Sunday, March 09, 2008

A writer's notes from the psycho ward. Or: "O Canada"



Every so often, some gassy young fool will decide to write a novel and this fact alone will alter the course of his or her life.

Have you ever tried writing a novel?
It’s impossible.

So you suture a whole bunch of your inchoate drivel together and hope that by some sort of Occam’s Razor, the thing will line up right.

A Reader’s Digest notion, in the joke section, will submit that a neurotic builds castles in the air.
The psychotic moves right in.
You will probably finish your novel, and maybe even get it published.
You will have been a successful nutbar.
But how badly do you want to be a psycho?

My poor wife.
Ivan with his writer mystique. “You didn’t take time to learn how to write, ‘draw hands’. You picked a hard thing to be.

And all the while, evidence that you are failing is all around you.
You had been a media jackrabbit, good at the short stretch, hero of the little magazines.
You wrote your first “novel” at 28. Not hard to do when the actual material of your life was far stronger than any fine writing that you would actually attempt.
Vainglory, your book published by an editor who happened to be your personal friend.

Now the Hare is meeting all his turtles.
Women thirty years your junior, ploughing deep furroughs in the hardcover book market.
Men barely literate, not just “off the boat” but actually working on the boat, and by some strange luck meeting a famous Canadian author.

A snoozer of a novel, The English Patient turned into a film that caused you to snore all the more.

Public policy. All these grant-grabbers knowing how to play the game, aware of public policy. The grant system and its unspoken rule to stay away from religion and politics. But sex is okay.
Masterpieces are produced: “Young People Fucking”.
"Corner Gas."
"Little Mosque on the Prairie."

Canadian fiction and film could not exist in a coutry where 16,000 copies is a best-seller. You need government help, though I wonder who the bureaucrat was who put up the money for “Young People Fucking.”

So you do a "George W. Bush", forge ahead against all admonishment that you might be wrong, totally wrong. You produce novel #2, then three, then the fourth.
You drive your family away so you can produce Novel #5, and that is where you have gone one bridge too far.
Alone in a Mexican hovel, with scorpions for family, and a nymphomaniac who wants to argue, you finally produce Novel #5.
This will show ‘em.
I’m gonna read my stuff and bring the house down.
Well, not quite.

“We regret to inform you that the selection process comes first and we are sorry that we had to go the way of a form rejection letter.”

Ah. Policy. And public policy.

I know the people in this particular publishing house. I have gotten drunk with them in Copenagen, at the Celebrity Club on Jarvis Street. Drunkards, whoremasters, fart-faced trolls..

The only thing that makes them notable writers is that they are Canadian.
It’s sure as shootin’ not in the writing.

Yes, yes, I have heard all the excuses. We can’t compete against New York; We can’t compete against Hollywood. "So we have to have a grant structure, we have to be imaginative."
The woman saying this, despite her 40-odd novels, has certainly been accused by the New York Times Book Review as having no imagination at all.
O Canada.

So what do you do?
You become your own patron, your own grant-giver.

You take twenty thousand dollars and print every novel you ever wrote.

Surprise. The critics loved one book. Television time. Klieg lights. Grants from the Ontario government. Job offers in publishing, groupies, women on the phone.

And yet, something’s wrong.
The burr in your saddle wasn't just some irrelevancy.
Feelings of angst, soon corroborated by the newspaper:

TORONTO - Despite heavy promotion and critical praise, the Canadian shows "MVP," "Intelligence" and "JPod" aren't being renewed by CBC-TV for next season, the public broadcaster said Friday.
"We certainly recognize they were frankly terrific shows and in many cases they attracted quite a degree of critical acclaim, but unfortunately they were unable to attract an audience," said spokesman Jeff Keay.
"Audience is not our only consideration, but it is an important one."
"MVP," a steamy hockey drama, and "JPod," a dark comedy about Vancouver video gamers, were launched in January and CBC had hoped they would lure younger viewers, said "MVP" co-creator Mary Young Leckie.
She said that while "MVP" succeeded on that front - getting 72 per cent of its audience for this week's episode from the 25-to 54-year-old demographic - the overall numbers just weren't big enough.
"We created I think an amazing show. It has become a household name in nine weeks and I'm really proud of it ... so it was really disappointing not to be renewed," said Leckie, co-founder of Screen Door Productions Inc.
"But we accomplished a lot and I think the network feels it was a success too. They got a younger demographic than they ever get and we were pulling in a new audience for them, and I think one of the things that was a problem was that there weren't enough of them."
Leckie said CBC traditionally attracts viewers age 55 and older.
The drama "Intelligence," about an informant for Vancouver's organized-crime police unit, wrapped up its second season last fall.
Shows being brought back for the 2008-2009 season include "The Border," about an elite team of Canadian border-security officers, and "Sophie," a dramedy about a single mother, the CBC said.
Also returning next season is the family drama "Heartland," the sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie," the entrepreneur show "Dragons' Den," the talent show "Triple Sensation," the political competition "Canada's Next Great Prime Minister" and the epic prime-time soap "The Tudors."
Next season will also include many well-established shows, including "The Rick Mercer Report," "This Hour Has 22 Minutes," "Air Farce Live," "Just for Laughs," "Halifax Comedy Festival" and "Winnipeg Comedy Festival."
CBC staples "The Fifth Estate," "Marketplace," "Doc Zone" and "The Nature of Things" are also coming back.

Also Sprach Zarathustra:
"Audience is not our only consideration, but it is an important one."

"Audience is not our only consideration"...??
Well what is the main consideration?

Agitprop?

What kind of doublespeak is this?

O Generation of Weasels!

14 comments:

the walking man said...

Fuck it , get your computer fixed, a case of bottom shelf booze and write while drunk, don't edit at all and change nothing unless you named the same character twice, then send it in as a novel ready for the screen and wah lah there you have your hit. Even if it is only for one season and the book sells only 15,999 copies.

Peace

mark

Charles Gramlich said...

Audience isn't the main consideration. Behind it all is money. Audience may influence where the money comes from, but is not the cause directly, more of a correlation.

BTW, have you read Charles Bukowski?

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Mark,

Cut-up art?

Well, it worked for William Burroughs. In spades!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Charles,

Thanks. Yep, it's the money. A publisher told me so.

Bukowski?

I seem to know more about that rubby poet than his actual poems.
One hell of s figure in San Fran.

People in the Torono area have compared me to Charles Bukowski. Heh.

Liquor!

TomCat said...

I never have never understood the rationale for Canadian "public policy" on this. I think that instead, the measure of a novel should be whether people want to read it.

I guess you know you've lost it when you have sex with scorpions and argue with nymphomaniacs. :-( ;-)

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

TomCat,

The "Public Policy" thing is up before the Canadian Senate now.
Especially the part where you can only write about your own ethnic group and not anybody else's.
John Steinbeck would be squelched in Canada?
Lot of disgruntled film makers with fine scripts are getting on TV to complain about "public policy", especially when their projects, already okayed by producers, do not get granting.

On Hovels, Scorpions and Whores:
Get whatever you can get. Heh.
Those durn scorpions can be choosy, though-- llike plankton, my second choice when I am not searching for wood nymphs.

Donnetta Lee said...

Oh, woe is me. (Just kidding.)
Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

It's a fallacy. :)

Lana Gramlich said...

Sponsors are the main consideration. They're the networks' bread & butter. What they say, goes.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

I think everybody's point on "sponsorship" was well taken.

And Lana has just nailed it.

Thanks, Lana.

Lana Gramlich said...

Wish I had better news for you. <:\
BTW, if you get a chance, please vote for my drinking story; "My First & Last Experience with Scotch."

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Lana,

Funny thing. The editor of an influential arts publishing house pretty well told me the same. "It's finding the money."
This afte saying some pretty wild things about my work, including, "Could be pushed through for an absurdist, surreal masterpiece.
"...This somehow agrees with what Mark may have suggested above...Just let 'er all hang out, and, Baudelaire fashion, let the pen go where it will... even if it leads to evil? Les Fleurs du Mal?

You've been busy. I'll check your own story out.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Lana,

re the drinking stories:

I liked them all,but since I "know" you, I voted for yours.
I had been reading most of your dream accounts and have taken to your style of, uh, reportage.
You are also totally honenst of your rendering of this drinking episode, and that pretty well won me over.

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

I am thinking of a fishing trip at Elliott Lake, Ontario, where an angler got so drunk he dumped his pants. Lying on the floor, he said to the Native guide, "I'm in deep trouble, Ralph."

TomCat said...

John Steinbeck would be squelched in Canada?

That says it all.