste for the kind of shmoozing some of his colleagues do, trying to curry favor with the Powers That Be. The publisher persona, however, insists these books we’re producing cost money and, besides, they’re good books, why not do what we can to get the word out? It’s not about greed, it’s about securing a decent readership for well-crafted stories of obvious literary merit…
Ah, he’s a clever bastard all right. And he’s been winning a few minor skirmishes of late, exploiting his new found sense of authority. He was delighted when I sat down at my desk and commenced a brand new tale for the aforementioned short story contest.
Until he read the final draft.
“It’s not…not…and too…there isn’t any…” Spluttering, unable to finish his sentences, incandescent with fury.
And the author in me rejoicing, enjoying the spectacle. Waving the printed sheets of paper teasingly, skipping away while his counterpart screams and gesticulates…
Another terrific short story in the can.
Too bad it doesn’t stand a fucking chance of winning.
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
Recently, Milan Kundera raised a few hackles in the Czech Republic by refusing to return to his home and native land to attend a conference devoted to his work. Mr. Kundera stated that he did not wish to contribute to a “necrophile party” made up of academics and scholars, discussing and debating his work.
He also said, even more provocatively, that he considers himself a French writer and writes exclusively in that language.
Take that ye cultural nationalists!
It has long been my belief that a writer is a stateless citizen, an individual who inhabits no country and is beholden to no particular culture, gender, creed or race. To identify oneself as an “American author”, “Czech author” or what have you, is to fly in the face of the kind of universality true authors seek to achieve through the power and originality of their work.
When I make my rare public appearances I often have to provide a short bio so I can be introduced to an audience or gathering and I struggle mightily to compose something that isn’t embarrassing or misleading. Earlier this year my wife adapted a couple of my short stories into theater pieces that were performed at a function here in the small city where we live. I think the M.C. at one point called me a “local author” and I shrank down in my seat. Is that all I am? A local author? A Saskatchewan author? Even a Canadian author?
Christ, I hope not. After twenty-five years of beating my brains out and destroying my fingers and shoulders and lower back, I’d like to think I have higher aspirations for myself than that.
Nossir, I want to be read not only locally, not only nationally but around the entire fucking world. I want my books and stories and essays to be devoured and enjoyed by future inhabitants of the Martian colony. I want my collected works taken on the first flight to Alpha Centauri. I want my prose to survive long after places like “Saskatchewan” and “Canada” cease to exist.
Isn’t that what all artists of worth strive for? Immortality, an appeal that persists centuries after their bones have turned to dust. And that is also why I struggle so hard to preserve the integrity of my work, not allowing some bowdlerized or aesthetically gutted version to supersede and supplant the real thing.
I honestly wouldn’t change places with the likes of James Patterson or Stephanie Meyer for all the filthy lucre in the vaults of Fort Knox. Their work won’t survive the next twenty years, let alone the uncounted eons that lie ahead. No, let them choke on their money and watch as their books go out of print in their own lifetime.
It’s funny: this past week I commented on the on-line site for CBC (our national broadcaster), responding to a short feature devoted to Robert Charles Wilson. Mr. Wilson has managed to secure something of a reputation for himself as a SF writer, even snagged a Hugo Award for one of his novels. Frankly, I find his prose merely workmanlike; he is yet another SF scribbler (like Jack McDevitt and Robert Sawyer) who has cashed in on a modest talent for stretching neat ideas into over-long novels and, in the process, made a tidy living for himself. It’s a situation that’s pretty much endemic in SF but those guys are more guilty of that particular sin than most.
The folks who responded to my initial post comported themselves like typical, moronic SF fans. They made all sorts of assumptions about me and indulged in numerous pointed, personal, ad hominem attacks, opining that I was merely jealous of Mr. Wilson’s commercial success.
I made the mistake of trying to debate with these “minions of fan-dumb” and earned more vitriolic attacks for those efforts. Fuck it, I thought, and signed off without posting the really nasty parting shot I had composed. It would have been a waste of time. These are the same vacuous shitheads who are lining up in droves to see “Star Trek XXIV: The Quest For Profit” and the latest comic book adaptation, wearing out their thumbs on their game consoles. The only heads they have on their shoulders are blackheads from all the junk food they cram into their maws so they can stay up all night watching the “Lord of the Rings” movies back to back and wrapping “Fallout 3”. Fuck them. No way I’ll lie down with those pigs.
No, I’m bound for the stars. I write for posterity and to preserve a literary legacy that I hope will last as long as there’s a single, discerning reader out there who longs for something off the beaten track, a work that reminds them what it means to be human, the attendant hopes and accompanying foibles. A man or woman lonely, isolated, seeking the companionship of a long-dead author whose devotion to the printed word transcends time and vast distances and alien, hostile farscapes.
Keep your trophies, baubles and bullion.
I serve a higher calling…and make no allowances for those whose lack of courage and faith causes them to choose low roads and demean the gifts they have been so generously granted.
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.
A quick mench that CBC Radio producer Kelley Jo Burke just dropped me a line, letting me know that my short story “Matriarchy” will be airing on her Saturday afternoon SoundXChange program (February 28th, 5:00 p.m. on Radio One in Saskatchewan).
Along with my little tale will be an offering from someone named Sandra Birdsell. Yes, I thought you’d heard of her and I’m sure you’ll find “Stones” very much to your liking.
Check out the program, click on some of the links because you’ll be able to tune in to all kinds of music and performances. Eclectic as all heck, those folks.
And for those of you who’d like to have a glance at the text version of “Matriarchy”, I’m only happy to oblige…
I love radio dramas. The “theatre of the mind”.
I’ve had the good fortune to write a number of radio plays and, as has been mentioned, one of them just aired nationally on CBC Radio’s “OutFront” program.
But listening to the old stuff is what really gives me pleasure. Recently, I purchased a personal CD/MP3 player and, despite my well-documented techno-phobia, was able to hook it up to the stereo in my office. Thus, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been kicking back after a hard day of scribbling, listening to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and his amiable (if slightly dotty) companion Dr. John H. Watson…I also have the complete “Sam Spade” series starring Howard Duff and the four-disk dramatization of Les Miserables, produced and starring the one and only Orson Welles.
Radio, in its heyday, presented news, live sports, game shows and various types of entertainment, from comedy revues to adaptations of classic works of literature.
Now we have “talk radio”, Howard Stern and the shock jocks and “classic” stations playing the same tired playlist of golden oldies. Even the venerable CBC has dumbed itself down in the past five years, desperately seeking a younger demographic and losing its traditional listeners in the bargain.
It breaks my heart when I think of a time when the folks at CBC used to let the likes of Glenn Gould have the run of the place, accommodating his odd lifestyle by letting him come in and record and mix at any hour, working meticulously to create material like “The Idea of the North”, which I managed to snag on long playing record a number of years ago.
The Mother Corp. once had a dedicated radio drama arm in the good ol’ days but not any more. They no longer consider it part of their purview to develop young writers and there is currently no equivalent of “CBC Playhouse“…and that’s too bad.
I have, I confess, a particular soft spot for science fiction on the radio and I’ve been fortunate to find a couple of sites (check out this one and Calfkiller is fun too) where you can find shows like Dimension X and X Minus One, Mindwebs and others. Fun adaptations of classics of the genre by the likes of Arthur C, Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, J.G. Ballard, Henry Kuttner, etc. Once I figure out how to create MP3’s of these beauties, I’ll be able to listen to them up in my office as opposed to being relegated to the family computer down on the main floor, where I have to queue up, vying for time with my two sons (both of them World of Warcraft junkies, as well as using said PC for their homework and designing their own computer games). The computer I use for my writing is an old Mac, too old and decrepit for cyberspace, a word processor plain and simple.
The nice thing about the sites I’ve just mentioned is that you can listen to the programs for absolutely nuttin’ and, believe me, you will be entertained.
Listening to a radio drama requires the listener to visualize an entire universe being created purely with words and sound effects. It’s the perfect format to enliven long car trips and commutes. Thanks to the internet, these programs live again, a case where state of the art technology enables us to access an art form that is, sadly, little known and certainly under-appreciated.
I will continue to write radio plays and when the time comes that no one airs them, I will produce them myself, through podcasts. I love the special limits and demands radio drama imposes on writers and can never quite suppress the shiver of excitement I feel when I hear an announcer introducing Lux Radio Theatre’s production of To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Petri Wine presenting “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.
I feel sorry for anyone who’s never heard a really well-rendered radio play. It is an experience not to be missed…and yet so many do.
My radio play “The First Room” has been posted on CBC Radio’s “OutFront” site. You can listen to it by clicking here.
The “official” broadcast date and time (Friday, February 6th; 8:43 p.m.) remain the same but for those of you unable to tune in then, here’s your chance to listen to the finest radio adaptation of my work yet. The recording will likely be archived for a short while so please spread the word to one and all.
Let me know what you think…
(Note: A couple of listeners have complained that they’re having trouble with the RealAudio player CBC Radio is employing. My buddy Phil converted the program to an MP3 and it played like a charm. So if any of you are more, ah, technically enabled, you might want to give that a try.)
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.
The deaths of Thomas Disch and, more recently, David Foster Wallace have been preying on my mind of late. Both these fine authors took their own lives and while the circumstances might have been different, the reason was the same:
Writing is not easy work. I’ve talked about the physical toll it has taken on my body, the arthritis, shoulder and back pain, daily stomach cramps. But I’ve shied away from alluding to those days when my spirit isn’t in it, when I feel the words and desire to express myself slipping away…until my head is filled with static…and then nothing at all.
The words won’t come. My pen is on the page but there’s no impetus, nothing to get it moving and the page remains blank. Those are terrible, awful days to endure. I try to tell myself I’m going through a fallow period, that I must use this opportunity to recharge but the problem is I’m a writing machine, composing prose is an addiction, so when inspiration dries up, it’s like I go through withdrawal symptoms. I can’t eat, can’t read or focus on a movie. I’m restless, endlessly pacing, trying to relieve this frantic energy that builds and builds with no way to release it.
I snap at Sherron and my boys, pull away from them, duck into my office so I don’t say anything I’ll have to apologize for later. Little things send me into a towering rage.
I could never be a suicide, I just don’t have it within me. I’ve always joked I’m more likely to become homicidal than suicidal and that’s not far off the mark. Those rages really are unsettling to experience. I can feel the ghost of my drunken Irish father stirring within me. All my life I’ve feared my anger, what it makes me capable of. If I ever got in a serious fist fight, I’m not convinced I could make myself stop. I have dreams where I’m beating and beating and beating on someone until my arms are slippery with blood.
Nasty, eh? Well, I’ve got nasty genes. Lots of addiction, violence, lack of impulse control.
The radio play I just finished for CBC Radio, “The First Room”, delves into some of this. Those early memories of lying in bed, listening to my parents drink and get into wild, violent altercations. Writing about it brought all sorts of suppressed memories to the surface and it wasn’t pleasant. But it also gave me important insights into the obsession I have to control every aspect of my life. It traces back to those feelings of utter helplessness and terror I experienced as I laid there, convinced my father was going to murder my mother…and then do the same to his kids. And my bed was nearest to the stairs…
As I got older, I wanted to put myself in a place where I could never be threatened or intimidated or controlled ever again. That applied to every aspect of my life but most especially my writing. I have warned editors that I will beat the mortal piss out of them if they touched a word of my manuscript. I have told agents in no uncertain terms that I do not need their help in directing my career, choosing projects for me, lining me up to write some awful fucking six or eight or ten book series or media tie-in.
I won’t be anybody’s whore, not for any price. No rationalizations, no excuses (“I wanted to write a STAR WARS novel because I thought I could do something really different with Boba Fett’s character”–fuck you!). I don’t work for money and if that’s your focus, if you’re using your pathetic, puny talent in an effort to be the next Stephanie Meyer or Kevin J. Anderson, I spit in your face.
As a result of this stance, needless to say, I’ve become a literary pariah, earning the reputation for being difficult, uncooperative, arrogant, even dangerous.
And…I have succeeded in isolating myself, probably scuppered any chance at success or publication. Far inferior authors are seeing their books in print, stocked in the best book stores, plucked out and carried off by the readers I revere and covet so much.
So in the midst of not writing I’m forced to wonder if it’s even worth writing. That’s tough.
But just when it seems I’ve reached the end of my rope, something always happens. A voice whispering a character name, a title, a line of dialogue…and I’m off again. There’s a lovely Pete Townshend song on his album All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. The tune is “Somebody Saved me” and I often think about certain lines when I’m going through one of my funks. Pick up the disk sometime, it’s as good as anything Pete ever did with the Who.
What happens when the voice no longer comes? Not for days…weeks…months…years…
What if nobody saves me?
What if there’s nobody there?
The sound of no one clapping.
No sound at all.
The silence of the grave.
Please, God, may that never, ever happen to me…
No argument. The hours I was putting in, working for weeks on end without a break, shut away in my office, tapping and scribbling like a maniac, was incredibly stupid and detrimental to my health. I was definitely feeling the strain by the time I wrapped up rewrites on Of the Night. Lots of shoulder and back pain but also a sense of being artistically and spiritually drained. The tank right on “E”.
The only problem is, what does an anal retentive obsessive compulsive workaholic do when he has time off?
Answer: he doesn’t take time off.
Oh, I know it’s ridiculous, completely irresponsible but I can’t stop myself. I promised Sherron, swore high and low that I would start thinking of my health first. I’m forty-five years old in October and my family has a long history of heart disease. Not a lot of 90-year olds on either side, if ya know what I mean. It’s time to start devoting more thought to maintaining a healthier lifestyle, a better mindset.
Stress is a killer and I’ve got it bad. Always trying so fucking hard to meet the high standards and expectations I place on myself, pushing myself to get better, improve as a craftsman and artist. I don’t want to write like everybody else, I want my own, unique take on reality, unfiltered and with the bark on. No compromises, no pandering…no exceptions.
My promise to Sherron was honestly made but I think it will be hard to observe “in the breech”, as it were. Habit draws me to my office first thing every morning. It’s directly across from our bedroom and as soon as I’m awake and mobile, I wander in, check out the state of my desk, shuffle papers about…or just stand in the middle of the room, revving up for the day.
I’ve tried to take it easy but over the last couple of weeks I’ve reorganized my office, caught up on paperwork, starting planning my next major project and spent long hours on-line, promoting this blog and flogging my novels So Dark the Night and Of the Night to whoever might be interested. I’ve sent notices to horror sites, science fiction sites, occult sites, paranormal romance sites—if I’ve missed anybody, I dunno who it might be.
And I’ve also somehow managed to find the time to write a twenty minute radio play, “The First Room”. Very intense and personal. Kelley Jo Burke, producer at CBC Radio, dubbed it “Portrait of the Artist as an Abused Young Man” and I think she’s bang on.
What’s wrong with me, why can’t I take a week, a solid week and do nothing more than lounge about in my bathrobe, watching old Bunuel movies and reading fat science fiction tomes?
Well…like Graham Green I am afflicted by boredom. Bedevilled is more like it. He claimed it sometimes reduced him to suicidal thoughts and I can empathize. My brain can’t stand being idle. Even when I’m watching movies I keep a notepad close at hand so I can scribble down good lines or salient plot points, often writing up a short review of the film later on. Why? To what purpose? Because I must analyze, dissect, critically assess. Same with books. I’m on my third book journal, hundreds of reviews no one will ever read. I take great pains with my critiques, have developed a strict rating system…again, why?
Because unlike Sherlock Holmes I don’t have a 7% solution of cocaine to ease me through fallow periods. There’s only my work. It is my purpose, the reason I was put here on earth; it is an essential, irreducible part of my identity:
“Most of us develop and mature primarily through interaction with others. Our passage through life is defined by our roles relative to others; as child, adolescent, spouse, parent and grandparent. The artist or philosopher is able to mature primarily on his own. His passage through life is defined by the changing nature and increasing maturity of his work, rather than by his relations with others.”
* * * * * * *
Thanks to one and all for reading and/or downloading my novels over the past few months. I’m encouraged by the number of people popping in, a steady growth in visits as word spreads throughout cyberspace.
This blog has been a godsend to yers truly and has finally granted me the direct connection to readers I’ve been seeking for ages. Back in 1990 I self-published my first book, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. It was the product of desperation, a Hail Mary pass that somehow resulted in a game-winning score. The print run sold out in less than five months and the book went on to garner good reviews and excellent word of mouth. Readers loved it and cling tenaciously to their copies—just try to find one available for sale anywhere. It is well-nigh impossible to lay your hands on a copy (believe me, I’ve looked on behalf of friends and a treasured relative who lost hers in a house fire).
The success of Sex convinced my that my future lay outside of corporate publishing and marketing and nothing I’ve experienced in the nearly two decades that have elapsed since has convinced me otherwise. Thanks to the internet, I now have the ability to get my work out there and anyone, regardless of their physical location, has access to it. I’ve got readers in the Philipines, India, Vietnam, Australia…
That still takes my breath away.
The indie musicians showed me the way. I watched people like Ani Defranco seize control of their careers and message and I was inspired…if somewhat slow off the take. Writers, as a rule, are a lot more conservative and stodgy than their colleagues in other disciplines. I don’t know how many aspiring scribblers have responded to postings I’ve made on LibraryThing forums and elsewhere, pooh-poohing the notion of publishing their work on-line because they need the reassurance of an actual physical book, it gives them some kind of affirmation or some fucking thing. This past week we were in Saskatoon shopping for back-to-school stuff and we stopped by a gaming place my kids like to frequent. Its shelves are overflowing with Forgotten Realms books and all kinds of novelizations based on Dungeons and Dragons and what have you. The most dreadful, awful, amateurish tripe you can imagine.
Those are real books: does the fact that they exist as “dead tree editions” give those writers, as execrable as they are, more credibility than me? Are hacks like Margaret Weis, T.H. Lain and D.J. Heinrich superior to me because TSR et all churn out their shite by the truckload to gamers with the reading skills and mental age of an elementary school child?
I dunno, what do you think…
* * * * * * *
* We’re still working on the podcast of excerpts from So Dark the Night. Figuring out the technology has been a real learning experience for Sherron. I won’t go near the stuff, I’d fly into a rage and boot the computer desk across the room. We’ve tried loading it on iTunes a couple of times but apparently we need an RSS feed and…aaaaaugghh!
* This summer I have gone to a spa and endured a massage at the hands of someone other than my wife. I know. I’m having a hard time believing it myself. What next? Crystals? Scientology? Membership in Opus Dei?
* No news re: the movie version of my novel “Kept”. I’ve heard rumbles of a summer/fall, 2009 release but that’s only speculation. Stay tuned.
* Lots of good music playing lately…until the much-beloved Yamaha stereo in my office conked out. I’ve been bopping through the latter part of summer with Bob Mould’s “Body of Song” album, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Baby 81”, Interpol’s “Antics”, Elbow’s “Leaders of the Free World”…as well as Trent Reznor’s double ambient album and a wonderful instrumental disk titled “The Last Drive-In” by Jo Gabriel. Fantastic to write to—thanks for sending it, Jo, and get well soon!