Friday, July 31, 2009

A First Glimpse of the Kindled Future

You ever hear of Boyd Morrison? Probably not, but his story is more than a little pertinent for anyone looking to make a living as a writer.

It seems that old Boyd went and wrote a novel, but instead of going the usual route of sending it off to sit on a slush pile, or futilely begging an agent to look at it, he self-published it on Amazon as a Kindle book.

And it sold.

Not Harry Potter levels, but more than enough that Simon and Schuster kicked down his door and stuck a two book deal in his face.

This Kindle thing may not only be a way for to get noticed by readers, but for the publishers to notice writers. Instead of looking into a crystal ball to predict what might sell, they only have to see what does sell, then lock that writer in tight.

Reports of the publishing industry's death may soon be proven to be exaggerated.

Another First Last

I saw King Canute today,
half formed, translucent
on the restaurant window.

With every new word,
attempt at a gesture,
the initiative moved
farther from view.

What spark there was,
or interest
shifted red while I sat,
halfway amused,
as the night moved on
it was time to say goodbye.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kindle Takedown?

In case you haven't read it already, here's Nicholson Baker's semi-takedown of the Kindle 2 in the New Yorker.

I found that many of his criticisms were no more than esoteric nitpicking (few people get in a snit about fonts), and the epic snobbery that only New Yorker writers can truly effect ([P]ost-Gutenbergian revalorization? GMAFB!). Also, he never touches on what's to come. He comes across like one of those old curmudgeons who used to kick the wheels of horseless carriages, and spit out of the sides of their mouths, saying "ain't nothing special."

Although, I will agree that books look nicer on an iPod, with the added benefit of being able to read at night, while listening to music, and being able to check your email...

Then again, maybe that defeats the purpose.

But as for the Kindle, time will tell, or the Apple Tablet (Tapplet) will.

Hello My Friend

His friend yelled
with unchecked anger
even some hate
in his words.

At first he accepted them
and understood
and smiled.

When the friend did the same thing
time and again
and he grew tired
but patience held
listening, wishing
they could would move on
to something else.

But when he moved
it was from anger
to anger

Words were said,
that cannot be unsaid,
for which I am sorry
is not accepted,
words which brought
patience to an end.

Pent up thoughts exploded
in an angry rush ending
pushing past self-control
into an anger not known before or felt
and to his friend he said
"I hate you."

He told his friend he would be happy
if he kindly went away
and did not bother to come back

It is only now,
much later on
I begin to understand why
as he said those hateful words,
he smiled,
seeming at peace.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If Every Weekend was a Long Weekend

In North America, quite a great deal of fun is made of France, and Europe in general, especially in regards to how they structure their business hours. Four day work weeks, flex time, and more. It's as if, the joke goes, the Europeans work harder than anyone else, at finding ways not to work.

In Dubai, it is more than common for businessmen, even those with jobs labeled as "executive" positions, to work twelve to fourteen hours, six days a week, and sometimes seven. Mind you, I used quotations with the word executive, because as happens in this country, mislabeling is a common phenomenon, where little hole-in-the-wall corner stores are called "supermarkets" without anyone batting an eye. For too many expatriates, especially those from South Asia, while the job may have "executive" in the title, the pay is anything but. Yet regardless of the less than spectacular compensation, these sorts of jobs are clung to with a ferocious tenacity, and rarely will you hear these "executives" complain about sixty-plus hour work weeks without end.

Why? In a word, money. Those "executives," often have goals, and a plan to achieve those goals, and working hard is just part of the deal. They don't plan on staying in the position forever, ten, maybe twenty years at most, after which they return home to a life of relative redolence and luxury. I've known more than a few NRIs (non-resident Indians) who have massive houses in India, rental properties they derive income from, and even a bevy of servants. These NRIs can afford this because their low salaries (to my estimation) translate to serious coin back home.

So for NRI's, and by extension most expatriate workers in the Gulf region, the crazy work hours are temporary, with a light at the end of the tunnel.

When I lived in Japan, I also found the same sort of crazy work hours. However, there it was more a matter of culture than money, which is completely understandable in the land that literally coined the term for death by overwork - karoshi.

North America has long appeared to have this sort of mentality, and in the early 2000's, this mentality seemed to be increasing. Unlike the Netherlands, where citizens are given six weeks of paid vacation, and on top of that are even given a cheque from the government every year that literally pays for travel to wherever the whim strikes, workers in North America got their two weeks a year, and that's it. But there seems to be some hope, at long last.

Back when I was single, I lived to work. I worked as many jobs as I could, as long as I could, and I often bristled at regulations limiting the hours I could work. I especially hated how the government seemed to tax overtime so exorbitantly.

Now, as a family man, I work to put bread on the table, but that's about it. If I didn't have to work, I wouldn't. I would rather spend my days at home, with my children, and with my wife, doing whatever. I'd love to have the time to walk to the public library twice a week, spend hours in parks playing pick up ball or just tossing a frisbee, go swimming every day if the mood hit. That, in a word, would be my dream.

But dreams are not reality, and in this world, unless you live in Europe, work is king. Until now.

Like I said, there seems to be hope that, in North America at least, the non-stop work mentality might be revisited sooner rather than later. An article just published by Scientific American looks at how Utah has changed from a four day, eight hours a day work week, to a four day, ten hours a day work week.

The crux of the argument is that working hours remain the same, but overall costs for energy are greatly reduced. The electricity is off one more day a week, and cars are off the roads for an extra day. And the ancillary benefits are legion.

Working ten hours is not a big deal, especially for office work. What's more, that extra day really changes things. In the traditional 9 - 5 week, with a two day weekend, you have one day to do errands (shop, mow the lawn, etc) and one day to rest. Sadly, that rest day is usually eaten up by more errands, travel, or family commitments. With a three day weekend, you really do have more time to relax, and enjoy life. You can spread your errands around a bit more, and take things easier. With every weekend being a three day weekend, you don't have to wait for a a long weekend before heading out to the cottage, or going camping, because every weekend is now a long weekend.

Unless you hate being with your family, there's nothing but good to be had from a four day work week.

Here's hoping that this idea finds wings, and when I return to North America, one day, I won't have to dread the five day grind any more.

To Live

Being the smartest or
craftiest person


or not

matters little, really.

It's the stubborn
the obstinate
the pigheaded

who seem always to find
some way

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Google Gets Some Love

These days any news about Google seems to be bad news, and always along the line of no good intention ever going unpunished.

The good deed they've been getting the most flack for these days has been their bold, unprecedented attempt to digitize the world's books.

When I first heard about this initiative, I loved it unreservedly, because I had wanted to do something similar myself.

Indeed, a lifelong ambition of mine has been to build a house somewhere with a lot of space, and add on a big circular library. You know, one of those tower like structures that's three storeys high, the shelves rise up to dizzying heights, with a massive stained glass window on the top. It would be like my own little wizard's enclave, a place where Raistlin would feel at home.

But could I hold the world's books? And for what purpose? In the event of Armageddon, or some sort of nuclear holocaust, it would be a place that could help the world rebuild. It would be the center of a brand new civilization, and oasis of knowledge and learning in the midst of ignorance and savagery.

But when was the last time the whole world ended?

Maybe one day I will build a library like that, but it would only be an ornament, really. Not something that could enrich the lives of others, unless I wanted to turn my home into a public space, and I'm sure the wife would have reservations about such a plan.

Besides, what I imagined doing was and still lay firmly in the realm of my own imagination. In practice, I seem to have gone in reverse, as I have become one of those people who now sheds books after using them. But Google isn't talking about a cool idea, or a grand notion, they're in the business of making it happen.

And that's where I get mystified by the response Google has gotten. A huge number of the books they have been dealing with are out of print, the author has died but no copyright owner can be found, or their is no indication of the clear holder of the copyright. In other words, these are books existing in a form of purgatory, of no real use to society at large, yet representing a massive amount of intellectual capital.

What Google found was a gold mine that nobody wanted, and nobody had ever bothered to even look at. So when Google staked their claim on all that empty territory, put a ton of resources into making something out of what had been abandoned as nothing, why only then did the howls begin. Accusations of monopoly where flung with abandon. Google was said to have vile, nefarious plans for locking up all the world's information, and leaving mankind in the dark.

All because they began digging up books that had been left to rot.

The whole thing struck me as the rawest of hypocrisy. Let's say I found a book they had dug up, and I had to pay a fee to access it. Well, the very fact that I found out about the existence of that book was due to Google, and the fact that I could actually obtain access to a copy was due to Google. So why they heck shouldn't they be allowed to charge me? They did all the work, and I am reaping the benefit of that work.

As usual, what strikes me as common sense, often seems to be less than common, and I find myself on the thin edge of an argument wedge. Which is why is was gratifying to see come to the rescue with an argument that puts paid to all that nonsense sprayed about by all those howling nincompoops out there.

Now if only a way can be found to make digital storage and retrieval permanent, then worries about the loss of information can be put to rest.

Crystalline storage, anyone?


Around about this place that
time scanning the crowd eyes
pausing imperceptibly each
person given a moment’s consideration
looking for something in them a
sign opening suggestion momentary
vulnerability something at least which is
preferable to butting heads against a greater
ego a self-confidence that shatters
any attempt at contact with the exception
of that lucky few whose luck rests
on a whim

Who would prefer
or blind luck
even if the odds
can be improved
with a hastened effort
one time or fifty
until success

What really is gained by
setting onerself up for
a predictable fall?

Where would you go or
even could you after
getting past hello followed
by an uncomfortable silence?

Why bother making
an effort beyond the necessary
the least possible amount of work
for an intended gain?

There are easier ways
paths of gentler rejection

Most likely you will hear a combination of
words at once banal resigned apathetic
which yet ring a soft sweet melody to
ears that usually only ever hear much worse

Wise men know there is untold praise
in the words
you’ll do

Monday, July 27, 2009

Differing Perceptions of Time (Cont'd)

Yesterday I put up a post about perceptions of time. I'd cross posted this on the bulletin board at my MFA program, and quickly received a somewhat negative response. Basically, I was told that while my point could be understood, and sympathized with, I was still "a shit" anyways.

When the gloves get thrown down like that, you just have to respond.

One element that was at the back of mind, but which I forgot to mention previously was that of the short term vs. the long term. When you are on call 100% of the time, then I think the only way you can write is to write like a manager, and not a maker. But this is hard to do. Or, conversely, you need to find the right type of job, one that allows time to work on your writing. When I was doing my BA, one of my jobs was as a parking attendant.

During rush periods, you were busy, but on evenings, weekends, and afternoons, there were always long stretches without any interruptions. My coworkers and I thought of it as like being paid to study. In fact, a good friend of mine who is in her late sixties and retired, has been doing degree after degree (she never had the chance earlier in life), while supporting herself and finding the time to read and write while at work.

As for being "a shit" (In all honesty, I don't think I disagree!), I actually do understand the urgency of little ones. This is why I inevitably leap up and take care of whatever needs doing, right then and there. If I was a single parent, or a parent in a two income household, there would never be a question about this. Priorities are priorities. But, you see, I'm in a different situation, not worse, or even close to as bad by a long shot, just different.

There are four adults in this house, three of whom do not work, and do not study. And it's not that I think that because I bring home the bacon, I can sit in a chair and do nothing every evening, because I actually love being with the kids. In this house, Daddy changes the diapers, makes the milk, dresses the kids after a bath, submits himself to an hour or two of being used as a jungle gym, and puts the kids to sleep. All of which, I want to stress, I love doing. I love changing their diapers, I love playing with them, and putting them to sleep. In fact, I would prefer to do all that over sitting on the computer and writing, any day of the week. In that way, I like to think of myself as being similar to Ray Bradbury.

You see, Ray Bradbury, in the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of Fahrenheit 451, spoke of facing a similar dilemma. He would write in the garage, but then his daughters would come by, and without fail he would put down the pen and go play with them. But the family had to eat and he had to pay the bills, so he ended up taking off to the library every day, where he paid 10 cents an hour to use their typewriter, working as fast as he possibly could in order to keep costs down.

The thing is, I'm not doing an MFA as a lark. If I just wanted to write as a hobby, for the enjoyment of creating something, I could have joined a group of bloggers, or hung out on fanfic bulletin boards. But that's not my intent. That's not why I am taking this MFA. I'm doing it as part of a plan, a plan to open up earning opportunities my family otherwise would not have. Right now I teach high school in Dubai. But our family has no wish to stay in Dubai permanently, which means that I have to upgrade my education and credentials so that when we leave, I will have a better chance of landing a decent job. A secure, professional, and salaried job. One of the jobs we have in mind is the possibility that some day I might secure a tertiary teaching position.

This means that even though I would prefer to just take care of the kids every evening, and give my wife a break, which is beneficial to her, and enjoyable to me in the short term, in regards to the long term, I would not be acting in our best interests.

If I am to get through this MFA, but also develop as a writer, build a profile, and eventually get published and/or hired into a better job, I need to go through the daily grind as every writer must. Just as anyone good at what they do must also do. It would be no different if I wanted to be a pro ball player, or a cutting edge computer programmer. To gain mastery of something, you have to put in a whole lot of time.

On some level, my family knows this. But what I have found is the same as what many writers I know have found - it is impossibly difficult to impress upon your family why it would be good to perhaps structure activities such that, at least on a couple nights a week, you could have a stretch of time to work. Even when they agree, and even when they understand the reasoning, when something pops up, their first thought isn't "let's not disturb him, he needs to work, let's find another way to deal with this" but "he's only sitting there, it will only take a minute, and then he can go back to work."

This is where the problem is, and why I liked Graham's "Makers vs Manager" article so much. I have always felt the problem, but was never able to articulate it.

Back when I was doing author interviews on the radio, I lived on manager time. I would schedule an interview at Random House for 10, one at McClelland & Stewart for 11, and (optimistically) one at Penguin for 12 (so long as I could catch the right train). If I had a spare hour, I could add something in, and while riding the train, or waiting in the lobby somewhere, I would take care of other tasks. I would multi-task, or compartmentalize tasks and complete them in discrete units of time, and this always worked for whatever I needed to do, except for writing.

I found that when I had to write something long form, I always underestimated the time I needed by a massive factor. Though I could and still can type at a relatively fast pace, all that other mental stuff related to writing always slows me down. The reading, planning, editing, revising, and polishing. And it is not just the time as an absolute that is the problem. A project that may take five hours to see through, will not take five hours if there are interruptions, it will take ten, or fifteen hours. Taking out the amount of time lost during a disruption will only account for a fraction of the lost time. The rest of the lost time is lost trying to retrace mental footsteps, get back into a flow, remembering how A was supposed to get to Z.

The same thing happened to my grandfather when he made furniture in his workshop. He and my grandmother, when would get in arguments until they both worked out an arrangement where he would have long stretches of time to work, and other times he would be available to take her somewhere, or help her around the house. If not for those long stretches, he would never have been able to make the many bookshelves, tables, chairs, dressers and more that grace the homes of all of his children and grandchildren.


You say when you dream your dreams
they are
not simply vivid
they are
more intense
real than the real

When speaking we use this word
often we say we chase them
live in them
try to live them
always looking to them
as something better
worthier than what we have
what we are

I can only smile
without much understanding
listening to you
talk of and about dreams
when in any dream my imagination fails
to surpass my real
not so much in what I have but
what you are

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Differing Perceptions of Time

You know, I find it really hard to explain to my wife exactly why I not only need time to write, but that our separate understandings of what "time" means, are very different. To her forty five minutes means I've been writing for long enough. "Isn't that enough time?" To me, forty five minutes means I've just gotten started. "Enough? Are you crazy?"

It's an endless argument that circles about ad infinitum, always leaving me angry, yet hopelessly unable to articulate how I view things. If I say "I need a few hours, uninterrupted," it translates as "Go away, I don't want to be with you." The invariable result of these exchanges is hurt feelings on one side, guilt on the other, with anger, and frustration for both.

It is not that either side is right or wrong, but that the two sides are mutually incomprehensible to each other. What is needed, I think, is an advocate who can articulate the differences in a way that is easily understood, and reasonable.

Today, as luck would have it, I came across "Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule," by Paul Graham.

The crux of his argument is that there are two types of people when it comes to time - Manager types and Maker types.

Manager types break down the day into discrete blocks or sets of activities, and are always used to both multi-tasking, and fitting additional stuff in. They are kind of like my wife, who, when faced with a moment of respite, will decide that a certain cupboard needs reorganizing, or the laundry that was going to be done tomorrow could just as well be done right now, while she is cooking dinner, and chatting with a friend on the phone.

Maker types don't break down the day into discrete blocks of time, because that often impedes their ability to get a workflow going, to go about the business of making. Interruptions break the concentration, stop a making in it's tracks, and every time this reoccurs, the maker is starting at the beginning again. Makers avoid interruptions, and try to suspend their awareness of time. This is kind of like me, who will sit down, start tapping out an idea, exploring it, organizing it, adding to it, revising it, and polishing it. Time will flow without my knowledge until the task is done.

The problem comes when the Manager and the Maker conflict. I'll be in a flow, getting something straight in my head, and all of a sudden a holler from out of the room will break my concentration. My wonderful, lovely wife will inform me that I have to come, now, this instant, and see to the children. Why? Because she can;t do everything, you see, and she is already cooking, doing the laundry and currently talking to her friend! At first I would point out that if perhaps she did one thing at a time, then she wouldn't need to me to run out and deal with something that swift motherly hand and a corrective word could take care of.

The response, after omitting the unprintable string of words that immediately follow, usually relates to a strongly worded question as to why can't I just "help out?"

And it's true. Why can't I just help out? Why can't I just pause my brain, and hop back into it without a hitch? By not helping out, I'd only be proving what a cad I am. But on the other hand...

And that's just the problem. For this, can there even be an "other hand?"

I'm thinking I'll have to delve more deeply into the "Writing and Parenthood" subject. Hopefully something helpful will pop up.

One Night

On a hill talking of the stars,
she sat next to him,
talking of sadness
that no matter what you did
wouldn't let you alone.

He wanted to say words
that would fix it –
He wanted to say "I’m sorry,
I don’t know what to do,"
when he realised
all he need say
was "thank you."

In her sharing,
he didn’t know his troubles anymore,
couldn’t name them.
The only thing he could think
was how glad he was
that he left had seat earlier that day,
and asked her not to go.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Worldwide Bestselling Authors

Abebooks put together a list of the Top 20 bestselling authors worldwide. The list draws from the bestseller lists of English titles from 9 countries that keep national data.

Pretty eye opening.

Number 13 is a kid who, only a few years ago, was traveling around the US, hawking his self-published book at science fiction and fantasy conventions.

Number one is a dude who has only written two novels, the first of which was virtually ignored for a year or more after its initial release, and then became an international sensation - Khaled Hosseini.

I interviewed Khaled Hosseini when The Kite Runner first came out. He was a nice guy, but I was pretty sure he was headed for mid-list status.

Boy was I wrong.

What I didn't see was that outside Canada, and even the US, his novel, and his second novel, sold incredibly well. Out in the middle east, he is prominently displayed at the front of pretty much every store.

As for Harry Potter... I am sure the list would be different for 2007, which is when book 7 came out. This list is just for 2008, and Stephanie Meyer got a real boost with Twilight being released in theaters..

1 Khaled Hosseini
2 Stieg Larsson
3 Ken Follett
4 Stephenie Meyer
5 Muriel Barbery
6 Carlos Ruiz Zafón
7 Anna Gavalda
8 John Grisham
9 J K Rowling
10 Henning Mankell
11 Alan Bennett
12 Jodi Picoult
13 Christopher Paolini
14 David Baldacci
15 Nicholas Sparks
16 Elizabeth George
17 Lauren Weisberger
18 Michael Connelly
19 Patricia D. Cornwell
20 Paulo Coelho

A Correction

A problem
one could not solve
and one for which
nobody even knew
how it began.

So who goes?

One, or the other?

Silence is not a solution.

As the problem grows,
all they can do is
talk about it.

If they ever feel like it

Friday, July 24, 2009

How Short Stories Could Be Revived

I've gone into this in the past, but basically, I think short stories could be revived using an iTunes approach. The writer sells directly to the reader, or through a short story site, for a low, low price. Say $0.25. If a thousand people buy your story, that's $250. Not a fortune, but it is something.

But that sort of approach is not ready for prime time yet, because online micro-payments has not really hit the mainstream yet. People have to have Paypal, or use their credit card currently, and while most people would be okay with linking these up with Apple, most people may not feel comfortable or be willing to do so for a tiny short story site.

Right now, I think the only viable model is to a) build a readership by giving it away, and aggressively marketing what you offer, and b) using an established reader base (as newspapers and magazines use circulation figures) to sell sponsorship. Not ads, but sponsorships, and this is an important point.

Looking at the state of short fiction these days, the declining readership may appear to signal a waning of interest in the form of short fiction, but the truth is that the interest is there so long as the delivery medium is convenient. Which is where podcasts come in.

A lot of magazines and newspapers have been including podcasts with other content online. The New Yorker even produces a fiction podcast. But a magazine like the New Yorker has deep pockets, and this sort of production would be peanuts to them.

One short story magazine that started from nothing and grew is "Escape Pod," with 209 episodes (issues) thus far. It's a Science Fiction Audio Magazine. If you want to check out an episode, a good example is Episode 158, both because the story is fun, and the episode is sponsored by the musician Jonathan Coulton. His song "The Future Soon" (an excellent track) is at the end of the podcast.

An interesting side note...lyrics from that song inspired the Cory Doctorow short story "The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away."

Escape Pod pays contributors about $100 a story, and $20 for flash fiction. Not a grand sum, but it makes them a legitimate publisher, and allows them to legally secure rights (nonexclusive rights) to the stories they buy. Since their launch a few years ago, they have become one of the largest markets for short science fiction on the web.

Even Garrison Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon" podcast is sponsored. Usually by Cheerios. You can find that podcast on iTunes

The reason I feel sponsorship is the way to go is because you can sell exclusivity. The problem with selling "ads" is that you end up having to sell as many as possible, crowding them in the smallest space possible to maximize revenue. It worked great for magazines until it didn't anymore. For audio magazines, nobody is going to listen to ten minutes of commercials, free podcast or not. But a sponsorship is perfect for the form, because podcasts are a recreation of the theatre of the mind of the old days of radio. It is a very intimate and engaging experience, and in that format, sponsorships are much more effective because the announcer incorporates the sponsors message smoothly into the episode.

I know the whole money issue seems a mere piffle, a distraction from the real business of literature and good writing, but it is what allows the literature and good writing the opportunity to find an audience.

The idea is to use the revenue stream generated through the podcast sponsorships to pay for everything else. On the site you can post the story text, put a link to the audio version, and you can even carry over the sponsorship if you want, or not if you prefer the make the site look as un-commercial as possible.

Starting from scratch, however, unless you want to end up broke after 11 issues and unable to continue, like Farrago's Wainscot, which was a pretty cool online experimental fiction magazine, there has to be some way of generating a revenue stream.

Of course you could just do a free thing, and offer no payment to authors (which means you probably couldn't secure rights to their story), and hope word of the site spreads like wildfire. Unfortunately you would then face the problem of how to attract quality writing, and how to get taken seriously.


He wanted this.

He wanted it
with an absoluteness,
standing there amidst
angry words,
as one in front,
four behind,
step in.

Hands shaking
he stares at them
waiting, wanting
one hand touches his arm
"Forget them."

One a.m. the phone rang.
Her voice hysterical,
he could see her tears
she couldn't take it
the noise and people
her brother so good at twisting words
manipulating guilt like soft dough
knowing full well his power
of history and remembered emotions
please come

Two hours after midnight on a
road with no lights
his legs couldn't move any faster
the roar of passing traffic
was muted by his breath.

Three times, angry heads stuck out
of passing window, shrilling
a drunken siren's call
hoping for the slightest pretext.
He almost,
but he didn't -
he couldn't afford that.

"Just come upstairs don't worry.
If they try anything I'll call the cops.
Forget them."

He shouted into the phone
to meet him outside.
He was almost there.

Five men stood outside
liquor in hand.
He tried to ignore them
tried to pass by
but when they stepped up
so did he.

He wanted this.

one hand touches his arm.
"Forget them."

Three hours pass,
the words had faded,
the tears were gone,
and the soft sound of sleep,
fills the air with peace.

He wanted this.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Resurrecting the Short Story

I know, the titles is a tad hyperbolic, but I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately, and I'll probably be posting on it more and more as time goes on.

As you know, markets for short stories have been shrinking drastically in recent years. Science Fiction and Fantasy have been hard hit, and a number of great magazines have disappeared in the past two decades. While a few online 'zines have popped up, nothing seemed to really halt this overall decline. Literary fiction has had and even rougher time, with few literary fiction magazines able to survive without government funding, or private donations, and even then having a rough time making a go of it.

If you wanted to start up your own magazine, off the bat, you're jumping into a market that is seen as not only dying, but perhaps long dead. It's a grim scenario, for sure, but in recent years a teeny, tiny bright light has appeared.

This bright light comes in the form of "audio magazines?" You see, I don't often have time to "read" short stories, but I do "listen" to them. Every day I listen to podcasts like EscapePod, which is a science fiction audio magazine that has already produced over 200 episodes. In fact, the creators of this podcast were so successful that they have branched out into other genres, with PodCastle (Fantasy) and PseudoPod (Horror). They actually pay their writers ($100 a story) and have built up a listener base in the tens of thousands. In fact, because of the size of their listener base, other writers, publishers, and even musicians often pay them to "sponsor" an episode, which allows these programs to run at a slight profit.

There are other audio magazines like EscapePod, but as far as I know, thus far there is no CanLit version. Being Canadian, this could represent a market opportunity, even if it is a tiny one.

Along side the the print material, the can be stories recorded as podcasts. You can put them up on iTunes, offer them for free, and post them on the website alongside the source material. You can even do the same thing with the reviews of short story collections. If you can build up an audience, even a modest one, after a year or so your initiative might be eligible (in Canada, at least) for Canada Council funding. Based on the size of the listenership, you might even be able to hit up the publishing companies for a few bucks.

I know it is not about the money, but this way you could actually pay your writers for their work, which would be something to boast about, considering the state of the CanLit short story market. And even if that didn't come to pass, you'd still be doing something needful, and filling a currently unfilled niche.

Mr. Today

I’m Mr. Today
I used to have another name but
that was someone else
I can’t remember him anymore

About myself there isn’t much to
tell but I’ll tell
the little I do know one thing
I am really good at is sticking my
head through an open door seeing
someone inside then entering their life

Some things last have
permanence though I wouldn't
know enough about that to say change
is the only constant I know

How could they give you up?
she said in a soft voice still heavily
breathing in the afterglow I don't
know what to say all I can think
is because they can

Anything goes for me really I'm
not scared of being knocked down
as they say all I have to do is stand up

Falling in love is easy I do it all
the time cats have nine lives and I
have nine hearts but sometimes
I wonder if falling is only a habit

Remember Biz Markie well I
never have been the
just a friend
he is always someone I later meet

Before God I swear I will give every
new her all until she says goodbye

Per ardua surgo and all that I just
hope I made a few smiles laughs
singing illigitimi non carborundum
all that matters really the
categorical imperative

I'm Mr. Today can't remember
yesterday don't know about tomorrow
every new today I am just as
surprised that I am still here so
certain that chances are like
the Littlest Hobo tomorrow
I'll be gone

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Stellar Observation

Yesterday I wrote about race and racism, but I forgot to mention what prompted the essay. I was reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blogger at The, and came across a brilliant deconstruction of the show Mad Men, that Ta-Nehisi was able to steer towards the subject of race, and the frustrating, almost futile nature of such a dialogue.

I enjoyed this piece, and while I will disagree with his contention that the world is a less racist place (you can make that contention in regards to the US, but not the world), I think perhaps the most pertinent point he makes is that there really is nobody who is not racist.

They way I've come to see it, anyone who alters their actions towards another as a result of a difference in race, which includes culture and creed, commits an act of racism, and by extension is shown to be a racist. This includes even a small hesitation before speaking, or the minutest pause before interacting.

Even if you are only reacting to the fact that the person is a stranger, or to their economic status, or the fact that they are intoxicated, or whatever other reason, if that person is of a different race/culture/creed, then racist motivations can never be fully discounted.

Can anyone in the world honestly have avoided ever acting in a manner that would fit this description? It's not impossible, but extremely improbable. Sure you might be as entirely at ease shaking hands with Al Sharpton as you would with Bill Gates, but what about someone who, to your mind, looks a lot like Osama Bin Laden? What if it's a Bangladeshi fisherman reeking of fish, with an open sore on their cheek? Would you be comfortable shaking hands then? If not, would the discomfort be entirely based on previous knowledge (the Bin Laden-ish fellow), or a reaction to non-racial physical factors like smell, or the perception of sickness?

Even if your motivations were entirely devoid of race as a factor, you could never prove it, and other people's perception of your motivations would never discount it.

Racism is an inescapable part of the human condition. Perhaps it is a result of evolution? Maybe those who did not react with suspicion and hostility to strangers, to those who were different, quickly found themselves extinct?

Who knows?


I find it the hardest thing
do you agree
to tell someone to just go away
instead of that
it is anything but
a half smile
an almost laugh
all apparently genuine
strategically shifting focus
eyes roving
the unspoken message
is understood

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meandering Musings on Race and Racism

In 2005 I married a wonderful young woman named Nerissa D'Souza. Her family is Goan, and though she is Indian by nationality, she spent her entire life in Dubai. When I moved to Dubai in 2006, I moved in with her family, and by 2007 I had become a "traditional" Indian son-in-law, that is, I became the sole earner supporting a multi-generational family.

Embracing my "Indian" identity, I learned to eat spicy curries every day, I fell in love with cricket, I learned to name the major political parities in India and speak at some length about their policies, I became able to hold forth on the differences between the many different religious, cultural and lingual groups in India, and I learned to love Bollywood movies. But even though I am now far more "Indian" than my in-laws will ever be "Canadian," I have only ever been merely tolerated, not accepted by them.

So what does this have to do with race or racism?

Before I moved to Dubai, my wife and I were in desperate straits. Prevented from finding work on account of a visa mix up, my wife had to stay at home while I worked three to four jobs at a go, dropping jobs and getting new ones wherever I could eke out a few more dollars. After our first child was born, and freshly out of university with a mountain of debt, we hit the wall, so to speak. We had no money left, not enough coming in, and could see no way of rectifying our situation but for one - we had to leave Canada.

When I arrived in Dubai, a few months after I had sent my wife and child ahead of me, I was a nervous wreck. With only a couple hundred dollars to my name, living at my in-laws, and upon their kindness, I felt lower than I had at any point in my life. Yet my wife was entirely unconcerned. Why? Because, as she told me, soon after I arrived, I was "white," and we were in Dubai.

Three years earlier, when I had lived in Japan, I had my first taste of what it was like to be a "minority." Words like "minority" and "mainstream" get tossed about so much in Canada, with such specific associations, that it took me a while to see myself as the minority. In Japan I encountered racism every day, from mild examples to extreme xenophobia. But Japan is very homogeneous, and Japan has a long history of fearing and avoiding outsiders, so I didn't think much of what I saw. The racism was never specific, just a matter of those who exhibited nihonjinron (Japaneseness) and those who did not. You were wither nihonjin or gaijin - Japanese, or Foreign.

But in Dubai, when I again found myself in a minority situation, where the locals only account for up to 10% of the population, the dichotomous nature of racism I found in Japan morphed into something more along the lines of a shattered mirror, with innumerable facets reflecting each other, but each being separate and unique. Here it seemed that race or racism as not something widely spoken about or acknowledged as a social ill, but was actually a functioning aspect of the societal fabric, ubiquitous and universal.

My wife's faith proved justified, when, inside of a month, I landed the best paying job I had ever had, a job where in only three years I found my salary rising to a level beyond what I could ever hope to earn in Canada. I chalk it up to luck, and serendipity, but sometimes there is a part of me that wonders if I was the recipient of this bounty not because of extensive credentials or experience, but because of how I looked, and how I spoke. Then again, I had experience in the field, and my employer-to-be was facing a sudden manpower shortage. But still, from some of the comments and attitudes I later encountered from other colleagues, I had to wonder, because regardless of the truth of the matter, it is the perception of that truth that carries weight day to day.

As a Canadian, and a product of that education system, it bothers me sometimes, even though I have proven myself at work over and again since being hired, that others might think I am where I am now not so much because of who I am, but because of what I am. But whatever my feelings are in the matter, the fact is, my situation is accepted as the norm here.

A Keralite colleague of mine was shocked, not too long ago, to find out that not only did I not have any "lands" or "houses" in Canada, but that I had debt. As she told me, she had assumed that because I was white, that meant I was wealthy. She had never questioned why I was hired or my qualifications for the job, and simply assumed that I "should" have that job.

Though she worked the same job as I (but in a different department), and earned the same income, and even though what she earns is ten times what I earn in terms of relative purchasing power parity, she did not even really need the money because her family was very wealthy in Kerala. I, on the other hand, desperately needed that job to support my family, to start to make some headway so that we could build a better life for ourselves. From my perspective, I saw my colleague as being privileged, and felt more than a little envy. Yet even with that in mind, my colleague still felt there was some sort of hierarchy at play, that regardless of wealth or upbringing, race really and truly mattered - that everything aside, perhaps I was the one to be envied.

In Canada, my colleague would be considered the "minority," and I would be seen as a privileged member of the mainstream. Here I am seen as a privileged member of the "minority," and she was seen as just an "Indian." And in there lay the irony.

Few in Canada would know this, but there are about as many Keralites as there are Canadians in this world, even though Kerala is about half the size of New Brunswick. And when you take into account the diasporic nature of Keralite society, there are probably more Karalites than there are Canadians by a good margin. With this fact in mind, in the context of globalization, words like "minority" and "majority" really begin to lose meaning, but what about concepts like "race" or "racism?"

Racism, in the North American conception, is a matter of the privileged actively thinking or acting against the less privileged. In terms of academia, racism relates to the white male patriarchy, and pretty much the rest of society. While anyone can have a racist thought, only a member of the majority can be a racist. That is, only a member of the privileged majority can discriminate or alter their actions towards others due to race (meaning also culture/creed, etc) and have those actions be considered racist. That's because the discourse on race and racism has, over time, devolved to being an issue of black and white (figuratively speaking).

But is that correct? Is that true? If not, then who, really, is a racist? What, then, is racism? What sort of behaviour would qualify as being racist in nature?

When I go shopping with my wife, when we go to a jewelry store, I am often asked to stay hidden, outside, and around the corner. The reason being that if the salesman does not see me, and does not see that my wife has a "white" husband, we will pay half as much as we would otherwise. And when we walk in public, and get into an argument, when my wife yells at me or castigates me in public, I have to restrain myself from replying in kind because to my wife it would appear as if I was talking to her like she were a maid. Why? Because to others, the sight of a white man talking harshly to a brown woman would be seen as such.

Regardless of my being her husband, and the love, children, and experiences we share, the colorblind nature of our relationship falls away the moment we step into public view. We both have to play roles, roles which change and evolve depending on who we talk to or interact with.

By conforming to these unspoken dictates, does that make my actions racist, or examples of common sense? By avoiding being seen by a South Asian salesman in the knowledge that my wife's colour and nationality will help us get a better bargain, I can hardly claim to be "colourblind," because I acknowledge differences in race, and I alter my actions towards other based on those differences, which is what racism is.

Which makes me what?


A list in order
one two three
all the way up to fourteen
categorized and rational
or rationalized
logic that’s damn near perfect

the least you can do is
hear them
even if you don’t listen
because this really isn’t about you
when all you can do is say sorry

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bland is Not Necessarily a Pejorative

I got into a little bit a of a debate with Denis McGrath (currently one of the best screenwriters in Canada) about the show The Listener. I couldn't disagree with most of what he said, but regarding the term "bland," which is what he saw The Listener as being, I had a different opinion.

Here is an edited version of my take on the subject.

* * *

Remember what ol' Bill Davis said about bland? It works. Nobody watches Eureka for the non-stop thrill ride.

In The Listener you got Toby, and his buddy Oz. They show up at a scene, something bad happened, and they deal with it. There is no overarching dark government conspiracy (remember the suck that sort of arc brought to Intelligence Season 2?), no ticking time bomb, and they're not trying to get your adrenaline pumping before every commercial break. That is, it's not meant to be a 24, or The Border.

The heart of the show is Toby, which includes his friendship with Oz (which includes the well written and set up buddy humour), his relationships with different women, and his discomfort and confusion about who he is, and who he should be.

Where I live, in the Middle East, there is already enough life and death, tension, and terror to go around. Watching The Listener made me miss Canada in a way that Flashpoint, Durham County, The Border, and The Guard don't. I felt that sense of ease, that sense of a place where life isn't always lived on the edge of a knife.

The only other Canadian shows that give me that feeling are Less Than Kind and maybe Corner Gas. (Little Mosque just reminds me of where I live right now.)

And that's not a knock against those other shows, especially Flashpoint and Durham County, because Hugh Dillon and tranquility just don't mix. Anything he is in is going to have more than a little bit of a hardcore edge.

But that's not to say that hardcore edginess is always preferable to bland, because it's not. In fact, most often it is the other way around.

Bland isn't necessarily a pejorative. I never listened to Disc Drive on CBC Radio 2 in order to rock out on the way home. For many, bland is preferred, bland is what is called for, bland is what is wanted.

Take Canadian food, for example. I'm always hearing it labeled as being "bland," but by Hey-zeus I prefer that food to anything else in the world. My in-laws are often won't to call my food bland, as they go about preparing dishes that often either give me heart burn, or are so filled with little inedibles like cardamon seeds, and cinnamon bark, that I spend more time sifting through my food to remove them, than I do actually eating or enjoying the food. They say it gives flavor, I say it's a nuisance. Give me my bland any day.

Now when you look at most any CBS procedural, there is more than a little bit of bland there. What distinguishes Numb3rs from Criminal Minds, Cold Case, NCIS, The Mentalist, the CSIs and Without a Trace? Two things - the style of the show, and the MacGuffin. Otherwise they all have an ensemble cast, they are all based around law enforcement, and they all maintain only a light serialization.

Remember the old dictum in television writing that every episode has to be the same, but different? CBS follows that, but applies it to entire shows and not just individual episodes of a show.

ABC does the same thing with it's bevy of reality shows, which are very bland, and very successful. Perhaps that is why the heavily serialized shows do well there. Some sort of counterbalance, perhaps?

I'd argue that NBC had, by far, the best shows on network television last year and this year. They were the funniest, most intriguing, most original, and usually the most exciting. Shows like Medium, Chuck, Life, Kings, 30 Rock, Heroes, The Office, and Friday Night Lights all were, or are, great shows. But they kept getting their butts handed to them by CBS every week.

About the only thing seemingly keeping NBC afloat is the stellar quality of the shows coming out of the USA Network (Monk, Burn Notice, Royal Pains, In Plain Sight, Psych), which is NBC's wholly owned basic cable subsidiary. The reason why the USA Network is successful in this regard, is that they have taken the bland dictum to heart. All their shows are light dramedies, with large elements of humor, quirky protagonists, and light serialization. In a word, they are CBS, but with a better sense of humour.

I liked The Listener from episode one. I felt it was a pretty good show, that got better as the season progressed, and by the end of the season, it felt like the show started to really gel. It never became an action packed thrill ride, and the progression of the storyline was miles away from Damages. So yes, it could seem bland, at first. But it depends on how you look at it.

I saw the show as comforting. It held my interest, had some funny moments, and mostly ended up being an hour well spent with my wife. Bland was what we wanted, bland was what we needed, and bland let us relax after a stressful day when our kids were finally asleep.

Which is why I say that bland is not necessarily a pejorative.

Boy Asks Girl Out for the First Time

It’s all hopes and dreams
every first time
writing down a message
first in thought
then word
then boldly written down
consideration given
followed by hesitation
waiting for the right

any moment will do
when the message is sent
happy in the anticipation
not that she said yes
but the hope that she will

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back from Vacation

I fell off the wagon a bit. A little over two weeks ago I fell out of my regular blogging habit. Mostly it was due to being in the last week of school, and harried by too many things at once, and when my "vacation" started, it seemed as if a pent up demand for transportation and travel was released all of a sudden. That and I couldn't seem to wake up until noon each day. Then, we went on vacation.

You know, growing up, I went on vacation all the time. Vacation, as I knew it, meant tents, sleeping bags, and roasted marshmallows. We'd fight off mosquitoes, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, swim in various lakes, go hiking, and head off home. That's because our family was, if not poor, then definitely middle lower class. That means we had a roof over our heads, but breakfast was usually rice puffs and powdered milk, and clothes consisting of the best of the bin at K-Mart.

For countless other people, vacation usually means Mickey Mouse, mojitos on a Mediterranean island, or train-hopping around Europe. Oh, and let's not forget the traditional English "teaching"/drugs & sex tour of southeast Asia.

None of those are in the realm of my own experience, which is why I maintained a less than jaundiced eye as our family went on our first real, honest to God vacation - at the Ras Al Khaimah Hilton Resort & Spa.

At first I had no idea what to expect, sine I had never stayed at a resort, or even a decent hotel before. Even though by the simple fact that I am white, I appear to many in the UAE as upper class, I am most definitely not. Not too long ago, a Keralite colleague of mine was shocked to learn that not only could I not afford university without (a lot of) debt, but that I had no house or lands to my name. Indeed, she was barely able to comprehend the notion that she'd had a far, far more privileged upbringing than I, and that in terms of economic status, even though our salaries were on par, I would never be able to afford the life or amenities she took for granted where she was from.

I've always maintained a firmly lower class mentality. That is, when I'm being myself, and I make sure that I am not "myself" at work or in public, I've got more than a little trailer-chic going on. So when we arrived, I wasn't sure how things would go.

Thankfully luck was a lady for us.

After arrival, we learned that our room had been given free upgrade. We were now booked in a chalet. But before I could sign the dotted line, one of the attendants at the reception desk noticed that my wife was extremely pregnant. Moments later I was given a choice of other villas, one of which was mere feet away from a massive, shaded kids swimming pool.

Moments after stepping into our new temporary home, we knew that two nights was not going to be enough, so off I went to the front desk. Right then, even though they had a wave of guests heading in for the weekend, and the day I was looking to take was a Friday (Friday is the weekend here), and that our villa was booked, the reception attendant was able to swap things around, and we got our place for another day.

The kids couldn't have been happier.

From then on our weekend went without a hitch. Sure it was incredibly humid and hot, but the view was wonderful, the room service exceptional, and for the first time, I think since my wife and I were married, we really felt like we could relax. My littlest one, Kathleen, had no problem settling in.

For my older daughter, it was something else. You see, for some reason, over the past few months, every time we passed a body of water, she will yell "Water!" at the top of her lungs, and then tell us how she is going to go to the water, and jump in the water, and swim in the water! Were we were was like Nirvana to her.

From then on life consisted of swimming, watching cartoons, walking on the beach, ordering room service, and swimming some more.

My wife was able to finally rest her feet and look happy for the first time in a long time.

And the best part? All this activity had the awesome side effect of tuckering those little ones right out.

One thing is for sure - we're going back there in January.

From Hilton Resort & Spa in Ras Al Khaimah

Daniel Boone'd Know What to Do

Too many coons these days
in my neighbourhood
knocking over cans
without a by-your-leave
decent folks don’t know what to do

coons take our leavings
slink in the dark
dirty sneaky
fat lazy vicious
you name it

now I’m open minded, fair as the next guy
but these coons
can’t teach them nothing
can’t keep them out
and they breed too

makes you wish you knew how to make a coonskin hat

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mr. Monk and the Rubber Room - Tag

Over the past year, I took a TV writing course as a part of my MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. During that course, we studied the art of writing teleplays, and during the course we produced a spec script, and an original pilot spec. A spec script is a TV writer's calling card, as it is what shows the agents and TV execs that you can actually write, and write well. A spec is a script is also based on an existing television show, and the reason for this is that if you can show that you have captured the tone and feel of a show that is not yours, then you can theoretically write for any show.

I don't believe I'll ever be a TV writer, as much as I'd like to be, because family commitments prevent me from trying to climb that ladder. But still, I found I enjoyed writing this form.

What follows is not fan fiction, I want to be clear about that, but is my own original spec script for the show Monk.



Monk is packing some of his Trudy memorabilia into a box. Natalie walks in.

What are you doing?

You were right. Maybe it's time to redecorate a little.

Really? Are you sure?

Yeah. It's been what, fifteen years? That's Julie's age.

She's eighteen, Mr. Monk.

Close enough.

He picks one last picture off the ledge, and hesitates for a moment. Natalie takes the picture from him and puts it back.

I think that's enough change for now.

Monk smiles, looking at Trudy's picture.


Chilling on the good vibe
sitting here with a pen and paper
in hand sitting in a room just next to
a friend of mine

I’m just hyped about this incredible
total complete like reveling
in this
friend of mine

I wanted to say something
but it’s like I got no voice
I got no words so I just
keep sitting here
with pen and paper in hand
in a room next to
a friend of mine

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mr. Monk and the Rubber Room - Act 4

Over the past year, I took a TV writing course as a part of my MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. During that course, we studied the art of writing teleplays, and during the course we produced a spec script, and an original pilot spec. A spec script is a TV writer's calling card, as it is what shows the agents and TV execs that you can actually write, and write well. A spec is a script is also based on an existing television show, and the reason for this is that if you can show that you have captured the tone and feel of a show that is not yours, then you can theoretically write for any show.

I don't believe I'll ever be a TV writer, as much as I'd like to be, because family commitments prevent me from trying to climb that ladder. But still, I found I enjoyed writing this form.

What follows is not fan fiction, I want to be clear about that, but is my own original spec script for the show Monk.


Natalie walks in. Randy is sleeping in a chair. Stottlemeyer is wide awake.

Did you get any sleep?

Not a wink. What about you?

I tried. Maybe an hour or two. It's no use. I can't stop thinking about Mr. Monk.

Stottlemeyer points at Randy.

Can't say the same for all of us

Randy snorts loudly. His arm flops over his face. He shifts in his chair. He is still asleep. Natalie sighs. A phone rings. Stottlemeyer races to answer it.

Any news?...You're kidding me...Good Lord.

Stottlemeyer hangs up the phone. He looks at Natalie.

They've found someone matching Monk's description. Downtown.

Is he okay?

No, Natalie. I'm afraid not. He's dead.

Natalie gasps. She Holds her hand up to her mouth. Randy wakes up.

Is he here! Did we find him?

Come on, Randy. Let's go.


Stottlemeyer, Randy, and Natalie arrive at a crime scene. A number of officers are walking around. There is a body lying in an alleyway. They can not see the face.

Stottlemeyer hails an officer.

So what do we have?

Sir, a restaurant owner reported a man matching Monk's description wandering in this alley. They heard a fight of some sort, the assailant fled before they could get a look at him.

Stottlemeyer squats down over the body. It is dressed in Monk's clothes. Face down on the ground. From behind it looks like Monk. Natalie runs over, but Randy holds her back. Stottlemeyer moves the body to see the face.


Stottlemeyer laughs, smiles. Then regains his composure.

Sorry. I mean, this is terrible, but it's not Monk.

It's not?

Natalie smiles. Randy smiles.

It's not?

Is there an echo here? No, it's not. He's dressed in Monk's clothes, but it's not Monk!

Natalie looks like she has thought of something.

Then if those are Monk's clothes, where's Mr. Monk?

I don't know. Maybe...

Stottlemeyer looks sharply at Randy.

Randy, you said on the video that you saw Monk leave Sunnyland. Did you see his face?

Did I see his face? Well, I saw...No, I guess I didn't see his face at all. Just the back of his head and his clothes.

Then that means?

Monk's probably still there. He might still be alive. We have to hurry! Before it's too late.

Monk is be dragged away. Then the orderlies stop. Several patients have blocked the door.

Hey! Maybe you should let him keep talking.

Yeah! I want to hear more.

I was wondering why my gran wanted me in here so badly.

Doctor Randall glares at the three patients.

Step out of the way please. This man is seriously disturbed and we have to help him!
The patients cross their arms. Nurse Akiko walks into the room, putting on surgical gloves.

Is there a problem, doctor?

She finishes putting the gloves on, with a final flick for emphasis. She looks at each of the three rebellious patients. They seem to be afraid of her.

I don't know.

The Doctor looks at the three patients intently.

Is there?

Patient #1's eyes shift from side to side. Then he steps away.

Problem? What problem?

Is that meatloaf I smell? I do love meatloaf.

Come to think of it, I'm getting hungry too.

Patient #3 rubs his belly and gives a big fake smile. The three patients start to walk away.

I thought so.

Monk looks at the three as they try to fade away.

You're selling me out for meatloaf?

Patient #3 shrugs his shoulders.

It's really good meatloaf.

The orderlies keep on dragging Monk away.

Monk is thrown into a room by the orderlies. Nurse Akiko is standing behind them.

Watch him until I get back.

She leaves.


The orderlies look blankly at Monk.

I really need your help. We have to call the police.

No reaction.

There was a murder here, and if you don't help me, there's probably going to be another one very soon.

One orderly raises his eyebrow.

Is that a threat?

No! No! I meant me! They're going to murder me!

There is a commotion in the hallway. An alarm bell starts pulsing.

What! Who had access! You two!...Lock the door and get over here.

The two orderlies leave. One shuts the door and locks it as he goes.

Hey! Where are you going!

Monk bangs on the door, and looks out the small window slit. Nurse Akiko's face appears.


Monk jumps backward. The door lock rattles. A key goes in. The door opens. Nurse Akiko walks in menacingly. She has a needle in her hand. She holds it up. She closes the door, and the alarm sound fades.

Remember this? I believe you've been acquainted.

N...needle...You know, I am a police officer. A former police officer, and I can promise you, if you do this, it won't look very good.

You catch on quick.

Can me a favor, first. Is that needle new? Can, can you maybe wipe it with alcohol or something? You, in case there's any germs?

Nurse Akiko pauses for a second.

What would it matter?

It's never hurts to be clean.

Nurse Rashid appears at the door.

Come on! We need your help! They've got the doctor!

Who? What are you talking about?

Nurse Akiko hisses in frustration.

Show me!

She leaves, and locks the door.


Monk goes op to the door. He presses his face against the glass. He tries to see down the hall. Isaac's face pops into view, filling the window.

Hey! Looks like you stirred up the pot in there!

Isaac! I need you to help me out. Open the door. She wants to kill me. That nurse wants to kill me.

Well, that's the thing. I kind of like it here. No rent, they cook my meals. And the cable package is great. Truth is, by this time next year, I'll have enough set aside to retire on.

You're in on it!

Same as half the people here. It's the perfect job for the slacker mentality.
Isaac turns his head. He looks surprised. He holds his hands up, and backs out of view. Monk presses his face up against the window, and can see Nurse Rashid pointing a gun at Isaac. Monk jumps back, away from the door.

Get back!

There is the sound of keys in the lock. Monk looks around the room. He sees a pillow. He picks it up, holds it over his head, ready to clobber someone. The door opens and Nurse Rashid walks in, gun pointed into the hall.

Monk swings the pillow, and it glances off her head, enough to knock her off balance.

Hey! Stop that!

Isaac runs past the door, away.

What are you doing?

I thought you were trying to kill me.

The alarm stops pulsing.

Kill you? Come with me! We don't have much time! They'll be back here any minute.
Monk follows Nurse Rashid out of the door and down the hallway.

Who are you?

I work for the DEA. I was placed here undercover to get inside Randall's operation.

Undercover? Here?

Nurse Rashid turns to say something, but she is knocked to the ground. A bloodied Nurse Akiko stands over her, a knife in hand.

Where do you think you're going?

Nurse Akiko grabs at the gun in Nurse Rashid's hand. They struggle. A shot goes off. Monk dives to the floor. The bullet hits an oxygen tank down the hall, which explodes, setting the wall on fire! Nurse Akiko looks over. Nurse Rashid punches her in the jaw, knocking her down. Nurse Rashid grabs Monk's arm, drags him up and away. They run back the way they came, toward the common room.

How do we get out of here?

We can't! That was the way out!


We have to get to the common room. We might be able to jump from there.

I'm sorry. I thought I heard you say we'd have to jump. But that's not what you said, was it?

Yes! We'll have to jump!

The thing is, I can't jump! I have a fear of heights. It's a phobia!

How about a worse phobia?

Like what?

Fear of death! That's worse!

That's debatable!

Are you kidding me?

No! I've been meaning to ask you! Is Rashid your real name? I thought that was a man's name.

Nurse Rashid smiles.

No. My real name's Rashida. That's a girl's name.


A group of police cars come up the driveway, sirens blaring. Stottlemeyer, Randy, and Natalie jump out of the lead car and run toward the building. Natalie looks up.

Oh my god! Look!

They can see the fire on the third floor. A window shatters from the heat. To the right, a much larger window shatters, but there are no flames. Monk's face appears. A number of patients crowd around the opening.

Mr. Monk! You're alive!

Not for long!

Stottlemeyer talks into his radio.

Fire department's on their way. They'll be here in three minutes.

Mr. Monk. Three minutes! Hold on for three minutes!



Monk looks at a patient beside him.

What did she say?

I think she said "Three hints." Maybe she wants you to make a guess?

Guess? Guess what?

Monk looks down at Natalie.

What hints!

...tree ...ants!


Behind Monk there is a commotion. Nurse Rashid yanks down the blinds.

Help me twist them. We can use this as a rope.

Several of the patients help her twist the long chain of vertical blinds. Then they lower part of it out of the window.

(To Monk)
Climb down!

Climb down? This?

Monk steps back. Several patients push past him and start climbing down. When the last one has gone, Monk still won't go!

I can't. Isn't there another way?

Nurse Rashid looks past Monk for a moment.

Yes. Close your eyes.


Just do it!

Monk closes his eyes. Nurse Rashid pushes him. He falls out the window...and into Stottlemeyer, Natalie, and a fire fighter who are standing on an articulated boom, with the letters S.F.F.D. on the side.


Now on the ground, Natalie hugs Monk, who stiffens up, and pats her awkwardly on the back. Stottlemeyer calls out to his officers.

Don't let anyone leave.

Then a fire exit on the ground floor opens, a few meters away from Stottlemeyer. Doctor Randall staggers out, with Nurse Akiko in his arms. The police draw their weapons.

Now hold it right there, Doctor. You're not going anywhere.

Nothing to Lose

This whole thing is just
one step or twelve past normal
just where I want it to be

Everything the opposite of sure
is really the best place to be
when the odds are just a little bit out of favor
when you are slightly outmatched
fear steps in making its presence felt
telling you that you might not make it
you might not succeed even though you have
some hope
some chance

There then is everything to lose
Past normal
where everything is the opposite of sure
where you have no hope
where you have no chance
there really is nothing to lose

Just one step or twelve past normal
is just where I want it
when there really is no reason
not to try

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mr. Monk and the Rubber Room - Act 3, Part 2

Over the past year, I took a TV writing course as a part of my MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. During that course, we studied the art of writing teleplays, and during the course we produced a spec script, and an original pilot spec. A spec script is a TV writer's calling card, as it is what shows the agents and TV execs that you can actually write, and write well. A spec is a script is also based on an existing television show, and the reason for this is that if you can show that you have captured the tone and feel of a show that is not yours, then you can theoretically write for any show.

I don't believe I'll ever be a TV writer, as much as I'd like to be, because family commitments prevent me from trying to climb that ladder. But still, I found I enjoyed writing this form.

What follows is not fan fiction, I want to be clear about that, but is my own original spec script for the show Monk.


Natalie, Randy and stottlemeyer stand at a door. Natalie knocks. The door opens.

Can I help you?

Natalie holds up a picture of Monk.

Have you seen this man? He might have passed by sometime in the past 24 hours?

The Homeowner shakes his head.

No. Sorry.

He closes the door. The three walk to the side walk. Natalie sits on the curb. She puts her head in her hands.

This is so crazy. Where did he go?

She is crying. Randy puts his hand on her shoulder.

We'll find him. I promise.

Natalie, you've been at this since yesterday. You need some rest. Come on, I'll take you home. We've got every man on the force looking. He'll turn up somewhere.


Monk enters into the common room. Isaac is across the room. Isaac waves at Monk and points at a table.

There you are! Where've you been hiding!

Monk pauses. He waves hesitantly.


Well? What are you waiting for? I got your lunch for you right here!

Monk walks over to Isaac. On the table there are two lunch trays. They are both identical. All of the food has been separated into neat piles. Isaac points at the food.

I thought I'd try it your way. It's not bad! Thank you!

Thank you?

Remember? You said I'd thank you for it later, and I am!

Monk smiles and sits down.

Actually, I think that's the first time that's ever happened.

What's happened?

That someone has thanked me for it later. I always say 'you'll thank me for it later' but no one ever does. Thank me for it. Later.

Monk coughs.

Really? Well they should have. Hey! What happened with you last night? I heard you got into a bit of a scrap.

No. I just wanted to leave. But then that Nurse was there, with a needle? What is it with this place and needles?

Needles? I don't know. I haven't had a shot since coming here. Come to think of it, they don't even give me any medication at all.

None? At all?

Nope. No need for it. There's nothing wrong with me!

Nothing wrong with you? But that can't be right. Why would you be here?

Oh! Well, it was my aunt, really. She said I was driving her crazy, and thought this place would help me, you know, be a little more normal.

So let me get this straight. You annoy your aunt, so she sends you to a psychiatric hospital.

It's not so unusual.

Yes it is.

Not here. Look around here. Do most of these guys look crazy to you?

Monk looks around the room. Some patients are reading books. A few are having a quiet card game. Three or four are watching the news. Others quietly chatting or eating their food.

No. No they don't.

Monk spots a patient arranging the vertical blinds strangely.

Except for him. What's he doing?

Who? Leo? He likes to arrange things around here. He's like our decorator.

Where did he learn to decorate? Everything's...wrong.

Wrong? How?

What do you mean how? Just look? It's all...uneven. Some are open, some are closed. There's not even a pattern there. You know what, maybe I can help him fix it.

Uh...I don't think that's such a good idea. He get's pretty sensitive about his arrangements.

I'm sure he won't mind.

Monk stands up and walks over to where the vertical blinds begin, and starts setting them all in the open position. Leo is ahead of him some way, and doesn't see what Monk is doing. Isaac walks up to Monk.

He's going to get mad when he sees this.

For what? Fixing the blinds? He'll thank me later.

I don't know about that.

Isaac trails Monk. Monk methodically opens each blind.

LEO (O.S.)
Hey! What are you doing!

See! I told you.

Monk turns and sees Leo running across the room toward him.

Stop it! What are you doing? You're ruining everything!


Leo runs to where the blinds begin, and reorients them. Monk moves forward, opening more blinds. They both move faster and faster. They stare at each other like gunfighters.

Stop it!

No, you stop it!

You're ruining the pattern!

I told you.

What pattern! There is no pattern!

Monk is now on the other side of the room. Leo catches up with him and they start struggling over one blind.


No! You philistine! You destroyer!

Destroy what? There is no pattern!

Zero, one, one, two, three, five, eight, thirteen, twenty one!

Monk's hands slip. He falls against the window.


A Fibonacci sequence? That's your pattern?

Monk looks across the room. He sees the pattern. Then Monk looks at Isaac, who is looking out the window, waving.

Who uses a Fibonacci sequence?

Philistine! Simpleton!

Isaac looks over and smiles.

Don't worry about Leo. He'll go away soon. Just don't mess up the blinds.

Leo huffs. He gives Monk a strong glare, then leaves.

Who are you waving at?

Oh! My aunt. She's out there with her group?

Your aunt is there? Not visiting you?

Oh no. She sees me once a month. But she's meeting her group now.

Monk looks out the window. He sees a large group of old women having tea on the lawn. Doctor Randall is with them. A nurse is passing out gifts, and collecting envelopes.

Is it a birthday?

No? Why?

Why are they giving out gifts?

Beats me! Just something they do every week.

Every week?

Yep. They come in like a storm, talk to Doctor Randall, and leave! All sunshine a light. That Doctor Randall sure is a miracle worker.

Monk's face lights up.


I think I've solved the case!

The case? You mean Ken?

Yes. And here's what happened.

Monk walks away from the window. The other patients in the room are now looking at Monk.

When I met Mrs. Casey, she seemed distraught. She believed her son had been murdered, but wouldn't say why. When we came to Sunnyland, her mood changed, she was irritable, angry. But then she seemed desperate to see Doctor Randall. Like she needed something.

Like what?

When I was in the lobby, I saw that group of women. They were all angry, and agitated, and waiting to meet Doctor Randall also.

He is pretty popular.

Yes, but why? That's the question. And now I see it clearly. You're not here because you're sick. Neither was Ken, or a number of people here. You are all here, because one way or another, you were convinced it would be for your benefit to be here. But the real benefit wasn't to you at all, it was to them.

Monk points out the window, at the group of women. Doctor Randall is not there.

What benefit?

A place like this would normally be very expensive. Except...

Except what?

Except if payment was by a different method.

Like what?

You said they come in like a storm, and leave like sunshine a light. Well there was a good reason for that. Those gifts they're being given, there not gifts they're merchandise. Maybe Oxycontin, or some sort of mood changing anti-depressant.
Those weekly meetings with Doctor Randall weren't meetings with their doctor, they were meetings with their dealer. He gives them their weekly fix. They use it and sell it, and come back each week for some more.

Are you saying my aunt's a drug dealer?

And Doctor Randall is their supplier. That's what happened to Ken. He figured out what happened, but before he could leave and blow the whistle, he was murdered. Most of the patients here aren't taking medication, and I'm willing to bet he wasn't either. Someone else gave him the overdose.

And who would that be?

Monk turns around. Doctor Randall is standing there. Two orderlies grab Monk.

Quite a story, Mr. Johnson! Or should I say, Mr. Monk? Isn't that what you keep calling yourself? San Francisco's greatest detective?

You. You're the guy. You murdered Ken to keep your scam a secret. And you were planning on getting rid of me. But now everybody in this room knows your little secret, Doctor. And you can't kill us all.

I'm sorry to say it's all a figment of your disturbed imagination. I see my work has failed thus far, Mr. Johnson. Not to worry, I'm not giving up on you.

Doctor Randall motions to the orderlies.

Take him away.

Argument Against Change

"What did you just do?
Again, even though you'd
never do those stupid
stupid things again?"

"I don't know, I guess
I just never learned
to shut my mouth,
to keep those thoughts,
those feelings,
I just out and say it,
all of it?

"I was very precise in my instructions.
Even you agreed. You said
you understood.
Don’t care.
Don’t do anything.

"I'm sorry, I guess
I just don’t listen very well.
When I saw that look
in her eyes
that's unreadable
or scared."

"Well then,
you've only yourself to blame.
I thold you what to do,
how to change."

"Yeah, I know, but
what's the point?
What's the point of changing
when in the end
it is still not me that they like."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mr. Monk and the Rubber Room - Act 3, Part 1

Over the past year, I took a TV writing course as a part of my MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. During that course, we studied the art of writing teleplays, and during the course we produced a spec script, and an original pilot spec. A spec script is a TV writer's calling card, as it is what shows the agents and TV execs that you can actually write, and write well. A spec is a script is also based on an existing television show, and the reason for this is that if you can show that you have captured the tone and feel of a show that is not yours, then you can theoretically write for any show.

I don't believe I'll ever be a TV writer, as much as I'd like to be, because family commitments prevent me from trying to climb that ladder. But still, I found I enjoyed writing this form.

What follows is not fan fiction, I want to be clear about that, but is my own original spec script for the show Monk.



Natalie is driving along a city street, looking for Monk.

Mr. Monk? Mr. Monk?

She calls out his name continuously as she drives.


Captain Stottlemeyer is briefing a group of police officers. Randy is with him.

Now we all what Monk looks like, and how he his. Keep an eye out for odd behavior. Canvass people in your areas and see what you can turn up.

The officer start to move off, when Stottlemeyer stops them.

And remember! We believe he may be disturbed, and not himself, so be careful!

Captain, what should we do?

Well Randy, I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


A light turns on and Monk's eyes open. The light is too bright, so he shades his eyes as he sits up in his bed.

Rise and shine Mr. Johnson.

The Japanese Nurse walks into view, in front of Monk. Monk isn't looking up at her yet. He's holding his head in his hands.

Mr. Johnson? Why do you all keep calling me that? My name is...

Monk looks up and recognizes the nurse.


Because that's your name, Mr. Johnson. That's why you're here. So we can help you.

Monk looks panicked.

You're not trying to help me! You're in on this!

Monk starts to stand up, but the nurse pushes him back on the bed.

Help! Help! Somebody!

Monk starts to get up again, and the nurse pushes him back, but he struggles with her.

Help me hold him down!

An orderly runs into the room and grabs Monk, pinning his arms behind his back. The nurse pulls a needle out of her pocket and jabs it into Monk.

No! Don't! Not that...

Monk looks woozy, but doesn't fall unconscious.

This is not the same thing that you...
Have you seen Natalie? My sandwich has a vacuum cleaner.

Monk slumps down on his bed. Not unconscious, but not in control. He has been drugged.


Doctor Randall is sitting at his desk, working on some paper work. Nurse Akiko walks into the room, angry.

We have to do something about him. We can't keep him forever.

Doctor Randall looks up at her, and takes his reading glass off.

Well we can't kill him.

Why not?

Are you kidding? He's too recognizable!

How? I've never heard of him.

Maybe you haven't but half the city has. If he turned up dead somewhere, we'd have the cops at our door before we could blink. As it is, we're under too much scrutiny now. We can't take chances.

If he's as famous as you say, then somebody inside is going to recognize him sooner or later. What do you want me to do?

Well...I don't know. We don't really have the facilities to keep him isolated. We can only seal off the one wing. Maybe...maybe we could distract him? I was doing a little research, and he's a complete basket case. He's afraid of everything.
Maybe we could play that up.

Nurse Akiko smiles, understanding.

Make him crazy for real. So the others will want to stay away from him.

Then when people have forgotten about him, he'll just disappear.


Monk's face, close up. He's smiling dreamily. The camera shifts back away from Monk, and he is flying, or floating prone in the air. His arms are out to the side. He seems happy, then he looks down. He screams.


The Monk is standing on the ground. He is patting himself, checking what happened, looking over himself for signs of dirt. Monk looks up and sees a Merry-Go-Round, it is slowly spinning.

(Softly, smiling)
A merry go round.

Monk walks up and touches his finger to each pole as it slowly passes. Then the merry go round speeds up. Monk touches the poles faster and faster as they pass him. Soon the merry go round is spinning so fast that Monk can't keep up, and he's panicking.

Then TRUDY calls out to him


Monk turns his head and sees Trudy. His hands are still trying touch the poles.


You have to get on Adrian.

Get on? How? It's going too fast!

You have to see from the inside out.

Inside out? What does that even mean?

Adrian. Please. Get on.

Monk is at a loss for words. He looks at the rapidly spinning merry go round. He looks back at Trudy.

Then, Monk is on. He is surprised. He had not moved. But he is now on the merry go round. The camera is close up on his face. The world behind him is spinning rapidly. The camera moves away. Monk is holding on for dear life.

Okay! What do I do now?

Monk looks around. He doesn't see Trudy.

Trudy? Trudy!
Where are you?

I'm right here!

Monk looks around. He is still on the merry go round. It is still spinning.

Where? I can't see you!

Open your eyes!

They are open! Where are you?

Open your eyes!


Nurse Rashid is kneeling over Monk. He is on the floor. She holds his head up. Monk opens his eyes.


Mr. Johnson. Are you all right?

Monk is baffled. His head jerks. He looks all around.

I...I was...
Nurse Rashid picks up his chart. She looks confused.

There must have been a mix up in your meds. I don't see...

Monk shakes his head. He waves his arm back and forth.

Needle!...there was a needle!...I don't even know if it was clean! Do you have a wipe? I need a wipe. Or some soap. Or a knife. Maybe I can cut the flesh around it, and you can cauterize it. Do you have a lighter, or a blowtorch? A blowtorch would work. That's probably the best thing.

Nurse Rashid looks at him strangely.

Did you say needle?

Monk nods his head.

Yes. The nurse. Other...other nurse. The, um...

Monk waves his hand in front of his face in a circle. Nurse Rashid copies this motion.

The mystery nurse?

Monk shakes his head and circles his hand in front of his face some more.

Wax on, wax off?

Monk looks confused.

She...the...different one..

Different one? You mean Nurse Akiko? The word is "Japanese" Mr. Johnson.
And I have to tell you, that's a pretty rude thing to say. We don't accept racism here at Sunnyland.

Monk looks mortified.

What!? No! I, I meant...

Nurse Rashid smiles, and laughs.

Don't worry. I'm just pushing your buttons. Still, I think there was a mix up. I'll look into it.

Nurse Rashid gets up to leave.

Wait? Where are you going?

Don't worry Mr. Johnson. You'll be fine. Just go and get some lunch.

Lunch? What time is it?

Lunch time!