Sunday, 29 April 2018


Pricing, Proofs and Packaging – Part II

Following a quarter century’s experience in the ad industry, I’ve gleaned a little insight into marketing and promotion. That knowledge has always been expended on behalf of others. Blowing my own horn is anathema, icky and crass. Still, advertising is nothing if not dirty work but I realized I’d need help: A good friend will help you move; a great friend will help you move a body.

You can’t judge a book by its cover even though you do. Early on in my career in the ad business I learned that if I didn’t have the answer at my fingertips I’d better know who to call. I phoned CreativeWorks, a Calgary-based design shop, my friend Rene. “My third novel,” I said. “I’m going full indie. I’ll need a cover, all that stuff.” He was laconic: “I’m going on holiday and I’ll need something to read besides. Leave it with me.”

Rene read The Garage Sailor manuscript and got it. His preliminary vision was almost exactly what I’d been imagining. He refined his graphics a tad by incorporating the Who’s Live at Leeds bootleg stamp for the title and lifting some elements from punk rock’s DIY ransom note design. The novel’s plot revolves around the tribulations of a lonely record collector saddled with the duties of attending to a diabetic cat. Rene added ears and whiskers to the O on Sailor. The final art is magical, the plot at one glance. Genius.

Provided I’m still around, the first of May 2020 will denote a singular demarcation in my life: 30 years as a Montrealer and an additional 30 as an Albertan. The characters in my previous two novels were wistful ex-Montrealers. Yet I consider myself a regional scribbler, an Alberta writer. “Oh, you’re not based in Toronto,” one agent sniffed to me. The reality is that my novels sold only in Calgary and Edmonton. My publisher’s distribution seemed haphazard: this title in this Chapters or Coles but not others; that title in some independent bookshops, but not all of them; Murder Incorporated available on Amazon but not Duke Street Kings. The marketplace for The Garage Sailor appeared too arcane, daunting and bizarre.

Spike the project. Feed the cat. Shovel snow. Nobody reads fiction anymore anyway. Between Scrabble games at our dining room table Ann said to me, “It’s a good story. I think you should go ahead with it.” I agreed that maybe The Garage Sailor was better off out there in the world than turning yellow, pages curling constrained by a blue elastic band, in my desk drawer.

Sometime in the early 80s while I was using a Bic medium ballpoint pen to fill in the warranty card for my new Smith-Corona electric typewriter, my friend Jim was sussing the future shock implications of personal computing and the advent of the new digital age. We spoke this past winter. I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this Sailor thing.” He said, “E-commerce, my friend.” I said, “Easy for you to say.” He said, “Leave it with me.”

Utilizing Rene’s artwork and Ann’s pencil sketch of my profile, Jim created an engaging place for interested readers. My new digital storefront has presence, and it reflects the novel’s jacket graphics and its spirit; I wish I could sweep its sidewalk. The site is secure and live, compliments of Jim and the tools supplied by Shopify. The book won’t be ready to ship for another week or so. Only time travellers are able to pre-do anything. However, if you’re prepared to be somewhat patient, you can order your copy of The Garage Sailor in advance. Window shop at

Monday, 23 April 2018


Pricing, Proofs and Packaging – Part I

Thursday evening I signed off the seventh printer’s proof of my third novel The Garage Sailor. This after a first draft scribbled six or seven years ago and six or seven rewrites. So many corrections. It’s too late to start the story all over again, rewrite it. The moment to let it go has come. In a couple weeks I’ll break the champagne bottle, launch the book, wait and watch, see if it floats.

Meanwhile, now’s the time to fret and sweat. There must be an error in its pages, typographical or grammatical. There must be an inelegant sentence somewhere in the prose, a rhythm breaker. My unconfident voice of self-doubt has risen from a whisper to a scream. How do I arrive at a price point for what is surely the worst novel ever written in the entire literary history of humanity?

In general economic theory, a product is sold at a price which ensures that its replacement twin may be efficiently manufactured and brought to market. Discounting the intricacies involved in most commercial transactions, the terms of exchange are clear. Should I sell you item A for one dollar, your money must allow me to make another item A and shill it at the same price you paid. Seems simple enough.

The rule of thumb in the brave new world of DIY publishing is to settle upon a cover price that is triple the cost per unit. The math accounts for expensive incidentals beyond simply printing a book: cover art, internal formatting, proofs, corrections (and the time they take) and couriers. It’s an insane equation for an author like me who’s never sold well to begin with – but hey, those dizzy weeks for my first two novels on the Edmonton Journal’s Top Ten list, they can’t take that away from me – I’m too insignificant to realize any economies of scale; this is the reality for many writers.

The Garage Sailor’s cover price of $29.98 was arrived at after some research and a few post-midnight cigarettes with the neighbourhood’s nocturnal creatures, skunks mostly. I ultimately went with my instinct. That competitive number allowed for a slight return on investment and did not breach a potential reader’s psychological barrier of $30 for a 6”x9” trade paperback. As the plot revolves around a music fan, a man who collects vinyl, I thought there was some resonance with $29.98: about the cost of two issues of either of those biblical British music magazines, MOJO or Uncut, or one new single LP.

And that, I thought, is that. So my attention slowly turned toward a projected fourth novel, a light-hearted ‘Walter Mitty’ fable with elements of science fiction exploring the universe of cancer and death. Naturally there have been a few false starts and a couple of different working titles. Oh, a beginning, a middle and an end would be handy, whatever their order. Life has had a way of providing lessons to me about stuff I really didn’t care to know about; I’ve got to write it down.

But not yet. This morning over bowls of chewy coffee a good friend of mine, a voracious reader, an author himself, and a fellow who appreciates the arcane craft involved in producing an actual physical book, said to me, “There are so many wonderful books out there. How do you choose, how can you?” I said, “What are you reading now?” He replied, “John le Carre and that’s because we’ve talked about him and you seem to hold him in such high esteem. Otherwise…”

Otherwise… The journey of The Garage Sailor hasn’t ended with a pen drop and a price point. The title needs to be advertised, brought to market and somehow distributed to interested readers. This is the part I didn’t sign up for.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


Uncle. UNCLE!

Tuesday morning, please be gone, I’m tired of you, hey, hey…

My sense this morning was that everyone living on our street has given up, become apathetic. The cause of so many drooped shoulders was not the news, economic, political, social or otherwise. No, it was the weather, the last damn thing anyone in any community has in common with their neighbours. The oppressive bone-toned sky rained down pins and needles, freezing rain and diamond-hard pellets of ice.

During the winter months most Edmontonians are diligent about keeping their walks, driveways, back lanes and public sidewalks clear, shoveling snow and spreading sand, grit or salt. I saw my first spring robin yesterday, Monday. A glimpsed red breast through a soapy car wash windshield blinding snowstorm, a bemused bird perched in a birch tree in the front yard. The flakes had snowballed on their journey down from the clouds, splatting to the ground in wet clumps. A bough of the overgrown lilac that usually overhangs and frames the garage door was bowed enough to block entry and exit.

I gave the bush a few whacks with my red plastic snow plow whose scraping edge has been chewed into some fatal-looking line you’d see on a medical chart. I reluctantly cleared a narrow path through the cardiac arrest snow for our newspaper carrier. The snow rolled up like a lead blanket. Shovel drop; nobody else on the street had even bothered to pick theirs up: sick and tired and fed up with this, this endless assault of winter.

Things had seemed so fine on Sunday. There was a flash of garter belt blue in the sky, the teasing band of a come hither spring. It seemed warmer outside the Crooked 9 than inside. I sat on the porch enjoying the mild temperature although I had to wear a fleece pullover and a scarf. The windows were open to create draughts of fresh air, change the stale atmosphere after months of low light and freezing cold. I’d left the front door ajar for the cat and because Van Morrison live at the Rainbow in 1973 was on the stereo in the living room: Turn it up! A little bit higher, so you know, it’s got soul. Turn it up!

Two men, both of them a little older than me, walked up the driveway. I didn’t recognize them. They mentioned the music spilling out into the street. Uh-oh, I put my cigarette and beer down. But on that same note, they’d arrived on a nobler mission than one of sniffy complaint: to gauge interest in a proposed block party in June or maybe July, blocking off the street and getting neighbours together for a shaker. I said, “Yeah, sounds great. Summer will be here before we know it.”

And, well, gee, on a lazy April Sunday summer seemed like a genuine possibility. A sure bet in fact because there was some semblance of spring in the city, something I could actually smell. But that was then.

Saturday, 14 April 2018



Can you hear the discordant notes in the music of the geopolitical spheres? Is it just me? My latest issue of The Economist reports that more global citizens have lost their lives to murder than have died in military conflict. The difference might be semantic as there are degrees of murder as opposed to the blanket euphemism of sustained collateral damage in combat zones. Apparently though, the planet (and war itself) is safer than ever before. Yet on the morning Friday, April 13th while perusing The Globe and Mail and trying to make heads and tails of things, my sense was of a tossed coin flipping in the air, that the existing statistics on killing might be reversed.

“Perfect world” war is waged in enemy territory. Unlike sports, real warriors don’t play for home field advantage. Even better is a war fought by proxy in a distant elsewhere wherein the main adversaries employ third party patsies to do their dirty work while still making nice at the United Nations and ducking any potential blow-back on the home front. Since war is a human construct, it is rarely a tidy exercise. SNAFU and FUBAR occur in a hurry and well, gee, things tend to escalate. Syria is a prime example.

Russia is an ally of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s little tin god. He is either a monster who deploys chemical weapons against his own people or a legitimate ruler struggling to maintain his government whilst in the throes of civil war. The United States, intently interested in promoting democracy, backs the rebels or terrorists, depending upon your point of view. Just for fun, let’s throw homeless Kurds and neighbouring Turks, Iraqis, Israelis, Lebanese and various sectarian factions into the cesspool. And let’s add more organic waste to our tailings pond of sewage because Allah knows the ultimate agendas of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The presidents of the United States and Russia share some history. Just how much, nobody knows. They share a common though loggerhead goal: make their countries great again. One is a buffoon, a dotard, and the other clever and ruthless. Tweeterdumbest warned Russia that an attack on Syria “could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Missiles were launched during the night. Clever ploy or Doctor Strangelove? Now it’s Russia’s turn to make a move in this lethal game of chess with an odious vulgarian who plays only checkers.

Russia, like China, senses America’s End of Empire. There’s a vacuum to be filled, plenty of space available to spin our globe like a top. These countries are emboldened, they will not back down. America has shriveled into a deeply divided and inward-looking country. Cracks in that noble collective have been eroded into chasms, chipped away in part by the machinations of its superpower rivals who utilize the influence of soft power and weaponized information.

A particularly Canadian gag: At the height of the Cold War every structure in Canada west of Manitoba had a southward-pointing arrow painted on its roof. The red directionals were intended to aid Soviet bombers: “The US border is a little further south, Ivan! Keep going!” My childhood, complete with a looming fear of nuclear apocalypse and posted civil defense instructions on ducking a blast has come around again. It's hard to feel nostalgic. There’s a gallon of red paint in the workroom here at the Crooked 9.

Friday, 6 April 2018


Keith Gallaher 2003-2018

My third novel The Garage Sailor will be available before the end of the month. I’ve parted ways with my publisher and have decided to go full indie on this one. What could possibly go wrong with this fictional experiment? My instinct tells me too that my recurring anti-hero Keith Gallaher has reached the end of his literary life. The Garage Sailor is a story involving a broken-hearted record collector saddled with obligations to a diabetic tabby cat. Keith is a minor character who plays an integral role in the plot.

My three books were never conceived as a trilogy. Each one was written to stand or fall by itself, sell or stiff. Keith Gallaher emerged fully formed from the pages of an orange Hilroy exercise book before the turn of the century. He is the protagonist and narrator of Murder Incorporated. He is a wistful ex-pat Montrealer who works out west in the advertising industry. He loves the Canadiens, spy thrillers and the Who, and is overly fond of beer and cigarettes. He’s not me: write what you know.

My existence had been a see-saw of duality. If my personal life was great, my professional life was misery and vice versa. Neither went well at the same time, always a cigarette smoke dream of mine. Then I began to wonder what would happen if both anchors went overboard simultaneously. I needed a name for a drowning man being pulled only in one direction, down.

I wanted a short, tough, rock ‘n’ roll given name. They don’t come any better than Keith Moon, Keith Relf and Keith Richards. Ignatius Gallaher is a passing character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, I believe he turns up in a pub – forgive me, I haven’t re-reread the novel in two decades. Saint Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order and that resonated with me because I was fortunate enough to attend Montreal’s Loyola High School. The surname of Joyce’s character intrigued me; readers might inadvertently add a second g to create the more common Gallagher. My own given name of Geoffrey has been butchered by bureaucrats and by people who know me – so much so that it’s even wrong in my 1977 high school graduation yearbook. My ad man would get as prickly and rankled over perceived slights as I do.

The original title of Murder Incorporated was Taking Stock, suggesting ruminations on a life and an oblique reference to the usage of stock photography in print advertising. My publisher thought it boring so I used the name of the boutique ad agency depicted in the novel, one which I’d lifted from a Bruce Springsteen rarity. Sticking with the Boss theme, I called my second novel The Last of the Duke Street Kings, a line I stole from Springsteen’s ‘Backstreets,’ a song about loyalty and friendship. My publisher thought it was too long and so we settled on Duke Street Kings.

It’s fair to say that my first genuine experience of grief was the Beatles’ break up. Life got real in a hurry once my parents divorced and relatives on either side of the split began to die off. The Fab Four was the first shock though, after all, they were best friends. I have been blessed with a few lifelong friendships that I treasure. I may have angered or embarrassed (or both) my closest friends over the course of 45 or even 50 years, but we’re still a gang because I’ve been forgiven or plain laughed at. “When you’re a Jet…” Naturally, I began to speculate on how bonds could be broken.

If Keith Gallaher hooked up with a few ex-Montrealers around his age in Calgary, I thought it likely that some of those old musketeers would’ve grown up in the same neighbourhood, perhaps on the same street. Loyola dominated my life from 1973 through 1977. I spent a lot of time in the west end. The Catholic girls I lost my high school heart to and head over all lived in the vicinity. The streets and the avenues were archly named, very British: Oxford, Regent, Royal, Coronation, Mayfair, King Edward… The urban geography would handle the insertion of an imagined Duke of Windsor Street which the locals would contract to Duke Street.

If Keith was to be an equal member of a larger cast, he would have to interact with the other characters on a regular basis. A pub seemed like an apt setting for that to happen. These fellows would need a reason to get together frequently and I’d no interest in researching the nuances of pool or darts. There was a period in my life when I spent too much time in bars because the alternative was going home. That field research paid off double at the window. Many local establishments engaged shuttle buses for their patrons’ convenience, transport to sporting events, pre- and post-game drinking assured. Others sponsored pick-up slo-pitch or midnight shinny teams. I had a hook. And dear me - the conversational topics when unhappy guys sit around bending unfiltered elbows – I couldn’t make them up.

Spencer Graham is the hero of The Garage Sailor. He’s a burnt-out social worker, something of a well-meaning milquetoast. In his role as a counsellor it was conceivable to me that he could encounter a troubled Keith Gallaher, a man whose marriage has been a whitewater ride through the tunnel of love. Can either one of these stunted, hardcore music fans recognize a kindred soul? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ultimately Spencer and Keith find themselves together in a hotel room, menaced at gunpoint. One of them will talk, attempting to dial the tension knob down. For the other, the needle drops: rash actions twist and shout volumes.

Monday, 2 April 2018


Seeing the Real You at Last

In the dead of winter a good friend and fellow Bob Dylan fan gave me a book called ‘Why Bob Dylan Matters’ for my birthday. Its author is Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard man, a Professor of the Classics. The premise of the modest tome is that Dylan since the release of “Love and Theft” (the album title really matters in this instance) has been liberally lifting lines and imagery originally penned by the poets of antiquity. The Nobel laureate (and former high school Latin clubber) has been borrowing from the works of Homer, Virgil, Ovid et al.

However, in the insular kingdom of ivory towers, this is not plagiarism; it is instead a process known as intertextualization wherein the light-fingered writer brazenly builds upon words which came before thereby altering their contexts, whereas the plagiarist attempts to conceal sources in order to assume authorship. If you don’t care to think twice about intertextualization, it’s all right.

Last week my friend and I attended a lecture by Professor Thomas on the University of Alberta campus, ‘Bob Dylan and the Classics.’ The idea of an academic talk on His Bobness amused me. After 45 years of listening to Dylan, reading interviews and books, going to concerts and watching documentary films, movies or promotional videos, it had come down to this. Educated chatter. It was equally strange for me to once again haunt the hallowed halls of higher learning.

My introduction to His Bobness, Dylan 101, commenced in 1974 when I bought Before the Flood, the double live set featuring the Band. It was current then and I knew all the songs. Of course, they sounded nothing like the Greatest Hits versions I was familiar with. First lesson absorbed. By virtue of a simple twist of fate, ’74 was an opportune time for a 14-year-old to dive into Dylan because Blood on the Tracks, The Basement Tapes and Desire soon followed.

The evening at the U of A began snippily enough. The head of the English Department lamented that the event had to be staged in a room in the Faculty of Business because doesn’t it just get all the funding? After her introduction, things became awkward for Professor Thomas. From the lectern he asked the 60 or 70 students and teachers present if anyone had read his book. I waved my copy at him. Great, at least one copy sold in Edmonton. Had anyone heard Tempest, Dylan’s latest album of original material from 2012? I raised my hand, lonely as a cloud. Okay, had anyone seen ‘Masked and Anonymous,’ Dylan’s last foray into acting? Oh dear, just me. Surely everyone had listened to Dylan’s requisite Nobel lecture set to a tinkling piano and in which he cited ‘The Odyssey’ as a major influence on his art? Merely me again. Right, what about Dylan’s book ‘Chronicles,’ who’d read it? My friend and I reluctantly raised our hands, the two of us alone in the lecture hall.

The distinguished and erudite visitor left his final question unspoken: Just what the fuck are you all doing here, exactly? I thought it worth posing aloud, very Dylanesque. His Bobness has been asking his audience, all of us together through life in modern times, that same question in one song after another, in his words or another’s since 1962.