February update

self-portrait walking in Little Portugal, Toronto

It’s been a busy time in these parts. Working on the short story I mentioned last post, working on a Canada Council grant (because why not), as well as working-working.

My day job has been affected by the economic downturn since about September of last year. September is typically a busier time for therapists — end of summer/vacation, anxiety about returning to school, etc — but for me it was the opposite. And it was more or less that way until January, where it continues to be patchy. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it weren’t that I have an office lease and a number of other regular professional expenses. I’m getting by ok enough, but the lack of predictability can be stressful. The thing I also remind myself of is that psychotherapists are typically downstream from whatever’s happening in society, so it’s no surprise the economic crunch that so many are experiencing now should visit my doorstep.

February was…fun? Keeping the momentum going from seeing Quebec band La Sécurité in late January at The Monarch here in town, earlier this month my partner and I hopped on a train to Montreal, where I haven’t been in nearly a decade, in order to see one of my favourite current acts, Sweeping Promises, play at La Sala Rossa (note: they are not Quebecois but hail from Kansas). I was not let down. Super-impressed with their energy and their songs translated to a live venue easily. Strangely, having heard all my adult life about how tame Toronto audiences can be, I was surprised to see the Montreal crowd’s energy was so restrained…and here I was, in my early 50s and one of the more enthusiastic people in the audience. Needless to say, it was great to be in Montreal and I was struck by how little damage the pandemic lockdowns did to their bars, restaurants and live venues. Otherwise, I pushed myself to get out and socialize more this month, which I’m thankful for, even though I’m a little more introverted than others, as it was good to connect with old and new friends.

If I do get some grant money I’d like to see about booking a return to the artist’s retreat run by the Pouch Cove Foundation in Newfoundland. It really is a stunning place. If I have a burning frustration with the airline oligopoly in this country it’s that it’s cheaper for me to fly to Las Vegas (3,619km) or Vancouver (3,359.km) than St. John’s (2,686km), and believe me I would take St. John’s any day over those and many other destinations (okay, only between the months of May and October).


December Update

It’s been a year, and I feel that the air is clearing. If that sounds vague, let’s just say that 2023 has been a challenge. Not like 2022, which was quite calamitous by comparison, but certainly from the perspective of world politics and (closer to home) the health of my business, it’s been a tough one. The economy is hard and a lot of people (myself included) are being a lot more financially conscious than ever.

After some super-constructive feedback I’ve been intently focused on revising Book Three, which has been tough. You’ve probably heard the term “kill your darlings” before, in regards to the sorts of sacrifices an author inevitably has to make during revisions; well, this last revision has led to a small cemetery of darlings. And necessarily so, since I attempted to cram a lot into the second half of this novel, and the result was the lack of a sense of a singular theme/conflict as opposed to a barrage of them. That said, I think it’s in a good place now, and I’ve put the manuscript in a proverbial drawer in order for it to sit for a while, so that I can come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s still a solid story, and I’m very happy with the process of deciding what it was I wanted to, well, say — sounds straight forward, but it’s harder than it seems, especially when you have a lot of things you want to reflect on. Hoping to turn this over to my agent in the spring of 2024. It’s also nice to not be staring at the same project, so that I can (god forbid) consider other writing projects (short stories, essays) I’ve either neglected or temporarily abandoned.

Musically, I’ve been blessed to have come upon a wide array of artists who are new to me: Sweeping Promises, Water From Your Eyes and Froth most recently stand out.

Tomorrow, for the first time in two years, I’m taking part in the Holiday 10k (formerly the Tannenbaum 10k), and the weather is going to be perfect (a little wet, but above zero), so I’m going to quietly focus on a personal best time. Don’t tell anyone.

photo of my racing bib, showing my name and racer number

Author Discussion

I’m not going to claim authorship (*ping*) for the idea — I was inspired by both the original intention of Wolsak & Wynn‘s fall launch, which was an author Q&A, as well as seeing how smaller publishers could combine their authors into a shared launch — but seeing an opportunity, last month I proposed the following idea to my publisher: what if we (myself and A.G. Pasquella, author of Welcome to the Weird America) were to have an author event that wasn’t about readings but rather a conversation with other authors; this allowed me to invite Freehand Books author Emily Saso (her latest book Nine Dash Line is wonderful — I know because I blurbed it) and for A.G. to invite ECW author Terri Favro (whose latest book is The Sisters Sputnik). The idea was for there to be a more relaxed discussion that could be interesting for both readers and writers.

The event went very well — I wish it had actually gone longer to include audience Q&A, but it was getting late, and I should always remind myself that the folks behind the scenes putting this together are working outside of their normal hours and aren’t getting paid for any of this. I think it was a successful experiment and I hope to see more of it in the future.

Please enjoy:


The Big December Update

It’s been a year…however, I’m going to save the reflection for when I have the time to do so (!).

I’m so happy that RADIOLAND was recently chosen as a top music pick from CBC Books, especially to see myself listed with my friend (and well-respected music journalist) Michael Barclay and his thorough history of Canadian music from 2000-2005, HEARTS ON FIRE. Talk about good company.

I should also let you know that my publisher is celebrating their 40th anniversary and is offering a 40% discount on their complete catalogue until the end of December. Yes, that includes RADIOLAND and my debut novel THE SOCIETY OF EXPERIENCE — however, I’d like to also add that it also includes works from friends/authors Andrew Wilmot, A.G. Pasquella, Dani Couture, Daniel Scott Tyson, Sofi Papamarko, James Lindsay and D.D. Miller. Seeing as this is holiday-adjacent, this 40% discount is well-timed.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s been a year. I want to thank everyone who has supported my writing. Your support has been felt.


Radioland Book Launch!

Also coming up in November, if you’re going to be in Toronto on November 2nd, I’m inviting you to the book launch for Radioland. It’s happening at Burdock Brewery, 1184 Bloor St. W (a few steps away from Dufferin subway) and I’ll be joined by fellow authors A.G. Pasquella (launching his novella collection, Welcome to the Weird America) and Amber McMillan (launching her poetry collection This is a Stickup).

The three books that are being launched are showcased.

September Update

Regular visitors have probably been frustrated with the lack of updates here. So have I. The truth is that I’ve been swamped with doing the finishing touches on Radioland…and taking care of an ailing parent. I cannot express how exhausting the last while has been, on so many personal levels.

The good news is that, as of Friday, I signed-off on the last of the changes to the manuscript. It is, for all intents and purposes, out of my hands…which is both satisfying and frightening.

I finally have had time to update my website as well as post an update here (and add Radioland to the sidebar links). My next task is to gird myself for publicity, which I’m both excited for…and intimidated af. If there’s one thing I need to work on it’s getting out of my Writer Head and speaking about the book so that someone who isn’t in my head can understand what it’s actually about, which would be easier if I hadn’t written a fairly complex novel. There are worse problems.


(CBC Books 2022 fall fiction picks)

I should mention that Radioland was picked as one of CBC Books fall fiction titles!

Anyhoo, I hope to be here more regularly.


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.


Writing Adv*ce: Changing Things Up

Well over two months without a writing project to put my mind to, and I’m still alive and functioning, if sometimes feeling purposeless. I find myself asking what “normal” is after all. Last year, with all my writing haunts closed because of lockdowns, I was stuck writing from home, a 750 square ft shared condo w/ a terrace. I slapped on a pair of over-the-ear headphones, put my head down and pushed myself to lay at least 1,000 words down per weekend, which, given I had nowhere to go, ended up being a successful, if arbitrarily chosen, formula (prior to this, my formula was a little more haphazard: go out, sit somewhere and fucking write for a least two hours — no emphasis on word count or quantitative stuff. I have thoughts on this I’ll share later). By November of 2020 I had the the first draft of Book Three. It felt like I’d gone to a Writer’s Gym, if such a thing existed, and getting so much done in such a comparatively short period of time had a lot of implications on how I saw and approached my craft. In short, it became less magical / alchemical and more about persistence / stamina. I should qualify “magic / alchemical” as to be a figurative way of saying “having the elements and inspiration of your project more or less come to you through a more slacker-friendly means; organic but not undisciplined.”

In 2020 I found that less (choice in where I wrote) begat more (output, inspiration-by-diktat), and I’m happy to have some time to reflect on this now. When I’m lucky enough to be able to afford a week at a writing retreat it’s different — those times are purpose-built, so of course I’m going to be productive (and also I tend to use retreats for revising rather than creating raw material, though that inevitably happens in the process). The question is going to be how I approach writing now that my old haunts are opening up again, or at least the ones that haven’t shut down.

I’m careful to note that epiphanies generated under extraordinary circumstances sometimes only make sense under extraordinary circumstances. I know I can deliver the goods — quantitatively and qualitatively — in a single sitting whereas before I would’ve felt chuffed if I’d been able to do both. Speaking of being careful, I also want to remind myself that I didn’t have a life for over a year, on top of a full-time day job that became exacerbated by my own anxiety and the collective anxiety of clients and everyone around me. I’m not, in other words, championing or abandoning any particular approach, only noting what is possible under certain circumstances, some of which may be more doable and/or replicable than others. Let’s not forget there are also half-ways and acceptable compromises in any art form. I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish with Book Three, but I fear a top-down, capitalist you-should-obviously-write-a-book-a-year bullshit coming into my life. I’m not privately wealthy. I’m not a trust fund kid. I got bills. I need to think about what my life is going to look like in a decade, given that I have no pension, that I’m self-employed, and that any notion of being a Full-Time Author is more than a little naive.

I’m lucky and grateful for the opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of, but making writing its own career is a bit of a pipe dream when you’re 50. That’s reality.