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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Youth is Wasted on the Young


As I reflect on my veritable writers ADHD, one of the projects that occasionally niggles away at the back of my head is writing a Young Adult novel.

To be sure, I have on numerous occasions been asked if both Deadly Lessons and Last Dance are 'young adult' novels, set as they are in a high school with teenagers as key characters, albeit teenagers I keep killing off. These questions generally come from people who have yet to read the books - or at least I hope so. My protagonist is very much a grown up - if only in years and not necessarily on adult outlook on life.

I may be open to the power of suggestion. Many, particularly in the education field where I toil by day, have told me it seems only natural that I consider taking a crack at the young adult field. I write and I work with young adults. We're not talking rocket science here. On a surface level, of course this makes sense, just like one of my earlier forays into the television markets made sense. As I wrote about some time last spring an agent friend in L.A. was convinced I should write for the then Fox series, Boston Public: you're a teacher and you write. Why not write about being in school. For any number of reasons, it turned out not to be that simple, not the least of which the fact the show was produced by that decade's most prolific and successful television producers. He, uhm, kind of didn't really need my help, thank you very much.

In a recent column I discussed my desire to write in a motor home and had a story based on such a journey. That is, in fact, the young adult novel I've been stewing on awhile. Though it's sketchy right now, the story involves a reluctant journey undertaken by a teen (or I guess I should properly use the term, 'young adult'), who is dragged around the country by his parents in their newly acquired motor home, pretty much every teenager's worst nightmare: spending the summer cooped up in a rolling tin can with parents stopping at every point of Americana interest along the way. In my story, the protagonist will find a love interest in a young woman in a similar situation who he frequently encounters at various and sundry campgrounds, landmarks and, of course, Wal-Mart parking lots across America.

As an added twist, my wife has thought of writing a companion young adult novel told from the female protagonist's point of view. Of course, when we concocted this idea, we were on a cruise ship and we debated which kind of vessel or vessels would best suit our story idea. I preferred the rolling kind, no doubt in part because I have long wanted to venture out in rented RV to tour the highways and byways. I suspect my wife's motivation may have something to do with enjoying cruising and doing more for "research purposes." S.E. Hinton seemed to do okay in this genre. If we could have anywhere near her success, maybe we could do both.

It also may not be as obvious or as simple as it might seem. My wife is an English teacher in a high school so, like me, she is certainly familiar with the young readers we'd be hoping to attract. But also like me, neither one of his is particularly familiar with the genre - if young adult can really even be called that. Certainly many of the books I see teens reading are of the fantasy lit ilk, an area I have no interest in reading, let alone writing. But before I can write for teens I'll probably need to get a lot more familiar with young adult books themselves. What kind of length works? What about sentence structure? Are the stories simplified?

Certainly, it's a continually growing segment of readers with loyal, dedicated followers. And while I'm sure we're not the only teachers writing for that segment of readers, I like to think we'd have at least some insight into targeting quality stories to the types of readers we've both worked with for years.

Now if we can only agree on travel plans to research our contributions to the world of  young adult literature.

Next week: Happy Anniversary to me.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 28 November 2013
TV for BC 2.0


Last week, I wrote about my man crush. This week, my dream job: working for him. If I could write the local version, it might look something like this.

 

FADE IN:

INT. THE NEWSROOM. OFFICE FULL OF MOSTLY YOUNG, LIKELY UNDERPAID OR UNPAID INTERNS. ALL CARRY STARBUCKS COFFEE CUPS. SOME HAVE ONE IN EACH HAND. THE CAMERA PANS AROUND THE ROOM UNTIL WE FOCUS ON

JOSH MCAVOY, THE ANCHOR OF THE NEWSROOM BC, YOUNGER BROTHER OF THE MORE FAMOUS NEW YORK CABLE VERSION AND CHARLIE SKOK - DIRECTOR OF NEWS OPERATIONS. THEY ARE IN A HEATED ARGUMENT.

JOSH MCAVOY
It wasn’t a meltdown.
 
CHARLIE
I’d call it a meltdown.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
You calling it a meltdown doesn’t make it a meltdown.
 
CHARLIE
Us saying the term meltdown repeatedly within a very short number of sentences increases the perception that it was very much a meltdown.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
I was asked my opinion and I gave it honestly.
 
CHARLIE
In a room full of university journalism students you said that the premier had little going for her beyond an empty smile and generous cleavage.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
I’m not sure I was incorrect in my assessment.
 
CHARLIE
You’re the anchor of the number two rated newscast in this market.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
There are only two newscasts in this market.
 
CHARLIE
There are three.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Nobody counts the CBC.
 
CHARLIE
The federal government does.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
They’re the only ones watching.
 
CHARLIE
What were you thinking?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
I wasn’t thinking....I just...I looked out into the audience and I thought I saw...(fades off)
 
CHARLIE
Thought you saw what?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Never mind. It’s not important.
 
CHARLIE
Anyway a lot of people are very unhappy with you.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
(lighting a cigarette)
Most people are unhappy with me most of the time.
 
CHARLIE
Not your audience.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Especially my audience.
 
CHARLIE
(taking the cigarette out of Josh’s mouth)
Why do you think you can smoke in here?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
I like smoking.
 
CHARLIE
Name one place in the province of British Columbia you’re allowed to smoke indoors.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
The premier’s office?
 
CHARLIE
Probably not.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Because you might accidentally drop ashes on her generous cleavage.
 
CHARLIE
I really want you never to say that again.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Scout’s honour.
 
CHARLIE
How do I know I can trust you to keep your word on this?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
It’s a new thing I’m planning. I’m going to civilize Mission. 
 
CHARLIE
You mean you’re on a mission to civilize?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
No. I mean I’m going to civilize Mission. If I can bring those hillbillies into the civilized world the rest of the Lower Mainland ought to be a piece of cake.
 
CHARLIE
Please don’t say that publicly either.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Do they have tv in Mission?
 
CHARLIE
They do.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
I’d heard that but I imagined televised monster-truck show coverage conflicted with the consumption of news and current events.
 
CHARLIE
And speaking of changes...
 
JOSH MCAVOY
(interrupting)
We weren’t speaking of changes.
 
CHARLIE
It’s a charming conversational quirk to change topics mid-sentence when I can’t think of a suitable transition.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
According to who?
 
CHARLIE
Whom.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Really?
 
CHARLIE
It can be another charming affectation to correct people on their grammar when the conversation needs a humour interjection.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
So you were mentioning changes?
 
CHARLIE
Yes. I’m calling it TV for BC 2.0
 
JOSH MCAVOY
What kind of a name is that?
 
CHARLIE
One that implies change. New direction. We’re taking the show to a whole new level. I think your meltdown was just the spark that we needed.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
It wasn’t a meltdown.
 
CHARLIE
Whatever you say. I’m primarily just bringing it back up as a "callback." In improv they call it "reincorporation."
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Another charming conversational affectation?
 
CHARLIE
Now you're doing it.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
And who is going to spearhead this Newshour 2.0?
MIKAILA
(offscreen)
I am.

Josh doesn’t even turnaround at first. MIKAILA MCTAVISH enters.

JOSH MCAVOY
You can’t be serious. There’s no way this is going to work.
 
CHARLIE
Josh, you remember Mikaila.
 
MIKAILA
Josh. 
 
JOSH MCAVOY
No.
 
CHARLIE
Because you were romantically involved for over three years and she cheated on you, concealed it for a period of time and then revealed it to you?
 
MIKAILA
Hey! How did you know all of that?
 
CHARLIE
Despite your ability to keep live television on the air, for hours on end when necessary, you lack basic understanding of simple social media and you accidentally posted it on Facebook where it was seen by thousands of people, including all of the employees with whom you’re going to work.
 
MIKAILA
That’s been revealed to everyone already?
 
CHARLIE
We’re running short on time and heavy on dialogue.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
Why do you think you can just waltz back into my life and start running my newscast?
 
MIKAILA
It was more of a sashay than a waltz and your newscast isn’t doing the news that people need to see.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
What people?
 
MIKAILA
The people of Vancouver. The people of B.C.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
And what news do the “people”
(he does obnoxious air quotes)

...need to see?

He takes the still lit cigarette back from Charlie.

JOSH MCAVOY (CONT’D)
We do stories about the weather. People need to know about the weather.
 
MIKAILA
People don’t need to be told about the weather. They can stick their bloody heads outside the window and they’ll know what the weather is.
(Mikaila has inexplicably picked up an English accent which will go unexplained for several episodes)
 
JOSH MCAVOY
We provide detailed coverage and analysis.
 
MIKAILA
Analysis of the weather? What the hell can you possibly be analyzing?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
How people feel about the weather. We ask the man on the street. People love that.
 
CHARLIE
Do they?
 
JOSH MCAVOY
And what about live hits? We send reporters out to show us live what the weather is doing. And don’t even start talking to me about when it snows. That’s serious news requiring wall to wall coverage. There’s no better up to the minute live news than showing cars sliding on poorly ploughed roads. 
 
MIKAILA
We can do so much better. We will do so much better.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
And quirky weather guys...eating Japa Dogs from street vendors. We do serious work here, Mikaila.
 
CHARLIE 
She’s right, Josh. We’ve been feeding people the same thoughtless crap for years now. They’re just used to it. They’ll get used to better news. 
 
MIKAILA
This is Vancouver, Josh. There are important issues that need to be covered.
 
JOSH
You just said it’s Vancouver. What issues could we possibly cover?
 
MIKAILA
Serious, important, life-changing issues. Have you tried to turn right off of Dunsmuir lately? It can’t be done.
 
JOSH
I know it can’t be done. It’s illegal.
 
MIKAILA
That’s right. It’s a pedaling oligarchy at City Hall. 
 
JOSH MCAVOY
You’re gonna build a new newscast on bicycle lanes?
 
MIKAILA
There’s so much more. Traffic. Stories about how expensive it is to live in Vancouver. Following the Real Housewives of Vancouver’s real lives. 
 
CHARLIE
Plus constant speculation on whether or not Gregor Robertson will run for the NDP leadership.

There is a pause, primarily because after seven or so pages of rapid fire dialogue they’re nearly all out of breath.

A young intern enters.

INTERN
Josh, Mikaila? I’m sorry to interrupt but we have an alert.
 
MIKAILA
What is it?
 
INTERN
It’s raining. Hard.
 
JOSH MCAVOY 
Okay. You got people outside? With slickers on?
 
INTERN
We do. A live hit is setting up with pedestrians downtown.

Single, reaction shots of Josh, Charlie and Mikaila. Charlie nods.

INTERN (CONT’D)
There’s more.
 
MIKAILA
What?
 
INTERN
It’s windy too.

All three exchange serious looks.

CHARLIE
Holy shit.
 
JOSH MCAVOY
(looking at Mikaila)

This is what I’m talking about. This is TV for BC.

MIKAILA
(sighing)
You’re right. Let’s get a full crew on this.
(yelling to the newsroom)

I want full coverage, including millimeters of accumulation and how it relates to our annual averages for this month. I want satellite map coverage, four or five seconds worth rolling back and forth. And dogs. We need to see wet dogs.

Reporters and crew scurry around the office.

FADE

Next week: the young adult novel


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Thursday, 28 November 2013 10:52 AM PST
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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Va Va Voom

This will come as no surprise to anyone who really knows me. So if you're one of those people, you may want to hold out until next week's column. Otherwise, feel free to read on about my man crush, who may, to some degree or another, have an impact on my writing, or at least what I would hope that it would be.

My man crush, the promised topic of this week, is Aaron Sorkin.

For the uninitiated, and God help me, there are some of you out there, Aaron Sorkin is an American writer of such films as The American President, A Few Good Men - both the screen and stage plays, Moneyball, Charlie Wilson's War, and The Social Network, for which he won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

More importantly, he is also the writer, creator and creative force behind the television series Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, and most recently, The Newsroom, HBO's entirely compelling series chronicling the daily trials and crises of a nightly cable newscast in New York.

That Aaron Sorkin.

If you're still not with me, if none of his television work sounds even remotely familiar to you, I'm going to tell you something no sane writer should ever say to his readers: stop reading now. Move on. Close the page and go pick up the Province (I've written for them - I'm allowed to be dismissive). You're not ready to be party to this discussion.

Such is the power of my man crush.

I first became aware of Aaron (I will henceforth commence referring to him by his first name: what kind of crush would it be if I needed to use his surname?) during the run of Sports Night on ABC. By that time I had seen both A Few Good Men and The American President and, in the latter particularly, noticed something different in the storytelling and a hint of what might be yet to come in the dialogue. But it was in Sports Night that both the power of the stories Aaron wanted to tell and a particular form of dialogue and production had begun to develop. In simple terms, it is often referred to as the "Walk and Talk", a signature scene delivery in which characters are seen walking quickly and purposefully through their place of employ while delivering rapid-fire dialogue that builds conflict and raises dramatic tension through each conversation.

It is, in a word, wonderful.

It is critiqued as being artifice, artificial and unrealistic. His detractors claim that no one speaks that way. I'm not so sure. I have worked with, spent time with, and hung out with a lot of very smart people. Sometimes the conversations are incredibly intelligent,snappy, witty, thoughtful, and occasionally even profound.

Sometimes we make fart jokes.

The point is - and I've heard Aaron describe his writing this way - that good speech, carefully crafted speech, is not something we should shy away from. He once said of the characters that inhabit the fictional White House of The West Wing that this is the White House he hoped would be in an ideal world. If thoughtful, dedicated, yes, even patriotic people were really in the hallowed halls of government, this might well be what they would sound like. The same could be said of the sportscasters of Sports Night, the producers of Studio 60 and the journalists of The Newsroom.

His dialogue is often laden with metaphor. It frequently makes allusions to history, politics, literature, the bible and other religious texts. It is sharp, often biting, and rhythmic to the point of poetic. It stretches both the actors' and viewers' vocabulary and occasionally requires a pausing of the pvr to rewind and catch the clearly important piece of dialogue that sailed by. Again, his critics assert his writing is too heavily focused on style over story, and in doing so can be repetitive. There is evidence to support this point of view. But hey: that's a lot of writing. One is bound to repeat oneself occasionally. And if your writing is brilliant, maybe seeing it a second time in a fresh context isn't such a bad thing.

For me, watching some of the better episodes, and there are many from which to choose, can be inspirational and prompt bursts of vigorous creativity. Indeed, after my movie poster from Charlie Wilson's War was damaged and I had to remove it I have been working on obtaining posters from The Newsroom to hang in my office for inspiration. The fact Aaron cast my doppelganger in the lead doesn't hurt either.

Now if only he felt the same way….

Next week: if I worked for my man-crush


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Thursday, 26 December 2013 9:29 AM PST
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Thursday, 14 November 2013
NaNoWriMo and Me

 

November is a busy month. We're barely coming down from our post Hallowe'en sugar high when we're confronted with Remembrance Day ceremonies and the sudden onslaught of Christmas shopping expectations is upon us. For the past couple of years we've added the burden of growing moustaches for charity, a noble, if itchy, cause to be sure, but one with which those of us with spouses or significant others may have trouble reaching agreement on.

And since 1999, we're supposed to write a book.

NaNoWriMo is not a Norwegian translation for grandmother. It is National Novel Writing Month, an undertaking by then freelance writer Chris Baty who challenged his authorial friends to write a novel in thirty days. Within a couple of years, Baty's little project had over five thousand participants, anxious to access the muse within and choosing the gloomy month of November - too wet for outdoor pursuits, not yet cold enough for skiing - as the period in which to do it. It now has many thousands of entrants each year, though it is no longer a contest in so much as all the entries are evaluated or even read. But it does have a website where writers will share their stories of their experiences, so-called experts will offer insight and as of this writing, nearly three hundred thousand aspiring writers have registered their participation.

Now I certainly don't need another writing project. What with the nearly full calendar year behind my own self-imposed deadline on W3.doc, taking the month of November to venture off on what is essentially a vanity project seems less than a productive idea. Writing an entire novel in thirty days may seem an impossibly unwieldy task, but really the entrant is challenging themselves only to a paltry fifty thousand words, a mere 1,666 words per day, 6.1 measly double-spaced pages, every day for a month.

By comparison to the three-day novel contest, a Vancouver creation and tradition for thirty-five years, NaNoWriMo is practically for slackers. This is an undertaking in which I long planned to participate, if not for the surely high quality novella I'd be setting out to produce, then at least for the war stories I could swap with fellow participants, sitting in the bar, sipping extra dry martinis like Hemingway. Yes, I know Hemingway blew his own brains out and he never even entered either contest but I'm sure I could handle it.

No pressure.

But pressure is the point, or at least it was for me. I was rather hoping I would find the prospect of a month-long writing challenge inspiring enough to get a solid burst of writing done on W3.doc, simply substituting my existing project for the new one to be created as part of the challenge. Adding fifty thousand words would put me within striking distance of finishing the book altogether; with my target word count at between ninety and one hundred thousand words (unlike the behemoth first draft of Last Dance that weighed in at nearly a hundred and forty thousand), meeting the NaNoWriMo standard would have brought me to the mid eighty thousand range.

November's word count in W3.doc so far: eleven.

In fairness to myself (being fair to myself is a therapeutic skill on which I continue to work), they are eleven pretty quality words. But if I'm going to meet NaNoWriMo's objective, my daily output needs to increase somewhat: starting today I'm aiming for two thousand, nine hundred and forty-one. How hard can twelve pages per day be?

I'm hoping not to ask Hemingway.

Next week: My man crush


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 7 November 2013
Of MoHo's and Other Muses

 


I have previously reflected on my curiosity about the creative spaces used by other writers. In part, seeing the workspace of writers, particularly those I admire, was meant to perhaps provide motivation to help get past those occasional – and occasionally much longer-lasting than I’d like – hurdles of the writers’ block variety that have oft plagued in the past year or so. I suppose it isn’t so much that I want to replicate their spaces per se, though I have to admit I would be thrilled to be able to afford to build a replica of some of the great writing spaces I’ve seen.

Lately I have added a new environment to the mental list of places in which I’d like to write: a mobile one.

Though I watched all six seasons of Breaking Bad within the past six months or so, my affinity for recreational vehicles is not born of Walter White worship. And though I occasionally fancy myself as a low-grade superhero, neither is my Winnebago wistfulness derived from the exploits of Billy Batson and his mentor. My interest in the traveling muse mobile, I think, originates with Sam Walton.

The Wal-Mart founder was, allegedly, a big fan of the rv lifestyle, whatever that may mean. As RV's became larger, and the costs of renting a spot and plugging in at a campsite increased, Walton determined that Wal-Mart parking lots being vacant for the late evening and middle of the night hours, would make for good temporary, overnight parking spots for the rv enthusiast. To be sure, it's likely Mr. Walton, retail capitalism defined, saw the potential for a bunch of happy campers, so to speak, waking up in the parking lot, recognizing they're in need of groceries or supplies and stocking up before they move on to the rest of their destination, even if that was just the Wal-Mart parking lot a day's drive down the highway. But his passion for the motorhome experience became, for a time at least, corporate policy, and while he was alive, traveling rv'ers were welcomed in the parking lots of Wal-Marts across America, an experience that has been well documented.

For some reason, I find this incredibly motivating.

Part of it stems from a story that I would love to write: I want to rent an RV (buying one based on the royalties typically earned by a Canadian author is out of the question), drive around North America, documenting and telling the stories of the people I'd meet at Wal-Marts along the way. I'm sure it's been done, though I have yet to find a version that is the story as I would expect it to be told. But the experience itself is a story, or at least a big part of it. The idea of driving around, seeing things at a pace that can't be matched by aircraft, being able to pull over, whip out the laptop and contribute to a story, whatever that story may be (assuming I can get Graydon Carter to pay my expenses I assume it's the traveling RV writer piece, with a bit of the novel on the side). Even the mental image of sitting at the table, scenery passing by (keep in mind I've passed driving duties off to my wife at this point), inspired by the travels, is incredibly satisfying.

In fact, I have a young adult novel brewing in the back of my mind that has evolved out of the mental imagery created by motorhome travel daydreams. Were it not for the incredible delay in reaching the end of W3.doc, I would consider venturing into that literary territory right now - assuming I could get hold of the RV.

My wife, always my biggest supporter, was initially not quite as on board with getting on board a rolling homestead as I. Of course, once she came up with her own story to write, inspired by my imagined road trip, we're thinking of ourselves as more Jonathan and Faye Kellerman than Doug and Carrie Heffernen or Phil and Claire Dunphy.

I would even consider giving up my backyard, writing shack in exchange for a not terribly mobile WV (I think of it more as a writing vehicle than a recreational one) that could live in what would admittedly need to be a bigger back yard. Some writers, not having room in the house for an office or loft, move their writing to the driveway inside a writing trailer, which has the dual function of being a nearby but separate writing space that could also be mobile. This remodelled classic belonging to my friend and improv comedienne extraordinaire, Margret Nyfors, would suit me just fine.

Of course, it isn't at all beyond the scope of possibility that my WV quest is yet another in a long line of things I think I need to keep me writing or get me writing more. And there's little evidence to support the idea that would happen.

On the other hand, one never knows until one drives.

Next week: Me and NanaRimo


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Thursday, 7 November 2013 9:13 PM PST
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Thursday, 31 October 2013
Reaching the Adoring Public

 

Shortly after I went to my current publisher I received an email from a woman claiming to be my publicist. Imagine my surprise. Having had my first book published by a ‘boutique press’ consisting of a small, dedicated publishing staff, I was taken aback by the notion of an employee whose responsibilities didn’t include, well, all aspects of publication.

 
To be fair, I can’t say definitively that having an in-house publicist has directly translated into higher sales volumes for Last Dance than for Deadly Lessons. Which brings me to my inquiry of the week (doesn’t everyone have one of those?): how much value is there to a writer having a publicist?

 
Now before the flood of publicists starts deluging me with emails about why I need their services (I recognize I'm placing a great deal of faith in this column's ability to draw the readership of hundreds of anyone, let alone the sub-categorgy of readers that are publicists), I acknowledge that for some forms of writing, particularly if the writing is non-fiction and you have an area of expertise to offer, having publicists working on your behalf could really prove beneficial in getting an expert author in front of the appropriate media to discuss the area of expertise and, hopefully, push their book at the same time.

 
But what about those of us scribes who toil in fiction land?


Principally, this question stems from the fact I did something recently I don't think I've ever done (as a writing device I'm tempted to leave this hanging awhile just to let your imaginations fill in the proverbial blanks). But here's what it is: I followed an advertising link posted on Facebook. In that spooky way social media can do, Zuckerburg and company determined I was a writer (I guess I haven't exactly made it a secret) and targeted their advertisers to me, in this case an advertisement for the services of a publicist.

 
What can I say? I was intrigued. I clicked. And I found myself reading about the services a large (at least they claim to be) publicist company in New York could do for me and my writing career. Sure, you might be thinking, they'll help to promote you, they'll get you on the Today Show (okay, they didn't exactly promise that but that's what I envision) but at what cost? Can a small time, sophomore author from Vancouver afford the services of a big time publicist?

 
One would think not. But here's the thing: like so much of the contemporary service industry, this publicist promises to be 'pay as you go.' That is, they only charge you when they get you work, or appearances, or publicity, I suppose.

 
And so I sent them an email. Nothing fancy. Nothing too detailed. Basically I just filled out an online form to express some interest. And lo and behold, within an hour I had heard back. What was I interested in? Did I want them to call me? What kind of service would I be hoping to get? How many public appearance was I hoping they would be able to arrange and set up?

 
And, of course, having the answer to none of those questions, I have done nothing in response.

 
I know, I know. A company advertising to all and sundry on Facebook does probably not carry the kind of clout that would have me sitting on the sofa next to Matt Lauer any time soon. But would engaging a publicist, especially one who I don't have to pay any  kind of retainer up front, get me more oppportunities to sit on someone's couch, or radio studio, or magazine office guest chair, and help promote my writing?

 
And what, exactly, would my publicist be promoting me as? Mystery author? Gotta think there are bigger names than me to get interviewed. Author with an educational bent? Expert on hate crimes, at least in part the subject of Last Dance?

 
So while I stew over those possibilities, my email sits unanswered and the publicist has surely moved on to other potential clients. But what if? What if I know enough to be considered a guest with sufficient expertise in an area to be a worthy client?

 
I have to think more exposure could only be a good thing.

 
On the other hand, P.T. Barnum probably would have bought shares in Facebook.

 
Next week: motorhomes and other muses.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 31 October 2013 9:24 AM PDT
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Friday, 25 October 2013
Just Do It

Call it what you will, incentives are what get people to work harder - Nikita Krushchev.

 

For some, for the lucky ones, I presume, motivation comes easily. I have a story to tell; I’m going to tell it. But as I've written before sometimes it's not enough.

 

Sometimes as a writer I need a bit of extrinsic motivation as opposed to simply intrinsic. In fact, I often need a whole lot of extrinsic motivation. I know that I'm not alone. Like any other endeavour, we make deals with ourselves. If I do my homework I'll let myself play the computer game or watch my favourite television show. If I go to the gym I'll let myself have the Blizzard - or, in my case, the glass of wine (I'll take red wine over ice cream any day of the week, assuming, of course, I actually agree to limit myself to either one or the other, regardless of how many sets and reps I've done).

Shouldn't being able to write a novel - and I've done it twice - be reward enough? But sometimes it isn't and I wonder if I'm alone on that front.

 

The simple fact is that writers, particularly the non-blockbuster selling variety - are not exclusively making their living at the art form. It used to be that at the end of the day, by the time the work day was over, a (sadly) little time was spent with my daughter, dinner, bath, stories and bedtime are taken care of, I'm done. Getting in front of the computer and getting the writing done (and this column is already a day late of my usual publication date, given the day job being a ‘fourteen-hour day job’ this week, I hasten to add). And the older I get (let's just say 'beyond forty') the harder it is for me to consider getting up in the morning to be creative.

 

And not that financial gain should ever be the motivation for the creative process, but earning a living from the writing is significantly enough out of reach that it doesn’t really count as a motivational factor.

 

And it isn’t as though I don’t enjoy the writing when I can get myself into the headspace to really get some creative flow going. But I am certainly finding that right now I need more than a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment that follows a successful writing session.

 

Thus, for me, I’ve offered myself a reward. When I get the draft ready to go I’m buying myself a new laptop – something I did as a celebration when Deadly Lessons was completed – in fact we bought new desktop and laptop computers in celebration, pretty much assuring the likelihood of any publishing profit was nullified. I didn’t buy myself a significant celebratory treat after Last Dance so I’ve convinced myself even more than I’m deserving of one.

 

I love my iPad but my inner muse is convincing me I’ll enjoy a new Macbook even more so.

 

What motivates you to keep going when the creative juices aren’t flowing as rapidly as you’d like?

 

Next week: Am I important enough to need a publicist?


Posted by davidrussellbc at 11:56 AM PDT
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Thursday, 17 October 2013
Curses!

The Curse of Malenfer Manor

By Iain McChesney

Wayzgoose Pres

 

In previous posts I promised (threatened?) to share some of what I’m reading – it’s always a question raised by readers and novice writers (when I say that it sounds to me like I’m the grizzled veteran author, doesn’t it?), which obligation I’ve dutifully met a couple of times since.

 

My review this week serves dual purpose: fulfilling that pact and promoting the work of a fellow local author. Full disclosure: I know and have broken bread with the author in question but lest you question the veracity of the review, he did make me promise I’d be brutally honest.

 

I confess I wasn’t entirely sure into what I had fallen as I began the journey into Iain McChesney’s The Curse of Malenfer Manor. Part historical fiction, part war drama, part paranormal, another part class study, and a murder mystery, with a hero whose sidekick is one of the most spiritedly unusual a reader is likely to find. Set in France of 1919, the story follows the journey of an ex-pat Irish discharged soldier who is visited by the ghost of his French lieutenant (don’t even ask me how they get the letter ‘f’ sound into that word). Once Dermot comes to terms with the reality of his commune with the dead, he accepts his fallen comrade’s request to accompany to the latter’s family estate and manor to deliver the news the now posthumous solder can not himself deliver: there are two heirs to the family fortune the family is as yet aware. And while the deceased father wishes his sons to inherit their due, by doing so he fears they will also inherit the misfortune that has traditionally befallen the male line in the Malenfer clan.

 

A key strength is McChesney’s skillful, occasionally poetic descriptions of time and place. Early scenes showing Dermot and Arthur in, or, as sappers largely under, the trenches and battlefields of Great War France, paint horrifying pictures of places we’d rather not be. Similarly, the manor and countryside is beautifully depicted that while fictitious in the specific, so ably sets the reader in the place and era in which the complex tale occurs.

 

McChesney’s Dermot is more than the classic ‘reluctant’ amateur sleuth, thrust into a generations-long mystery he didn’t know existed, Dermot’s own demons from troubled family seem always bubbling just below the surface as he navigates the complexities of the family Malenfer. His outsider status in the family not only complicates his ability to carry out his dead friend’s final wish, it is further complicated, alas, as he falls for his comrade’s young sister, a love that grows more quickly than a contemporary reader might find feasible but fitting with the muddied amorous protocols of the day it feels entirely genuine. In Simonne, McChesney has created the reluctant trophy heiress, an Elizabeth Bennett for the new world, not quite free to make her own choices, not willing to blindly accept those made for her.

 

It is at times dark – very dark – and McChesney doesn’t shy away from the violence, which is a lovely juxtaposition against the Victorian manners of the day, though the violence portrayed is never gratuitous. Rather it is splayed on the page with an appropriate horror; we are shocked at its rage but not repulsed by its portrayal – a tricky balance to be sure. But it also has moments of hazy comic insight – I chuckled aloud at numerous turns of phrase, both for their wit and their entirely appropriate placement in time.

 

The book weaves a fine blend of tales: the horrors of war, the injustice of social class, the complexities of family, while at its root offering a classic who dunnit – a mystery wrapped in the cloak of historical fiction. Thus it is a story for fans of a variety of genres: historical fiction, ethereal adventure and, of course, mystery.

 

Of course, for me, stepping away from the confines of crime writing in which I spend what writing hours I have, is a refreshing opportunity to visit crime writing through a different lens, set against the backdrop of a time I know only through history books (and the history lessons I once taught). I see it as an entirely challenging prospect, one in which my colleague has masterfully succeeded.

 

Next week: incentives.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Monday, 14 October 2013 5:34 PM PDT
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Thursday, 10 October 2013
What's Your Issue?


In the same way that many television series have an A and a B story (and sometimes even a C) each week, often times it seems that in crime writing, writing about crime isn't sufficient. We also want write about "issues."

 

At 'book-ie' events, including at the recent Word Vancouver festival, it is not uncommon to hear writers talk about their fictional works being framed around a real-life social, political or economic issue they wish to explore. Indeed, there are perceived sub-genres in the field so readers who wish their crime books to be focused around poverty, or drug laws or prostitution.

 

To be sure, sometimes it happens by accident. In Last Dance (did you note the link to the Goodreads page?), Winston is defending the rights of a student who is forbidden from bringing his same-sex boyfriend to the graduation dinner and dance. I can't say that I specifically set out to right about gay rights issues (Last Dance origins story coming soon), or LGTBQ issues but sure enough, there I was at an LGTBQ educational display and on the table, among the books on display was Last Dance. When I asked the coordinator about it she replied "Your book is about a student who gets killed when he protests against the school for discriminating against him based on his sexual preferences. It is an LGBTQ book." Bammo - instant issue book.

 

I have heard other crime writers tell me they wanted to "explore" an issue through their fiction as well. One fellow panelist at the aforementioned festival, whose current series focuses on a transit security officer, stated quite publicly that there were "issues about public safety on transit" she was interested in delving into as part of her fiction and was working with sources who would able to provide her with inside information to that end. Her comment put me into chicken and the egg kind of thinking: what comes first - the issue or the story?

 

Certainly in my case, the story was what the story was and I suppose I began exploring the issue of how LGBTQ teenagers are treated as a result of my traveling down that story path. But I find it intriguing the idea of having an issue or cause about which I feel strongly and creating a story around it. Of course what concerns me most is that that seems like so much more work.

 

On the other hand, now that I've heard of these types of plans to develop stories to discuss issues I find myself worrying that if my stories aren't high minded enough to explore important elements of society's ills then they may not be serious enough for publication consideration.

 

In W3.doc, as I previously discussed, Winston is focused on determining the story behind the unusual disappearance of a former student. On the surface, a simple missing persons case that morphs into deeper problems the more Winston finds out. And certainly as the story develops, Winston will find that the bad guys are of a particular kind that have actually been in the news lately (which is sort of cool given that the idea for this book appeared several years ago). But I wouldn't yet call it "an issue." I'm not sure the reader is going to learn a whole lot about the issue by reading the book; I just think it might provide a little bit of interesting context for why things happen and give a little bit more depth to both the bad guys and the victims.

 

Hopefully that will be enough. Otherwise I better start scouring the news for my next major issue to turn into W4.doc. Hmmm....how would a high school law teacher solve the government shut down in the U.S.?

 

Next week: another review - this time of a new book by a fellow local author.


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 3 October 2013
Keep It Down


In a previous post I talked about locations in which writers do their work. While I have yet to reap the types of royalty cheques that permit me to purchase a writing cottage, there are times when I find writing away from the home to be more productive than the domestic alternative.

Often times, I find myself writing in a local Starbucks, especially when I'm working on this weekly column, often completed on Wednesday evening while my daughter is in her gymnastics class. I know I'm not alone; walk into Starbucks or any other caffeine dispensing organization and not seeing someone sitting at their laptop (iPad in my case), crafting the next great novel - or, being Vancouver, screenplay, would now be out of the ordinary.

But I have needs. And my needs include quiet.

At the risk of going into the corporate history of Starbucks - and as a frequent patron I confess I have read Howard Schultz's book, it seems to me that Starbucks as an experience has changed – not for the better.

It used to be that when you went into the local Starbucks, there was the smell of coffee – and even Schultz admits that has diminished due to the fancy new equipment, - some comfortable chairs, a slight buzz of muted conversations, and soft  – did you catch the key word, soft – music.

Something happened.

I don’t want to be the one to tell someone how to run their business – and given the rate of expansion of the Starbucks empire it’s clearly doing okay –but some of the “improvements” have not improved the experience at all. Certainly, many of the stores have gotten bigger. I have to imagine one needs to be able to move a certain volume of coffee in order to remain profitable and having more space for more people surely equals more cups of coffee sold. So the buzz has gone a bit louder. And if that's all that had changed I'd probably be okay with it.

But someone also found the volume knob on the sound system.

The "coffee house experience" can certainly have coffee house music. And I may have reached the age where already I see the past through rose-coloured glasses but I am convinced that when Starbucks first appeared on the scene in Vancouver late in the 1980's, the music was a background part of the ambience, not the principal ingredient of the recipe. Certainly, in my memory, the music was jazz.  It may occasionally have ventured into classical. But here's the thing with both genres: unless you're at some kind of live performance or blasting a Bose-produced, stereo-headphone contained concert, both are meant to be quietly in the background of one's consciousness, perhaps permitting the muse to bob and surf a musical wave without streaming its way into the forefront of the consciousness.

When I step into the Gap or Guess and the music (I don't think it's even necessary for me to say "horrid music") is blaring to the point I don't want to stay in the store, I get it. I'm not their target demographic. But I would venture the assertion that in Starbucks, I am. I'm a fortyish (let's not niggle over single digit details), professional, middle-class guy, and while certainly there are times I'm taking my java to go, en route to wherever my admittedly busy life is pointing me, when I want to sit and relax and enjoy a carefully crafted latte, either to spend some contemplative time writing my weekly column or my novel, or having visiting with a friend or colleague, loud - really loud - pop music is not conducive to those experiences.  The Starbucks shop on United Boulevard in Coquitlam, at which I spent last Wednesday evening writing last Thursday's column, was so unpleasantly clamourous this week I've taken a pass and I'm writing in a Wendy's. It too lacks ambience and I've traded caffeine for poutine but it's comparatively peaceful.

And I'd further venture that was not part of the Starbucks vision for the coffee-house experience, based as it was, originally, on replicating or at least being suggestive of the European coffee shop experience.

To be sure, it's possible Starbucks is seeking quicker turnaround of its patrons. It's hard to imagine the writer types want to spend any significant amount of time in such a blaring blast of noise and maybe that suitably clears up tables faster for the next customer, unlikely to want to read, reflect or write for long in what used to be a coffee-infused haven from the cacophony of modern life, rather than another example of it.

If so, maybe there's a marketing opportunity for caffeinated competitors: come sip with us...in peace and quiet.

Next week: issue writing


Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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