Wednesday, 30 June 2021


Another Breathless Update

The end result is always deflating. This is it? Where is the elation? But a quiet sense of satisfaction is okay, I guess.

After my first novel was published in 2003, I mainly felt relief. Two literary agents had sniffed before wiping their noses, the manuscript was good, but could I change the setting from Calgary to a generic American city or at least Toronto? I refused and both agents refused me. My publisher suggested I rewrite the story and incorporate a rose as a symbol throughout because the reader demographic for contemporary fiction skews female and a rose on the jacket would do wonders for sales. I refused.

What about its title? Could I at least change it to something other than Taking Stock? I argued that the plot revolved around an ad man desperately trying to balance his home life with his career while failing at both. Anyway, the usage of stock photography is a staple in the ad business. The connection was obvious to me. Hungry for publication, I caved. I’d dubbed the fictitious ad agency Murder Incorporated because my industry was cutthroat, even in the same shop, and I loved the Bruce Springsteen song (still do). Okay, what about that? Subsequently Murder Incorporated was marketed as a mystery-slash-thriller. Like my seven misled readers I could only throw up my hands. Still, I’d set out to accomplish something I wasn’t confident about accomplishing, something I’d maybe left a little too late in life, and I’d done it.

The last time I saw my university chum Robin Brunet was in a Vancouver back alley just off Granville Street. He’d dropped me off at my hotel after we’d spent a day together sipping whiskey, smoking cigars and scraping away at that epidermal layer of grime that is life with other people. He is a successful journalist and author on the coast, a talented and reliable writer covering the Lower Mainland and its environs. Our styles are very different. He says I’m dense. Robin gave me a hug, we embraced beside a dumpster. He said, “Don’t worry, it’s downtown Vancouver, no one will even notice.”

We had a conversation a couple of years ago. I’d just self-published The Garage Sailor. I told Robin I’d learned a lot of things I never cared to know. That quibble aside, I surely appreciated complete creative control. He said he’d just fired his agent. I replied no agent ever cared about me unless they hawked real estate. Robin said his publishing contract had expired and he was wary about re-upping. He said if he had to deal with any more shit and shovel it too, he’d rather be wearing rubber boots and knee-deep in it in his horse Razado’s barn stall. He was seeking a third way – he’d no interest in going my route and fair enough, 40 years of freelance grinding had burnished his reputation.

The publishing industry as we understand it today is a century-old business model. There was a time when bookshops not only sold their wares, but printed them too. Every publication is privately funded, it’s just a matter of how. The mass market novel as a primary form of leisure distraction began to fade not with the advent of radio so much as the proliferation of television sets. Analogous is the impact (albeit accelerated) of streaming on the recording industry, network and cable television, and even the Hollywood studio system. The publishing industry is something like a borrowed library book, long overdue for a disruptive correction.

I filed the copyright for Of Course You Did last January. Robin asked me, “Now what?” I admitted I had no clue. I believe my books are good, but they don’t sell; years of work for nothing except for a few inches of shelf space in Canada’s National Archives and I’ll take that dusty legacy over a tombstone any day. Robin said he’d found another way: complete creative control augmented by sound editorial advice and all backed by an extensive network of promotion, distribution and sales. Perhaps I should investigate. Of course, he is paid to write stories very different from mine whereas I merely dream of payment for writing stories very different from his (I’ve made more money writing advertising copy than I have from writing fiction).

I took Robin's counsel. And so, here I go again. Have a browse, have a look, buy a book.                     

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of self-promotion since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. If you read just one book in 2021, well, you’ve got a problem. Bookmark this blog for more breathless updates. 

Thursday, 24 June 2021


Baseball Next Summer?

Stats Guy and I have sat and watched a lot of baseball together throughout our 35-year friendship. Most of the games we saw were played in a stadium situated down on Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River flats and most of those games were just one tier below the majors, AAA Pacific Coast League.

We are the sole survivors of the pre-pandemic Tuesday Night Beer Club. One member committed suicide. Another just couldn’t be bothered anymore. Our guests, visitors to our town, come and go. Must be the conversation. Stats Guy has a few years on me. Come July he will be officially certified a golden ager. He’s a little old-fashioned; he seriously believes that football, what North Americans call soccer, is a communist enterprise. Perhaps that’s why he loves America’s pastime, because except for maybe the Montreal Canadiens and the Rolling Stones no one has branded and marketed “Golden Age Nostalgia” quite like Major League Baseball. I’ll swing away on that 0-3 count.

Stats Guy grew up in a Los Angeles suburb. He saw Sandy Koufax pitch. He’s still a Dodgers fan: the Angels are upstarts, shame about the Expos. I hate the Dodgers because my late big brother hated them, and I don’t know why Bob hated the Dodgers but that was good enough for me. Stats Guy and Bob were very good friends. The Dodgers played in Brooklyn before I was born and their AAA International League club was the Montreal Royals. I believe my father attended a game or two at Delormier Downs. Possibly with my brother in tow as a youngster because Bob’s nine years older than me although now I’m as old as he ever was. The only baseball game I saw with my father was on a summer visit I paid him in Ottawa; we saw the Lynx (Expos AAA) host the Rochester Red Wings (Orioles AAA).

For some hundred Tuesdays prior to covid interruptus Stats Guy and I have kicked around, bent it like Beckham, the idea of a baseball road trip. I know he’d like to go home to southern California but if I’m going to buy a souvenir cap, as I must, I’d prefer not to promote a team I hate. Also, I’m tired of blue hats and black hats. I think I’d like a red hat. I’d love to see the St. Louis Cardinals play at home. And Kansas City is only an hour away. However, transport is problematic. It’s easier to get to Iceland from Edmonton’s international airport (YEG) than it is to Missouri. Call me persnickety, but I’d like to watch baseball somewhere just a direct flight away. The pandemic has lingered while time itself seems to have accelerated and YEG isn’t exactly a hub, and hanging around other airports waiting for connections is not my idea of time well spent. By this cranky logic, Stats Guy and I could end up in just one place: Minneapolis-St. Paul, home of the Twins.

In 2015 the Rolling Stones embarked on their “Zip Code” tour of North America. Of course I reviewed their itinerary. Big ticket prices to be paid months in advance for seats in big American football stadia in secondary markets, that is, places where people live because there once was a primary industry and where tourism now constitutes Thanksgiving visits from distant relatives. With the Stones in their diseased dotage, what would I do in Indianapolis except pluck little green apples should they cancel or postpone at the last minute, after I’ve beast of burdened up all the cash? Even in their prime there was an element of risk, a no show, although that was likely jail.

Travelling to watch a ballclub seems inherently more sensible. What could possibly go wrong for a pair of baseball tourists in the United States.? Travel insurance is available for sudden, personal medical events. It could rain. Oh, terrorist attacks, violent demonstrations and random mass shootings too. But all in all, safe as houses of credit cards, really.

The Government of Alberta is confident the province will open up for Canada Day, the first of July. Aside from a nastier covid variant named for a Greek or NATO alphabet letter in order not to offend the government of its country of origin, what could possibly go wrong? Perhaps the Tuesday Night Beer Club will reconvene. Perhaps Stats Guy and I will emulate Vivaldi: enjoy the grace of the ensuing four seasons, summer, fall, winter and spring – many months – and hatch a scheme we’ve only been talking about for years.                  

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of revenge travel writing since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for further breathless updates

Friday, 18 June 2021


A Breathless Update

Three false starts. One barebones and very raw first draft. Five rewrites to flesh out the story but not pad it. Constant editing and correcting. Cover art and internal layout. Two sets of proofs. Perfectly aware that I’m entirely capable of tinkering with the manuscript to the end of my days in search of perfection, I’m perfectly satisfied that I have done the best that I can do. Time to go to press.

Of Course You Did tells the tale of two brothers from a broken home. Tom, the narrator, is the younger. He is a frustrated, failed science fiction writer. Big brother Pete is the more practical and literal of the pair, a successful engineer, and because of their age difference, something of a father figure. They are close, but a plot requires conflict, death and humour.

The 22 chapters are divided into thirds. Each one begins with an excerpt from Tom’s pulp sci-fi epic Atomic Space Rangers, an unfinished masterpiece. Maybe. The middles are Tom’s memoirs, growing up. Each chapter’s finale is immediate, present day. This structure took me some time to figure out because each section not only had to relate to its chapter mates, but reach backward and forward into other chapters like folds in time itself. The inspiration came from a book I’ve never been able to classify, let alone known where to shelve in the Crooked 9’s library, Wolf Willow by American writer Wallace Stegner, who grew up in northern Montana and southern Saskatchewan when the boundary between Canada and the United States was pretty much a prairie abstraction, a dotted line on a surveyor’s map. Wolf Willow is a wonderful triptych of memoir, history and fiction.

Of Course You Did is a novella, an awkward in-between length. As such, it will be priced accordingly in three formats: hardback, softcover and as an ebook. My first three novels were minor commercial disasters. My publisher dropped me after my first two. Fair enough, that firm was small time and I was even smaller. The Garage Sailor, my third, was self-published; the most commercial thing I’d ever written (advertising copy notwithstanding) - there was even a fucking cat in it, for Christ’s sake. I expect no more than another modest nadir from this latest work of fiction. Still, here I go again, time to get back on press. 

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of creative complaint and angst since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for more breathless updates

Friday, 11 June 2021


The Skinny on Infills

Cities are a lot like me once I get to talking, they’re never finished. Since most Canadians live in urban environments, most Canadians will understand what I’m talking about. It’s always something.

I dislike other people as much as the next person. Consequently, if there’s a public issue raging in the agora and should I perceive it as having no direct or indirect impact on my life, I don’t care about it; let other people get worked up about nothing. Paradoxically, the grand unified theory of philosophy underpinning my existence postulates that for every human action and reaction in any sphere there will always be unintended consequences – and that fallout, that corrupted rain of incompetence, stupidity, never fails to piss me off. Ergo, I have an opinion about everything because everything is connected and my opinion is informed by the overarching Universal Law of Wham! “If you’re gonna do it, do it right, now!”

Canadian cities are the crumbling foundation of a tower of babble, federal and provincial jurisdictions and powers. Edmonton attempts to sustain its services and infrastructure by collecting property taxes, selling licenses and permits, charging user fees, and levying fines for bylaw violations. There’s no leeway, no alternative legal way to switch red budgetary ink to black. These increasingly dire circumstances have created a sort of utopia for developers, the infill movement.

Infills are new builds on old land. Imagine a charming home surrounded by greenery on a generous lot in an established neighbourhood. It’s for sale. The buyer isn’t its next occupant but instead a profiteer. Everything on the property is razed. The lot is divided into two legal entities, two street numbers surrounded by temporary fencing and populated with weeds. The turquoise portable toilet arrives (if I pissed that colour, I’d go to a clinic).  The noisy excavation(s) and reconstruction(s) are set to begin.

Since Edmonton’s city administrators don’t hold MENSA membership cards, density is perceived as a good thing; they just can’t appropriate land for civic sprawl as was the case in the good old days. The assessed tax on a single dwelling will be doubled. Permits and their application fees generate revenue. The pool of municipal user fees, garbage collection, water treatment, increases incrementally. And so, really, the infill movement is all “big picture” good; a jury-rigged solution for decades of poor urban planning and shortsightedness.

My complaints begin with the small picture, the architect’s rendering, a watercolour wash of the Platonic ideal of a two-storey skinny. Infills don’t resemble homes so much as commercial buildings. They should come with backlit signage, maybe a molar indicating a dental clinic or perhaps some other visual cue that jars with their domestic purpose: 7-Up: You Like It! It Likes You! The colour specification for the monolith now abutting the Crooked 9 is Ralph Lauren “Berlin Wall Grey.” And that choice was something of a relief because nothing looks goofier in a winter city than a new build slathered with an Arizona gated community pastel. Its walls are so tight to the property line that I could spray paint them with Rolling Stones tongue logos and neither the developer nor the future occupants would ever be the wiser. The narrow dead space along the now-wobbly fence line is at best a corridor for neighbourhood cats and local wildlife, hares, skunks and porcupines. It’s impossible not to be reminded of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow and The Great Chicago Fire.

Though the developer was rigorous about maintaining a clean work site, I’ve been picking up the detritus of construction for the better part of a year: wood off-cuts, screws, staples, shreds of packaging, coffee cups and energy drink containers. When the snow finally melted in May, some of it didn’t. The lingering white stuff was hundreds of thousands beads of Styrofoam. Stucco needs a surface to cling to and that is a skin of Styrofoam panels (which also do double duty as a layer of rigid insulation) and wire mesh. Its application process required that some of the crew’s scaffolding be anchored on the Crooked 9’s side of the property line.

This stage inspired me somewhat. I conceived a play in which the actors would enter an empty stage and spend two or three acts building the set, erecting the scaffolding. Like the stucco crew next door, a bizarrely arresting mix of backgrounds, language and idiom, they would spend two hours less an intermission talking about their lives, arguing, joking. Because drama requires drama, I as playwright would ensure internal conflict and a tragic, horribly fatal accident; or was it? Curtain would be the unfurling of the tarps before they spray the muck that has speckled my kitchen windows onto its Styrofoam base. Maybe some day, but as John Fogerty sang, “Some day never comes.”

The future neighbours’ expansive backyard deck has been installed. It is 42 inches above grade. The rickety fence between them and the Crooked 9 is just five feet tall. Any paltry suggestion of privacy has been cut off at the knees. Worse, the natural screens, the cedars and the shrubs, are struggling, their roots traumatized by backhoe blades. And God only knows the contents of those five-gallon pails of liquid waste the stucco crew poured into the soil. Should I ever write that play, maybe I will kill them all.        

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of urbane notes on urban living since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates.

Friday, 4 June 2021


Edmonton Elks

Edmonton’s Canadian Football League (CFL) club, established in its current incarnation in 1949, has officially changed its nickname. The Eskimos will now be known as the Elks. A hardy prey animal, as opposed to a predator, at least tops Ottawa’s REDBLACKS, RedBlacks or Redblacks (Rouge et Noir en francais and what the team should’ve done sans the anglais equivalent).

My personal bugaboo with sports teams’ marketing monikers is singulars requiring an article: the Lightning, the Kraken. Elks is an awkward though pleasing plural, like the Maple Leafs – my 1980 edition of the Canadian Press Style Book cautions cub reporters not to correct Toronto’s grammar. Terry Jones, the reigning dean of Canadian football writers, noted in a recent Postmedia column that Edmonton’s rugby football club competed for the 1922 Grey Cup as the Elks because the local Elks service club had provided and paid for their kit. Although Jones is getting up there, I’m certain he did not attend the game.

Athletic clubs select nicknames for their positive attributes. Should you play football in Edmonton in November, you better be tough and resilient. Same goes for the fans in the stands. Green Bay’s famed and redundant “frozen tundra” is south of 49 tropical. “Eskimos” is thought to be an English or French (the fur trade in the New World in the 1600s was very competitive) mangling of an Algonquian proper noun, their name for their Inuit neighbours and competitors who still inhabit the far north of the continent. I always assumed “Eskimos” was complimentary and not derogatory but then again, I never thought about it. Language is dynamic and organic, and the definitions of words necessarily alter or evolve over time, and the dominance of English around the globe constitutes a form of cultural hegemony. And so should a distinct nation say: “Don’t call us that and we’re not your mascots,” best to huddle up and listen.

Edmonton’s new logo is a slightly abstract line drawing of an elk as seen on the log wall of a hunting lodge. The design would also make a fine sticker on a tractor or thresher displayed at a farm equipment dealership. I’d been under the impression that the community-owned club was desperate for a nickname that began with the fifth letter of the alphabet in order to maintain the long established brand recognition of its EE logo, retain fan engagement by changing but not changing too much, and to minimize costs associated with any re-branding.

Elks President and CEO Chris Presson Tuesday told sports reporters that the team’s EE logo is “still within our ecosystems of brands and we still plan to use it.” Now, I know what an actual ecosystem is. And I also know what a tech entrepreneur means when she drops that co-opted noun in the business press. But, jeez, hell if I know what “ecosystems of brands” are. I assume Presson meant a suite of primary and secondary logos; sports franchises, like legacy rock bands, know there’s money in merchandise.

I had assumed too that Edmonton was intent on keeping EE on its helmets, just as the REDBLACKS, RedBlacks or Redblacks were intent on reviving the old Rough Riders capital R on theirs. Should the CFL somehow manage to stage a pre-post-pandemic 2021 season, the Elks will sport green antlers on their yellow helmets. Some points on those antlers have been modified to suggest the laces of a football. I’ve no idea who’s responsible for the graphic design, but the idea and its subtleties are clever and inspired. During the 60s, Montreal’s Alouettes had red skylark wings on their helmets. If you’ve never seen a single down of American football, you can still imagine the decoration on a Los Angeles – St. Louis – Los Angeles Rams helmet. I like the Elks’ new retro football kit, a revitalization of what had become an off-putting brand.

In these thoroughly postmodern days, it’s impossible for anybody to do anything right in the electric eyes of the social media mob. Controversy is standard stuff, like a password or an avatar. Naturally, Edmonton’s transition from Eskimos to Elks has come under some angry scrutiny. I have it on good authority that the Knights of Columbus, the Rotarians, the Masons and Odd Fellows are all mildly miffed.

meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of sports writing since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is coming soon. Don’t miss out on the literary sensation of 2021. Bookmark this blog for breathless updates.