Sunday, 3 December 2017

uber boo boo

Nothing much has changed in my life.  No promotions, prizes, movie deals. No launches or new loves or Instagram-worthy meals. In short, no news.  I should probably get back to work, but I’m stuck at the end of a scene and don’t know where it should go now.  So I’ll talk about a disturbing incident a couple weeks ago.

Let me set the scene.  It's late-ish at night in a downtown neighborhood with houses, trees, garbage bins. I’m about to leave a party.  Uber is outside. A couple of pals want a lift to their hotel so I say, Come on along.  They climb in the back. 

I get in front with the driver, a young woman with a big smile.  Before we start off, she draws a hand across her mouth and shakes her head.  Still smiling, she nods at me.  Do I get it?  I get it.  She’s mute.

I explain the change in plan from my original Uber request. We’ll take Art and Sheree to their hotel and then go back to my place.  Okay? I say. The driver points at her GPS.  There’s my address.  Right, I say, but first go the Marriott Hotel.  She nods again, more doubtfully. 

In the course of a misunderstood life, I have spent a lot of time with people who don’t know what I’m saying. I recognize the symptoms.  Oh dear.  I don’t know how to extend an Uber trip. I figured the driver would be able help me. 

When we get to my place, I explain again.  I gesture back at Art and Sheree, and mime the idea of driving forward.  The driver smiles, nods hopefully, and keeps going.  A few more blocks, a few more traffic lights. The driver is getting increasingly anxious. She points at the GPS, which is still showing my address.  

I make soothing gestures and take out my wallet to show her that I will pay extra. She makes a noise in her throat.  A sort of growling.

Art asks if there’s a problem.  His city doesn’t have Uber.  Sheree may not do Uber, but she knows suffering when she hears it.  How can we help? she asks.

I don’t know, I say.  I really don’t know.

A few more blocks and our driver has had enough.  She pulls over to the curb, stops the car, and puts her head in her hands.  The noise she’s making now sounds like an over-revved engine.  I hold out a twenty-dollar bill. She shakes her head vehemently.  No tipping. 

The Marriott isn't far away. I decide to walk there with Art and Sheree and catch another cab from the hotel.   I apologize to the driver, who still has her head in her hands.  Her throat slips a gear. I leave my 20.00 on the seat.

What’s the most distressing part of the experience?  Not the language barrier, or the driver’s handicap.  No.  It’s her big smile at the start of the trip.  She has a good one. Lots of teeth, lots of enthusiasm.  Optimistic. That's the thing. Despite the obvious bumps on her life road, she's travelling hopefully.  I hate throwing that kind of optimism off the cliff of reality.

That was my very first Uber ride, says Art, crossing the street.  Are they all like that?

No, I say.

Good, he says.

Monday, 9 October 2017

how scared?

I am feeling a little inadequate right now. Nothing physical – I can long jump as far as  ever (a startlingly short distance), and hold my breath while the kettle boils, and do a bunch of pullups – well, a few – well, two.

I am talking about emotional inadequacy.

When I'm not reading kidlit, I like literary stuff or murder mysteries. Some of my faves slide between the genres,combing stylish prose and kick-ass plotting. You know what I mean -- Kate Atkinson, Richard Price, Gillian Flynn. Guys like that.

Right now I’m having a tough time with Prayer by Philip Kerr.  And it might be my fault. Kerr’s a real good writer.  I admire his Bernie Gunther novels for the period detail and interesting moral choices. Prayer gets great reviews.  So why am I alternately bored and suffused with inappropriate giggles?

The story features an FBI agent who might be dealing with things from beyond the grave.  He’s been cursed by a charismatic southern preacher, and he’s genuinely scared for himself and his girl.  The closer we get to the pit of hell, the nastier the smells and the faster our hero runs from the demon, the wider I yawn.

Why can’t I climb on board?  I dunno.  I admire Stephen King’s work ethic immensely. There’s nothing wrong with his prose style. But I just can’t bring myself to shiver. Oooh, a cursed car.  Oooh, a cursed doggie. Oooh, a cursed clown. Ho hum.

If I myself were being hounded by a demon, I would not run away.  What would be the point?  Demons pass through walls. They travel faster than light.  Me on foot, or in my rental car?  Probably not going to get away.  If the demon is not real, I'll wake up.  If it is real, it's got me. 

It’s not that I can’t be scared.  Fire, earthquake, creepy relatives, Revenue Canada, lost children – all sorts of things can scare the pants off me. Flashing lights in my rearview mirror bring my heart into my mouth.  But demons? Ghosts? Satan, with or without his pitchfork? I just can’t take them seriously. And the result is a loss of enjoyment.  I can’t give myself up to the fun of being scared by hell. 

At least I have someone to blame.  It’s my parents’ fault. If they had given me a proper religious education, I might be able to enjoy Kerr’s book.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

What is it good for?

Social media is about connection.  That is its value. You can be part of a community without having to get dressed.  At the important end of the connection spectrum, you can join a revolt or demonstration and bring down the government.  At the trivial end, you can ooh and ahh over your pals’ dessert choices.  

What else?  It’s a forum, a way to be seen and heard. At the harmless end, “Look at me!  Be impressed by my amazing family/vacation/book cover/whatever.”  Or, on the harmful end of that spectrum, “Look at them!  Be appalled/titillated by choices they have made or had made for them.”

Thirdly, it’s a way to solicit help for a project.  That’s why I’m posting today.  This is NOT an opportunity to like my page or come to my book launch or play a game with me. (Now I think of it, that is kind of adorable.  Anyone want to come out and play?)   No, this is about an apartment for my daughter.  She’s staying with me now. I love her to death but … but … 

I’ll leave it at that. Anyone with teens or twenty-somethings will know what I mean. 

Come on, people. Prove the value of social media. There are literally dozens of you out there.  Who knows of a place for rent in downtown Toronto?  The apartments she’s looked at over the last month or two were all snapped up by insiders.  Maybe they or their friends or parents posted on social.  
Call this an experiment.  Of course buying a lottery ticket is an experiment, too.

Meanwhile, please like this pic of my breakfast!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

stretching myself

Funny couple of weeks it’s been. 
I’ve finished the new book. Pause for applause. Not a sausage. (Apologies, Spike Milligan.) The reason I’m writing this is because the first draft of the story – and that’s all we’re talking about here, the first canter round the paddock -- has taken me just the longest darn time.  And it’s not been easy writing.  Way better to look back on now than to live through then. I couldn’t seem to get it done.

This is not my first, or even fifteenth, rodeo.  I am no stranger to deadlines.  So why was this book so hard to finish?  I liked the concept hook, and was comfortable and confident in the cosmology of my world.  But the last knot or two of story simply would not unravel.  

The others were done – even Lesley who has another big book series on the go – and I was still at it.  Family holidays were approaching fast.  The days dwindled down to a precious few.  June. July. (Apologies, Kurt Weill.) And still the story wouldn’t end. I drank coffee, refused invitations, eschewed sleep, finally sinking into the frenzied dream-writing state of my university days.  
In the twenty-four hours before my plane left, I must have written 10,000 words. I wrote, discarded, wrote some more, and some more, packing suitcases, finding passports, and gulping peanut butter and apples in between sentences. At 11:30 pm, with my daughter sleeping over so we could head to the airport together, I poured my eleventy-third coffee and sat back down at my desk.  When I emailed the completed first draft to my editor, it was 2:30 am.  The plane to Tokyo left five hours later.

Whew! And also, WTF? Memories of all-nighters past.  I am way too old for this shit.What the heck was going on? Why was this one trickier than usual?
Glad you asked.  I wondered too, and I think I have the reason.The last time I ran late and stressfully was Ink Me, the first of the ‘7’ books. I was the last guy writing, the one holding up the line for everyone else.  That book stretched me.
As a story-teller, I’m usually a first-person smart-ass. That’s my comfort zone.  Bunny, the hero of Ink Me, was a switch.  Though he’s a lot like me, he writes a phonetic slang that took me the longest time to regularize and standardize. By now (I’ve written 3 Bunny books) I move from his head to the page easily, but it took me a while to find that path.
And this new book is another stretch.  I’ve never had an in-your-face narrator before.  Sooo easy to drift off story and get lost.  I spent a lot of time reining in the narrator, trying to focus less on him and more on Archie the hero. Archie’s a lot like me, but I find it hard to describe myself from the outside.
Is the book great?  Not even close.  It might get closer over the next few months. My editor has said some positive things, but she’s a nice person and she knows we have to work together.
Great or not – and it may never be great – the book is me stretching myself.  And that’s why it took so many hours and sighs and cups of coffee. 
If art is failure (thank you, Samuel Beckett) I have tried hard to fail in a new way.

By the way, Tokyo is astounding. In case you were wondering.  I’ve been back a day and I am still adjusting to Toronto, that quaint little town.  The only pic I took is one of my kids sleeping in the airport.  This isn't it, but the image is darn close.