On Cruft


Fans of lengthy and complex novels often encounter the sentiment that shorter works are better because they get their points across economically, that the dreadnoughts of literature contain too much boring armature, and that to persist regularly reading books over, say, 500 pages smacks of pretension and elitism. Those charges can be true at one time or another. Sometimes it seems we’re stuck in an either/or situation where readers are either hostages or idolaters. Continue reading

From Canada, with Despair

Pasha Malla, a Canadian writer, has put together some thoughts on the current state of how we speak about writing in Canada. I imagine some of his points will be familiar to readers in other countries. Up here fiction writers don’t talk enough in the open about such matters, and his at times humourous approach is welcome. “27 Thoughts About CanLit” — there could be hundreds. But he was only being paid so much, as you’ll see.

On the latest set of rules for writing—Canadian version


In Canada there are two national newspapers. One, The National Post, runs a section called Afterword. On 28 March 2013 Chad Pelley, an award-winning Newfoundland author lately responsible for the novel Every Little Thing, offered readers a glimpse into his experiences as a writer, as well as rules. He doesn’t call them rules, and is careful to use that word only once (about others), but his commentary is filled with the words should and must. These are the sorts of words found in legislation, and that’s fitting, as he’s offering a bill for writers. Don’t you just think John Gardner when you hear about rules? It’s not as bad as that because Chad isn’t Gardner, but it still does make the heart sink.

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Image replication or recycling

J. Robert Lennon’s latest novel, Familiar, came out in October 2012, and it has this cover:














It’s about a woman whose life breaks away from itself, and you can read more about it here. It’s put out by Graywolf.

In the 27 September 2012 issue of the London Review of Books there was an ad featuring a scholarly work by Patrick Grant. Imperfection, a non-fiction title, came out in May 2012 from Athabasca University Press. Here’s the cover:














What are the odds that this almost identical cover would be used by two different presses? Funnily enough, Lennons book is about a woman who suddenly has two lives, and she fights to understand what has happened and to get back to the life she always knew.

As one Bond novel put it (maybe Goldfinger): Coincidence, happenstance, or enemy action?

I call it Mr. Steaz










(With a nod to A.D. Jameson for his tireless film work.)

There’s no more to be had. I extended the best-by date, personally. In October a store refused to sell their remaining seven bottles when they found out the product had expired in August. Life in a desert begins.

(See also: http://bigother.com/2012/07/23/the-fatal-sip/)

Undead undine

This summer I found out a local movie maker was doing a zombie film and needed extras, so I volunteered. An experience like that could give me street cred, material for writing, a rash from the latex. Something. This movie will be a webseries, and it’s titled “Bimbo Zombie Killers: Undead in the Water.”  Next week I hope to post some photos from my first day as a figure in the background. For now, you can watch the trailer here, and find out what’s undine about the undying.

The Fatal Sip












The first time happened in summer 2007. I was shopping at my regular supermarket. The usual commercial music played overhead, interrupted by distorted calls for help from one employee to another of their kin. The word “security” popped up a lot. Anyway. The bottle looked innocent, like they all do on introduction, and I figured its contents might cool me down when I got home. For various reasons I’ve never used alcohol, if you exclude sips from my father’s beer when I was 11, and neither did my mother, though she could go through two litres of Pepsi pretty fast. (She rarely drank Coke.) When I bought this concoction that day I had no idea how far things would go, and what started as an occasional variation on water became a craving that bordered on a minor obsession. Or maybe it is one and I don’t know it.

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On an auction


Over a year ago a group for the disabled asked me to contribute a book for an auction. Why me?, I asked. The organizers had come upon the idea of getting books from or by or about politics and politicians to be bid on in an effort to raise money. My novel qualified me. Instead of giving Verbatim: A Novel, I chose something else.

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On Tommy Ardolino

Drummer Tommy Ardolino was born on 12 January 1955 and died 6 January of this year from “illnesses related to alcoholism,” reported the Boston Globe. It’s likely that most people haven’t heard of him, though his career in music was long and consistent. From 1974 (right after high school) to 2004 he played with NRBQ, a band the New York Times called, in a slightly off-key obit for him, “one of the longest-lasting and most beloved rock groups never to have a Top 40 single…” (as if having a Top 40 single automatically equates with being successful at your art) and, after NRBQ dissolved temporarily in the late 2000s, with a spin-off group, Baby Macaroni, comprising him and former NRBQ members Joey and Johnny Spampinato (bass and guitar respectively).

I first heard the Q in 1976 when my eldest brother, music director at a radio station, gave me three albums the station would never play. I forget what one of them was, but the other two I liked: the first recording of the Earl Scruggs Revue, and a double-album by NRBQ, Scraps/Workshop, with the original drummer, Tom Staley, as well as Terry Adams (keyboards, vocals), Joey Spampinato (bass, vocals), Al Anderson (guitar, vocals), and Frankie Gadler (vocals). By the time Scraps was recorded Steve Ferguson, the first guitarist, had departed, though he never went out of the orbit of the band. (In 2006 Adams and Ferguson recorded the excellent Louisville Sluggers, with Tommy on drums.) Gadler left the band after Scraps, and Staley after Workshop. Tommy and Adams had been corresponding and meeting now and then, and there’s a great story about his first time on stage with this band whose music he knew well. One night Staley left the bar their gig was in for the bus, either ill or simply thinking the show had ended, but the encore required a drummer. Adams recognized Tommy in the audience, invited him up behind the drums and, though he’d not played with anyone, he fit right in. When Staley moved on to other projects Tommy took his place. (A few years ago Adams and Staley toured together. In 2010 Adams, according to his website, helped produce Jim Stephanson’s CD Say Go, and played on it, as did Tommy, Ferguson and Joey Spampinato. A close bunch, these guys, and I haven’t even mentioned The Incredible Casuals, P.J. O’Connell or the Chandler Travis Philharmonic.)

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Interview with Michelle Butler Hallett

Outside of Canada, most people, when asked to name a Canadian writer, might think of Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Robertson Davies, and a few others. I thought I’d interview an up-and-coming writer who I’ve known since 1989.

(Photo credit David Hallett)

Michelle Butler Hallett (b. 1971) is a growing presence in Canadian letters through her publications and readings. She studied English at Carleton University in Ottawa, and completed the Humber School for Writers correspondence course in 2002. In 2004 her hard work paid off when she won the David Adams Richards award for book-length fiction. (DAR is another well-known author up here.) While working fulltime in retail, radio, and for various arts organizations, Hallett has managed to keep up her productivity. Four works have come out in the last six years: the collection of stories titled The shadow side of grace (2006); and three novels, Double-blind (2007), Sky Waves (2008) and her newest, deluded your sailors (2011), all with Killick Press. Double-blind was shortlisted for the 2008 Sunburst Award.

Amidst all this activity, Hallett has been married since 1993 (to David Hallett) and had two children (Madeleine and Alexandra), enjoying the benefits of a supportive family and bringing out short fiction, plays, poetry and novels.

This interview was conducted by email in the winter of 2012.

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