Hollywood, Move Over for CanLit

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In case you might have thought that Canadians and the Canadian publishing industry as a whole is immune from the same type of unacceptable behaviour currently rocking Hollywood, Mike Spry would have you think again. In a piece titled “No Names, Only Monsters: Toxic Masculinity, Concordia, and CanLit,” Mr. Spry offers a firsthand look into the darker, less-than-glamourous side of publishing and writing in Canada.

It’s a very well-written piece, but I think the following quote from the above link sums up much of the article:

The community of Canadian arts and letters has long preserved a culture of impropriety and abuse that would make Hollywood blush. Truth is, there’s no such thing as a CanLit “community”. It simply does not exist, not in any form that respects or understands the meaning of “community”. What there is instead is a network of heavily subsidized writers, professors, critics, and publishers who engage in campaigns of pamphleteering built on forced volunteerism and a false sense of self-importance. The root of the problem is predation, counterfeit agency, and a substantial sense of entitlement—teachers, mentors, publishers, editors, critics, and writers who manipulate, abuse, and ultimately destroy the aspirations, ambitions, and sometimes lives of young writers in perpetuating that system of entitlement.

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Canadians: The Bisexuals of Orthography

 

The title sounds a lot more salacious than it really is, mostly because many people have no idea what orthography means. To put it another way, Canadians swing both ways when it comes to spelling.

As someone who writes and edits for a living, I like to think I spell pretty goodly, but one thing that’s fascinated me for a while is our spelling here in the Great White North. Most Canadians (I think) – even most Americans – know that we have two official languages in Canada, English and French. What most Canadians – and about zero Americans – know is that we play for both teams when it comes to putting our words together good and proper.

How so, the reader asks? Even though we officially use British spelling in schools and in government/media, we’re all a bunch of swingers, constantly oscillating between British and American spelling without even realizing it.

(Interestingly, I can’t think of any common words we actually use from the Brits – flat for us is the opposite of round; lorry is a girl’s name; and lift is about pulling something/someone up.)

For example, we write grey, colour, and cheque, all of which are British spelling. However, we also write memorize, math (not maths), and categorize, all of which are American spelling. And somewhere in between those two areas we have grey/gray ones, like the word travel as a gerund. Some Canadians, not knowing the difference, will write “traveling” (American), while others will write “travelling” (British). And because so many people’s Word Spell Check function is set to American, we in Canada get pinched for our own damn spelling most of the time!

This really struck me this morning while reading the Star. A Canadian journalist was quoting a Canadian citizen who’d said he had to “memorise” something. After the word memorise (British spelling), the writer wrote “[sic],” as in the citizen made a spelling mistake.

The lesson I take out of this is that, aside from being wildly experimental in the spelling arena, Canada really does have its own spelling system, a mish-mash of the Brits and the Yanks. The funny part, however, is that we don’t even realize this trait as Canadians.

Ha ha ha….ha ha………..ha (Is this thing on?)

Orthography is funny. Blondes, as they, may have more fun, but Canadians have waaaaay more fun doing spelling bees because we can nail you on both ends. Wait. That didn’t come out right. We can go north or south with our words. Doh! One last attempt: We can spell both ways, seamlessly going back and forth with the grace of a dolphin cutting through water. Yeah, that’s a good analogy. Spot on the money!

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Oprah Takes Oration to New Heights

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Perhaps it was inevitable. It was, after all, the one and only Oprah Winfrey making a speech at the first and most highly politicized event of 2018.

I don’t usually write about entertainment news, but after Oprah’s acceptance speech last night at the Golden Globes for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, I feel compelled to link to the video for all those who haven’t seen it. Quite simply, Oprah has raised the bar impossibly high for anyone following in her footsteps in the #MeToo & #TimesUp movements to make such an eloquent, impassioned, and – quite frankly – beautiful execution of truly mellifluous oration.

For me the speech brought to mind everyone from Pericles to Martin Luther King Jr. to JFK to Barack Obama (can we slip Pierre and Justin Trudeau in there for some Can. rep.?), people who somehow transcend fear at the podium and instead channel that energy into conviction and inspiration.

Oprah 2020?

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Quote of the Day

 

“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”

A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice

Yep, I had to write about the weather. For those of us living in Canada – the whole freaking country – and New England, this has been one of the most severe winter’s on record. How bad, you ask? It’s currently -23 with the wind chill in Toronto as I write this post, and it actually feels warm compared to the last three weeks.

We broke a record here yesterday for coldest temperature. In fact, the City of Toronto had to go to Ottawa to make an exceptional request yesterday: open up the federal armouries to house the homeless. Fortunately, Ottawa acquiesced.

On December 26, 1993 I experienced -70 degree weather, the coldest I’ve ever braved. (Interesting fact: If you stand outside naked at -70, your heart will stop in 60 seconds.) That being said, the last two days have felt colder than -70 here in the T Dot. After five minutes outside in full winter gear, I thought I’d developed frostbite in my fingers – and I had gloves on.

So, yeah, winter sucks.

But back to Dame Byatt! Not only is she an exceptional writer (Possession was a masterpiece), but she’s the heavyweight responsible for helping put a young go-getter named David Mitchell on the literary map; it was she who read an advanced reading copy (ARC) of his second novel, number9dream, and championed him before anyone (except me, of course) knew the limitless potential Mr. Mitchell possessed.

With respect to today’s QOTD, I like the imagery Dame Byatt evokes in this one sentence because, as I’ve felt these past few weeks, when it gets this cold it really is difficult to distinguish between the sting of being burned by fire and the acute pain that an Arctic wind can inflict on exposed (and sometimes covered) skin.

Please, all mountain gods, bring an end to this winter torment and usher in spring early this year. We deserve it!

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2017 Word of the Year

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Complicit

Well, the votes are in, and the 2017 Word of the Year is complicit.

Per dictionary.com:

The word complicit sprung up in conversations in 2017 about those who spoke out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stayed silent. It was a year of real awakening to complicity in various sectors of society, from politics to pop culture.

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The Dark Web

Let me preface this post by saying this is not only an extremely well written piece by Jason Smith, but one of the most important articles I’ve come across in recent memory. I strongly encourage you to read the link below.

I’m posting to this article about the dark web (aka Darknet) for a couple of reasons, one of which has to do with literature. I recently read a novel called Make Me about this very subject and was curious whether Lee Child was exaggerating for the sake of the “tension” of the plot, or whether this stuff was real.

Turns out Mr. Child was actually pussyfooting around the subject. Gulp.

 

Jason Smith has a more detailed answer to my question about whether this whole dark web thing is the real deal, and it’s not pretty. In an article titled “Journey Into the Dark” he actually tracks down someone who has operated extensively on the dark net, and the stories that follow have left a hollow feeling in my stomach.

To begin:

“There’s some awful shit on here,” he warned me. “In the old days, if someone was kidnapped, they asked for ransom. Now, these teams in South America abduct kids and women from areas that are poor, knowing the media won’t give a shit about them, and then hold them in dungeons with webcams. People then make requests using Bitcoin, as to what they want to see happen to the person. It’s fucking sick.”

Jim says he never ventured into that more insidious, disturbing side of the dark web because it scared him. But he has plenty of acquaintances who did, he says. He claims it changed them. He couldn’t say how, exactly. Or maybe he could but didn’t want to. Regardless, Jim said, they weren’t the same after.

The above is pretty much the plot of Make Me, and now I’m convinced there’s got to be some kind of solution we have to seek to the dark net – because if not, I’m pretty sure the Wild West is going to return like nothing we’ve seen in modern civilization.

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One case in point is the spread of drugs in Western society, which is facilitated in large part through the dark net. For those of us who live in Canada and the U.S., drugs like Fentanyl have taken over the streets in many cities. Both governments agree there is a national health crisis with respect to this. And the dark web is playing a significant role.

Per Mr. Smith’s article once again.

It’s a clusterfuck. People are dying, prisons are filling up, and nothing changes. More people died last year than at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than died during the entire duration of the Vietnam War.

And we’re not even close to getting a handle on this thing.

I don’t pretend to have any answers (I only learned what Tor, the onion router, and VPN were today), but I’m a little scared. I’m glad the feds are getting involved, though it seems to no real avail. A few high-profile minnow snags here and there in an ocean of corrupt whales.

For my own sanity, I think I’ll just stick to the surface web and continue to pretend the dark web doesn’t exist.

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The Meaning of Life

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So, here we are. In 2018. Year of the Dog. Holidays over. Everyone back to work tomorrow. I’ve spent the last month listening to Christmas music ad nauseam and watching more Top 10s than I care to admit. Now it’s all about the resolutions. Looking forward and all. Make a pledge, break a pledge, feel better for having tried.

Over the last month I’ve tried to spend my time thinking not of the past or the future but of my place in the present. I know, I know. Soooooo deep (groan…groan again…dry heaving…little chunks in the mouth).

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Regardless, this kind of thinking naturally leads to introspection in many and varied forms. For me it leads to two things: thinking back on past experiences and considering some of the wisest people I’ve read over the years.

With the former, there was much lamentation, guilt, shame, confusion and a whole other bunch of nouns that never make you feel very good. Why would I have…? How could they have…?

Quite simply: Why?

 

With the latter, it brought to mind things like the Socratic paradox (The only thing I know is that I know nothing), Einstein’s famous quip (The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know), the famous Greek aphorism from the Oracle at Delphi (know thyself), and Corinthians (And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love).

I’d also reflect on witty/inspirational/touching things people have said over the ages, some of which I use, for example, in my Quote of the Day posts. But when you’re attempting to find your place in this great big universe, sometimes you feel that what you need are not the wise words of sage thinkers, but a notion of personal worth and self-actualization.

And that, I’m told, comes from within.

 

As we march into a new year and I start my second coffee of the day, I’m not sure if I have any new answers to some of my most pressing questions, but I’m content knowing that I made an effort to better understand myself and my place in the world.

And instead of ending with some pithy quote, I’d like to link to a little-seen YouTube video called, ah-hem, “The Meaning of Life.” It has fewer than 2,000 views. It’s never gone viral. It’s just a little piece of magic in an otherwise endless stream of online videos. For me, however, it always brings a smile to my face because it does something remarkable. It take complexity and makes it simple. Simple = good, right?

On that note, take a couple of minutes to enjoy the sampling below, and may all your hopes, wishes, ambitions, and dreams be realized in 2018.

 

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You’re Not Too Old to Publish (or Start a New Career)

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When I read this piece titled “I’m Almost 40 and Still Getting Rejected—Am I Running Out of Time? The Blunt Instrument on how old is too old to become a successful writer” I knew I had to add my two cents. Er, two words: Marina Lewycka.

Ms. Lewycka is the author of the fantastic novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. She published that debut novel of hers at the age of 59 – and she hasn’t looked back since then.

If you’re an aspiring author (or just wondering if it’s ever too late to start a new career), look not to the fictional words of George Eliot, but to the great success Marina Lewycka has enjoyed for more than a decade.

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IQ Test Time!

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Running on empty, Jackson Browne?

Who doesn’t love taking tests! I had to link to this if only because it will validate that you are either a) a genius or b) grateful that you’re not taking the SAT ever again.

In a piece titled “The World’s Shortest IQ Test Is Only Three Questions,” Joanie Faletto gives you the (feared/anticipated) three questions and their answers.

Good luck!

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Note to Indie Authors: Brace for Hard Landing

Yep, that’s you landing ass-first.

Okay, enough is enough, powers that be. It started after reading CJ Walley’s “Amazon Studios; A Warning to All Screen Writers.” That was followed by “Amazon Is Punishing Authors for Running BookBub Promotions.” (I’d link to the article, but the link has been cut. No, I’m not  kidding.) Yet the pièce de résistance came when I learned from Andrew Liptak that Goodreads is changing its giveaways program, making it harder for readers to discover indie books.”

Consumers will know and love Amazon for its ridiculously low prices and crazy delivery times. Writers – and the publishing world as a whole – will know Amazon for the bully it is. I suppose the easy argument here is that you don’t become the juggernaut Amazon has become by playing nice. Just as every person on a reality TV show has been saying since “Survivor” gave the word a questionable meaning – “I didn’t come here to make friends, yo.” – so too does Amazon know that making enemies is of no real importance to them because they, like Walmart, have such a commanding market share.

But Goodreads? Come on! I’m particularly sensitive to the Goodreads Giveaways because I once benefited from it…when it was free! It was one of the few ways indie authors could promote their books to audiences they would otherwise (most likely) never reach.

For example, if not for the Giveaway, Aditi Saha (then the #1 Book Reviewer at Goodreads, now #7) would never have read my first novel, A Father’s Son, and I would never have had the chance to make her acquaintance and be honoured with a five-star review.

Was it not enough that I, as the author running the Giveaway, had to pay $40 in  shipping (plus the cost of the book) to get Aditi a free copy to her home in India? I guess not. Now Goodreads wants to charge a hefty price (see above article for details), and an even heftier price if you want premium “shelf space” on their Giveaway page.

Really, this just seems like overkill on an industry that barely survives as it is. With Amazon’s apparent attack on BookBub, its alleged viciousness with screen writers on Amazon Studios, and now Goodreads effectively saying that if you want to reach a global audience, you’re going to pay through the nose (which will already be bruised, battered and bleeding), it’s going to be tougher than ever for indie authors to reach people outside their immediate friends/family/market, let alone make a few bucks along the way.

A sad day, really.

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