Shiner

black eyeTook the bus home tonight.

In downtown Whitby a young woman got on. I noticed her right away because she had a big black eye. An enormous shiner. It was her left eye. She stood so that few in the bus could see it. But I was pretty close to her and I saw it. Along with the tears in her eyes.

It looked to me as though somebody had taken a shot at her and gotten her good. It was pretty fresh and it was pretty big. Right away I assumed a guy had done it. Boyfriend or husband. There I was, jumping to conclusions. But my gut told me I had the truth of it.

There’s been a lot of talk about violence against women lately. And that’s a good thing. Let’s get it out in the open. Shame the men responsible. Compel the rest of us to do what we can to stop it. Which is what, exactly?

That was the question that came to my mind as I sat there on the bus looking up at this poor young woman with the shiner. What could I do? What should I do? Sit there and exude sympathy for her? What if I had it all wrong? What if she just slipped and fell or ran into a door?

About a minute from my stop I got up and approached her. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she said. “Thanks for asking. Well, trying to be okay.”

I felt like I was really going out on a limb. “If somebody did this to you, you should report them.”

“I just don’t want to go through all the bullshit,” she said. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have gone back. I knew I shouldn’t go back and yet I did.”

So she didn’t fall or hit a door. I was appalled that she felt it was her fault. It struck me as almost cliche that she felt it was her fault. How could being punched in the face be her fault? How could she think that?

I know there are lots of variables here. I made lots of assumptions. Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe she started it. Maybe she attacked him with a knife. Maybe it wasn’t a him at all but a her. Maybe she was lying to me. Maybe a whole lot of stuff.

But I’m pretty sure a guy punched her in the face and I’m pretty sure she didn’t deserve it.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think what to say.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I told her. “If somebody did this to you they should be held accountable.”

I don’t remember what she said. It was time to get off the bus, so I did.

Writing this feels a little self-serving. Yay me for standing up and saying something. I’m sorry if it comes off that way. It was just unthinkable not to say something to her after the events of the last few weeks. I’m sure that had I run into a month ago I would have wondered what her story was and not said anything.

Did talking to her do any good? Will she take pictures of the black eye (and any other injuries) and report the incident to the police? I doubt it.

Did I make her feel any better? Probably not much.

But I hope I accomplished at least that much.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and the Truth? Not So Much

QHaving once worked on the CBC Radio show Q with Jian Ghomeshi I have been following the events of the past couple of weeks with a great deal of (morbid) curiosity. I feel terrible for the women involved. I also feel awful for the staff of Q, as well as for the CBC itself. I haven’t felt comfortable commenting on the affair much publicly because I still work for the CBC and I wouldn’t want anything I say to be misconstrued as anything resembling an official position; everything I write here is strictly my own opinion.
That being said, I would like to comment on one aspect of the story that I haven’t seen remarked upon anywhere else. I will not be talking about the specific allegations against Ghomeshi, which are overwhelming and in any case will ultimately be decided in a court of law. I’ll be talking about peripheral elements of that story that have got me thinking about the reliability of what we read and hear in the media.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve read most of the articles published about the Ghomeshi affair. Usually when I read news articles I’m reading about stories I don’t have anything to do with personally. I don’t know the people involved or much about the subject matter. I’m at the mercy of the journalist publishing the piece. I have to take their word for it that what they’re publishing is true. Maybe some sources are named that lend the article extra credibility. Maybe the newspaper has a sterling reputation, and readers are inclined to think heck, this is in the Globe and Mail. Therefore, it must be true. As such, my default has been to believe what I read in the newspapers.

This despite my father’s advice when I was a kid that I should believe nothing of what I hear and only half of what I see. I’ve always thought that was a pretty good rule-of-thumb (not that I’ve been able to stick to it). A few years ago when a friend told me one story about Jian Ghomeshi’s despicable behaviour toward women (the now infamous “hate *uck” incident) I was appalled but not inclined to take it at face value. It was a rumour. Hearsay. Having worked with Jian, I did not want to believe that he was that sort of person. My eight month working relationship with Jian had been punctuated by two episodes that could be called confrontations (and several positive interactions, I am compelled in the interest of truth and balance to add) but overall our relationship had been fairly neutral. I decided that there was probably something to my friend’s story—where there’s smoke there’s fire—but beyond that I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t think it really mattered because by this time I was in a different role and didn’t have anything to do with Jian anymore, other than saying hi to him in an elevator now and then.
Two weeks ago the big story about Ghomeshi broke and suddenly the newspapers were filled with articles about people I knew. Not only that, every now and then they would refer to events I was a part of. It was fascinating to read those bits, and on one particular occasion I was reminded of my father’s advice: believe only half of what you see.

There was an article on Friday October 31st in the Globe and Mail written by James Bradshaw and Greg McArther. The article is called The Story of Q. That in itself is interesting because it’s the title of a speech I gave to Ryerson Radio and Television Arts audio students in 2008 about the creation of the show Q. I published the speech on my blog shortly afterward, where it’s still visible (I’m not suggesting the Globe got the title of their article from my blog post; I just thought it was interesting).

In the article, the authors state the following:

“When Q launched as the new afternoon arts program in the spring of 2007, it had a core group of young and ambitious producers, almost all of them in their 20s and 30s.”

Nine of us created Q. I don’t know everyone’s exact age, but I do know that at least two, and possibly as many as four, were in their forties. Jian himself turned forty within months of our debut, in June 2007, so that’s three (and possibly five) of the creators in their forties by June, and of those in their thirties, only one was in his early thirties. So I’m not really sure that you can accurately report that “almost all of them were in their 20s and 30s.” At best it leaves an inaccurate impression, and at worst it’s factually wrong. (I readily admit that we were all ambitious and at the very least felt young.)

The authors go on to say:

“Mr. Ghomeshi had a very specific idea of what Q was going to be, and it was not typical CBC. The aim was to land big-name guests, and not to adhere to the usual CBC mandate: promoting Canadian content coast-to-coast.”

I would suggest that this is also misleading. Although these two sentences don’t state it explicitly, they suggest that Ghomeshi’s ideas took precedence over the ideas of the rest of the producers present, and this was simply not the case. We all had equal input into the conception of the show. I can’t comment on what the show evolved into, because I wasn’t there later on, but in the beginning we all contributed equally, and if we all thought an idea had merit, we adopted it for Q.

It also suggests that Ghomeshi came into the planning sessions with preconceived ideas about the nature of Q, and maybe he did, but I don’t remember him imposing his ideas on any of us in any untoward way. The planning sessions were expertly facilitated and in the very beginning we were remarkably cohesive in our thinking about what the show should be. Really all any of us knew as we started discussing it was that the show was going to be an arts and culture show with Jian as the host. Everything else was up for debate. We even debated what arts and culture meant (e.g., did culture include sports, and if so, under what circumstance?) We did agree early on that landing big-name guests was a good idea, but not to the exclusion of Canadian content. We didn’t care what nationality the big name guest might be: Canadian, American, Martian, whatever. The point was that the show itself was by its very nature Canadian (i.e., we were Canadian, operating out of the CBC) and the content we would produce would be for Canadians (and whoever else chose to consume it).

More from the same article:

“A couple of veteran producers who objected ran up against Mr. Ghomeshi’s star power; they were weeded out. The five that stuck around…”

Etc Etc.

People left, but were they weeded out? I don’t know. Conversations perhaps happened that I wasn’t a part of. Certainly there was a bit of musical chairs but you get that everywhere. The line that really got me was, “The five that stuck around…”

I had to stop and think when I read that. There were two producers that left before we even started to create the show but I don’t think they were weeded out; I’m pretty sure they left of their own accord. And only one of them could have been considered a veteran producer. Ultimately nine of us remained to create Q, one of which was Jian, so that leaves eight, not five.

Maybe the authors were talking about after the show had been created. After the show debuted one producer left for a job in print. After a while the executive producer left as well, leaving… six, not five. Maybe I wasn’t counted because I left myself after eight months, but it certainly wasn’t because I was weeded out. I left due to a promotion; it had nothing to do with any tension with Ghomeshi.

I’m making mountains out of molehills here. The distinctions I’m pointing out are pretty minor, significant to nobody other than me, probably. Still, they have changed the way that I will consume news in the future. Especially when viewed in conjunction with other articles (and recently published books) about the CBC that contain, at least to these eyes, additional (and arguably more important) factual errors or at best misapprehensions about the internal goings on at the CBC. I’m referring to another article in the Globe and Mail that I just cannot take at face value, one published Friday October 10th by David Shoalts called Hockey Night in Canada: How CBC Lost it All, and yet another one in the Globe by Patrick Lagacè published Thursday Nov 6 called “Enabler to a Media Hatchet Job.”

Read all this stuff with a major grain of salt, folks. Unless you were actually there, participating in these events, you do not, cannot, know the whole truth.

DNTO

I’m being featured on CBC Radio One’s DNTO this Saturday Nov 1, 2014 sometime between three o’clock and three thirty (at least, I think that’s the slot). The piece is produced by Rosie Fernandez. You all know Rosie, don’t you? She’s the one with a wine named after her. And poetry written about her. And she’s really nice too.

Here’s how DNTO describes the piece:

After a night of fun with a babysitter, Joe Mahoney’s young twins, Erin and Keira, were way too riled up to listen to dad. So Joe tried to take control of situation… but only ended up making things worse.

To put it another way, I’ll be telling the entire country via national radio what a terrible parent I can be.

It Begins…

My publishing Journey (graphic courtesy of Addie.Zierman.com)

My publishing Journey (graphic courtesy of Addie.Zierman.com)

All right, I’ve finished the novel. Now what?

First step, seek representation. I know in this day and age you can self-publish but I don’t want to do that. I’ve spent so much time getting the writing portion of it right that I would prefer to do the rest right as well. And I’m in no hurry. I will take my time querying agents and publishers and if I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll find one. I will do so with no real trepidation. I’ve long since come to terms with the reality of the publishing world. There may not be a place for my novel out there. But if there is, I will find it. Slowly, painstakingly.

I was talking to my nephew last night. Not the same one as in the novel (I just made that one up…the one I was talking to last night I’m pretty sure I didn’t make up). Anyway, my nephew loves writing as much as I do, if not more. (He stayed up ’til eight this morning writing.) I was trying to express an idea to him. The idea of savouring every part of the writing process. If you write, and don’t sell what you write, you might feel like you’ve wasted your time. I will not feel that way. Every minute I spend writing, even now, writing this blog post, I enjoy. I know not everyone feels that way, but I do. I’m not saying it’s not hard work. Sometimes it’s excruciating. But it’s always my favourite part of the day. (Well, right up there with spending time with my girls, and eating lunch. I like those times a lot too.)

My nephew was afraid that I was telling him to “settle.” He says people are always trying to get him to settle. I understood right away what he was talking about. He thought I was trying to tell him that he probably won’t be successful, so he should be happy with the process itself, and settle for the satisfaction that brings. But that wasn’t what I was suggesting at all. You should absolutely go for the brass ring, which I intend to do, and which I would expect him to do. I will do my utmost to get my novel out there. Whatever it takes. But I will also completely enjoy every part of the process, from the conception to the writing to the selling process.

Years ago the inevitable rejections I’m about to receive would have bothered me. No longer. Now it’s just a part of the process. Just business. The trick is to keep the book on the market, while writing the next one.

Am I going about this properly? Don’t know.

I expect I’ll learn a lot as I go along.

Knowlton Nash and the Picture

Knowlton Nash

Knowlton Nash


Once upon a time I lived next door to a little old lady. Her name was Mrs. Reilly, and she was a widow. She liked to talk to me about what I did, where I was from, and how I kept my yard.

She told me the last people to rent my town house kept their yard in an abominable state. They didn’t mow for months on end. Her game was to shame me into keeping my yard in good shape, and it worked, for the most part.

Mrs. Reilly was no hypocrite. Her yard was the best on the block. She was often up before the crack of dawn watering her lawn. There were a lot of water alerts those days. Warnings that the Toronto water reservoirs were dangerously low, that we shouldn’t use any more water than we absolutely had to. Yet Mrs. Reilly’s sprinklers would remain on full, Mrs. Reilly going thirsty herself no doubt so that her lawn wouldn’t suffer.

Sometimes my square metre of grass would get past me, but I managed to stay in Mrs. Reilly’s good books. After each time I cut it she would dart out with her broom, calling “Joey, you can use my broom to sweep the grass off the driveway,” and I would. (I have no idea why she called me Joey instead of Joe–the only people left in the world who call me that are my mother, who’s entitled, and some of my mother’s friends, who aren’t. But I didn’t really mind, because how could I? She was a nice old lady.)

One day Mrs. Reilly spied me in the driveway and emerged from her house carrying a large yellow envelope with something bulky inside it.

“Joey,” she said, “you work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, right?”

That’s right, I said.

“Would you mind giving this to Knowlton Nash for me then?”

I told her that I had never met Knowlton Nash, as in those days I worked for CBC Radio, not CBC Television.

Mrs. Reilly didn’t know the difference and didn’t care.

She showed me what was in the envelope. It was a framed picture of Knowlton Nash smiling up from behind his newsdesk. Judging by the famous newscaster’s spiffy clothes, the picture had been taken sometime in the early seventies.

Mrs. Reilly explained that her husband had been distantly related to Nash. Seems Nash had given the picture to another relative and eventually it had wound up in Mr. Reilly’s hands. After her husband passed away, Mrs. Reilly decided she wanted to give the picture back to Nash.

Perhaps I should refer to him as Mr. Nash, out of respect, and seeing as I didn’t know him. I reminded Mrs. Reilly of this fact, adding that I didn’t think Mr. Nash even worked for the Corporation any more. He had retired.

The truth was, I figured the odds of me being able to return the picture to Mr. Nash were about as great as me getting up early one Saturday morning to mow the lawn: nil, in other words.

“Take the picture,” Mrs. Reilly insisted. “Maybe you’ll run into him someday.”

I was stuck with the picture.

Two years later I moved, and never saw Mrs. Reilly again. Her yellow envelope languished in my locker at work, where I saw it just about every day.

Several years went by.

Every time I opened the locker I felt guilty. Once in a while I took the picture out and looked at it just to make sure Mr. Nash’s smile hadn’t turned into a frown. Okay, it never did, but damned if he wasn’t looking at me as if to say, “When are you going to give me the picture, Joey?”

“Don’t call me Joey,” I would tell the picture, before putting it back in the locker. “It’s Joe.”

One time I caught a glimpse of Mr. Nash in the CBC Atrium and I thought: quick, run, get the picture from the locker! But I knew that he’d be long gone by the time I got back, so I didn’t.

I hung onto the picture. I thought about visiting the people at the National and asking them how I might get the picture to Mr. Nash. But I figured they’d probably just say, what would Knowlton want with an old picture of himself, anyway? So I didn’t. I was afraid they wouldn’t understand the obligation I felt to this little old lady. I didn’t understand it myself.

Fast forward a few more years. One day a production assistant told me, “Hey, you’re going to be working with someone interesting this afternoon–Knowlton Nash. He’s coming in to do a phone-in show.”

No way.

Way.

Finally, I could unload the picture. I didn’t think twice about it. Friends said, why bother? I tried to explain: I didn’t feel right keeping the picture for myself, I couldn’t throw it away, and I couldn’t live with the darn thing in my locker any more.

I carried the tattered yellow envelope with me all day. It came time for the phone-in show. The production assistant introduced me to Mr. Nash in the announce booth. It was my job to adjust his microphone and make sure he was comfortable, after which I would sit in the control room and tech the interview, riding the levels and whatnot. I had brought the envelope containing the picture into the booth with me.

Feeling stupid, I explained the situation to Mr. Nash:

“Mrs. Reilly knew that I worked for the CBC and asked me to give this to you,” I told him. “I’ve had it in my locker for years.”

“You kept the picture for HOW long?” Nash snarled, before breaking it over his knee.

Okay, that would have been the more dramatic ending, but it’s Knowlton Nash we’re talking about here, a genuine gentleman by all accounts, and my experience with him was no different.

He examined the picture with genuine interest, then opened the card Mrs. Reilly had included and silently read it. Afterwards, he smiled, nodded, and thanked me.

Silly? I thought so at first, but I don’t think so any more. Getting the picture to Knowlton Nash had been important to Mrs. Reilly, and regardless of what I had originally thought of the mission, it felt good to finally see it through.

You’re welcome, Mrs. Reilly.

The Writing Process Blog Hop with Author Susan Rodgers

I’ve been tagged by Author Susan Rodgers to participate in a Blog Hop. This is nothing like a Sock Hop, which I once participated in back in nineteen seventy-six. This Hop involves writing, not dancing, which is good, because I’m much better at writing than dancing.

Susan Rodgers, as well as being a talented writer, is my sister. She’s one year, one month and three days younger than me, but a whole lot smarter and better looking. She’s a film maker with several films to her credit, some of which have been broadcast on the CBC and Bravo, and the author of the Drifters series of books, available online and in fine bookstores in Prince Edward Island. I am honoured to participate in a Blog Hop with her.

Susan Rodgers, Author, Film maker

Susan Rodgers, Author, Film maker

The way it works is she asks me a bunch of questions, which I answer here in my blog, and then I somehow convince two other bloggers to do the same for me.

Here are Susan’s questions and my attempts to answer them:

1. You grew up in Prince Edward Island, Canada, but you’ve lived your adult life in Toronto and Whitby, Ontario. You work in Toronto, one of the busiest cities in Canada. It’s a far cry from the serenity and natural beauty of PEI. How do you feel these two worlds affect your writing? Do they merge in any way?

I moved to Toronto when I was nineteen and lived there for eleven years, then moved to Whitby to raise a family, although I kept working in Toronto, where I still work. Somewhere in there I also spent the better part of a year in France, which you may have heard of. Believe it or not, there is serenity and beauty to be found in Toronto and Whitby. I love Toronto, and have loved it from the moment I set foot in it. When I lived in France, I missed Toronto terribly. My friend Lisa Trimble sent me a copy of the Toronto Star after I’d been in France a while, and I devoured every single word in it, including the Classifieds, because I missed Toronto so much.

My wife Lynda and I actually moved to Whitby because downtown Whitby reminded us of downtown Summerside PEI. So we obviously miss PEI too. Though now that I live in Whitby, I miss France terribly. I miss wherever I’m not.

Downtown Whitby

Downtown Whitby


Prince Edward Island has had a tremendous impact on my writing, though. My damned-near-complete novel (2500 words left to revise out of 115,000) is set on an island which is a fictionalized version of Prince Edward Island. I’ve retained some place names (like Evangeline) and changed other locales completely (Charlottetown became Farfuston, with a completely different down town core). I did this because I couldn’t remember Prince Edward Island accurately enough, forcing me to make stuff up. I do most of my writing on the Go Train travelling back and forth to work where there’s no internet connection, so I can’t research anything. Also, I like making stuff up, so it doesn’t really bother me. Curiously, people who’ve read portions of the novel think it’s a real place in Great Britain. But they’re wrong. It’s Prince Edward Island in disguise.

I don’t think Toronto has affected my writing at all, so far. Or Whitby. They’re just where I do my writing.

2. It seems you write mostly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Did you consciously choose these genres or do you feel it came to you somehow? Do you think you will always write in these genres or might you branch out some day?

It’s true that all of my short fiction and my damned-near-complete novel are either fantasy or SF. I have also written and co-authored several plays, none of which is SF. (They’re murder mysteries.) I read many genres, including non-fiction, and enjoy them all, but for now I’m happy writing SF and Fantasy. I have several novels in mind that I’d like to write, all of which are SF, but it’s taken me so long to write my damned-near-complete novel that I probably won’t have time to write anything other than SF. My daughters, who are astute mathematicians, have calculated that at the rate I write, I should have time to write another half a novel in my lifetime, assuming I ever finish the final 2500 words of the damned-near-complete one, and I live to the age of one hundred and fifty-seven.

That being said, I do have a hankering to pen two memoirs. One would be about my career at the CBC, and the other would be about my time in the magical land of France. Or I may fictionalize those experiences with a dash of SF. We’ll see.

3. Tell us about your process. I’d be interested to know where you do most of your writing as well as what comforts you like to have around you. I, for one, must have my large iced mocha to ‘jumpstart’ my brain. Do you have any such habits or creature comforts when writing? Does it help you to sink into that fantasy world more fully?

As I mentioned earlier (what, were you not paying attention?) I do most of my writing on the GO Train. The GO Train carries me back and forth from Whitby to Toronto, and each ride is between half an hour to forty-five minutes long, depending on whether it’s the Express. The longer the better for me. I like nothing better than for the GO Train to break down. Then, while all about me are losing their heads, I get more writing done. It’s a sad time for me when the train pulls up to the station, and I must put away my headphones and close my laptop. Especially when I accidentally close my laptop on the top of a USB key, which I did once, which broke the screen. But I digress.

I have no rituals on the train other than to start writing as soon as possible and not do anything else, like read, or talk to people. I’m rather rude on the train, or at least I feel like I’m being rude. Sometimes people will try to talk to me. If it’s someone I just met, I will talk to them the first time I ride with them. During that ride, I will tell them that normally I write on the train, and that if I ever run into them again on the train, I hope they will forgive me, but I would prefer to write instead of talk. I explain that it’s pretty much the only time I have to write, and writing is extremely important to me. I have never met anyone who doesn’t understand. Most people who take the train regularly wind up doing their own thing on the train anyway. My friends know better than to try to talk to me on the train. It took me years to build up the courage to tell people that. But now that I have, I get a lot more writing done.

Joe's Writing Garrett on Wheels

Joe’s Writing Garrett on Wheels


Long ago, I read that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, trained herself to be able to write while raising kids. Sometimes she would only get a few seconds in. Time for a single sentence, or to correct a single word, before having to change a diaper or manage some minor crisis. But that was enough. It was progress. I’ve trained myself to do the same. I can write anywhere. I’ve written in Doctor’s offices, by swimming pools, at my kid’s art lessons, piano lessons, on the train, on the plane, buses, outside, inside. I don’t have any rituals other than ignoring everything around me and starting to write.

4. What are you working on now and what are your hopes and dreams for future writing projects?

As I mentioned before (you really aren’t paying attention, are you?) I’m finishing up my damned-near-complete novel, with the working title of A Time and a Place. This is a one hundred and fifteen thousand word novel about a man by the name of Barnabus J Wildebear whose fifteen-year old nephew has been conscripted into an alien army. Wildebear, the boy’s only living relative, sets out to protect him, but to do so, Wildebear must pass through an alien portal that transports him not only to other worlds and times, but into the very minds of alien beings.

My next novel, which I plan to start the day after I finish this one, will be set in the same universe. It’s working title is Captain’s Away!, and it’s based on a radio play I wrote which was broadcast on CBC Radio back in 2003. It’s about a woman who is mistaken for the captain of an interstellar space ship and is forced to play the part as the ship heads for war.

Then, if I’m still capable of writing (when I finish that one at the age of one hundred and fifty-seven), I may attempt one of those memoirs I mentioned earlier. Or I may just take a well-deserved retirement, perhaps in France, which is almost as beautiful in parts as your beloved l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.

***

Here are the bloggers I’ve tagged:

Robert Runté:

Editor and Writer Robert Runté

Editor and Writer Robert Runté


Robert Runté is Senior Editor at Five Rivers Publishing, a freelance editor at SFeditor.ca, and an Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge. He is best known as a critic, reviewer, and editor of Canadian speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), for which he has won two Aurora Awards. His first short story was published in the first issue of On Spec magazine in 1989; his most recent story, “Split Decision”, appeared in the Tesseracts 15 anthology and was reprinted in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. He in the process of revising his own first novel, and will be the first to concede that editing a novel is a lot easier than writing one. (See the Writer, the Editor, and Human Nature to read about Robert’s experience being on the author-end of the editing process.)

Angela Misri:

Author Angela Misri Signing her new book Jewel of the Thames

Author Angela Misri Signing her new book Jewel of the Thames

Angela Misri is an award-winning journalist, writer and mom based out of Toronto, Canada. Her first book Jewel of the Thames was published in March 2014 by Fierce Ink Press. This is the first book in the detective series called ‘A Portia Adams Adventure‘ and Angela is hard at work editing books two and three right now! She has spent most of her career at the CBC making radio content extraterrestrial through websites, live streams and podcasts. These days Angela also freelances locally and nationally for magazines and newspapers and teaches at Ryerson University.

The Dreaded Travelling Shot

This is a repost, with some slight revisions, of a post I wrote back in June 30th 2006 on a different version of this blog. Also posting the audio sample of the travelling shot in question, which wasn’t included in the original post:

Canadia 2056

Canadia 2056

First of all, I have no idea how to spell “traveling.” I have seen it spelled both as “traveling” and “travelling.” The more I look at the word with either spelling, the stranger it looks.

That aside, some of you may recall my comments on traveling shots in radio a little while back. (For those of you new to the term, a traveling shot is a shot in television, film or radio in which the characters are on the move and the camera/microphone is following them. Think Xander on his skateboard in the opening shot of the very first Buffy the Vampire Slayer for TV, or the famous lengthy traveling shot with Tim Robbins that opens Robert Altman’s The Player)

Basically, traveling shots in radio are usually a bad idea. The reason they’re usually a bad idea is because many writers write them accidentally, without even realizing that they’re writing a traveling shot, until they get in the studio and the engineer says, what the heck, this is a traveling shot, you do realize how difficult it is to convey traveling shots on radio, dontcha? And they say, well, you did read the script before getting here didn’t you? And the engineer says, um, I didn’t really have time, and the writer says, well then you only have yourself to blame then, don’t you? And then the engineer says, well, the producer should have caught it, and then the producer suddenly jerks awake in his chair and says, what scene are we on…?

So why am I repeating myself?

Well, after I wrote that post, I wound up working on projects that were essentially traveling shot after traveling shot. Clearly people are not reading this blog (for shame!) It bears repeating: do not drink and drive, do not pet burning dogs, and DO NOT write traveling shots for radio UNLESS YOU ARE A FOOLISH, IMPETUOUS RECORDING FOOL LIKE MYSELF!

Now.

Have I made myself clear?

Good.

I beg your pardon? You want to know about the “foolish, impetuous recording fool like myself” business?

Oh, all right.

Yes, I was personally responsible for one of the traveling shots. The traveling shot in Canadia, to be precise. (Canadia being the science fiction comedy pilot I’m producing with my buddy Matt Watts).

You see, after writing about them, I realized that I’ve long wanted to try recording the granddaddy of all traveling shots. One that really works. Because if you can convey to the listener what’s going on, then your traveling shot will have worked. Now, it happens that I have recorded dinky little traveling shots that have sort of worked, and longer traveling shots that have kind of worked, and location traveling shots where I’ve followed actors with a boom on the streets of Montreal that also have kind of worked after a fashion…

…but I’ve never built a really good, effective traveling shot for a radio play in a studio.

So I said to Matt as we were planning Canadia that I thought it would be neat to attempt a West Wing/Hill Street Blues style traveling shot off the top of Canadia. So obliging fellow that he is, Matt went ahead and wrote one.

It so happened that we got busy before the taping, Matt was off to New York to see The Drowsy Chaperone (which he helped write), and we never got to discuss the scene properly before taping was upon us. I had originally thought that I might grab a boom and a Tascam and follow the actors around somehow, but instead I opted to record the actors in place with the rest of the cast swirling around them.

Racing against the clock in post-production, however, I lost my nerve and simplified the scene to essentially a static shot. It didn’t work at all. It just lay there in the play, twitching from time to time like a dying rat. When Matt heard my rough mix, he was horrified. I had to admit that it didn’t resemble our original conception at all. Guilty as charged, I admitted that “it still needed a bit of tweaking.”

During the final mix, I sent Matt off for some sound effects, which meant that he had to pass through five different rooms and hallways, each with radically different acoustic ambiances. On the way, it occurred to him that if we broke the scene up in exactly that manner (several different clearly distinct rooms) that it could be made to work. The scene happens to take place on a starship, where this would make complete sense. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to take listeners on an acoustic tour of the ship.

Genius!

I grabbed an AKG stereo microphone and our Edirol and Matt and I set off on a trek across the Broadcast Centre. I recorded everything as we passed through as many radically different acoustic environments as possible. Afterward, I loaded the material into my ProTools mixing session and cut it down to about a minute and a half, the length of the traveling shot. We placed doors at strategic points during the scene, and built wildly different sound effects beds for each section. (These included a set of stairs, an engine room, a room with loads of construction happening, etc.)

I also electonically “treated” the actors’ voices depending on their supposed location (as well as the accompanying sound effects)… for instance, in the stairwell, I used a Protools plugin called TrueVerb to make them sound realistically like they were in a stairwell.

Although I’m essentially opposed to the use of footsteps in radio (for fear of it becoming “all about the footsteps”), I try valiantly not to be too dogmatic about such things, and reluctantly added a “soupcon” of footsteps here and there just to help sell the movement in the scene.

Whew!

We think it works.

Next time round we’ll plan it better, though, so that the actors know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing when (ie. speaking loudly in the engine room). Although I must say that there is something to be said for their straight delivery, in which nothing is overplayed.

Now if we can only get this show greenlighted for a series and broadcast so that folks can actually hear it…

Note: Not only was the show greenlit, it ultimately went two seasons, with twenty episodes in total broadcast (twenty-one in total made, with two versions of the pilot).

Here is the infamous travelling shot:

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Repost: Plunging the Dead Dog Cafe

I’ve been perusing the Wayback Machine for long lost posts from earlier incarnations of Assorted Nonsense. Here’s one from back in the good ol’ days (circa 2006) when I worked for a fun and much missed show called Dead Dog Cafe:

So there I am, in charge of the live sound effects for the Dead Dog Cafe. Jasper, Gracie and Tom are all counting on me:

Jasper, Gracie and Tom

Jasper, Gracie and Tom

 

My fellow recording engineer Greg DeClute helps me bring some props in on the Go Train for the Sunday morning session.

Greg DeClute

Greg DeClute

 

 

 

 

 

That’s his son Randy’s hockey sticks.

The umbrellas belong to my little girls.

The pressure’s on ’cause we have some high profile guests:

 

 

 

Margaret Atwood after recording Dead Dog

Margaret Atwood after recording Dead Dog

 

I prepare for live sound effects by reading the scripts and getting the sense of the sounds I require. Once I’ve read the script, I delete all the dialogue, leaving me with a list of sound cues. Any sound cues that are kind of vague, I refer back to the script to see their context.

 Most sound cues are obvious… like, say, “plunger.” How many different kinds of plungers are there?

 

 

 

Dead Dog Plunger

Dead Dog Plunger

 

So, seeing plunger in my list a week or two after making the list, I think, well, we don’t have any plungers kicking around in the studio, I’d better bring one in from home. So I disinfect the thing, stick it in my bag and carry it all the way in on the train. I place it close by during the recording session so that I can grab it when the script calls for it. We get to the part of the script that says “plunger!” and I grab it and begin vigorously plunging the floor, making (I think) some particularly good “thwocking” sounds for the rest of the cast and crew to admire.

 

Producer Kathleen Flaherty immediately calls a halt to the proceedings. “Joe, just what the heck do you think you’re doing?”

Kathleen Flaherty, Producer

Kathleen Flaherty, Producer

“Uh… making plunging sounds. Pretty good, eh?”

Not!

Turns out the sound cue was calling for a kind of “medical” plunger to test Tom King’s blood sugar level. Which was obvious when I read the script a little closer.

D’oh!

Fortunately, it’s a comedy show; everyone has a good sense of humour. We all have a good laugh and move on.

And I learn to read my scripts just a tad more thoroughly.

Potato hockey with Dead Dog Cafe

Potato hockey with Dead Dog Cafe

Night and Day

Day and Night Dragons

Some fiction from my daughter Erin. It’s a myth, which she wrote for a class project:

Night and Day

By Erin Mahoney

A small night-scaled dragon lay grumbling at the roots of a great oak tree. Stars speckled her wings, bright and glowing, and a shimmering halo floated just above her horns. With a bored expression she watched a leaf flutter by. Suddenly, the tree she was laying under burst into flames.

“Night will never come again,” snarled a voice.

The night-scaled dragon shielded herself with a wing as the voice drew closer, brining with it a blinding light.

“Luna…” The night-scaled dragon gasped, screwing her eyes shut. “You know that will never happen.”

Within the blinding light a large, glowing dragon appeared, wings outstretched, tail lashing. She also had a halo, shining a vibrant yellow. Her horns were long and hooked like claws, and she wore a miniature sun around her neck.

Luna snarled, and Night braced herself for a battle.

“Nerona would be better if dragons like you didn’t exist,” Luna spat.

Night, now seething with fury, dove out of the cover of the burning oak and launched herself straight at Luna. Luna, taken by surprise, didn’t have time to react as Night crashed into her.

Night clawed at her wings, fury blinding her mind. Luna lashed her tail, trying to shake Night off. A rumbling sounded deep in Luna’s throat.

I wonder what that mea– Night didn’t have time to finish her thought as a huge, blazing fireball burst from Luna’s mouth. There was no way Night could dodge something that big. As the fireball flew at her, she thought one last thing:

I’m sorry…

Night awoke to see fire all around her, the flames lapping at a stone roof. I’m in a cave?

At first, Night thought she was dead, but then she saw Luna. There was no way Luna could’ve been dead too.

Luna’s eyes lit up when she saw Night. “You’re awake! How wonderful!”

Night lashed her tail. “Wonderful isn’t exactly how I’d put it.”

“Of course not. You’re the one trapped behind a wall of fire.”

Night felt a growl rising in her throat. Obviously.

Luna paced around the cave, her sharpened claws tapping on the cave floor.

“You know why you’re here, Night.” She pointed with her tail to the glowing sun outside. “Night should never be allowed to come again.”

Night knew that was because of the excruciating cold that came in the darkness. Luna much preferred the warmth of the sun in her scales, unlike Night. Her dark scales absorbed every drop of heat, and Night hated it.

“Why can’t we just share the day?” Night argued. “Then we wouldn’t be fighting all the time, and plus, it would even out the heat and cold.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Share?”

Night grunted. Did she not know what ‘share’ meant?

Then Luna continued. “That could work… it would make the night warmer if the sun shone long enough.”

Night felt a glimmer of hope. She never thought Luna would agree to this.

“We would have to make the night and day equal in length,” Luna said.

Night nodded. “We will.”

Luna curled her tail. “Then I accept. We will have a night and a day.”

The End

D.G. Laderoute’s Out of Time

Out of Time

Out of Time

I stumbled upon a nice post on novel writing just now by Canadian author D.G. (David) Laderoute. I like his advice on how to write a novel:

…put a bunch of words onto paper, so they form a complete story that other people will want to invest their time and energy in reading.

That’s pretty much it.

Sure, one could go into all the mechanics but what’s the point. Most people will never get past putting the bunch of words onto paper. If they do get to that point, and invest enough time into it, and have enough natural ability, they’ll figure out the mechanics themselves.

I suppose I didn’t actually just stumble upon David’s post. First I stumbled across mention of his forthcoming novel by Five Rivers Publishing called “Out of Time.” I love the title–it’s one of those great dual meaning titles. (I would say double entendre but there’s nothing salacious about this novel.) It’s, as Dave puts it:

Author David Lederoute

Author David Lederoute

…a Young Adult Fantasy, the story of two boys–Riley, who lives in present day Canada on the shore of Lake Superior, and Peetwonikwot or “Gathering Cloud”, an Aboriginal boy from the same region but hundreds of years earlier, in pre-European contact times. These two meet across the gulf of time separating them and, together, confront a powerful evil that threatens both their worlds.

I’m a big fan of books featuring time travel.

I also love this book’s cover art, pictured above, by artist Jeff Minkevics. It’s a unique style, with great use of colour. To paraphrase what David Lederoute himself has written about the cover art, it captures what the story is about without giving anything anyway, and does so in an intriguing fashion.

Artist Jeff Minkevics

Artist Jeff Minkevics

I haven’t read the book yet. It hasn’t even been released yet. Five Rivers is publishing it November 1st. I plan to pick up a copy. Just based on the title, the cover, and the engaging nature of David’s informal writing that I see on his blog.

Here’s hoping he blogs more.