Getting to the Point

Canadian Wildlife editor Cooper Langford gave me an opportunity to visit the southernmost tip of mainland Canada when he sent me to Point Pelee to write a feature on our best-known bird sanctuary. The story behind the park and the evidence it provides of the positive influence humans can have on an environment became the heart of my piece. But it's Neil Ever Osborne's photography that's going to make people want to visit.

Habitat is subjective. Every species has its preference and thrives or dies based on how it relates to its surroundings. Humans are hardly the only ones to tend toward domination, but when it comes to altering a landscape, we can be pretty effective if we put our minds to it. Until I visited southern Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park last summer, that knowledge had always left me with a sour taste. I enjoy architecture and a well-tended garden as much as the next guy, but my favourite environments have always bent toward nature unspoilt.

Still, there’s nothing like a bonfire. On a beach. Shared with good friends. And in southwest Ontario in the 1950s and 1960s, there was no better place for a beach party than the Point. With people loading in from the surrounding communities like Leamington, or making the drive from Windsor and Detroit, you had to show up early if you wanted one of 6,000 parking spaces. No worry though; back then there was roadside parking aplenty for big-fendered cars all down the beak-shaped point to its sandy tip. Carry your cooler stuffed with stubbies to the water’s edge, lay a heavy wool blanket on the sand, thumb the dial on your transistor radio, and you were ready for a date with nature. If you could call it that.

I grew up visiting national parks around Ontario and across the county, but though Point Pelee was never more than a few hours’ drive from where I’ve lived, I didn’t get there until this fall. In its heyday, it probably wouldn’t have made my family’s list. For us, parks meant wilderness preserved — or at least conserved — for light human use, with or without campgrounds, in as natural a state as possible.

Despite having been established for conservation as early as 1918, as national parks went, Point Pelee didn’t fit that profile a half century ago. It was getting trampled underfoot — practically loved to death.


Before this year, the main thing I knew about Point Pelee — other than it’s as far south as Canada’s mainland reaches — came from the news item I’d see each spring about birds stopping there en masse while migrating northward. At a rib shack in Leamington the night before my visit, I asked the owner why we didn’t hear so much about birds in the fall. Surely they had to get back somehow. “Good question,” he said. “Birds are a spring thing. In the fall, people are all about the monarchs. Thick as a black cloud, sometimes.”

In other words, nature was being defined by the humans observing it. A different season, a different take. Too conveniently packaged, I thought. What I didn’t realize was the degree to which continual dramatic change, augmented by human intervention, defines the wilderness that is Point Pelee.

Fifty years ago, Pelee was home to 300 cottages, dozens of massive stone fireplaces, family farms, three hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Of all that, only the DeLaurier homestead remains standing. Pretty much all human-made structures were removed or destroyed when Parks Canada shifted the Point from recreational use and adopted a naturalizing mandate in the early 1970s. Today, to take the trail behind the DeLaurier family dwelling and barn is to immerse yourself in vegetation so dense it feels tropical. The boardwalk cuts through forest to savannah to wetland, and at times the plant life becomes as oppressive as the walls of an English garden hedge maze. Much as I tried, I couldn’t picture the apple orchards and vegetable farming that stood here a half century ago.

But our hand remains in evidence, and there’s more going on here than nature allowed to run wild after the humans were kicked out. Where the trail behind the DeLaurier homestead opens onto a wetland, it’s the remnants of an irrigation canal, dredged by a farmer in the 1800s; the abandoned agricultural waterway is ideal new habitat for wetland species, some of which wouldn’t fare as well in the cattail marsh at the north end of the park. And where the invasive European common reed chokes out diversity, park staff push back — restoring nature and giving endangered species a better shot at survival.

We’re part of the balancing act. Nature has a way of periodically clearing huge swaths of land for regeneration — with forest fires and ice scours, pestilence and extreme climatic events. Without human intervention, any one of these could take a serious bite out of biodiversity in the Point.

If it weren’t for the intensive agricultural activity surrounding the park, perhaps the ebb and flow of nature could be allowed to take its course. Preservation could involve less of an assist. As it stands, however, crop lands press tight against Pelee’s northern boundary, and almost 95 per cent of native forest cover has been stripped from Essex County. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling reason for active habitat management within a 15-square-kilometre park, a narrowing slice of land jutting into Lake Erie, whose climate zone has no Canadian equal. And so staff use controlled burns, cormorant and deer culls, native species planting, and other tools to create and maintain a greater variety of habitats than might otherwise persist in such tight confines.


In the cattail marsh, the reeds them-selves convey never-ending change, filling my entire field of vision with a dynamic tableau. Waving in a light breeze, they bend and ripple, a tapestry of ochre and olive, giving way to smoky greys and chocolate brown. Sand and wind and water and fire in constant dance. Nothing static. Nature doesn’t work that way.

It looks like a monoculture until I stop to look closer. Between the stalks, a state of quiet turmoil where smaller plants grab footholds and then erupt along the boardwalk, opportunistically glomming onto a space created by humans not unlike meadow species that thrive alongside rural highways.

The same plays out on the edges of channels cut through the cattails to allow visitors and Parks Canada ecologists to navigate to the ponds that cover the north-eastern section of the park. In one clearing, a turtle has found a log that could never have reached that spot were it not for the cleared channel; it would have been caught up in the reeds closer to shore. Sunning itself a half kilometre from dry land, on a piece of wood that didn’t belong, the turtle doesn’t appear to mind the human interference that resulted in its perch.


By the time I make my way to the tip of the park, the serenity that is Point Pelee has taken hold. A kettle of turkey vultures ride hot air thermals, seeking altitude to continue their migration. Eight birds circle five or 10 metres above the trees, while a couple flap below them. Three more soar 50 metres higher and, far above those, another is barely a smudge in the sky.

Competing currents down the east and west coasts of Point Pelee continually shape and build and erase the sand spit tickling the 42nd parallel. It seems only natural that a sliver of land continually evolving under pressure by human and natural causes should culminate in so impermanent a space. The tip can change in shape and size in the space of a few hours.

Today, under brilliant sun with a light breeze, the eastern side is a frenzy of whitecaps on slate grey water. The same lake, hardly 10 metres to the west is deceptively calm, flat and the colour of manganese. Where the two currents push together, whitecaps criss-cross, bringing sand off the lake bottom, lifting and dropping it in the constant churn.

Point Pelee has shifted my point of reference for national parks. Nature’s constant state of flux can no more create an unchanging ecosystem than human intervention can result in structures that are permanent on an ecological scale. We’re a part of nature, not separate from it. And while humans may be about as invasive a species as imaginable, there’s much we can do to remedy our own historical impact. Even more, we can — and in Point Pelee, we do — contribute to other species’ ability to thrive.

Originally published in Canadian Wildlife, November/December 2015.

Disappearing Act

Seems I let it happen. Drifting away from even sporadic blog posts. Hibernation. Sloth. Call it whatever. Thing is, I didn't think I'd let it happen so easily.

I've been out and about on a few other sites, busy writing, rewriting, and getting my sea legs after launching Stinking Rich. And then there's been teaching at George Brown College, a couple Noir at the Bar Torontos. No shortage of excuses. None of them particularly good, but they're real.

Solution? This utterly self-indulgent post to relaunch more regular musings. But wait, hasn't that been done to death, too? You know, where the blogger drops in and rambles a bit about nothing at all, promises to come back soon, then...oh, nevermind.

There's a far better way to relaunch a quieted blog: invite a better blogger to guest post. And so I've done. Melissa Olson works harder than most and still found time to answer a few questions. Her post is up next. Meanwhile, here's a picture of me with her at Mystery To Me bookstore in Madison, WI, where we were hosted by Joanne Berg (who's on the right).

A chat with Amber Love on Vodka O'Clock

Last October, I met Amber Love at a reading in New Jersey, at [words] of Maplewood. She asked Tommy Pluck, Tracey Landau, and me some great questions during our author discussion. Later, I learned she was host of Vodka O'Clock. I'd heard of her podcast and was buzzed when she agreed to interview me.

Amber's interviewing style is warm and conversational. Before I knew it, she had me riffing about religion, dead dogs, and the cuddly side of crime writing.

Here's a taste:

“A lot of what I write, when the violence happens, you’re supposed to get a chuckle out of it.”

Amber Love: When it comes to character development, Rob says he creates them organically. He doesn’t have character worksheets, instead opting to load up the history and personality within the story which may be deleted later.

“I find if I’ve sketched out a whole bunch of things about a character and then I go to write them, I’m just not as curious about them. My favorite moments in writing are when I get to channel and watch what’s happening.”

Amber Love: There’s one story he’s working on where he engaged in conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door for a year and a half.

As for what got said once we were talking religion? Well, you can listen to the full interview here, on Amber's site.

Interview on TV Cogeco Kingston

Kingston, ON is featured in Stinking Rich as the hometown of Buzz Meckler, self-appointed super hero, and the temporary home of Danny Grant, while incarcerated. So it was only natural that I kick off my recent books 'n boots tour there.

It certainly helps that my brother, Curtis, is one helluva talented video producer and lives in town. Here's the interview segment he put together for K-Town Source, one of the shows he's created. It features appearances by Liz Strange and Ryan Aldred, both of whom came out to promote their own work and help me kick off my tour.

Been blog-hopping of late

I've been quiet here on the blog while out on the Stinking Rich book tour. But I've popped up on a couple other blogs and I thought I'd best list some here.

In no particular order...

This week I've been involved in a lively round table about revisions with a group of authors at ITW.



And talking about the work involved in a book tour on Chip MacGregor's blog.

Up on Carol Balawyder's blog, I shared the story of how I got published.

At The Big Thrill, I was skillfully interviewed by Azam Gill. He got me thinking about where some of my ideas come from, in ways I hadn't considered until asked.

There's more to come...a number of places I've been invited and will land in November. And more than a few posts I'd like to make here about these couple months on the road.

Heck of a launch

Driving to the Toronto launch of Stinking Rich last night, I tried to stop running a mental count of just who might actually show up, and scribbled notes for my preamble at stop lights. This being Toronto, we encountered so much construction, I could have written a short story behind the wheel.

From the moment we pulled up at the Irish Embassy Pub, I was overwhelmed. Two dear friends I had no right to expect there were hanging on the sidewalk. I introduced them to each other and they helped me carry boxes inside, stack some books, and rig a banner with duct tape. (Never leave home without it.)

Over the next hour, the bar filled with people from every corner of my lifethe Toronto Writers Coop, writing circles, neighbours, former work colleagues, and a good number I was meeting for the first time.

Jill Edmondson (of Sasha Jackson fame) had the presence of mind to chuck me out of the way when (awaiting my darling teenage children) I'd taken to selling my own books. Thanks, Jill!

My good friend and phenomenal writer Howard Shrier delivered the warmest intro a guy could ask for. I'd called him and let him know that with my agent in Oregon and my publisher Down & Out Books in Florida, it was like I was like the bride-to-be without a father to walk her down the aisle, and would he do the honours.

I expected a quick blurb and a microphone hand-off. Instead, Howard delivered the best author intro riff about crime fiction I've had the pleasure to watch. Monster vote of thanks to the man. His writing is even better than his stage presence. Check him out.

These pics? Huge thanks to Tanis Mallow for working the camera. There's a whack more on Facebook here.

And thanks to everyone who showed up to watch me stand on my hind legs and share a bit of Stinking Rich. One helluva lot more fun than I expected. Yep. It was a heck of a launch.

If I gotta go to prison, please send me to Quebec

Seems there's been another walkaway from a prison north of Montreal. This time the escapee is a convicted murderer who appears to have grown impatient waiting for his next unescorted leave, so he slipped out an unlocked window in his cell sometime in the middle of the night.

According to an unnamed source in the Toronto Sun, "It seems to be an spontaneous act."

What I'm wondering is, how many times has this dude slipped out in the middle of the night to visit his girlfriend and made it back in time for the next headcount? I mean, he's getting close to the end of his sentence, he gets unescorted day passes, why rock the boat? Heck, maybe if they'd just waited a while, he'd have popped back in the window in time for breakfast. Maybe he just, y'know, fell asleep after satisfying his spontaneous midnight urges. It happens.

Over the last little while, we've had Hells Angels employ helicopters for two high-profile escapes (and ridiculously inept captureson the part of the escapees). Another biker walked away from this same joint less than a year ago, only to die of suicide on the outside. (No comment.)

Not that I'm headed there anytime soon. I mean, I write my criminal thoughts on the page so I don't get sent to prison. But should it come to pass... please send me to a prison in Quebec. It seems even the simplest minds can find their way out.

Noir at the Bar T.O. August 20, 2014

Wednesday night in the city, it's summer and muggy. Under the shadow of bank towers, on a side street you've never noticed, laughter spills out a second floor window. Someone shouts something obscene and it's quiet again. You've found Noir at the Bar.

We've got a special summer lineup including multi-award-winning Melodie Campbell (how's that Derringer doing? — The Goddaughter's Revenge) and J. Kent Messum whose Bait has been racking up recognition since long before he won the Crime Writers of Canada Best First Novel award.

Julia Madeleine (No One To Hear You Scream) — the Atomic Cherry Tattooist herself (you read that right) — can be counted on to lay some colourful dark on us.

Mike Knowles, with four Wilson Mysteries under his wing, is coming up from Hamilton, and Ryan Aldred brings a Costa Rican beach tale from Prince Edward County.

My co-host Tanis Mallow (watch for her twisted bit of dark in the upcoming Bouchercon Murder on the Beach Anthology) and I will help keep the reading between the lines.

Noir at the Bar is gritty crime fiction, read in a bar, with plenty of time between short readings to socialize with the authors. Plus, PJ O'Brien serves some mean pub fare. Hit up the Facebook event page and let us know you're coming!

Giving away ARCs

Congrats to Mary Jo Sterns of Toronto who won the first Advance Reader Copy in my mailing list subscriber giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who's signed up so far. I've got two more ARCs for the newsletter list to be drawn on August 13th and September 3rd. (Sign up top right of this page.)

Meanwhile, Down & Out Books has provided three more ARCs for a U.S. and Canada giveaway via Goodreads. Open until August 6th here:

Want one? The numbers are in your favour right about now. We'll do a couple more of those before publication September 8th, but hey, it's a free lottery, right?


Be careful what you call your novel

Last night, ARCs of Stinking Rich arrived. I had a glass of Martell and slept like a baby. This morning, ARCs arrived again.

Seems the first batch went astray. So far astray, in fact, that my publisher followed up with the shipper and they reshipped the order. Yesterday.

See, the first order had gone missing and was more than a week overdue. When it showed up last night, it looked like this:

I'm not used to getting ARCs delivered. In fact, this was the first time I've seen my novel in print. With a cover and everything. For all I know, this is how ARCs are supposed to look when they are left unattended on your front porch. For a few hours. At night.

Except the second box (the replacement ARCs) didn't include the bag. And the delivery guy even rang the doorbell.

25 days for the first box to arrive. About 24 hours for the second. My curiosity was piqued.

I took another look a the first box. It had an extra mailing label. One from Zurich. Yeah, the one in Switzerland.

All I can figure is some dude in the warehouse saw Stinking Rich on the shipping label and decided to send it straight to my Swiss Bank Account. Yeah, 'cause I'm a writer. I need one of those apparently.

Bottom line, I've got a few extra ARCs. Guess I'll be giving some away! Sign up for my newsletter (top right on this page) for a chance to win one in each of July, August, and September.

I promise to mail it direct.

What I'm working on

Lisa de Nikolits.jpg

Lisa de Nikolits tagged me with four questions making the rounds on authors' blogs. As my recent dearth of posts will indicate, I haven't had a ton of time for blogging, but when Lisa asks for something...? Well, her 10,000-watt smile makes it pretty hard to say no. Besides, this may be what it takes to get me back on the blog. You can find Lisa at Goodreads here, and my answers below.

Melissa Yuan-Innes.jpg

Next up, I've tagged Melissa Yuan-Innes, a prolific multi-genre author who somehow manages to squeeze ER doctoring into an uber-packed life. And here's her post on the tour.

As for me...

What am I working on?

I’m doing the second rewrite of Ka-boom, sequel to my novel Stinking Rich. In it, a favorite secondary character from the first novel becomes the protagonist in a story about a bible camp gone bad. I sketched much of the plot line at novella length a couple years ago, which has given the characters plenty of time to percolate and take up residence in my mind. As with Stinking Rich, most of them are a bit wacko, others flat-out deranged. It’s time to wring them out onto the page—before they make me bonkers, too.

How does my work differ from others in the same genre?

I write crime fiction laced with black comedy, told largely from the point of view of the criminals. My protagonist is often a good person who does bad things, as opposed to someone living a criminalized life per se. Some readers have confessed they found themselves torn between rooting for the protagonist and hoping the antagonist came out okay as well. I’ll take that!

Why do I write what I do?

I write to entertain. I’m the kind of guy who reads local papers for the small stories, the petty crimes, the folks who win—or lose?—the Darwin Awards. I like to get into the heads of those people and imagine what drives them. I don’t think they get up in the morning and say, “I wonder what stupidity I’ll engage in today.” And yet, they do. As for my own mistakes, I laugh at them the loudest, pray they never make the news, and fob the odd one off on my less fortunate characters.

How does my writing process work?

At first draft and for early revisions, I write blind. By that, I mean I start from a vague idea about a place, a person, an event, and I let one thought follow the next pretty unfiltered. After that, it’s all about honing. If I discover on a rewrite that two characters work better together in a different relationship, I’ll peel them apart and put them back together. If a plot twist doesn’t seem plausible, I’ll find another way to get the story where it wants to go.

As far as daily routine, I’m working on it. My fingers find the keyboard pretty much every day, but I do most of my rewriting long-hand on a working copy of the manuscript. I edit best standing up with music on loud. Alternately, I dial it down and read everything out loud, listening for cadence, verisimilitude in dialogue, and active voice. I’ve never enjoyed work more.

Write up on Noir at the Bar

Great to see this N@B write up by Brian Baker in the Town Crier. It's getting serious legs around North America. Vancouver will have its first one next Tuesday.

Wherever you're at, look it up. It's a great way to spend a couple hours in a bar and listen to people tell dark tales. And there's some readings, too.

Here's what Mr. Baker had to say.

Hilary Davidson reads at N@BTO May 8, 2014


Pics from Noir@Bar Toronto

Things have been stacked pretty deep in the week and a bit since Tanis Mallow and I hosted the first Noir at the Bar in Toronto since 2009. (More on all that later.) Still, we've got a clutch of pictures from the event, and I wanted to get a few up, so here they go. (Photos by Hailey Mallow and Deb Jones.)


We were thrilled at the lineup we pulled together for our first go. From left, Owen Laukkanen, Frank De Blase, Tanis Mallow, Terrence McCauley, Hilary Davidson, me, John McFetridge, Jill Edmondson, and Howard Shrier. Missing from this group shot was Andrew Pyper (pictured reading below -- and isn't PJ O'Brien Irish Pub a gem?).


 We bookended the night with readings by N@BTO veterans McFetridge (Black Rock)and Shrier (Miss Montreal).

Unpack that sentence a bit. Two ex-Montrealers reading books about Montreal in Toronto at Noir at the Bar Toronto while on the television downstairs, a room full of Leafs fans were watching the Habs go down to the Bruins in Game 5 of a series they ultimately won to face the Rangers in a conference final. Oh, and did I mention we had three New Yorkers reading as well? Like I said, things have been stacked pretty deep the last week or so. I don't write nights when the Habs are in the finals. I don't iron shirts either. Wasn't this supposed to be a post about hockey?






Clearly, I'm prone to confusion, which this next photo from our introductions demonstrates well enough. ("To my right, no my other right.")


In true Noir at the Bar fashion, the event was bolstered by out-of-towners. Our New Yorkers were McCauley, De Blase, and Davidson. 



Laukkanen scored extra points for distance, flying—you read that right, rail fans—all the way from Vancouver.


Mallow made sure anyone looking for true grit was not left wanting when she gave us some of her inimitable darkness.


And as if the packed bar weren't hot enough, Edmondson treated us to a #NSFW romp through the sheets, er pages, of crime fiction sleuths. (You can read that here, on Kevin Burton Smith's Thrilling Detective blog.)


On a personal note, the evening was the first time I read from Stinking Rich in public. It got a laugh or two, which kinda made my night.

Looking forward to doing this all again later this summer. I can see how easy it would be to get hooked on N@B. With all due nods to Peter Rosovsky, Todd Robinson, Eric Beetner, Jedidiah Ayres, Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Scott Montgomery and so many others who've got this groove going. Yeah, I'm packing my bags.

Noir at the Bar

Photo: Tanis Mallow

Counting down to next week's Noir at the Bar Toronto, and loving how it's taking shape.

After catching a glimpse at Bouchercon last September, Tanis Mallow and I were convinced Toronto needed its own N@B. Given the raft of crime fiction authors in town, we knew we'd find six gritty voices pretty easy. In no time, our endeavour became fraught with the same considerations as picking a team for a game of road hockey. Only no one drops out after the first period to let the other kids play. As the line-up took shape, out-of-town authors threw their hats in the ring. For our first shot at this, I gotta say it's looking pretty strong. Bonus: we've got a great list of authors to invite out next game.

Next, we needed a venue. Sending a couple writers on a search for the right bar is a sure way to slow things down. Eventually we found The Fireplace Lounge above PJ O'Brien Irish Pub. With plenty of booths and dark wood and...well, it's Irish. 'Nuff said.

Over the next bunch of weeks, there was a bookseller to engage, a Twitter feed to set up, the Facebook page, a poster, an evite—you get the picture (by the way, that knife up there ain't Photoshopped—kudos, Tanis). Hats off to guys like Todd Robinson and Eric Beetner who make it look like a breeze in New York and LA.

Bottom line, if we weren't in this for the long haul, it would have been nuts to take it on.

Thing is, at the end of the day, this is all about a bunch of readers and writers getting together in a bar every few months for a little gritty fiction. What could be simpler than that?

If you're curious how it turns out or maybe looking for the next one, "like" our Facebook page, and we'll keep you in the loop.





Would Mark Twain thrive today?

I could start this riff by confessing how much of Mark Twain's oeuvre I have yet to read. Given the limb I'm about to go out on, that might even be wise. But without claiming any particular expertise in his writing nor in depth knowledge of Samuel Clemens's life, I feel compelled to convey an impression I have of his character. More to the point, how that character might react were he to find himself launched into today's publishing world.

My admiration of Twain's work spurred me to write in my teens and early twenties. His short stories and essays, especially. But over the decades since, it is more the stories about the man that have struck me.

Here's a guy who worked wherever he could make a buck, on riverboats, as a miner, writing along the way, lecturing, doing stand-up comedy (before it was called that), investing in publishing, failing repeatedly, and never halting his production of this, that, and another piece of written work.

He wrote travel, tall tales, novels, novellas, poetry, autobiographical truths and untruths. He hustled himself on stage, had his work sold door-to-door like brushes. He tried anything to put himself in front of readers and earn a living. After declaring bankruptcy later in life, he toured the world as a speaker to earn enough to pay back his creditors even though he had no obligation to do so.

What I wonder is this: how would a guy like Mark Twain react to today's sea change in the world of publishing? Would he bemoan being expected to market his own work? Would he complain about paltry advances? Would he blame publishers or retailers or greedy readers for wanting his work for pennies on the dollar?


Can you imagine Twain on Twitter?

He'd lash out with style, I imagine. He'd skewer them all. Then he'd bust his ass figuring out how to make the upheaval work in his favour. He'd be traditionally publishing, self-publishing, and have a finger in three different kickstarters at once.

A man who pens his autobiography well into his final years, but insists it not be published until after his death, isn't a man afraid of effort. Or of trying something new.

Twain spent his life crafting ways to deliver his thinking, his opinions, and his wit to an audience he clearly loved. I'm convinced he would have thrived in today's publishing environment. Not only by his words, but by his work and his entrepreneurial creativity as well.

What do you think? Would Twain be wailing at the darkness or would he light yet another candle? And what other literary greats would thrive in today's crazy strategic inflection point?


Writers' advice to their younger selves

Three Toronto authors tossed a few pearls at The Spoke Club last night. Bitterly cold outside, but the room was packed anyway.

Michael Winter, Stacey May Fowles, and Brian Francis were the panel for Open Book Toronto's Literary Salon. With Becky Toyne moderating, any sense of the dread panel rhythm (question-answer-counterpoint-thud) disappeared quickly. She redirected her own questions and got the authors opened up, baring bits of not-so-lonely soul to an audience of (mostly) newbie writers.

The theme was Advice for My Younger Self. Being one of the older guys in the audience, I took notes.

When to write? Winter locks himself in a cold room every morning, with the oddest companion (more on that later). For Fowles, it's a 15-hour showerless Saturday binge. Francis writes on the subway, again at lunch, wherever he can, because it's what he wants to do, who he wants to be.

A confessed curmudgeon, Winter shared his rules. Like, open your novel at the last page, not the first page, when you sit down to write. Finish the damn thing, and then go back to edit page one. Fowles takes the opposite approach, rewriting as she writes until she reaches the last line. Francis urged everyone to give ourselves permission to write absolute garbage in our first drafts.

As the panel wrapped up, Winter opened Fowles's book and read the last line. It was as if he was having a look to see whether it required more attention, given Fowles's progessive approach to her craft. She caught him doing it and he pronounced it, "a good last line."

But the best line of the night came early, when Winter explained his rational for writing from a computer hived off from the Internet. He described two rooms, one with a puppy and the other with a dog three days dead. Everyone would rather be in the room with the loving puppy. The Internet is a puppy, he said. But, the dead dog's your novel. Lock yourself in there and work on it.

Time to light another stick of incense. What with the garbage, the dead dog, and the shower I surely need, my garret's smelling foul.

If you'd like to read more of their pearls, check out Descant Magazine's post here.

"Pitch Perfect" on Out of the Gutter

Next month, Toronto Writers Co-op holds its sixth annual literary cabaret, and I needed something suitably short to read. The cabaret pairs each author with a musician. Ideally, the accompanist interacts with the story, affecting its delivery.

This year, my dear friend Mike Fitzgerald offered to join me on stage, playing a new instrument called Xth Sense which uses the performer's muscle sounds to produce music. While he soldered that into shape, I wrote a music-inspired piece called "Pitch Perfect".

I'd wanted to land something on Out of the Gutter since last year, and this piece seemed the right shade of dark. Happily, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts agreed.

You can read it here.

When we get a video of the performance, I'll let you hear how cool Mike's work sounds on-stage.