Sunday, 25 November 2012

Short Fiction Installment #1 (Humour Division): "Amazon Bestsellers Rank #525,448—Market-Driven Sequel Strategies"

    Last seen facing an uncertain but no doubt pained future of secrecy or self-denial in ho-hum River Bend City, Canada circa 1965, Winston Wilson—high school librarian, mamma’s boy, melancholic closeted homosexual, and protagonist of The Age of Cities—became part of that long history of literary heroes afflicted by oppressive circumstances and scant opportunities. 
    Wilson’s inventor, meanwhile, receives a royalty cheque ($37.71) on November 19, 2012, six years after publication; the accompanying statement of total sales brings him up to speed (891 copies worldwide, ebooks included).
    With the contemporary market in view, he maps out lucrative follow-up novels.

    The Age of Cities, Volume 2: Dangerous Crossings
    Surviving well past the age he expected, a weary, grizzled Winston travels by foot with a pale mute called the Boy. To the casual eye the pair might be father and son, and the landscape they trudge on a reflection of an unrelenting cold snap’s brute fact—thin drifts of snow, gusting winds, desolation.
    Winston and the Boy cross a stubbly corn field, ears and eyes alert, worried the visibility will draw unwanted attention from mortal foes hellbent on annihilating one another and any of the pitiful remnants of human civilization coming between them. The Boy tugs at Winston’s tattered sleeve, pointing in the direction of a skeletal poplar stand; the two sink to the ground. They expect to lay until nightfall, feeling only fear and damp cold seeping into their bones.
    Silent, Winston stares at the sky; blanketing grey clouds threaten snowfall. He recalls his mother Alberta decades before, walking towards the mailbox at the driveway’s entrance, spry and sharp-tongued as ever. Winston’s new existence of heartbreaking decisions and grave necessities began with her disappearance. The arrival of the alien Visitants and their unspeakable atrocities changed the tide of human history. Worse, the hubris of science and religion unleashed fearsome predators—heartless mechanical soldiers that turned against their very makers, and The Carmilites, a coven of heretical nuns whose unholy dabbling in black magic led to soulless ghouls with an insatiable thirst for blood.
    Winston has heard whispers about Discovery, a hidden sanctuary for survivors. If they can outsmart death-dealing patrols of Visitants, Mechans, and Carmilites, he and the Boy might reach safety.
    Tagline: Caught between a rock and hard places, two men undertake a perilous journey... toward Discovery.

    The Age of Cities, Book III: A Beautiful Winter Solstice Mystery
    Winston arrives home, bushed from the squabbling of the Library Committee. Preparing afternoon tea, Alberta tells him of a letter, an unexpected inheritance, and an offer too tempting to refuse.
    Months later they’ve left behind Canada and the dark doorway to their pasts for Stornoway Manor, situated in the northernmost reaches of Scotland. Overlooking the turbulent Sea of the Hebrides, the Wilsons gradually transform the Manor into an exclusive getaway, though one whose daily arriving guests—with unsavory motivations and weighty secrets—provide ongoing trials to the taxed but beloved innkeepers.
    When the stern abbot of the Obanpool Monastery at the far end of the valley is murdered, Winston and Alberta resolve to calm their guests by investigating the shocking crime. Along the stony passageways of the ancient building that supplies the Manor with renowned goat cheese, they discover hidden rooms as well as greed and deceit.
    As the doors to their own pasts open, the Wilsons must face unpalatable truths. With compassion and warmth, mother and son plumb the depths of the human condition, learning and growing as they restore order to the valley.
    Tagline: Seeking to solve a crime, mother and son unravel the mystery of the human heart.

    The Age of Cities—Reprise: Five Steps to Heaven
    Chaos! Global war! The epic struggle for souls! Reeling from the terrors that have overtaken the entire planet since the Day of Disappearances, Winston recalls events after a near fatal childhood accident, which he related to his mother while recuperating. Voice raspy in his hospital bed, Winston shared his remarkable experience: he’d visited Heaven. Skeptical at first, his patient mother saw the truth of his words when he revealed secrets about a miscarried child and a runaway cousin she’d never before shared with anyone.
    After watching his mother praying over his unconscious form, Winston’s young soul had floated up to a Land of Light. Wandering through the golden spires and lush peaceful forests, he came upon God and His kindly Son on majestic thrones. Before Winston drifted back to Earth, Jesus whispered in his ear that he’d soon be returning—with love and fire in his heart—for one final engagement with the Antichrist.
    Surveying the ravages to his home town and way of life since those days of childhood innocence, Winston falls to his knees in prayer. He knows Heaven will answer his call, but when?
    Tagline: The moment of truth is dawning. Are you prepared?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Digression: Books I'm Not Reviewing—Freebies Sent from Media Relations, Or, "No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth."

   Though I don't drive and have in fact have never been the owner (proud or otherwise) of a driver's license, I'm moderately interested in car design. I read car reviews regularly, too, despite understanding that driving the model under assessment is little more than a pipe dream and that my knowledge of engine stats could fit inside a spark plug gap.

   One front-and-centre convention for publishers of new model reviews is the full disclosure. Here's one, for example, from Jalopnik

   (Full Disclosure: Ford wanted me to drive the new Fusion so bad they put me up in a delightful hotel room overlooking the Pacific Ocean. At dinner I ate pasta and was serenaded by a man with a guitar. I found it uncomfortable. Awkward. But at the same time strangely entertaining. Weird.)

   The idea for the declaration is self-evident: by revealing a potential cause for bias—in this instance being flown to the west coast and provided with luxe accommodations—the writer testifies to their lack of bias. The flight and hotel, while appreciated, in no way affect the outcome of the review.

   A few weeks ago a novel showed up at my office. Unsolicited, as all conglomerate and many independent publishers phrase it (as in: "We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts"). 

   No note accompanied the novel, but I guessed a minion from Media Relations had sent it to me because they were aware that I write reviews. I supposed their assumption, furthermore, was that I'd review the book, and, preferably, rather than simply writing a blog review, I'd contact a books section editor of a real newspaper and tell him or her, "I'd really like to review this book." Regardless of whether the review turned out to be laudatory or scathing (or somewhere in between), by choosing to write about it I'd be getting the word out about it in the most public of forums and basically performing a public relations service for the publisher and its author.
   By the way, the publisher of this book was esteemed, and also a subsidiary of a British multinational with over two billion dollars in revenue last year.
   The incentives to write, I presume, are the gift of a free book ($32.00; accepting 40% standard retail mark-up, that's $19.20 in wholesale costs to the publisher + shipping) and the pleasure I might receive from spending many hours reading it contents and then (hopefully) writing a review extolling its myriad virtues. 
   Perhaps as well there might be the 'vanity bonus' for me of seeing my name in print, or exerting some kind of enviable power—as in that old timey legend of inquisitorial theatre or restaurant critics who could singlehandedly make (or break) the reputation of a stage production or newly christened restaurant with a single column of glowing (or condemnatory) words.
   Including reading the novel and writing about it, the effort looked to be no less than twenty hours of labour. Hardly backbreaking and admittedly the kind of work I already perform, the (unasked for) contract being established by the Media Relations person began to sound like this:

   Dear Dr. Grubisic. Please accept this gift of a book from us. As a favour to us, we'd appreciate your writing a review of it. In doing so, you will greatly assist the author and, of course, the publisher. We took in over $2 billion last year, and for 2012, we'd like to beat that record! As a token of appreciation for your labour of love, this work you'll undertake, please enjoy your copy of the novel. We're certain you're likely to enjoy it. 
   We understand that reading the book and reviewing it takes up valuable time. While we'd like to fly you to a hotel in California where you could enjoy the view as you read, we cannot do that. Instead, here's the book, gratis, and delivered right to your door! 
   Although you may calculate that we're actually paying you about 96¢/hr (that is, if you make the effort to sell the book at a secondhand shop), we'd prefer you think of the contribution you are making to literary discourse. We're all in this for the love of literature, after all. Right?
All the best,

Media Relations

   The novel is currently sitting unread on a bookshelf in my office. I considered returning it, but then remembered the second half of the publisher's demand for no unsolicited manuscripts: "If you send an unsolicited manuscript it will be recyled unread."


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Tips for Writing Success: (Copyright Protected) Source Material (#1)

   Hmm, for all the overheard conversations on a given week that can be utilized by the aspiring writer, sometimes a published phrase—as little as a single sentence—really nestles in the ear. 

   This week, for instance, the majority of conversations I heard before and after classes and on crowded, overheated buses to and from campus conveyed (1) complaints about being exhausted, (b) complaints about being overworked, and (c) expressions of yearning for vacations and/or the end of the semester. 
   In contrast, Janet Maslin's perfectly tart review of Justin Cronin's "epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival" (that description courtesy of his publisher)—the second book of The Passage Trilogy—includes a sentence composed of four words; it strikes me as concise and yet eloquently condemnatory. 
   Two of those words are—to borrow another word, which appears several times on every episode of Project Runway—inspiring: encouraging the creation of a character who embodies that very trait, or else a scene in which a character sees a play or attends an art opening or sits through a class lecture (or, indeed, reads a book) that's suffused with that quality.  

   Here's the sentence— 

   "It had insufferable pretensions." 

   Thanks, Ms. Maslin.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Scott Hutchins' 'A Working Theory of Love'

   My review of a widely-hyped American debut novel ran this weekend
   Though the Sun's headline says something about the book falling flat, my own headline would suggest that the novel is okay and well-written, but not exactly the kind of story that grabs you by the throat while dazzling your mind with fresh ideas. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Tips for Writing Success: Source Material (#2)

    Swing Space, Class 103 (University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC), 30 October, approximately 10:45am.
   Two students have just presented a critical response to Jessica Mitford's "Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain," a chapter from The American Way of Death. Amongst other topics, the essay explains in grisly detail the process of embalming.

   "I'd never heard of embalming. I thought when you die they wipe your face a bit, put on some makeup, and then stick you in a coffin."