Tag: fiction

The Pitch

(A short, light-hearted fictional homage to Radio Drama and Studio 212)

Sam Kelly found a seat on the GO Train, opened his laptop, and sighed. He needed to finish a spreadsheet detailing all the latest DaletPlus netXchange issues before a conference call on the matter at nine am. There was a crazy amount of work left to do. Unfortunately, before he could isolate himself from the rest of the passengers with an insulating layer of headphones and iTunes and get to work, damned if Reginald Runciman didn’t plunk himself down in the seat opposite him.

“Kelly!” Runciman said. “Long time no see.”

This did not bode well. It wasn’t that Runciman was a bad guy. It was just that he’d been dead for five years and was known to be a talker. Sam would get little work done this morning.

He forced a smiled. “Hey Runciman, good to see you. Coulda sworn you were dead.”

Runciman, a former radio drama producer, had indeed been found dead late one night in an editing suite still clutching a script in his cold, dead hands. The cause of death had never been conclusively determined, but it was commonly believed that his recording engineer had strangled him to death in frustration for demanding one too many edits. Runciman had been a notoriously demanding producer.

“Dead as the proverbial doornail,” Runciman confirmed.

“And you’ve come back to haunt me now because…?”

“I have returned to atone for my many sins.”

“What sins?”

“Sitting on development committees rejecting perfectly good ideas, mostly. It is my intention to atone for these sins by helping you with your radio show pitch.”

“What radio show pitch?”

“The one you’re going to write to help you get back to your true love, radio production.”

“Thanks, but I’m good. I like management.”

“Because you make so much more money?”

“Uh –”

“Cause your benefits plan is so superior? ”

“Um –”

“Cause you like ordering people around?”

“I do like that part,” Sam admitted. “For instance, I order you to leave me alone.”

The ghost of Runciman ignored Sam. “I have arranged for you to be visited by three spirits. The Ghost of Radio Archives, the Ghost of Radio Ideas, and the Ghost of Radio Yet to Come.”

“Three spirits? That’ll make this story way too long!”

“They’re all experienced radio folk, perfectly capable of talking to time.” The train pulled into Ajax station. “Speaking of which, my time’s up.” Runciman stood to get off. “Don’t mess this up, Kelly!”

Resolving to seek therapy at the earliest opportunity, Sam shook Runciman’s hand and watched as he got off the train.

A small, elderly gentleman wearing a bowler cap got on and took Runciman’s place. Sam recognized him right away. “Hey, you’re Allan McPhee, former host of the CBC Radio show Eclectic Circus.”

“I was that man once,” McPhee intoned in his best announcer’s voice, still smooth and honeyed despite his death over a decade earlier. “Now I am the Ghost of Radio Archives.”

Sam was impressed despite himself. “It’s a great honour to meet you, Mr. McPhee. You were a great wit in your time.”

“Whereas you are a great nit wit in yours.”

Sam was slightly offended. “Why do you say that?”

Allan McPhee

Allan McPhee

“Because you gave up your dream of creating your own radio show to join the dark side,” McPhee explained. “I despised managers when I was alive.”

“I enjoy being a manager,” Sam said. “But I regret not creating my own radio show.”

“It’s my job to help you get that dream back, son,” McPhee said. “Grab on tight to my hat.”

Sam did as McPhee instructed and off they flew, miraculously squeezing through the closed Go Train doors into the archives of radio past. Sam found himself in the Toronto Broadcasting Centre in Radio Drama Studio 212, where he had spent nine fruitful years making radio plays. A large cast was assembled on the floor with Ann Jansen directing. A younger version of Sam himself sat in the control room operating the Neve Capricorn console.

“I remember this,” Sam told McPhee. “We were adapting Canadian author Jane Urquhart’s novel Away for radio. It aired on Sunday Showcase and Monday Night Playhouse.”

“Since The Rosary first aired out of Moncton’s CNRA in 1925, radio plays of all shapes and sizes have aired regularly in this country,” McPhee said, “on CBC Radio series such as Sunday Showcase, Monday Night Playhouse, Vanishing Point, The Mystery Project, Monday Playbill, Nightfall, CBC Wednesday Night and more.”

“Thanks for that almost completely indigestible bit of exposition,” Sam said. “It is true that radio drama once thrived in this great country of ours.”

McPhee touched his hat and whisked them elsewhere. Three gentlemen stood on a stage before three Neumann U-47 microphones. Other gentlemen leaned over various sound effects apparatus, awaiting their cues, the whole lot of them flanked by an orchestra. An audience was present to witness the shenanigans.

One of the men announced into his microphone: “The first important method of communication over long distances was the Runner.”

The second said, “The most famous of these messengers was the Greek Goonican, who ran 300 miles to Athens, bringing news of a great victory.”

The third, puffing, said, “My lords, greetings. I come from the great warlord, Arnold Princiopolies. 300 leagues have I run! Over the Ionicous, down the plains of Olympus, through the snowy wastes of Sabrina, across the arid deserts of Xerxes and I did swim the boiling waters of the Hellispont and over…”

“Yes, yes, yes, but the message?” the first man interrupted.

“Ooh,” the third man said. “Ooh, then I’ll nip back and get it.”

The audience erupted with laughter. Sam was ecstatic. He whispered to the ghost of McPhee, “It’s Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe back in their Goon Show days — these guys influenced everybody from Monty Python to the Beatles.”

“And now they shall influence you. Note their absurdist, rapid fire dialogue, their groundbreaking sound effects and the resulting realism. Observe how the three actors play almost all the parts themselves.”

“Yes, if I were to make a radio show this is exactly what I’d make,” Sam said.

“Not exactly,” McPhee said. “Although you would incorporate elements of it, you were more ambitious than that in the past.”

McPhee touched his bowler hat yet again and transported them to a studio where a younger version of Sam was arguing amicably with a friend. He’d once made a radio show pilot with the fellow, a talented writer. Although one of the pilots had aired to a fair bit of acclaim, the show had not been picked up by the network.

Sam’s friend was saying, “Maybe the network’s not going for it because we made it both light and dark. Maybe it should be one or the other. Can you name one other show in the history of entertainment that’s both funny and serious at the same time?”

“La Vie est Belle,” Sam said, naming one of his favourite movies. “M.A.S.H. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rome.”

Sam’s friend did not appear convinced, but the conversation reminded Sam of his earlier ambitions and he felt a pang of regret at not having pursued them more aggressively.

Man was made for joy and woe,” the spirit of McPhee quoted. “And when this we rightly know, through the world we safely go. Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.”

“That’s it exactly,” Sam said. “That’s what I was trying to tell him. Sting, right?”

“William Blake. Shortly after this conversation you gave up your dream of making your own radio show and fled into management’s squalid embrace.”

“Somebody’s gotta run the place,” Sam said.

“I’m dead,” McPhee said. “I can have no more dreams. You’re still alive. You have no excuse.” McPhee touched the tip of his bowler hat yet again.

Sam jerked awake on board the GO Train. Just a dream, he thought with mixed emotions, a little disappointed to discover that he was not actually supernaturally obligated to propose another radio show, but at the same time relieved that he would not have to risk failing at it a second time.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He spun to find a snowy haired gentleman with large glasses smiling at him from the adjacent seat. “A is for Aardvark,” the gentleman said with enviable enunciation.

Sam gaped at Lister Sinclair, former host of CBC Radio’s Ideas. “Let me guess. The Ghost of Radio Ideas?”

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures,” Sinclair said.

“Are you suggesting that if we only broadcast facts we’re not conveying the whole truth to the Canadian public?” Sam asked, gamely trying to keep up with the brilliant polymath that was Lister Sinclair.

Ein blindes Huhn findet auch mal ein korn,” Sinclair observed.

Sam gave up trying to keep up with the brilliant polymath that was Lister Sinclair.

“I wrote a great deal of radio fiction in my time,” Sinclair said. “I must say I find its current absence from our airwaves unfortunate.”

Lister Sinclair

Lister Sinclair

“It’s not all gone,” Sam said. “There’s a bit of satire. Some sketch based comedy. That’s about it, though.”

“What do you propose to do about it?” Sinclair asked.

“Me? What can I do about it? I don’t do production anymore. I manage a maintenance department, for crying out loud. Even if I were still in production nobody would listen to me. They probably get dozens of proposals every day. Radio drama costs too much anyway.”

The train pulled up at Pickering. Lister Sinclair stood. “I tried management once. Didn’t quite work out. Perhaps you have a stronger stomach for it than I did.”

He got off, his manner leaving Sam with the distinct impression that he was disappointed by Sam’s outburst but not particularly surprised. Sam shrugged the Spirit’s reaction off. He was under no obligation to propose any radio shows just because a couple of ghosts said he ought to.

The lights switched off abruptly. When they came back on Sam found himself standing outside drama studio 212. Someone concealed within a black cowl stood alongside him, his or her face completely obscured by the garment. Sam tried unsuccessfully to peer into the hood but it was impossible to tell who or what dwelled within.

The black-cowled figure that Sam presumed to be the Ghost of Radio Yet to Come raised a skeletal finger toward studio 212. Or at least, at what had once been drama studio 212, for both control room and studio lay torn asunder. An older version of Sam clad in an ill-fitting suit stood in the ravaged control room instructing members of his staff which equipment to keep and which to throw out.

Sam regarded this future version of himself with horror. Never in a million years would he decide to destroy his beloved drama studio. But he knew that if his boss ordered his future self to shut down the studio he would have no choice but to carry out the order lest he lose his job.

“Answer me one question, Spirit,” Sam said. “Is this the shadow of the thing that will be, or is it the shadow of something that may be, only? Make that two questions. Why am I suddenly talking like a character in a Dicken’s novel?”

Still the Ghost pointed his bony finger toward the studio.

“Let me get this straight,” Sam said. “If someone doesn’t start making more shows with dramatic elements real soon we will have to shut down studio 212 because future utilization reports will show that it’s under utilized. So I have no choice but to pitch a radio show that will use the studio and maybe they won’t shut it down. Right?”

The Spirit remained infuriatingly mute.

“I’m not the manager I was,” Sam said. “And I will not be the manager I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope! … I will honour radio drama in my heart, and pitch another project as soon as possible. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the destruction of radio drama within the CBC!”

Sam awoke writhing uncomfortably in his seat on the Go Train, disturbed not only by the vision of seeing himself preside over the destruction of drama studio 212, but also by the obvious plagiarism of Dickens in the previous paragraph. To his enormous relief no spirits sat next to him on the train.

Inspired, Sam abandoned the spreadsheet he’d been working on, completed his radio show pitch, and submitted it to the Program Development Department that very day.

Unfortunately, the Program Development Department rejected Sam’s pitch. Not only that, they shut down the entire radio drama department for good, calling upon Sam’s own maintenance department to dismantle Radio Drama Studio 212. Sam himself turned off the studio lights for the very last time, though it pained him grievously to do so.

Which just goes to show that you can’t reliably glean the future from a mute spirit in a cowl. And even the most well-intentioned of ghosts cannot always successfully influence the affairs of men — they are ghosts, after all. Their time is past.

Saddest of all, not all endings are happy.

And when this we rightly know,

Thro’ the world we safely go.

Creating Sound Effects for the radio drama Faint Hope in Studio 212

Creating Sound Effects for the radio drama Faint Hope in Studio 212

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. 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 Fiction Editor

The Fiction Editor

The Fiction Editor is a little gem about editing novels by a fellow named Thomas McCormack. It’s probably the best book on editing fiction I’ve ever read, and I’ve read plenty.

Most books on writing you’re lucky if you pick up one good tip. I’m serious about that. In one book I learned to be careful with the verb “To be” (it’s better to say “the birds flew” than “the birds were flying”). In another book I learned that the maxim “show don’t tell” is not a one size fits all piece of advice (sometimes it’s better to sum up crucial facts quickly than add a chapter to your manuscript). In yet another I learned to use a single name for your characters (don’t keep changing the name from Fred to the red haired youth to the budding gymnast back to Fred again) and in another I learned that tension does not exist in the manuscript but rather in the reader, and is generated by constantly posing questions that must be answered.

In McCormack’s text, although not quite one-stop shopping, I garnered many such tips.

McCormack is a former editor for St. Martin’s Press. In fact, he ran the joint for many years, and in so doing turned its fortunes around (it was on its deathbed when he inherited it). But he was always a budding writer (dramatist mainly) and clearly empathised with the writers he worked with, relating strongly to their needs. And what many of them need most is a good editor.

McCormack’s main premise in The Fiction Editor is that good editors are few and far between, and this is primarily because editing has always been mostly an intuitive endeavor. Editors have a few tricks up their sleeves but mostly they seem to go by their guts. They might recognize that something doesn’t quite work, but they don’t necessarily know why it doesn’t work, or how to fix it. McCormack argues strongly for a more disciplined, almost scientifically rigorous approach to editing.

I’ve always felt myself that there are a million hidden rules in writing, that I’ve gradually been unearthing one by one, almost like panning for gold. I have yearned for a teacher who could lay those rules out one by one, clearly, systematically, a process after which I would know how to write not only clearly and quickly, but well.

McCormack goes on to divulge a few tricks of the trade, a mere handful compared to what must be out there, but far more than in most books. I suggest you purchase the book (now in an expanded second edition, available at Amazon.com) to find out what they are.

One caveat: The Fiction Editor is slightly self-indulgent. McCormack was the most powerful man in his company (I suspect) when he wrote it; it could have benefited from at least one more pass (hence the second edition… I own the first). I wonder if his underlings were afraid to point out a few things. For instance, he loves to make up words (neologisms, for which he apologizes). Actually, I quite like many of his neologisms, such as “gad factor” (the extent to which characters conflict). Others (such as “somacluster”) don’t work quite so well (I’ve read the book twice and still can’t quite remember what somacluster is supposed to mean).

The worst is “master prelibation,” which is really just an unfortunate and distracting choice of words, and which, were it not for McCormack’s otherwise earnest tone, I might almost suspect is a joke on his part.

But I wouldn’t let that exceedingly minor caveat put you off. This really is a terrific little book on the art of fiction editing.

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