It’s NOT about a Poet – It’s NOT about Poetry

WOW! It’s the 1-year anniversary of the release of my second novel, SEBASTIAN’S POET! I can’t believe it. Where did the time go!?

happy_birthday_cake_with_candles-1680x1050

It seems quite a few potential readers of Sebastian’s Poet are a bit worried the novella might be about a poet…or poetry. NOT THE CASE. (-: Turns out it may be a scary title for some. I can assure you, though, that no poets were killed (or harmed in any way…or uplifted in any way, for that matter) in the making of Sebastian’s Poet. The ‘Poet’ in Sebastian’s Poet is actually a 1970s folk singer. Teal Landen is his name and he is completely fictional. But I did ‘borrow’ him from reality.

Growing up, I had an ‘uncle’ who often spent the night on our couch. In fact there is one scene in Sebastian’s Poet that is directly autobiographical. This ‘uncle’ of mine was (is) a HUGE Toronto Maple Leafs fan. In the 70s, they weren’t quite as hot as that decade’s formidable Montreal Canadiens. There is a scene in the novella where Teal Landen talks hockey with the narrator, Sebastian Nelson (Nelson is a town in New Brunswick, Canada, where a lot of my relatives live. You will also find Nelson in my first novel, Summer on Fire. Nelson is the town that book takes place in). Teal would often bet with Sebastian on hockey games–Teal would take Toronto and Sebastian would take Montreal. Every morning, there would be a pile of change on the coffee table–Sebastian’s take from the bet. Because in those days Montreal always won. That scene was right out of my life growing up with an ‘uncle’ Gerald. I can’t tell you how many times his bets ended with him emptying his pockets of change. When they didn’t, my brother and I would still get a cash grab…there was always change inside the couch after Uncle Gerald stayed over.

In that way that writers have of making characters out of composites of many, I formed Teal not only as a tribute to my ‘uncle’ but also as a tribute to Leonard Cohen. Theft is SUCH a strong word. The character is neither Leonard nor Gerald…but there are glimpses of both in Teal. If you take recipe ingredients, smash them together in a mixing bowl–incorporate them into each other–you will have something new. Most often the new thing won’t resemble any of the ingredients. But the hint of those ingredients will be found in the resulting mixture. That’s Teal Landen. He’s part Gerald, part Leonard, part imagination.

I promise you…there is no poetry in this book. (-: It’s the story of a famous man crashing at this kid’s place…and of how involved he becomes with the kid and his family. And of how he changes the family as they change him. Teal just happens to be a Canadian icon. There’s even a scene where he does a duet with the real life Canadian icon, GORDON LIGHTFOOT.

Here’s the book trailer for SEBASTIAN’S POET:

If poetry scares you, give Sebastian’s Poet a try…it contains not a word of poetry. (-;

Click on the cover:

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  This novel was written during the 2007 Muskoka Novel Marathon – in a 48-hour period. It took home the BEST ADULT NOVEL AWARD for that year. (-: I’m heading up to the marathon in another 3 weeks or so. I have no idea what will come out of that marathon…but if it’s 1/3 as fun a ride as Sebastian’s Poet was to write, I’ll be more than happy!

Find out what others are saying about this book at GOODREADS.

Harvesting the Writer Brain and Eavesdropping Your Way to Better Dialogue

As writers, we all have our own ways to capture those ideas that flit in and out of our brains a million times a day. Sometimes, the trick is to grab on to the right ones…and to let those less than stellar ones float back into the morass from which they came. The brain is like a TV screen on crack. We all know this. It’s often the loudest idea that gets the most attention, too (kind of like when you’re channel surfing and you run into Jersey Shore—you know it’s a brainless horrible creation that you should not even glimpse at. BUT it’s just SO loud and neon-glow like. Its sheer horribleness makes you stop surfing for a minute. Maybe even so you can just scream at your TV for having such a vile thing on it). The loudest idea is not always the good one. When you’re fighting for attention, though, you can really be convincing (cue a knock-down screaming brawl on Jersey Shore—don’t change that channel!).

The writer’s job is to listen…to try to catch a glimmer of each of the ideas as they float past. AND to know that the best idea could be under a quagmire of very bad ideas. To harvest the best ideas takes practice. How we practice is of no significance. That we practice is.

For me, I like to jot down ideas on little scraps of paper as they come to me. I remember to have a pen handy at all times. There was a time when I carried a little notebook, but I found that to be less effective than scribbling on scrap paper. A word of advice…if you prefer to carry around a notebook, make sure it is neither very pretty nor very cool. It’s pretty crappy when you have this perfectly good journal and you don’t want to mess it up with writing. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I attempted the notebook again recently, when I found a very cool one. I carried it around for several days. The pen paused over its awesome pages many a time. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sully it with ink. How useless is that?!

My uber cool and drastically empty Andy Warhol Journal!
My uber cool and drastically empty Andy Warhol Journal!

So, I always have a pile of shopping receipts in my pockets and I scrawl little notes on them in the most interesting of ways. At times, the writing goes in a circular route around the outside of the receipt…so I can fit everything in that I want to write. It looks messy, it’s hard to keep track of…but no beautiful notebooks are dying at my hand. You never know when the ideas will hit. Even if all you have on you is your smart-phone, make sure you have a memo app that you can open quickly and add notes to on the fly. The brain thinks…that’s what it does. Listen to that thinking. The next Great Canadian (American) Novel might fly past you one day. You have to be ready to grab onto it and go for the ride.

My less than pretty highly functional shopping receipts. A great 'mason jar' in which to trap my ideas.
My less than pretty highly functional shopping receipts. A great ‘mason jar’ in which to trap my ideas.

I find the smart-phone memo app most helpful when I’m dialogue-surfing. What? That’s really a thing. It’s one of my most favourite games. When I’m out and about my day I seek out the quirky people. You just know the quirky ones are gonna throw out some bitchin’ dialogue. And if it’s out there, it’s up for grabs. Nobody suspects a thing—sort of—when you’re standing beside them thumping your smart-phone keys at the same rate that they’re talking. They’ll just think you’re texting a friend. Just don’t forget you’re not actually a stenographer…don’t ask them to repeat a line if you missed it. (-: So, yeah, shopping receipts for ideas from the brain-screen and smart-phone for dialogue-surfing. That pretty much sums up my needs as an idea harvester. It’s not how you trap the idea. It’s what you do with it once you have it. Remember that it doesn’t have to be pretty.

Whether you jot down your ideas and borrowed dialogue on toilet paper or on a beautiful leather-bound journal, think of them as fireflies in a mason jar. They’re awfully pretty. Make sure you follow the prettiest…not the loudest.

 

Past Generation’s On Writing – W. Somerset Maugham – The Summing Up

This is a perfect read for those who enjoy their information delivered to them through storytelling. Think of a past generation’s On Writing. Like Stephen King did in his opus on the craft of writing, W. Somerset Maugham takes the reader to wonderful places while sharing truths and insights into the life and work of the writer. Keep a pen handy; you will want to take copious notes and pin them above your workstation for inspiration.

Whether you’re a novelist or a playwright, you’ll be delighted by the backstage pass Maugham offers. His self-deprecating humour and honesty will resonate with your inner writer—how refreshing to learn such an acclaimed writer had the same insecurities as we ourselves experience as writers. His thorough description of theatre, playwriting and the relationships between writer, actors, director and audience are golden. Reading about his theatre experiences and play creation process will feel like a workshop experience.

The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham
The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham

 Throughout Maugham’s thought-provoking and educational narrative, there is much for writers to contemplate. On giving up on novel writing to focus on playwriting – ‘Thank God, I can look at a sunset now without having to think how to describe it.’ His best advice for playwrights – ‘I think the secret of playwriting can be given in two maxims: stick to the point and whenever you can, cut.’

Alas, as insightful and bang-on as most of his teachings on writing are in this extraordinary glimpse into a writer’s life, the last quarter of the book drags as he leaves writing behind and hits on the topic of philosophy. Nevertheless, The Summing Up will strike a chord with all writers. The price of admission for this amazing writerly wisdom? The rants of a man in search of his personal philosophy. His philosophy ramblings aside, though, I highly recommend this book.

My favourite quote from THE SUMMING UP:

“Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.”

Tragically Hip Not Tragic. Gord Downie FTW

Saw The Hip in concert last night in Cobourg. Before the happy rant, how about the setlist?

  1. At Transformation
  2. Grace Too
  3. Escape Is At Hand For The Travellin’ Man
  4. Man Machine Poem
  5. Gift Shop
  6. Ahead By A Century
  7. Streets Ahead
  8. Flamenco
  9. Poets
  10. Daredevil
  11. We Want To Be It
  12. Fully Completely
  13. Wheat Kings
  14. New Orleans Is Sinking > Nautical Disaster > New Orleans Is Sinking
  15. Fire In The Hole
  16. Goodnight Attawapiskat
  17. Blow At High Dough

 

And the all-important encore:

  1. My Music At Work
  2. At The Hundredth Meridian
  3. Bobcaygeon
  4. Courage
  5. Little Bones

 

 

Gord Downie. How does one describe Gord Downie to anybody who has never attended a Hip concert? I’m not sure it can be done. I want to say he’s a cross between David Byrne of the Talking Heads and Jim Carey of the Jim Carey. But that doesn’t quite capture the uniqueness that is Gord Downie. He’s basically a cross between Gord Downie and Gord Downie.

Last night he was in full SOUTHERN GENTLEMAN PERSONA. His handkerchief was a fine prop. He used it both to wipe away his perspiration and to dust off any seat he chose to take about the stage. And he also used it for his feats of death-defying hanky magic as he fought with his mic stand. The man is a walking piece of performance art. He writes some of the best lyrics in modern music and he tells a story every time he sings a song. It’s no wonder his stage presence is so unutterably powerful.

Once, a long time ago in a world far far asunder, I was a poet. I had a poem about Gord Downie published. It went something like this:

An Open Letter of Adoration to Gordon Downie

 Did you ever see a hypothetical sky, Gordo?
The kind that strips the greys away,
swallows clouds and shivers stars to focus?
Did you ever rest supine, dockside
midnight hush,
or did you simply like the way
it fell from your iconic tongue,
beautiful, sublime and free,
filled with nostalgia and tears
of Bobcaygeon love?
Did you ever hypothetical, Gordo?
Twist your words to night
and black and white?
Or did you simply like the way
they fell, iconic from your tongue?
You fill your lungs with melancholy, Gordo,
and send it on its way,
bright the night with shivered sound,
delivering metaphorical, but one star at a time.

Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip. Cobourg, Ontario. June 20/13
Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip. Cobourg, Ontario. June 20/13

If you ever get the opportunity to take in The Hip, don’t turn it down. They are Canadiana at its best.

When You’re Sleepless, Madness…er…Magic Happens!

I know I’ve been talking a lot about the Muskoka Novel Marathon lately, but I can’t help it. It’s coming. Like a freight train that sneaks up on ya when you’re walkin’ the tracks and singing old Buddy Holly tunes. Or…yeah! Blancmange! “See the train go down the track”.

The atmosphere of the marathon is such a magical non-quantifiable thing. You cannot write about it and do it justice. You just can’t. You try to stay up all weekend, you write non-stop…but you also socialize non-stop. You eat non-stop. You listen to music non-stop. Skip the light fandangle, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a high like no other.

As if there isn’t enough going on to warp your mind, you step out of the building on the Saturday night and the streets are turned into a carnival of milk chocolately, caramel stickable gooeyness. Because…don’t close your eyes…you have walked into the strange and magical world of Nuit Blanche North. Art installations and crickety crawling stilt-walking juggling sensations. And what would a Nuit be without a fire-eater.

(Just a side note, I love that most of my words today are being underlined in red squiggly lines.)

When THIS is happening INSIDE at the Novel Marathon, you pray that you will find sanity OUTSIDE! (-:
When THIS is happening INSIDE at the Novel Marathon, you pray that you will find sanity OUTSIDE! (-:

I always think of that classic line from Bill & Ted when I’m at the marathon. “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K!” That pretty much sums up the marathon. Just when you think you have to get outside to embrace a reality that is NORMAL, you walk out into this:

487676_10150921990482021_1957472384_nAnd this:

524078_10150921986312021_597850662_nBut before you run off down the street like a madman, you take a hard look at your surroundings and you realize that things are just as they should be. Writing a novel in a weekend SHOULD be a magical experience. Your heart SHOULD stop every now and again. You need these moments of wonder peppered throughout the weekend. It’s another classic reason for me to haul out that overused saying of mine. “Don’t be afraid to eat the dishes!” You’re gonna have some hard times over a 72-hour writing period. You’ll get cranky. You’ll get tired. You’ll get bloated. You’ll get indigestion out the wazoo! You need to step out of the world and into a carnival.

I’m sure that’s why the city planners threw Nuit Blanche into our weekend. They knew that into every novel marathoner’s life, a little magic must fall.

306834_10150922247147021_383794412_nThe tree that you see above ^ is a tree completely wrapped and enshrouded in TIES. Yes, ties. I sat beside that tree for about half an hour before I saw it at last year’s marathon. At first, that scared me. But when I stopped to think about it, it was pretty par for the course. I was, after all, writing. We marathoners took turns writing in the street in downtown Huntsville. We were our own art installation…and we collected a nice sum of money for the cause (the literacy program of the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka). If you see us out in the middle of the street this July, BRING MONEY!

487375_10150922244967021_222067843_nI guess the lesson there is DON’T EXPECT TO QUESTION THE EFFICACY OF A TIE TREE WHEN YOU’RE MARATHONING. Or something like that.

531760_10150921991952021_1573570157_nDid I say juggling fire-eaters and stilt walkers? I think I meant fire-juggling stilt-walkers.

309348_10150923397417021_1104448547_nYou’ve heard of the player piano, I’m sure. But did you know that Huntsville had a play-me piano. Right there in the street. Just waitin’ to be played. How frickin’ awesome-sauce is that! My only complaint? I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY A PIANO! I wish I did. That corner of the downtown core would be hoppin’! This year, one of my goals is to get a fellow marathoner punchin’ those keys to an awesome sing-a-long song. Or something like that.

382421_10150922163617021_777831740_nWRITING! It really does happen at these things! I have 5 novels to prove it. This is a shot of my screen during Nuit Blanche. If you want to know the height of exhilaration and dare-devilness, just write a novel in the street while hundreds of people are walking by reading over your shoulder! YIKES. Okay…I know you’re probably thinking that jumping out of an airplane is a whole new plateau of exhilaration that is miles above writing in the street. So what. By it’s very nature, it would have to be at least a mile above a street. There’d be no exhilaration jumping out of an airplane that’s parked on the runway. For a writer, public writing under a microscope pretty much does it for adrenalin rush-hour kicks.

So, am I excited for this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon? Nah. Nothing good ever happens at these things. Just. BIC (bum-in-chair) writing. Nothing else. Move along. Nothing to see here (or do I mean see-hear-smell-touch-taste?)!

(And If) I’m Sinking – TSOTW Will Pick Me Up…

Ever feel like you just can’t do ANYTHING right? In every single nook and cranny of your life?

Whenever this happens to me—and it happens a lot—I try to step back. I mean, I’m already taking two steps forward and six steps back, right…might as well just take another step back to analyze the situation. Sometimes analyzing isn’t even what it needs. Sometimes you just need to drop the needle down onto the right record. One of my go-to “Save-me-from-my-fucking-fucked-up-life” songs is IF VENICE IS SINKING. This song picks me the fuck up…makes me whole again. There are a few songs out there that do the trick. I wonder if everybody has these songs on standby? Or if I’m just a freak? Don’t answer that question. I’d rather be blissfully unaware.

I’m going to plug my battery pack into The Spirit of the West today. So many lines in that song that just cut me to my soul. “…‘cause beauty’s religion and it christens me with wonder…” TSOTW looked into the pit of my brain and pulled that line up. One of the things that seriously gets me to move forward in life is beauty. The beauty inside. The beauty around. The beauty of words. The beauty of poison (80s reference snuck in for fun!). All of it! It really does christen me with wonder. SO when I need a reminder of this, I just put that song on…and I sail away.

“They come in bent-backed
Creeping ‘cross the floor all dressed in black
Candles, thick as pillars
You can buy one off the floor
And the ceiling’s painted gold
Mary’s hair is red
The old come here to kiss their dead” ~ The Spirit of the West – If Venice is Sinking

So let’s have it. What’s your life-raft song? When you’re down, what gets you up?