If Only Reviewers Could Write Like This

I recently attended a conference in Kenyon College where one writing colleague, although young, was astounding in his engagement with the work.

“It’s…” Sean jabbed a finger out, pulled it back just as quick, snapping his fingers, once, twice, bowing his head, eyes closed. “I’m jiving with this. I totally am. I’m just riding this train until it gives out.” He paused, looking up. “Something is getting fucked, in a bad way.”

Sean would have made a great member of Love Portal, a group who once performed in NYC

“That’s exactly it. Unless you disagree.” He bent forward with kindness, reaching for her understanding. “It’s up for debate. I can’t remember what I said a second ago. Oh, right, yes. City life. Absolutely fascinating. I know nothing about it. I think that’s really very awesome. It all feels so urgent. Ardent. Just caring about—just caring about that. It’s a very cool thought.”

Writing Process: Characters Need to be Disgusting

Readers are troubled by Dee Sinclair because she acts like doesn’t care about others. If she doesn’t care about people, why should we care about her? That’s the thing.

She needs to be more raw, more awful and wrong, more revolting and lost. It’s about that, her disgustingness. We will care about her because we’re all disgusting.

Effective Montage: Writing Process

Effective montage moves the story with a series of poignant moments. One only has to think of the Rocky montage to appreciate the potential: Mr. Balboa going from drinking raw eggs to surmounting the steps of the Philadelphia Arts Museum in the final iconic shot.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Montage has become so commonplace that a more sophisticated approach is needed, perhaps with a gag and non-sequiturs or two; otherwise the audience gets bored.

Such is my current issue in Anori. Dee Sinclair spends a year aboard a ship, collecting animals from across the world with a group of biologists. The montage of eight locations – moving from Lisbon to the Galapagos – is there to emphasize the power of the expedition along with Dee’s isolation from others.

Lonely sea lion pup on Fernadina Island, Galapagos

Army escorts appear, pirates attack, and Dee observes oddly from a distance throughout, not because she isn’t affected by the dramatics but more so that she doesn’t feel connected to any of it. But does it work? I don’t know.

The Goldilocks Frequency in The Writing Process

“Thanks much” or “Much thanks“? I go back and forth between what Tony would say. I am never happy with either and continue the fruitless search through “Many thanks”, “So Much Thanks”, “Thanks As Always” or even “Kind of you”, until I end up back where I started. “Thanks much”.

Tony says things to get attention and pretends that he doesn’t. He mutters and stutters, his face forward to be listened to and then acts as if he doesn’t want anyone to hear. It’s a question of not overdoing that about Tony. Too much it’s caricature; not enough it’s obtuse. I need the Goldilocks frequency for this phrase.

The Cx Trilogy: The Book That Will Get Humanity Back On Track

As crazed as it sounds, that my deep-down aim for The Cx Trilogy. I can feel like I am insane not because I am but because of the insanity to which I am subjected. And so it’s not a burden as a release knowing these things, getting them out of my head so that I can help us get on with it and make things as they should have been a long time ago.

Fallen Greek columns in Termessos, Turkey

Get one with what, you ask? Why, treating people like shit because they don’t have power. It’s that simple. And it’s something we should have figured out a while ago, the 9th century at least. (Fuck all those plague/dark age excuses.) Okay, maybe the 15th century. But the 21st?!? Come on! How many chances can we miss? Allowing Hitler on the scene and then Trump and all of the other fuckers in between? Huh? What? And now we think we are close to being on track for what? Acceptance? Understanding? For anything other than obliteration? That’s just dumb and weird.

Inflatable Christmas penguins at The Brooklyn Navy Yard

Anyway, the book, yes, that, getting humanity back on track. It’s actually about leaving this planet on an generational journey to a distant planet to start anew. And it’s got everything in it: sex, exotic cats, epic action and deep fucking thoughts. And I aim to have it out for you by the end of the year. (If we make it.)

Character Development: Keeping It Real

I blogged three days ago on the importance of a character being nebulous. I then watched Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

Handheld screenshot from I’m Thinking of Ending Things

While I’m fan of Kaufman’s work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Anomalisa, et al) and admire a writer’s attempt to pry open the meaning of self, this film makes nebulous look adamantine. Characters swimming in vagaries of subconscious angst. All that. And…no.

A story can’t be all dreams and poetry and philosophy because there’s no place for the reader to hang their hat. Definable characters are needed. Without them, we’re nothing.

Writing Hideout: Writing as a Mask

I hide in my writing. It is clear in my notes for The Young Chronicles series. I didn’t write about things that happened – seeing Beatlemania in Saskatoon, not even the guy who offered me a blow job – but instead about drivel that would embarrass an illiterate.

Reading through my notes from my Canadian Hitchhiking trip in 1983 is squirm-worthy.

Much of my writing is like that – everything from my bullshit poetry to my first attempt at prose – a lowlight reel proving I should have stopped long, long ago.

A thankfully brief extract from a story I wrote in 1984, Ulvand’s World. Even the titles…God.

I went on to write about prostitutes, 9/11 and outer space, everything but me.

Detail of a cover design from a story written in 1994

So why blog about it now, you ask? I’m getting to that. (I hope.)

The McPhedran Way – A Typical (Bad) Day in My Writing Process

6:30 am Play Fishdom and Words With Friends. No thoughts on writing.

8:30 am Play Fishdom. Read emails, watch YouTube videos and search for “inspiration” by porn surfing. A general malaise dominates thinking.

11:00 am Half think about writing but retreat from that, afraid to start.

12:30 pm Lunch. Watch random bits of film – anything from Battleship to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

2:00 pm Ride stationary bike and listen to intense music (Rage Against the Machine, Cheap Trick, Nine Inch Nails, etc.) in an attempt to get brain moving. Watch birds flying past, beds being changed in hotel rooms across the street and people working in adjoining business. Writing problems do not come to mind.

Entertaining things can occasionally be seen in Artezan Hotel.

3:00 pm Read more emails, watch more videos and porn. Snack.

4:30 pm Open the Anori document. Close it. Play Words with Friends and Fishdom.

8:00 pm Think about what I might do tomorrow

So it goes on a bad day. Which oddly enough can lead to a good day.

Writing Process: Lost Images

As of late, I have been scouring through old images (prints, negatives and slides) in search of material for my Young Chronicles series. However there is one picture I cannot find, that of a boy looking back through the gap between a bus seat and the wall. All I can find is this lesser shot of his hand.

Boy’s hand on bus trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Not being able to find the image of the boy haunts me in an odd way. I don’t know how I could have lost it and look for it again and again. To no avail.

The feeling reminds me of a fruitless search as a boy at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. There had been a exhibition on the Amazon that I had loved, but it was a temporary thing and had vanished forever.

Searching for the lost Amazon exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

That didn’t stop me from endlessly searching the corridors and rooms, peaking behind the dioramas, looking for the secret passageway that would lead me back to that magical place. I am still looking for that.

U Turn Memory

I have a memory, if it can be called that, a moving image that bubbles up when I’m writing.

It is of a stretch of road called Marine Drive, connecting North and West Vancouver. It’s a thoroughfare, three lanes each way, thick with strip malls and autobody shops on each side.

Nothing happened there that I can remember. I just have to make a U turn. That’s the memory. I have to get back to something. Not a place, but a person, someone I left on the side of the road. And I am waiting to make that turn.

Not Marine Drive, not even close to it.

But I never make the turn because the light doesn’t change. I just wait and look at the orange and white sign for the autobody shop across the way.