Monday, January 31, 2011


Three-thirty came so quickly.  By then, on the overhead speakers inside the Ground’s Edge, the Workman record had ended.  Now it was The Dandy Warhols, telling him that he was Godless.  He looked about the café and it was empty.  Full of people, but empty.
Below him on the table’s coffee-ringed surface, overturned with a straining and lined spine, was the black-faced book of poems.  On its closing cover, the following short verses lay, scratched with the point of a thumb tack to become stiff white words made flat on the shiny surface:
The tick-tock walk 
Of a grandfather clock
One day will end,
One day will balk.
And the steady commands
Of its laden hands
Will turn, then rest,
‘Pon where it stands.
The tick-tock mock
Of that grandfather clock
Will some day cease
To even talk.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Are Your Characters Playing Against Type?

When I decide on supporting characters to follow in a written story I do it the same way it's done in Hollywood for a TV show or a movie. I have casting calls in my head and then I do auditions.

Yes. To answer your next (and possibly only question), I am clinically insane.

They just haven't caught me yet.

Some writers relieve writing fatigue by trying different genre-bends or perhaps writing in an entirely new one. Others try writing exercises: flash fiction, writing from a third-party prompt, writing non-fiction or news.

I do those things too, and highly recommend any and all experiments to keep the words flowing and the ideas percolating.  However, I have another little idea that I employ:


We've all read haughty film review where the reviewer says that an actor was either mis-cast or didn't show enough chemistry with their onscreen partner.

As the lone writer, producer, director, stagehand, prop manager, make up artist and caterer of my story, I have the power to cast all the actors in my stories, single-handedly. There's no committee meeting or back-and-forth with other producers. There's no scheduling conflicts and no personality clashes. No spoiled starlets either. I get who I want, when I want them.

So, to keep things fresh, I will often throw a character in to a spot or a role that he's probably not comfortable with. In "On The Gathering Storm" I have an unsupportive, self-centred, hippie playing the part of mental confidant to Hannah as she goes through the most excruciating ordeal of her life. On the surface, this particular gal is probably the last person you'd rely on to keep you sane in a crisis. She's not particularly endearing in the beginning and readers have told me this. They've also told me that they lighten up on her as the story goes and genuinely care for her by the end, appreciating how her presence calms the main character and even propels the plot. This is not only a satisfying character arc, but during the writing of the story, it kept me interested in her, kept me peeking at her in different ways and wanting to use her to tell bits of the story.

It was extremely helpful to yank a hard, unlikeable character without the apparent chops to handle tough situations and make her soften and step up to the challenge of supporting others.

To me, these are some of the most satisfying moments in fiction: when characters not only DO the unexpected, but are able to HANDLE the unexpected -- some detail or event that seems waaaay out there for them.

Another example is from my upcoming novel, THALO BLUE. (It should be available in the next two weeks for the curious). Our main character Sebastion is a terribly introverted boy, partly because of his upbringing, partly because of his innate character and partly because of his condition -- which makes him unique, and therefore, lonely.

He pairs up with two unlikely people, one a high school cheerleader type named Vivian. In the real world a gal like Vivian would have nothing to do with a guy like Sebastion. We all know that high school kids are rough and mean, particularly when it regards differences. I deliberately cast a beautiful girl for Vivian, someone who'd probably join in the teasing of a kid like Sebastion. But, instead of going down that road, I threw them at each other, with awkwardness but a shared sense of 'not belonging'.  It's not new, by any means, but here, it forced me to have Sebastion and Vivian interact in a way that showed her who he was at his core. And she, likewise. She surprised me when she was able to see what he was showing. And Sebastion was just as surprised when she wanted to delve deeper.

For the book, this method did two things: offered some needed vulnerability and tenderness in a story that started out painful and dark and created an opportunity for Sebastion to experience something new which most of us have experienced but in a way that will be new and different for readers.  I won't say what it is but the curious can check it out -- THALO BLUE is currently available.

Characters can be so much fun if you cast them against type a bit. Fishes out of water can put a lot of energy into a scene or a whole book. Put a fat old man in a story about attractive youth. Have a housewife in a shoot-em-up scenario and see how they both deal with it. It might reveal a lot about them and their surroundings. Or, it might just reveal something to you that you can use and explore.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


IV. A Ticking Clock’s Faithful Rhythm
“You’re staring,” she said, this girl of unparalleled beauty.  There was a hint of a smile in her words.  Her velvet eyes, green, had a glimmer of something that he found irresistible.
“Your eyes—I’m sorry.  It’s your eyes.”  Then he wanted to make her laugh full out, so he said: “My mother taught me to always look pretty girls in the eyes.”
And she did, she laughed uproariously.  They both did.  They laughed until tears came to their eyes.  And the laughter finally faded to giggles, but never did it completely die away.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Explaining 'Nestor Maronski' To My Two-Year Old

Maria Savva and I recently co-wrote a cracking little novella called "Cutting The Fat". You can pick it up today at Amazon for 99c. It's also floating around as a prize in a number of draws at places like

I won't spoil the plot, but essentially it's about a group of writers who attempt to get a bloody and gruesome revenge against a nasty book reviewer, one who has ruined their careers with his scathing criticisms of their books. His name is Nestor Maronski and he also goes by ol' Nessie (much to his chagrin) or 'the fat bastard'.

So last evening, after the launch of the story on Amazon, my wife asked me about my day. When I was done talking (Well, to be fair, it was before I was finished talking--he's two) my little boy looked up from his roast chicken and rice and said, "Who's Maria?"

Not knowing I would have to seriously skirt the issue of a fat man getting avenged in a bloody and horrible way, I answered his question. And so began a very uncomfortable conversation.

"Maria's a woman from England that Daddy wrote a story with."

"What kind of story?"

"A story about a big, bad man."

"Why he's big, Daddy?"


"He's a big, big man -- like you, Daddy."

"Well. He's bigger than me, actually."

"Bigger than you?"

"That's right."

"Why he's so big?"

"Uh. Jeepers, buddy, you gonna eat your chicken?"

"Uh-huh. Why dis big man SOOOO baaaad?"


"Why he's bad, Daddy?"

"Well. Uh. He did some things that made a lot of people very angry."

"What kind things make peepul angry?"

"Uh. He said something that wasn't nice."

"What peepul do to him?"

"Uh. Well, let's just say there are consequences for the big man's actions."

"What kind 'consee-kences'?"

And with that I told him he could have a cookie if he finished his chicken. The topic of Maria and the big, bad man was forgotten (for now) and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as my little boy devoured his chicken with anticipation for what was promised next.

For those of you who would like to know what the 'consee-kences' were for the big, bad man, check out "Cutting The Fat" at Amazon. Maria and I would both love to hear any feedback. Leave a review, comment or get in touch with one of us and it would totally make our day. 

And, by the way, did I mention my relief actually cost two cookies?

Monday, January 24, 2011


The night of Sebastion’s first real kiss also became the first night he ever made love.  He got up on the dirty wooden slats of the potting bench to join Vivian and they laid their clothes beneath them.  The moth continued to flit and fuss in the fixture above, but nothing would have dissuaded them.  No outside sounds or sights, save for the ones they traded across each other’s bodies, intruded.  It was all distant: the stereo and the partiers in the house and in the yard, even the moon’s eggshell coat across the water’s brilliant façade.  To Zeb, the act evoked bright swirling circles of purple, tinged with baby blues and shards of silver.  They were deep shades defined by solid and spattered paint strokes.  There were lavender-skinned orbs that made everything real disappear.  They exploded into each other, reformed, and dribbled out of sight.  Behind that he heard a symphony of aural sensations.  Vivian’s voice, her breathing and all the rest, was gone and in its place was a troop of conductors each commanding a full orchestra of strings, brass and timpani.
The startling conclusion, just as they each came, was when the wine colored orbs finally dissolved from his sight.  His body’s million nerve endings had been reeling and exalted from firing all at once and they fell to an exotic calm.  Ocean waves settling on a beach, he might have said.  In the midst of both their relaxing pants, he looked down in horror to find the face and porcelain skin of his aunt Sicily—
(or was it mom?)
beneath him.  The moth had fluttered with agitation during the whole encounter and finally it flew too close to the little sixty watt sun which had been holding it rapt in so much thrall.  It died with an audible snap that also promptly burned out the bulb.  Darkness fell across the face of his aunt.  The face that should have been Vivian Leland.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Zeb did not see his kaleidoscope colors only, did not witness fancy shades that whirled like mingled carnival rides and nothing else.  There was more than just his magnificent view of the alphabet, of those candy-shaded contours that held meaning separate from the words they built.  He heard things too, saw shapes and felt shadows of pressure across his body when certain other senses were aroused.  As he got older he discovered more rooms in his synaesthetic mansion, established what could be expected and what was known.  When he heard certain phrases or certain sounds at certain volumes, there would be a rustle, as though a sprinkle of autumn leaves had been blown from nowhere, across the tops of his bare toes.  Certain kinds of bass, especially in rap songs and hip-hop, made things go white for split seconds.  With each bomb-studded beat his vision would deliver a corresponding throb of blinding white, as though everything and everyone had suddenly been the unknowing victim of nuclear holocaust.  The skin of his scalp, too, would feel like flames where licking it and he would want to run his hands through his hair vigorously to try and ease the discomfort—and convince himself the flames were not really melting his skin there.  It’s not that he didn’t like the music.  He liked all music, was actually obsessed with it for the most part, but the inescapable rules of his condition made some of it uncomfortable.

Monday, January 17, 2011


III. Disquiet Philosophy
When Zeb was thirteen, he started seeing his Aunt Sicily quite regularly.  That year Oliver the crow continued to make appearances every night at the window, Zeb brought a friend home after school for the first time, and Oliver, his father, began making it abundantly clear that the nick name, the one his mother had given him, should be outgrown.
Jackson Cavanaugh, in the same grade as Zeb, was the son of Dick and Frances Cavanaugh who had made a small fortune with a wholesale company that sold imported cheeses.  They lived in a giant house in Vaughan’s more northerly crooks and bends and when Jackson referred to them—Zeb thought this the neatest—he never called them mom and dad.  Instead, to him, and thusly to the rest of the boys at school, they became The King and The Queen of Cheese.  “The Queen went to her bridge game last night with the ladies from the auxiliary club, came home drunk on sherry, and The King had a fit on her, then proceeded to slap her upside the head till she cried.”  Jackson seemed to understand money, that having a lot of it didn’t fix people’s problems, sometimes even amplified them.  And Zeb liked that understanding.  It was a perception about things beyond most people’s awareness, a separation from most people, and a realization that we are divided from the things in our lives.  Jackson didn’t seem to inherit the stuck up attitude of the King and Queen of Cheese, nor of the other kids at St. Vincent’s, the private school which he attended.  And Zeb found himself naturally more pleased with his friend’s greater earthiness.  Well, Jackson wasn’t earthy.  But he was as earthy as could be found in that little world.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


(New here? Catch up on previous installments of THALO BLUE!)

Back to little Vaughan they went, all three, Zeb oblivious, Sadie contented, and Oliver happy as the proverbial bowl of spiked punch.  As they drove on Yonge Street that day, the foliage in Vaughan wore vibrant green; the spring had been not damp, but moist.  Luxurious and wet, but mixed with heat in the afternoons, like something was being extra kind to the shrubs and flowers, letting them flourish rather than subsist.  On the cusp of the city of Toronto, surrounded, engulfed by it, the municipality of Vaughan, still at less than thirty thousand residents back then, was but a suburb of a metropolis, a drop of water in a dry saucer, but the presence of skyscrapers and hotels and apartment complexes were not a pressing force on its outskirts.  It was like a vivid comfortable town where no town should exist, with its own sky and its own dignity.  In the midst of such a place were large houses and fancy cars and upstanding citizens who all seemed to profit from something—or have parents who profited from something.  It was a place that sat squat and with keen self-image inside the bustle and rustle of the money and movement of its large commercial and industrial centerpiece.

Monday, January 10, 2011


(New here? Catch up on previous installments of THALO BLUE!)

That night when Sadie and Oliver lay in bed, she reading, and he going over papers from work, Sadie brought up the topic of Sebastion’s drawing.  She told Oliver about Sebastion’s insistence that his name be spelled with a Z instead of an S.  “He doesn’t like the S,” she said.  “And he got especially picky about it.”  She showed the drawing to Oliver who removed his reading glasses quickly and said, strikingly, “Is he dumb?”
“No he’s not dumb,” she snapped back at him. “My sister did the same thing when she was little.  She insisted to mom that her name wasn’t Sicily, that the colors weren’t right.  She went on an on about it, and would never say her name...she would get upset about it to the point of tears, actually.  Mom let it go for the longest time, but it got worse and worse.  I think it started to scare her, so she took Sissy to specialists and they had a little trouble telling her what it was.  But she most certainly was not dumb.”
Almost an inaudible mumble, under his breath and directed at no one, Oliver said, “Why are women always so goddamned unreasonable?”—and then a little louder, directly at his wife—“Specialists?  For God’s sake, Sadie, how much is this going to cost?”

Monday, January 3, 2011


(To catch up on previous installments of this serial: THALO BLUE)

Sebastion, to this day, has a set of three distinct images which he can call to mind with perfect clearness, as though they were still photos taken with Oliver’s SLR camera, ones that he could hold in his hands and stare at.  These snapshots, all from his early childhood, those years between three and nine when it seemed his father’s displeasure for him began—though there are countless other snapshots with varying degrees of lesser quality—stand out to him as particularly significant.  They are the clearest in his mind, and at times, he has to convince himself that they are not real, not actually happening to him at that precise moment.  They are that vivid.
In order of their occurrence, the first such flashcard is of his head held down by a large white mitten while descending into a long gray tunnel.  The second is a kitchen table covered in crayon markings—blue letters, z mostly, which he always pronounced zee, and his father always corrected him, zed.  Combined with that memory is a long and curving line of red, starting to blister and bubble along the length of his inner forearm.  The pain of it and the picture in his head of crayon markings on the kitchen table, come to him with pinprick lucidity, and they bring back the physical pain of that moment with utter perfection.  He swears, when he sees that table and those crayon smears, that he can feel the unbearable itchy burning sting under the skin of his arm.
The last memory, the least clear and most perplexing of the set, is a vision of water beyond the black steel bars of a gate that stands closed before him.  Looking beyond, Sebastion sees, frozen forever in his mind’s eye, a boat kicking up white furls of wake and moving towards the farthest edge of the water’s body.  A man stands on the back deck of the craft facing him, his arm raised, his expression flat and empty.
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