Tagged: Orson Welles

The Enigma of Trump

Watching Donald Trump lurch from erratic to downright despicable behavior, I find myself shaking my head in dismay, but am I surprised? By the Donald?

Never.

The man is the very picture of consistency. No matter what the circumstances or stakes, when the chips are down, Donald will be, well, Donald.

His demeanor reminds me of Orson Welles’ favourite parable, the one about the scorpion and the frog. I’m sure you’re familiar with it but, just in case, here it is, recited by the Master himself:

The allusion, methinks, is fairly obvious.

Whether it’s shaming an ex-beauty queen or sparring with the bereaved parents of a dead American serviceman, the Donald constantly gives the impression that he just can’t help himself.

Stung by his poor performance in the first presidential debate, the alleged billionaire had to lash out at somebody. What was the name of that gal Hillary referenced in one of her tiresome talking points? Bingo! It’s three in the morning, can’t sleep, guts are acting up, I’ll have a go at her…

That such a mindset is hardly, er, presidential, doesn’t really enter into it. Cultivating a statesmanlike persona is difficult when you’re continually resorting to groin shots and head butts, biting in the clinches. Not sporting, you say? F**k you, pal! You don’t like it, grow thicker skin. Where’s your sense of humour?

This is America, after all: brash, disrespectful, rude. The bad boy of the international scene. USA, dude. Love it or leave it.

Other commentators have described the current poisonous state of American politics, the toxic effect money and the access to power it buys has had on democratic institutions.

The mere fact that a man with the history and background of Donald Trump is one of the last two individuals contesting for the highest office in the land says a lot about the “state of the union”—bad, very bad indeed.

The notion that somehow, through some distortion of reality I cannot comprehend, there are millions of salt of the earth, working class citizens out there actually rooting for the Donald, intending to (God spare their immortal souls) vote for the man, come November 8th, bespeaks of a spirit of profound helplessness and despair present in the American psyche. A drowning man grasping the point of a sword and all that.

But, maybe, and this is just a thought, there’s a method to Trump’s madness. I’m not talking about some bizarre strategy to get himself elected and never mind what the pundits and spin doctors say. I’m proposing that his frequent lapses in judgement, the many times he’s gone “off reservation”, picked fights when he didn’t have to, are actually part of a careful campaign of self-sabotage.

Hear me out.

I believe that as far as the Donald’s concerned, the race is everything and the thought of taking the oath of office, assuming the burdens of being the President of the United States, bores the living hell out of him. Can you imagine D.T. enduring an endless state dinner on behalf of a potentate from some African “republic” or South American kleptocracy, trying to make small talk, grinning through the ordeal?

The mind reels.

No, the Donald has had his fun, his ego boost, but the game is starting to lose his interest. He’s done wonders for the Trump trademark, of course, and maybe that was part of his clever plan all along. When he loses, he goes back to his business empire (its true worth still very much in doubt), cashing in on his heightened media profile. Thanks to his Fox-fuelled campaign, he has successfully climbed and blustered and elbowed his way to the top of the celebrity food chain, assuring himself a place on the “A” list for years to come. Trump Hotels, Trump Casinos filled to capacity with punters hoping to catch a glimpse of that famous orange swatch of hair, ringed by bodyguards, bound for the penthouse, deigning to look neither right nor left.

“That man could have been president,” they’ll whisper among themselves.

As if it would have been a good thing.

trump

Looking ahead (hopeful premonitions)

Welles:pictureOne of my resolutions in 2016 is to raise and enhance my creative profile by getting better at promoting my work.

I make that commitment with, I confess, some serious misgivings. My absolute nightmare is emulating my hero, Orson Welles, who spent the vast majority of his time trying to beg, borrow or steal the money he needed to finance his pictures. He frequently bemoaned wasting his energy on this soul-destroying scut work when he could have been, y’know, making great movies. When he died, he left a string of unfinished projects and his body of work was far, far smaller than it should have been. That represents a crime against cinema itself.

I measure myself by the latest project in front of me—and that’s a major drawback. Once I finish a book or short story or poem I quickly lose interest, already eying the next challenge. I admit it: I have been completely negligent when it comes to plugging the ten books this press has released thus far. I send out review copies, write up some accompanying background material…and then pretty much forget about it. Onward and upward!

But I’m a sentient creature, I can learn, adapt, change. So during the past week I’ve signed up for both Smashwords and Wattpad, making a substantial selection of my writings available for free downloading and sampling on those sites (see: the “Links” sidebar to the right of this post). I’ve also contributed comments to a couple of writing forums and reached out to a few fellow indies.

As well, in the coming weeks, I’ll be giving you a step-by-step (blow by blow?) account of my efforts to publish the next Black Dog Press offering, a reprint of Righteous Blood, a volume featuring two terrifying novellas originally released by PS Publishing back in 2002. You wanna know how to publish a book, experience the joy and (mainly) torments of that process firsthand, well, keep watching this space.

I spent part of last autumn getting the text of Righteous Blood into shape, making sure there were no formatting glitches, etc. I also wrote a foreword and some end story notes. That part is pretty much ready to go. But I still need to find cover art, select an interior layout person (Chris Kent will once again handle cover design) and start the production ball rolling. My tentative release date is April 1st—better get a move on.

So…busy times. But I can’t forget to leaven all that labor with a little bit of fun.

Which means…see you at the first home game of this province’s new professional lacrosse team, the Saskatchewan Rush. I’ll be driving in to Saskatoon on Friday, attending the match with four of my favourite lads (including my two sons). The forecast is for cold weather but that doesn’t deter the hardy sports fans in this part of the world. Watch for me, I’ll be the guy in the yellow/gold Bruins hat, imbibing good, Canadian ale and grinning from ear to ear.

I love lacrosse. Fantastic game. Canada’s real national sport.

Go Rush!

Bruins

One final post re: the Moon and Apollo 11

model1I know, it seems like I’ve had the moon on my mind since the beginning of the year.  The whole 40th anniversary thingee really got to me for some reason.  Made me ponder how much time has passed and (perhaps) how little time remains.

A busy, creative, exhausting summer and those 4 linked short stories grow ever nearer to completion.  Stay tuned, I think this quartet of tales is going to make a definite impression on you.

But I decided to take this past weekend off, rest up, read a couple of books (both on Orson Welles, as it turned out) and build another plastic model.

And, sticking with the moon theme, the model I chose was the Heller Apollo 11 lunar lander.  This is a none-too-detailed, cheapish reproduction of the fragile craft that took Neil and Buzz down to the surface of the moon…and back up again (to rendezvous with Michael Collins).  Found it on eBay for a small stipend but it took me forever to set aside some time to put the bloody thing together.  And I’ve got eight or ten other model kits in the basement, waiting their turn.  Everything from an X-Wing fighter to a German zeppelin.  Sheesh…

model2I set up on a table on our back deck–the weather for the past week has been perfect, clear and hot and not much in terms of a breeze.  I got myself settled, arranged my parts and glue and paints and commenced work.

There were a few minor annoyances.  First of all, none of the instructions were in English.  Second, this model is quite small and that means small parts that resist and defy my clumsy, shaky fingers.  I had…difficulties.  Mainly with the struts.  Oooo, those bleepin’ struts.  I still break into a sweat when I think of them.

Sherron found me some terrific copper-tinted paint that went on thick, allowing me to apply a bit of texture, a convincing impression of the gold foil we see in pictures of the lander, a blaze of colour on the otherwise monotonously grey moon.

model3Finished the model and thought it needed a little diorama so I made one of some papier mache stuff Sherron had lying around.  Spray-painted it while it was still wet, hoping to give a better illusion of the fine lunar regolith.

It’s not perfect but it ain’t half bad.

Have a look…and then sit down and tell me  story about a model you built as a kid, a memory you treasure (or rue) to this day.

C’mon, don’t be shy…

model4

Gimme That Old Time Radio

images2I love radio dramas.  The “theatre of the mind”.

Yes, indeed.

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.

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.

dimensionI 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.

holmesI 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.

Shame…

Nobody’s Fault But Mine

“It is sufficiently honourable and glorious to have been willing to make the attempt, though it should prove unsuccessful.”

Pliny the Elder

Compromise.

It’s an ugly word, one not found in my vocabulary. Honestly, I utter it so rarely I actually had to look it up just now to find out if there was an “i” after the r or an “o”.

Com-pro-mise.

Got it. Commit to memory. Or…maybe not. After all, how often will I end up using it?

Some writers see bending to the will of agents or editors or the grand-all-powerful marketplace as a necessity if one wants to be a published, successful author. They see no problem letting outside parties tamper with story lines, suggest the addition or removal of characters, chapters, subplots. I read one account in Poets & Writers magazine where an author sat down to lunch with his agent, outlined a couple of different ideas for a novel and let his rep pick the one he would work on next.

My immediate and visceral reaction: what an asshole. Imagine giving someone that much influence over your writing. Now, I don’t really have a lot of hard and fast rules when it comes to my work but there are certain tenets that I live by and here are a few, strictly FYI:

1) Editors should remain unseen and unheard. They are non-entities. Spell-checkers and proof-readers and if they try to raise themselves above that lowly status, slap them down. Hard. Writing is not, repeat not a collaborative exercise. Anyone who credits an editor for saving a manuscript didn’t work hard enough on it, chickened out when the going got tough.

2) Agents have one job and one job only: protect their clients from greedhead publishers. Pitbulls when it comes to negotiating rights and contracts, pussycats when it comes to dealing with their clientele. No creative input, no vetting of manuscripts. No career advice. Here’s my completed manuscript–now it’s your job to sell it and get the best deal you can. Oh, and by the way, I expect to have final clearance over cover art and jacket copy. Make sure I get it…or you’re fired.

3) The writer is always right. There might be rare exceptions but, for the most part, the writer should know his/her work, its strengths and weaknesses, better than anyone else. Any wordsmith willing to abdicate responsibility, autonomy over a book or story, should take up flipping fucking burgers for a living. You don’t belong in our sacred guild of artisans. You ain’t good enough, strong enough…so do us all a favour and fuck off.

Now, admittedly, some authors aren’t comfortable with such a stance. Timid, insecure creatures, they need to be reassured, stroked. They’re willing to cede control of their self-esteem, their vision and integrity, as long as they have a pretty book they can show their friends and impress the proles. Their greatest dream is getting published and if that means opening themselves up to every indignity and humiliation, well, that’s part of the price they’re willing to pay.

I’ve been on-line for a couple of years now, poked about hundreds and hundreds of blogs and websites devoted to authors, established or otherwise. With very few exceptions (my friend Peter Watts being one), few scribblers take issue with the treatment accorded to writers and fewer still express the slightest antipathy toward a system designed to belittle their importance.

It’s fear, I suppose, but it’s something more than that too–an innate cowardice, a reluctance to make waves that is nothing less than craven. This fawning, milquetoast attitude I find in our little community makes me nauseous.

Other disciplines feature far more mavericks than the literary world.

How about a band like Tool, who refused to release any new albums for four years until they finally secured complete artistic freedom from their record label? I’ve already alluded to Trent Reznor, Ani DiFranco and Radiohead, musicians who tired of executives and A & R people fucking with their musical direction.

On the cinema front, I can point to stubborn auteurs like Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles, even Jean-Luc Godard (cheerily slipping into obscurity as long as he can keep making the movies he wants).

Kubrick demanded and received “final cut” throughout his career. MGM treated him with something akin to awe, enduring the lengthy hiatuses between pictures, editing suites booked for months of expensive post-production, mediocre or insignificant box office receipts…as long as he kept making films for them.

Welles wasn’t so lucky. After “Citizen Kane”, Hollywood never again granted him creative control. “Magnificent Ambersons” was butchered and rather than accept his reduced status, Welles broke away and spent the rest of his life in the wilderness, scraping together financing for films that were never made, left half-finished or suffered badly due to poor production values. There were occasional signs that his genius was undiminished–portions of “Chimes at Midnight”, “The Stranger”, even “F For Fake”.

I read an interview with Welles reprinted on the website for Senses of Cinema and, despite his frustrations, the soul-sucking necessity of expending 95% of his energies on searching for financing, he remains as defiant as ever, God bless him.

Orson was one tough sonofabitch.

But I don’t see the equivalent of these strong-willed personalities in the writing world. A willingness to break with convention, defy authority, maintain one’s independence and vision even if it costs you any chance of achieving fame and fortune.

And that says something.

After my Mediabistro rant was published, where I “burned bridges” and “committed artistic suicide”, I received a few cranky notes but I also got quite a show of support from other writers…most of whom were unwilling to go on the record with their remarks.

“Good for you”…”Glad someone’s finally taking these fuckers to task”…etc.

The point I was trying to make was that you can tell editors, agents and publishers to take a flying fuck at a rolling hand grenade and it doesn’t mean the end of the world. Thanks to the burgeoning indie movement that the new technologies are facilitating, authors can achieve a decent readership, gain fans and followers around the world and not have to jump through hoops to do it. The balance of power is shifting, the old edifice is crumbling. POD means “print on demand” but also “piss on dickheads”.

Dickhead editors. Dickhead agents. Dickhead publishers.

Poets and writers: your readers are out there, waiting for you. Take my word for it. Seize control of your career, refuse to cater and kowtow to people who move their lips when they read and have the social skills of a badger with mange.

Friends, colleagues, fellow wordsmiths:  the revolution starts NOW.

***

Coming soon: So Dark the Night (the podcast).

That’s right, Sherron and I have been spending long hours up in my office, figuring out the software, doing sample recordings, trying out theme music. We’re laying down the tracks, baby, getting ready to release a full-length, unabridged audio version of the best occult thriller around.

Keep watching this space…