Tag: CBC (page 1 of 4)

A Visit to Rankin Inlet

I love the sky in Rankin Inlet

It’s cold in the hamlet of Rankin Inlet but the air is clear and you can see for miles. People come and plan to stay for a few days or weeks or months and wind up staying years. This despite the cold weather and the slow internet and the distinct lack of Costcos.

Or maybe that’s why they stay.

Myself, I was only there for three days. I was a little wary of the cold. The coldest I’d experienced to date was minus twenty-nine one day in Whitby. That day I walked my daughters from the van to their elementary school entrance to make sure they got inside safe thinking damn, this is cold. My first few steps in Rankin Inlet were about that cold and I was thinking pretty much the same thing. It was minus thirty outside and even though I was dressed in four layers I was shivering by the time I made it from the plane to the airport terminal. Maybe because I’d already been cold inside my North Air Boeing 737, sitting in a window seat, where I’d touched my hand to the window and realized that there wasn’t a whole lot separating me from some pretty cold arctic air. I really hoped we didn’t crash. Of course, if we did I’d probably have bigger problems to worry about than the cold.

The Katimavik Suites Hotel sent a truck to pick me up at the airport. It was too cold to wait outside so I waited inside the terminal. It was pretty crowded. I admired the attire of a young mother who was wearing a kind of parka with an enormous hood. But the hood wasn’t for her head, it was for her child, tucked comfortably into the enormous hood, his feet perhaps wrapped around his mother’s waist. This permitted Mom to have both hands free, an arrangement that worked quite well, I imagine, unless she happened to bend over too far to pick up something, such as, say, a fish, in which case her infant might shoot out of the hood over her head. Which actually happened once, somebody told me later. Fortunately the parent in question caught the child, though they lost the fish.

Warm and comfy Katimavik Suites Hotel

A young woman from the hotel clad in furry winter boots stepped into the crowded terminal looking for me. In her truck I spent a couple of minutes trying in vain to locate a seat belt but there was none to be found. “Nobody uses seatbelts up here,” she told me. “We don’t go fast enough.”

This was another one of those communities — like Iqaluit — with a fair amount of vehicles on the road (mostly trucks) but not a whole lot of road to drive them on. There is only one road out of Rankin Inlet, and it only goes for about twelve miles before ending at an Elder’s Lodge.

Beyond that it’s snowmobile country.

It may have been cold outside, but it was warm inside. A bit too warm—in the hotel I had to strip down to a T-shirt to make myself comfortable. In the morning I enjoyed a continental breakfast in Katimavik’s kitchen and chatted with a bunch of guys in town to convert an existing hardware store into a Home Hardware. Myself, I had business at the local CBC Bureau.

To get to the bureau I had four taxi companies to choose from, which seems like a lot for a hamlet of only 2900 people and a finite series of roads. I chose Fluffy’s Taxi because I liked the name but, although friendly, there was nothing fluffy about the guy who came to pick me up. I shared the taxi with two women from Iqaluit who were in town to do some accounting for the local government. Government work being, I understand, Rankin Inlet’s primary industry, though it’s also known for other things such as mining once upon a time, and hosting the only Inuit Fine Art ceramic production facility in the world.

CBC Rankin Inlet

After spending the morning at the CBC a colleague took me to lunch at one of the few restaurants in town, the Captain’s Galley, located adjacent to another hotel, the Siniktarvik Hotel. I ordered a salad, but it turned out they were all out of salad ingredients (this happens a lot in the North, my colleague informed me), so I had what he was having, the Inukshuk Club Sandwich. A fortuitous choice; it turned out to be one of the best club sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. And so huge that I wound up skipping supper that night.

Driving back to the bureau (it was too cold to walk—maybe the reason there are so many taxi companies) I saw lots of big black birds, about half again as big as crows. Ravens, my colleague told me. Nevermore! Ravens are the raccoons of Rankin Inlet, after your garbage. Except, unlike raccoons, they work in broad daylight and disappear during the summer, heading further north, maybe. Or perhaps they’re simply on vacation then.

I saw a lot of dogs, too, some loose, others chained up. Apparently the hamlet has been cracking down on loose dogs since a couple of kids were recently attacked. The dogs all appeared to be of the husky variety. Not a whole lot in the way of Chihuahuas.

Back at the bureau we parked beside the local graveyard, where no grave dates earlier than 1950. Before 1950 those who passed on were buried on the land, usually beneath a pile of rocks. Due to the permafrost, a backhoe is required to dig the graves. The story goes that one year the man in charge of the graveyard, deciding to get a head start on the digging during the summer, pre-dug a bunch of graves. But he dug way too many. So many that everybody thought it would take years to fill them all.

That year they filled every single grave.

They never pre-dug the graves again.

That’s the graveyard, off to the left. No pre-dug holes this year.

On my third and last day in Rankin Inlet the temperature rose to minus 12. “T-shirt weather!” a local joked. Not quite, but it sure felt nice after minus thirty. It was quite comfortable, actually. People who reside in the north have told me that they find minus one in Toronto harder to take than minus thirty in the north. A different kind of cold. Drier, warmer somehow, up north.

That morning the aforementioned local (he didn’t want me to share his real name, so I shall call him Rupert here) offered to drive me around the hamlet and show me the sights. We drove through every part of town, which is divided into Areas 1 to 5, if I recall correctly (I was hoping we’d see Area 51 but apparently that’s in a different, much warmer part of the world.) He showed me the hamlet’s giant Inukshuk, one of the human-made towers of rocks that my club sandwich had been named after. Inukshuks are used by people of the north for several reasons: to signify a cache of something valuable, or to act as a landmark, or to indicate direction. Rupert also showed me the town dump, a bit of an eye sore, I’m afraid, but one that hamlet authorities appear to be dealing with if the “no dumping” sign at the edge of the dump is any indication.

Fairly typical view within the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet, as seen through a window of the CBC Bureau

Rupert pointed out a long pipe that ran from the coast into town, which is how they get fuel from oil tankers into town. And he told me the legend of Marble Island (though we couldn’t see it as it’s located 32 kilometres east off the coast). Marble Island only looks like it’s made of marble—it actually consists of a type of rock called wacke, laced with quartzite, which just happens to resemble marble. Anyway, according to Rupert, a young girl got swept out to sea and prayed to her Gods to save her. In response to her prayers, the Gods made Marble Island rise from the sea to carry her to safety. Or so the story goes. It didn’t save eighteenth century explorers, though, who got stranded there and perished, starving or succumbing to scurvy when they foolishly refused Inuit offers of help.

We drove past a long, high fence at the edge of town placed there to prevent too much snow from accumulating in town. It’s made of slats with plenty of holes between them and is strategically placed to inhibit prevailing winds. It’s much higher now than when it was originally built because the permafrost is gradually forcing it out of the ground. The permafrost is an issue for housing, too. There are no basements in Rankin Inlet. All houses are elevated and designed in such a way that the houses can be relevelled every couple of years. Also, you have to be careful how you build houses up there. Even a tiny hole can result in massive snow piling up inside your house. A couple of guys from the south came up and built a house with ventilation in the attic. Perfectly sensible idea in the south. Bad idea in the north, unless you like lots of snow in your attic.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see any Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) during my time in Rankin Inlet, but maybe this was a good thing because I like to whistle, and according to Rupert, if you whistle at the Northern Lights they will descend from the heavens and take your breath away. Rupert swore this happened to him one night outside of town. Putting the legend to the test, he whistled at the Northern Lights and sure enough they began to descend from the heavens. Before they could take his breath away he stopped whistling and hightailed it back to town and has never whistled at the Northern Light since.

One curious feature of Rankin Inlet is the local military base, which, although diligently maintained, is completely uninhabited. Once in a while a few soldiers will come up for an inspection or to fix or check on something or conduct a military exercise or two, but nobody ever stays for long.

Aside from that, Rankin Inlet is a bustling hive of activity. A central hub for many smaller communities in Nunavut that you can only get to via snowmobile or airplane. It’s got variety stores, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, an elementary, middle, and high school, a college, and even a minimum security prison.

“That’s got to be fairly empty, isn’t it?” I asked Rupert.

“Pretty full, actually,” he told me. “Minor infractions, though, like the two guys busted for throwing furniture out a hotel window not long ago.”

Shortly afterward we drove past the hotel in question and sure enough, a large window on the second floor was boarded up.

But what is there to do in Rankin Inlet? Lots, it turns out. Right now they’re building a new sports arena. Rankin Inlet just happens to be the home of Jordin Tootoo, famous Canadian hockey player. If you like hunting and fishing, like Rupert does, you might like Rankin Inlet. Or maybe you like Bingo. Early on in his stay in Rankin, Rupert was invited to a Bingo match. He wasn’t interested. Until they told him it was a ten thousand dollar purse. They take Bingo seriously in Rankin Inlet. He bought cards for himself and his roommate. His roommate won the ten thousand dollar purse. Rupert never played Bingo again.

If you prefer something a little more dramatic, you can spend your time in Rankin Inlet on the lookout for Russians. In the arctic, we have our own version of Texas Rangers, called Canadian Rangers (often mistakenly called Arctic Rangers). Five thousand strong, armed with Lee-Enfield Rifles, our rangers patrol the north, assist with Search and Rescue operations, and help train soldiers in cold weather survival. If I lived in Rankin Inlet, I would want to be a Canadian Ranger.

It’s an expensive place to live, though. You want to be smart how to spend your money. Goods only come in via airplane and barges. You have a choice between spending a fortune shipping something up by plane, or planning wisely and using a barge. Not one you have to build yourself. One you can rent space on. For instance, you want some printing paper? Consider purchasing three years worth via barge rather than $70 a shot by plane.

Rankin Inlet is undeniably frosty, at least in the winter. It gets up to about 10 or 15 degrees in the summer. Rupert told me he couldn’t get warm for the first three years he was there. Until he finally got himself a homemade winter jacket. It’s all about the windproofing, he told me. A friend made it for him. Rupert bought some raccoon fur and sewed it on the hood himself. He was wearing it when I met him. it looks terrific. Honestly, I thought it was store bought. It’s much thinner and warmer than a Canada Goose jacket. Which, according to Rupert, is the sort of coat tourists wear.

It’s a small town, Rankin Inlet. Everybody knows everybody. And, according to Rupert, they like one another. It’s easy to make friends in Rankin Inlet, Rupert told me. That’s why he likes it. For the people.

I liked it too.

The Art of the Sale

After one launches a book, one must sell it.

If you thought writing a book was difficult…!

Of course, you don’t have to put any effort into selling your book if you don’t want to. You can just throw the book out there and hope that by some miracle it will get discovered because of its intrinsic value. There are writers who have had some success this way. But if you choose this path, I think you will be waiting a long time.

I feel an obligation to work hard at selling my novel A Time and a Place. For one thing, I spent a long time writing it. I’m happy with it. I think that it’s worth reading. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Why, yes. Yes, it is. But I do think that there’s an ideal reader for this book and it’s up to me to find them.

My publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, invested in me and this book, financially and otherwise. Five Rivers artists and editors and book designers put their time and imagination into it. They deserve something in return for all that.

Thinking about what I owe my publisher and the book itself gives me the strength and will to overcome certain misgivings I have about selling my book.

What misgivings? Why should I feel bad about selling A Time and a Place?

Because doing so is somewhat at odds with my general philosophy of life. Apart from certain contexts such as work and family, I don’t expect anything from anybody. The world doesn’t owe me anything. If somebody gives me something—their time, a gift, a favour—it must be of their own free will. I don’t want anyone to do anything for me out of guilt or obligation. I will do the same for them. If I do something for you, it’s because I really want to (um, either that or because of some deep-seated unconscious psychological impulse influencing my actions that I am neither aware of nor can be held responsible for).

What this means is that nobody, not family, friend or stranger, is obligated to purchase A Time and a Place, or read it, or review it (or review it positively), or talk about it, or do anything at all to support it.

Nobody owes me or my book anything.

Because I feel this way, I feel a little funny about trying to convince people to buy it, because I don’t want to talk someone into buying it who might not have done so otherwise. Who might buy it out of charity or a sense of obligation towards me. I would prefer that people buy A Time and a Place because they’re actually interested in it, who might really enjoy and appreciate it.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t appreciate the support that I’ve received so far, whatever the motives may be. Support that has been legion, and that I do truly value.

In fact, I will never forget it.

All that being said, because I do feel an obligation toward the book and my publisher, and because I genuinely believe in A Time and a Place, I am doing my best to market and sell it.

The challenge now, I think, is to make A Time and a Place known to a wider audience. I fancy that amongst this wider audience there are people with whom it might truly resonate. A readership that might (dare I hope?) appreciate it on its own terms.

But how to reach this audience?

A Time and a Place is published by a respectable micro-publisher with limited resources. They are not in a position to mount an expensive advertising campaign. Nor can they afford a print run that will place physical copies of the book in brick and mortar stores across North America. And the print version is rather expensive. Finally, I don’t have the time or money to do a book tour.

On the other hand, A Time and a Place is available everywhere online as an e-book at a good price point. And it was very strong out of the gate. The book launch was a huge success, selling quite a few copies. In fact, it was Bakka-Phoenix Book’s (Canada’s top science fiction bookstore) best-selling Trade Paperback for the month of October 2017. A Time and a Place received a glowing review from Publisher’s Weekly (a prominent international publishing magazine), a review that was subsequently distributed to every major bookselling platform, including Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and more. The novel received some respectable media attention (CBC Charlottetown), and it has received excellent independent reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, where it’s currently rated at 4.6 out of 5.

So what does all that mean?

It means that I have a good book and a good foundation upon which to build. It means that I don’t have a huge media conglomerate behind me. It means that my publisher and I must do what we can with what we have.

It means that selling and marketing A Time and a Place is a bit of an uphill battle.

But that’s okay. I’ve been experimenting. And learning.

Early on, I did a Farmer’s Market in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, shortly after being interviewed by CBC Charlottetown. The table, which I shared with my sister, Susan Rodgers (author of the Drifters series), and Sue Campbell (author of Two Bricks Short: My Journey With Cancer) cost me ten dollars. I sold eight copies that day, three a direct result of the CBC Radio interview.

Summerside Farmer’s Market with sister Sue and new friend Sue

I spent a day at a Chapters in Oshawa. Sold nine copies there. But Chapters takes a huge cut (45%). Factoring in what each edition costs me (purchased from my publisher), I was forced to charge an exorbitant amount for each copy to make even a miniscule profit, so I will never do that again, at least for A Time and a Place.

I was invited to two Book Clubs, but only one of them followed through. Several members of the Book Club that did follow through purchased copies of A Time and a Place and actually read it before I showed up to talk about it. This was a lot of fun. Great food, great questions, and great company. My only regret is that I talked too much. I was just so excited to have the opportunity to talk about A Time and a Place to people who actually seemed interested in it.

And I’ve done a few other book-related events, but never sold more than three copies at any of them.

The most success I’ve had selling the book has been to friends, family and colleagues. Cutting out all middle-men allows me to charge the least amount for the book. And in every case they’ve approached me, so I don’t feel like I’m twisting anybody’s arm. I have a couple of rules around this. If someone happens to mention in conversation that they’re interested in purchasing A Time and a Place, I always follow up. As I mentioned before, I owe the book and my publisher that. If they’re still interested, I sell a copy or two. But if I follow up and nothing comes of it, I never mention it again.

I believe that many of these types of sales have been a result of making the book visible. To promote my book launch, I posted posters about the book all over the Broadcast Centre where I work. As a result, everybody who knows me there knows I wrote a book. Also, up until recently, I made a video every weekend that I posted on various social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, and Linked In. Sometimes the videos were directly about the book, sometimes they weren’t. But they all put me out in front of people. A surprising amount of people I know have watched these videos (usually via Linked In or Facebook). The existence of these videos, I am certain, has prompted sales.

A word about the videos. Every now and then I break out in a cold sweat, certain that I’m completely embarrassing myself with the videos. My friends assure that I’m not, even though it’s obvious not everyone gets my sense of humour. But I strongly believe that if you’re considering producing similar videos, some thought and craft has to go into them. Don’t just hit record and talk. I started by doing that and quickly realized that I owed the people watching them more than that. When I resume making videos in a few weeks, I plan to ramp up the quality even more. It’s also more fun to make well-thought out and produced videos.

Speaking of social media accounts, I’ve paid a lot more attention to them since the launch of the book, especially Twitter. By using the app Crowdfire, I’ve grown my Twitter following from four hundred to over fourteen hundred since Christmas. Has this resulted in any sales? I know of at least one (thanks Jim!) And I’m pretty sure Jim has loaned A Time and a Place to a friend, who showed up on Goodreads planning to read it. Word of mouth is extremely important. In fact, perhaps the most important.

Goodreads is something else I’m paying a lot of attention to, curious to see how it can help. Recently, I mounted a campaign to make A Time and a Place the number one book about teleportation on Goodreads. It wasn’t very difficult, as not a whole lot of people had voted for that particular list. But I noticed a slight uptick of sales following this campaign. I’m also trying an ad campaign on Goodreads, but a week into that has resulted in zero sales—in fact, zero clicks on the advertisements, so clearly some tweaking is required there. I plan to experiment with Facebook next.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about selling one book at a time. After a while, the numbers add up. I’ve been very lucky with the support I’ve received from friends, family and colleagues, but for the book to truly succeed it has to break out of that group into the wider world. A Time and a Place has yet to do that to any meaningful extent. But I’m not giving up on it. Everything I read about marketing and selling books tells me that the single best thing I can do to help sell my books is to write more of them. So that’s the next big step. I am well into the second draft of a sequel to A Time and a Place.
If you have any advice on how I can do better, let me know in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re interested in a copy of A Time and a Place?

You know where to find me.

Book Launch of A Time and a Place

Part of a speech I gave at the book launch of A Time and a Place, which took place at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction in Toronto.

Publisher’s Weekly on A Time and a Place

Here’s a few words of thanks that I left out of the video in the interest of keeping it short and relatively palatable:

To my family: Lynda, Keira, Erin—Thanks for putting up with me going on about this book forever. It may not seem like it, but I do love you more than my book!

To Chris and company of Bakka books: thank you for being here today and selling my books.

My publisher, Lorina Stephens of Five Rivers Press… thank you for taking me on!

Jeff Minkevics for such a great cover!

My editor, Doctor Robert Runte, a legend in the Canadian SF community, and a great honour to work with.

And his assistant Kathryn Shalley, who believed in this book. Who said she loved it. Before it was edited!

And my first editor, Arleane Ralph. If not for you, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today

Finally, many thanks to the staff of the Merril Collection for allowing me to launch A Time and a Place in this fantastic venue. What an honour.

Thank you Sephora Hosein, my friend Annette Mocek, and the rest of the fabulous librarians here.

Publisher’s Weekly on A Time and a Place

Twitter: @ilanderz

On Goodreads

Order e-book version here

Order a Trade Paperback edition here

Faster Than Light

Once upon a time I made my own radio show. I mean one that was actually mine, as opposed to someone else’s (I’ve made plenty of those).

I only ever made one of these that actually aired. You might well ask, what’s the big deal? So you made one lousy radio show. Other people make their own radio shows all the time. What’s so special about this one?

Nothing, really, except to me, and maybe those who helped me make it.

It was, of course, a science fiction radio show. (This is me we’re talking about, after all.) It was a radio show about science fiction, featuring science fiction, hosted by a science fiction writer, and, on a meta-level, was science fiction itself. I still think it’s a cool idea.

You see, I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was six years old. I’ve loved it since I stumbled upon this crazy low-budget television show from Japan called Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot. Johnny Sokko was extremely low budget and super cheesy, but it didn’t matter. What kid doesn’t want a giant robot as a best friend? Especially one that can fly, and clobber alien villains. Once I could read, it was Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles (Have Space Suit Will Travel, Rocket Ship Galileo) and James Blish’s adaptations of the original Star Trek scripts (unlike most people, I read most of the original Star Trek television episodes before ever seeing one on TV), and then Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, and Cordwainer Smith (The Ballad of Lost C’Mell) and A. E. Van Vogt (Slan), and David Brin (The Postman), and on and on and on.

My favourite TV show when I was six

It so happens that the CBC has produced some excellent science fiction and fantasy over the years. My pals Bill Howell and Matt Willcott both worked on Johnny Chase: Secret Agent of Space, a radio space opera that aired for two years (featuring music by the Canadian Progressive Rock band FM). There was also Vanishing Point, a science fiction anthology series produced by Bill Lane, and Nightfall, a supernatural/horror anthology series created and produced (for the first two seasons, at least) by Bill Howell.

Working for the radio drama department, I aspired to join this select club. One day I mentioned this to producer Barbara Worthy, who doubles as a ball of enthusiasm. She promptly suggested we pitch a science fiction show, so off the top of my head I suggested a show based on science fiction magazines such as Analog, Asimov’s, and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy. I thought it would be fun to produce full cast radio adaptations of classic science fiction stories interspersed with interviews of science fiction luminaries and other fun, fantastical elements. Never dreaming that anything would come of it.

James Roy happened to be Deputy Head of the Radio Drama Department at the time. Shortly after our conversation, Barbara marched into his office and pitched the idea. To my astonishment, he gave us a greenlight, providing a budget and a broadcast slot for a pilot.

Barbara and I got right to work. The first order of business was finding a host for the show. Years earlier, I had worked on a couple of episodes of Ideas about science fiction produced by a young freelancer by the name of Robert J. Sawyer. Rob and I had a lot in common. We both loved science fiction and we were both interested in writing. Rob told me that he had a novel coming out soon called Golden Fleece. I told him I’d keep an eye out for it.

Secretly, I thought that Rob Sawyer would vanish into the ether like so many other freelancers I’d met and never heard tell of again. After all, I was going to be the famous author, not him. But in the time it took me to write one novel (debuting this coming October, 2017, thanks for asking), Rob wrote twenty-three novels. He also won many (if not all) of the field’s major awards, such as the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. In short, Rob became one of the most successful writers on the planet (of any genre, let alone science fiction).

Robert J. Sawyer in Studio 212

I read Golden Fleece, along with many of Rob’s other novels, and watched his growing success from afar with something akin to amazement. From time to time I would send him notes of congratulations. Rob always responded warmly. Once, he suggested I call him to chat, but he was already pretty famous by then, and I was kind of shy, so I didn’t. Until it became time to produce a science fiction radio show.

“You know who would be the perfect host?” I told Barbara. “Rob Sawyer.”

“Call him,” she said.

I was still kind of shy. I emailed him instead.

Rob was interested.

Rob, Barbara and I met to talk about it. We agreed that it would be modelled after classic science fiction magazines. That Rob would host. That it would include one adaptation and an original drama, the latter of which would be the first part of a potential serial. I would write and adapt the dramas and Rob would contribute an essay. Rob would also interview a science fiction personality still to be determined. Rob was enthusiastic and perfectly willing to collaborate.

I wrote what I thought was a fun opening involving Rob taking off in a spaceship of his own to launch the show (this was the meta-science fictional component, which grew more elaborate in subsequent pilots). We picked Canadian science fiction author Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber) to interview in between the two radio plays. Once we had part one of the original drama (Captain’s Away) and the adaptation (Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations) in the can (more on them in separate posts) we recorded all the other bits, including SF poetry by Carolyn Clink (read by Barbara Worthy) and Rob’s intros and extros. I also included a brief station ID recorded by William B. Davis, aka “Cancer Man” on the X-files, which I’d asked Davis to record when we worked together on a radio adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

I had some corrections for Rob’s essay. I feared this was rather presumptuous of me, considering Rob’s track record of having written several award-winning, best-selling novels versus my track-record of having (at that point) sold a mere short story or two.

I apologized as I gave him the corrections. “Who am I to correct your work?”

“You’re the producer,” he reassured me. “If it needs correcting it needs correcting!”

We needed a name for the show. Early on I considered “All in a Dream”, a lyric from a favourite Neil Young song—I even wrote a draft of the script using that name—but even now, a decade and a half later, I cringe at the thought. Fortunately, somebody—probably Rob—suggested Faster Than Light, which, in three simple words, perfectly encapsulated what we were up to. You could shorten it to FTL and literate fans would still know what we were talking about. We all loved it instantly.

Creating Faster Than Light was the most fun I’ve ever had making radio. I loved every single second of it. All the fussy producers I’ve ever worked with—and I’ve worked with some damned fussy producers—didn’t hold a candle to me on this show. Everything—every line, every level, every edit—had to be absolutely perfect. And it was, by the time I was done with it.

Faster Than Light broadcast Sept 22nd, 2002 on Sunday Showcase (in mono) and again Sept 23rd on Monday Night Playhouse (in stereo). We had a listening party at my home. Barbara Worthy, Rob Sawyer, Rob’s wife Carolyn, my family and several friends attended. It was great fun, though I have one regret. I happened to be watching my pennies at the time (public broadcasting, remember) so I purchased flimsy 4 ounce hamburgers to barbecue instead of nice plump 5 ounce burgers. What a cheapskate! Nobody complained, but I still wince every time I think about it. On the plus side, the show was well received by Rob and my friends.

Yes, these are the cheap burgers I’m frying up during the FTL get together, which somebody thought necessary to record for posterity.

The response from our listeners was even more positive. Faster Than Light did pretty good for itself. It was named a finalist for the Prix Aurora Awards 2003 for the Best in Canadian SF and Fantasy. One of its elements, “The Cold Equations,” a full cast adaptation, was selected by CBC’s internal jury for the New York Awards. The show received an unprecedented response for the drama department. Many listeners wrote to convey unbridled enthusiasm for the show. Particularly gratifying was feedback from as far away as California and Australia, from listeners who tuned in over the internet. James Roy informed me that it was the biggest response any Sunday Showcase show had ever received.

I would like to think that the response was a consequence of the effort we’d put into the show, and I’m sure that was indeed a factor—but I know it also had a lot to do with Rob Sawyer’s role in the production. Faster Than Light had been quite well promoted by Rob and his fans before the broadcast. I suspect that many of those who wrote in were already fans of Rob’s. Still, the feedback boded well. Everyone wanted more.

Adrian Mills, the Director of Programming at the time, invited me into his office to talk about the show. He asked me what I thought of it. I told him honestly that I thought it was the best work I’d ever done in my life on anything. I was inordinately proud of it. I still am.

We were asked to make a second pilot, and then a third, and even a fourth, but with each pilot the concept seemed to stray further and further from its original conception. In the end, I’m afraid the stars never quite aligned for Faster Than Light.

I treasure the experience just the same. I became friends with Rob Sawyer and his wife Carolyn Clink. I learned how to adapt a short story into another medium. I got to write, mix, and broadcast an original drama of my own. I discovered that directing was a lot harder than it looked watching from behind a console. And I acquired a modicum of empathy for fussy producers.

In a sense, Faster Than Light lives on. In the fictional universe of Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Rollback, published a few years later, Faster Than Light did become a regular series on CBC Radio. Where, for all I know, it continues to be broadcast to this day.

Rollback, where Faster Than Light the radio show lives on…

Barney’s Version

In March 2003, my radio drama colleagues and I recorded a play called Barney’s Version, based on Canadian author Mordecai Richler’s last book. The play was adapted for radio by Howard Wiseman, and directed by Greg Sinclair, or Gregory J. Sinclair, as he was always known in the credits. (Once, when one of Greg’s dramas went long and had to be cut for time, I suggested we save a second or two by cutting out the “ory J” in the credits.)

Barney's Version Cover Art

Matt Willcott, a year away from retirement but still giving it his all, performed sound effects. The glue in this massive production (and by CBC radio drama standards Barney’s Version was a definitely a massive production) was Associate Producer Colleen Woods.

There were many fine actors in this production, including Denis O’Conner (The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi, and a veteran of over 300 radio plays for CBC/Radio Canada), Kathy Greenwood (Whose Line Is It, Anyway? and The Wind At My Back), acclaimed actor, director and critic David Gardner, and Wendy Crewson (The Santa Claus movies, in which she played Tim Allen’s ex-wife, and Air Force One, in which she played Harrison Ford’s wife), among others.

Greg had briefly considered fellow Canadian Richard Dreyfuss in the role of Barney, but ultimately decided on Saul Rubinek, who was also Canadian. Rubinek had enjoyed big parts in major Hollywood productions working alongside the likes of Nicholas Cage, Clint Eastwood, Nick Nolte and Christian Slater. He’d been working as an actor since he was a kid, on the stage, television, radio and film. He had also written, directed, and produced.

Saul Rubinek

Saul Rubinek

How do you get someone of Saul Rubinek’s stature to star in a Canadian radio play? Our casting director, Linda Grearson, put a call into his agent. Not only was Saul available, he was interested. This wouldn’t be his first gig for the CBC. He’d cut his teeth working on CBC Television productions. Saul lives in L.A. with his wife and two kids, so Greg flew him in.

I’d first heard of Saul Rubinek at school at Ryerson, when a teacher had screened a copy of a film about a Russian named Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko. In nineteen forty-five, three days after World War Two, Gouzenko defected to Canada along with one hundred and nine documents proving that the Russians were trying to steal atomic secrets. Gouzenko’s defection sparked the Cold War, as the West used the evidence of espionage to end their alliance with the Russians. Gouzenko, fearing for his life, was given a new identity and became known for wearing a sack on his head during public appearances. But he lived a middle-class life in the Toronto suburb of Clarkson and died of a heart attack in nineteen eighty-two at the age of sixty-three.

Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko

Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko

Curiously, the film about Gouzenko, which was written by well-known Canadian journalist and writer Rick Salutin, doesn’t appear on Saul’s extensive filmography on IMDB. Nor is it mentioned in a Wikipedia article about Gouzenko. It’s no doubt buried in the CBC’s television archives, and may never see the light of day again.

Since seeing Saul’s portrayal of Gouzenko, I’d seen him in the films The Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and The Family Man with Nicholas Cage. He was an accomplished, well-regarded character actor. Rick Salutin called him “very funny.” Greg Sinclair believed that Saul, along with fellow lead Wendy Crewson, were among the best in the business.

When I first learned that Saul Rubinek was going to star in one of our plays, I thought, okay, that’s cool. My next thought was, I wonder how much of a pain in the ass he’ll be. I was thinking that a guy like him might be a bit full of himself, and used to being coddled with craft services, limos, trailers and the like. We didn’t have stuff like that in the CBC Radio Drama department.

Saul showed up on the first day all business. Okay, what’s happening, what are we doing, what page are we on. Short (5’7”, the same height as Tom Cruise) and plump (not fat), with big bushy eyebrows, he looked more like an accountant than a leading man. He could convincingly play Eugene Levy’s brother.

He insisted on wearing headphones during the first scene. I was not happy to hear this. I wasn’t keen on actors wearing headphones. There was the problem of headphone leakage, limited mobility for the actors (the headphones weren’t wireless), and actors becoming too conscious of their voices. In my view, the actors needed to perform their scenes without worrying about what they sounded like. Also, there were a lot of scenes in this play, with many different setups. It would be a pain in the ass to have to run headphones for Saul in every different scene. I was afraid this might be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such demands.

I set up the headphones for him.

Immediately after asking for headphones, Saul asked for a table to set his script and other assorted paraphernalia on. I hauled out an old desk that we used as a sound effects prop. Saul set all his stuff on it. Matt pointed out that the table I had selected, which was on wheels, was missing a wheel. It was liable to tip over. Oh. No worries—I found three or four old books to prop it up. But when I lifted it up to shove the books under the problematic corner, the table promptly flipped over, tossing all Saul’s papers onto the floor in a jumbled mess.

I braced myself for an outburst. None came. Without saying a word, Saul leaned over and picked up all his papers without complaint while I finished stabilising the table.

This was a good sign.

We got through several scenes in a brusque, efficient manner, with Saul completely focussed on the task at hand.

For one scene he needed to be sitting, so I provided a chair for him. He sat down before the microphone. We’d gotten rid of the desk, so I thought maybe he might like a music stand to put his script on.

“Wanna stand?” I asked him, holding up a music stand in one hand.

“I’m sitting,” he said.

Greg, Matt and I laughed, thinking that he was joking.

Brandishing the music stand, I repeated, “No, do you wanna stand?”

“Can’t you just lower the mic?” he asked.

I realized that he wasn’t joking, that he had misunderstood.

I repeated as clearly as I could, “Would you like a stand?” but by then he was talking to Greg about some plot point, so I left the music stand in front of him and returned to the control room.

Shortly after that Saul began pestering me about being heard in the control room. Whenever we finished recording a scene, and my presence was required on the studio floor, I muted the microphones, effectively turning them off. You don’t want to have microphones on if you think you might have to handle or move them. Also, when I was on the floor I wanted to be able to speak to the actors and sound effects engineer candidly, without anyone in the control room hearing me. Several times early on Saul tried to talk to the director in the control room after I had muted the microphones, and when he was unsuccessful he didn’t get angry per se, but he was visibly irritated:

“Why can’t he hear me? Can’t you set something up, you know, some kind of permanent mic on the floor which just automatically switches on at the end of every scene so I can talk to the director?”

I told him, “Saul, that might be a good idea with you, but to tell you the truth, other actors, we just don’t want to hear what they have to say,” which earned a laugh from Greg, Matt, and Wendy, and even Saul laughed.

“I’ll tell you what,” I told him. “I’ll suggest it to the other engineers, but it probably won’t go over very well.”

“Why don’t you just build it with a switch so you can turn it off whenever you want?” Saul suggested. “And remember: if you create such a system, you must call it the “Rubinek” system.”

So he was obviously not without a sense of humour about the whole thing.

When I did bring it up to the other engineers in one of our bi-weekly meetings, one of my fellow Recording Engineers said (referring to Saul), “Get over yourself!”

Still, I tried to be much more diligent about leaving the mic on so Saul could be heard in the control room, and any time I had to turn it off, I warned Saul that we wouldn’t be able to hear him for a couple of minutes. I continued to set up headphones for him in every scene. By the third day of recording, I felt that Saul had adapted to the pace of radio drama recording. He’d warmed up considerably (or maybe I had warmed up to him). He was calmer, more relaxed.

There was an old grand piano in the studio. Between takes Saul would sit down and play. He always played the same piece, Gnossienne 1, by French composer Erik Satie.

I was impressed to hear Saul play this piece because I happened to love it. My sister Susan had played it when she was studying piano in High School, inspiring me to memorize it myself. Other than my immediate family, I didn’t know anyone else (other than CBC host and musician Tom Allen, maybe) who even knew of the piece, let alone knew how to play it. Impressing me even more, Rubinek had figured out how to play it by ear, and he played it well.

During another break, Saul told us about working with Clint Eastwood on the set of “Unforgiven.” Saul had a major role in that film as a journalist by the name of W.W. Beauchamp. He told us that Clint always did two takes of every scene: one take and a safety. To block the big fight scene at the end, Clint came in and said to everyone, okay, you figure it out, I’m going for a coffee. Then he went away, came back a couple of hours later and asked, “You got it all worked out?” And then shot the scene.

After getting the master shot and the safety in the can, the cast and crew spent three days shooting extra coverage of the scene, getting all the little cutaways and close ups.

“If you watch that scene,” Saul told us, “you’ll see just one person sitting, and that’s me, because I knew they would take three days to shoot the coverage and I didn’t want to be standing the whole time.”

Saul was just getting into directing himself at that time. He spent a lot of time with Clint learning about directing, and has since directed several television features. The impulse to direct was strong in him. He couldn’t resist the temptation to direct other actors during the recording of Barney’s Version.

“No you have to say, “the Twelve year old!” very aggressively, not mildly,” he instructed David Gardner, who played Barney’s lawyer, referring to Barney’s favourite scotch. Gardner, an accomplished director himself, didn’t appear to mind. It was obvious that Saul’s intent was to make the scene as effective as possible.

Another time Saul burst into the control room to tell Greg to tell an actor something he felt strongly she needed to know, presumably not telling her himself out of fear of offending her. Greg took this all in stride. In fact, the partnership between Saul and Greg was a potent one as they constantly challenged the limitations of the medium.

One obvious limitation of radio is that you can’t see what’s going on. For this reason you have to exercise considerable caution when conveying action in a radio play, especially when attempting traveling shots. A traveling shot is a shot in television, film or radio in which the camera/microphone follows characters on the move. Think Xander on his skateboard in the opening shot of the very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, skating down the street and into his high school. Another famous example is the seven minute and forty-seven second long tracking shot that opens Robert Altman’s The Player. Imagine how confusing that shot would be without pictures.

Travelling shots can be tricky in any medium. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the pilot episode, regretted the time it took to set up and execute the travelling shot with Xander. He was used to film. In film, you can take more time to get a shot, unlike television with its stricter shooting schedules.

In radio, writers often write travelling shots accidentally. They don’t even realize they’ve done it until they get to that scene in the studio and the recording engineer exclaims, what the heck? This is a travelling shot! You do realize how difficult travelling shots are to convey on radio, don’t you? To which the writer responds, why are you surprised? Didn’t you read the script before getting here? To which the engineer grumbles, well, the director should have caught it, at which point the director jerks awake in his chair and asks, what scene are we on?

Travelling shots are tough to present on the radio because the listener can’t see what’s going on. If you fail to convey the fact that the characters are moving through the only two options available—dialogue and sound effects—then the listener won’t understand what’s going on and your production will suffer.

However, it can be done if you know what you’re doing. There was a scene in Barney’s Version in which Barney runs back and forth between his living room and his kitchen trying to remember the word for “colander.” When I first read this scene in the script, I immediately considered it a mistake and began contemplating how it might be re-written so that it wouldn’t be a travelling shot. I thought it would be tough to make the listener understand that Barney was moving back and forth between a living room and a kitchen.

Director Gregory J. Sinclair

Director Gregory J. Sinclair

Greg and Saul begged to differ. As I’ve mentioned before, we were blessed with a terrific studio in which multiple set ups were possible. Greg instructed me to set up a living room acoustic space directly adjacent to our built-in working kitchen. The kitchen acoustic was completely different than the living room acoustic—listening to dialogue spoken in one, you could not mistake it for the other. This was critical.

To make the travelling shot work, we set up two stereo microphones, one in front of Barney’s chair in the living room, and another covering the kitchen. We kept both microphones live, so that when Barney (Saul) moved from the kitchen to the living room and back again you could clearly hear the change in acoustic. Saul made lots of noise while moving back and forth so that the listener could clearly track his movements.

By this point in the show we had completely established the living room as a distinct acoustic environment, by (among other things) consistently using the same sound props (leather chair, glass of scotch, tape recorder). This, together with liberal use of obvious kitchen props (cutlery drawer, dishes etc), made it abundantly clear to the listener exactly where Barney was at all times.

When I wasn’t setting up neat tracking shots for Greg, he kept me and Matt Willcott busy lugging stuff around, couches, chairs, tables, from one set up to another. Matt and I hardly ever did this kind of thing. It was radio, after all. It wasn’t like anyone was going to see the furniture. In most radio plays, we just imagined the chairs and tables were there, unless we really needed to hear them somehow, and even then we just used a stool to double as a table or to create the squeak of a chair being drawn back. But Greg was going out of his way to make the actors—Saul in particular—comfortable. Many of our actors were experienced film and television actors who preferred to perform their actions with real props.

From time to time, as we lugged one piece of furniture or another, Matt would grumble, “Who’s gonna see the table on the radio?” That’s when he wasn’t saying, “Tippets and Richardsons: you tip it and I’ll rip it!” (Tippets and Richardsons being a well-known moving company in Toronto.)

“You know, I’m a recording engineer, not a mover,” I told Greg. “I’m supposed to be more of a white collar worker.”

Wendy Crewson overheard me. “Well, you’re an engineer, right? There’s all kinds of engineers. Sanitation engineers, for instance. Don’t they move things?”

“I think whether I’m a sanitation engineer or a recording engineer depends on the drama I’m recording,” I told her.

Later, I asked Wendy what it was like working with Harrison Ford.

“He’s a wonderful person,” she told me. “Not at all like he comes across in interviews. He’s a party boy, a lot of fun. He used to zoom up to my trailer on his motorcycle and bang on the trailer. Come on, let’s go! he would shout, and then with me on the back of his motorcycle, smoking a big doobie and thinking, if only they could see me now! we’d zoom off for Thai food.” Apparently Harrison loves Thai food.

Wendy Crewson

Wendy Crewson

When she told me that Harrison was a nice guy, I told her I’d ask Harrison the same thing about her.
“You know what I think he’d say? The exact same thing I said about him,” she said, and laughed, because really, what else are ya gonna say.

All of the actors in Barney’s Version were superb. This is not surprising. Casting Director Linda Grearson never let us down. We had no trouble attracting top-notch talent. Actors seemed to like making radio plays with us. The atmosphere in Studio 212 was always pleasant. And when you’re performing for radio you don’t even have to memorize your lines: you have the script right in front of you.

Two performances stand out. Kathy Greenwood was sincere and touching as Barney Panofsky’s ill-treated second wife. Kathy brought an endearing quality to the role that made Panofsky look like a fool for not loving her properly. And Saul as Barney Panofsky was a revelation to me. It wasn’t Method, I don’t think—when not in character, Saul was himself—but when he sat in Barney’s chair and drank Barney’s scotch and tried in vain to remember what a colander was called, Saul Rubinek inhabited Barney Panofsky. He didn’t just lift the words off the page. He strapped Saturn 5 rockets to them, achieved escape velocity, and placed them in orbit. As I recorded him, I tried to figure out how he was doing it.

For one thing, he knew the script cold. He may have memorized much of it. If not, he’d clearly gone over it many times. He was not one hundred percent married to the script. If he felt the need to change a line slightly to make it sound more natural, he changed it. Subtle changes here and there. He was not afraid to grunt and clear his throat and fart and burp and inject whatever other flourishes he felt were required to bring Barney Panofsky to life. Nobody objected.

I don’t expect I’ll ever fully understand the alchemy involved.

Saul’s work was illuminating in other ways, too. Looking back, I see that in a few short years I had become lazy, conservative, and rigid in my thinking. Saul was operating on a whole different level. His energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism challenged me to open my mind, to think bigger, to do better. His example has informed my work ever since, whatever form that work has taken.

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