Yes, there are definite signs of spring in the air. Above zero temperatures, melting snow, slushy streets…and a rare sighting of yer author, out and about, taking tea at Cafe 4 U, our new downtown hot spot.
But hold on, folks, this is Saskatchewan. Winter isn’t done with us quite yet. Don’t put away your parka and Manitoba mukluks just because of a few balmy days. Surely you know this part of the world better than that.
A lot to report since my last post.
I’ve been grinding away on my poetry collection, The Algebra of Inequality, spending long hours going over each poem beat by beat, breath by breath, making sure, as Don Delillo puts it, I’m find not just finding the right word but the right sounding word. That distinction is so vitally important, the difference between good writers and those who merely string sentences together. I’ve trimmed five years’ worth of verse down to a hundred pages. For the first time I’m actually arranging the poems into groupings, rather than merely printing them chronologically. Trying to create a flow of thoughts and images, dramatic highs and lows. It’s been something of a slog but the end is now in sight.
I should have the manuscript of Algebra of Inequality finalized by the end of this month and then I’ll get our longtime designer, Chris Kent, slapping together some ideas for the cover. Hoping for an end-of-April release date and, naturally, there will be more info as we move the process along.
I’m over the moon about this collection. I’m improving as a poet and have an ability to cram the most complex and mind-bending notions into a four or five-line poem. There’s a concision and sharpness to my verse that’s hard to find elsewhere. I think the brevity of my poems often works against them, folks thinking you have to write something the length of The Wasteland (complete with helpful footnotes) in order to be taken seriously.
I think only two of the poems in Algebra of Inequality were published elsewhere. About a year ago, I subscribed to a service that sends me weekly market updates, letting me know what publications are looking for poetry, fiction, personal essays, whatever. But I noticed many of these markets demand reading fees, even for three or four short poems, and that made me bristle. The point, as someone like Harlan Ellison has been saying for decades, is to pay the writer. Authors shouldn’t have to pony up hard-earned shekels in order to have their work considered for publication. That’s a rip-off and a scam and if we all refuse to have anything to do with it, editors would stop trying to flimflam us.
Some of these places are making quite a score. Charging $3.00 or $5.00 per submission, getting a thousand or more suckers—er, writers—to respond each and every issue. Do the math. And many of these places can’t even claim the expense of a print component, they are purely digital editions, a format which is dirt cheap to maintain.
Editors should be paying writers, not the other way around. Trust me.
Ah, yes, Hollywood North has come calling. Longtime friends of this blog will know I’ve had less than cheery experiences with people wishing to adapt my work for films. I had a particularly ugly episode with those idiots at—ah, never mind. Time to let bygones be bygones.
Honestly, I have high hopes for the company who picked up the rights to my novella “Living With the Foleys”. My son Sam is a budding film-maker and when he heard who was interested in “Foleys”, he immediately emailed me with the information: “Dad, these guys work with Guy Maddin!”.
Well, say no more. We’re big fans of ol’ Guy’s, love the originality and utter madness of his oeuvre. The man’s a certifiable genius—or should that read certifiable and a genius?
So, yes, I signed the contract and now they have a couple of years to see if they can make something out of my novella.
Finally, I’m abashed to note that I recently put more money into the pockets of Tim Cook and the corporate scum at Apple Computer.
I bought an iPad.
I needed a portable device, something I could have with me when I’m away from home, a word processor slash reading device slash music player. And then there are podcasts. It hasn’t taken me long to get addicted to them. “S-Town” was amazing and I’ve been tuning in regularly to “Invisibilia”, “WTF”, “Risk!” and numerous others. Hat’s off to NPR, they seem to produce or collaborate on some of the best stuff out there.
Since picking my iPad up a month ago, we’ve become just about inseparable. It’s constantly playing something—this morning while I was shaving I listened to “The Daily”, a program produced by The New Yorker.
I’m sure the habit will taper off eventually, but between my editing and tooling around on the iPad, the cold days of February zipped past.
Well, it’s much cheaper than flying to Cozumel, catching dysentery and spending a week in intensive care, pinned to an I.V. bag of antibiotics. Less invasive too.
I shall endeavor to update this blog more often. Kind of a weird beginning to the year and it’s taken me awhile to retool and get back on the bicycle (so to speak).
The days are brighter and longer, the chill lifting from my bones.
Better times ahead. New life and new hope just around the corner.
I’ll raise a glass to that…
You’ll find it by looking to the right hand side, under the “Stories” widget. Just click on “Audio” and you’ll discover a large selection of my stories, poems, commentaries, even an excerpt from my novel So Dark the Night. All available for free listening and downloading onto whatever device (iPod or cell phone) you currently favour. Many of these pieces are accompanied by music, which provides dramatic highlights, a soundtrack that is either pleasing or provocative (or both).
The most recent offering is a six-minute chat about “indie” writing I recorded because I’ve received a host of questions, both here and in various forums where I hang out. People want to know what it means to be an independent writer…and I want to do what I can to dispel this notion that one goes the indie/self-publishing route because your work can’t cut it with traditional publishers. Hey, kids, I chose to go my own way because after 20+ years of dealing with inept, sociopathic, moronic editors, I’d had enough. New technologies like blogs, podcasts and print-on-demand put more control into authors’ hands, a situation I welcome with open arms.
For the record, here’s what I said–
–and after giving it a listen, I hope you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And please check out the rest of my audio releases, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production values and the power and intensity of the work.
Theatre of and for the mind…
All this fun I’ve been having with Garageband means that I’ve been a trifle negligent with new blog posts and for that, my apologies.
But I’ll try to make it up to you by posting a new short story that I absolutely love. This time it’s a longer effort, around 2000 words–titled “Death Threats” for reasons that will become clear as the story progresses. I’ll post both an audio version and a PDF for those of you who either don’t like the sound of my voice (understandable) or who lack the ability to download the recording.
I have a great deal of affection for this story, which was written in mid-late May (2009). Have no idea what took me so long to add it to this blog. My guess is that this tale sort of fell by the wayside while I worked on the four linked stories that devoured my entire summer. This is a stand-alone effort and I feel quite confident that it will find favor in your eyes (and ears).
Enjoy, my friends and please do let me know what you think:
Death Threats (PDF)
My tunes have no shape, they flow and twist enigmatically, illogically. Mood music for troubled minds. Score for a science fiction film never made. Shimmering in the air around you, disappearing without leaving behind so much as a sprinkle of fairy dust.
There’s a strange dichotomy at work here: I’m using this advanced, amazing computer to simulate and record almost any instrument known to humankind…and flubbing and screwing up and patching and improvising…and ending up with some in-teresting stuff.
I’ve got over an hour of music stored in an iTunes folder. Every note of it selected, struck, plucked, bowed, strummed or sampled by yours truly. Using virtual instruments, of course, since I’d be virtually useless if you gave me a real one. Sue me, I’m an eejit savant.
So far this one is our favorite. Hand’s down. A bit of spoken word but just about all instrumental.
I call it “The Departed” and dedicate it to absent friends.
And awayyyyy we go…
Time for another selection from my growing library of audio experiments. Learning something new with each tune…and this time I’ve combined a fairly lengthy (well, okay, three-and-a-half minutes, but right now that’s lengthy for me) instrumental piece with an old prose poem from my violins in the void collection.
Sherron and my sons think I’m starting to get the hang of this technology.
But, friends, I’d like to know your opinion. Give it a listen and then speak your mind:
(Note: After getting word that the recording level might be giving some of you trouble, I went in and boosted the output, raising the volume some. Hope that helps. As previously advised, probably best to listen to my stuff through headphones. That way you get the full effect…)
This happens to be blog post #100 and, if that isn’t enough, later on this week this site will receive its 50,000th visit.
Wow. That’s an overwhelming number of people coming to a blog devoted to a Canuck writer who has eschewed the big time, stubbornly maintained his singular vision with an orneriness not often seen in writing circles.
God bless you, folks. You’re all the proof that I need to reassure myself that the indie path is the one for me and I shall continue to produce work that fits no niches or stereotypes or genres, confident that smart, discerning readers will find me…and help spread the word.
To mark this auspicious occasion I’ve recorded three of my favorite short-short stories, adding music and sound effects to enhance the experience. Once again, Sherron lent a helping hand, pulling the whole mess together. The final result surprised and delighted me to the extent that I think it’s safe to say there will be more such efforts in the near future.
Ah, heck, enough of my jabbering. Have a listen to these pieces and, as always, I encourage you to leave a comment, letting me know what you think…
Time to take that next step and address some of the stagnation that I believe has crept into my writing, seek out new modes of expression.
First of all, that means upgrading the technology I’ve been working with. My old Mac no longer made the nut; it was slow and lacked sufficient memory. Obsolete. It had to go. It was an emotional parting. For months Sherron has been pestering me to look into purchasing another computer but the price tag always made me balk. I’m a Mac guy but, let’s face it, there are PCs out there that could perform adequately for, literally, half the price of a new Mac. But…they weren’t Macs and I had a very bad experience with an IBM computer when I first made the leap to the digital age 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.
We pondered on “settling” for a Mac mini but after consulting folks like our pal Rob (who knows more about computers than I ever will), we went for the pricier iMac. More room to grow and expand, better suited for some of the projects and tasks I had in mind.
A couple of Sundays ago, I bowed to the inevitable and we made the purchase on-line.
Then came the hard part: saving the files from my old computer and starting the shutdown process.
That ancient Mac served me well and I don’t know how many millions of words I tapped into it. Never any big glitches and nothing mechanically went wrong in the twelve years I used it to foist my weird visions on the world. Replaced a couple of keyboards that I battered to death, that’s about it.
My mourning period ended abruptly, however, when my new iMac arrived.
Within fifteen minutes of accepting the box from the delivery dude I was up and runnng. That’s hookup, internet, everything. And I am, as previously mentioned, a complete mechanical moron. That’s why I love Macs. Steve Jobs, I could kiss you!
I’ve spent the last couple of days getting acquainted. This machine has everything I could ask for, including the capability to make and edit movies, compose music, record readings and podcasts, desktop publish…cripes, I could put a man on Mars with it if I had the know-how and a trillion bucks.
I’ve promised myself I will be patient, recognizing that there’s a learning curve for a technophobe like me when dealing with a machine of this complexity. Fortunately, Sherron and both my sons are very adept using iMovie and Garageband and many of the other features this Mac offers so I’m hardly on my own, learning by trial and terror. Although that will be part of it too: doing something stupid and learning from my mistakes. So be it.
I. Am. In. Love. Utterly smitten with the promise this machine represents. A fresh start and an opportunity to explore other disciplines that have long held a fascination to me. And you’re invited along for the ride. My first efforts will be crude, unsophisticated, amateurish but I’ll get better, I promise. And I will share the results of my experiments with you, show you my successes and not shy away from relating my disasters. Bear with me, tell me about your own experiences, offer advice…I’m a slow learner but a stubborn one too. I won’t give up until I discover for myself the limits of this machine (if there are any), fusing it with my fertile, perverse imagination to create some original and daring work. That’s my second promise.
And as long as we’re on the subject of new beginnings, here’s my third vow: to interact more directly with people who find and comment on this site. Previously, I’ve maintained the policy of letting my essays speak for themselves and not responding publicly to those who have left comments, positive or negative, on Beautiful Desolation. I felt I’d said my piece in my essays and commentaries and to rebut a reply from a reader would be, to some extent, unfair. If I thought a certain question had to be addressed or a troll warned off, I did so through private communications with those individuals. Not any more. You wanna talk to me, offer praise or brickbats, I’m here.
I hereby declare from this post (#87) onward, I’ll do my best to answer your questions and debate and engage with readers directly and honestly. These discussions will be as well-mannered, fruitful and polite as I can make them…but I will continue to leave the “moderation” function on to weed out the nutbars and those who believe they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet to say scurrilous, despicable things with absolute impunity. The kind of slime Trent Reznor refers to in a recent post on some of the bizarro on-line communities that exist out there. My thanks to Mike Cane for sending me a link. Have a look, it’ll make your skin crawl.
The vast majority of people who pop by here are nothing like the douchebags Reznor describes–they’re curious, seeking alternative sources of fiction, perhaps drawn by my reputation for being, ah, outspoken, something of a maverick, an outsider who seems perfectly content with that status. My work, my life has nothing to do with perpetuating the status quo or offering warm, fuzzy words of reassurance. I’m here to upset your equilibrium, destroy carefully held preconceptions, rip you out of that comfort zone you’re happily immersed in.
I won’t dummy down my writing, compromise my talent or thrust my fists into soft, velvet gloves. That wouldn’t be doing me, you or anybody else any favours. I’ll present what I know, what I’ve experienced, what I’m thinking “with the bark on”, as FDR liked to say. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
Today, a new page has been turned. Welcome to Beautiful Desolation, Phase II.
Let me hear from you and tell me what you think.
I’ve been accused of lacking a certain amount of, well, esprit de corps when it comes to the plight of my colleagues in publishing. These are not the best of times for people in the biz: staffs are being cut, longtime employees dismissed, whole divisions lopped off in response to plunging book sales and evaporating profit margins.
But rather than commiserating with the editors and book folk who have been handed their walking papers, my reactions have been cold-blooded, remorseless and decidedly ungenerous. Why?
Try to see it from my point of view: these people have failed. They have failed to excite the reading public, they have failed to choose and promote books that appeal to the tastes of their purported readership. Their gross ineptitude has led to their bosses absorbing big financial losses and, quite understandably, looking to clean house. Honestly, why should we care if they’re called to account for their incompetence, summoned into an office and given ten minutes to collect their name plates and personalized coffee mugs and get the hell out of Dodge?
Is jetissoning them any great loss? Are they irreplaceable? Tireless advocates of excellence in literature and the power and glory of the printed word? Not in my experience.
Don’t forget, I’ve dealt with publishing types for nearly twenty-five years and I have all too frequently found myself on the receiving end of their stupidity and outright dishonesty. When I think of editors and those who serve with them as cogs in the corporate publishing mega-monster, I’m not exactly overwhelmed by warm, fuzzy feelings.
Occasionally, as I read the latest casualty rolls in some industry mouthpiece like MediaBistro’s “Galleycat” site, certain names make me perk up. ____________ and _____________ (names removed for legal reasons) were both editors at major New York publishing houses who were given the boot within a few months of each other.
The two editors treated me abominably, hanging onto my manuscripts for ungodly periods of time, refusing to respond to my communications. In desperation, I finally called one and at first the editor in question seemed genuinely contrite. “Oh, God, yes, I remember liking that one. I’ll get to you next week”. But a week passed and then a month…and when I called a second time, I was given a rude brush-off.
“I’ll get to it when I get to it, all right?”
Never heard from her again.
I’ve detailed my many odd and surreal experiences in the world of publishing in my essay “Solace of Fortitude”. Not a word of it is manufactured or exaggerated, I assure you. I only wish that were the case. (Warning: This essay not to be read on a full stomach.)
The truth is that in my quarter century as a professional author I can count the number of intelligent and thoughtful editors I’ve encountered on the fingers of one hand (sans thumb). Ditto for agents.
So why in the name of eternal, infinite God should I give a tinker’s damn if, as a species, editors cease to exist? Should I wear a black armband because the same people who have mistreated me, lied to me and denigrated my work are dangling from every lamp post in lower Manhattan? Fat chance.
To me, all this downsizing is a golden opportunity to pare away some of the dead wood that the industry has been carrying far too long. Editors and execs who have grown old, fat, stale and comfortable in their corner offices, as secure as tenured professors (and just as paranoid and senile). Insular, self-serving, fickle. Highly resistant to change. Time for some new blood, I say, new ideas and approaches.
Traditional publishing seems to be dead, so to me the obvious question that arises is: WHAT NEXT?
Clearly the corporate approach ain’t the answer. Publishing by committee, collating and analyzing spreadsheets, projected sales figures, flow charts and pie graphs. Slitting open a sheep for good measure and rooting about in its entrails for any insights that might be gleaned there. Always on the look-out for the next blockbuster, something sort of different but mainly the same. But while the big ticket scribblers like Rowling and Dan Brown may plump up the sales numbers for a few quarters, what are editors/publishers doing to grow and sustain a stable, longterm readership? Maintaining a lifetime consumer base that’s literate (something less and less important in these days of text messaging, emoticons and three line e-mails) and devoted to the printed word, unwilling to see books relegated to the status of artifacts and curios.
The way ahead lies with smaller, tightly run publishing concerns, staffed by informed, dedicated, reader-savvy men and women. Independent in spirit, offering a more diverse, iconoclastic selection of titles thanks to the wonders of print-on-demand (POD) publishing and e-book hard/software. Works which are then promoted through podcasts, blog reviews and on-line interviews, “virtual” book tours. Live “web chats”; YouTube readings and short films.
Computer technology also enables readers to connect directly with their favorite authors through personal sites, Facebook, etc., as well as allowing them to join forums devoted to writers or genres of interest. Forming a vast, far-reaching community of book-lovers and devotees, unimpeded by geographic boundaries and undeterred by small details like race, politics, gender.
The end of corporate publishing is nigh. The signs are all there. The multi-nationals are fed up with the red ink their book divisions keep hemorrhaging. First they went at the fat with scalpels, now they’re using machetes. Desperate tactics enacted by desperate people…and I suspect it won’t make one bit of difference. The die has been cast and nothing the suits do will have the slightest effect on the massive changes technology is bringing about and a paradigm shift that is part cultural, part economic and wholly beyond the control of Wall Street, Fleet Street…or anywhere else.
These are actually great times to be a writer, or, really, anyone who works and creates in the arts. Never before have we, as artists, had access to (potentially) such a vast audience, drawn from every corner of the world. And the good news is that we can acquire this access for a relatively modest investment. No longer do writers (for example) need to kowtow to the traditional gate-keepers of publishing, the editors and agents who are largely to blame for the present moribund state of the industry. Those self-appointed arbiters of taste have been rendered superfluous, shown to be incapable of identifying or developing authors gifted with originality, power and grace—the very qualities that get people excited about reading again.
It’s my personal belief that a good deal more publishing poobahs need to have their tickets punched before authors and the general reading public have any hope of being better-served. And if the end result of these lay-offs and staff reductions is better books, a wider selection and variety of formats for readers to choose from, more authors having their voices heard, I say:
HASTA LA VISTA, YOU WHITE COLLAR, SELF-REGARDING, MARTINI-GUZZLING, TOFU-EATING, FAKE-MEMOIR-SOPHIE KINSELLA-PIMPING IDJITS! AND GOOD RIDDANCE, TOO…
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.
Thanks to the technical acumen of my lovely wife, we now have the first 20 minutes or so of So Dark the Night available for your listening pleasure. In all, we’ve recorded the initial 75 pages as a teaser and, depending on feedback from readers and listeners, we may do the whole novel.
The production, music & recording are all Sherron’s doing–the only thing required of me was to stand and deliver. I miss my live readings/performances so I had a ball (once we figured out how to do it and I stopped having screaming, ranting, petulant fits) doing my thing.
We’re going to zip a link over to iTunes too so watch for further developments on that front.
But I do go on.
So click on the link below, sit back…and get ready for a fun ride.
(This item was out of date and has been removed–an MP3 version of So Dark the Night in its entirety will be available in the fall, 2010)