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Friday, March 25, 2011

Open Book Toronto...

Open Book Toronto has accepted my blog so I'll be posting there as well. I figure I'll keep this blog to post more profane type stuff since people of all ages can access Open Book Toronto.

I have to extend big kudos to the Managing Editor of OBT, Clelia Scala (is that one helluva name or what?). She's been so pleasant and professional and helpful, the woman is a dynamo.

One thing that's kind of strange, there is a page on OBT called Author Blogs, and it lists all the writers who have blogs on the website. The most recent posts put the writer's photo and a headline at the top of the page.
So if you blog all the time, your posts appear at the top. The problem is, a lot of these writers on OBT start out posting all the time but eventually lose interest so their last post is sometime months, even years old.

Me, I write obsessively and constantly, using the blog to get out material I wouldn't use in a manuscript about a specific story. So the end result would be that my blog posts would always be at the top of the Open Book Toronto Author Blogs page, as if I'm some kind of "blog hog." People will start asking: "Who is this guy with the black cat and why is his shit always at the top?"
It's a weird dilemma. Well, I guess we'll see how it works out...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Reading out loud...

I've been busy as a one-armed paper-hanger lately, as the old expression goes. Mostly I've been rehearsing the hell out of the stuff I'm going to read this Monday night at The Painted Lady.
Of course, I'm nervous as hell, always terrified of causing a single yawn. The way I figure it, I owe the audience a great deal for making the effort to come out and hear me. No, they're not paying money but they are paying the most valuable thing they own - their time, their precious time, willing to spend what they will never ever get back.

I feel an enormous sense of responsibility. So the goal is to make sure what I'm giving them is even remotely worth that slice of time - what I'm giving them is somewhere within the realm of the other acts and experiences they could have taken part in or carried out instead of coming to see me.

In the end I just want to distract people from their daily grind for a few moments - take them away from their dull routine - cuz we all have a dull routine. As a long gone friend of mine used to say, 'Life is mostly maintenance' and man, was she right. So much time spent on self-upkeep, and then a quarter to a third of your existence spent unconscious so that doesn't leave much - three-quarters of a century at the very most, a mere sliver of time, gone before you know it.

So I rehearse and rehearse, carefully re-write the passages I have chosen to be read aloud, when much of the descriptive linkage can be left out. No need to say a character shouted or sighed or whatever, I can do that while reading to the audience. So the manuscript must be altered slightly to eliminate that kind of redundancy, make it more visceral and less literary - re-create that world in three dimensions.

After doing a couple readings in the past 7 or 8 months, I'm still in panic mode while rehearsing, feeling as if I can barely breathe, stammering, ready to burst into tears. But when I get on stage, it all melts away and as long as I concentrate on the words, I'm fine. I guess that's the key, don't let your mind wander, stay inside the story, the scene, live that world...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mount Royal novel excerpt for March 28th reading...

As I keep telling everyone, I'm doing a reading on March 28th at a bar called The Painted Lady. I've been trying choose which passages to use from Mount Royal, the novel Tightrope Books will be publishing. In the next day or two I must decide on what I'll be reading since I have to get down to rehearsing the shit out of the thing in order to provide some entertainment value. Here's one of the two excerpts I'm thinking of...
INTRO/CONTEXT:
At this point, the protagonist, Johnny, has been anointed the neighborhood dealer by The Man after they meet at a local bar. After The Man leaves, Johnny goes into the men’s room to do a shot of the start-up sample he’s just received from his new boss. When Johnny comes back out, Slim has arrived…

Coming back out to the front of the bar, I see Slim wander in with her latest dudeski. He’s a rebuilt musicologist gone urban cool. His name’s Bob, of all things, a vested yokel that’s grown a little phony-tail. I’ve heard he’s on a first name basis with the door apes at the hottest clubs. He takes Slim along as an all-access pass to private album launch parties and exclusive interviews with taciturn, ego-heavy art rockers. Bob works hard. He maneuvers to get caught in candid magazine shots with Slim on his arm.
And she does wash up well, an effortless switch from old and busted jeans to chic sophistication in her little black dress, the elegant jawline, the white-blonde hair, her long graceful fingers - she requires no cosmetics.
Slim sits at the bar while Bob takes a table with the rapidly ascending Dred Blanc, rag-headed leader of The Fuss. Bob will collect incisive quotes and awe-inspiring anecdotes then spiel long and earnest in Montreal’s weekly alternative paper, The Mirror.
I go over and join Slim. “So, how’s it going with Bobbo? Charity drive winding down or what?”
She gives me half a smirk. “Shut up, Johnny.”
“I’m taking over from Tony.”
“Way to go,” she deadpans. “When’s this supposed to happen?”
“Right now. I’ve got a nice sample.”
That makes her swivel round and shove a knee between my legs. Bob shoots us distracted looks. He can’t concentrate on the interview that’s supposed to turn into a scarifying indictment of the local alt-music scene. I can see the hot vein of doubt wind round his throat. He tries to ward me off with a lame glare but his whole withered way is being lashed to a gurney and wheeled out. Dred Blanc instantly picks up on it, quickly cuts off Bob’s exclusive and goes over to join his band, who sit around drinking shots and beer.
I’d seen Slim and Bob on the Main a couple days ago. Bob’s worried face had scanned over the shoppers and sidewinders. He’d peered up the street as if there was a place they could go where Slim would wear his license plate. But she’d only lanked along beside him, not doing anything to prove he was more than random.
He shuffles over to us, hang-dog, grumbles something to Slim with an aggressive whisper then goes off to try and exercise damage control with Dred and his crew. After a minute, Slim tugs on my arm.
“C’mon, let’s go.”
I’d bet serious money that once we left, Bob looked around from his intense one-on-one with The Fuss and was gutted to see the two empty bar stools. After-action reports will verify that he pulled a face while Dred and his band half sung, half talked a sneering, off-key version of Slip Slidin’ Away. Bobbo’s street cred is instantly napalmed. Okay, you, back to covering the environment beat.
He eventually works up the nerve to demand answers and storms across the Main. Slim’s got my cock in her hand when we hear the door buzzer go off repeatedly with long angry bursts.
I look up. “What the fuck…”
“Just ignore him.”
Bob starts to pound. Bam Bam Bam. Then silence. He’ll scramble into the overgrown lot behind Schwartz’s just in time to look up and see Slim’s light go out. Without the sheer stupid bollocks to boot down doors or come up the fire escape, Bob returns to the bar to drink and stew and occasionally gaze up at Slim’s attic from across the road. He runs through everything he’ll tell her, all the razor sharp afterthoughts that would cut her to the quick if she actually gave a shit.
Going to the can to take a piss, Bob unzips but there’s nothing to pull out. Gone! Cock, balls, the works, even his asshole’s disappeared, all of it smooth as a Ken doll. The wily slut, he realizes, she did this to me!
Bob finds an illegal Viet Min doctor with a falsified veterinary license who rewires his plumbing. Despite a support group of similarly afflicted victims quickly forming around Bob, it all ends badly when La Cabane staff are horrified to discover him head first in a toilet, drowned. Since Bob turns out to be the scion of a prominent Anglo-Quebecois publishing family, a brass memorial plaque is mounted on the stall door.
Slim wriggles out of her dress, the best piece of clothing she owns, and carefully puts it on a padded hanger. Underneath she wears nothing but panties. No lacey bra or silk stockings or frilly garters or any of that shit is necessary. She looks down and examines the length of her body with a shrewd appraiser’s eye, judging the minutes that drag along the flesh, indomitable force of gravity working on anything left alive. She’d once told me her few stretch marks are from taking the pill too young.
Descended from Scottish jailbirds given a new lease on life in the colonies to go forth and build the suburbs from whence their willful daughters may emerge. She took along a memento of finding Pops alone in the midnight basement, pants around his ankles, old fleshtone magazine held at his belly; part of the collection he’d thought so well hidden in the rafters, never to realize she’d added a headless shot of her own body to his scrapbook. She would quietly close the laundry room door, leave the poor bastard with a fistful of himself and catch his eye just before the latch clicked shut.
She sat at her teenage vanity table and studied the adolescent breasts in the mirror, worried about her thin lips and limp blonde hair and regretted never seeing the desperate shadowy men her step-mother had warned were right outside the window, in the empty fields across the road, the step-mom who forced to her to use a pad instead of a tampon.
Those shadowy men must be out there, she’d thought as the Open City glimmered in the distance across the Saint Lawrence. Then eventually go back down to the basement to coax Pops out of a wide-mouthed slumber while the CBC played the national anthem to end the night’s telecast.
Her main indictable offense was reading too much and correcting inane and erroneous statements at the dinner table. This resulted in ultimatums that would eventually mean no more speechless meals of canned ham, rice-a-roni and re-runs of The Tommy Hunter Show, all of them living around Pop’s rotating work hours because there wasn’t a better pension plan to be had in the whole province.
There would be no more five dollars in an unsigned greeting card for coming home with straight A’s. No more grounded for six weeks at a time for crimes never even considered, to lie in her room, endlessly jerk off and wonder about those desperate shadowy men.
When she left to catch a city bound bus, step-mom watched from the front window as Pops was in the backyard, engrossed in the engine noise of his lawn-tractor. She phoned a few weeks later from a group home. They said hardly anything and their silence sounded like nothing more than relief. Now, a decade later, Slim still has no trouble coming. It’s what to do with the body afterwards.
“Bob’s probably crying at the bottom of your stairs.”
Slim squats next to me on the bed. “Bob’s ridiculous. He thinks I’m orgasmic because of him.”
“So what are you gonna do with the poor slob?”
“I dunno. It’s a real drag. Too bad he can’t relax, he’s got a nice cock on him.”
She leans into me, her index finger traces down my chest and finds a small black bruise beside my right nipple. There’s a nasty hemorrhage under the skin.
“This one looks new. Is Jane back?”
“No, it’s Hennessy’s.”
Slim pushes on it to bring up a jolt of pain. “Must have really hurt.” She moves on and gravitates to her favorite scar, the one running down my ribs.
“Hi there,” she murmurs and begins to nip and bite to re-open the wound.


Afterwards, we’re sitting in her kitchen, pretty much naked and drinking beer, semi on the nod, bullshitting some more about Bobbo. Even from the rear of Slim’s apartment we can hear the over-loud, booze and drug-fueled conversations outside La Cabane and Bar Saint-Laurent across the Main. It’s a familiar, comforting noise.
There’s a soft knock at the back door fire escape. Slim squints at the interruption.
“Shit. I hope it’s not Bob.”
She goes to answer and for paranoia’s sake, I reach back and pull a big carving knife from the dish drainer. When she opens up, I catch sight of a young guy with curly black hair, acne scars and a scraggly bit of beard, most of it below the jaw line - the hairy chinstrap. He wears a formless blue windbreaker, as if he’s here to read a meter. The doofus carries a small bouquet of cheap convenience store flowers. Slim wears nothing but my long-tailed shirt hung open. I’ve got on exactly one sock, a paint-splattered American Devices t-shirt and her ex-boyfriend’s Montreal Royals ballcap.
The guy at the door, his face erupts with stunned elation until he notices me in the background. His mouth turns into a big trembling O. Slim pushes away the proffered flowers with an eviscerating nasal boredom.
“I’m busy.”
He slowly backpedals. She closes the door and sits back down.
“Who is that?”
“Some guy. I met him at one of the bars. I think his name’s Gamil.”
“Slim, you gotta cool it with the mercy fucks.”
She lays her forehead in her palm. “Yeah, I know…”

An hour or so later I get dressed and going out the side door, I almost trip over the flower guy. He jumps to his feet.
“What are you doing?” I confront him. “She’s not gonna be too happy with you loitering down here.”
“Uh… I, uh, just want to talk to her,” he says with a slight Joual accent. “Are you her boyfriend?”
I’m in no mood for this asshole ruining my red letter night. “C’mon, man. She fucked you once or twice. Isn’t that enough? Don’t stalk her. If she wants to see you again, she’ll find you.” I poke him in the chest. “Don’t fuck with her or you’ll fuck with me, understand?”
“I am not stalking her!”
“Look, why don’t you just get the fuck outa here.”
“Don’t tell me to fuck off,” the guy bridles and puffs up a bit, as if he’s ready to throw down.
Now I’m really not in the mood. I slap him open-handed, hard. My palm stings. He reels backwards and grabs his face with genuine shock.
“Hey! Why did you do that!?”
“Get the fuck away from here and don’t come back.” I snatch a dusty wine bottle from a case of empties by the door. “You small time piece of shit, I’ll slit your fuckin’ throat!”
He glares at me, still hanging onto his precious mug, scoots off at high-speed then yells back. “You are ignorant! Read Celine, if you can read! Read the quatrains! Nostradamus knows who I am! He wrote about me!”
Oh, he’s one of those guys. The war book reading, Illuminati and UFO-obsessed, Star Trek loving techno-feeb who never got laid in high school and wants the whole fucking world to pay for it.
“Sure thing, Chinstrap! Time for you to go home and suck Hitler’s pecker again. Why doncha join the fucking army? Your fellow closet-cases await!”
He cocks an imaginary pump action shotgun, fires it at me then shouts, “Boom!”
I’m tempted to go after him but he’s broken into a trot, already a good thirty feet away. I stamp my foot as if I’m about to give chase. Chinstrap jack-rabbits and he’s gone.
Goddamn Slim, balling these shitheads when she’s too drunk and too high to see straight. I’ve always told her she’s too good looking to screw these low-brow gomers. They can barely get laid for money, let alone get laid by some total knock-out like her. It literally blows their minds. They become puppy dog psychos and believe that her fucking them actually meant something.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Writing about writing...

I've heard various theories on writing about writing. Some say don't bother, you'll just look for ways to rationalize things that shouldn't be rationalized. Perhaps you don't need to analyze. Better to spend that time and energy actually writing.
A young, aspiring novelist recently asked me what he should write about. It made me think of some blues or jazz great, maybe it was BB King or someone like that, saying that the real music was notes you don't play - or in a similar idea - the music is the silence between the notes.
Whichever it is, that can be applied to writing. As in a lot of it is what you don't write...

Me, I tend to write a story or a novel from the middle out. I hadn't done it for ages but the same instincts prevailed. I began with a few ideas, a couple of characters hanging around with nothing to do. It's almost as if you walk into a place out of The Iceman Cometh or crew quarters of the SS Nostromo and everyone looks up at you, expectant, ready to do something, bloody anything, they're so fed up.

I guess it's the idea of being dropped into the center of a vast swamp with only a few words, some ideas, a couple scraps of dialogue, some of it makes little sense, other pieces don't fit and never will. The prospect of panic seems close, right up there on your sweaty brow, perched like a neurotic gargoyle, ready to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation and blindly dash for the first apparent exit - which would of course be a giant glob of quick sand and pffft - there goes another story down that sewer...

I sometimes imagine a kind of head space, a frame of mind, a highly discplined mental exercise where you can begin writing on Chapter 1, Page 1 and then the sound of plastic keyboards being feverishly whacked by fingers for many  hours on end and finally, presto - 'the end.' The novel is done, from beginning to end, no typos, all grammar very cleverly arranged, etc. A compelling little tale with plenty of back cover blurbs...
"...couldn't put it down, stuck to me like flaming napalm..."
"...he's full of shit but spins a decent yarn..."
"...I'd sick the dogs on him but the chicks dig my act when I've got this volume tucked under my arm..."

Gad, imagine, a finished book, just like that. One draft, beginning to end, the perfect 88,000 words that agents/publishers/etc require, movie rights built in de facto and action figures on the way. A whole world, book, movie, toys, games, action figures, all built and consumed inside a small black box filled with much circuitry. What more could you ask for?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Old friends...

Last night I was telling my beauty about an old friend of mine.
I said we've known each other forever,
since we were children practically.
I told my beauty that my old friend and I get together
sometimes, get kinda drunk and fool around.

My old friend got married for some reason,
actually I know why - to punish the guy,
or so it seems, the way she likes to punish most men.
She uses her height and crow's wing black hair.
Mostly she uses her white teeth and rosy tongue.
One helluva smile, a real showstopper.

So I tell my beauty, my old friend and me,
we're half in the bag on white wine and she's bent
forward over the end of the sofa,
something she wanted to try for comfort's sake.
What the hell.
I don't ask, I'm just glad to be there.
So I didn't know she knew her husband was headed home
and she was preparing for him, testing a thesis, she said later.

He walks in and his stupid jaw slam the rug,
his eyes well up.
I told my beauty, get this:
my old friend says to her husband...
either come over here and stick your cock in my mouth or go away.

He went into the next room, sat in a chair and cried quietly.

My old friend slowly looked round at me, grinning, and said - kinda loud,
I told the stupid asshole you and me are very old friends.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Power of Elizabeth Smart

I met the writer Elizabeth Smart when she was in her early 70′s, maybe four or five months before she’d passed away. It was fall in Toronto, a rainy day. She was in that used bookstore that had been on the northeast corner of Queen St. W. and Augusta. I forget the name of the place. I was 27 or 28. I had no idea who she was. She eyed me through the front window as I walked past. I did a double take then did a 180 on my heel and went in – as if a fisher’s hook had snagged my cheek. She was alone in the store.
Without cosmetics, wearing an old sweater and out of fashion jeans, running shoes, one of them untied, she twirled a pink flower in her fingers and wagged side to side a little in a battered office chair. Her smile, that light in her expression. She was the most erotically charged human being I’d ever laid eyes on. I suddenly felt high. We flirted and I flushed red, stammering. I was smitten and she knew it. She reveled in her sweet power.
The spell was broken when the clerk returned a few minutes later with some other guy. They got all protective and this other character led Miss Smart away, saying they had to be somewhere. She looked back at me, lips a bit pursed and mouthed the words another time.
Some months later, in the spring, I saw a black cloth laying in the window of that bookstore. On it was her book, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept and a black and white portrait of her taken not long before she died, the dates of her birth and death noted beneath. I felt a soft blow in my chest. It was her – that ageless nymph, wanton desire and loving whispers, so much sweet sweet promise, all of it twisting together in a smoky, intoxicating potion.
It’s been a bitter and enduring source of regret there never was another time. I surely would have fallen endlessly, hopelessly in love.
That memory has remained with me all these years and decades later. I used that brief encounter in something I’ve written. It’s important to hang onto those ephemeral moments that have so much lasting impact. There was a purity to our meeting, serendipity, sure, but something fated too – having no idea who this older women was, astounded at her sheer corporeal power, the openness and lushness of her desire, unencumbered, untainted. Perhaps that was Elizabeth Smart’s genius; How did it happen that someone so committed to the idea of being fully, beautifully human was not defeated by the deeply oppressive constraints of her background, the era from which she emerged? Is that the true power of love?

The war...

I came across a war by accident.
Had no idea it was going on.
Well, it was already a police state by the time I found out about it,
the poor fucks living in the place so heavily taxed they hardly raised their heads.
Everything was of course gloomy as hell,
the main drag of the main town almost totally empty on a Friday afternoon,
most people working their ass off serving the reputed tough guys who ran this police state.
A lone waitress worked in the only cafe.
Tall and not young but not old either,
all the time her mouth almost verged on some kind of conspiratorial grin.
She brought over a cup of really thin looking coffee.
"I'm supposed to drink this?" I asked.
She finally did smile and shook her head. "No."
I glanced round at the dead street then looked up at her.
"Say, what's going on here, anyway? Where are these supposed tough guys?"
The waitress didn't answer my questions.
She picked up the coffee cup and pitched the contents into the cobblestones at the edge of the patio.
"Come help me with something."
She took me back behind the bar into the darkest fucking room I'd ever been inside.
I truly could not see my hand in front of my face.
I felt blind and the sensation made me sort of panicky.
I felt her fingertips on me, her breath warm and close.
"We'll just take our time," she said.
And that's what we began to do,
just go slow and easy and take our time.
My knee felt the edge of a bed and we fell onto it sideways.
She grabbed my hair with both hands and said,
"Oh, fuck it. Let's just get our clothes off."
And I could hear her quickly kicking off her boots,
unzipping and sliding out of stuff.
I never wear underwear or socks and told her so.
She said something about not needing to tell her that.
And man, in that utter and complete darkness my eyes could not adjust to -
it just stayed all black, like being eyeless -
she fucked me like I'd never been fucked before,
like the world was ending.
It had.

When we came out into the daylight,
I squinted at the street and despite the rain people were out walking,
a pair of teenagers kissed in that slow, astounded way only kids can do with any honesty.
A newspaper tossed on one of the cafe tables ran a war-sized headline:
TOUGH GUYS ARE HISTORY