Friday, August 11, 2017

WROTE podcast reviews Town & Train

Last week there was a fascinating review of Town & Train by the fine folks at the WROTE podcast. Jayne Lockwood calls me a speculative realist writer (a first for me), calls my protagonist John Daniel a teenage dirtbag (a term he would argue vehemently against), remarks upon characters vanishing without explanation toward the conclusion of the story, and suggests that my portrayal of pedophile villain Mortimer Winslow was meant to draw sympathy. Like I said - fascinating. Still, admittedly, Lockwood has given me much to think about, whether or not I agree with all of her observations.
"I loved the inventiveness of the plot, the building of atmosphere, the genuinely scary moments a la James Herbert or Stephen King. There are Koontz-esque scenes of banal normality set against an increasingly glowering backdrop, and a sense of impending doom as both David and John independently try to figure out how to prove that the town is being haunted by a ghost train from hell."
-Jayne Lockwood, WROTE podcast

Friday, July 28, 2017

Written on the Edge (WROTE) Podcast with Vance Bastian and S.A. "Baz" Colins

I was lucky enough recently to appear on the lovely WROTE Podcast, with Vance Bastian just north of Chicago, he of the velvet-smooth voice, and S.A. Collins ("Baz”), the man in San Francisco. It's live, at this link, today.

Giving my shout-outs aplenty, I realized how lucky I am, from describing gracious Steve Berman of Lethe Press to my writers group, the Little Workshop of Horrors (with shout-outs to Robin Riopelle, Sean McKibbon, Danny Lalonde Sean Moreland, Ranylt Richildis & Aalya Ahmad-apologies if I missed anyone).

We discussed inspiration, early writing influences (Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Clive Barker, J.R.R. Tolkien, Universal Monster films), queer characters in speculative fic, and queer stories.
But don't take my word for it. Listen in if you're curious.
Thank you so much, Vance and Baz.

I hope, in my little heart, that someone out there hears it and enjoys it. I also hope to grace WROTE again someday.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review of Grant Morrison's Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

Grant Morrison’s Supergods is ostensibly an autobiography of a comic book writer with rock-star status. It’s a heady mix of mysticism, personal history, anecdotes about the business, replete with allusions to his indelible contributions to the medium and even a précis on landmark graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight ReturnsSupergods is all these things, and not in any particular order. Even while unevenly paced, boastful and often utterly self-conscious, Supergods is great fun at all turns. The reader never knows what Morrison will relate next, whether his self-proclaimed practice of chaos magic, an off-handed quip about the British and Scottish invasion of comics in the late 1980’s, when DC Comics wooed the overseas talent, or a casual social encounter with celebrity Sean Connery.

The author writes with a swagger, relating his reclusive youth in Scotland and growing up with a larger-than-life father who protested U.S. nuclear bases then in Scotland. Morrison’s own dread of nuclear war budded along with his imagination even while his parents' marriage eventually failed. He immersed himself at an early age in the super heroics of British comics magazine 2000 AD and then DC Comics and Marvel Comics staples. There are more colourful details for readers to discover themselves, so I won’t particularize. From these roots, Morrison became cognizant of conspiracy theory and locked onto the idea of characters with great powers who might intervene on humanity’s behalf. He played in a punk rock band, the Mixers, during his early and shy and drifting twenties. Around the same time, Morrison began drawing and writing for comics, eventually stringing for 2000 AD and other British titles, always with a keen eye on subverting the form.

It’s personal history writ dramatically. Grant Morrison feels the need to defend the book's theme, perhaps, about how a kid can become enraptured by the concept of beings with godlike powers, able to intervene in the event of nuclear catastrophe. He essentially argues that his younger obsession forms the man he becomes as a creator.

Cover art by Gary Frank. I'd recognize
his particular line work and facial
expressions anywhere.
Random House Publishing Group, 2011
Morrison also allots real estate to pontificate on the game-changers of the medium, describing The Dark Knight Returns as a Norse Opera, analysing Alan Moore’s masterful and yet in his view still imperfect clockwork-like symmetry in The Watchmen, and even explaining his theory that Batman snaps the Joker’s neck in the denouement of Moore’s The Killing Joke. His shrewd eye catches many fine details and illuminates themes and undercurrents as adeptly as any scholar poring over a text.

Throughout his catch-all book, Morrison is outlandish, spiritual, and self-aggrandizing. He is not without grounds. Morrison did, after all, shift many paradigms, including Arkham Asylum, his collaboration with artist Dave McKean and the conspiracy-theory-laden and cult-following-gathering The Invisibles, to name but two of his game-changing works. Since about three quarters of Morrison’s work is rather provocative or mind-bending or avant-garde, he is within his rights to strut the stage of high-brow comic-book intellectualization. So he swaggers like a peacock across the page, a raconteur backed by his own startling achievements. Think Ray Bradbury, were he still with us, musing about current sci-fi writing.

With the 1989 publication of Arkham Asylum, and its stratospheric success, with multiple sold-out print runs, Morrison found himself the fortunate co-signatory to a lucrative royalty contract. Here was a hard cover comic book with gorgeous paintings and psychological writing. It discomfited and fascinated readers. This was not exactly a comic, but more a bona fide book, and a gorgeous one. Still, everyone who could afford the book wanted it (Editor's Note: Even young readers at the time such as myself). Morrison has said in interviews that Arkham Asylum is about the nightmare that he believes Batman must have every night. 

With his newly earned funds, Morrison traveled the world and wrote The Invisibles, inserting an avatar of himself into the comic in the form of the character King Mob. With artists with a talent for dazzling detailed including Phil Jimenez pencilling interiors or Brian Bolland drawing covers, the series ran for three volumes. Morrison incorporated his own life into the book whenever possible, and had a blast doing so, from depicting fetish clubs in a magical setting or trans character Lord Fanny (Editor's Note: Morrison has always been ahead of his time!) having a fling in New Orleans. The title holds the infamous distinction of Morrison asking readers, in the letters column, to masturbate and perform a magical ritual using a sigil to save the series from cancellation. 

In Supergods, Morrison expounds on chaos magic, as he often does, relating his world-view-altering spiritual experience in Kathmandu and his claim that he is a chaos magic practitioner. Morrison has spoken at length about his transformation in interviews, in particular, in the extraordinarily bizarre two-part Fatman on Batman podcast interview he did with director and filmmaker Kevin Smith. I won’t repeat the details here, because you really should seek it out for yourself. It's here.

Morrison extends his spiritual beliefs to comics, also positing that comic books are another dimension and that somewhere someone is reading our human stories from another dimension as well. As in other interviews and podcasts, Morrison philosophizes that we are tapping into archetypal and older power.

Whether or not one agrees with Morrison, he is consistent in his responses about his own mystical views. In his outspokenness about magick, he is similar to only one other warlock in the business. While he and Alan Moore have not seen eye-to-eye in some time, you can search online and find articles about their antagonist relationship. The crux of the matter, though, is that Moore disputes Morrison's claim to be a magic practicioner as well, citing Morrison's coming-out as a chaos magician as being suspiciously close to Moore's announcement that he was a warlock shortly after Moore turned 40. To his credit, Morrison pays only tight-lipped flattery to Moore in Supergods, however. When Morrison does go on a little long about Watchmen, one suspects he is trying to make amends through praise of the other rock-star warlock of comic books.

As a result of his multiplicity of reality-bending interests, and his accomplishments, he is a fascinating subject for documentarists, biographers and Ph.D. students alike.

And Morrison is a truly an avant-garde rock star of comics as well. His opus not only includes the thoroughly engrossing The Invisibles (in fact, sometimes dizzingly so), but also its spiritual predecessor, The Filth, the postmodern and reality-shifting Flex Mentallo, the dysfunctional Doom Patrol with emotionally troubled and schizophrenic anti-heroes, a pivotal, several-year-run on Batman, a fourth-wall­-breaking run on Animal Man, not to mention his fearless Final Crisis and Convergence, two complicated, multiple-Earth shattering DC-Comics-mega-series that any sensible writer would have steered clear of. Also of note is All-Star Superman, his 12-issue collaboration with artist Gary Frank, in which Superman lives out his last days performing 12 great feats after his nemesis Lex Luthor bombards him with cancer. The storyline carries an irascibly enjoyable tone. Readers will be ruined for reading any other notable Superman books afterward. In All-Star, Morrison show the Man of Steel showing compassionate when he intervenes to save a suicidal young woman from committing sucide. This show of compassion is rare for the flagship character.

Because of Morrison’s street cred and his undeniable charisma, whether as a guru or comics creator or self-professed chaos magician, Supergods is worth picking up. You will learn a lot more about Grant Morrison here than in the pages of his comics even while some of the material has appeared elsewhere, online and in interviews. Steel yourself for a plunge into mysticism, chaos magic, mind-bending transcendental experience and a cocky overview of Morrison’s accomplishments and his take on comics and graphic novels that made history. The book has a multiple personality disorder, but this oddly is part of the roguish raconteur’s charm. Supergods is a rich, introspective and, at times, humble trip. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Note On Writing Old-School Style

The more I'm exposed to sensory overload via the Internet and distracting computer software prompts and infinite requests and notices, the more I am seriously consideirng returning to writing only on my Olympia typewriter when I am working my craft.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Author Page Launched

And boom! I'm switching from my Town & Train Facebook page to an author page

Feel free to follow and/or like the page if you want. Followig the page is a great way to keep track of my writing projects, writing business, readings, and other public appearances, if that's your thing. (Gasp! The hermit emerges from his cave...!)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Characters in my Second Novel, Monstrous

While I am editing my second horror novel, Monstrous, I feel it prudent to describe my cast of characters. I realized in my Feb. 9, 2017 post about completing the novel that while I described the emotional experience of writing the manuscript without the presence of my mentor, Hugh hat I neglected to go into detail about my characters.  Here, I have made some notes aboutMonstrous and its characters.

What's Monstous about?
Set in 2012, 22 years after my first novel, Town & Train, Monstrous concerns a seemingly random group of strangers who converge at an old retrofitted inn, the Auld Dubliner. But nothing is what it seems and there may be a connection between all of them, and the horrors awaiting them.

So is Monstrous a sequel to Town & Train?
No. I do have some recurring characters such as Sergeant Ritchie O'Donnell, who was protagonist David Forester's romantic interest in Train (He was a constable then.) I'd mention the other characters from Train, but that would be taking away the surprise.

But are you writing a sequel to Town & Train
I wouldn't rule it out. Stay tuned, true believers.

So who's in Monstrous?

My Returning Stars
My hero, John Newman, has just finished hitching across the U. S. and Canada over three weeks and is on a course to the Auld Dubliner inn to settle accounts with an old friend. He's carrying a lot of baggage with him, and it's not in his backpack, but has to do with his recently failed relationship and being out of work again.

Sara Jasmine is back in Canada after residing in the U.K. for a decade, and hunting down ghosts with Miguel MacIntyre, a modern warlock whom she met at an occult bookstore.

John, Sara and Miguel have appeared in some of my unpublished, Full Moon Over Somerset Avenue (a novella starring John Newman) and A Canadian Ghost in London (starring Sara as an expat living in London, England, haunted by the death of her good friend, and meeting Miguel for the first time).

My Characters in Brandon, Ontario (My Fictional Stand-in for Cornwall, Ontario)
Sergeant Ritchie O'Donnell is very recently single after a 10-year relationship. He now runs an LGBTQ counselling group, a coming-out group and performs police community outreach work with the LGBTQ community in Brandon.

In all of this, I musn't forget Drake, my reclusive and introverted guitarist of immense talent. Drake, in his late thirties, lives at home with his mother and takes long walks at night in the dark streets of Brandon. He knows Brandon's secrets, and what he encounters in his night sojourns changes him.

I have a trio of second-year university students. Bruck Blackadder is wrestling with his sexuality identity after he and his queer close friend Dave get a little closer than he expected. Joshua, the third musketeer of their trio, has a passion for drawing but is agonizing because he is majoring in the Sciences at university.

Crises of Faith
Brittany Cruikshank is a disillusioned Jehovah's Witness of 20 years who is being excommunicated as a result.

Jean-Francois, my Quebecois character, is a burned-out AIDs/HIV survivor and activist who lost friends and lovers to the epidemic in the 1980's and is trying to put his past in perspective.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review, Notes about Michael V. Smith's My Body is Yours: A Memoir

About Michael V. Smith:
Multifaceted gay Canadian writer, performance artist, and activist Michael V. Smith has published two fine novels, Cumberland and Progress, and the poetry collections What You Can’t Have, Body of Text, (with David Ellingsen) and his stirring and newest collection, Bad Ideas.

Cover image copyright 2015,
Arsenal Pulp Press
In his memoir My Body Is Yours, Michael V. Smith reflects on his turbulent childhood, coming out early, falling in love early, but also about becoming a sex addict, and crusing for sex in parks, all from the perspective of his mid-forties. But his perspective makes the account no less painful, from stories of his alcoholic father being in and out of work regularly, to Smith trying to hide who he was in his hometown, and gentler moments.There are moments of grace such as his description of walking home at dawn after a night in Stanley Park, finding solace in early morning bird song. 

Smith starts his story with his youth in Cornwall, our shared hometown. He recounts his splintered childhood, coping with his parents being unhappily married, largely due to his alcoholic father. Sporadically employed, his dad was a seismic, shifting and unpredictable force in his family's life. Mike realized he was gay in his adolescence, startlingly early by standards of the 1980’s. He finds requited love. Smith eventually takes his beau to prom, where their two female dates act as the boys’ beards. These kids were way ahead of their time, clearly. After a four-year relationship with his high-school sweetheart, who eventually realizes she is trans, Smith travels to San Francisco. He is, in his own words, urged on by an older gay friend as though they are characters in a queer indie film. Later, Smith lives in Toronto, Vancouver, and Kelowna, all the while cruising men online, on camera, but mainly in public parks.

Mike and I know each other from our hometown days, going as far back as grade seven at Central Public School (it's gone now, torn down about five years ago for a new school to go up in the same spot). He is two years older than me, and so I was two grades younger and mostly unnoticed, which is understandable. However, I got to know him better after Smith published his first novel, Cumberland. 

A debut as startling in its power as it is painful, Cumberland is set in a small town of the same name, a fictionalized Cornwall, Ontario. One protagonist in Cumberland, Ernest, is a laid-off mill worker discovering his queer sexual identity. The other hero, Aaron, a young boy, endures bullying and his own sexual awakening. My debut horror novel Town & Train also occurs in a fictionalized Cornwall. My stand-in, Brandon, is also enduring hard economic times, just as Cumberland is described as a "failing industrial town". Our descriptions of the hometown of our youth are unsurprising, given that in the wake of the Free Trade Agreement, many factories, such as Courtalds and Nestle, closed down in Cornwall in the 1990's to move operations to countries with cheaper overhead costs. Mike and I, although young, saw these closures happening in our mill-and-hockey town and obviously have carried this observation forward into our work.
Cover image copyright 2002,
Cormorant Books.
Town & Train also includes closeted queer characters such as the gay Constable Ritchie O'Donnell. My main protagonist Constable David Forester struggles to realize his bisexual identity. Mike and I also use some similar settings, including the landmark of the Domtar paper mill, physical descriptions of local areas such as the east end business district of Montreal Road and downtown's main intersection of Pitt and Second. But perhaps most importantly, we also depict the local gay cruising area. 

Around the time Cumberland came out from Cormorant Books, I was hammering away at revisions of Town & Train each morning before racing off to a wine retail job. Mike encouraged me to finish it and find a publisher instead of, he said, leaving the manuscript to waste away in a drawer. Impressed by Cumberland at the time, I asked Mike if I could include a cameo of one or two of his Cumberland characters in Town & Train. He generously agreed. So, if you look, you will find a familiar fellow cruising for men in the park in Town & Train.

Reading My Body Is Yours, I am struck by the harrowing, dangerous, and threatening situations Smith placed himself in, beginning with alcohol abuse. When he quit drinking, Smith rechanneled his addiction energy into staying up all night, cruising parks for sex. The lure of sex, the danger of being hurt, or worse, and the adrenaline-charged high he got from navigating darkened Stanley Park all became all too enticing.

I’m familiar with this hunt, at night, with men giving each other oblique signals in the park, a perpetual and fascinating dance of attraction and chase. Smith is, too. 

Smith includes "Prayer for Promiscuity", a piece about cruising in Stanley Park in his new poetry collection, Bad Ideas (Nightwood Editions, 2017). The poem hits the reader in the crotch, but also in the heart. Here's an excerpt.

Across Lost Lagoon, the apartment
complexes rise, pixelated

a horizon lonellier than childhood.
If we'd been children together, perhaps
we could have saved each other.

In this way, Smith deftly juxtaposes childhood innocence with the hardened experience of a man looking for casual sex in the park.

Reading a friend's memoir is not for the faint of heart. For me, learning that Mike imperilled himself so much, and so often, through barebacking or other careless constant sex with strangers, sometimes with multiple strangers simultaneously, is jarring. The idea knocks me sideways. His obsession matured, blossomed, and he expanded his area of risk, including online chat rooms, webcams, and random hook-ups under the highway bridge outside of town, in strangers’ cars, or even, in one chilling instance, a failed rendez-vous in a mechanic’s garage where Smith was nearly locked in with a troubled and musclebound stranger.

Smith’s successful memoir is, at turns, heart-wrenching, funny, sad, dramatic, and heartbreakingly confessional. It does, however, possess a single hitch—the narrative thread often back-steps in chronology. In one instance, Smith describes living in Vancouver. The next, he recalls his escapades a few years earlier in Toronto. The reader hears about Smith discovering a queer community in Vancouver and then Smith travels back to his days in Toronto dressing up in drag and making a drunken sexual spectacle of himself at a nightclub. Then the reader learns of Smith’s days as Cookie La Whore, the drag persona he adopted to host soirees at the Dufferin. Here, he and writer Billeh Nickerson admirably shored up the disparate parts of the queer artistic community, from rock bands to artists of all stripes. There’s merit here; the story is writ large and dramatic, and justifiably so. In a sense, this is Smith's Torch Song Trilogy, and the story breaks your heart. The order, though, could have benefitted from refining.

Coincidentally, on my first trip to Vancouver back in 2000, a university friend insisted on taking me to the Dufferin, or the “Duff”. And I did not recognize Mike. However, I saw his drag show and quite liked it. I've always liked a good drag show, when done with aplomb and skill. Besides, Mike is a very pretty, lithe woman, and man.

My Body is Yours often reads like a John Rechy novel. Rechy was famous for City of Night, his 1963 debut novel about a hustler finding his way in the underground sexual life of the glittering big American cities in the 1950s. The novel was compared to Genet and Jack Kerouac. Unfortunately, his critics pegged Rechy as as a hustler who wrote a book instead of a writer who happened to be a hustler. Rechy wrote several more books after City of Night, a fact which his detractors seemed to have failed to notice. But I digress.

Cover Image Copyright 2017,
Nightwood Editions.
I feel the need to contextualize how Smith feels in his skin, since the memoir is about his body. While Smith had agonized over body issues, he is comfortable with himself now. Myself, I have come to terms with being bi, although much later than in my teens, rather in my twenties and thirties. So I sometimes see Smith as an accelerated version of myself. He, too, is a skinny-boy-turned-skinny-man from a small town. Of course, he was far skinner than me. He was, in fact, skinnier than anyone around him growing up, as he mentions in the memoir. This is an accurate, not self-effacing observation. As a result, some men in the park would feel Mike’s meagre bicep and then simply move on. 

Of course, we also have in common the fact that he’s a writer. And a lover of men. He is, of course, much farther along the Kinsey Scale, his needle pointed squarely at the men side. I’m more toward the middle.

But as Mike recalls, or fails to recall, how he had sex with multiple partners in one night or how he prowled the parks four nights a week, I remind myself—I’m not reading about John Rechy or Jack Kerouac or Norman Mailer sinking themselves into depravity. Rather, I'm reading about someone I know. Someone I quite adore. It breaks my heart to hear what Mike did to himself through his obsessive compulsive disorder behaviour and addictions. 

I do, though, find solace in the fact that he came through it all intact. The world would be far less good and fabulous without Mike in it, as a writer, a person and an influence. I just want to hug him and say I’m grateful he came through the fire of his addictions.