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Thursday, 17 April 2014
There's Always Time for Good Grammar

I confess to being one of those relics who believes that grammar is important. In fact, not only do I see it as a critical component of effective communication, both in written and yes, in oral form, I also find it enjoyable.

That's right. Enjoyable.

A cleverly crafted, thoughtfully organized and grammatically correct sentence is a thing of beauty. As a reader I cherish not only the descriptive nature of language in one's writing but the structure of it as well. Consider this example:

    Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child…Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

It is not only the imagery of Nabokov's prose that conveys the anguish and torment of his protagonist as he opens his classic story, it is the structure, the use of dependent clauses, the crafted listing that makes the language work so well.

I'm sure it's kind of annoying to be around.

In the office of my day job, one of the clerical staff (alas, we are all but forbidden from referencing them as 'secretaries' nowadays) told me she found herself being extra careful around me after overhearing a particular diatribe I had given on the ending of sentences in prepositions. Apparently, I made her nervous to speak in front of me for a period of time. Certainly that hadn't been my intention but I can't help but think the world might be a better place if more people were a little more trepidatious about speaking a little more often.

I have my own outrages, of course (doesn't every grammarian take particular umbrage at those errors he or she finds most troublesome - like using "they" when the gender of the pronoun is unknown but clearly singular?). Like Lynne Truss, who has turned a finicky obsession with the rules of language to financial success in her memorable Eats, Shoots and Leaves, the endless torture committed against the poor apostrophe in common usage can occasionally cause me near to physical pain. How difficult is it, people, for all of us to come to terms with the simple fact that the apostrophe does not connote plural? Not ever. Seriously, just stop it. This error finds its way into publication so often as to have almost become acceptable usage, or at least beyond the notice of most readers.

My wife and I frequently reference a hairdresser on Port Coquitlam's Shaughnessy Street thoroughfare who paid a sign maker to concoct this monstrosity: Florens Haircut's. Though it's been more than ten years since we lived near and traveled past it, aloud we still refer to the establishment as Florens Haircut Is.

My present pet peeve is the particular preposition "at." In the past number of years, it has become acceptable common usage to end sentences with "at," particularly as some kind of direct object for "where," as in "let's see where we're at." I have heard this specific outrage uttered in meetings full of professional educators, including English majors, leaders of organizations and yes, even college professors. When I try to explain to people, principally the prepositional offenders, why their usage is so offensive, I supply them with a simple task: replace 'we' with 'you' and see how ridiculously ebonics you sound.

Normally, I'm a big fan of Winston Churchill. He is, after all, the namesake of my protagonist in Deadly Lessons, Last Dance and W3.doc. Churchill was alleged to have proclaimed, "“This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put," in response to an editor's prepositional editing suggestions. And on this front, he gets it right: there are those few, albeit specific, circumstances, in which I can accept a sentence that terminates with "with" or "from."

But don't push your luck.

Next week: When grammar gets in the way of story. Who knew I could fill two weeks of columns with grammar?

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Friday, 18 April 2014 8:50 AM PDT
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Thursday, 3 April 2014
Absence Makes the Pen Grow Stronger...literally

After spending two weeks basking in the tropical warmth of Costa Rica, I'm back in the relative frigidity of Metro Vancouver. I say 'relative,' given the current conditions in the Maritime region, specifically Prince Edward Island, to which I will travel later this month for a law conference. In case you missed my two vacation posts, you'll find them below, though the second one, dated March 27th, wasn't actually posted until Sunday afternoon after I had returned, given the technological challenges my current webhost has in playing nicely with most Apple products, iPad, my choice of device when traveling, in particular being particularly shunned by the kids in the Tripod/Lycos web hosting yard. And the first week's vacation post was a trio of haikus; I'm not sure I would necessarily encourage bothering to scroll down to check those out, particularly if you are at all skilled in poetry.

Julia Cameron advises writers - all artists, really - to take themselves weekly on an "artist's date," an encounter with something away from home that could range from a walk in the woods, a la Thoreau to a trip to the museum, movies or even the mall, if only to refresh the images bank stored in all our heads as we work towards keeping the muse continuously unblocked. Travel, then, ought to be a bonus of image bank filling, particularly when traveling someplace new and even far removed from previous experiences.

It works.

I've written before about the impact travel has on stirring the creative juices and as much as I was looking forward to our trip as a respite from the exhaustion of the day job, I was also hoping time on the Caribbean beaches and jungles of the coast would prompt my own creative renaissance.

To be sure, it didn't happen immediately. Without going into enormous detail about the many reasons for which I needed to decompress from the day job - and it has been a particularly challenging and tiring few months on that front - suffice to say I needed a a bit of time with which to simply unwind from the stresses of the day to day before the creative juices would begin to flow, or at least to dribble. There was also the matter of a paper I needed to write for a university course I'm currently taking (I'm a glutton for punishment), one I had hoped to have finished prior to leaving for the trip but that damned day job again proved prohibitive to production.

But eventually it did. And as I've described before, I was prepared for the possibility that travel would once again provoke a desire to go old school, shunning the technology for the quaint, if somewhat less efficient, prose creation tool of pad and paper. And while I've tried others (my trip last summer was on simple white with blue lines) for inspiration, something about the yellow, lined legal pad not only spurs me to write but for reasons I'm confident not even a therapist could explain, feels less intimidating than white or the nagging, blinking cursor of the computer screen.

My current implement need is for the felt-tip variety, one which has a smooth glide and easy flow of ink without being so thick as to easily smudge should my hand inadvertently run across it in the process (I was quite disappointed when it exploded on the flight home and I had to switch to plain old ballpoint). Blue ink is my preference, darker than the blue lines of the yellow pad, though in a pinch I could probably make do with black. This has evolved over the years; while I've always favoured the yellow legal pad, I used to favour pencil, not because I did a whole lot of erasing but there was something comforting in the perceived temporariness of the lead scribblings that made the process less intimidating. My preference for pens, particularly of the 'easy-rolling' variety I like to think has to do with maturity but it could also be a sign of middle age: it's possible my wrist is getting arthritic and the less resistance on the paper the better. But I still prefer to think it has to do with maturity.

The challenge was that not only did I find the new tropical environment inspiring, it inspired up a whole new story. As much as I was trying to focus on the current book - and to be sure, I hand wrote fifteen or so pages in the final few days of our trip - I couldn't help but see elements of a novel set in Costa Rica everywhere I looked. It's probably important that I set down the basic structures of that story while they're still fresh in mind.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping that my desire to get to those next novels will inspire me to push forward and get W3.doc finished. Soon.

Either that or I need to travel pretty much all the time.

Next week: I feel a grammar rant coming.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Leave Well Enough Alone?

From time to time I use the weekly column to answer the age-old question: what does that author read? Never wondered what your favourite author likes to read (even if it isn't me)? Believe me - at every book event at which I have spoken, the question is raised. So as a service - I'm on vacation so I'm feeling especially magnanimous - I'm going to share a review of sorts of what I've been reading. Also, I'm on vacation so reading is a pretty dominant activity these past ten days or so.

I've written before about authors who have influenced and/or inspired me and the usual suspects always arise (authors, not the film, though I enjoyed that immensely as well): Parker, Connelly, Crais, among others in the crime genre.

If you've read Deadly Lessons and (I prefer not throw 'or' in there) Last Dance you know that my protagonist (in general, I believe the term "hero" is contemporaneously overused, but that's a topic for another column*), Winston Patrick, is a former practicing lawyer-turned-teacher. Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that I've been known to wander into the legal genre in my recreational reading. With that in mind, on this most slow-paced and relaxing of vacations, I turned to the latest legal entertainment by multi-million copy selling author John Grisham, entitled Sycamore Row.

Sycamore Row is a sequel to Grisham's first, and arguably one of his best, novels, A Time to Kill, in which we meet newbie lawyer Jake Brigance in Clanton, Mississippi, a backwater small town in semi-rural Ford County (Grisham has a previous collection of short stories with the titular county). It is the late 1980's, important for no real reason to the story except that it seems Grisham doesn't want too much time to have elapsed between the current story and the epic trial at the centre of Brigance's first go round.

And less you miss it, Grisham is not above relishing in the glory of his first major publishing triumph in the same way his protagonist does: the Carl Lee Hailey trial of A Time to Kill is referenced no fewer than 46 times (I counted). Similarly, a number of characters from that first book are back, some for no more reason again but to remind us of triumphs past. Rufus Bailey, for example, the maniacally ego-centric district attorney, played so sneeringly evil by Kevin Spacey in the film adaptation, shows up for a few scenes that serve no purpose beyond having him humiliated by Jake and Judge Atlee, who snubbed him during our previoius literary encounters with him.

In Sycamore Row, Jake is representing the shockingly large estate of a town recluse who, two days before ending his lung-cancer riddled life, pens a will leaving the bulk of his estate to his black housekeeper of three years, specifcally cutting out his own miserable children and grandchildren. Along the way, we spend considerable time trying to determine why this otherwise shrewd businessman would leave the majority of his estate to - gasp! - a black woman. I know, I know. It's 1980's Mississippi and that would be scandalous. But it's a hard sell, especailly given how saintly and okay the protagonists are with race relations by comparison.

I want to like the story - some of his books I confess to liking and even here, some of the more colourful characters are enjoyable. The difficulties lie in Grisham's pacing and meandering through the story: in short - not a lot happens and even at that, some of what happens is entirely superfluous. In one chapter, Grisham repeatedly mentions how boring pre-trial depositions are, mind-numbingly dull, Brigance assures his young - wait for it, black female - protege. He then proceeds to spend an entire chapter detailing the pre-trial depositions. Turns out he wasn't wrong.

The resolution to the story, though maybe not by every detail, is telescoped so far in advance that by the time of the reveal, the reader is pretty clear where we were headed, only the brutality of the details were as yet unknown. In his efforts, I assume, to build suspense, Grisham lets slip so many hints about the history leading to old man Hubbard's late-life will change there is little left about which to be surprised in the climax.

It's clear Grisham retains his passion for the law and stepping back into these most successful of characters must have been a temptation difficult to resist. And it's not an awful book, to be sure. As I say after nearly every Grisham read I've undertaken though, if you're only going to read one Grisham novel, stick with the original.

Next week: travel and its supposed impact on the writer.

*One of these days I will have to go back and take note of all of the items about which I have declared something to be "a topic for another column" and actually write them

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 20 March 2014
Costa Rican Writing

Admittedly, the writing has been slow on this trip. On the one hand, travel has often been inspirational to me and actually upped my productivity. There's something about being in unknown places that gets the creative juices flowing.

On the other hand - I am on vacation. And I do have a short paper to write for my night school class that, alas, I had hoped to do before I left but did not get done. Thus, tomorrow evening, in our rented Caribbean home, I will put that puppy to bed, hopefully. It's not due until Sunday and already that nagging little devil voice is saying "You've got lots of time."

But in the interest of at least some creative writing, here are teh three haikus I wrote on the beach. I'm not much of a poet but hey - I'm on vacation!


Sand everywhere

Riding the surf and the waves

Costa Rican life


Five o'clock wake up

What the hell is that bird doing

No sleeping in here


Staring at butterflies

It is hard to remember

Must write my paper

 Next week: who knows? I may have emigrated by then. It may include a rant about how I desperately need to change blog/web service provider. I can't get any formatting to work on my iPad, which is what I travel with. Accept my apologies for whatever font and formatting this week's column takes on - it is of its own volition.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 13 March 2014
Coming Soon

For some time, I have been toying with the idea of actually producing a trailer for Deadly Lessons instead of just producing a written pitch. I figured I could save up a bit of a production budget and maybe get some student filmmakers and friends to work on it. This plan seemed especially plausible when my nine year old daughter and her friend produced a fake movie trailer using nothing more than her iPad Mini and iMovie. Hmmm....maybe the production budget won't need to be that big.

Thus, below is what a trailer, albeit a long-ish one, might look like. If you've read the book, I'd be especially interested in what you think of my attempt at cinematically capturing elements of the book I wrote (it should be easy, shouldn't it?).




School classroom.  WINSTON PATRICK is standing at the board, obviously giving directions.


    Winston Patrick gave up the courtroom     for the classroom.


    ...remember it’s in section 10(c) of the     Charter that a defendant is guaranteed     the right to habeous corpus. 


WINSTON (cont’d)

    Does anyone here actually remember what     habeous corpus is?

Blank stares from the students.


    ...until his old life caught up with his     new.


INT. Classroom.  Later.  CARL TURBOT is leaning against a desk in Winston’s classroom.  The students have left.


    I just need this conversation to be         confidential.




    I’ve got a problem and I’d like your         advice.


    Is this a teaching problem?


    Yes and no.


    You know how new I am at this. Maybe         you’d be better off talking to another     teacher, or the principal...


    No! We can’t talk to the principal or     anyone else. I don’t need your help as a     teacher. I need your help as a lawyer.


    Carl, are you in some kind of trouble?


    I don’t know. I think so. There’s this     student. This girl. She threatened me     this morning.


    She threatened you? To hurt you?


    No. It’s just...she threatened to go to     the principal. She was going to tell him     we were sleeping together.


    Holy shit, Carl.  What the...


    It’s not true, Winston.  It’s a complete     lie.


INT. The gymnasium. Winston is talking with TRISHA BELLAMY, Carl’s student.


    I need to talk you about one of your         teachers.  Mr. Turbot.


    What about him?


    He’s your biology teacher, right?


    Holy shit! He told you, didn’t he?


    Told me what?


    Cut the bullshit. Carl told you about     our relationship. After all he’s done to     me, what a prick.


    After all he’s done to you? What do you     mean?


    He broke up with me.


EXT. The park. We work our way from a wide pan shot until we slowly close in on TRISHA’s body in the centre of the field.

INT. Winston’s apartment. Winston answers the telephone. On the phone we hear the voice of another teacher, Ralph Bremner, on the phone.


    Yeah, we’re calling all the staff.         There’s an emergency staff meeting in     the morning.


    What’s going on?


INT.Ralph Bremner on the telephone with Winston.


    Geez, Winston. I’m really sorry to tell     you. It’s about that student you were     talking to this afternoon.


INT. Winston’s apartment.


    What about her?


    She’s dead.


INT. The school. Carl is being handcuffed by two detectives.


    Winston, this is crazy.  I didn’t kill     Trisha. I loved...


    Carl, stop talking!


INT. The school, the principal’s office.


Why are you defending him? He slept with a student.  He killed her.


    He may have killed her, Don. We still     have a presumption of innocence in our     legal system. And I happen to believe     him.


    You’re not a lawyer anymore. That’s not     how you make your living anymore. You     need to be careful.


    Are you threatening me?


    No, I...


    I’m going to defend my client, Don. He     deserves that much.


EXT. The cemetery. Winston is waiting to talk to the messengers who have left him a note. He looks around but is surprised by the strangers who approach him from behind. They grab hold of Winston and punch him in the stomach.


    What is the matter with you? Why are you     defending this child killer?


    Who are you?

They kick Winston while he’s down.


    The police have done their job. You will     leave this alone.





    What makes you think there’s more to         this than your client trying to silence     the kid he’s sleeping with?


    Because I know him.


    Apparently not as well as you think.


    What about all these people who keep         beating me?


    I can think of any number of people who     would want to beat you. You were a         lawyer. A defence lawyer.






    I’m sorry Winston.


    I wanna see him.


    You really don’t.

ANDREA (cont’d)

    Yes, Andy. I do. I need to see him for     myself.

We see a shot of Carl lying dead on the floor next to the bed.


INT. WINSTON’S APARTMENT. Andrea is talking with Winston.


    This is bigger than you thought.


    So what am I supposed to do?


    You need to leave it alone.


    I can’t do that.




    You were told to keep your nose out of     this.


    I’m a slow learner.


    That’s not good enough.

Intersperse series of cuts. The music builds throughout.
















    You need to be stopped. You would have     figured it out eventually.


    I’m not that good a lawyer. You don’t     need to do this.


Winston is lying on the couch. Baseball Cap is leaning on him, his gun inside Winston’s mouth.





Next week: on the road again.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Outline to the Future

There are plenty of areas in life in which being premature is problematic or undesirable, to say the least.

I pause now to give you a moment to flesh out all of the double entendre possibilities whose doors I have just flung ajar. This break was brought to you by the Comedy Writing College of America.

On the flip side, I like to think that some of my premature actions might prove to be useful in the future: premature outlining.

There are writers I have met who are very careful planners. A couple of months back I wrote about a conversation I had with renowned Canadian lawyer-turned-mystery writer William Deverell about whether he had ever gotten part way through writing a novel or script and found that the story wasn't working to such an extent that he simply abandoned the story altogether and moved on to something else. I was, of course, hopeful he would answer in the affirmative, essentially giving me permission to do likewise, given how I was feeling about the book I was currently writing. He did not. Of course, I had had similar inclination when I had been writing Last Dance, a book that, at least according to reviewers, turned out all right, so I'm glad I didn't give in to the whim.

But Deverell's answer in itself was instructive: the reason that he had never abandoned a story part way through the writing was that he had done so much preparation in advance of actual writing that he had already identified potential plot problems and was thoroughly outlined as to know exactly where he was going by the time he initiated the prose production.

How utterly depressing.

Because, as I've no doubt mentioned before, planning, at least as it relates to writing, has traditionally not been my thing.

Which isn't to say that I don't do any. I do work from a rough outline, that in the case of W3.doc, includes index cards with individual scenes written on them, thus allowing me, the theory goes, to post the scenes on a bulletin board and move them around to suit the story. Hasn't worked so far.

And yet, I am already excited about Winston Patrick's next anticipated adventure in what I can only assume I am tentatively referring to as W4.doc. And in service of that story, I've begun to develop plot points, not quite concrete enough to be considered an outline per se but enough that I'm beginning to get an idea of where the story is headed. Certainly spending some time (weeks? months?) on developing a thorough, detailed outline of the next book would be a departure from my current much more organic process, as I'll charitably describe it. But given the struggles I've had getting past the middle literary hump both with Last Dance and W3.doc, it's an approach to which I'm giving serious consideration for the next project. I like to think if I can just get focused enough to really undertake some concrete planning, I might be able to maintain a better flow when it comes to the actual writing. It's as good a theory as any for now.

It 's also giving me pause about pushing through to the end of W3.doc. Considering the burst of creative energy that accompanied the coming of the new year has long since dissapated, I may take some time on our Costa Rican retreat to focus on planning and outlining the remainder of this book if it will help me to push to the finish line. I know, I know. I planned to be taking the first draft with me for its initial edit while lying in a seaside hammock.

The best laid plans....

Next week: The Deadly Lessons movie trailer.

ps. Some of you may have noticed that a gap in the weekly columns finally came, after more than 60 consecutive weeks. I guess that's an indication of just what kind of week it was. As a bonus - probably more for my psychological well being than an outcry from readers - I'm going to post a 'best of' column in a couple of days - probably a previously published piece that will help me tell myself I've got enough volume of columns to continue constitute calling it 'weekly'

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 20 February 2014
The Wall
Topic: Writing

Every marathon runner reaches that point in the physical and psychological journey of the race when he or she hits the proverbial wall, that moment in the competition in which exhaustion hits so solidly that it can feel like a physcial barrier more than a metaphorical one.

At least so I've been told: I get tired driving twenty-six miles, never mind running them.

Last week explored the topic - again - of writer's block, an all too real affliction with which I have been suffering on and off for some time, the better part of a year and a half, really. Lasat week was my clumsy metaphor of writers' block as recovering addict model. I'm hping that this metaphor might be more apt and somewhat less controversial. Because I've hit The Wall.

In running, The Wall is a barrier that, despite the training that's been undertaken, makes it seem insurmountable that one could continue to the finish line. Different runners offer different strategies for overcoming The Wall,and the startegies variously describe moving over, past, around and even through it, though the last strategy sounds the one to cause the most pain in its effort to thwart the pain experienced by encountering The Wall in the first place. Likely there's no silver bullet that works for everyone but The Wall is a common enough experience among runners to warrant a great deal of research and writing on the topic. In common is the intensity of the phenomenon and that it tends to occur in the latter half o the journey, often when the finish line is darned near within sight.

In writing, more specifically, in my writing, The Wall is perhaps not in the latter 'half' of the journey per se - I'm probably in the second third of W3.doc - but it parallels the running experience as I understand it in that a significant portion of the journey is completed when we encounter The Wall. And it doesn't matter how strongly one starts. The first part of the race may have gone off like gangbusters, continued at a steady, consistent pace, been well planned and was flowing and on track to a timely finsih,maybe even a personal best. But despite those primarily positive conditions, I have hit more than just writer's block but what could more accurately be compared to the marathoner's Wall. It feels real. It feels tangible. It's visceral. At times I'm sure I can actually see it - that very real sense that I could amost reach out and touch it with my hands.

This isn't even the result of heavy drinking.

Thus, again, despite how fired up I appeared to be with my twenty minutes per day regiment, I am stalled. And this stall feels like a big one. Because like the marathon runner, I know exactly where the finish line is. I've seen it. I've planned for it. I know what happens and have a very good idea what my characters and story line will look like when I get there. I know that just beyond The Wall there may still be some bumpy parts on the road that I have yet to experience, but this damned Wall won't even let me head down the path.

In practical terms, I just killed someone. Don't get me wrong: I think he needed to be killed. I created a character that I found kind of charming, enough of a threat to my protagonist that frankly, he had to go. But also his death really does propel the story forward, created a plot point that seriously increases the stakes for Winston and adds legitimacy to the actions he has been taken. And it's thrown a nasty Wall in front of me.

So for now, I'm going to be revisiting some writer's block exercises, reviewing the outline of the story and the scenes I've already created and see if I can find the way over, under, around or through this barrier.

If you hear a loud bang, I've either resulted to the Wile E. Coyote school of demolition or my brain has exploded.

Next week: premature outlining

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 8:55 PM PST
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Thursday, 13 February 2014
Wither Thy Perseverance?

It is an acknowledged fact that once an addict, always an addict. That is, there really is no such thing as a "recovering" addict. The recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, once clean and sober for a period of over twenty years who was found dead from injected heroin, is evidence enough of that truism.


I fear those suffering from writer's block may have the same condition in perpetuity: we may get past it and find periods of creative productivity but are prone to relapses of literary inactivity, potentially increasing in frequency.


Now before you protest my equating what some would label a frivolous lack of written output with a serious, mental illness that is at the root of addiction...relax: I am simply drawing an analogy. And clearly, I'm drawing from a frustration borne of a resurgence of a condition that regular readers of this column (I know you're out there) have heard me discuss before: I'm behind the wall of writer's block again.


But wait, you might be saying, wasn't it just into the New Year you were claiming your resolution, and a simple one at that, was showing real signs of productivity increase, that your commitment to a mere twenty minutes per day, totally manageable, said you, was seeing twenty minutes sessions in the neighbourhood of six to nine hundred words?


All true.


Late in December I read an article posted by a friend and writerly colleague about committing to just twenty minutes per day. How hard could that be? Turn off the email, the social media, the desire to research picayune pieces of fact needed for the story,  and just write. And for a period, however brief, it was pretty effective. Coupled with the Jerry Seinfeldian calendar approach to motivation, it certainly appeared to be working. And I wasn't alone. Many's the article and blog post that have been written extolling the Seinfeld virtue. L.A.'s The Writer's Store even sells a wall-mounted, year-long calendar to support the writerly resolution.


Alas, it didn’t last.


What sells Seinfeld, apparently, is the satisfaction of seeing the unbroken chain of ‘X’s on the calendar, prominently displayed where he does his writing (the obsessive compulsive in me wants to know if he takes the calendar off the wall and takes it with him to post in hotel rooms when he travels, which he does a lot). And while my calendar was just a monthly one and I had yet to post it on a wall – maybe I do have commitment issues – I did take satisfaction in seeing the continuous chain of unbroken X’s.


Until I broke it.


To be fair to me (hey, someone’s gotta be), I got some kind of nasty stomach flu or food poisoning. I mean…nasty. I simply was not able to get myself beyond the square footage of bathroom or bedroom (too much information?). I even wrote “sick” with my Sharpie in the calendar square where my X ought to have been. But you know what? The damage was done.


For me, anyways, there is something about breaking that chain that, well, gives me permission to break it another day, and then another, and another…. Suddenly two weeks have gone by and I haven’t worked on my novel at all. Not a word. None. Zero. Zilch.


The litany of things getting in the way of my twenty minutes of writing include, but are not limited to:

  • Work
  • My university course
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of writer’s cardigan
  • Desire for a wood-burning fireplace
  • Ambivalence
  • Concern about the Middle East
  • Global Warming


So here we are, middle of February with a nearly blank calendar and not much of a plan. In theory, I’d like to start in March and regain the satisfaction of filling in the squares. I’m even planning on bringing the calendar with me to Costa Rica to keep up the pace.


I mean, it’s only twenty minutes a day, right? How hard can that be?

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 6 February 2014
Is There A Guess Who Song For This

For more than a week now, my website and blog have been down, just following last week's column. Hopefully, it wasn't the content that knocked it off line. It was the second part of my look at the origins of Winston Patrick - check it out - you be the judge.

Since I had no website, I didn't write a column on writing this week. Alas, now that we're up and running again, I do have this freelance piece, an essay/op-ed I pitched to a few publications in late December to no avail. Waste not want not. This week, in a departure from the regular writing column, I give you...


Whatever latent nationalistic stirrings lay dormant within me were shaken and stirred as we ventured south, braving the torrential rain, the traffic-soaked I-5 freeway, and the holiday-week crowds (mention Boxing Day down here and you get quizzical looks and questions about it maybe being Mohammed Ali's birthday) to the bustling metropolis of Linwood, Washington, whose principal raison d'etre (don't try that terminology either) seems to be the existence of Alderwood Mall, where we found the shrine at the end of our pilgrimage.

The American Girl store.

For the uninitiated, American Girl dolls are one of the latest high-end toy fads to strike consumer crazed pre-adolescents for the "we have more money than sense" crowd. Base cost: $110 for the doll.

To the best of my observations - and I confess I may not have been paying as close attention as I could have from my pink pleather covered bench on the sidelines with other dads - there were no American Boys available for purchase.

Thankfully, the doll itself at least comes clothed so it is theoretically possible to retreat following doll selection. Practically speaking though, one most engage in outfitting the new family member in outfits ranging from cheerleader to cyclist to party girl or, because it's holiday week after all, indulge in a $90 special that includes three outfits that can be fashionably mixed and matched.

Some of the accessories include pets (goes well with the fall walking attire), skis or, as in the selection my daughter made, perhaps leading toward future career ambitions, the injury ensemble, including crutches, cast and other accoutrements indicative of her chosen doll being less than proficient at the aforementioned skis.

Full disclosure, because I don't want to be seen as a member of the more money than sense crowd, our acquisition was financed by our nine year old herself, an accumulation of modest weekly allowance, birthday and Christmas money gifts, along with the sale of toys no longer in use. It's practically an economics lesson unto itself: are you sure you want to spend all your money in one place, Honey?

If a prospective American Girl purchaser is feeling particularly glamorous - and flush with cash - spa treatments for AG are available where your new or returning friend can indulge in a new hairstyle or, wait for it, have her ears pierced.

If all this spending is draining more than just the wallet, young shoppers can relax and recharge in the adjoining café where AG treats, including high tea sittings in the afternoon requiring reservations. Seating, of course, is also available for AG dolls themselves alongside their, what, owners? Parents?

I wanted to be disgusted or at least 'tsk' down my nose at this flagrant display of crass consumerism. Looking around it's easy to see middle class excess but instead I saw opportunity.

If part of the pull of these mysteriously popular dolls is their appeal to patriotic virtue, why not a homegrown counterpart? Thus, I present to you Canadian Girl, trademark pending, replete with all those assumed elements of Canada sure to draw domestic and international visitors alike.

Our stores will be tastefully decorated in plaid. All our Canadian Girl dolls will have the ardent glow of being well exercised, spending time in the fresh air and regularly visiting publicly funded health care. Each will come standard with a t-shirt that offers an apology for any offence, real or perceived.

Want to buy additional outfits for your CG? We'll have plenty. There is the obligatory Red Serge for the RCMP-GRC-CG. An assortment of Canadian NHL hockey jerseys will be available, with special discounts offered to encourage the purchase of Edmonton Oilers apparel. Clothing lines will also include red mittens, down vests, and t-shirts proclaiming the purchaser's choice of admiration or disdain for Rob Ford.

West Coast CG's will come standard with umbrellas, while those from east of the Rockies will have a toque, though for American visitors we'll have to explain what that is.

Accessories will be an important feature of our product line up, including the sure to be popular Timbit carry box and double-double. If your doll-lover is transportation minded, you can take home the CG Zamboni, dog sled, or the always fun, inadequate, underfunded CG public transit.

Canadian Girl will show the world we too, have the entrepreneurial spirit to combine love of country with love of spoiling our kids.

Next week: A New Year...a new block

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 30 January 2014
A Protagonist Grows Up...Kind Of
Topic: Writing


Last week began the journey of the creation of the hero of Deadly Lessons, Last Dance, and the in-progress W3.doc. As I talked about, Winston Patrick was originally conceived as a private detective named Mickey Jones.

The evolution of Winston from detective to teacher was in some part due to the nature of the story that had developed as I thought of Deadly Lessons' plot. One way or another, the story was set in a school and, working in a school at the time as a teacher, creating a character whose job I was pretty familiar with made a whole lot of practical sense.

But apart from Winston's apparent similarities to me, he owes a lot of his characteristics to my original conception for my private eye protagonist. Both Mickey and Winston have made significant career changes as the reader first encounters them, Mickey from accountant to private eye; Winston from lawyer to teacher. Originally, I fancied this newness to the profession aspect of the character because I enjoy the reluctant hero perspective it gave me to work with: if Winston is new at his job it's totally acceptable for him to make mistakes, even significant ones. Subconsciously, perhaps, I may have been giving myself permission as a first time novelist to make significant mistakes as well.

Dealing with change is thematically something I find fun to explore as well. In both characters' lives, the men were single; Winston was newly divorced, Mickey perennially single. I like the idea of my protagonist bumbling through changes in relationships as much as he is in his crime fighting.

I like to view both men as, essentially, highly moral characters as well. Though they may not have showed the most competence as they tried to solve crimes - and I like to think that was part of their charm - they had strong values to which they adhered. Winston Patrick is torn in Deadly Lessons by his obligation to his new friend, who is accused of having an affair with a student and his intense belief that an inappropriate teacher-student relationship is entirely reprehensible. He is also torn between his devotion to the law, which he views as a sacred trust between the citizenry and the government, and his belief in the value of education. Similarly, Mickey, as I conceived him, would have taken great pains to ensure that no matter how difficult it was, he would always conduct his investigations within the confines of the law and individual rights.

And, of course, they're both Presbyterian.

I'm not entirely sure why I put the protagonist who would eventually become Winston Patrick in church, just as I had Mickey Jones. Heck, I even planned for Mickey to spend Thursday nights in a men's choir practice. Considering I'm not a regular churchgoer myself, it might seem an unusual trait for a crime genre protagonist. But I wanted my crime buster to really be the antithesis of the tough guy that inhabits much of the genre. So we don't see Winston preaching in the streets, I think his membership in the neighbourhood church adds a layer to Winston that make him hopefully more interesting.

Plus, I think Presbyterian is kind of a funny word: just stuffy sounding enough without sounding like zealotry.

Of course, one of the most prominent characteristics of Winston Patrick is his dual roles as teacher and lawyer. Not only did this permit me to write about things I knew about - teaching - and loved - the law, it was also inspired by a number of teachers I encountered who had, in fact, come from the legal profession. Admittedly, I frequently had envisioned going to law school, even after I had begun my career as a teacher, but I found it surprising how many I found who had gone the other way. It made me wonder if there weren't underlying personality traits in common that lend themselves to both careers.

As W3.doc progresses, Winston is no longer a rookie teacher so he can't fall back on his newbie status for how well he is or isn't doing in the job. It was those feelings of doubt that initially pushed him out of the legal profession and into teaching. By W4.doc, Winston may well have to decide which of the two professions he was better suited for - or at least which one he is least unsuited for.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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