Daily Archives: December 5, 2009

Edging Back to Normal: Homestuff, Toronto

As the YOTF Tour winds down — two more events to go, Ben McNally Books “Books and Brunch,” tomorrow, and Windsor on Tuesday — it’s time to do the laundry, clean stuff up, go for walks with waking pal Coleen. Pictures: best informal omelette in town and closest & most delicious Organic Latte, at Lettieri, Avenue Road, opposite Whole Foods. Nino is an omelette genius, Paul wields the latte. And who should walk in but David Rocco, cooking whiz from “Dolce Vita?” On the way back from walk, roses were still in bloom. On Friday afternoon I went to Xiaolan’s Health Clinic to get needles stuck into my knees & toes so I can still crawl around. The garden needs some tidying, and I’ve now got rid of the mouldering pumpkin on the back porch… In the office, it’s the paper mounds to deal with, overseen by the eerie David Blackwood print on the wall above the desk. “Pound Cove Mummers Crossing Coal Harbour Pond.” “Mummers” are/were a Newfoundland custom: men dress up in ladies’ clothes & window curtains, and if you guess who they are they sing a song… Look at the special mittens… Here comes winter.


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The Blest Coast: Vancouver, December 2

From Victoria, we went by Helijet to Vancouver. I was very pleased with Helijet. Not only are they carbon-neutralizing their flights, but they have Ethical Bean organic coffee in their waiting room – how Virtuous is that! – and they give you earplugs. I had a fine time taking pictures out the helicopter window of the sunrise, the mountains, the sea, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser River estuary, and Vancouver from the air, while unable to hear much of anything.

We stayed at the Pacific Palisades, which was just as friendly as last time, except that there was no edible organic chocolate lick-it-off massage bar in the room. What happened? They saw us coming and were worried about Choking Hazards? Never mind, we made up for it in outrageous behavior in public, at the Capilano University event with 32 Books that evening. The tone was set by Ryan Knighton (www.ryanknighton.com), of Cockeyed, who manages to be a whole lot funnier about being — I’ll use this word, he does — blind than I would ever be able to be. He gave the most original introduction to me that I have ever heard. It began with a description of “flounder-trampling,” a novel method of fishing — walking in the mud until you step on a flounder –and went on from there.

As a poor second act, Graeme and I each did our bit, and then we got Moderated, which meant that we answered questions that people wrote down and sent up to the Moderator, Fiona Black.  She was very good at the Moderation, which was needed, as we were in full oldfolkie-silliness mode. After we’d been sufficiently moderation, we did the Sign-O-Rama, to show that we still could. And after that we giggled away into the night and ate some oysters, or something. It was all good.

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The Blest Coast: Victoria, December 1

We’d originally thought we’d be going by float plane from Tofino to Victoria, but a float plane can’t fly unless the pilot can see the ground – otherwise he has to turn around and go back – and fog in the mountains posed a potential problem; so instead we drove. We were first on this road before it was paved – it’s a smoother drive now – but the views are just as stunning, and some of the clear-cutting has now grown over and up. Victoria was a whistle-stop – they whistled, we stopped – a shame not to spend more time in this visually attractive old city. Sheri Grierson drove us to the CBC for an interview with Jo-Ann Roberts – don’t know why my picture of her is so blurry – and to Bolen’s Books, an old favourite, and then to Jim Munro’s stellar bookstore, in an old bank building with stained-glass windows and coffered ceilings. The evening event was at Chapters; there was a full crowd, including our old friend, Peter Such; and we behaved ourselves well enough, I think. I haven’t signed very many chests, but I did sign one in Victoria. You never know!


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Ten Editing Tips, for Your Fiction Mss.

Speaking of writing, which we did a lot in Tofino: I put these together for a friend, but maybe someone out there could also use them…


1.The beginning. This is the key signature of the book. Sets the tone, introduces the leitmotifs. Are the people in it main characters? If not, how much do the readers need to know about them?

2. Charles Dickens said, “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.” He put “wait” at the end because it was crucial. (In any series of three, the third is the most important.) In terms I’ve picked up by playing with the boys: Drop the hankie early, but make ‘em wait for the opening of the kimono. Are you telling too much too soon?  (Suspense: a good thing, if not done too obviously. Who is this guy? What happens next? Don’t signal too much, too far ahead.)

3. Verbs shall agree with subjects  (singular, plural). That is, unless it’s dialogue or third-person inside-the-character point of view, and the author wishes to indicate that the character has a weak grasp of this principle.

4. Verb tenses. This is tricky. But in general: if something is always true, use the present tense. If it was always true once, use the past, or “would” plus past tense to indicate continuous action in the past. (“Every day, he’d go to the laundromat.”) . If it’s something happening before the time we’re in, use the past perfect (“He’d gone.”) Only the author knows the time flow – an editor can query, but the author must decide.  If tenses are disjunct, there should be a very good reason. (Maybe the character is having a breakdown.) See also the use of the historical present. (“So, he goes, “What’re you doing?” and I go, “Butt out,” and he … etc.) Elmore Leonard is an expert at this kind of thing, and at informal dialogue in general.

5. The gerund mistake. A common one. “Walking along the beach, a pair of boots was seen.” Means that the boots were doing the walking, not the observer. Correct: “Walking along the beach, he saw a pair of boots.”

6. Readers are readers. They are good at reading. They are also post-film, and are used to swift cuts. They will fill in quite a lot. At any point, are you telling/filling in too much? The author needs to walk through the moves in his/her head – like practicing a dance or a military exercise – so that no actual tactical mistakes are made – the character doesn’t go out the door before he’s put his pants on, unless intended — but then the planning steps, the  connect-the-dots steps, are pruned out so that what the reader gets is a graceful, fluid execution. We hope.

7. Dialogue. How do people actually talk? Too much for prose fiction, as it turns out. Dialogue in a novel should: give the illusion of real speech; indicate character; not tell us stuff we can assume or don’t need to know, unless the point is that the character is boring; advance the plot; be funny if intended; not sound too wooden. Look at contractions: it’s, he’s, shouldn’t. Look at use of “that”—in speech, we rarely put it in. ‘The tree I saw,” not “The tree that I saw.”

8. Point of view. Whose eyes are we looking through? A character’s? The author’s? Is the author intruding too much on the character? Does it sound like Character Bob, or like Author Phil/Phyllis?  We know characters in the following ways: What they say. What they think. What third-person narration says about them. What other characters say/think about them. What they do. What they say they do. What they see when they look in the mirror. The tone of the prose about/surrounding them.

9. The second person problem. Applies to letters and journals, for instance when one character is communicating to another or writing a diary or journal. If a letter, A shouldn’t tell B something we already know B knows. If a journal –who is it for? Is it to be found after the character’s death – “Look what a clever boy I was”? Or is it for her to enjoy in private in a gloating or meditative or My Secret Life sort of way? For a sampling of diaries/journals, see the excellent anthology, The Assassin’s Cloak.

10. The ending. Open or closed. Fitting in tone. Makes us say Wow, or I want more. Or it sums things up, or provides a coda. It is, in any case, the last word. For now. Ask: is this how you want to sign off?


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