December 15, 2007

Best and Worst Films of 2007

Good year for film if you ask me. Once you navigate through the fetid pile of horse shit that represents the decline of intelligent film viewing, that is. The great and the order.

1)No Country For Old Men: The Cohen brothers' stark landscapes, minimal dialog, and unflinching moral questions paint Cormac McCarthy's Texan novel onto the screen with care. Horrifying at times, but not gratuitous. And no wasted "filler" scenes. Raises interesting questions of fate and consequence, without spoon-feeding the audience with some bumper sticker explanation. And the ending, my God the ending. Flawless. Number one for me this year.

2) Eastern Promises: After the fatally flawed A History of Violence, Cronenberg redeems himself with this gutter ballet. The violence is not the focal point, even though it is a touch overly choreographed. A great cast of characters, all with their own story. And Viggo is pure menace.

3) Michael Clayton: The opening rant by Tom Wilkinson is worth the entire price of admission. The story has been told before, but never in a manner as fierce as this. Outstanding acting by all involved, but never over the top, and thankfully void of melodrama.

4) Sicko: You don't have to agree with everything Michael Moore says to appreciate his championing of the underdog. Sure, some of his scenes are staged, but he brings to light the everyday social injustices that most people either completely ignore or justify with a pathetic rationale of "every man for himself". This is by far Moore's most focused film and hopefully some of the stories will affect even the staunchest of capitalist hearts.

5) Zodiac: David Fincher's directorial abilities have improved greatly. This story is so well-crafted, the tension being built from organic character responses to circumstances. And character is what this film is really about, the flaws, the obsessions. I was surprised this movie didn't stay in the theaters very long. Truly worth watching.

6) Waitress: Lovely, small budget film. Loved the idea of using various pie recipes as metaphor for the protagonist's life. Keri Russel is outstanding. The film manages to avoid so many of the potential cliché disasters that go along with these kinds of stories. Clever, human, funny, and genuine.

Wretched viewing:
1) 300: Absolute garbage. Made in 2006, but not released until 2007, this film is nothing more than an example of marketing. Tedious, witless, and insulting. The only value this film could have would be as an academic exercise in dissecting homo-erotic subtext. Horrible dialog. How many times do men in leather speedos have to bellow out where they're from? I left with ten minutes remaining, wishing I had stayed home and read a good book.

2) Smokin' Aces: Another film made in '06 but released in '07. Scattered story line, flat characters, and Jeremy Piven typecasted as an annoying, self-righteous degenerate. Not even worth elaborating further.

3) 28 Weeks Later: A perfect example of studios capitalizing on a great film by making a stagnant and sub par sequal. Whereas the original (28 Days Later) created a post-apocalyptic environment that lulled the viewer into a false sense of security, this film replaces most of the suspense with gore, and the ever-present, ever-nauseating "America saves the day" rhetoric. The few genuine frights that did occur were hardly worth sitting through the film for.

4) Music and Lyrics: I'm usually a sucker for Hugh Grant comedies. Not sure why. This film is wretched, though. Probably has something to do with Drew Barrymore being in it. All the humor is flat (pun intended) and overused. Dull.

5) Oceans Thirteen: What a strange film. It banks on the reputation of the characters from the previous two. Funny banter is only hinted at, replaced instead with celebrity closeups and the constant suggestion that something really good may happen at some point. It never does. Over the top plot with holes a mile wide.

Those I Regrettably Haven't Been Able to See Yet:
1)There Will Be Blood:>Lord knows this would be at the top of my list, but I can't rightly put it there until I've viewed it. Stupid local theaters.

2) Into The Wild: I have not seen a poor directorial effort by Sean Penn yet. And this looks to be even better than his other works. Eddie Vedder's soundtrack is outstanding as well.

3) Before The Devil Knows You're Dead: Great director with what looks to be a grand achievement. Mind you, Ethan Hawke does not quite do it for me.

4) Juno: One look at any trailer and you know this film will be spectacular. Sharp vernacular and affectionate, effective characters. I'm pissed I haven't seen it yet.

December 4, 2007

Remembrance Day

I don't usually post my own writing. Seems pretentious to do so. Perhaps today I am pretentious --I'm sure some of you think I am most days.

This is an excerpt of a piece The Sky is Falling, based on some past Remembrance Day ceremonies I've been to. In particular, the image of a frail, older veteran standing in the rain while the ceremony unfolds around him.

The Sky is Falling
by: Harry Tournemille
Nov. 11/ 2007

The body is old. Hunched shoulders drawn down in the rain. They'd be arched in the sunlight too, the graveness of gravity. At one time they were straight. Broad, strong anchors for the torso. But the body ages and is now old. The awareness of age does not help. In the rain, the man is rooted to the ground. A feeble apple tree, split and worried with years. His brow a permanent furrow, the earth of his face turned over with age. And wisdom. His jacket is buttoned, hat perched on the side of his head. Medals weigh down his breast. They hang from curled ribbons that mock the man's shape. He dislikes them, their gaudy brassiness. They do not remind him of another time, of smoke and fire and confusion. Their memory is born of fabrication, the allusion to a time that did not exist in the temporal. They remind him of nothing at all. On any other day he keeps them in a small, pine box at the back of his sock drawer. Today they weigh him down, pull his heart to the saturated earth. The place where they belong, where he belongs one day. The body is old. But not dead yet.


He snaps to attention. Autopilot. Chest out, chin down, eyes fierce for a moment before they retreat into thought. He feels the host of bodies around him dance the same. Unison, the great deceptive cadence.

Right Face!

The man pivots, graceful. His foot claps the asphalt, joining the percussion of all the others. A person he does not know stands next to him. Her dark rimmed glasses appear to squeeze her eyes closer together than what is natural. But the beauty of her youth is not lost on the man, her pixie mouth and high cheeks. She leans towards him and whispers.

They really should have those new fandangled gadgets for us to ride on.

How's that?

Seg-ways they're called. Two wheels and we could still turn to attention. My grandson has one.

It requires an inhuman amount of effort to suppress a smirk. And he after all is human. He shakes his head at her and she winks.

Well, I'd like one at least. I'm no spring chicken, y'know --but I used to be.


In unison they move, tired limbs swing, feet rise and fall. Less smooth than the last time. But no one notices. As the man marches he clenches and unclenches his left hand. He tries to relax his shoulders. The cenotaph at City Hall is only two blocks away and he wonders if he'll make it. Will his body fail in this postured line of duty?

He tells himself this is it. No more marching. Been saying that for years now. By Christ his hip hurts. Out of the corner of his eye he notices a homeless woman pushes a shopping cart, her mouth moving in phantom conversation. She stops as the veterans pass, raises a half-empty bottle of rice wine in salute. Her mouth pulls apart in unpracticed smile, exposes fragments of what few teeth she has left. Missing teeth. Who was it that lost his teeth that night? Louis? No --he was alright. Stoned out of his mind but alright. Louis Sutton had a nickname for everyone; called the man Frankie-boy. The marching has stopped. Stand at ease. The charcoal cenotaph points to the grey sky. A concrete, admonishing finger that God misinterprets. The ceremony begins. As a voice comes over the sound system, the man's thoughts drift back sixty odd years, to a beach in France at night...

November 22, 2007

Great Canadian Music

A brief discussion in my Film and Lit class prompted me to write a post. One of the books and films we've been studying has been Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. The overwhelming consensus was that both the book and the film are absolute masterpieces, brilliant gems in a landscape of dust and rock. But one comment in particular got me to thinking. An intelligent young woman, savvy and knowledgeable commented that this is the first time she's ever experienced something Canadian and enjoyed it. In fact she professed a dislike for all Canadian television, film, and music. Heavy words to me, but there were a lot of nods of agreement after the comment was made.

Frustration with Canadian film and television is a topic all on its own. I'll tackle Canadian music for now. Brilliant music can be found buried in the Canadian Music scene, but it's hard to know where to start. The sad truth is, the bands that take the forefront are often talentless and generic. One only has to listen to the great musical rip-off known as Nickelback to understand what I mean. Truly horrifying.

There is the proverbial list of the well knowns --The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk, Avril Lavigne all who have achieved success in their own rights. But there is so much more beneath the surface here, so many bands that have come in and out of the music scene without the acknowledgment they deserved. Most of them, in my humble opinion, more interesting and unique than the artists I've already mentioned (and yes, I do like The Hip).

Bands like Chore (in my mind one of the best ever), Alive and Living, A Northern Chorus, create amazing atmosphere with their non-mainstream, lyrical and often beautiful work. Their use of violins, distortion, clear melodic voice, and hints of the prairies embody many elements of what I consider to be Canadian music. And we can dig into other indie greats too, the magnificent punk band The Smalls. Check out My Saddle Horse Has Died. Brilliant. Of course, they've disbanded as well. But their bassist, Corb Lund has written some intelligent, alternative country that many are taking note of (not much for country myself). If you check out the record label Sonic Unyon you'll find a ton of lesser known, but amazing bands.

It's out there people, but you gotta dig. Find the Indie bands. There are so many bands and genres I've left out, much of it due to my own ignorance. But surely we all can find music with substance, songs that actually illicit a genuine response. Find them, let me know about them. Support the Indie music scene. Say no to generic, boring, tasteless tripe that sounds like everything else you hear on the radio.

November 5, 2007

Film Adaptations (Part 1: The Introduction)

Film adaptations are common fare in the movie industry. Books, comics, and now even video games all stand the chance of cashing in on one of North America's largest forms of mass entertainment. And why not? The skeleton for such enterprise is already there. Comics, especially the graphic novel, are steeped in visual connection, freeze-frames of static action arranged into the kinetic. Books, the most obvious choice, reach an even wider audience when their delicate and careful narratives are transposed into a visual feast. Even video games, though I loathe to admit ever considering an adaptation of one of these, also contain the basic core elements needed for film: protagonist, conflict, action, resolution. In fact, video games may be a step beyond film in that they take cinematic experience and make it interactive, immersible. So, in some ways their adaption to film can be viewed as regression. But the film adaptation is a money maker to be sure, regardless of what form it adapts from.

Converting books to film is still the most common form of adaptation. We've all had the experience being moved by a delicious piece of literature, perhaps
Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient or
Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter or

But often we are disappointed when the book appears on screen. To some extent it's a matter of course. Books, especially well written ones, rely wholly on the imagination of the reader. The author uses their skills, their terse prose or poetic narrative, to relay the story, but the reader gets to construct it all in their mind. The reader has the opportunity to put the blue eyes on the round face or see the fields of barley around a dilapidated barn. The reader takes cues from the author, and then revels in the unending possibility of imagination.

Film is not the same. The audience is presented with the interpretations of others, and they are many. A book is a solitary effort. Films are the result of collaboration. The imagination, at least on the audience's part, is removed --though the suspension of disbelief may be forced to remain. I remember when I saw the first installment of The Lord Of The Rings, I marveled at Gollum on the screen. He fit my experience of him in Tolkien's books to the letter. Same with Aragorn. But this is nothing more than coincidence. Each of us have our own visions of a particular character or setting. The chances of a director and crew, who for the most part are complete strangers to the audience, satisfying every member of an audience is near impossible, and not conducive to creativity at all.

What I'm getting at here is that mass disapproval of film adaptations often stems from a misplaced ethic. The reader wants the book to be represented exactly, and this is impossible. The creators of a film are not privy to the minds of their audience, but on top of that the mediums are quite separate --their own language if you will. Converting a particular story from book to film is really a translation from one language to another. Each medium has its own strengths and limitations. Direct translation is not possible, or if it is possible it certainly is not pragmatic. Decisions are made, risks are calculated, and someone else's interpretation and vision is being captured. If we can accept this from the start, our perception of the final product on screen takes a different quality. We begin to notice the decisions made and question why. We begin to treat the book as a separate work of art from the film. And from here we can generate true criticism.

More to come...

October 15, 2007

Local Writing Class at Kwantlen

For those of you who live close enough to be interested in this, Ross A. Laird is introducing a new class at Kwantlen University College. Mythological Narratives is designed to explore how most or all stories and writings today have deep roots in ancient mythology. Nothing new under the sun. It's all been written before. Not entirely. All creative process evolves from something. Stories and writing are no different.

Laird is a savvy teacher and an accomplished writer who seems to have information about almost any subject. What is of particular merit is his ability to dissect a sentence, fling away the unnecessary words and grammar, and create clean, meaningful prose. He understands the writing process, the necessity for creative thought and freedom. All this makes for an engaging and interesting class environment.

September 8, 2007

Paul Thomas Anderson

Right so, one of my favourite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, known for Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love, has a new film out. There Will Be Blood, based on the Upton Sinclair Novel Oil!, works with the always interesting themes of family, greed, and faith. Of course, having Daniel-Day Lewis, one of if not the best character actor(s) out there, as the lead doesn't hurt either.

I don't normally blog about upcoming films, but I find Paul Thomas' work to be unique in many regards. He relies on all the facets of cinema to help tell his story, not just the usual action sequences and closeups of teary-eyed actors. He's not afraid to introduce a sense of randomness, though it would be erroneous to consider such things wasted scenes. Often accompanied by lengths of silence punctuated by vibrant, focused sound, the stories contain strange events, texture for the characters and narrative, but never so far removed as to be a distraction from the whole. And it works too. The moments in Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love are often breathtaking, always with emotional sincerity and affection. Wonderful stuff.

Now, it remains to be seen if There Will Be Blood will sustain the same elements we've expected in the past. But why should it? Why not just appreciate the fact that a good film is coming down the pipe from a knowledgeable, caring hand? Great films are so few and far between these days, it's always nice to anticipate their arrival.

August 11, 2007

David Milch Saves Television

Television is an affliction of sorts. Channel after channel of empty escapism, beckoning us away from whatever superficial woes we'd rather not deal with. And what do we find ourselves watching? Washed up comedians hosting game shows. Reruns of sitcoms that were never really that great to begin with. Endless loops of sports highlights mixed with the sub par eloquence of a retired athlete's commentary. It really adds up to horseshit, when you think about it. Even the news is thrown at us with glitzy celebrity tidbits swirled into the latest five car pile-up or murder. What are we really pumping into our brains?

Whatever we're absorbing cultures the way we think. Our conversations reflect our short, jerky attention spans. Seldom are we willing to push our brains into creative thought or process, or truly dialogue about what lurks beneath our shiny exteriors. And it's not just television that is to blame, of course. But it is one hell of a large contributor, and I'm not here saying we shouldn't watch it. For me, the question becomes, can we somehow incorporate creative process and intellectual stimulation into the shows that come on? Is it possible for television to move past brainless sitcoms about cohabiting friends, or dramas about attempted presidential assassinations? Can we find something more entertaining than grown men chasing leather spheres on grass or pavement? You bet your ass we can. Six Feet Under, Dexter, Rome, The Sopranos, all offer serious attention to the process of writing good television. But one creator stands alone at the top.

Enter David Milch, creator, screenwriter, producer. Just read the man's brief bio and right away you'll understand here is a man who is just as passionate about the process as he is about the end product. Yale grad in English Literature, MFA in Writing, award winning writer. Hard to believe this guy is working in television after nine years of teaching. And yet he co-created NYPD Blue, wrote for Hill Street Blues, and served as a consultant for numerous other projects. But what really warrants high praise, and I mean this in the fullest sense, is his creation and work with the HBO projects Deadwood and John From Cincinnati.

Deadwood is one of television's greatest offerings. The outlaw camp setting, the complicated characters, the multiple story lines, all make the show a feast for the senses. And the dialogue is completely remarkable, a vicious but poetic mix of the fading British formalities and rough western vernacular. Even when the language is at its most vile, the dialogue rolls from the characters' tongues like Shakespearean dialect. You can get all three seasons on DVD these days, since no new episodes have aired in quite some time. Well worth checking out.

John From Cincinnati is Milch's latest creation. Set amongst the surfing community in Imperial Beach, California Milch decided to take on some theological concepts by introducing the "what if" premise of God trying to communicate with humanity. At first glance, you would want to roll your eyes, perhaps thinking oh shit here comes the Billy Graham crusade or Dr. James Dobson is at it again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Milch plays with religious archetypes to be sure, but without the nauseating evangelism. The story unfolds more with each episode and I have never been so enthralled with a television show in my life. There is art to this writing, there is creativity and thought and an unabashed attempt to make the viewer consider what he or she is watching. It's not always comfortable, soothing viewing, but it is so worthwhile. It bespeaks of the human condition, and what more could you want?

There is worthwhile television out there folks. You've been told.

July 12, 2007

The Poison of Religion

Not very often do I find something worthwhile to read while sitting in a doctor's office. On most occasions I have a book tucked in my back pocket, but today I left Jack Kerouac's On The Road beside the door. So, while Dear Wifey had her pregnant tummy poked and prodded by the doctor, I sat nearby in a chair, reading a very interesting article by Brian Bethune in Maclean's magazine. The article, aptly titled Is God Poison? gives a brief but thorough overview of the rising atheistic movement in North America. And while it is unclear as to whether Bethune is a supporter or not, the movement, aided (though not necessarily in a collaborative sense) by bestselling authors like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, is pushing to reveal all monotheistic religions for what they believe they are: corrupt, archaic, processes, steeped in violence, that do far more to impede progress and society than they do to help it. While the indictments lie heavily with American Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism among others, all fall under the same criticism. And rightly so, I say.

The debate over God's existence, influence, ability, and attributes is centuries old. I'd be a fool to imply that I'm some sort of expert on the subject, too. But there is a distinction between the existence of God and the religions created around his existence. And while one can remain agnostic about the former, the latter is, and should be, a necessary topic of continual debate. Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum of theism, you'd have to be completely blind not to see the historic and current negative effects of religion on society.

I grew up surrounded by particular religious opinions, many of which I find no longer workable in my worldview. Where many see religion as the solution to the world's problems, I see it as the root cause. I see sexual obsession, war, prejudice, hatred, and worst of all, a clear and intentional lack of caring for human beings around the world. Of course there are plenty of moderates, people with human conviction and passion and a desire to see change and progress, yet still rallying around their God. But there is a disconcerting fundamentalist side as well (as the article points out), a side that waits with open arms and eager smiles for death. And isn't this the real issue with all monotheistic religions? A fear of death? And a supposed requital of that fear? Interestingly enough, some atheists suggest that it is the moderates who are the most dangerous, for they never truly condemn fundamentalism, allowing it some rightful place on the spectrum of faith. And this is proving to be costly.

When you have religions speaking out against the encouragement of condom usage in Africa to stem the tide of AIDS or when you have religions claiming AIDS is a direct judgment of some Old Testament God, something is amuck. When religions hide pedophiles by moving them from parish to parish without punishment, when they murder Dutch filmmakers on the street for speaking out against their bullshit or hold mass outcries when Danish cartoonists call their irrationality into question, something is really wrong. How about the scare tactics of running "hell-houses" where people are paraded through various rooms to see reenactments of abortions, homosexual intimacy, and then the supposed literal hell and torment that awaits? Or church websites that extol hatred as a virtue (type "God Hates Fags" into Google sometime, and you'll see)?

And my largest concern, how about those that wave a flag and a cross side by side, claiming that their God has given them the right to blow the living shit out of countries somewhere else in the world? A pissing contest for deities, carried out by slack-jawed, pretentious minions. And to do it with such swagger and arrogance. Is no one frightened about the notion of a nuclear-capable, fundamentalist Christian state? Why do we allow them so much power? Why do people refuse to revolt? I think it's because collectively, people wallow in intellectual apathy. To question or seriously debate pushes them out of their comfort zone. There is minimal comfort in blind faith, no matter how absurd. It is always easier to say "oh, it's just God's will" then it is to sit down and talk about change. This article suggests that religion wants death, religion is eagerly awaiting for it because it means the vindication of its beliefs.

And you wonder why peace is so difficult to attain?

Anyways, read the article, Is God Poison? and tell me what you think. None of us are going to be one hundred percent in agreement. But the very nature of debating issues like this is at least a step in the right direction. At least we're not standing on a street corner reciting the four spiritual laws to pedestrians walking by.

The end is near. But likely not in the way you think.

June 21, 2007

Sherman Alexie is back.... so go buy his new book

I remember the first time I saw the movie Smoke Signals, how I felt humbled by the humour, the beauty, the delicate respect. And it was only by fluke that I learned it was based on a series of short stories penned by Sherman Alexie, who happened to have been born and raised just outside of Spokane Washington, a few hours across the border from my home town. We used to drive to Spokane all the time as teenagers, stopping at the Indian Reservation to purchase fireworks. That had been the extent of my interaction with American Indians.

Alexie's short stories were published in a collection called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven and to this day I consider this book to be some of the finest works I've ever read. There is so much honesty in his writing, a willingness to both laugh and rage at the changes his culture has undergone over so many years. And there is a keen sense of spirit too, an almost metaphysical element woven between his words. I try to read it every year.
And now Mr. Alexie, a man I have never met, has a new book out called Flight This has me excited, of course. I assume I am similar to most of you out there when I say that there are certain writers whose books I buy without question or hesitation. Like film, where certain directors illicit the same response from me, once I've read an amazing book I am always looking forward to the next release by the author. Flight will be by next book purchase, to be sure.

So, if you are looking for a new author to check out, a new book to add to your afternoon reading material, or just to expand your reading base (it's so easy to get stuck in a rut when you read) I offer my humble suggestion of any of Sherman Alexie's works. Just use the Amazon link to the right. Or perhaps you want to rent Smoke Signals first, to get an idea of what his writing is about. I have yet to come across someone who has been disappointed by the experience. Here's a final link to CBC's interview with Alexie, regarding his latest novel:

June 6, 2007

Epistlary Humour is Good Writing Too...

As some of you know, I grew up in a conservative Christian family. As with any religious upbringing, there is a fair amount of baggage attached, usually fully recognized when you enter the real world as an adult. But the reek of shit rises just as high as the reek of piety... and wouldn't you know it, they seem to smell really similar. And I love when someone writes a letter or essay or article that reduces one of the many absurd aspects of fundamental theology (of any religion) to the absurdity it really is. Case in point: a letter was recently written to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (popular American radio host) regarding one of the comments she made on her show. Can you imagine if her and Rush Limbaugh hooked up? The world would probably implode with stupidity.

What follows is just a "cut and paste" by me. I take no credit for it and am just posting it for the sake of humour, and the tongue in cheek attack on literal theological interpretation. Normally, I wouldn't do so on this blog, but it struck a chord with me. In other words, I think it's good writing. Here goes...

Recently, she (Dr. Laura) said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by an east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, howdo I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated tokill him myself? A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is anabomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? -Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,

May 29, 2007

The Mad Shuffling of Priorities

Guilt is a byproduct of my writing endeavours, desperation too. At 32, I feel a keen sense of urgency to get somewhere with all of this, make something of myself. Right now I can only call myself a writer in the loosest of terms. So I get frantic sometimes, which results in some likely subpar output. It's like there is a magic number in my head, some age limit, that I need to be successful by (and I realize that success is a rather subjective quality). I want writing to be my priority, the focus of what I am about, the core substance which defines my processes as an adult. But I'm realizing that this may never be the case. Life is notorious with its ability to make you take stock and implement changes.

Last year, my wife and I went on a three week backpacking trip through various parts of Europe. By far, it was the single most remarkable thing we'd ever done as a couple. The art, culture, food, drink, people -all left a permanent impression with us, something we value and talk about all the time. Of course, added into the mix was the fact that our first child (still in
Sandra's belly as I write this) was conceived. I'd heard that trips to Europe could do this to a couple, but I always thought we'd outside the norm. Not so. Novotel in Brussels will always be held in very high regard.
Throughout Sandra's pregnancy, I've wrestled with where to place writing on my list of priorities once the baby is here. Instinctually, I know the baby comes first. Each time I talk to the grub through dear Wifey's belly and it tries to thump me in the nose I am overwhelmed. But in the back of my mind I get this desperate feeling like I need to keep writing at the top of my list, that to let it take a back seat to anything will ultimately result in prolonged failure down the road. Surely, the successful writers out there let nothing deter them. I grow concerned that I will have to sacrifice one for the other.

A poet friend of mine and I were emailing back and forth recently. He mentioned that when he was married to his then wife, he made the big error of telling her that writing would always be his biggest priority. He wasn't being disingenuous with her (though he did say it was young and stupid of him to say this), just honest about where he was at. He didn't want her to think he would sacrifice his writing for job or relationship. But when his first child came, all of that was thrown out the window. He considered it primal instinct, something you cannot avoid, something deeper than marriage. Your children always come first.

In the
Belly to Baby classes Sandra and I attended this past weekend (which I highly recommend), I watched at least six different DVD births. Each and every one of them was beautiful and remarkable. And I get this sense that I'm realizing what my poet friend was talking about. This instinct is so immense and yet I only feel twinges of it right now. Even if I were callous enough to want to put writing in front of my children, I do not think I would be able to. When the bambino finally arrives, after all the labour and work my dear wife will go through, there will not be any doubt about priorities. And it may not be a matter of sacrifice. Writing is influenced by experiences. And this will be an unforgettable one, I'm sure.

May 15, 2007

Procrastinator Terminus

I've got Beck's Whiskeyclone, Hotel City 1997 (from the album Mellow Gold) playing and it is a lazy song. The music bleeds out slow, an inebriated slick of sound, sunken into the ground with apathy. There's no inspiration in it, but it is good music, the kind that slows you down to a staggering crawl.

The feel of this song, not the words per say, seems to embody my head space for writing these past few weeks. I have two stories in their final stages: peer edits in, red marks scrawled all over the manuscripts, all notes ready for serious concession. And I have not done a damn thing with them.

At first, I chalked it up to having to complete an editing assignment for a course I'm taking. But when that was done, nothing changed. So I considered blaming
Facebook and its infernal addictiveness. But that would also mean blaming my wife, Sandra, who started me up on the whole thing. To be honest I value my appendages... all of them. No the responsibility must lie with my own pathetic shortcomings. All the criticism I've levied against writers who look for ways to distract themselves from completing those last steps now comes full circle. And I have it a lot easier than most people.

The funny thing is, I often find the editing process more enjoyable than the actual penning of the first draft. Getting the initial story out can be agony. All the images jumbled in my head, giving me only a murky idea of what I'm trying to convey. Once the story is out on the page and I can start picking it apart, moving paragraphs, changing word choices, finding out what my peer editors have to say --that's when I feel like something of value can be accomplished.
So, I think I'm pulling back from those last few steps because I know that once they're done I've got to go back to square one. I have to start from scratch again, from one concrete image, from the idea of context. It's a trivial thing, really. I should be looking forward to the next editing process, the same way one anticipates a good meal without being too mindful about the preparation involved beforehand.

In other words, I'm being lazy. There, I said it. Of course, now that I've said it, I'll be racing upstairs to hammer away at my stories like a good boy. But I must do it quick, before my garden out front calls me into the sun, before someone posts on my Facebook account, before the hockey game starts, before... crap, too late.

April 22, 2007

Salvation Through Oprah...

Postured high in lofty realms where God is all sunshine and lollipops, and "Jesus Saves" bumper stickers are both the cause of and solution to all life's problems, another form of religious fervor has bubbled its way into this roiling mess of North American soul searching. In all its greasy, omnipresent power, the manufactured ego-deity of Oprah permeates the media to bless her minions. Her face appears on every issue of her own magazine, her opinion is canonized daily on her television show with bold statements and images, reminding everyone what she does to save the world. People buy into it too, with empty, painful smiles. But surely there must be the occasional suspicious question as to how or why so many nod their heads in perfect, holy agreement.
And of course, how can we forget her book club and its rather gooey mixture of nauseating self-help, flimsy spirituality, and the occasional literary piece, all marked with her name as if she has something to do with their existence. No surprise that I might take exception with that.

The best thing about television is that you can change the channel whenever you want, or just shut the damned thing off. I don't have to spend my afternoons watching Oprah pose for all her camera closeups, reiterating how she spends her money and time saving the souls of (wo)mankind and buying tennis shoes for kids. But I tell you, I almost get an aneurysm when I go into a bookstore and find a sticker bearing her name, pasted across the cover of a book she's had no part in writing. Does her Christ complex give her license to tag everything with her own vacuous approval? What could she possibly have to offer to the literary world?

Right away, I know some of you will jump and and say, "Well dammit Harry, I never would have read East of Eden if it hadn't been for Oprah. Fair enough, but perhaps you could contemplate that statement for a moment. Are you suggesting that your slovenly mind was not intuitive enough to start seeking out good literature on its own? Steinbeck, Faulkner, Morrison... all these great writers' reputations were not enough to compel you to be inquisitive about them? It took the almighty Oprah, someone without any literary background or real education, someone who has nothing to offer but superficial and ultimately meaningless commercialism -- someone you do not even know, to compel you? You would rather concede that you take your cues in life from a network media mogul than your own discernment? Then I wish you would never have read East of Eden at all. Leave all those wonderful books alone. Better yet, maybe you can find a recorded copy of Oprah reading one of those books so you don't have to tire out your poor, poor brain.

Awhile back, Rex Murphy, one of Canada's best critical commentators, wrote a scathing piece on Oprah's book club. Titled The Author Eater, and now found in his book of essays called Points of View, Murphy's article rails against Oprah's book club on two fronts. He observes how she leeches the uniqueness out of good books, making them a byproduct of her "Oprahness", and then marketing them as if they were products of her own ideas. He also comments on the quality of the books in her club, those self-help Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and Chicken Soup for the Soul type books that use smiley-face, booster shots of nonsense to lull the masses into happy, generic slumber. In this instance, I think Rex hits the nail on the head. Celebrity is becoming synonymous with intellectual opinion, an absurd nightmare in its own right. We race to bookshelves to read books because glamorous (at least when they have makeup on) people tell us to. And this hurts both sides of the equation. Established authors now grovel at the accursed throne to get their names mentioned, knowing that the majority of readers base their book choices on coerced popular demand. Who in their right mind would want to be mentioned alongside Deepak Chopra anyways?

Ever get that gnawing feeling that something is wrong with the way people perceive the world? That somehow we are moving further and further away from complex thought and dialogue, away from intimate discussion, towards some weird, mechanized form of interaction? How about how difficult we often find it to articulate our ideas or feelings about something personal and important? Or how about how little rationale we use when forming opinion? You can thank Oprah for this, along with a plethora of other like-minded sycophants out there. She has blended weak entertainment with weak commentary, feeding on the ever growing demographic of people who are comfortable to have others think for them, and packaging her ego and need for attention into a massive pandemic of intellectual apathy. Hurrah.

April 9, 2007

Wrestling the Muse

I woke up early one morning, this past week. I'm not sure if it had to do with whatever dreams were still loitering around, but a memory from childhood crashed into my brain and refused to move on. It wasn't even a memory, really, more a fragmented image, something stark, once forgotten, but now brought to the surface the way the ocean deposits strange and wonderful things on the beach during the night. I lay there, trying not to disturb my pregnant, lightly snoring wife, but I couldn't for the life of me shake the image. Nor could I return to sleep. So, I got up, put my robe on, went downstairs and brewed some green tea. Hot mug in hand, I sat down at my laptop and began to write.

The image itself is personal in many ways, a reference to those strange circumstances that neighbourhood boys find themselves in when no one is looking, innocent enough at first, but always hinting at something more, a self-awareness and awakening. From that image, and whatever fleeting associations I could still make with it, a fictional tale begin to emerge, something honest in its sentiment (at least when referring to the original memory) but well removed from what and how I usually write.

I vaguely remember my wife kissing my cheek as she went out the door to work, and the next time I looked up at the clock it was noon, more than five hours later. Sitting in front of me on my computer screen was the first draft of a short story, and a damn good one at that.

Later on, when I was out in the front garden planting bulbs, I thought about what would have happened if I had ignored the image and just forced myself to go back to sleep. What would I have missed? Would the story have returned at a later time? I doubt it. There have been other occasions where I've felt the muse nudging me in the ribs, waving an image or idea in front of my eyes. On those occasions, I ignored the thought and continued on with whatever I was doing, assuming I would remember later when I was at the computer. That never happened. In fact, I couldn't even conjure up the sentiment associated with the image. Not to say that each of those instances would have resulted in something profound, but there is something to be said for the notion of wasted potential.

Stephen King, whose short stories are often wonderful, mentioned in his book On Writing how he brings a notepad with him wherever he goes, precisely for this reason. You can refer to something you've jotted down and decide it's garbage at a later time, but you cannot revisit an image, thought, or idea that you've allowed to escape your grasp.

I'm not sure if I'm referring to the textbook definition of "muse" here. But, these moments are my muses. They scratch at me when I hear a certain phrase or sentence, witness people interacting in fascinating ways, or not interacting at all. All of it is empirical and I doubt I'm alone with this. Our senses constantly refer back to the archives in our minds, reminding us of things we thought forgotten, certain smells or sounds, words, touches. Most people take them for the nostalgic references they are, enjoying the quick memory but letting it fall away afterwards. For the writer, these moments are much more important. They are intimate glimpses of knowledge, catalysts for future stories and characters.

A part of it is discipline, making yourself take note of those musings that seem important, or at least potentially so. Another part of it is just being willing to listen when the whispers in your ear begin, those images that keep you awake or haunt your thoughts for periods of time. All this has made me wonder whether writer's block really exists, or if it is more a matter of being too distracted to listen. I suppose there are times when the call is too quiet, or infrequent. But we should at the very least be listening for it as often as we can.

March 23, 2007

The Sorcery of the World

I had the pleasure of attending Patrick Friesen's latest book launch for Earth's Crude Gravities, a collection of poems.It was held at our friend's house high on the mountainside in Abbotsford, which proved to be the perfect location. The sound of the rushing creek, the natural setting, the beautiful concrete home with its large windows overlooking the valley, all contributed to the mood in many ways, and perhaps even a theme: the returning to what is natural, the eclipsing of the divine.

While I am primarily a prose reader, I feel a keen connection with Patrick's work, possibly due to our similar upbringings. Both of us come from strict, religious backgrounds, namely Mennonite (although I am not Mennonite by blood) which has cultured a lot of how and what we write today. Patrick's latest collection moves further into his abandonment of such religious ties. The poems are wrathful at times, affectionate at others. The imagery is visceral, the sentiment honest and sincere.
I feel an emotional connection to what he writes, a bonding with the resentment and refusal, but yet an appreciation for the meaning within the moments.
Click on the links to order the book, which is not expensive. Amazon has it, or you can order it through Patrick's website as well. You won't be disappointed. Those of you who do buy it, feel free to respond here. Always nice to learn what others thought.

March 12, 2007

Show and (don't) Tell

I have an almost sick fascination with the editing process, especially when it pertains to my own work. Those drafts that sculpt and fling away the excess, wet clay of adverbs, gerunds, run-ons, push me to find better words, stronger images. The analogies for this process list ad nauseum: peeling away the layers of an onion, chipping away ore to find gold, sifting through your own shit to find your lost loonie... okay, I made that last one up. It all refers to refinement, an artistic butchery that requires thick-skin, objectivity, detachment --all the things that no writer really has, even those that say they do.

Now, I've heard the rumours about Alistair MacLeod (I talk about him too much, I know), how he agonizes over every word of every sentence, builds his story from the ground up with such precision that later drafts are minimal. How many of us can do that? It takes more than ability. It takes... something undefinable that I do not have. But I can learn to filter while I write, encouraging a stronger first draft, even if it is not to the the same degree as the masterful Mr. MacLeod's.

I cringe when I go back and re-read my initial work, then mutter curses under my breath at my lousy habits. Paragraph after paragraph of me telling the reader about a character or scene. It is all crap unless I can show who the character is, reveal her subtleties through a gesture, a physical response to her environment. It is much easier to fire off a quick description than to try and piece together something complicated, and Lord knows I'm prone to taking the easy way out all too often.

Compare the two following sentences:

1) Judith was raw as she listened to Ben putting her down in front of the other girls. She felt embarrassed, humiliated, but oddly enough desperate for Ben's affection.

2) Judith grinds the heel of her left shoe on a piece of brown glass scattered on the sidewalk. Her cheeks feel hot and she knows her nose is flaring, something she cannot control. And yet she still smiles at Ben, absorbing everything he says to her with his cute, crooked grin and harsh eyes, as though she is oblivious to his words and the leers of the girls standing with him.

Not perfect examples, I know. But to me, the second sentence is superior to the first. Judith's actions reveal something human to the reader, something complex about her personality. The first sentence did nothing more than give an account of her emotions.
When you read a great story, what compels you to keep turning the page? Or, what often has you skimming over paragraphs when the story is weak? I'm willing to bet it is the balance of description and action. Too much description and the mind wanders ahead, desperate for movement in the story. Of course, if there is too little description the reader loses interest for other reasons, perhaps a lack of identifiability with the surroundings.

Where am I going with all this? There are mechanical elements in good writing that provide texture to a story. I think as my writing evolves, I'm beginning to implement some of these skills in the early stages, instead of waiting for them to be pointed out later on. I'm learning to identify techniques in someone else's work that compel me and adapt those skills into my own method. Of course I have miles and miles to go.
After all, there are a million great stories out there, but not nearly as many capable hands and minds to tell them.

March 5, 2007

Local Event: The Short Line Reading Series

For those of you living close enough to Vancouver, you may be interested in heading downtown to The Railway Club on March 13th. Patrick Friesen and some other poets will be reading from their work(s) as part of The Short Line Reading Series, hosted by Memewar Magazine.

The event looks interesting, a collection of different styles and generations, as well as live music. From what I gather, this event's origins are inspired by Michael Turner's (Hard Core Logo) The Reading Railroad, which alternated between romantic poetry readings and aggressive punk band sets. It doesn't appear that The Short Line's format will be identical to The Reading Railroad, but I think this event will be a great experience. Everything starts at 6 pm, with readings first and live music to follow around 8. Click here for Maps and Directions.

I've known Patrick for a number of years now, first as a writing professor and now as a mentor/friend of sorts. His work is impressive, both in its variety and quality: poetry, translation, spoken word and music. But to hear him speak live is an experience unto itself. His voice is unique, impossible to duplicate, and he reads as though the poems are so crucial to him, so intrinsic, that it is an almost painful process to share them. I've heard him read on several occasions, all of which have been meaningful.
Those of you who attend, feel free to post your experiences (good or bad) here.

February 25, 2007

Vancouver Writes...

The gravest error any writer can make is assuming that what they're working on HAS to be read to by others. The sad truth is no one needs to read your work. Adoring fans, or any audience for that matter, are not conjured up; they are manufactured. And an egotistical perspective of your own work is a great way to find yourself left alone to flounder in your own devices. There can be pride, sure. But respect, humility, and an ability to stroke the ego's of others go a long way too.
You have to sell yourself, which means networking, a huge componant for any artist desiring audience. But networking also provides the opportunity to connect with like-minded people, an invaluable resource.

Networking is not an easy thing to do for some people. There are times when I know I would much rather be safe at home, TV remote in hand, then heading out to some function where people don't know me and I have to schmooze. But it can be a lot of fun, once you make that almost Kierkegaardian leap to get out there.
For all you writers close to BC, there are number of festivals and conferences that take place annually:

On the more literary side of things (see my previous post for thoughts on "literary"), there is a wonderful gem called the Vancouver International Writer's Festival. I attended an event this past Friday called Vancouver Writes, which grouped aspiring writers in competitive teams to complete three writing tasks. For each task, a different published author would join the team as a guide. A poet friend of mine pushed me into going and I was glad she did. Not only did we meet some wonderful people, but I managed to make contact with some great authors/poets like Brad Cran and Nancy Lee, who were more than happy to provide email addresses and information. Their talent is immense, so I encourage you to research both of them. Of course, the wine and other libations helped too.

For those of you who enjoy genre writing (Fantasty, Romance, Thrillers etc.), one of North America's largest conferences is held every year in Surrey: SIWC (Surrey International Writer's Conference). I've attended it twice, even though I don't write genre fiction and made some good contacts on both occasions, not to mention receiving some valuable advice from agents and published authors alike. One great feature is called Blue Pencil which allows you to sit and dialogue with agents and/or authors (15 minute intervals) about your work. If you've completed a manuscript, you can pitch it to an agent or publisher. If you just need some advice or help, they are available for that too.

The important thing is to act. Don't be passive about your writing. Attend events that provide you oppportunity. Be genuinely interested in what others are doing; learn from their successes and failures.

Thus endeth my sermon...

February 11, 2007

What is Literary?

No Great Mischief

I know that a lot of us often walk by the top-ten bestseller lists in supermarkets and cringe. We roll our eyes at stories of sordid affairs between wealthy octogenarians and well-muscled pool boys, thumb our noses at yet another supernatural thriller about demon possession. Of course, from time to time when no one is looking, we’ll grab one of these little brain-candy pieces and read them while we hide downstairs in the den with a flashlight held between our teeth and a blanket over our heads. But we would prefer to be known for our exquisite taste in literature (like the Macleod book pictured here... absolutely brilliant), our wealth of knowledge about Steinbeck, Faulkner, Thoreau and the multitude of other greats Oprah has unfortunately claimed as her own. We consider them to be “literary” greats, genius scribes in a kingdom of hacks. But what does it mean for an author's writing to be “literary”?

This question gets asked all the time and the answer is more difficult to come to than you would think. I attended a seminar at a writing conference a few years ago that posed this question of literary value and everyone seemed to have their own opinion. For some, it was an indication of something that had stood the test of time, a classic like
Crime and Punishment or The Age of Innocence. For others, it was word choice: the author’s painstaking measures to craft the perfect sentence. Still others said it was those books that garnered critical acclaim.

It’s perplexing that such a simple word has such a complicated definition, maybe no clear definition at all. I discussed this with a poet friend of mine once and she made the rather intelligent observation that the term had become ambiguous. It may not have started out that way historically, but now the word is used in so many different scenarios it cannot possibly retain a clear, decisive meaning.
She may be right. The definitions mentioned before cannot stand on their own accord. We cannot place all classics along the same gradient. Clearly what Dostoevsky did was monumentally different from Dickens, or Edgar Allen Poe. Likewise, some authors have different skills at morphing words into images (compare
Alistair Macleod to Rohinton Mistry). And, of course we all know that critical acclaim is in the eye of the beholder. There are enough awards to go around for everyone, and what one considers prestigious, another may find laughable. And yet these authors have a vast number of readers, and their books are almost sacrosanct.

So, what then do we use as our barometer for literary value? In my mind it is likely a combination of all the mentioned definitions plus some personal taste. I’ve always said that our approach to literature, film, painting, illustrations etc. is similar to wine tasting. When starting off, you go for what is sweet, what tastes good to you. But as time goes by, and your palette develops you begin to notice complexities to what you drink, subtle flavours or influences. Art, in kind, also grows to become something more than sweet entertainment. Embedded in its subtleties lie truths about human nature, relationships, the earth and how everything interacts. In other words, the term “literary” is a blend of certain poetic qualities and nuances but also a reflection of someone’s own artistic journey, the ability to empirically detect more than what appears at the surface and to feel the weight of words.

January 25, 2007

5 Things...

Okay, this is completely off topic for my blog and I'm wary to partake, but considering how few people actually read this damn thing I've decided to play along... mostly to appease my wife, The Mighty Sally. I was tagged by her and informed that I must comply.

So, here are five things that some of you readers (all three of you) may not know about me:

1) I cry in movies. That's right, you heard me. For some reason I find myself to be rather emotional in films... good ones at least. Worst culprits are:
Dancer In The Dark, Lost in Translation, and The New World, which in my mind are some of the more beautiful achievements these past few years.

2) If I could be anything in the entire world, I would be a singer in some metal band. While I love all kinds of music, especially the older, protest music of Neil Young and Bob Dylan etc. I love the raw, brutally honest sentiment of metal. I love the way it screams out at injustice, revels in its own bleak outlook. I've sung before, could even pull it off. But, as a good friend of mine once said, we never pursue what we truly love because to fail at that could mean the end of our passion. I'd love to be a MMA fighter too, but that's a close second.

3) My biggest fear is to fail as a father to my upcoming child. I suppose we all are keenly aware of our own shortcomings, those hidden and those more obvious, but I worry that mine will one day prevent me from connecting with my child completely.

4) I hate
South Park. This may be a surprise to most people who know me, as this would probably be the one show they'd think I love. Untrue. This show sucks. Its social commentary is minimal, the characters are funny maybe once every thirty episodes. Even the religious slams, which I normally adore in other shows, fall short. Stupid, ineffectual crap.

5) I think car racing, whether it be Indy 500 or F1 or whatever, is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. Not only is it an environmental disaster (think of the amount of fossil fuels being wasted), but it has absolutely no positive effect on any element of society, save for the red-neck faction who somehow think noise+fumes = entertainment. In fact, I have no real interest in cars in general. Sure, I'll buy one to get around, but I do not spend time thinking about which fancy sport car would be cool to drive. Do not care. I wish we didn't need a car at all.

I guess that's it...

January 15, 2007

Edit This, Muffler Trucker

Most of you struggling writers out there can attest to this: generating income from writing is bloody difficult.. damn near impossible really. Okay, not actually impossible, but frustrating enough that every once in awhile you consider going back to whatever menial job you once had and ignoring your writing impulse for as long as you can. I'm with you, no question.

The past few months have been spent researching other writing possibilities that can help with the household income. Getting a short story published really doesn't cut it. I am fortunate (blessed, really) to have a wife that makes a decent salary while I pursue these inclinations. And thank the sweet baby Jesus in his manger that society no longer frowns on the husband being the "stay at home" half of the relationship, albeit my in laws still secretly mutter about my apparent lack of responsibility. My discoveries so far: it is a slow process, full of plenty of rejection. But, it can be done.
I've started a correspondence introductory course on Editing/Publishing from
Simon Fraser University (SFU) here in Surrey. It's interesting enough, even from a writer's perspective. Lots of insight into the various types of editors out there and their respective roles: hunter gatherer, liaison and everything in between. There is potential here. A combination of factors, namely the mass influence of the world wide web and the corporate takeover of most of the major publishing houses in North America, a lot of the actual editing work (read: grammar, style, flow, consistency, accuracy etc.) is freelanced out. This means opportunity, once schooling is completed of course. But at what cost?

Much in the same way I think Creative Writing and English (studies) are at odds (construction vs. deconstruction), I think Editing and Writing may be opposing also, though not to the same extent. The job is all consuming. Most of the work revolves around ensuring the publishing machine is running smoothly: money is being put in the right places, copywriters are doing their jobs, the author is happy. At the end of the day, the editor takes the manuscripts home with him to read in his "off hours". This, of course, would be the exact time he should be working on his own material.
An even more complex notion is the issue of becoming a part of the publishing collective; your brain begins to self edit your work to suit the publisher, not your own sense of voice and style. This is perhaps the most deadly of outcomes. Publishing houses are choosing books for their marketability these days, their potential to sell to whatever demographic will offer the most money. It's a business sadly removed from any romantic love of the written word. Most writers cater to the publishing houses, then to the market, then to whatever remnants of their creative voice they feel they have left. Take a look at the bestseller lists in the supermarkets. Horrible tripe most of the time, and yet these are the authors who make the most money. I don't want to fall into that plastic, soulless realm. But, in the same breath, I want to have my work read... even at the risk of it being disliked.

So the trick is finding that razor's edge, that precarious perch where I can balance both my writing, my responsibility, and... my ego. What a vain existence. Slip one way and I'm a sell out. Slip the other way and I've become narcissistic for the sake of some dim vision of art. Stay perched on the edge and I'm safe and... mediocre. And this is all assuming that I have something to offer the industry to begin with. Writers are an underpaid, prattling lot. I suspect many write one way to survive, and another way to experience their lives fully. This is what I would love to be able to do.

January 2, 2007

Jumping to Contusions with New Year's Resolutions

Right, so the holidays are finished. Everyone has consumed far too much of everything, groaned their way through meaningless conversation and sweaty hugs from pungent relatives otherwise forgotten. So now what? Back to work? Same old thing? Or is this the new era of [insert name here]?

I realized, a long time ago, that I failed at every single New Year’s resolution I ever made. They were always losing battles to begin with: stop cussing for a year, memorize the Bible, no more awkward, longing gazes at attractive girls too old for me in high school. That sort of thing. But now, whenever New Year’s rolls around, I feel a void. Am I supposed to be making active changes to better myself as a person? After all, 2006 was a bust, so now I have to begin 2007 with some element of evolution in mind, progression and such?

In writing, there is an endless amount of growth required. My biggest issues are complacency, distraction, and often self-defeat. I find it easy to talk myself out of writing for the day simply by assuming that I will not get anything accomplished to begin with. Lack of seeing the big picture, really. And I doubt I am alone in this. It doesn’t even have to be about writing. Any artistic project outside of the realm of every day work can take a back seat to flicking on the television and watching Seinfeld reruns.

So, in the spirit of wanting more from myself, recognizing shortcomings (and there are many), and wanting to be disciplined enough to push past them, I’ve stolen my resolutions for the year from Ginny Wiehardt’s writing suggestions posted on, a decent resource for fiction writers if you can get past all the damn ads.

Top Ten Resolutions for 2007.

I figure the odds are in my favor. With ten resolutions to work with, even if I fail at a few of them I can still make the passing grade, yes? Nothing like setting my sights as high as possible (that’s sarcasm, folks).

What about you other writers? Any resolutions you have that are missing from this list?