Sunday, July 22, 2007

Blogging the Unbloggable; Writing the Unwritable; Publishing the Unpublishable

Reading blogger JR's accounts of his experiences as prison educator, I somehow seem to have prison on the brain.

At least two Canadian novelists have been in jail--big time--but that did not stop them from gleaning top honours and awards for their writing.

Take the late Dan Bailey, grade-eight dropout and ex con.

That an ex-con (eight years for armed robbery) can enter the Canadian literary establishment, is a story well documented by the con himself whose Memories of Margaret made large ripples in the Can-lit movement some years ago.

Don Bailey was a personal friend of the brilliant Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence and some of his
comparisions to prison habitues and literary lions are pretty hard to beat.

To wit: Top Canadian writers and the jailhouse experience.


Bailey has just met a pudgy, folksy, but important author at the top of the Can-lit food chain.

"My mind began to drift, and I began to think about the rituals that took place when you arrived as a fish in the joint. The serious power freaks approached you like the three wise men bearing gifts. They promised to protect you, supply your with chocolate bars or chewing gum for the occasional blow job or anal sex. These guys needed sexual dominance to feel okay about themselves. They never perceived themselves as homosexuals. In fact, thley hated queers.

"The queens, wearing grotesque makeup, made their pitches, licking their lips lasciviously. They twitched their hips and competed madly to have the largest entourage of young men in their stable. They were openly gay and the more suitors they had, I guess the better they felt.

"Then there were the solid guys. No sex for them. Just tough, closed-mouthed walk int the yard for therest of their lives, kind of guys, but they were lonely for a partner. Someone who was in on a good beef, a bank robber or a safe cracker, who, when he got pinched, took the fall himself. Didn't squeal on anyone, though everybody knew other people wre involved. Solid . Someone you could talk a at a few years away with. Share some bullsh*t. Rationalize your life of crime and bestow their blossing on you. Make you feel okay about yourself, even though sometimes you felt like a zero.

"Lower down the pecking order we the skinners, the walking wonded, the junkies and the dealers. Everybody wanted something. I guess in the end what counted was that you ahad a visible position in the hierarchy. It was criticalc that you were someody to somebody, that somebody cared who your were because they either feared you or they liked you.

Whatever.

Don Bailey submitted his manuscripts to Robertt Weaver, Robert Fulford, John Robert Colombo, and eventually Margaret Laurence.
He was in.

When I was teaching college, I casually mentioned to a colleague that I had written a book, but was having a devil of a time getting it published.

Somehow, this other teacher was in the know.

"You wrote two good books.

"Your problem was that you didn't suck."

I didn't suck? You mean I didn't suck?
"Precisely, my friend, you who didn't know how the game is played.

"Look at Ms...........

You mean P..........?

"Have a good look. See? She has square-shaped lips.

"Comes from handling odd-shaped objects."

....................

Well, I don't know.

I did meet the man recently. He had had a nervous breakdown, had become involved with a student and had had a divorce. Also a negative experience with his psychiatrist.

"So how are you doing?" he had asked.

"Got four books out and am holding my own."

He paused, and had a drink out of his flask.

"I haven't seen you for a long time, and now I've already seen too much of you. Goodbye."

I am practising on a big Allen wrench to affect square lips.

But I did somehow make it to the Globe and Mail, the literary page.

Would have hated to have gone the other way.

Would have tasted awful! :-)

Ivan

46 comments:

JR's Thumbprints said...

I write about falling asleep in a closet and you find just the right thing to blog about.

I guess everyone has their price.

Sorry, I'd write more on this, but I have to vacuum the house with the old faithful Hoover.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Ivan Electrolux?
Juno?

Josie said...

Who knew the literary world was so fraught with sociocultural aberrations. I thought you guys just sat down at typewriters and wrote books.

Who knew...!

Hey...! JR vacuums. I think I'll adopt him.

Josie said...

"Look at Ms...........

You mean P..........?


Do I know that person? I won't tell... ssshhh.

benjibopper said...

so am I right in suspecting that my chances of getting published via cold submissions are slim to none?

Ever read Go Boy by Roger Caron? Another great Canadian prisoner memoire by a great writer. He became famous from that book and then went back to bank robbing.

JR's Thumbprints said...

BenjiBopper,

Only in Canada, my friend, only in Canada.

EA Monroe said...

Do the crime, do the time, write a book, make a million bucks.

ivan@creartivewriting.ca said...

Josie,

I think old pre-Kinsey Kraft-Ebbing had nothing on some of those cats.
But then there was (St.) Jean Genet in France, a stone thief and
aberrant who was hired (after being freed by Sartre) by Esquire Magazine to cover the Chicago riots in l968. He came back with a report on the "hugely attractive thighs" on Chicago policemen. Who knew.
It was kind of a sweet picture of poor dour-faced Genet on the Esquire press pass.
...Still, I think it was a genius move by Esquire to hire the guy.
Sales went up...Made it up by a thigh.

On JR as Ladies Home Companion.
Yeah, he'd be very handy to have arund the house by the sound of it.
...Might report on the state of your thighs? :)

Ivan

Ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

Ms P.

I'll never tell. :)

http://www.creativewriting.ca said...

Benjibopper,

The road is long and winding. Sometimes it is the fault of the author himself.
In l969, I developed a reputation as a writer and was presently hired by the old Star Weekly magazine. The idea was to give working novelists some sort of high-paid writing job so he/she culd maintain some dignity while writing the uh, great Canadian novel.

After writing my tenth story on
baton twirlers and plaster elves I grew sickened of this kind of journalism and quit.
It wasn't until months later that I learned that my boss, Alan Walker was a good friend of Margaret Atwood and that they had been discussing my future.
I was right on top of Canadian book publishers and wasn't even aware that the board of directors on the Star Weekly included some top level Canadian novelists....I could have been in their circle within a year if I'd stuck with the journalism job.
Shortly after this gig, I was published by the Reader's Digest, no great coup, but somebody out there was still looking out for me.

However, Dennis Lee, Ms. Atwood's editor at the time, said the only way to get published in Canada was to start your own publishing company. And he did: House of Anansi Press.

My own short stories and poetry were first published by Ryerson University. This is a good venue, the old Alma Mater helping out.
If I were you I'd try your old school's literary magazine. That or submitting to University of New Brunswick Press.
Fiddlehead, the UNB's poetry magazine is finicky in its choices, but once you're published in Fiddlehead, things should get a lot easier...But those herringchokers are a tough market to crack!

The "little magazines" are a sure way to go, but they are, as I say, extremely finicky and a tad elitist.

Break a leg.

Ivan

Anonymous said...

JR,

Dennis Lee, Canada's poet laureate at one time, said he was tired of editing "mediocre" Canadian books.
He later said he was whimsical in this sentiment, but it certainly stuck in my mind.
The quote is especailly a dangerous one to hold in one's head.
He had been Margaret Atwood's editor for some years.

Egad.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Liz Monroe,

Oh how right you are!

Don Bailey went on to make huge waves in Canadian literary circles.
Earned lots of money too.

Ivan

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

How depressing it all is when one thinks of being pubkished. All we really want is someone to hear our voices, yes?

I would like to think that I will have more than a poem now and again published. I do have a book I am writing but I think it makes people uncomfortable. Then again it is the truth and when is the truth ever comfortable when speaking about such matters.

I wish us all luck... never know, we could all find our dreams in book writing.

Lastly, Ivan, your story reminds me of my stepfather and his time as a guard at the virginia State Pen, not a pretty picture....i shiver at the thought.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

"inside our hands, outside our hearts",

I have seen some of your poetry on your site.
It is publishable.

I'd like to help out a bit here, but it's "physician heal thyself" with me at this time.
I used to run an underground literary magazine with a small cult following...actually, I just sent Josie one page,of the now- defunct "Main Street Whizbang" in hopes she'll reproduce a picture for me; I can't do it on my machine.
Poetry is a gift, a rare one. If you maintain the quality that you have shown, you might get through on ability alone...no need for the poliics.
My tech support team is tied up righ now, but as soon as they and I get it together, we might set up a poetry page here. Your poetry will certainly be included.

Cheers,

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

"Inside":

You didn't ask me to do this, but I'll do it anyway, here in Island Grove Press's comment space.
I like the poem you now havee up on your blog, "The Emotional Being".

I'm sure the Quarks will like it, and I will now reproduce it, sort of unilaterally:


REMEMBERING

The past visited me today
I was reminded of how once you held me
And how easy a smile flowed from my face to yours

The light that your soul gave off buried me in love
It created a haven I could fall into
A place where the days worries were not so important
The only things that mattered were us

When I met you I could not forget your eyes
They seemed to hold so much truth
They spoke to me as if they recognized my stare
I was captivated by those deep pools of blue water
They need only glance my way
And I would once again be taken back to that quiet place
That dark night when the wind carved out a moment in time for us to memorize
Saturate ourselves, and kiss for the first time
It was like being home
A place I knew existed, but until then, had never found

I loved the way your arms slowly fell around me
Each one knowing its place
As if they had laid there before and was remembering
Reliving a past life that had now come full circle

I still feel like I need to take a deep breath when I think of you
And my body still reacts when I recapture your frame as you walk near me
My hands reclaim their place in yours
My lips taste your kiss
And my heart breaks at loving you still

Perhaps one day, when life isn’t so complicated
And unspoken words can be said
Loving you won’t be so hard
And remembering us will be easy

Posted by Inside our hands, outside our hearts at 12:30 AM

(And reprinted by Island Grove Press at six a.m., July 23, 2007).



12 comments:

Danny Tagalog said...

Again, I'm not following the dialogue close enough but you are sure as hell making me laugh!
Cheers, DT.

Josie said...

Ivan, I didn't receive anything. Try again?

Josie

benjibopper said...

thanks Ivan, this sounds like good advice. and maybe i will just start my own publishing house if all else fails.

rest assured though, 'go boy' was no mediocre book. i thoroughly enjoyed it.

islandgrovepress said...

Benjibopper,

Yes, Roger Caron was quite the writer.

Seems our talent is shared withe con-men, thieves and maybe a car detailer or two.
I have found that may waiter at the hotel can sometimes write rings around me.
Myself, I've had an unhappy childhood (thank God), but Caron's was an absolute nightmare that made him have nightmares about the nightmare of his future.
I have had some good luck in starting my own publishing company (it was for my students and their work, really), but a ten-thousand dollar outlay was a jolt that has me scrimping to this day.

But what the hell, it worked.
Once I began to throw in my own novel, good reviews came and I was on my way.
...And then I got into this entaglement with a woman, leading to a roman a' clef about her--and I suddenly soured everybody.
Talk about using your writing as a weapon! Publishers and reviewers soon got hip to it.

I think in your case, I'd still try the "little magazines".
Then, if it fails, do start a publishing company.
...But it's better form to publish somebody else first.

Ivan

http://www.creativewriting.ca said...

Hi Danny,

Thanks.

I am glad you had a good exercise in reading and a good laugh.

As I was explaining to Dwight, in the blog comment just below this current one, my intention is to offer a reader an exercise in reading, PhD talk be damned.

Bet of luck to you, out there in the "provinces"

Ivan

http://www.creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

Things going all to hell around here made me more sensitive to your
intimation that things sometimes seem to go to hell over there too.

Certainly the garbagmen's and woodworkers strike in Vancouver--is there no end to the strange plaue upon your beautiful city?

I have sent you one page of my Whizzbang underground newspaper by snail mail.

My intention had been to give you my password so you could enter my blog and fix a couple of things--you are so able! But I forgot.

Should you get that page by snail mail, there is a picture of me in it that I could not reproduce on my computer...Not vanity--I just wanted to post a fairly recent picture of me.
One of the pictures shows a guy in drag.
He looks like me, but he is not me--honest. :).

Ivan

Josie said...

Ivan, looking forward to receiving your snail mail.

Yes, sadly our city has gone to the dogs. Beautiful Kitsilano Pool has been closed because of the city workers' strike as well. *sigh*

Not only that, but all the gardens around where I work have been fertilized with cow manure. It has rained on the cow manure. We have a humidity level of between 88% and 98%. The cow manure is steaming.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Need I say more???

ivan@creativewting.ca said...

Dear me,

I can only counter with my remark to the last Frechman who cut me off
on St. Catherine's Street in Montreal:
La Vache, Tabernac!

But all the Vache ended up in the garden near where you work!

Tabernac!

Ivan

the walking man said...

If you have to suck and are practicing on an allen wrench may I suggest you look up a slide hammer on the web, it is a tool and much more practical for learning how to suck properly.

As for myself, I publish on my blog and in every response I make and don't care if any editor ever sees any of it as long as I am not carrying the weight of the words in my heart anymore. but then it always leaves more room for more words..damn never ending cycle.

Peace

TWM

HeiressChild said...

your blogpost title could be a song to go along with your book.

EA Monroe said...

Hi, Ivan. I had to go back to the post below this one to read your comment to Dwight about italics and internal monologue.

Will Josie post the picture of the guy in drag who looks like you but really isn't you?

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

TWM,

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Strangely enough, gutter argot for homosexual in Toronto used to be
"gearbox".
I suppose if bearing in a gearboxs were impacted, one would have to use a slide hammer.
Looked up an ad for one:

Blind Hole Bearing Puller Remover Slide Hammer Tool Set. This seller accepts PayPal, -, $79.00 ....

Ooh. That sound dear.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Heiress child

"How are things in Blogga Mora"?

I have forgotten what seven-foot iambs are in poetry, or if they even exist, but I'm trying to set it all to song. :)

Ivan

islandgrovepress said...

Liz (chuckle!),

Bullsh*t baffles brains, says this Professor Irwin Corey!

As for the guy in drag, I hope there isn't a mailman's strike in Vancouver...Poor Josie has everybody striking in Vancouver...Some of those MoFos make $45 and hour and still they're striking.
Hell, at forty-vie bucks an hour,
to pick up garbage, what's the world coming to?
Anyway, if Josie gets my letter, she might just post the guy in drag who looks like me.
The Walking Man (above) suggests I invest in a a mechanic's slide hammer to practise on just before I talk to a Toronto publisher.
...Maybe if I show up in drag?...

Ivan

Josie said...

Ivan, I have received the Main Street Whiz Bang ****. I will scan it and e-mail it back to you, and also scan your photo individually.

Cute kilt :-) But that's not you in the kilt, is it...? You're the very distinguished gentleman in the left-hand corner.

Josie

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

I get these three a.m. ideas, intending to write a covering letter with the art--but then I fall asleep and all you get is some pictures with scrawls in the margin.
But I am so pleased that you will scan and send.

Liz Monroe says run the kilted guy, run the kilted guy! Heh.

Ivan

Josie said...

Well, at least I could read the scrawls in the margin. Don't forget, I work with doctors, so I have lots of practice at reading scrawls. We had a doctor today who had written a prescription for principal. We couldn't figure out what the h*ll that was for.

It turned out to be propranolol, a prescription for high blood pressure. Scary stuff.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Ivan,
Next time, give ME you password. I'm sure Eddie would enjoy it.

Also, you commented on my blog:

------------------------------
ivan@creatrivewriting.ca said...
Never mind the food.

I am still staring at the avatar of Michelle's spell.

Ivan

8:31 PM
-----------------------------

You are speaking about my former creative writing teacher. Thought I'd let you know that.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Should read: your password. See what happens when I get anxious.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan,

How nice of you to do this. I thank you, but am not sure that just saying thank you is enough, however, it is sincere. I am quite honored.

http://wwww.creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

I was wondering how doctors (unlike
some writers in my circle) maintain a high leven of social skills; they always seem so very nice and they are never "off".

I marvelled at this elusive quality of class that they had; never ruffled, untroubled gaze, smiling, always in control.

I wondered how my old famility doctor kept this up, this way of being always cool.
Then I looked at his eyes.
Kinda liquid.
Ah, the first crack of realization!

Ivan

islandgrovepress said...

JR,

It must be my serviceman's background.
Most of my postings have been in Quebec, where gastronomy is elevated to high art.
Your blog had been on food prepared by prisoners.
Michelle came in to comment. Her avatar is something like an old Betty Grable pin-up.
Like any honest Quebecer, I immediately put on my bib and tucker. :)

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

"Inside",

No problem.

I see some of the Quarks, notably Sienna (Pam), have already been on your blog to comment on your fine poetry.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

p.s. to JR,

If Michelle was your old creative writing teacher, maybe you were in the wrong course.
Having seen Michelle's picture, I myself would have immediately registered for Food Service attendant.
~Yeah, I know~

Ivan

Josie said...

Ivan, I have e-mailed your photos to you. Please let me know if you receive them.

Cheers,
Josie

http://www.creativewriting.ca said...

Got them, Josie.

Thanks.

The Main Street WhizBang was a grainy undergound newspaper--my invention.

Got us noticed in the Mainstream press and I think it helped my career.
I guess when you want to subvert, you start an underground newspaper, get a job in MSM later--and subvert from within! :)

Great reproduction of the editorial page, Josie. Thanks.

Ivan

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