Sunday, August 29, 2010


When you attend a conference, you never know what's going to resonate a month later. My initial response to the SCBWI summer conference in L.A. was author envy. Jon Scieszka, Gordon Korman, Marion Dane Bauer,…I'm not worthy! The sentiment lingered and this surprised me. In another life (as a lawyer), I'd lived in Los Angeles and had many star sightings: Bob Newhart in the video store! Rick Springfield ordering a sandwich in front of me! (I'll have what he's having.) Alfre Woodard at the dry cleaners! The moment of glee lasted as long as an Altoid. But I never (seriously) aspired to be an actor or a singer. A successful author? My ultimate dream.

I tried to live in the moment, listening to each esteemed writer and illustrator's keynote, hoping that their talent and good karma would transfer to me. A ridiculous wish considering I was one of 1,100 people in attendance, but there are no Wish Censors. If there were, fountains would have no more than three or four pennies lining their bottoms. On the return flight home, I wasn't sure what I'd gained from the four-day event. I had a vaguely positive feeling, but it couldn't pin it down to inspiration or direction.

Today, as I sat in a café in town, I stared at my laptop and felt I'd hit a snag with my latest project. Then, an L.A. moment flashed to mind. I tried a writing tip offered by Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted). I flipped through my journal and found a notation from her speech. When she feels a part of a manuscript lacks oomph, she brainstorms other plot possibilities. The list must reach a dozen. Don't stop even if you like one of your first seven ideas.

I am outlining a new YA manuscript and, as I reviewed my notes, I struggled with why a character would do something seemingly unexpected. I started listing. The first idea seemed plausible. I could go with it, but I let the list persist. Item two, acceptable, although I was dwelling too much on one of the emerging themes. Too blatant. Item three—meh. I really liked my fourth and fifth ideas. The fifth, in particular, took off. I madly typed notes to expand on this possibility. I was sold on it as a compelling explanation.

Don't stop till you hit a dozen. I felt like I was back in math class, clearly getting a concept yet having to do all the assigned homework questions, ostensibly to solidify my understanding. Bah! Busy work. I'd resented Mr. Houston and Mrs. Hinich then and now I was resenting Gail Carson Levine. I was under no obligation. She wouldn't do a homework check. She didn't threaten detention or black marks in the grade book. I could stop and she'd never know. She wouldn't care if I followed her advice. She didn't know me. She didn't even follow me on Twitter, for Bill Peet's sake.

Ah, but the curse. I was always an obedient student, dammit. I continued with the list. After each new idea, I'd count my ideas as if by chance an extra one or two crept in from nowhere. By the time I had ten ideas, I got up and requested a coffee refill. Ten was terrific. It showed I could consider alternatives. Good enough.

I sat back down and figured a couple more ideas wouldn't hurt. Eleven. Twelve. Whew. Done.

You know what? I have to thank Gail Carson Levine for pushing me. As I review my list, it is clear that not all of the ideas are home runs. There are a few fouls and one or two embarrassing strikes. Still, creating the list helped with more than finding a fitting motive for a character. By exploring many possibilities, I had to consider my main character's relationship with each of the other characters. I deepened my understanding of some of the minor characters and tweaked other aspects of the plot.

Which idea will I go with? It's down to Numbers 5, 8 and 10. Five still feels the strongest, but I need to let the possibilities simmer. The fact that the tenth idea is a contender proves that I didn't fill the list just for the sake of reaching the seemingly random number of twelve. I fully committed to the exercise. And why wouldn't I? I am excited about my manuscript idea. Should I eventually get it published, I'll have to add Gail Carson Levine to the Acknowledgments. Turns out I was doing more than star gazing in L.A. after all!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Most of us have a decade we relate to more than the others: the hair, the clothes, the music, the movies, even the commercials. Friends would say I'm stuck in the '70s and, although I never want to see platform shoes again or go back to teasing my hair into a strawberry blond afro, I don't fight the label. I'd rather wear bell bottoms than acid-washed or jeans that sag to your knees. I'll gleefully listen to one of the most banned songs of the decade, startle my dogs with my Arnold Horshack laugh and doodle smiley faces while craving a Kojak lollipop.

Somehow I've managed to move forward even if I'm never quite current. I blame technology. I can't keep up. I was so proud of myself when I gave up my landline and relied solely on a cell phone. At the time, I was one of 8% of North Americans to do so. Cutting edge! But then BlackBerrys and iPhones became the rage and I failed to board the trend train. I still don't see the need for 24/7 communication and accessibility. (I regularly turn my cell off and forget to turn it back on. No withdrawal symptoms.) Knowing how much I love music, colleagues bought me an iPod when I left my last job. They thoughtfully preloaded it with "Mandy" and "Shannon" and "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves". Still, it sits in a drawer somewhere in my home office. My name is Gregory and I am technologically stunted. I don't own a flatscreen and one of my TVs doesn't even have a remote.

Yeah. Stuck in the '70s. (Where are my tube socks?)

I'm not calling for a techno burning. I do see value in some of the latest devices. It just seems we're too gadget driven and some very rich ADD developers and marketers are mocking us saps who buy into the buzz that every new upgrade is a need, not a want. It's like we're going from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to CD to iTunes in the course of four years instead of four decades. Yesterday, I read an article telling me that my four-month-old netbook would soon be obsolete. (Same with Kindles, digital cameras and, gasp, iPads.) Why shell out money for soon-to-be landfill fodder? Why can't we put something on the market and stick with it for 7-10 years? Products that I talking blasphemy? How long has the stapler been in existence?

Help me, Rhoda Morgenstern! Gosh, I miss those lines of beads hanging in the doorway of your apartment. I need to calm myself with a tall glass of Tang—it was good enough for astronauts, it's good enough for me. I need Olivia to restore myself with "Have You Never Been Mellow" and then shake things out with a little "Boogie Oogie Oogie". Ah, good times, J.J., Good Times.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Four hundred sixty-three pages to go. I'm never going to make it. Why do some authors have to be epic-centric?

Ten months ago, while staying at the family cottage in Ontario, my cousin's wife and I sipped wine and chatted about what makes a good book. I'd said I was drawn to stories in which the writer brought the characters to life in such a way that I felt I knew these people. She recommended a book she'd recently read. Would I want to borrow the book? Sure, why not. A week later she handed me the book. Lift with the knees, not the back. The hardcover came in at more than seven hundred pages. As a person who has always been a slow reader, the rounding rules from math class do not apply. In my mind, the tome (tomb?) was an eight-hundred pager.

I flew back to Vancouver, relieved that Air Canada didn't charge more for the added weight in my suitcase. I set the book on my dresser and proceeded to forget it existed. Entertainment Weekly was a much more consumable read. (Sometimes, after reading, I felt I knew James Cameron and the "Glee" cast, too.)

On impulse, I booked a flight back to the cottage and that book could no longer be ignored. I could not in good conscience borrow a book for almost a year and return it, mumbling, "Sorry, never got around to it." I am a writer. Writers are voracious readers, right?

Then July came and I booked another trip to the cottage. Suddenly the book taunted me every time I walked in my bedroom. Gonna read me? Or are ya just a literary fake?

It was like I was back in college, end of semester, 1,900 pages of text behind in my reading assignments. That's when I'd curse the history prof who had five texts on his course syllabus. Should have dropped it the first week. Would have saved a bundle at the university bookstore and might have gotten more than a few naps in the days leading up to finals. I told myself that 800 is nothing compared to 1,900. Less than half! A snap! But 1,900 came twenty-five years ago when four hours of sleep was the norm and all-nighters were trendy. Cramming made sense. (Being prepared was for Boy Scouts and that was the last thing I wanted to be compared to in university.)

Could I cram again? Was there any point in even doing so? It's leisure reading. Setting daily page quotas seemed to violate the intent.

I didn't for a moment think about surfing online to read a few reviews and finding a Wikipedia entry about the author. Even in a reading crisis, I never cheated. Never looked at Cliff's Notes. I'd do the time. I'd walk around with raccoon eyes, wear them as a badge of honor.

And so I began reading Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. The main character immediately came off as cold and passive-aggressive. That was my out! Sorry. Couldn't get into it. Couldn't relate to the main character. I could go back to reading Julia Roberts' latest interview promoting her new movie. But no. The writing was strong. So what if I didn't like the character? Wasn't that the point of strong storytelling? I could be introduced to new people but never have to sit with them face-to-face.

I read on. Columbine. Ugh. I cannot handle reading about violence. This author had done extensive research about the massacre. If not abandoning the book, I could have skimmed the scores of pages dealing with the shootings. And yet I didn't. This book had been offered for reading, not skimming, scanning, perusing. I worked through the pages, felt like I was there, not that I wanted to be. Effective writing.

And then the book began to unravel. The author included a flashback chapter to his childhood. Interesting backstory, but unnecessary as such a large chunk. If the book weren't so long, I could overlook this, but I cursed the editor. Save a tree for Pete's sake! The novel drifted farther from its core as letters from an ancestor and family history took up more text, offered in the form of a subordinate character's thesis. I grew more annoyed. My editor would have never allowed it. Easily two hundred pages could have been chopped. Still, I read.

One hundred thirty-one more pages. I finished the novel on the plane. I think I felt more relief than satisfaction. The pacing of the book felt off. For the first seven hundred pages, the writer meandered about, freely going off on side paths before finding the main trail again. And yet the final thirty pages felt like a whirlwind wrap-up, quickly updating character stories to bring the story to its conclusion. It felt like the kind of update that flashes on screen at the end of a movie biopic before the end credits roll. Made for a tidy conclusion, but also made the tangents in the story more aggravating. (SPOILER ALERT: I also didn't care for the fact that the meaning of the book's title wasn't revealed until the last page of the book. As I read, I kept stopping and wondering, "Is that 'the hour he first believed'? Did I miss it?!)

So I did it. I surrendered the book yesterday, leaving it with another cousin. I won't even have to have a conversation with the donor about my impressions of the book. I could have gotten away with not reading it. And yet I am pleased to have made it through. To his credit the author created strong, distinct characters and built a story atop a foundation of core themes and values. I am also more cognizant of the importance of ruthless editing whereby no passage gets a free ride no matter how beautifully written.

I'm currently reading two short story collections. They are just the antidote after the marathon read. I find comfort in knowing I can skip a short story if it doesn't pull me in from the outset. And I look forward to getting back on a normal sleep schedule. Here's hoping Rocky the Raccoon goes into a long hibernation.

But then I remind myself I've never read War and Peace. How can I call myself a writer if I haven't read that? And I can only renew library books twice. I see late nights ahead of me…

Friday, August 6, 2010


Every now and then, we can expect well intended advice from family members to bring us down rather than lift us up. From strangers, I'd like to think I can tune out the unhelpful pearls of wisdom.

Easy for him/her to say. He/She doesn't even know me.

So when I checked out Stephen King's On Writing (Scribner, 2000) from the library after an acquaintance recommended it, I looked forward to gaining perspective, even inspiration from a successful writer. Any little boost helps. Sadly, Stevie's treatise proved to be a downer.

I have no doubt Stephen King set out to motivate struggling writers, giving us fuel to continue on a lonely path where we often flagellate ourselves with self-doubt. And, yes, I found affirmation in some of what he related. Nothing new, but it felt good to know some of my writing practice resembled that of a ridonculously successful author, one of the few who is a household name. I too set first drafts aside to let them breathe on their own for a period of time before tackling the first round of revisions. As well, I can vouch for the value of keeping a sustained focus on writing, going at it at least six days a week.

I received some friendly reminders. For instance, I need to read more. (Doesn't every writer say this? Where's the "READ MORE" bumper sticker?) Sometimes I have to hear something 1,417 times before it sinks in. I've formally scheduled book reading into my daily routine. (I read plenty, but it's mainly magazines, newspapers and online articles. If I'm writing fiction, I should be reading fiction.) I also gained a new visualization for the writing process: the first draft is pounded out with the door closed (getting my thoughts down), the revisions with the door open (focused on the would-be reader).

But then came the crushing facts, read with astonishment, envy and complete despair. While money does not drive the desire to write, I do dream of being able to earn a living from it. When Stephen King mentioned that his first big publishing contract included a $400,000 advance—in the 1970s!—I had to put the book aside and go for a walk. Sure, he had a stack of rejection letters hanging on a nail by his desk, but he went from being broke to winning the lottery. My advance for my book, published in 2008, was well under 1% of Stevie's payday.

A day later, I opened the book again. I reminded myself I was looking for writing inspiration and financial information was irrelevant. (Not sure why it's even in the book. I get how it came at an opportune time in Mr. King's life, but I don't see how it assists in sharing the lessons he's learned about his craft.) Toward the end of the book, he included a section that led to more despair…and aggravation. He created "Frank", a composite of three writers he knows who haven't hit the big time yet, but are well on their way. Ah, yes. I started to get excited. This will show Stevie's understanding of those of us with Google-free or Google-lite names.

Frank begins to build a track writer as a published writer in small, prestigious journals. But there are bumps and setbacks as well. A sample query letter from Frank is included. Stevie makes clear that Frank has no connections in publishing. He's just another Joe Schmo, like you and me. Frank sent a dozen letters to agents and received expressions of further interest from all but one (who wasn't taking new clients).

I put the book aside and went for another walk. The fact that Frank is an agent magnet is about as relatable as Mr. King's cash advance. According to Stephen King, "if your work is salable, you will have only a moderate amount of trouble finding [an agent]. You'll probably be able to find one even if your work isn't salable, as long as it shows promise."

UGH! Reading about Frank makes it tempting to put my Netbook on Craig's List. I repeatedly told myself that King's perspective, in addition to being unrepresentative of most struggling writers, is dated. The publishing industry has changed drastically in the past decade. Advances are smaller and agents and editors have been pared down. Professional courtesy has been compromised as agents and editors have busier workloads. Most don't even want an SASE. They only reply if there's a shred of interest.

But trying to put King's words into context doesn't erase what I've read. (Isn't it the same when we try to dismiss Aunt Bertha's comment that a new shirt makes us look "chunky"?) Am I delusional? What business do I have even reading a book about writing, much less thinking I can be the next Frank on my way to being the next Stephen?

For me at least, Stephen King's On Writing instills more fear in me than Carrie, Christine and Cujo combined. I'm returning it to the library today. I think it's time to reread Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss. Maybe in a few days I'll be ready to submit a few more agent queries.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


As if I don't face enough rejection during the submission process, I can't stick to the 140-character limit on Twitter. Nine items below have character violations. Egad! I only sent two tweets during the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference, but had I been more concise—and had I turned my Netbook on—, here are the messages I would have sent. (Remaining characters are shown in brackets.)

  1. 1200 attendees. It's sunny, the palms are beautiful in a wispy sort of way and we're all in a hotel ballroom 2 levels below ground. This must be good. [-11]
  2. Jennifer Hunt, editor Little Brown Books for Young Readers: skip trends, go for universals. (Think Judy Blume, John Hughes movies.) [8]
  3. Jennifer Hunt: Be open-minded as you write. Let character's voice come thru & let go of adult judgments. [35]
  4. Loren Long, author/illustrator (Mr. Peabody's Apples; Otis): With picture books, find the "emotional hit". The book becomes the child's friend. [-3]
  5. Gordon Korman-The ultimate school praise was when the teacher wanted to laminate his story. [49]
  6. LGBTQ Panel re. MG/YA content—Not a crowded field. It will stand out among submissions. [52]
  7. E.B. Lewis, extraordinary illustrator! Bought The Other Side, a story about a black and a white girl divided by a fence. Check out the use of the book spine as a divider as well. [-39]
  8. Josh Adams, agent: Out of 6,000 submissions/yr, happy if find 6 to represent. Yikes! [54]
  9. Josh Adams: Timeless books will always be timely. [90]
  10. Gail Carson Levine, author (Ella Enchanted)-Don't always have to have conflict/tension, but a "growth of experience". [23]
  11. Carolyn Mackler, author (The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things), citing Judy Blume: It's not just the books that are banned. It's the books that will never be written. [-36]
  12. Marion Dane Bauer, author (On My Honor)-It's the preschool picture books that sell. Less than 400 words. Strive for simplicity & compression. [-2]
  13. Jon Scieszka: We don't have enough books that reflect the emotional reality of boys. [55]
  14. Gennifer Choldenko, author (Al Capone Does My Shirts): Take care of your "writer" self. ID what that self needs & figure out how to nurture/honour it. [-11]
  15. Rachel Vail, author (Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters): "Do we ever look at a book the way we do when we're ten years old?" [-4]
  16. Rachel Vail: Recall an adult who listened & took you seriously as a child. We have to listen in that way to our characters. [16]
  17. Paul Fleischman, author (Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices): When writing a novel, ride the wave, see where it takes you...but it helps to have a surfboard (i.e., outline, aforethought) underneath you. [-63]
  18. Justin Chanda, publisher: ebooks will help readers access stories in which the cover might make them feel embarrassed (Think adults reading YA, struggling readers...) [-27]
  19. Francesco Sedita, publisher: If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks. [55]
  20. Why doesn't Vancouver have a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (ice blended mocha!)? Maybe if the writing doesn't work out... [26]

Gregory Walters' first middle grade novel, Fouling Out, was published by Orca Book Publishers in 2008. He's a twit when it comes to Twitter, but feel free to follow him.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I began a screenplay in April as part of Script Frenzy, an online writing motivator that challenges participants to crank out a one-hundred page script in a month. As part of my writing, I booked a weekend in Mount Vernon, Washington, the setting for my comedy. But midway through that excursion, doubts crept in. Inspiration ran dry. I tried to tell myself it was merely a consequence of sleep deprivation. (When I booked on the Internet, there had been no mention of my hotel being beside the railroad tracks and the heavy train traffic that chugged by all night long.)

Back home, the project remained stalled. I still liked my characters and the story’s premise, but there was a mismatch. The characters weren’t right for the story. Page forty-eight in, I knew I had to start over. I abandoned the script and pulled out of the virtual writing club. If I’d attempt an overhaul then and there, I would have been unsuccessful. Too much frustration, too disheartened. Instead, I shifted gears and focused on two other projects. With two months’ space from the original aborted mission, I am ready to FADE IN once more, with two new main characters thrust in the predicament that is worth keeping.

Without an artificial deadline, I’ve frontloaded the planning this time. I’ve created detailed character profiles, helping solidify my understanding of their backgrounds and motivations. I’ve also written a detailed outline, offering a breakdown of every scene. No more letting the characters guide me to an unknown destination, as I’ve been so fond of doing with previous writing endeavours. In the past, I rationalized that too much pre-writing would generate a stagnant script. Hogwash. As with any form of writing, the outline is open to revision. The screenplay can take a different turn, perhaps even change course altogether. Still, I have more confidence that the advance prep will lead to a finished script, with the first draft hammered out faster than usual. Thus, with renewed energy and excitement, I begin. Again.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Just returned from my regular Sunday swim. As I’ve been having shoulder problems, I decided to cool down in the hot tub...if that makes any sense. During that time, I chatted with a lifeguard and another pool regular.

“How far do you swim?” the lifeguard asked.

“5K on Sundays. 3K whenever I get myself to the pool on weekdays.” Somehow the conversation shifted to me talking about my writing. Midway through an explanation, the other swimmer interrupted.

“Wow. You’re so disciplined.”

Who me?

I grew up feeling like one of the least disciplined people on the planet. I was always misplacing library books and failing to return them before the due date. My room had shelves and a cupboard, a chest of drawers and a closet, but I preferred a clutter sprawl extending across my desk, spilling onto the floor and oozing under the bed. Efforts to organize my mess were always sidetracked by a fascinating piece of paper or toy that surfaced as I sifted through the first hodgepodge pile. (And, really, any piece of paper magically became fascinating when faced with the daunting task of a major cleanup.)

In high school, I was the one stuck reading Watership Down or Jane Eyre on the final weekend despite having three or four weeks to ”enjoy” the assigned novel. Projects were completed at the last minute. I told myself that I thrived under pressure.

Same experience in university, only the cram sessions became all-nighters as the neglected readings and assignments were exponentially greater. (My pages to read before midterms always exceeded a thousand. For some reason, I wasn’t sensible enough to stop registering for history classes. All that pressure,...a good thing.)

As I started teaching, it seemed to take me twice as long to prepare lessens, five times as long to mark papers. If only I were more organized, more disciplined.

Something clicked while I was working on my master’s. Despite having lived my life as a procrastinator extraordinaire, I started signing up to be first with class presentations, frontloading the work for my courses. I did my readings so far in advance that I’d have to thoroughly review them again before class, which I realized was a great way to solidify my understanding rather than an exercise in redundancy. I performed as well, if not better, and I enjoyed my studies instead of experiencing a radical shift from lackadaisical to frantic each semester. My fingernails survived key deadlines, my facial complexion cleared up and my caffeine intake...well, some things really can’t be changed.

Apparently I’m not an “old dog” just yet. Human beings can evolve and, remarkably, I have grown into being a disciplined individual. This year of writing could have been a loosey-goosey joke. I could have developed an online addiction with Pac-Man and juggled Scrabble games via email with people around the world. I could have reconnected with Oprah and tried to figure out the reason for the existence of “The View”. And I could have made a dent in the shelves of reading material I keep meaning to get to...some day.

I’d agree with the lady at the pool. I am disciplined. Thankfully, I am as fully accountable for my time writing as for my workouts. I’ve logged my writing on a calendar and documented my time spent writing each day. If I let the dogs out or answer the phone, the clock stops. It may seem obvious that breaks are not actual writing time, but without my newfound discipline, I could have easily deceived myself. Rationalization comes easily. I set writing priorities at the beginning of each week and hold myself to six days of writing. Whenever I come up short on a particular day, I fit in more writing on other days to recover the missed writing time.

I’d always thought being disciplined led to being stuffy and rule-oriented. Artists, after all, are supposed to be free and spontaneous, exploring their craft when the mood is right. Yet I’ve become more driven as a writer as a result of my discipline. If anything, there is more flow to my creativity. Yes, being disciplined as a writer can indeed be an asset. Go figure.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Scary to think it is June. My year of writing began eleven months ago and, with an end in sight, I’m feeling on edge. Sure, I need to remind myself that it’s more of a baker’s year: thirteen months (plus a week or two), not the standard twelve. But that still doesn’t leave a lot of time.

I’ve enjoyed the freedom that comes with writing full-time six days a week. I’ve worked on screenplays, teleplays, picture book manuscripts, a short shorts collection, juvenile novels, a young adult novel and two novels for adults. Several items are finished, but I continue to struggle in finding the right people to read them. (My scripts have all been returned unopened.) Many projects have first drafts completed and a few are in various stages of revision, but now I have to prioritize which ones I should strive to fully polish and submit before I head back to my regular job. It’s a tough call. Naturally, some of the projects I am most excited about are farthest from the finish line.

For the past month, I have spent the bulk of my time completing, revising and polishing a juvenile novel manuscript, entitled The Lawn Patrol. The process has been satisfying, but I must admit that the last two weeks, focused on deleting ten percent to bring down the word count, hasn’t been the most creatively stimulating. I intend to complete some finishing touches today and submit the work this week.

It is tempting to celebrate finishing Lawn Patrol by going on a mini vacation—Whistler, maybe Victoria. But that gets complicated. What about the dogs? What about the fact a trip, however small, is not in the budget? After all, I am traveling to L.A. at the end of July for a children’s writers’ conference. Can’t I postpone the extrinsic reward? How about an ice cream cone—double scoop—for the time being?

Yeah, not the same.

The urge is to dive into one of my newer endeavors instead of revising another completed first draft. That’s the artist in me, needing to reignite the spark. The practical, business side, however, nags me to work on the next project that is closest to submission quality. I will probably juggle the two, a suitable compromise.

It would be best if I could block out the fact that I will be starting a new job soon with new staff, new students, new parents, new district personnel, new regulations, new…My stomach goes into knots just typing that. It doesn’t help that I was at the new school one day last week and I have a full day there this week. Makes it harder to protect my writing time as thoughts of the future creep in.

This year has been a luxury. I saved up the money and made it happen. Most people cannot do that. My biggest motivators are the passion and joy that come with writing. A full-time career as a writer remains the dream. I am fortunate—despite that irksome inner voice sometimes saying I am foolish—to still pursue it.

Friday, May 21, 2010


There’s something odd about ABC’s fall television schedule. At a glance, it seems that very little is new. And, in terms of comedy, that is especially true. One sitcom. That’s it. Finally a show to fill the “Hank” slot used for the 2009-2010 to erode the freshness of ABC’s other comedies.

The new show is called Better Together (Wednesdays, 8:30-9:00), starring that mom from That ’70s Show and two daughters who seem indistinguishable. Lack of distinction is the major problem with the preview I watched. There’s the new beau who is sitcom-cliché dimwitted, the bantering parents and three characters (the sisters and the perennial other boyfriend) who share the straight role. Three normal roles? That kind of blandness leads to stunt guest star appearances in Wacko of the Week parts. There’s nothing wrong with this show. It appears that it would provide harmless background noise while I randomly fill in my Sudoku puzzle (15, 0, 137,…) or roll pennies for my New Laptop Fund. It may even stick around for the season à la Accidentally…On Purpose, but let’s hope ABC has learned from Hank and has a midseason sitcom in development (better than that Romantically Challenged). Of course, I think picking up The New Adventures of Old Christine would make Wednesdays seamlessly funny on ABC. It’s better than Better Together.

There are other new shows on ABC, hour long fare with bland titles like Body of Proof and No Ordinary Family and, yuck, Secret Millionaire.

Detroit 1-8-7 at least has an attention-getting name. Poor Detroit. The city may be The Motor City, the home of Motown and the 11-time Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings, but as the main star of this program, its TV glory comes as the Murder Capital. If I were in the mayor’s office, I would be in a (murderous) rage. Sure, you can have crime shows in Vegas and Miami and no one is going to change their travel itinerary. Not the same for Detroit (if it was on anyone’s travel list in the first place).

I can’t get a read for the show based on the preview. To be sure, the police investigators do not stand out. There are a couple points where a suspect and an officer seem to talk to the camera. Not sure if that’s a regular part of the show, but it would make it stand out from all the other cop dramas. The show’s success will depend on the writing and whether it can hook viewers early on with compelling cases. Its spot in the ABC lineup isn’t going to help. Grittier than Monday night’s Castle, I don’t see Dancing with the Stars fans automatically staying tuned Tuesdays at 10 for a look at the back alleys of Detroit.

The preview for Body of Proof (Fridays, 9-10) has what Detroit 1-8-7 appears to lack: a clear star. Dana Delany hasn’t had a great, chew-the-scenery role since she leapt off the screen as Colleen McMurphy in China Beach. The fact she’s getting this lead role twenty years later shows that others know that Delany can be more than a crazy, underutilized Desperate neighbor. As a coroner who gets involved in solving crime, she is a commanding presence. This is not my kind of show, but I might tune in. Delany is an actress who can convey so much inner turmoil through her eyes and here she plays a hard-nosed surgeon thrust in a career/life change. I’m rooting for her. Jeri Ryan in the supporting cast may also help draw viewers, but Ryan only has one line in the preview. This is deservedly the long overdue Dana Delany Show. Too bad it’s on Fridays. It would fit better in the post DWTS spot on Tuesday nights.

No Ordinary Family (Tuesdays, 8-9) fills the Heroes void, complete with Michael Chiklis going through a series of watch-the-cheerleader-not-die stunts. Been there. Still, the show has a waiting audience (just as Heroes did early on before plot twists lost its viewers). Chiklis looks like a live-action version of the dad in “The Incredibles”, not a draw for me. I won’t be watching, but there are a lot of Lost people looking for a place to go.

Playing against the feel good School Pride on NBC is Secret Millionaire (Fridays, 8-9), a show where rich people experience life on the poorer side of the tracks and give some of their money to those most deserving. Value judgments on people in poverty. Ick. But I’m supposed to feel warm and fuzzy over this “unforgettable” show. It’s very Extreme Makeover and a near clone of whatever that other show was this season—gee, forgettable—about the bosses who pretended to be peons in their own empires. I have a feeling that this show will draw more viewers than School Pride. Both are manipulative entertainment, but if I had to root for one, I’d go with the cheerleaders who need pompoms.

There’s nothing that screams Must-See and several clear passes among ABC’s new slate. If anything, I’m hoping Dana Delany’s Body of Proof finds whatever audience is out there on Fridays. But then again, I’ve seen other ABC shows like Ugly Betty and Men in Trees rot on that cursed evening. I’ve also seen how belated moves to a new night fail to pull in viewers once the opportunity for initial buzz is lost. Here’s to history not repeating itself…and Body of Proof being as good as its promise.

Monday, May 17, 2010


This is a favorite time of year for me. I have always been captivated by TV. As a youngster, I looked forward to the weekly Nielsen ratings; I studied how shows fared from week to week and against competing shows on other networks. For the struggling shows that I cared about, I considered other places on the network schedule where the program might have a better chance. I also brainstormed ways to promote these series and critiqued not only quality of the latest episodes but the effectiveness (and frequency) of the promotional trailers for the next airing.

Mid-May is when I feel a sense of freedom. Shows end their season (or their entire run). I have more time to step away from the television set during the long summer of reruns and substandard fare that the networks dump under the guise of a new “summer season” (as ABC is currently promoting it). This year I watched ten hours of TV per week, not counting the evening news. During summer, I’ll be down to about four. That means more evening beach walks with the dogs and more time to write.

This is also the time when the networks release their fall schedules and air previews for new series. I enjoy looking over how the timeslots are filled, eyeing what each show is up against. And based on what’s available in print and in the form of promos, it’s my chance to speculate before Nielsen provides the cold, hard evidence. I get to think like a television programmer and contemplate what shows have hit potential and which ones will be the first to be unceremoniously axed and quickly forgotten by all but the diehard TV trivia fanatics. (Supertrain, anyone?)

NBC has released its fall lineup and what follows is my take on its new sitcoms, dramedies and reality shows after watching extended previews online.

Ø Outsourced—30-minute sitcom, airing Thursdays at 9:30 after The Office. The main character is a twentysomething white guy looking to climb the corporate ladder. He seems likable in the same vein as John Krasinski on the lead-in show or Ryan Reynolds in “The Proposal”. He works for a company that sells novelty products (e.g., fake vomit; cheese head apparel) by phone and the phone center has been relocated to India. So here we have the makings for funny: guy as fish out of water, thrust in a foreign culture. Unfortunately, the jokes about Sikh turbans and the danger of diarrhea from eating daal are cringe inducing. Watching a chubby Indian become Westernized as he dances and sings to the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’tcha” should have prompted someone from the network to exclaim, “Don’t!” Even if the writing frees itself from the initially offensive stereotypes and cultural mockery (one character’s name, Manmeet, is fodder for some desperate chuckles), I don’t think America is ready to watch a sitcom set in India on a weekly basis. I wonder if the creators and the network were partly inspired by the success of Little Mosque on the Prairie in Canada. “Slumdog Millionaire” no doubt also played a part in the conversation during the development stage. This is a small step forward in that a network is daring to give a show set in India a prime time spot. Putting the show on after The Office may help but the sitcom is still a huge gamble and, based on the preview, I predict the show will be one of the first to be cancelled.

Ø Love Bites—One-hour dramedy anthology, airing Thursdays at 10:00 after Outsourced. I want to like this show. It has a good pedigree, coming from the producers of “Love Actually” and Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Sex and the City writer Cindy Chupack. I am also excited that it stars Ugly Betty’s Becki Newton. Did I say I want to like this show? Really, I do. The vibe feels buzz worthy, but the material has been done before on shows like, ahem, Sex and the City. There’s the man who competes with a state-of-the-art vibrator. And the two good looking men at the bar aren’t checking out the two hot single women; they’re checking out each other. Add to that a plotline about the faux virgin and it feels like an onslaught of dating mishap retreads. I’m hoping this show finds its legs. It’s not going to have any help coming from its lead-in. Still, the quick demise of Outsourced may not come soon enough to enable this show to generate some heat.

Ø Perfect Couples—30-minute sitcom, saved as a midseason replacement. Hands down, the worst show of the lot. Three couples whom I couldn’t distinguish in the preview. The bromance between two of the male leads was promoted more than any other relationship. The women do not stand out at all. If there is a woman on the writing staff, her voice isn’t coming through. Strange since the show, by its very nature, will attract a larger female demographic. Watching the preview, it felt like the actors were trying too hard and coming off as grating instead of intriguing. This show is destined for a short life.

Ø Friends with Benefits—30-minute sitcom, slated for midseason. This is another show I want to like. The fact it comes from the makers of “(500) Days of Summer”gives me hope. The dating scenarios seem to come from the Seinfeld/Sex in the City vault, especially the goodnight kiss from the Face Licker—perhaps a welcome gesture from Fido, but not from your date. Still, the main couple (er, very friendly friends) come across as likable, and even more appealing is the male buddy who believes there has to be more than just sex. Yes, he’s a slightly altered version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in “(500) Days”, but it’s the type of male character we rarely see in a TV world of Barneys (How I Met Your Mother) and Charlies (Two and a Half Men). Not sure about the title, as I don’t know how long that initial premise will last. (Reminds me of the misnamed Cougar Town, named to generate initial media attention but failing to fit with any long-term story arc.) Programmers keep trying to come up with the next Friends or the next SITC. Maybe, just maybe, this will be it.

Ø The Paul Reiser Show—Presumably a 30-minute sitcom, slated for midseason.
I suspect Paul Reiser is an acquired taste. Lovable to some; an annoying schmuck to
others. I like Reiser. And I loved Mad about You. (Of course, much of that is attributable to the chemistry between Reiser and the remarkable Helen Hunt. Oh, Helen, where art thou?!) Paul Reiser and this show remind me of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. For me, that’s a good thing; for others…dunno. It’s the only preview that had a moment where I laughed out loud. I see potential for creating lovably off-center characters around Reiser. Still, it makes me wonder why NBC is holding off until midseason. Feels like the network is saying, “Meh.” Its timeslot will be critical. The show will be older skewing, not necessarily what the network wants as it tries to maximize ad revenue. I think the show will have a small, loyal following. Depending how NBC promotes it, the show could build momentum. I’d like it to stick around awhile, especially to see how the supporting cast develops.

Ø School Pride—One-hour reality show, airing Fridays at 8:00. This is my V8 moment. Bang on forehead,…I could’ve had a reality show! Ten years ago, I remember sitting on the sofa, watching Trading Spaces with a friend. “Why don’t they do this with classrooms?” I grumbled. “There is no money to make over schools. So many classes don’t look inviting. It all depends on how much money individual teachers invest.” Along comes School Pride, a grander show than I’d envisioned—more of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition knockoff than a younger sibling of Trading Spaces. (Tangent: Is Trading Spaces on anymore?) When the show was announced last week as landing a spot on the fall schedule, I recall one of the first comments on an online message board bemoaning the latest lame reality as Law & Order got axed. Folks, I don’t think reality is going away. And this show is slated for the Friday night wasteland. Not sure what the ratings were for Jamie Oliver’s earnest diet makeover series on ABC, but I think School Pride will fare similarly, perhaps even a little better. (Viewers won’t be as cynical in asserting that a British celebrity-touting chef needs to return to the land of Yorkshire pudding.) There are worse things that could air. (Indeed, see Perfect Couples and Outsourced, supra.)

In all, NBC is particularly focused on playing relationship crises for laughs, with mixed results. Nothing stands out as a bona fide breakout show but there is hope for Reiser, Love Bites and Friends with Benefits. At the very least, it’s a step up from prime time Leno and The Marriage Ref.

Check out the trailers and post your comments below.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The cheque came in the mail a week ago and I still haven’t cashed it. It’s not going to make much of a difference to my bank balance.

Twice a year, I receive a royalty statement for my first published book, Fouling Out. I initially received three equal payments as advances on royalties, coming upon acceptance of the original manuscript, after final edits and on publication. I’ve read that some authors get six-, even seven-figure advances. Sounds like pure fantasy to me. My advance didn’t cover a month’s living expenses.

The latest royalty statement is my fourth. This was the first time it came with a cheque, as the earnings from my teensy percentage on sales finally exceeded the advance. $74.84. Won’t even cover the basic fee for the single-day writers’ conference I attended last weekend.

At that conference, almost every speaker mentioned (often repeatedly) how writers don’t do it to accrue wealth. They don’t even do it to eke out a modest existence. People politely nodded, some smiled and even laughed. Ha ha. How silly to think writers could make a living from their craft. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or John Grisham or Danielle Steel, you don’t quit your day job.

Writing a novel or a screenplay is a huge undertaking, fuelled by a love of the writing process, subject matter that speaks to us and blind hope that someone with the power to greenlight the project will pull the manuscript out of the slush pile, give it a fair read and convince publishers or producers that the work will generate a profit for them. It has to be the right project at the right time in the right hands. And even when everything falls into place, it remains a speculative venture.

Yes, there is pride in publication. “You’re so lucky,” one conference goer told me, with unabashed envy. It is a good feeling, but it doesn’t do much to cushion the fact I’m cash poor.

It’s a wonky profession. Even magazine writing, which can be a quicker route to a paycheque (or rejection), offers shockingly small financial rewards. As I randomly flip through my copy of The Canadian Writer’s Market, I find magazines offering payment ranging from 1¢ to $1 per word. One cent?! That’s ten bucks for a thousand words! And I just read in The Vancouver Sun today that Canuck hockey player Mason Raymond deserves a bump up to $2.5 million next season, a more than 300% raise from this season’s bargain salary of just $760,000. I’m a huge Canuck fan and I do like Raymond’s speed, but something’s amiss here. Let’s take a literary publication as an example. Surely, a publication that celebrates the written word sets out to value writers and pay them accordingly. But no! A 350-word book review in Quill & Quire pays $90. To earn that, the writer must invest the time to read the book being critiqued, possibly conduct some background research on the book’s author and prior work, draft the review, submit it with a cover letter and go through at least one round of editing with an editor from the magazine. It’s entirely possible that the writer fails to recoup even minimum wage for his efforts.

The Globe and Mail, arguably Canada’s preeminent newspaper, runs an 800-1,000 word essay each day. Anyone can submit a piece for consideration. In the past, the paper paid a $100 honorarium to the writer upon publication. At least a year ago, the Globe did away with any payment. The newspaper gets a free essay to fill precious space on the page. What a coup!

Oh, I know the standard response. We don’t do this for the money. There is no type of work I enjoy more than writing. Yet fulfillment is compromised by the need to pay the hydro bill and cover my dog’s increasing meds. I’ve been otherwise frugal. I’ve rationed the same bottle of wine for two and a half months and I begin most every day with a bowl of generic oatmeal.

Perhaps what I lack in wine I make up for in whine. But I do think of writers as artists and I long for the day when “starving artist” becomes an odd expression that makes as much sense as how most citizens view the expression “honest politician”. I look forward to the day when a writer can expect to be reasonably compensated.

Until then, I shall continue to scrape up two bucks twice a week, cross my fingers and chant one of my grandfather’s goofy expressions (“Seven come eleven, der ma needs a new pair of shoes”) in hopes the same six numbers I’ve played for the past sixteen years will finally lead to a lottery windfall and the financial security to continue writing full-time.

Yes, I’ll be one of those winners who drives the public crazy as I continue to work as a writer. But no need to get too rattled if I should win. Apparently writing is more like volunteer work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The following entry was written April 19. With my series of recent technological challenges, I neglected to post it in a timely fashion.

As I began a new comedy screenplay, I decided to set the story in a charming small town in the United States. Mount Vernon, Washington caught my eye on New Year’s Day as I drove to SeaTac airport. To be specific, one building captured my interest from the freeway: a gorgeous brick granary building that had been converted into a bookstore. In fact, I’d forgotten the name of the town and had to Google Washington book establishments. While the store didn’t figure into my story, I had a gut feeling that a town with such a charming structure would be a perfect fit.

I told myself that spending a weekend at a planned setting for my new screenplay would help. I’d have a better visual. I’d be inspired. Gosh, the words would fall onto the page (laptop). In forty-eight hours, I’d have thirty, maybe forty pages—lively, authentic, maybe even magical.

I had such high hopes. When I went through the check at the border, the customs officer said, “Reason for your trip?” and I keenly answered, “A writing retreat.” She looked at me quizzically. A what?! “A personal writing retreat.” I could read her mind. In Mount Vernon?! I hastily added, “And maybe see the tulips.” I didn’t let her doubt deter me. She was probably near the end of a shift. Or, more likely, she was just beginning and needed to endure another eight hours of meeting Canadians bound for casino buffets and factory outlet malls. I was on my way. Cleared at the border, next stop the writing hub of Skagit County!

The only thing that could ruin the scenario was actually going. Yep, complete demolition of a dream. Pages of screenplay written: one. Sure I’ve got notes, some lovely tourist brochures, a few bad pics snapped on my digital. Oh, and of course there are those memories that will last a lifetime. My first Domino’s pizza (cheeseless!) in twenty years. Hanging out in Walmart to get a better feel for the locals. (Bonus: They stock these adorable mini Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, comparable to the teensy liquor bottles on airplanes. Not that I bought one. Just a little freezer window shopping.)

As for the bookstore in the old brick building, it had gone out of business, a beautiful yet sad empty space. Yet another casualty to big box book businesses and online ordering sites.

Yes, I was disheartened, but that was not excuse for a single page of writing. Was it writer’s block? No. I don’t believe in such a thing. There is always something to write. But I was trying to take in the local atmosphere, looking for the perfect settings. Part of the problem was that my main character lives in a decrepit mobile home in a rural area. He frequents the kind of bars I wouldn’t dare go in. (Just imagine the hush as I asked for a glass of the house white!) I drove down enough country roads to have me humming John Denver songs. (And speaking of the ’70s singer, his look-alike was one of the highlights at the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair. I’m guessing the Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators had bigger gigs in Spokane or Bellingham.)

Despite my field research, I couldn’t find any inspiration as to locations or people. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the expedition was a bust.

For my next writing project—assuming I ever get through the current one—I’m setting the story in Prague. Or Moscow. Or Paris. Or even Tallahassee. (I just like to say the name.) That way, if a research trip is unsuccessful, I’ll at least have something else to take away from the visit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


My senses and my brain are in overdrive. It’s a Bucket List day and I have so much to process. I attended a one-day writing conference in Burnaby, sponsored by the regional branch of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). While I’ve eagerly attended author readings, this was my first experience with the focus entirely on the writing. To get the most out of the day, I submitted a chapter of a middle grades manuscript ahead of time and booked two consultation sessions, one with an agent, one with an editor.

I’m sure every such consultation is unique, depending on the two people in the room, the particular day and the beverage at hand. While I tried to anticipate what my meetings would be like, neither was what I’d expected—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I first met with the agent. With only her purse at her side, she opened with “What have you got for me?” It threw me. What about the manuscript excerpt I’d sent in advance? She calmly explained that many things cross her desk. Bottom line: she hadn’t looked at my work. The session quickly turned from manuscript consultation to pitch session. And I couldn’t be happier!

I’d only thought about my pitch while taking the ferry over this morning. Just in case... And now I had to think on my feet. The booking was ten minutes. It seemed like I’d just sat down when another “pitcher” was clearing her throat to announce it was her turn.

I walked out with a single thought: What just happened? Couldn’t give a play-by-play, but the agent did ask for me to follow her agency’s submission guidelines, including a mention in the first sentence that she had requested my material. A good sign indeed. Of course, as the under-confident writer, I wondered how many other pitchers got the same spiel.

Best not to overanalyze things.

The session with the editor followed. She’d read my chapter, easily recalling character names. While my work wasn’t a fit for her publisher (which specializes in nonfiction), her feedback was helpful and positive. My writing was funny, my main character sardonic. (Is sardonic a good thing? I decided to pull out the dictionary to see if I was missing something—“characterized by bitter or scornful derision”. Yikes.) She gave me a helpful idea of something to add in the first chapter. Moreover, the fifteen-minute talk evolved into a two-way conversation, with a focus on hooking male readers and her endorsement that I was on the right track. By the time we wrapped, she offered to give my project more thought as to what publisher/editor would be interested in seeing the manuscript. This went beyond my expectations . (As an aside, she thought I looked much younger than my chronological age, joking that I must have started teaching when I was twelve. That alone would have made my day!)

At lunch, I failed to network with other writers as recommended in many articles I’d read about attending conferences. I am schmooze-challenged, but I have a legitimate excuse. My session with the editor ended after the conference broke for lunch. Thus, I navigated through the massive Metrotown mall in search of the food court. More overstimulation. So many people! And so diverse! Yes, this was a refreshing change from my life in sleepy Gibsons.

As the first afternoon session began, a person arriving late slipped in and took the empty seat beside me—empty, no doubt, because I hadn’t schmoozed. She was a featured speaker, last on the day’s program. Meg Tilly! Yes, she is a published writer, but in my mind, I still saw her as Chloe in “The Big Chill” and as an Oscar nominee for “Agnes of God”. Of course, having lived five years in L.A., I knew to keep my cool and let her have her space—as much as one can garner when seated next to me.

Her presentation was a perfect end to the day: a high-octane, stream of consciousness talk that was honest, modest and humorous, with a punch of star power that only a celebrity can project without even trying. I’ve added Porcupine to my reading list. Soon Meg Tilly will successfully make the transition from actress to author in my mind. (At least until I watch “The Big Chill” for the fifteenth time.)

All in all, a memorable day. Entertaining. Inspiring. Affirming.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Just like that, things went from bad to worst.

I’d accomplished very little writing by midday. With my house for sale and a showing scheduled for early afternoon, I spent the morning mopping, scrubbing and fending off dust bunnies. Those pesky things multiply like…well, you know.

I stopped in town to buy some flowers for inside displays and new plants for window boxes. With my house sitting stagnant on the market for several months, I needed to pull out all the stops (and dandelions).

Cleaning is not one of my innate talents. By the time I finished, I was frazzled and frustrated. Who knows what snappy writing nuggets were sucked up with the whir of the vacuum. I loaded the dogs and my backpack in the car and headed to a café in town to finally turn on my laptop and begin writing.

I took one of my characters and plunked her in the midst of a bad karma day. Too much had been going right for her lately. Not a good thing in a fictional world.

When I returned home, I decided to keep the writing momentum going. I pulled my laptop out of my backpack and dropped it. The laptop, not the backpack. Understated thought of the day: That can’t be good. It was a short distance from hand to carpet, but the impact caused my computer to grow wings. The DVD component opened on one side and a heretofore unknown appendage kicked out on the other side.

I’ve shortened the life of many gadgets due to being a klutz. Two cell phones, a hedge trimmer, a record player, VCR and an alarm clock come immediately to mind. I’m told southpaws are clumsy. If you ask me, products should go through a series of Crash Test Lefty trials before going on the market. There’d be a lot less junk in the landfill. But, of course, no one asked me.

I stayed calm. I pushed the parts back in, plugged in the laptop, powered it up and a bunch of gibberish appeared on screen along with the message: Operating system not found. With equal parts denial and optimism, I shut down and started up again. Operating system not found. Operating system not found. After the fifth try, I grabbed the phone book. Computer Repair.

Time was of the essence. I’d booked a couple of days at a hotel in Washington State beginning tomorrow as a research expedition for a new screenplay. All my background work and the first act of the script were on the computer. Had I backed up my work? Of course not. Bought one of those memory stick thingies a year ago, but never figured out what to do with it. Plenty more than a single writing project stored exclusively on my prehistoric laptop.

After several phone calls—numbers no longer in service, a guy who couldn’t possibly look at my computer today—I finally talked to a fellow who matter-of-factly told me my hard drive was likely busted beyond hope. Bottom line: all was lost. Bad karma in real life definitely not a good thing. Was this The Revenge of the Dust Bunnies?

I struggled to remain an optimist. I begged him to take a look. He agreed and told me to meet him at the liquor store in town. (That should have been a red flag, but I was desperate.) Maybe it was a fitting place. People buy booze in times of celebration and in times of woe. Not sure what the occasion would be for me, but I needed something to wash down my chewed up fingernails.

After handing off the laptop and not bothering to ask for so much as a business card, I hit the gym to do something constructive with my nervous energy as I awaited his call. Forty-five minutes later, my cell rang.

“You should buy a lottery ticket,” he said. Did he mean I was lucky or was he saying any future fortune depended on Quick Picks rather than my big writing break? Turns out the bunnies came up short. All was restored.

Whew. Breathe. That bottle of chardonnay is for celebrating after all! And I’d say it’s time for me to finally figure out what to do with the memory stick thingy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


When I was a child, libraries scared me. Not like monsters or frog costumes with leotards (don’t ask), but it was hard to get that peaceful, easy feeling that older patrons seemed to exude. The stacks of books offered intrigue—what treasures were way up on the top shelf?—but librarians and sour-faced readers presented an ongoing risk of reprimand.

“Shh!” My face flushed red every time. I’d immediately flee the building and bike as fast as I could home. No telling what wrath might follow from a pensive book browser.

Libraries have changed. If you want peace and solitude, you’re better off at a golf course. Or sometimes, it seems, at the Blackfish Pub on a Saturday night, Canuck playoff game in progress.

The librarians have stopped shushing people. It’s been years since I’ve spotted a “QUIET” sign. And the serious, senior bibliophile is now often the most flagrant violator of the Code of Silence.

While writing at a prime window seat at the Gibsons Library yesterday, I got to hear the entire conversation between Gladys and Irene. Irene’s granddaughter had just moved back and was trying to get a teaching job. Isn’t that great?! Marv was suffering a terrible case of shingles. Heavens! And Gladys’ sister had recently snapped the most marvelous photo of a hummingbird in her backyard. No need to view it; the description was vivid. (Embellished, I think. But then, I’m the type who clicks four shots of the headless hummingbird and one extreme close-up of my index finger.)

Today, a woman shared a soup recipe—a hit with hubby last night. No use to me. Beef noodle, and I’m a vegetarian. The person five feet to my right is alone but still causing a ruckus, fighting the three magazines she’s selected, flipping pages with ferocity. Two minutes ago, the woman to my right sprang up, shouted, “When did you get here?!” and ran to hug someone in the book stacks. She’s resumed her seat, but the conversation continues as he searches for a book ten feet away.

I don’t mind the excited outbursts of children in the library. Yesterday, a two-and-a-half-year-old extrovert began her 2038 political campaign, boisterously hollering “HI!” to each person she came across. (I was greeted three times.)

Librarians don’t even bother to talk in hushed tones as they direct a gentleman toward the travel books, all the while staying behind their perch at the front desk. Even the wheels on the reshelving cart squeak loudly. It bothers no one. Well, almost no one.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to return to the days of the dreaded “Shh”. The fact that the library is livelier than a cemetery is a good thing. I would just like to think the exuberant catching-up conversations could be saved for the checkout stand at the grocery store or moved along to the library atrium. Maybe we could find a happy medium noise level somewhere between silent prayer and protest rally at the high school gym.

Just a thought.

Oops. My cell phone is ringing. Lovely jazz instrumental ring tone. I have to get that.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Midway through this year of writing, it dawned on me that, to experience this sabbatical to the fullest, I needed to be more adventurous. And thus began my Writer’s Bucket List.

It’s not terribly exotic. I’d love to fly off to Italy and write under the Tuscan sun, but my lottery numbers have not received the lovin’ they deserve. (India and Indonesia got scratched for the same reason.) Clearly, I won’t be writing that a bestseller knockoff of this or that.

It’s not a particularly long list either. I’ll leave the Top Tens to Letterman. Why should I draft an extensive agenda and end the year with a paltry ten or twenty percent checked off? As a writer, I have enough opportunities to experience failure; no need to add self-inflicted wounds. Why rue the fact I didn’t submit a vegan-meets-cannibal joke to Reader’s Digest or write an entire novel in twenty-four hours (a draft that would only make sense to the reader (including myself) if similarly wired on eighteen triple-shot espressos)?

My list has three items:

1) Attend a writer’s group to hear constructive criticism about a work in progress (my writing, that is, not me the person).

2) Experience a writers’ conference, including the dreaded hallway mingling and the curiously crunchy banana bread.

3) Pitch a manuscript or screenplay to an editor or agent, remembering to wear a white shirt to (somewhat) conceal out of control pit stains.

What am I missing? Keep in mind the lottery glitch. Also, know that poetry is a No-Go Zone for me. Tried haikus that paid homage to the acting career of Jessica Simpson. Sadly, the source material wasn’t the problem.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I’m getting used to power outages. As soon as the weather forecaster mentioned wind warnings, I set my flashlight on the nightstand and visualized Plan B, C and D for a productive day of writing.

Sure enough, as I was awakened in the middle of the night to the loud snores of my schnauzer, Hoover, I checked the time on the clock radio. The clock was having a timeout. Fade to black.

Come morning, the house felt colder and the grey skies didn’t bring in enough light to make reading or writing practical. The best-lit room in the house was the bathroom with the skylight, but I couldn’t imagine producing anything clever or insightful while sitting on the toilet. Flush.

I packed up my laptop (with the battery that allows a whopping sixty seconds of writing without an electrical outlet) and the dogs and decided to use the power outage as an excuse to change my writing environment. When life gives you lemons…

It was time for a latté and I opted to drive farther than usual, venturing into the eclectic, granola community known as Roberts Creek. The Gumboot is a café that I stumbled upon during my first visit to the Sunshine Coast a decade ago. With some colorful oil paintings of arbutus trees and other West Coast flora and a steady stream of beatnik coffee drinkers creating a unique ambience, I managed to pound out a solid start to the writing day.

Being only a short walk from the beach, I changed my schedule further and took the dogs down to chase sticks and sea gulls as a cool mist picked up where the latté left off in invigorating me. So rarely do I stop and smell the salt air midmorning when I’ve got a full day slated for writing!

Far from setting me back, the seaside stroll left me feeling fresh and helped set up one of my most productive days of writing in recent memory. Of course, two more café stops didn’t hurt.

Power came on some time after 5 p.m. By then, I’d wound down from the writer’s café circuit, but I had enough caffeine in me to continue writing long into the night.

More wind expected tonight. And I’m actually looking forward to it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Ah, yes. There will be days like this.

For so many reasons, the writing process is filled with ups and downs. Flashes of inspiration followed by bouts of blandness. Crests of confidence flattened by form rejection letters. Moments when my schnauzers pretend to listen as I hash out a plotline, then days of doggy indifference. The highs and lows are inherent in the life of a writer. How many of us have checked bipolar symptoms online—professional hazard or psychological concern?

Yesterday was an amazing day of writing. Everything clicked. In fact, I was riding a three-day streak and feeling mighty fine. It was just the boost I needed after letting the Olympics and the Oscars sidetrack my productivity.

And then technology came along and slimed me. First thing this morning, I turned on my laptop, did what was supposed to be a quick email check and then after reading one email, “Problem Loading Page” flashed atop the screen. Refresh. Same message. Refresh, refresh, refresh. (Hope does spring eternal.)

I restarted the computer. No change. This forced me to dig out the new modem my cable provider sent me months ago. I’d tried to hook it up on a Saturday in December, but when I called the Support number, as instructed, to complete the change the technician half laughed and said there was a problem. Call back in a few days.

The fool! Didn’t he know whom he was talking to? Technology only gets one chance with me. I do have a low threshold for pain, you know. (I’m a redhead and medical research proves I’m not just being a wuss.)

I had no choice but to call the number again. I went through the annoyingly long automated sequence, pressing 3s and 4s only to wait for more options, more numbers to choose. Upon First Contact with a human, I broke out in a sweat. The guy started giving me instructions about cables and routers and electrical outlets over the phone. Another fool! Again, didn’t he know whom he was talking to? He must have been on his coffee (or medicinal marijuana) break because he gave each direction only one time and then contentedly waited in silence, possibly looking at butterfly decals, as I fumbled around with cords and black boxes for minutes on end. I don’t know why I felt I needed to rush. The guy—oh, let’s call him Darryl after my favorite “Newhart” characters—could have held the line all day. He knew a good gig when he had one.

An hour later, I had service restored. Of course, by then, I was too frazzled to sit down and write. I treated myself to a heaping batch of blueberry pancakes and mindless Internet surfing which led to exciting nuggets of information, such as: (1) Betty White is hosting SNL in May; (2) Nikki Yanofsky’s CTV Olympic song “I Believe” is still number one in Canada (and nowhere else); and (3) head shots in hockey, while unanimously deemed penalty/discipline worthy by the NHL’s GMs, will continue without sanction at least for the rest of the season due to several procedural hurdles. (Yes, let’s be fair. I’m sure Marc Savard and the next unsuspecting player who sacrifices his health and career will thank you for it.)

Back on track again, I had a productive afternoon fine tuning a spec script for a television sitcom. It was finally ready to print and I was so excited I cleaned the kitchen as the printer hummed along. (I’m not sure how tomato sauce stains landed atop the refrigerator, but they’re gone now.)

And then another snag. I had purchased a copy of an aired script for the sitcom to ensure my formatting mirrored that of the show’s writers. No way was I going to get tossed in the recycling bin on a technicality! However, when I collected the pages from the printer, all of my customized line spacing and underlining were ignored, deemed incorrect, by the Celtx program’s typesetting mode. I tried again but Celtx had a mind of its own. I searched the forums and FAQs online to no avail. After feeling entirely deflated, I sent off a polite, yet desperate email, setting forth the problems I’d encountered.

The script, as printed, is passable. Yet I know it can look even better so I sit and wait. The package I’d hoped to send off at the post office must wait another day, week, perhaps longer.

I’m glitched out. I look forward to a writing upswing come tomorrow.