Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Trash(ed) Ideas



   A new writing project. Yup, I'm at that point in the cycle. What's next? My mind is shooting blanks, my cup does not runneth over...
   Normally, an idea for a story or novel bubbles up. So far, though, nada.

  (As for the hows and whys of this creative bubbling? Who knows. That's that, despite reading a ton of T.S. Eliot's criticism years back re: "Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity" and "The other aspect of this Impersonal theory of poetry is the relation of the poem to its author. And I hinted, by an analogy, that the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of “personality,” not being necessarily more interesting, or having “more to say,” but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.")

  Anyhow, the new project currently consists of discards. Ideas so bad, projects so unwieldy, so profitless, and so very dubious that they're only mildly worthwhile as blog entertainment.

   To date, they are— 

   (1) a campy, comic revisiting of Aaron Spelling's Dynasty, but with vampires.

   and 

   (2) an updating of How To Marry a Millionaire set in a somewhat dystopian future à la William Gibson's Neuromancer

   If you dare, feel free to use either. I'm formally disavowing them!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Favourite Readings: 2014


   For me, 'best of' lists aren't so much quantitative—empirical evidence or absolute proof that authors X, Y, and Z wrote the definitive best literature of a given time period. 
   Instead, I use them to see what other writers or reviewers have read that I may have passed by or overlooked altogether. And, admittedly, to see how someone else's opinion about the same book can be so radically different than mine. And so wrongheaded, of course. 
   This year, for mine—I was asked to contribute my five favourite books of the year—I opted for gut feeling, and chose books that stayed with me for being emotionally impacting, intellectually stimulating, or aesthetically distinguished (and, I guess, any mixture of those three). 
   In no particular order, my choices were—

1. The Western Home: Stories for Home on the Range, by Catherine Cooper [review]

2. Orfeo, by Richard Powers [review]

3. Ellen in Pieces, by Caroline Adderson [review]

4. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews [review]

5. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell [review]


   That 'choose just five' restriction also meant quite a few couldn't make it to my Top 5. Still, I enjoyed them in assorted ways and would be negligent if I didn't mention them here.
   They include Hilary Mantel's The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher [review], Lorrie Moore's Bark [review], Sean Wilsey's essay collection, More Curious [review], Ian Weir's Will Starling [review], Mark Sampson's Sad Peninsula, C.P. Boyko's Novelists [review], Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote's Gender Failure [review], and Margaret Atwood's Stone Mattress (a book that I actually purchased and did not review). 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—David Mitchell's "The Bone Clocks"




    The Vancouver Sun ran a truncated version of my review of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks this past Saturday. Here's the complete version—





    Lugging around an advance copy of The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell’s doorstopper of novel (that’s now on the Booker Prize longlist), and devouring its six weighty sections over July—in cafes, on busses, at parks—drew interest from normally shy or indifferent locals. For the sake of reader edification, then, this review is built upon their questions.

    “So, what’s a ‘bone clock’?”

    A bone clock is a derogatory term that’s spoken at just a couple of points in the novel. Sort of like “muggle” in the Harry Potter series, it’s used to dismiss ordinary humans, or to put them in their place.

    “There’s magic in the book?”

    In a sense, yes. In Mitchell’s tale, two rival groups of shadowy immortals have assorted psychic abilities that would strike you or me as supernatural. Their Acts of Psychosoterica (which include Hiatus, a kind of freezing, and Suasion, which persuades individuals to obey a mental direction) are complemented by psychic communication.

    “You’re joking, right?”

    Nope.
    

“What does it remind you of?”

    Well, plenty. Over its 620 pages and in no particular order, I thought of David Cronenberg’s Scanners, Timor Bekmambetov’s Wanted, Doug Liman’s Jumper, and Highlander (the television series). Also, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. I’d probably have thought of certain Dan Brown thrillers if I’d read them, so I’m referring to the filmed versions and their labyrinthine conspiracies. Ditto for Harry Potter. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. Oryx and Crake. Cloud Atlas (the novel, not the film). Let England Shake, P.J. Harvey’s album. Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice.


    “Okay, what’s it about?”

    Gee, that’s really complicated.
    On one level, it’s an account of the hard life and times of Holly Sykes, from 1984 to 2043.
    Acting out after her rural pub-owning mother forbids her from dating a much older “cradle snatcher,” teenage Holly runs off to find him only to catch...well, she comes to doubt his reliability, so runs away again and eventually winds up at a farm. During those dramatic hours, Holly’s autistic brother goes missing and she’s an eye-witness to a horrific murder. These traumatic events are knit into the remainder of her history.
    While Holly appears throughout, she’s not always the central figure. Later sections emphasize other players as well as Mitchell’s fooling around with other literary genres (à la Cloud Atlas).
    For example, “Crispin Hershey’s Lonely Planet,” a funny and irreverent middle section set in 2015, stars an exceptionally vain and petty author (aka the Wild Child of British literature, a man with more than a passing resemblance to Martin Amis) who has stalled for years with his career-reviving next masterpiece. He briefly meets Holly, who has written an enviably popular memoir about hearing voices in her head during her youth.
    Holly’s part of the Script too, which ties her to and makes her an integral component of a centuries-old dispute between Horologists (aka Returnees, or Atemporals), a small group of immortal quasi-humans, and Carnivores (aka The Anchorites of the Chapel of the Dusk of the Blind Cathar of the Thomasite Order of Sidelhorn Pass), whose shortcut to immortality necessitates sporadic feeding on the souls of regular humans who have pronounced psychic abilities (the call it “decanting”).
    “An Horologist’s Labyrinth,” the novel’s thrilling and taut fifth section, offers a play-by-play of the epic final battle of the War between these two powerful factions.

    “Huh?”

    Do you have a spare hour?
    These feuding immortals have an elaborate but sketchily drawn cosmology (complete with proper nouns) and concurrent terminology. They talk of pyscholassos, chakra eyes, quantum totems, Acts of Exposure and Reveal, and psychosoteric potential. There’s the Deep Stream (as in, “Is a psychoferno a Deep Stream Invocation?”), the Way of Stones, Black Wine, the Dusk, the Shaded Way, and the Seaward Wind to the Last Sea. There’s a Codex, a Script, and a Counter-Script. Their silent communication is frenetic with subwaking, subasking, and subreplying.
    By giving his characters mouthfuls like “I revoke my cloak and invoke a body-shield” and “Even without using those methods, unless you’re hidden by a Deep Stream cloak, they could get to you with a quantum totem,” Mitchell sincerely courts silliness.

    “What’s its genre?”

    That’s tricky too, but... In SF Eye #5, back in 1989, influential science fiction writer Bruce Sterling sought to define “a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality. It is a fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously.” He added, “this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books ‘slipstream.’” Handily enough, The Bone Clocks fits into that definition.

    “Where does it take place?”

    Mostly in southern England and Ireland, but there are important scenes set in Canada, the United States, and Switzerland. Plus: Russia circa 1816, Western Australia in 1871 and San Marino near the mid-seventh century.

    “Huh?”

    As one of the good Horologists explains, “As a Returnee, each of my resurrections is a lottery of longitudes, latitudes, and demography. We die, wake up as children forty-nine days later, often on another landmass.”
    In other words, the metalives of characters such as Xi Lo and Marinus have occurred in dozens of bodies and locations.

    "Is it similar to Cloud Atlas?"

    Yes, quite, especially in terms of structure. The warring immortals aspect is new, though.

    “What’s its future look like?”

    Bleak, mostly, but slyly funny too. Justin Bieber gets his fifth divorce in 2024. And: “The world’s twenty-seven richest people own more wealth than the poorest five billion and people accept that as normal.” Worse, by 2043: “the Endarkenment,” post-oil and post-internet, during which the “news turned into a plotless never-ending disaster movie.”

    “Are you enjoying it?”

    Yes, definitely. Even if the occasional silliness grows bothersome, you can’t doubt the author’s mastery.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Short fiction: "Ways to Ruskin"

                                                         
                                                             Ways to Ruskin


    Huddled at a railing damp from a heavy dew, Miss Nora Tingley watched river flotsam pass by—bark, branches, entire logs scarred by who knows what, and, no surprise given the season, a smattering of catkins from cottonwood stands bunched along the shores. Once a week perhaps voices rose about the quicksilver shadows beneath, sturgeons that riled men to parry boasts about fishing trials worthy of Jonah.
    Soon after she’d boarded at the wharf in Mission City, the grizzled bargeman had removed his cap and approached the gathered ladies (herself and two stout widows, standoffish mill workers of some ilk who muttered sharp Teutonic phrases to one another). Smoothing his hair, he cautioned them: rot had eaten through the weatherbeaten former port rail; the replacement plank might yet be sticky with sap. He didn’t extend the courtesy to the liberal helping of men. Their calloused hands would be sullied soon enough.
    Miss Tingley breathed in palpably moist air, a tonic, she believed, despite the bargeman’s toothless mouth. Haze drifts along the water’s surface caught her eye, and she pictured a Fraser Valley rainbow of grey (sullen clouds in heavy banks), brown (a steady expanse of river), and green (vibrant trees above striving brambles). Channeling the impulse to write toward a practical end, she reached into her mother’s gift, a petit point tapestry bag of forest grove deer that gamboled innocently rather than raiding gardens—as in daily life—for strawberries and carrots. With a stubby pencil she jotted in a notebook: “silt,” “incalculable,” “Styx,” “Charon,” “Ophelia,” “muddy death.” A lyrical history lesson for eleven students whose hearts did not beat for verse or fine sentiments, she wondered? Perchance, next winter.
    Gaze sweeping from distant southern shore to barge lip (the water level in between as swollen as expected after a uniform winter of deluges) she noted the sodden hem and sighed—experience had taught her that the irksome stitched wool would not dry till midday. She gingerly raised the skirt by a fraction and braced for the influx of brisk morning air.

     For this new lesson Miss Tingley’s pupils would have to wait. Today she had bigger fish to fry, as Mrs. Dollar, her neighbour right next door, declared both fondly and often. Straddling the fence between overbearing and bearable, Mrs. Dollar frequently spoke her mind when she wasn’t freely dispensing advice. Miss Tingley sometimes loitered inside when the woman thundered through the packed mud pathways of her sloping back property, headstrong and capable in ways advanced years and a stooped posture belied. She pitied Mrs. Dollar’s husband, whose unmentionables she saw on the line far more frequently than the fellow himself. Apropos of nothing, his wife explained he was resting his eyes as she whittled down the list of chores—chop cedar kindling, dig potatoes, chase broody hens from the coop. Townsfolk made unkind mention of this ghostly man as Mrs. Dollar, a weakling who tippled to ease the pain from a slippery morning’s mill fall during the winter of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald’s sad passing.
    By the day’s close Miss Tingley hoped to broach a delicate topic in Ruskin and feared she’d be waved away once again, her person rendered an irritant, a pest little better than a mosquito. The egalitarian rhetoric of the Canadian Co-operative Society aside, Miss Tingley understood her stature: well beneath the apex of the Society’s great chain of being, itself a simple chain within a larger jumble.
    The Whethams, Gilchrists, and Twiggs, esteemed landowners and men of enterprise, shared a provisional link with Mr. Willband, the Society’s president, a contradictory man of ambitious schemes and monastic inclinations in debt to their benevolence. Without the Twigg brothers’ grant of four cleared acres, a field of mud, the Society’s dream of a workers’ paradise named for Mr. John Ruskin would have remained inert, a germ, pages of hopeful notes in a private journal.
    Miss Tingley had met Mr. Willband once, a year ago, before she’d even stepped into the classroom; principles, organization, and masculine debate in closed-door rooms evidently fired the waspish Englishman’s imagination. The mewling of a replacement teacher in her middle years failed to altogether. She exhaled in gratitude that an invitation for a subsequent interview hadn’t dawned on him.
    The Society’s secretary and indispensable public agent, Mr. Thomas Robinson, possessed a long face whose beseeching quarter-smiles and imploring meditations on the horizon she’d grown to resent. With the dull blue eyes of an Edgar Linton and the fiery pedantry of last summer’s tent preacher down on the river flats (reputedly: she’d not seen this itinerant American up close and relied on Mrs. Dollar’s account, which condemned the evangelical soul as a windbag, a stranger to reserve, and a ridiculous scarecrow flapping in the breeze), Mr. Robinson strutted along paths and bounded through doorways with the zeal of Dr. Livingstone scouring the Nile.
    Miss Tingley disapproved of Mrs. Dollar’s inclination to judgement and strove to limit that impulse within herself. Still, the conviction had grown that Mr. Robinson sought her out only because he’d exhausted the goodwill of the Society’s sparse membership. Verbiage came as naturally to the man as breathing. So too did a histrionic fretfulness—not infrequently, he spoke of the poetic sensibility that burdened him—that suggested time spent facing limelights.
    Miss Tingley suspected he saw in her apparent appreciation an opportunity for further discourse, perhaps an object for his handiwork. Consequently, when she caught sight of him approaching from the distance she turned for any pupil within eyeshot, or else stopped, stock-still, with the aim of blending, squirrel-like, with the surroundings.


    Mornings presented Mr. Robinson at his worst, as though he woke from troubled dreams of Socratic schooling. She’d watched him on occasion as he lingered on the rise, studying the mill grounds but keeping an eye fastened on the river landing, keen to separate the expendable chaff of trudging working men from her, the singular nugget of wheat. After ritual niceties about weather and student progress, he’d wrest control of the conversation; he considered Department of Education business as his own, if only as a gateway to matters of greater value. To her utilitarian bleating about the proximity of the mill’s deafening machines to the schoolhouse—the euphemism they’d agreed upon when referring to a sawdust-littered building anyone would describe as a hovel—he offered Thought.
    “Good day, Mr. Robinson,” she’d begin, resisting his efforts with occupational minutia about arithmetic lessons and absentee students and, on occasion, whooping cough, until uttering her refrain—“The children cannot hear, let alone learn”—and gesturing at the placid lakeshore in hopes of inspiring remedial actions.
    “Yes, yes,” he’d nod, and then change the subject: “Miss Tingley, I’ve been thinking” or “Last night at the shore of the Stave, Miss Tingley, I had a Thought.” He’d pause, wearily, as if readying himself to unveil the weightiest of secrets.
    And until an interruption rushed forward she felt obliged to listen. “Oh, pray tell?”
    With each word the man exhaled his titanic reluctance, eternally thirsting for a kind, sympathetic audience. A doubtful explorer and a revolutionary lacking fire, he questioned every decision and his very purpose. He often began his disquisitions with a question: “Do you believe, Miss Tingley, that we are meant to be here?”
    She’d learned early on that Mr. Robinson desired no answer.
    He’d barge forward on the path, a step or so ahead. “Consider the story of the Tower,” opening the passageway to a favored topic. “Are we not confounded scatterings from Babel, punished for daring to build a tower with a top that reached for the heavens? Is our paradisiacal undertaking”—he’d stop, two large hands gesturing widely to survey the immediate view—“not the selfsame folly on a new continent?”
    Counterpoint came from Mr. Darwin, entire passages of whom Mr. Robinson stowed in memory. “And what of natural selection and the favoured races?” With such questions he might peer down at her eyes, momentarily curious, a wizened teacher fathoming the depth of a pupil’s obtuseness. “Mr. Darwin wrote, ‘We can so far take a prophetic glance into futurity to foretell that it will be the common and widely-spread species, belonging to the larger and dominant groups, which will ultimately prevail and procreate new and dominant species.’ Is our little settlement here, then, assuring our own dominance?”
    On a few icy January mornings, Miss Tingley worried that her expression of rapt interest might become a permanent feature, the punishment fitting the crime.
    Ever the last word, Mr. Ruskin’s voluminous wisdom about civilization and what is good and necessary and ennobling for the souls of all men, proved to be a fertile garden from which Mr. Robinson could pluck a sumptuous feast.
    Miss Tingley had seen that a man, as with an infant, tires after lengthy squalling and succumbs to a contented silence. That hypothesis failing with Mr. Robinson, she found any sentence that began with “The children—” granted her the freedom to break free.
    Mr. Robinson threw questions as stones into water, expecting no rebound. In turn, she harboured unspoken answers, retorts. For example, no matter how long a man studied their words, stories—Babel, natural selection—contained not one lone truth, only layered possibilities. Comparable to rats swimming from a sinking ship, Hoxton smiths and Dublin maids (and a soldier lovestruck by a waif shelling peas in Covent Garden, the tale told by her own grandparents), who’d been packing trunks and sputtering for generations about their dreams to any passerby whose faced wasn’t snapped closed like a clam, fought only against being extinguished; dominance was a blind happy accident rather than the champion’s silver chalice of victory. As for a community of legislated equality and good souls engineered with clockwork precision by visionaries, Miss Tingley felt no faith in the premise: one could no more make a silk purse from a sow’s ear than a sow’s ear from a silk purse; and a marriage of the pair succeeded only in a monstrous graft, a specious idea transformed into a foolish result, such as a cabbage-cow. It might be accomplished, but why?

                                                                       ∞

    Cheery—milky white walls, trim the hue of pine needles—but smelling of stable even when no horses stood in the hold, the Ramona paddled as slowly as a swimmer against strong current. Passage on the sternwheeler cost half that of a train and afforded ticket holders a semblance of leisure, especially on benches at the prow during stretches of fine weather. Better yet, when stepping off Miss Tingley did not feel, as with trains, deafened, queasy, and manhandled, as though she’d tumbled down a long hill inside of a whiskey barrel. She agreed to the CPR on increasingly rare Saturdays when her mother’s eyes twinkled with the suggestion of riding the rails for the afternoon, splurging on a pot of Darjeeling and fancy iced cakes near the Royal City station.
    By late afternoon steady cold downpour had turned Ruskin into a swamp of puddles and mud. The gloomy dampness changed pupils into squabbling miscreants puffed with abundant pride at forgetting all but the vestiges of recent lessons. In their guise as dunces Miss Tingley saw a choral accusation: incompetence, incompetence. She’d hurried to the boat landing, rushed up gently bowed boarding planks.
    Elbows resting on the flat railing of the open-air promenade deck a flight above the river, she stood safely distant from rainfall and fellow travelers but within view of the blunt-nosed prow. She wanted the panorama and rhythmic current to ease away her cantankerousness before the Ramona docked in Mission.
    Poorly this spring and growing blind in plodding worrisome increments, Miss Tingley’s mother spent whole days indoors; and by five o-clock she was particularly avid for news and trivia about the cluster of mills, pupils and their families, the river’s likelihood of flooding, any of the outside world’s concerns.
    Miss Tingley believed her mother would reach out to Mrs. Dollar once she felt lonesome enough. In the meantime, as Mrs. George Tingley, formerly Miss Fanny Smithe of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, prepared and served tea, she relished quotidian details of Ruskin, as though they rivaled the palace intrigue of Versailles.
    All the while, Miss Tingley knew, her mother waited to pounce: “And what did your Mr. Robinson have to say today?”
    The portrait Miss Tingley had sketched for her mother had gradually warped into a caricature, insofar as she gave prominence to the man’s business acumen, social graces, and penetrating intelligence while including not a pinch of his lesser qualities.
    The result: Fanny Tingley heard wedding bells, a loose end she’d like tied before, she hinted theatrically, Meeting her Maker.
    Miss Tingley had seen that coming from the first half-truth she muttered.
    To explain the sparse news and lack of progress, Miss Tingley had taken to “responsibilities for mill business keep Mr. Robinson locked out of sight” and its kin, which etched a deep frown on her mother’s face—one that might have been lifted from the schoolhouse’s youngest pupils.
    Mrs. Tingley did not ask about Ephraim Metzger, a man she thought suspicious with his family’s foreign syllables and doubtful because he did not work with his hands, not really.


    Ruddy and stocky but nimble, Ephraim worked in a room overlooking the mill’s choked interior, ledger books, pencils, and ink his chosen implements. When this clerk said, “Please call me Ephraim,” Miss Tingley had not inquired about the national origins of his name.
    He belonged to the Society and partook in club meetings alongside Mr. Willband and Thomas Robinson, though he possessed a gentler spirit.
    A man of true democratic temperament would say, “Do you believe that we are meant to be here?” and wait a proper time for the reply. Miss Tingley had come to have faith that Ephraim represented such a figure, interested not only in her perspectives about setting aside funds for a new schoolhouse but whatever subject struck her fancy.


    Miss Tingley stared ahead, indifferent to what species of debris floated by. She’d spoken with Ephraim right after noon in the dripping but protected passageway between the classroom and the mill’s infernal concatenation of saws, belts, and chains. Nodding in sympathy at her concern, Ephraim then expressed—voice raised to compete with clanking machinery—grave doubts about the mill’s prospects, and thereby hers, his, and the Society’s. He mentioned back-to-back dry summers, dropping lake water levels and resulting timber shortages, and financial difficulties rising as the sun.
    The crux: composed of nothing more than lines of ink on paper, dream civilizations find success readily in bound volumes; quixotic seasons, unaccountable human nature, and a recondite God join forces to assure the terrible, futile struggle of their nail and timber counterparts.


    At the wharf Miss Tingley watched the remaining passengers skirt puddles and scurry then slip on matted grassy mounds, and vowed she’d wait to summon the wherewithal to cross the dismal flats, a flooded plain just four years earlier and a fertile breeding marsh for thick clouds of mosquitos each and every spring that could drive a man to his knees with prayers begging for Arctic gales. After that, a short climb up the stubbled hillside—partially slashed and cleared bushland that would take years to cultivate and, as important, prettify.
    She did not have the heart at this instant to chirp brainlessly about mill goings on. Nor would Ephraim’s forecast for the impending termination of her position serve to lighten the house’s sober mood.
    Upon her mother’s passing, an eventuality not long in the future, she’d be pecked at by decisions. To bide her time and take up teaching nearby, or bid goodbye to Mrs. Dollar and the snug house where she’d lately resided, settling perhaps in New Westminster, or Victoria? Let out rooms by the week and cook meals for tongue-tied itinerants from Poland and China, pretend an interest in quilting patterns while selling yards of calico cloth at Mrs. Tretheway’s general store? And before then, what? Write to the Department of Education and plead for a position? Raise poultry and sell eggs like Mrs. Dollar, grant her mother one final happiness by securing an acceptable prospect, or lower her sights and flutter her lashes at the bargeman with his house on stilts near the bridge?


    Shawl adjusted and bonnet retied, Miss Tingley charted the driest path across the monotone puddles, mud, and rivulets of the flats.
    On vexatious mornings Mr. Robinson spoke to her shortly, as though she stood before him an affront, an empty vessel that needed constant filling, or worse, a leaky one, a sieve, from which his wealth of ideas trickled away and seeped uselessly into the ground below. She did not correct his presumption; he was not her pupil and would not care for a clarifying lesson. She let him carry on believing 2 + 2 = 22 because he did not wish to know otherwise.
    No stranger to Mr. Ruskin, Miss Tingley thought of the utility of his words as her skin puckered from rain suddenly falling sideways in bracing dollops.
    Though Mr. Ruskin had travelled in fine, rarified circles, the man never abandoned common sense. He believed, as he’d reasonably written, that variety is a necessity to the human heart and brain. Less common was his claim that change and monotony have their uses, like darkness and light, “the one incapable of being enjoyed without the other: change being most delightful after some prolongation of monotony, as light appears most brilliant after the eyes have been for some time closed.”
    Soon, surely, she would usher in change, open her eyes, and spy an elsewhere.
    On the morrow she’d query Ephraim about his future outlooks and suggest that Victoria ought to welcome a man so handy with a pencil, just as it should a woman with hand’s-on knowledge of the stingy ways of the world.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Promotional Material: An Excerpt From "This Location of Unknown Possibilities"



   I'm so pleased to report that my second novel—a long-gestating and intermittently frustrated project (and, in fact, the starting point of this blog)—has an official publication date of April 15, 2014. 

   If you'd like to read a plot description click here; but if you're more attracted to reviews, please click here (re: "A fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of a major motion picture, this is an absorbing, thought-provoking, and sharply witty novel. Grubisic’s densely layered prose will appeal to fans of Dave Eggers and DBC Pierre..."),

here (re: "The work is surprisingly warm, accepting its characters' foibles without meanness, happily cynical about the realities of the entertainment industry without being jaded or spiteful; the contrasting views of naive Spėk and veteran Nugent grant the work greater depth. Absurd without being absurdist, the satire draws its strength from its verisimilitude, the impression that as ludicrous as parts are, none of this is impossible or indeed, particularly unlikely"),

here (re: "Opening the cover of Brett Josef Grubisic’s new novel, This Location of Unknown Possibilities, is akin to pushing the button on one of those laughing toys. But to suggest that he’s written a comic novel sounds too benign as assessment. His book is way beyond the merely comic; it’s a densely ribald and culturally astute treatise, and it’s fuelled by its own manic combustion engine"),  

here (re: "I’m happy to report that his true métier is clearly novel-writing. NoN has once again shown, ahem, impeccable taste by publishing this bold, bawdy, and downright hilarious sophomore effort.... What’s interesting, though, is that the various machinations of the plot – an injury on the set, the impromptu hiring of a waitress as the new star, the wrap-party shenanigans – are almost immaterial to the enjoyment of this novel. The real star here is the novelistic voice that Grubisic has created, so assured and observant and full of erudite wit. This Location contains a richness of language that immediately establishes a trust with the reader: no matter the twists and turns of its off-the-chain plot, you’re happy to follow them wherever they leads you.
Indeed, the comedy here is reminiscent of vintage Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh, and This Location
establishes Grubisic as a daring new satirist in the CanLit fold"),


here (re:
"As the film, the narrative, and the characters spiral further out of control, the book gets darker, stranger, and funnier. By the time the film has wrapped, it has morphed into something utterly different, and the novel's own narrative has mutated, twisted, and slipped its bonds. When the book goes off the rails it is shattering and glorious—just as shattering and glorious as the lives we pretend we're authors of"),
 

and/or here (re: "Grubisic uses a vortex of references from literary works, self‑help books, online personals, B‑grade slasher flicks and Hollywood actors to produce a meta‑narrative that is oddly recognizable but defies labels. This stripping of labels applies not only to the book, but also the film at its centre as well as the characters responsible for creating it").

Naturally, there's a review that's full of complaint and disappointment too. If you'd prefer to peruse that one, finding it isn't difficult.
 

And if you're a short interview fan, there's this and this.

   If, however, you'd like to read an excerpt to get a sense of style, content, degree of difficulty, characterization, number of expletives per page, or suitability as a gift for Aunt Clarice to enjoy during her 14-day Alaska cruise, etc, keep reading. 
   There's an excerpt right below. Following a prologue set in Studio City, CA, the opening chapter introduces Dr. Marta Spëk and her seasonal allergies, above average organizational skills, and deep-seated career discontentment...








A Career in English!


1.



   A transparent stream of mucous seeped from Marta’s left nostril, slow as a glycerin tear. Clasping a tissue, she blew gently in hopes of avoiding the unnerving pop—Oh my, is this an aneurysm?—of distressed eardrums. I cannot have caught a cold, Marta thought. No, not a cold at all, she determined, merely aggravating invisible particles enveloped within nasal drool. Natural, normal, automatic immunoresponse triggered by diminutive organic motes suspended in odourless, life-sustaining air. The bad inseparable from the good. Serpents and fruit trees. Typical. Pseudoephedrine mood swings too, Marta noted crankily. Springtime. She’d experienced better days.
   Tilting the desk chair back, Marta blotted the watery rims and pictured the lids as bee-stung, having swelled and grown blotchy. Bloodshot eyes too, quite possibly. Would students in the impending class look up from their phone screens and comment, believing she’d been crying? Surely they’d have no ready-made explanation for the spectacle of a weepy professor. What soap opera scenario might they spin? A lost grant, perhaps, or tenure unfairly denied. A sniping review. The visible handkerchief and a vague comment about the peril of pollen would suffice to nip murmured speculation in the bud. They’d readily accept that external source over the implausibility of crushing disappointment or, another long shot, heartache so fierce that it had spilled into the classroom.
   Marta’s desk clock and computer agreed: 12:45pm. Exactly five minutes before she must depart for the week’s final class. She closed the skinny office window. It wasn’t supposed to be opened, anyway. People had heightened sensitivities in these seasons of compromised immune systems. Everyone expressed keen awareness of bounding allergens and environmental flux; rogue microbes failed to recognize personal space, and protection had become imperative.
   In lieu of the marvelous transparent domes and lab-engineered enhancements of science fiction, Grounds+Maintenance had just finished with a series of practical paper and email bulletins that explained how the building’s renovated ventilation system rendered a breath of fresh air obsolete, counter-productive. Marta’s eyes had settled on the falsely reassuring scientific language of the latest: cutting edge technology that deployed ozone and ultraviolet light for optimized ionization and departicalization. In short: hinged windows have become an outmoded indulgence, comrade, and the health of you and the university community relies on individual cooperation, thank you for the ongoing compliance.
   As she cautiously dabbed the inflamed leaking rims a final time, Marta began to organize the papers on the desk, sliding notes—lined yellow sheets highlighted in purple (key concepts, pointed questions for students) and green (relevant trivia, humorous asides)—into the valise and pitching the scarcely read administrative announcements into the recycling bin.
   Two white sheets remained.
   Marta placed the letter into a folder labeled Homeward: Admin. She’d already secured a photocopy in the Correspondence: History file in the desk’s bottom left drawer. The letter’s duality, banal and momentous, was proving so difficult to resist. She’d snatched glances between classes that morning. If nothing else the offer promised diversion, a break—ludicrous and unprecedented but invigorating—from routine, she’d been telling herself. Tempted by celebrity, so facile chimed in a background voice, less friendly.
   12:48pm. She swiveled the chair away from the wall of books and studied the immense vista. The scene felt underdeveloped, a photographic study Ansel Adams might have discarded, since all the surfaces—turbulent inlet, coniferous mountainsides, densely cumulous sky—seemed mopped by inky watercolour. Graywashed, a vision of springtime stripped of the usual green bursts and life-affirming connotations.
   Black-pebbled concrete formed a thick frame around the inset window panes of the office. A home away from home, this stout fortress of a building. After the resurgence of seen-but-not-read Tolkien a few years ago, two arts students had said, “In the Dark Tower?” within the same week when arranging an office meeting—as though the roof sprouting paired horns or a wrathful amber eye would surprise no one. 
    Trends cycling as they did, though, the name’s sticking was anybody’s guess. The matte concrete slabs of the exterior had appeared on cineplex screens more recently as the barricaded compound of a fearsome African warlord in a mutant superhero movie sequel. Perhaps quizzical students now exclaimed, “I’ve seen that place somewhere before, I just know it” as they passed by. Or, no one commenting at all: equally plausible.
   Marta conceded that the tower’s facade—that of an unadorned modernist bunker—loomed imposingly. After that, she found the Tolkien analogy nonsensical. Early- mid-, and late-career vanity and politicking flourished, naturally. But brooding evil, Machiavellian tactics? Hardly. Assigning a C+ to an essay barely indicated a sign of power, let alone chthonic malevolence. The vin ordinaire of any office environment, professional rivalries, intense resentments, and grievance accretions were likewise known, albeit stored out of sight. As for the elaborate class hierarchy—untanned latter-day devotees of Matthew Arnold still genuflecting toward Oxford nested at the tip of the pecking order; at the base, brown-skinned women with broken English providing custodial services: “If you find a moment today, er, Dhatri, will you please vacuum my office?”—Marta supposed that arrangement, like good and evil, reached far back, as old as tragedy.
   The portentous architecture, then, meant nothing except unlucky coincidence. True, alongside the kind- and coldhearted, she did pass by hunched Gollums and tightly-wound Lizzie Borden types muttering in hallways from time to time; as with asylum lifers and feral animals, a simple rule applied: steer clear, don’t meet their eyes.
    Marta withdrew the letter and read the familiar words, for an instant miffed by the author’s choice of a nostalgic typewriter font:

   Dear Professor Spëk:
   I have been instructed to contact you because our production team has the good fortune to be in your vicinity. You may have heard that The Prophet of Djoun, a biopic of Lady Hester Stanhope, is currently in pre-production.


   Of course not, Marta thought once more, why would I have? Oh, movie people and their egotism.

   Your expertise, as revealed through your book Imperial(ist) Empress: Mysticism, Écriture Féminine and the Levantine Writings of Lady Hester Stanhope, would be a tremendous benefit for our production.
   If you can spare some time, one of the project’s executives, Mr. Jakob Nugent, would be happy to explain our offer and the technical details over lunch.
   We thank you for your time and hope to hear from you soon.
   Sincerely,
   Lora Wilkes
   Assistant to Jakob Nugent


   Folding the letter, Marta shrugged: what’s the harm of one meal? Alongside the usual low morale doldrums coinciding with the school year’s sputtering out, distressed thoughts had been mushrooming about the shiny prestigious career she’d willed—through methodical labour, more or less—into existence, on track now and unwavering until the onset of decrepitude. That legacy brought to mind a luckless character from a Poe story, walled inside a dusty catacomb for eternity by pages instead of stones. Losing mental pliability year after year as bones grew porous and brittle: squinting at a hidebound future that hadn’t yet unfolded drew Marta’s breath short.
   Marta pictured Poe pacing inside that leased white Bronx cottage on a swampy, sweltering August night, the air gassy and fetid; months earlier Lady Stanhope had passed away, obscure, half the world away. Stripped to a disheveled vest and shirt and grumbling drunkenly, Poe threw the tale whose plot he’d been sketching into the unlit hearth: “Preposterous, what fool would wall himself in? No, there must be a villain and a lure.”
   Guiltily peering into her unsettled state of mind, Marta saw first the luxuriant illegitimacy. From Chongqing to Zhenzhou, polluted industrial sprawls of dawn-to-dusk wage slavery were truly entitled to complaint. Ditto for a famished, war-pitted continent with medieval life expectancies. But not her, in an office with optimized ionization perched over a distant city of glass spires and postcard-worthiness. “A champagne problem,” her mother’s diagnosis, sounded accurate in its way.
   Marta nonetheless leaned toward crisis of faith despite the exaggeration; mundane as dandruff, occupational doubts didn’t quite capture it. Misgivings? Discontentment? A tad vague, undirected. Whatever the case, she’d trust intuition for the remedy.
Nudging Marta forward as well: the reasonable sound of her father’s oft-voiced motto, “The proverbial knock of opportunity should never be ignored.” 
   
   Save for the onslaught of final exam grading the semester verged on being history, and she really ought to get out into the real world—an elsewhere—more often. Life’s a banquet; do or die; broaden horizons; not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end: carpe diem’s bravado stretched back to cuneiform. Presumably, she’d find equivalent philosophy carved into a Bronze Age tablet. Who could argue with such longevity?.
   Marta pinned the vintage brooch watch—a thrift store find decades ago—to her sweater; another reality, a thirty-faced composition class, demanded acknowledgement. She’d contact this assistant to Jakob Nugent later.
   The computer gonged for incoming mail. Marta read the weekly announcement from Exconfessio.

    Ex G.B (Seattle, WA)—
1. I always see full-grown adults at stoplights picking their noses and it makes me want to stab them in the face.
2. I lost my wallet once with 4,000 dollars in it and the guy gave it back and would not take a penny.
3. I love my wife and kids, but would help a dog over a stranger any day.
4. I worked for the government and abused the job, stole time and hated every second and every person I worked with until I quit.
5. I had a friend commit suicide the day after he said “keep an eye on me.”
6. I saw a friend put his cock all over his wife’s best friend’s face while she was sleeping and then smack her lips with it and she never woke up.
7. I saw a guy fall off a 5-foot drop off into a mud pit and didn’t help him; I only laughed hysterically at him from across the street.

   Rereading, she savoured the cinematic fullness of each confession.
   The week’s offering was tamer than others but intriguing nonetheless. Another historical constant: people behaving badly (even when the story was patently untrue: what person keeps 4,000 dollars in a wallet?) had been enthralling onlookers for millennia. Gossip, rumour, whispered speculation, outrageous misdeeds. Such an excess of libidinousness—a perennial cup that runneth over—harbored in countless minds. Who could tell how it would manifest? Stabbed faces and hysterical laughter. Misanthropy over philanthropy at a ration of at least 10:1, if one believed Exconfessio. What malice! Marta’s nominal professional interest dedicated scattered thoughts to pondering what people chose as worthy of confession. An essay about secular ethics would be publishable, surely.
   Last semester a student had handed in a curious polemical essay condemning Exconfessio. The pious student’s evident outrage—galled in particular at the site’s “inappropriate” All Confessions, No Reprisals™ mandate—initially drew in Marta. Actually signing up to receive the confessions (Seven Sins, Deadly Honest™ available in weekly and monthly allotments)? Whimsy, an afterthought. Reading the litany of offenses she occasionally aligned herself with unseemly figures, the peeping tom or the supermarket housewife tsk tsking at the vapid images of exposed cellulite and extramarital rendezvous in Hello!
   People were capable of declarations of astounding perversity. The alarming fact reassured Marta. Besides, the audacity of the confessions rarely failed to impress.
12:50. Time to vacate the sixth floor. She applied lotion to hands now papery courtesy of Purell.
   As for Do You Know Yours Rights?, Marta tacked the pamphlet onto the cork board, its  message ready to revisit on Monday. The folded photocopy had been slid under the office door, one sentence highlighted in pink: “Managing perception of your brand is the essence of personality rights.” For the moment the immediate puzzles—the identity of the anonymous messenger, that faceless interloper’s agenda—dropped away. And personality rights might be useful to mull over. Trickle down from celebrity culture and Ratemyprofessors.com—Marta’s middling score of 3.2 an affront, like coming across her own name on a bathroom stall. Everyone an unstable, easily snuffed out star and in need of tweaks, damage control, and, always, upkeep. 




Available in select book retailers now...

  If that reading experience sated you, thanks for reading. If it didn't, there's one more excerpt posted and available here.
 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Digression: Writers I'm Profiling—Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote, authors of "Gender Failure"



   A couple of months back I had the good fortune to (long distance) interview Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote about their illuminating and thoughtful memoir / meditation, Gender Failure.







The online version of the Vancouver Sun article can be located here.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Emma Donoghue's "Frog Music"



     Omnibus historical fiction that features...a (real-life) murder and amoral suspects galore, burlesque performers, prostitutes and their fancy men, a cross-dressing street urchin, the origin of the contemporary slang "blow job" (who knew?!?), much actual filth and many malodorous streets, baby farms, an impervious Madame, many costume changes, incidental racism and sexism, panic over a looming epidemic...all in a late-Victorian San Francisco you'll barely recognize. 
   Okay, it's too early to think about a beach book, so perhaps on one of these lazy weekends where outside looks like sheets of rain or drifts or snow you can sink into Ms. Donoghue's clever and fun and serious entertainment.



The review appears in The Vancouver Sun

Friday, 21 March 2014

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Audrey Thomas' "Local Customs," Richard Powers' "Orfeo," Lorrie Moore's "Bark," and Nancy Lee's "The Age"




   Time and tide wait for... etc, etc.
   By happy coincidence, most of my assigned review writing was completed before my sister's death-by-automobile.
 



    The titles (all fiction: three novels, one short story collection) include Audrey Thomas' Local Customs, Richard Powers' Orfeo, Lorrie Moore's Bark, and Nancy Lee's The Age. Click on the link to check out the review. They're all worthwhile reads, strangely tied together by meditations of mortality and the unavoidable fact of death.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Farewell to Meesha-Chan Grubisic, My Sister




Pre-Halloween Eve, Bond St., Victoria BC


Meesha-Chan Grubisic (10 September 1966 — 13 February 2014)
For as long as I draw breath, you will be missed.



The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is the solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,--

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

                    —Emily Dickinson

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Audrey Thomas' "Local Customs"


   A ghost story! 
   There's fiction that you read and all the while understand that thematically or stylistically it belongs to a current fashion or literary norm. Narrated by a series of talkative and quarrelsome spectres, Local Customs appears to stand well outside convention as it presents a series of biased and partial accounts of the life of Letitia Elizabeth Landon, a real-life English poet who died in western Africa in 1838. Economical, funny, and decidedly odd, Thomas' novel crackles with personality even as it's suffused with Gothic atmospherics. 

 




My actual review appears in The Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Kim Fu's "For Today I Am a Boy"


  If the characteristic tension of a coming-of-age narrative results from questions—"Who truly am I?" What should I become?" and "What does my social environment expect from me?"—Kim Fu's intriguing variant on the genre focusses on masculinity as a naturalized social construction. That description makes the novel sound like academic jargon, which it is not. In particular, then, Fu examines the immense, unenviable pressures faced by Peter Huang, a boy (and later adult) certain that he's meant to be female, and his unique responses to those pressures.
 



The review appears in The Winnipeg Review.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Digression: Books I'm Reviewing—Jamie Iredell's "I Was A Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac"



   Meet Jamie Iredell, a PhD essayist with a wildly checkered past... 

   He had me at "I was in this fucked relationship with a woman who had the beginnings of a serious drinking problem. To be fair, I too swilled ten to twelve too many beers a day and was a heavy drug user." (A title like “How to Not Get Arrested for Driving While High on Crack and After Having Drunk a Bunch of Vodka at a James Taylor Concert” didn't hurt either.)







The review appears at The Rumpus.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Non-Fiction Sidebar: Jacket Design (pt. 3)


  
   ... and then there's the homely cousin of book design, the one with lots to say and a great personality, but. That's right, the back jacket.


   Paperbacks without flaps present a logistical problem: normally, a lot of information has to be crowded into a small space, and the result can look junky, cluttered, unfocussed, and etc. The plot summary, author photo, author bio, blurb(s), bar code, publisher logo, production credits, and design elements all on a 5.5 x 8.5 rectangle can make for a necessarily jammed janitor's supply closet of information.


   For the back, an element or two are typically carried over from the front, the effect to make the entire jacket a thematically coherent (aka uniform) whole. 
   I thought it might interesting or novel to break with that tradition and have a documentary photograph: if the front cover implies the comic genre, I thought, the back would let the reader know the setting is here and now and based within two of BC's economic powerhouses: film production and post-secondary education. 
   I had the good fortune to visit my office on campus in early August last year during crew prep for the scenes of Tomorrowland being shot there. (Tomorrowland? It stars George Clooney, and according to IMDb, will be released in May 2015. The plot? IMDb again, being sketchy: "Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.") 


   Anyhow, before being told by a rent-a-cop PA that I wasn't allowed to take photos (because, apparently, an outdoor set at a public institution is equivalent to a top secret governmental facility), I looked around for suitable book jacket images. And before the bouncer/PA escorted me away from the set (the set alone and standing outside its taped-off boundaries; there were no actors because the set was still being built), I snapped a few documentary details that I figured might look eye-catching on a back jacket—














   I sent the best ones to HonkHonk. In contrast to the front cover process, there was far less discussion and virtually no back and forth regarding many possible design options.
   Moving some technical concerns (eg, the author photo, the author's publications, etc) inside, along with additional information relating to design and photo credits, opened up lots of 'free' space on the back so that a relatively busy photograph could be utilized without the back cover becoming a distracting or unfocused junk pile that might annoy or confuse the the viewer's eye.
   Here's the handsome final product—
 




Saturday, 11 January 2014

Non-Fiction Sidebar: Jacket Design (pt. 2)



   Whatever my brain had at best hazily half-conjured based on that more or less random assortment of illustrations and images I'd found and liked... Well, what HonkHonk returned wasn't anything I'd have ever anticipated. 

   Up first, fiercely bright and as plastic-y as Lego—



   We quickly moved away from that one. 
   Aside from legibility issues and a lack of any clear relation to the novel's plot elements, there was to me a bit of a retro feel to it, in this case a rather particular retro: the Memphis Group of the early 1980s made famous by the work of Ettore Sottsass and Michael Graves



















   After that, and with the eye-soothing application of black, elements of all the proposed ideas intrigued me. Asking around, however, as in "What do you think of this?" and "Which one of these do you prefer, and why?," I noticed that people have really strong reactions and opinions. The 'wrong' font, apparently, is tantamount to sin, as is an ambiguous image, or a tonality that implies "childish." Good to know... 
   (This asking around is never uniformly useful or productive because there's such a surprising variety of opinion about the same image. Why that surprised me, I do not know; but each time two people delivered radically opposed views, I felt a bit caught off guard.  In fact, for every, "Wow, I love that," it seemed there was an equal: "God, that's awful"; and for each, "That looks really current and attractive," I heard, "It's tired and dated and it would make me think the book wasn't worth reading." Consensus, then, must be a dream, or else a mirage you'd always imagined to be real.)
   Gradually, the ropey font disappeared: too country and western perhaps. As did the mountain backdrop (which I still think of as pretty. Others: "Too Group of Seven," "Too CanLit-y," "Seems kinda amateur," and so on). The process—back and forth, give and take, add and subtract, rearrange and re-size—refined ideas until they they were as 'good' as they could be. At that point, everyone weighed in and HonkHonk dropped that and replaced it with this, and so forth—






   At long last (and thanks to the internet: talking on the phone about these ideas, or actually meeting to talk about them, or, god forbid, mailing illustrations and notes back and forth would be onerous, if not an ordeal), we all settled on the one we settled on because, to simplify, we liked it the most. 

   No doubt, the final version will draw favour and criticism for one reason or another. I'm more than happy with it, though, and since no one has ever even partially convinced me that design relates in any way to volume of sales, social prominence, or buy buyer acceptability, a jacket design that pleases my eye (and my publisher's eye, of course) also pleases me and adds to my sense of accomplishment of having written a novel in the first place and managed to get it published—






Thursday, 2 January 2014

Non-Fiction Sidebar: Jacket Design (Part 1)



   One of the best - ie, fun and interesting but challenging - aspects of book publication, in my humble view, involves jacket design. 

   I've read about/heard of authors whose publisher basically informed them what the jacket will be, as in "Here's the jacket we've chosen." (This unbalanced relationship presumes, it seems, that the author either doesn't care about the trifling matter of the design of their own book or has nothing worthwhile to contribute to the sales dialogue, or else takes it for granted that the publisher, being a business with veteran marketing expertise, ought to adopt a paternalistic attitude because it knows better than any civilian what sells and what does not. Bubkes, I say.) For the most part, publishers with that exclusionary philosophy have not been my part of my experience.* 

   What should the jacket express (explicitly and implicitly), what colour(s) should it feature, what are the optimal fonts, what's best to avoid? These questions could strike some as onerous and unpleasant, as matters so consequential (as far as trifling book design goes: it's not like anyone's going to war and could lose a limb or a life) that they're best - and with gratitude - handed over to the design and marketing pros.

   (And, in truth, being a good mechanic doesn't mean you're a good driver. As much as I'm intrigued by design in general, and can at times fancy myself as someone with a keen eye or good taste, I also understand - or am forced to understand - my limits. 
   What I'm able to hazily envision in my head rarely turns out that way in reality. I accept that even if I regret it too.
   This situation began early, with a bike I spray-painted (baby) blue and (matte) black in elementary school (the effect? Just ghastly) and with the cedar spice rack of Woodworking 8 whose forlorn surfaces featured deep hammer indentations, unplanned and unfilled nail holes, and a tragically uneven coating of too thick varnish. (Yes, my parents kept the ugly specimen in the kitchen for years.)

   And just last year - lest I come to believe these failings are an event of my distant past - my hubby and I decided on the zombiefied ladies of ABBA as our ill-fated Halloween costumes. (I was Anni-Frid, the brunette.) Fancying myself an expert designer and sewer, I purchased a metre or two of pink satin fabric and proceeded to cut the pattern of a '70s-style butterfly-sleeve blouse that would have made ABBA wild. I measured. I cut. I stitched by hand. When I tried on my masterpiece, I couldn't fit my arms through the (carefully measured, I'd thought) sleeves. In a fit of fleeting rage, I tore up the whole undertaking and hurled it in the garbage. An hour later I was at a thrift shop downtown and had already found what I eventually wore. The lesson that day related to the vast distance between what I imagine I can do and what I can actually do.   
   As with celebrity designers, then,outsourcing the hands-on labour seems reasonable: "Here are some sketchy, half-baked, inconsistent, contradictory, and partially useless inspirations," says Jessica Simpson to her 'design team.' "When we meet up next month, I'd like to see how my clothing collection is shaping up." 

  For this jacket I asked my publisher if I could work with the guy - Finn at HonkHonk Graphic Arts in Victoria - who'd done such impressive work (I'd thought and still think) with novel #1, which started with and then modified an archival photograph of a '50s-era Vancouver beer parlour I'd located at the central library:




   For this new one, though, I didn't want CanLit dourness, doom and gloom and sadness and defeat seeping from every corner. This Location of Unknown Possibilities isn't particular sad or sober. It's a comedy. Instead of mournfulness and defeat I wanted cartoonishness, bright colours, busyness, mirth, a touch of the silly, all to reflect a plot that zooms from location to location and scenes that run from weird to silly and ridiculous.

   Since Finn knew virtually nothing about the story, I sent a list of key scenes and motifs. And I asked for lightheartedness and brightness. Lastly, I'd been stockpiling a few images that I'd noticed and thought inspirational. Basically, I wanted Finn to (a) read my mind, and (b) clarify my thoughts regarding the jacket, and (c) create something for me that already existed somewhere in my brain's innermost creative pockets and which I had no conscious awareness of. And do it all for cheap, of course.
   Good luck with that, right? (More on the process and results in my next posting.)

   These were the key images I sent—






























  

  *My recent experiences with a scholarly publisher were interactive but less free. The marketing person asked for our ideas and recommendations for cover design. We send a handful that reflected our knowledge of our book's thematic concerns and its contents. A few months later we received a file of images that were terrific but had nothing whatsoever to do with ideas we'd pitched early. Oh well. Variations on a theme, the three images below, which are definitely eye-catching and cool, also indicate the choices given to us.