I had the pleasure of spending a week as a guest (and sort of alumni) of The Pouch Cove Foundation, an artists’ retreat located in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland. While only about twenty minutes outside of St. John’s, it might as well be in the middle of nowhere, in the best possible way.

I went there to work on final changes to Book Three, and it was very productive. So much so that I’m hoping to hand off the book to my agent at the end of the month (fingers crossed). I was also happy to be sharing the retreat with a handful of visual artists who were preparing for a showing of their water-themed paintings in-progress. Writers and painters are different kinds of artists, insofar as painters come across as regular people when they’re not painting and writers tend to remain mumbly introverts when they’re not writing, not that we weren’t able to get together for the occasional beer and a chat in the evening. The good news is that we were all there to work and the setting was ideal for our tasks. And when we weren’t working, it was easy to step away and go on a hike along the East Coast Trail (in the course of one hike I spotted a pod of whales nearby and found myself tracked by a fox), or simply go down to the shore and admire the many gorgeous views.

Pouch Cove is one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and this marks a return for me after 20 years. Back then I was still working in film/TV but trying to get my act together as a budding author. A work colleague suggested I check out the retreat at Pouch Cove which, it turned out, her father operated. I was only able to get away for a long weekend at the time (because broke), but it was my first introduction to an artists’ retreat and I was able to develop some of the ideas that made it into my first novel, The Society of Experience.

James Baird, who runs the Pouch Cove Foundation, has been a tireless supporter of the arts community in Newfoundland for decades and is an extremely generous host to artists from all corners of the world. I’m very appreciative of his support and enthusiasm, and grateful to have had the opportunity to return.

It was hard to leave.



It took someone on social media posting a reminder of an upcoming deadline for me to realize that I haven’t applied for a writer’s grant in the better part of three years. For anyone outside of publishing reading this, while there’s no obligation to do this (unless of course you’re depending upon writing for a living, in which case it pretty much would be an obligation), it can make life a lot less burdensome for those who want to be able to take time off work so that we might devote ourselves more thoroughly to our writing projects. Most of us secretly bend time and space to be able to spend a few hours here and there each week.

This strikes me whenever I’m researching residencies for writers. A lot of the ones I’ve been interested in have a time stipulation of something grand, like “at least three weeks”, and that’s a deal-breaker for me. I pay for residencies out of my own pocket, and typically 5-7 days is the max I can allot. This is where grants come in. The big ones, from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Arts Council, have the capacity to provide wide financial support (in other words, scalable to the needs of the applicant, depending upon their professional and personal circumstances). The catch is that you have to go through the application process, which necessitates answering a lot of very detailed questions, not only about your project but about things like your budget (which in itself requires a breakdown of living expenses, etc). You have to essentially provide a compelling argument for the arts council awarding your project, as well as providing a reasonably accurate idea that you (the artist) understand what it is that you’re talking about from a financial perspective.

One of the reasons I’m writing this post is that I think it might be easy for outsiders to think that Arts Council grants are easily awarded, as if it were a question of simply hacking an algorithm. Let me assure you: they are not. If such were the case, there wouldn’t be professional grant writers marketing themselves (and paying their bills assumedly with something other than magic beans). Most artists might be able to summarize their projected finances, or describe their motivation for being an artist, or provide a captivating enticement for their current work-in-progress. Not many can do all three. And, just to add a dose of reality, even if you manage to ace all three, you’re still at the mercy of whomever is reading your application and whatever inevitable cognitive biases and preferences they have.

I’ve never received a big grant, though I’ve certainly applied. I supposed I stopped applying for the same reason I begin walking when I realize the streetcar isn’t coming any time soon; I’d rather try to achieve something on my own than be let down by something out of my control. That said, I run a small business. If I take time off, I don’t have any income. So yes, when I see a TWO MONTH MINIMUM on a writer’s retreat, I can get punchy. Truth is, there’s something strangely out-of-date about a framework whose parameters so clearly prohibit those who don’t have careers which allow such long absences.

The grant I mentioned at the beginning of this post is the Recommender Grants for Writers (via the Ontario Arts Council). It’s not nearly as big (or as arduous to complete) as others. I was lucky enough to have been awarded once before, which helped me book a flight out west to the Banff Centre for the Arts for a self-directed residency, so I pushed myself to submit a sample of Book Three to one of the indie publishers who are participating in the program this year, hopefully before their internal deadline (with this grant in particular, which runs from September to January, the deadline for submissions is set internally by the publishers).

One of the benefits of grant writing, and a reason for my writing this post, is that it can motivate (aka force) you to polish/revise/clarify your work for an actual (aka real) audience, even if you never see them or know exactly what they liked or didn’t. It can be a good prod to work on your bio (which a lot of writers freak out about), or the synopsis of your piece. I’d like to think there’s no downside, other than going through a bit of stress.


Radioland: Cover Reveal and Pre-Order!

Hello all,

It’s been a time-and-a-half to get to this point, so it’s with a mixture of relief and exhaustion that I’m able to share the cover for my next novel, Radioland.

book cover for Radioland, my next novel

Nice, eh? The cover is by designer extraordinaire Ingrid Paulson.

This book has taken a lot work, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. Here’s another thing: it’s now available for pre-order, which means that you can order it now, and when it’s released (currently looking like October) it will get shipped to you ASAP then. Presales are also cool b/c they can build interest from stores, retailers, etc, so there’s that too. I trust you to do the right thing.

You can read more about Radioland on the publisher’s site (where you can also pre-order it): Wolsak & Wynn

You can also bug your local independent bookstore or local library to order it for you.

You can also pre-order it from these folks, too:



Barnes & Noble


Glenn Branca

I just discovered Glenn Branca. I don’t actually remember how this came about, but it was late last week that I tripped over him, perhaps as part of a randomized Spotify playlist or some post-rock/Minimalist rabbit hole I was chasing. [edit: what’s odd is that I couldn’t have discovered him on Spotify because what I’d first heard was a track from his tremendous early album The Ascension which doesn’t exist on Spotify; a bit of a mystery, I admit.]

It’s like both barrels of a shotgun going off. The first barrel fires and I’m like Whoa — what’s this? And all I want to do is dig further and research and figure out what the deal is with his music. The second barrel fires, and rather than reactive it’s reflective and I suddenly realize that what I’m hearing here, recorded many years earlier, was the essence of the calamitous and shambolic guitar orchestrations I was eagerly intrigued with from the generation of Montreal bands (usually on the Constellation label) I discovered in my 30s, namely Godspeed You Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion, and (to a lesser degree) Arcade Fire.

I found myself both thankful to have discovered his music and regretful that I didn’t discover him back in my late teens where for a while I was specifically searching for someone who might elevate the guitar to the heights of symphonic performance. Needless to say I’m mainlining pretty much everything I can listen to.

There’s a very thorough and well-reflected piece on Branca here, and I’m thankful that there are people out there sharing reflections like this.



Doing Research

A while back, I read a lovely piece about David Sylvian, vocalist with 80s new wave band Japan and an accomplished solo artist, and was struck by an observation he made, reflecting upon hearing a track by ambient artist Christian Fennesz:

‘What I liked about his work is that there’s a melodicism to it. It wasn’t all sample manipulation. lt really had a heart to it somewhere. I was talking to Ryuichi [Sakamoto] about two years ago and he said, “Do you still listen to music?” I said, “Well, I still tend to buy a lot of music and I listen to a fair amount of it. But I’m not touched by it. I’m not moved by it.” He said, “Yeah, that’s right. It’s just a process of education. It’s a means of finding out what is now possible with this or that technology. You’re no longer listening to music. You’re doing research.” And what I liked about Christian’s work is that there it all was: modern technology, but in the service of the heart. I always come back to the heart.

There are two things that stood out to me in this passage. The first was Sylvian speaking about how his relationship with music had changed. So, first, I suppose it needs to be contextualized that when someone is working in a creative field they should (unsurprisingly) not only be affected by but also actively familiarizing themselves with other artist’s works. The problem is that, after a number of years/decades, it can feel as if everything has been done. Note Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s question; it’s not Have you heard anything good lately. His question is distressing: Do you still listen to music? It raises the spectre of a rupture between an artist and their craft. Sylvian’s answer and Sakamoto’s response, while relieving also point to a sense of being lost. “Yeah,” says Sakamoto, referring to his listening habits, “that’s right. It’s just a process of education. It’s a means of finding out what is now possible with this or that technology. You’re no longer listening to music. You’re doing research.” In other words, the naive curiosity which can be so important for any artist has become dormant. Yes, you are still listening to music, but it’s become reference material; a question of keeping up; who’s doing what with which device.

I have not become anesthetized to music, and the reason for this is most likely because I am not a professional in that industry, and I’m thankful for this. I do relate to this situation with respect to TV and film however. Having gone to school and eked out a career in televised programming followed by long-form motion pictures, it became second nature to watch (and deconstruct) a wide variety of works. And having worked in the sausage factory for 20 years I must admit to feeling a resonant frequency with regards to moving pictures at least, reading Sylvian’s conversation with Sakamoto. Yes, I’m still watching shows and movies, but am I affected by them or am I simply filling in time with reference material? Let’s just say that I am not easily affected these days.

Which brings me to the second thing about this passage: deliverance. In coming across the track from Christian Fennesz, Sylvian seems to rediscover something. Cliché though it may sound, there is the sense of having faith restored. And who could not be struck by something that, while technically accomplished, is “in the service of the heart”? In other words, there is honesty in this work, and depth. Something that is ultimately restorative and worthy of kick-starting another artist’s relationship with their work once more.

I share this because it’s good to share stories of inspiration, and good to admit that sometimes inspiration can be hard to find.


Writing Adv*ce: Constraints

Someone who is new-ish to writing is liable to want to have every option open to them when it comes to writing — this applies equally to fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. Get out of my way, this writer says to themselves as they roll up their sleeves, and just let me get to it. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this ethos (most writing advice tbh is Janus-faced, in that the opposite could equally be true depending upon the context of the individual in question); writing can be (and often is) liberating.

But here’s the thing (because why else would I be writing this in my spare time if there wasn’t a point): sometimes having all the options open to you will have the opposite effect of liberty — it can incongruously create its own roadblock by virtue of being, well, too open-ended. If there are no boundaries it can often feel as if we are tasked with filling an abyss which might lead to a sense of paralysis. Do I write about this? Wait…what about that? The question of what you write about (or the angle you choose to write about it from) can be intimidating if there are no rules, no guardrails, no ceiling and no floor.

When I took part in a week-long writing intensive many years ago, which incorporated fiction and poetry writing, the end goal was for each of us to write a sestina. What’s that? It’s a form of poetry that carries with it very specific rules for how it is to be constructed and it is a massive. pain. in the. ass. Without exception, every person in my group — poet, non-poet, or (like me) something in-between — saw each day that approached the assignment deadline with a sense of dread. The sentiment could be summed as: this is bullshit. As in, this is bullshit, I should be free to write whatever and however I want. What is more freeing than Art, after all!? And yet, when I sat my ass down and began to work out how I would construct my sestina, which I admit was painful, I was also struck by how the constraint of the sestina form forced me to be very specific and focused on what it was that I was doing. Lo and behold, I ended up writing something I never thought I would’ve pulled off — and managed to impress the instructor in the process. It was an inspirational step forward to me, not just as an artist but as someone who reflects on the hows and whys of human behaviour.

A few weeks ago, a documentary was released on the band The Velvet Underground. Its director, Todd Haynes, an artist in his own right, set his own constraints on the project. Rather than having a bunch of present-day intellectuals and music nobility reflecting on the influence of the Velvets (ie how many music documentaries are constructed) he insisted on maintaining temporal and situational context in his choice of subject by only presenting people who were there at the time and place that the events unfold. For example, when the Velvets set out on an ill-fated tour of California he doesn’t interview anyone who was not part of that tour. No Warhol. No Jonathan Richman. Just whatever archival footage was available and/or surviving members of the band and entourage to speak to their experience. It makes for a fascinating and immediate way of telling the story without it being a nostalgic love-in or overly biased hagiography. You should see it.

What are other ways in which we might use constraints to help us focus? How about a police procedural with no police? A mystery told from the sole vantage point of a security camera? A poem expressing your current feelings but using excerpts/fragments from your teenage journals?

Constraints can guide and inform an artist’s work. Note I say can. Sometimes it’s good to go-for-broke and blow the doors off whatever it is you want to get off your chest without care for form. But whatever you do don’t forget that form itself can allow you, if counter-intuitively, to transcend your inner biases and intellectual confines.


A note from Richard Chartier

I’m a fan of experimental composer Richard Chartier, whose solo projects (particularly under his Pinkcourtesyphone imprint) and collaborations (like this quiet monster w/ France Jobin) have received regular rotation in my eardrums.

I came across a newer composition last year which is sublime, however, of all things, it’s his artist statement at the bottom which caught my attention. I’m pasting it in its entirety:

A note from Richard Chartier
I find myself at the collision of an inflection point and more over a reflection point. 50 years on this planet. I still find it difficult to write about my work. This is not because I cannot, but because I want the listener to approach my compositions of sound as such. Focus on the sensorial nature rather than an explicit narrative or reasoning.

I do not see my work as abstraction but rather purely abstract.

I chose sound as my medium after many years as a painter. I slowly came to conclusion that I no longer understood how to communicate sensation via a pigmented surface. The visual language I was using had become foreign to me.

Sound allowed me a language that was wordless, open, moving, shapeless yet full of forms, connections, and progressions. It raised questions though and these are still part of what I struggle with in the ways I chose to create and then speak of my work

why these sounds?
what is the attraction to these sounds?
how did I arrive at these compositions and their placements?

The pieces exist then as less of a statement, more of a question, but a question that will be different for each listener. For me, listening to them over and over, they will take another form as time passes. They evolve. For now though, they are in limbo on a piece of plastic or a series of lines of data

Often i am puzzled by how other artists create their work, how they come to decide arrangements, sequences of sounds or just the sounds themselves.

That is the magic of music.

The reason I find myself coming back to this is its vulnerability, something I’ve heard in his music but have not been exposed to in terms of how Chartier himself– or any artist of his ilk — has chosen to represent themselves textually. Most artist statements are, to be perfectly honest, easily ignorable; they boil down to: “Here. Signed, x”. And that’s ok. I would prefer this to a ham-fisted statement which did the music (or the listener’s expectations) no favours.

Instead Chartier makes himself prone and speaks to the to-be listener not as an underling but an equal. Turning 50 recently myself, I can’t help but wonder what was going on in his life, his head, when he wrote this. There’s little ego evident, no unnecessary flourish of cliché (“So, me and the boys recorded this in a shack outside Fayetteville…”). Instead he lays himself bare and presents himself plainly, and emphatically. He allows us into his philosophical process, his inspiration, and his limits. He dares to express a certain innocence. This is not the Wizard of Oz, attempting to razzle and dazzle (and intimidate). Instead, Chartier allows the to-be listener to engage with him, and I think this approach is magical.


Wr*ting Advice: A Slight Return

I’ve written before about writing advice. I’ve even created a somewhat cheeky sub-title for certain articles (Wr*ting Advice) about writing advice.

Let’s review the stuff I hate:

    • writing advice ends up being vague because when you write writing advice for a general audience you’re either speaking to someone more advanced (and leaving beginners out) or speaking to someone about basics (and leaving the more advanced out).
    • same as above, but with respect to what type of writing we are talking about; in general, when I’m writing about writing advice I’m writing about writing fiction (though I’m sure there are applications well beyond), but even then, what kind of fiction? Highbrow literary fiction? Genre (romance/horror/SFF)? Something in-between?
    • perhaps most hated of all is the pervasiveness of writing advice, which seems to have become its own cottage industry (not, I wish to clarify, writing workshops, which can be worth their weight in gold). When I see interviews with animators are they asked what advice they have for other animators? No. When I see interviews with performing artists (dancers, singers) are they asked what advice they have for other performing artists? No. Now, I’m not thick, I get it: writing is easier to access (all you need at bare minimum of cost is a pencil and a piece of paper) and so there are always going to be people trying it out, which is cool. It’s the disparate mess those seeking direction have to wade through that I feel bad about.

This all said, I’d like to mention a book that I found very helpful at a time when I decided to begin taking writing — the labour of, as well as the business of — seriously. I’m not sure whether I would qualify it as a “self-help” book, however it’s likely to be categorized as such. It’s called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, written by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The book was inspired by what its authors saw around them as they entered their 30s, namely that their artist peers were dropping out. The book is, in a sense, an examination of why that was, and delves into matters both practical and psychological without being overly technical in either area.

To this day, I use some of the book’s observations about perfectionism and artistic process in my work with clients (artmakers or not). If there’s one thing I walked away with personally (and I’m happy to say I walked away with several observations), it’s the importance of not getting hung up on any one project to the detriment of others (present or future). When you’re a beginner it’s easy to want cling to any proof that you’re good; this especially holds true for those without the means/opportunities to attend a writing workshop or join a writer’s group. The problem with this — especially with more ambitious (in scope and/or length) projects — is that one might be tempted to continue working on a particular project for a very, very long time (or submitting it in vain to every. single. publisher) and leaving other ideas by the wayside in the process. It’s not about whether that original idea is good/not-good, it’s about how much of your creative life (which, for those of us who need to pay rent for a living doing other things, is finite) you’re expending on one single thing as opposed to moving on to the next idea and, along the way, seeing progress of a different kind; going from “this is good” to “this is different/more advanced.”

It was first published in 1985. I read it in 2005, and I’m sure it’s just as useful for someone in 2021. If you decide to buy this book (or any), please consider purchasing from a retailer who isn’t Amazon, thank you.

One thing I will also say, specifically about any sort of guide or self-help book, is that its inspirational value is typically a combination of its contents and where you are. It can be a bit like match-making: someone you meet when you’re 23 might not be a good fit, however they might be a perfect fit when you’re 31. This brings me back to what I was saying in the beginning: when seeking writing advice, having an understanding of where you are is just as important as whatever ballyhoo’d resource people are recommending.



In a previous post I wrote about how guitar lessons have been a gateway for me to work with patience, and I thought I would devote a little more space to that (side note: sometimes I’ll look back on blog posts and see how cramped/dense the ideas are, which reminds me a bit of how my first drafts look like when I’m sketching fiction — except it’s not exactly in the nature of blog posts to go back and revise, so I apologize if sometimes what I end up writing here is a little nebulous).

Anyways, guitar and patience. I didn’t go into guitar thinking I would be doing anything great or fancy. Not starting a band or anything. I just wanted to build a relationship with this instrument — something I couldn’t do when I played drums (due to their cumbersomeness and noise, especially if you are living with someone). Thing is, drumming came naturally to me, even though I never really sought them out. I took piano when I was a kid, and when I signed up for concert band (because why wouldn’t you find any way possible to avoid staring at a blackboard) my keyboard skills weren’t quite at the level to easily follow the sheet music that accompanied the band. And so I was thrown into percussion. I took to it quite well because I’ve always had a keen sense of rhythm. Going into high school, the percussion section expanded and there was usually drum kit available to practice on. And so I helped myself and eventually joined a rock band. We lasted about 5 years and there are, as they say, no regrets. But, as I mentioned, it wasn’t so much my dream to be a drummer, as much as it allowed me to stay close to music. My relationship with drums is arms-length let’s say.

With guitar the first thing you realize is that, unlike drums where the pressure is keeping the beat, if your calloused fingertips are off by only a couple of millimetres you are probably going to play the wrong note. In other words, the feedback loop of wrong/right is much more immediate and sensitive, reminiscent of piano (even more so, I would say, especially if you trying playing guitar with an overdrive pedal). As a highly sensitive person (not diagnosing myself but being honest nonetheless) this feedback loop can be very intense, and, if I’m in an off mood, the “wrong” feedback can get on my nerves fairly quickly, leading me to melt down a bit. And this is where patience comes in. I’ve had many instances where, either because I’m developing a new skill (say, a pull-off using my fourth, or “pinky”, finger) or increasing my speed with an advanced piece, I’ll end up having a bad day. In the beginning of learning guitar, those bad days were stormy for me; I got frustrated with myself, frustrated with my lack of finger coordination — all the things. I learned a couple of things over time (which is easier to do when you’re playing a song you like): bad days are part of learning and not an indictment of any innate ability you have to do something; and taking time off (be it an hour, a day, even a week) — although it might seem counterintuitive to those of us who read about performers spending several hours each day practicing — allows you to come back to your instrument with a fresh mind and, in my experience at least, if not better technique then easier comfort with the instrument. As a result of allowing myself to take it easy, on myself and my expectations, I’ve gotten better at being able to picture myself overcoming the inevitable short-term stumbles and seeing the bigger picture where the mistakes I’m making today are not carved in stone forever, as they sometimes feel in the moment.

I’ve been cognizant of this because when I’ve been revising my writing in the past — my fiction in particular — sometimes my notes can be brutal. In a fit of frustration I’ll write things in full caps (“DOESN’T MAKE SENSE?!”) which, while maybe capturing how I’m reacting to something that’s a rough draft, doesn’t exactly make for pleasant reading when I come back to implement the revisions to the story or book. It’s like taking on the tone of a quasi-abusive teacher or parent. It can be oppressive and can make the process of revision (which is where the magic truly happens) tedious and soul-melting whereas I know it’s supposed to be where I develop a closer relationship with the work. Note the word relationship.

If you will excuse the generalization, there are two types of people who pick up a guitar: the person who wants to learn [insert cool song], and the person who is curious about developing a relationship with the instrument. Sometimes the former turns into the latter, but rarely does it go the other way if your intent is honest. Likewise with learning to write (which, in the end, is largely learning to revise) I’ve taken some of the lessons I’ve learned with guitar and patience and applied them to how I “speak” to myself in my revision notes. Do I need a stern lecture? No, I don’t. Do I need shouty language? No, I don’t. And, now that I’m up to my knees in revisions to Radioland, I’m implementing this approach. The full-caps are gone. Instead of “CHANGE THIS” or “NO” I try to write something akin to an editor’s voice — an editor who wants the intended end-result to rise to the surface of the current draft — with something like “This is working but could use clarity.” Imagine coming to that while you’re making changes? Doesn’t that sound more reasonable (let alone approachable) than something like “WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY HERE??”

I suppose I’m putting this out there to show that there are many ways to grow as an artist — at any stage– and one of those ways is indirectly applying the lessons of one form to another. I still have bad guitar days and will continue to experience them as long as I endeavour to play, but the important thing is that I can look past those days. And because of that, I’m better able to see (and believe) that I can, as a novelist and short story author, work through the rough patches in my writing.

(P.S. Big shout-out to Michael @ Red House Music Academy)