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Thursday, 23 January 2014
A Protagonist is Born
Topic: Writing

In previous columns I provided not only the genesis of Deadly Lessons but also the roots of the character that would become the protagonist of the series: Winston Patrick.

As my publisher describes him: Winston Patrick, a successful lawyer but dissatisfied with his career defending the downtrodden of Vancouver's criminal world, trades in the courtroom for the high school classroom.

But he wasn’t always thus. A long time crime reader, my original plans for the genre had me creating a character that was a private detective. Certainly, my formative years in the genre had me deeply involved with the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. My introduction to the literary version, who I confess to occasionally having to ensure I am only paying homage to, not emulating, in my own writing, was originally sparked by my interest in the television series, Spenser for Hire, a show panned by most Spenser readers – and originally Parker himself. Of course, I was also a fan of Vega$ and S.W.A.T. so it’s entirely possible I was actually suffering the effects of a man-crush on Robert Urich. Creating a sleuth as my protagonist was pretty much a natural.

But I live in Canada. As much as nearly every seventh person in the state of California is a licensed private investigator, most of whom are licensed to carry a concealed weapon (of course, isn't everyone in California carrying a weapon?), I didn't know any in my circle of friends or acquaintances. Not even a distant cousin of the ex-girlfriend of a friend, kind of connection. And I had a hard time imagining what kind of private investigating they did: trying to scoop the starting line-ups of a client's opposing hockey team? What really is poutine and is it all a ploy by the cardio-thoracic industry to drive up national blood pressure rates?

Still, when I started looking for Spenser's north of the border equivalent, I found Howard Engel's Benny Cooperman series, set in fictional Grantham, Ontario, where Benny, essentially your divorce-photo snapping gumshoe found himself almost inadvertently solving more serious and deadly crimes that landed on his office doorstep, almost through no fault of his own. And in Benny, an inspiration for my west coast private eye was born: enter, Mickey Jones, Private Investigator.

Unlike so many of the hard boiled private detectives in the genre's literature in the U.S., I did not intend Mickey to be a former police officer, tired of the bureaucracy and politics of the institution, going out on his own. That would look like too much skill. In one of my earliest iterations of the character, Mickey was, in fact, an accountant who lost his licence after failing to properly account for money being laundered through a small company for whose books he was responsible. Recognizing that without accounting he had few skills on which to fall back, Mickey determines that he does have an inquisitive mind and the ability to solve puzzles - he was addicted to crosswords and could, given enough time on a Sunday afternoon, even complete the Sunday New York Times variant - key ingredients to being a successful private investigator. Plus there was the added bonus that the industry in British Columbia was entirely unregulated so his lack of any formal investigative training and expulsion from the only professional organization to which he had ever belonged, made it seem logical. That and the fact that when he looked in the Yellow Pages (that's how long ago I created the character) there was only one other in the city. It seemed the industry was ripe for the picking.

The challenge for me as a writer - and consequently for Mickey as a detective - was that I knew very little about detecting beyond what I'd read in the genre. This is what the idea of working with Mickey intriguing: I quite literally wanted him to solve mysteries more or less entirely by accident, that he would reach satisfactory conclusions despite himself. It meant that creating clue for Mickey to find to solve crime had to be the wrong clues that someone had him stumble onto the right ones.

Additionally, I didn't want Mickey to be tough. Even though many of my favourite detectives, both private and on the police pay roll, are unmistakably tough guys like the aforementioned Spenser, Elvis Cole, Hieronymus Bosch, I wanted Mickey to virtually never be able to rely on brawn to get him out of a scrape.

And of course, he was Presbyterian.


Next week: Enter Winston Patrick Part II - the evolution of Mickey to Winston

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 16 January 2014
This Time It's Personal
Topic: Writing

I have previously talked about the questions I sometimes have about how much I ought to share of my protagonist's personal life.

It should come as no surprise that I am deeply invested in Winston Patrick. He is, of course, for the uninitiated, the protagonist in both Deadly Lessons, Last Dance and the soon to be completed W3.doc (see how confident I'm sounding? More about that later). And like I'm sure any writer feels, I want the reader to become more deeply invested in Winston Patrick as well.

I have discussed in a previous column the challenge of finding the right balance between deeping the readers' appreciation for and understanding of the character (hopefully) in addition to following the plot of the crime drama unfolding. Of course it is intended to develop interest in wishing to follow the protagonist on future exploits but also just because we want the reader to be as intrigued in our hero as we are. In theory, to carry this yen to his natural conclusion, we could publish a book just about the trials and tribulations of the character's life even without the crime plot.

Don't worry - I'm not going to do it.

In Deadly Lessons and Last Dance there were significant events going on in Winston's life that, while providing at least part of the foundation for the plot and certainly contributing to the story unfolding, were also about deepening our getting to know him and (again, hopefully) like him. Or at least not want him to die. Obviously, Deadly Lessons essentially served as the pilot for the series, so everything about the character is new and about getting to know him, give him layers and complexities and develop empathy for him. When we meet him he is undergoing a life change in that he is transitioning from the legal profession to the teaching, which puts him in the initial position to participate in the plot. But I also spend time getting to know his ex-wife, Sandi, how their relationship continues to transpire past their divorce and how she continues to complicate his life by, well, not leaving. Similarly in Last Dance some of the story focuses on continuing to develop our knowledge of Winston; his never-ceasing insomnia, for example, does little to specifically drive the plot, though in the first book, it sets up events that help to further the crime saga.

In W3.doc, as I've mentioned, I have set up a significant life event for Winston (no ladies, don't worry: he's not getting married) that, so far at least, has little to no bearing on the crime drama that is the central tenet of the plot, though I suppose that may change as I continue. I believe it deepens him somewhat, providing some substance and history that may be surprising or may make the reader question their initial understanding or impressions of him. It's not that readers won't like him, more that they may have more nuanced opinion of him at the end of this book than with the others.

I'm finding adding the personal storylines is doubly challenging in W3.doc: while I'm enjoying the added dimensions it's adding to the character, I have, as I've mentioned, experienced with this book more doubt about the story. I need to make sure that I don't overdo my 'B' story, so to speak, in order to compensate for any crisis of confidence in the 'A' story.

On the plus side, I've been sticking to my writing resolution: 20 minutes per day without fail - with the exception of Tuesday, the 14th - and you really don't want to know why that exception occurred.

And as I've continued to push the writing, the story continues to develop in my mind. Indeed, it has become increasingly, well, complicated.

Next week: In the beginning…Winston Patrick

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 9 January 2014
Doubting Thomas Drops By

On a few occasions, I have met one of Canada's leading crime writing authors, William Deverell, an author whom I first noticed when I was drawn in by the title of one his novels, Kill All the Lawyers. It seemed a bit harsh but having worked with a few of them I could certainly appreciate the sentiment. To be sure, the title was a borrowed line from Shakespeare's Henry VI but my likelihood of meeting the more contemporary William seemed greater, at least in the short term.

At the Crime Writers of Canada sort of annual Bloody Words conference held in Victoria in 2011, I cornered Deverell and asked him a burning question that a seasoned, successful writer would likely have useful insight into: have you ever written a significant portion of a book, only to determine the story turns out not be any good and abandoned the whole thing?

Bill's answer: No. He undertakes so much prepatory work, research, detailed outlining and scene building before he starts the actual writing that he would have identified those issues long in advance of having written anything of significant length. By the time all of that early work is done, he's well prepared to craft the actual writing of the novel.

Damn it. Trust a lawyer to be prepared to do all that careful work in advance. I was starting to relate to the title of his book.

It probably comes as no surprise that the reason I was asking the question is I was in the middle of serious nagging doubts about the story on which I was currently working. That story: W3.doc. Here we are, two and a half years later and those doubts have re-surfaced. There's probably a way to determine at what point in the story I was when I asked Bill the question. But honestly it's probably not all that long ago, story wise. The story that would write itself has been a long time in the making.

You may recall that when I returned from Europe in the summer I had experienced a bit of a story re-birth, taking to crafting the story by pen on forty or so handwritten pages while we traveled in the Mediterranean. That burst of productivity, coupled with resurgence in my understanding of where the story was taking me, ground to a halt almost as quickly as the vacation did. While I continued my weekly musings here, the level of productivity at W3.doc dwindled to a few sentences here and there.

And Doubt came back.

As I've continued to plod ever so slowly at the manuscript, I have experienced conflicting inner arguments: am I stubbornly sticking to a flawed story because I'm more than thirty thousand words into it and abandoning ship now would seem a waste of these years I've invested all this thought, if not as much as effort as I could have? Or is the story fine but my…ahem…literary laziness preventing me from the elements of discovery that the writing process itself often provides?

I admit there have been times I've been ready to toss the beast and move on to the next story that is just itching to be written - in fact two of them that are percolating in my head right now. On the other hand, starting from scratch now makes the potential gap between W3.doc and Last Dance all that much greater - and the possibility of not getting the next book published seems to increase.

Unless W3.doc is an unworkable piece of trash.

You see the fights I have with myself? Inside my head can be an unpleasant arena in which to be a spectator.

Fortunately, I've had another epiphany of sorts. I know I've had quite a few of those lately but I'm really trying not to make them a weekly event. Part of my struggle with the underlying premise of W3.doc is that the nature of the crime writing is a marked departure from Deadly Lessons and Last Dance in that it really isn't a 'Who dunnit.' In fact, so far, it's really clear 'Who dunnit'; what's not clear is what was done. And that's kind of a different sub-genre, really. And I think I'm finally starting to embrace it.

Thus, W3.doc will soldier on (remember that - when you read the book you'll laugh).

Next week: embracing the personal life of the protagonist

Sidebar: last week I talked about New Year's resolution: 20 minutes a day. So far, my OCD tendencies are satisfied with all the 'X's' on my calendar. And I've been averaging around 600 words each day. That means I've written more of W3.doc in the first eight days of 2014 than I have since school started in September. Soldier on!

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 8 January 2014 10:19 PM PST
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Thursday, 2 January 2014
Who's Afraid of Commitment?

Last week I began the process of putting some writing resolutions to paper, so to speak. The fact that it's a two-week process is probably some kind of indication about my level of commitment phobia. But holding out much longer than this week's column makes the idea of writing about resolutions seem redundant. It would also require me to write something else.


See last week's column about how much work I've been willing to do these past couple of weeks.


So what kind of resolutions should a writer be making, especially one who has written so frequently in the past year about writer's block?


For starters, I've had an epiphany of sorts (I know I've had previous epiphanies but this one seems kind of big): writing is work.


This fact should seem self-evident but it's an element of which I seem to have lost track over the past couple of years. I have previously described W3.doc as the book that was more or less supposed to write itself, so sure was I in the story as it came to me. And, of course, it hasn't happened. There is probably some sort of inversely proportional cosmic relationship between my original confidence in the story and the difficulty I'm having bringing it to fruition. It has had the perverse effect of having me doubt the story itself (that's a post unto itself - stay tuned).


But the simple fact (apparently epiphanies can be simple) is that no, stories don't write themselves, and it seems I've been sitting waiting for the words to be so pressured up at the top of the bottle they're simply waiting for me to pop the cork so they can come spilling out. Intellectually, I know this: while I look back at Deadly Lessons with rose-coloured glasses, as though it more or less spilled out of me into the word processor, I'm sure that there were more moments of frustration in that writing than I can recall. Certainly I know that Last Dance went weeks and occasionally months during which I never went near it and was ready to abandon it on numerous occasions.

A key part of the frustration for me surely stems from how anxious I was to write this book, even when I was in the middle of Last Dance, it's disappointing that I'm now experiencing as much difficulty in the middle portion as I am. I can at least take comfort in the fact that for all the mental anguish Last Dance caused me, according to nearly all the reviews it came out all right - in fact some claim to like it better than Deadly Lessons, the book that in my memory came as close to effortless writing. I'm trying to take solace in the idea that maybe anguish pays off in the end product.


So what do I resolve?


Since most resolutions fail due to their unrealistic nature, I need to keep my expectations manageable but not miniscule. My friend and colleague posted a link to these resolutions for writers article, which seems a good place to start. To some, certainly to me it probably ought, it seems a bit back-to-basics: setting aside twenty minutes per day for writing. Twenty minutes. That should be easily achievable for a writer who has already written and published two books, right?


But the reality is I haven't been. Maybe a back to basics regime could prove beneficial in the short term to get the juices flowing (as a borderline OCD sufferer, that's a metaphor I find disturbing so I'll keep its image fresh in mind). I have my 2014 Telus calendar at the ready to put big colourful X's through each day I meet the modest goal.


More boldly, if somewhat less concretely, I also have the following plans:


a) I will complete the draft of W3.doc during this calendar year. I know, I know, that's still pretty vague, especially considering my initial submission was planned to be December 31....2012. My ideal goal would be to have the draft complete prior to going to Costa Rica in March so I can be reading it over as opposed to writing on it while enjoying our temporary beach paradise home. But if I don't make it (sigh - day job and SFU at night, after all) I will not beat myself up (or at least not too much).


I am counting on you, dear readers, to help hold me to account. Please (please!) feel free to nag, cajole and demand progress reports.


b) I will venture again into some of the business opportunities attached to having a series of books. I've written before about my pursuit of filmed versions but really, using the word 'pursuit' is hardly appropriate to what feeble efforts I've made. Like the writing, finding interest in the books won't happen on its own. I need to dip more than just my toes into the show biz water: I commit to at least going in up to my waist.


Whew. Bring it on 2014. Let's hope this is the year these writing resolutions stick.


Next week: Story Doubts Re-dux

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 26 December 2013
'Tis the Season
Topic: New Years

One of my least favourite forms of writing at this time of the year is the obligatory publishing of lists: top stories of the year, best movies, worst songs, and, if you're inclined to watch television news in the Vancouver market, no doubt the biggest weather stories of the year. Oh, how we love a good weather story on our local news channel, as I've alluded to in the recent past. Never mind that the most severe of our local weather phenomena generally involves nothing more than extreme windiness or, if the assignment editor is really fortuitous, any amount of snowfall (pictures of cars in ditches and spinning, worn-out all-season tires always lead that newscast).

It's also the time of year for predictions: when a federal or provincial election will be called, who's likely to run/get eliminated by scandal/win one (municipal are pre-scheduled but 2014 is one of those years so lists will contain 'guess the mayor' as well); which celebrities will marry/divorce/violate a federal statute; interest rates will go up/down/stay the same/wait - I didn't need that last slash - there's pretty much no other option.

And of course, there's the endless resolutions stories. Sometimes we want to know what famous or powerful are planning to do to improve themselves (gotta think for Justin Bieber it's pretty much everything). Then there's the ultimate lazy journalism story: ask people on the street what their resolutions are.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

I promise, at least, that my list of resolutions - short though it may be - will be focused on those related to writing.

Given that the stated intent of this weekly column is to keep me generating written output - even if it's not always directly related to W3.doc, it seems natural that after a year of uninterrupted, weekly production I pause to take stock of what's happened so far and what hopefully lies ahead.

And given the time of year, no writer likes to work too hard, which is why these types of columns are often broken into two parts.

Thus - the resolutions themselves, I reserve for next week.

Happy Boxing Day

Next week: an epiphany of sorts driving the resolutions.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 9:24 AM PST
Updated: Thursday, 26 December 2013 9:33 AM PST
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Thursday, 19 December 2013
My Grown Up Christmas List

“Tis the season of wish lists (resolutions to follow in a couple of weeks, I suppose). Near the top of my Christmas wish list, just beneath the requisite ‘peace on earth’, end to hunger, health to all my loved ones, etc., is what could be described perhaps more of a literary aspiration than an actual wish.

I want to write a Christmas movie.

Let me backtrack. In previous posts I’ve talked about the muse: what inspires me to write and from where do stories generate? I detailed over several columns the Deadly Lessons origin – and have threatened on numerous occasions to account for the origins of Last Dance as well. But among the many sources of inspiration and story origin for me is music.

It’s possible that I’m synesthetic. For the uninitiated, synesthetes have a neurological condition in which a sensory stimulation of one sense involuntarily stimulates the pathway to another. Thus, a synesthete may automatically associate numbers with colours or some spatial interpretation. In my brain– a dangerous place to be, no doubt -, for example, I see numbers in three-dimensional form: the numbers one through ten go in a line straight up and down; eleven through twenty veer to the right at about a forty-five degree angle; then there’s a sharp left at twenty as the numbers travel off towards triple digit territory, a few minor turns along the way. At one hundred there’s a sharp right and we carry on in similar patterns.

Similarly, when I hear music – most music – it comes to me in pretty strong visuals. Now musicians would say that music does tell a story, whether through its lyrics or through dramatic lifts and portions of musical lines that invoke emotion. It’s why, I suppose, the creation of music videos made perfect sense. For me, music sometimes invokes very powerful images and I’m practically playing the correct music video in my head, which is why I never really enjoyed the music video genre as I found it difficult to believe how visually wrong the filmmakers often were. When I finally saw the actual video of The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northen Town I was so astounded at how profoundly wrong they got it I essentially gave up on music videos from that point forward.

So it’s possible I suffer (suffer?) from synesthesia. On the other hand, I’ve never heard of the term prior to the book I’m currently reading aloud with my daughter,The Name of this Book is Secret, by Pseudonymous Bosch, where the condition figures prominently to the plot and as a bonus, has driven my daughter to the Google School of Medicine to learn more. I may just have powerful visual responses or interpretations to certain music.

My Christmas movie is one of those interpretations.

What I find intriguing, not only about the story that has developed over the past few Christmases but also about the process itself, is that the music has provoked not just an image but a storyline, the genesis of a plot for a Christmas movie that each year has grown a little with the replaying of the two or three songs that seem to drive it.

Now I know, I know: Christmas movies are often hokey and saccharine and lack the edge of today’s modern cinema. But I also think: so what? I appreciate some of the darker themes of humanity explored by some of today’s cutting edge filmmakers. But does that mean that films can’t be nice anymore? Yes, I fancy myself on a mission to civilize but I don’t think that’s entirely clouding my storytelling judgement. I honestly believe there is a market for – and a desire for – movies that just tell a nice story, where we feel pretty good at the end and maybe walk out of the theatre with a smile on our faces and maybe just a bit of a warm glow in our chests. And that’s the movie, beginning and climax already written, complete with Christmas bagpipes  (thanks for that, Amy Grant) that I want to write.

Of course, like leftover turkey and discarded wrapping paper, as soon as I stop listening to the music I move on to other things. By March who wants to write a Christmas movie? But each year, as I pull out the Christmas CD’s and I hear that one piece of music, it all comes flooding back, as though begging to be written. What I really need is to have enough of the literary deck cleared that I can spend November and December one year focused on writing the Christmas movie while the spirit is with me, so to speak. So on a practical level, may Santa help me get W3.doc done early in the New Year so I can afford to take a departure from the next book come this time next year.

That’s not so much to ask.

Next week: New Year’s Resolutions. Why not?

Posted by davidrussellbc at 1:23 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 20 December 2013 9:22 AM PST
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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Time Flies

For those of you not keeping score at home, last week marked a one-year anniversary of this blog. For those of you who are keeping score at home, you might be crying, "Wait! It has been more than a year!"

And you score keepers would be technically correct. Because I Say So, the whimsically insouciant title I chose for my blog, began in earnestness September 6, 2006 with, wait for it, an update on the pending release of my first novel, Deadly Lessons. My blog was born following the retirement of a weekly Canadian politics column I had been contracted to write for Suite101, at the time a site hosting a large collection of articles on a wide array of topics that, in the long run, was destined to make me reams of money, or so the publishers told me.

With a then two-year old at home and a novel about to be released that I was sure would have me inundated with media requests and literary cocktail parties, the commitment of a weekly politics column seemed more than I could handle.

So anyways…

Flash forward six years, with an average of two or three posts a year and we hit last December 6: the rebirth.

My publisher's marketing department had told me my legions of fans (just how many is a legion, anyway) would want to keep up with me, my creative process and the progress of upcoming books, and one of the best ways to keep the interest alive was to give readers something they could follow in the intervening months…err…years between book releases.

Additionally, as I have discussed in the fifty-two weeks that have transpired, I have been hit with that most pernicious of artistic malaises: writer's block. Another key aim of the weekly column was that at least I'd be writing - and hopefully writing about writing would help me to produce more writing.


And to my credit (hey - someone's gotta give me credit) I have at least stuck to my goal: including this one, for just over a year now, I have put out my column without fail. On one or two occasions it came out a day late but every week I'm writing, more than I can say for the weeks and months prior to the re-birth of BISS.

And what of W3.doc, the file name-cum book title I hoped would keep be re-invigorated by writing about its writing?

I'd love to report that heaps of progress have been made in the weeks and months of writing about it. But I'd be lying. And as a fiction writing, lying in print is not something I'm in any way opposed to but I was hoping I could aim for some form of truthiness in this weekly space. It has been argued, primarily by my sister and occasionally my editor, that it's possible if I focused more on the next novel and less on this weekly rambling I might have more novel to show for the year that has gone by. I'm not so sure that's so.

My blog-writing inspiration is television writer Ken Levine, who I'm sure I've mentioned in previous posts. He writes a daily - daily! - post that none other than TIME Magazine listed as one of the top blogs of 2011. Making TIME's annual list may certainly be more than I could hope for, though if Maclean's had one would that be too much for which to hope? But despite his daily output, Levine has also managed to find time to, wait for it, write a murder mystery novel. Sure, he doesn't have to run an urban high school during the day like I do, but consistently writing an online column doesn't seem to get in the way of his literary output - it may even help spur it on, which, of course, was the hope for mine.

So Happy Anniversary to me and thanks to those who have read and commented. I plan to continue the weekly trend and hope it continues to keep me inspired to write more.
Next week: My grown-up Christmas list

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Thursday, 12 December 2013 6:46 AM PST
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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.





It wasn’t a meltdown.
I’d call it a meltdown.
You calling it a meltdown doesn’t make it a meltdown.
Us saying the term meltdown repeatedly within a very short number of sentences increases the perception that it was very much a meltdown.
I was asked my opinion and I gave it honestly.
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.
I’m not sure I was incorrect in my assessment.
You’re the anchor of the number two rated newscast in this market.
There are only two newscasts in this market.
There are three.
Nobody counts the CBC.
The federal government does.
They’re the only ones watching.
What were you thinking?
I wasn’t thinking....I just...I looked out into the audience and I thought I saw...(fades off)
Thought you saw what?
Never mind. It’s not important.
Anyway a lot of people are very unhappy with you.
(lighting a cigarette)
Most people are unhappy with me most of the time.
Not your audience.
Especially my audience.
(taking the cigarette out of Josh’s mouth)
Why do you think you can smoke in here?
I like smoking.
Name one place in the province of British Columbia you’re allowed to smoke indoors.
The premier’s office?
Probably not.
Because you might accidentally drop ashes on her generous cleavage.
I really want you never to say that again.
Scout’s honour.
How do I know I can trust you to keep your word on this?
It’s a new thing I’m planning. I’m going to civilize Mission. 
You mean you’re on a mission to civilize?
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.
Please don’t say that publicly either.
Do they have tv in Mission?
They do.
I’d heard that but I imagined televised monster-truck show coverage conflicted with the consumption of news and current events.
And speaking of changes...
We weren’t speaking of changes.
It’s a charming conversational quirk to change topics mid-sentence when I can’t think of a suitable transition.
According to who?
It can be another charming affectation to correct people on their grammar when the conversation needs a humour interjection.
So you were mentioning changes?
Yes. I’m calling it TV for BC 2.0
What kind of a name is that?
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.
It wasn’t a meltdown.
Whatever you say. I’m primarily just bringing it back up as a "callback." In improv they call it "reincorporation."
Another charming conversational affectation?
Now you're doing it.
And who is going to spearhead this Newshour 2.0?
I am.

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

You can’t be serious. There’s no way this is going to work.
Josh, you remember Mikaila.
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?
Hey! How did you know all of that?
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.
That’s been revealed to everyone already?
We’re running short on time and heavy on dialogue.
Why do you think you can just waltz back into my life and start running my newscast?
It was more of a sashay than a waltz and your newscast isn’t doing the news that people need to see.
What people?
The people of Vancouver. The people of B.C.
And what news do the “people”
(he does obnoxious air quotes)

...need to see?

He takes the still lit cigarette back from Charlie.

We do stories about the weather. People need to know about the weather.
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)
We provide detailed coverage and analysis.
Analysis of the weather? What the hell can you possibly be analyzing?
How people feel about the weather. We ask the man on the street. People love that.
Do they?
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. 
We can do so much better. We will do so much better.
And quirky weather guys...eating Japa Dogs from street vendors. We do serious work here, Mikaila.
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. 
This is Vancouver, Josh. There are important issues that need to be covered.
You just said it’s Vancouver. What issues could we possibly cover?
Serious, important, life-changing issues. Have you tried to turn right off of Dunsmuir lately? It can’t be done.
I know it can’t be done. It’s illegal.
That’s right. It’s a pedaling oligarchy at City Hall. 
You’re gonna build a new newscast on bicycle lanes?
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. 
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.

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

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

There’s more.
It’s windy too.

All three exchange serious looks.

Holy shit.
(looking at Mikaila)

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

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.


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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