The week of September 13th is shaping up to be a big week for A Time and a Place. That’s when it will be featured as a BookBub Featured Deal. It’s also going to be featured in several other newsletters that week, and I’ll be the Manybooks Author of the Day on Sept 11th, just before the big promotion.
I thought this would be a good time to give away a few free copies of the well-received audiobook version of A Time and a Place.
At the moment I can offer the free version to readers and listeners in the US and Great Britain (sorry fellow Canadians! perhaps later).
If you would like a free version of the Audible version of A Time and a Place, simply email me at [email protected], tell me where you live, and I’ll send you your promo code. All I ask in return is an honest review on Audible once you’ve finished.
I look forward to hearing from you. Happy listening!
Burning Eyes lay down. But instead of going to sleep, he glanced up at Sweep. “I’ve been thinking about what you said.”
“About going to Burning Eyes. Do you still think it’s stupid?”
Embarrassed, Sweep didn’t say anything.
“I know why I’m still alive,” Half Ear said.
“Because I’m going to save our people. When I was young I didn’t believe in Burning Eyes. I thought the whole idea of offering up sacrifices to him in return for services that never happened was silly. So the last time I brought him an offering on behalf of the family I waited. I hid and waited a long time because I wanted to see what if anything took the offering.”
Sweep didn’t say anything. She was learning to be quiet, like a grown-up T’Klee. But Half Ear didn’t go on, and Sweep was not grown up, not yet.
“What took the offering?” she asked finally.
“Burning Eyes took the offering.”
Sweep drew a sharp breath. “You saw him? What did he look like?”
“Terrible. And beautiful. He stood on his hind legs, and he was naked—didn’t have a lick of fur on him anywhere. He shone like polished stone. And his eyes were just like everyone’s always said. You know how when a fire’s dying and you’ve got those embers that keep on glowing? They burned like that.”
Sweep could see it clearly in her mind’s eye. I could too.
“What did you do?” she asked. “When you saw him.”
“I followed him. All the way up Kimay. He never knew I was there. I saw where he lives and I can find it again. That’s the reason I’m still alive. So I can save our people.”
Sweep could accept that. If anybody could save their people it was Half Ear. “What about me?”
Sweep felt herself withering under Half Ear’s gaze, but she didn’t look away for fear of missing what he might say.
“I can’t tell you why you’re still alive,” he said. “You need to decide that for yourself.”
Moments later Sweep and I watched as Half Ear’s back rose and fell rhythmically. She lay close to him, still and frightened, with no idea why she was still alive.
I stumbled across the following recently which had appeared on an early version of this blog (July 14th, 2009, to be precise), before the blog self-destructed shortly afterward (one of a handful of blog implosions over the years). I like to recapture this sort of thing for the modern incarnation of Assorted Nonsense so that it doesn't get lost to time and also because it keeps alive the memory of some important, interesting people in my life.
aka “Inspector Nickles”(Photo by David Cooper, Shaw Festival.)
I was fortunate enough to work with Neil off and on over the course of two or three years. Although they don’t mention it in the notice at CBC.ca, one of Neil’s many accomplishments was starring as Inspector Quentin Nickles in The Investigations of Quentin Nickles , for CBC Radio’s Mystery Project.
Working on these plays I had the opportunity to observe Neil’s craft up close.
You had to be a skilled actor working on these shows. Producer/Director Barry Morgan was a one take wonder. Rarely did we ever make it up to take two. So the actors had to get it right the first time, and they almost always did. If we had to do a second take it was usually because one of us technical types had screwed something up, or one of the sound effects engineers was caught on tape snoring during a brief siesta (that actually happened once).
Neil also wrote/adapted several radio plays; I remember recording and mixing two or three wild and crazy examples of his work. The names escape me now, but I recall them as full of mirth and inventiveness.
I remember Neil Munro as not only a consummate professional but as a genuinely warm and friendly man. He deserved better than to have died at 62, it seems to me. As Truman Capote said, life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.
In Neil’s case, I’m afraid someone eliminated the third act altogether.
So long, Inspector Nickles.
My friend and colleague Barry Morgan, whom I referenced in the post, responded with a comment which I thought was gently chiding in nature. I realized that I may have irked him slightly with my remark about doing everything in one take. I hope not, because Barry was a great guy and I hate the thought that I might have annoyed him.
Anyway, here's what he wrote in response:
Writer, Producer, Director, All Round Nice Guy
Joe, a really nice appreciation of Neil.
Perhaps I can clarify the “one take” reference.
It was because Neil brought his incredible energy and focus to the rehearsal session before we ever got to the studio floor. The work was already done. And beyond that his electricity energized his fellow cast members to the point that the performance bar was raised far above the level of `excellent`.
We have enjoyed a long history of fine radio actors from the days of John Drainie, Jane Mallet, Frank Perry and a great many others. Neil Munro was certainly among the front rank of those incredible talents.
It was a great privilege to have him around to make all of us look better.
One evening in the spring of 1992 I was asked to work some overtime in Studio K.
It turned out to be a two hour booking packaging a disc show called My Kinda Jazz, hosted by Canadian Jazz, Blues and Rock musician Jeff Healey. Healey played antiquated jazz on the show, dating back well into the forties and earlier.
When Healey got to the studio’s booth, the producer, whose name was David, informed him of my presence in the control room, and Healey greeted me over the talkback. I thought this was a friendly thing for him to do, as it wasn’t unheard of for the talent to completely ignore us technical types until it became absolutely necessary to acknowledge our presence.
I said hi back, and Healey remarked that he couldn’t hear me very well over the talkback. This didn’t really matter as in all likelihood I wouldn’t be talking to him during the show, but I decided to look into it anyway. I went to the booth and pointed out a certain knob that I suspected might have control over the talkback volume. Healey had his hand partially over the knob in question so that I couldn’t turn it up myself, and as he was blind, I was pretty sure that he didn’t know which knob I was talking about.
So I did a sort of stupid thing, I said, “It’s the one just to the right of your hand”, and then reached out and touched the knob, also brushing his hand slightly to let him know the position of the control I was talking about. I think it annoyed him greatly. I guess I was acknowledging his handicap and underestimating him.
He said, “No, that doesn’t have anything to do with it, that’s the monitor control.”
I suppose I had a thing or two to learn about dealing with blind people, not to mention studio booth controls.
Finally I just adjusted his mic and, with my tail between my legs, returned to the control room. (I found out later that you couldn’t adjust the level of the talkback in that studio, it was pre-set.)
If Healey really was annoyed with me it didn’t last long. There was a bit of friendly banter before we started the show. The packaging went well, it was a straightforward sort of affair, chatter, song, chatter, song, with all the songs pre-recorded by Healey one right after the other on a DAT. Made my job easy.
It just so happened that it was March 25th, 1992, Healey’s twenty-sixth birthday.
Healey was quite knowledgeable about his subject matter. I couldn’t tell how much he was reeling off the top of his head or how much he derived from his notes (all in braille). All the tunes were from old 78’s, his own; apparently he had a collection of about 6000 or so.
We played a song from Duke Ellington and his Orchestra, one of four versions the Duke recorded of this particular song, called The Mooche. There was a muted trumpet solo in the song, and Jeff remarked in his intro that the trumpet player used a plunger for a mute. I asked David if Healey was joking and he assured me that he wasn’t. During the song David asked Jeff over the talkback if the plunger was a used plunger. Jeff laughed and remarked that if it was, it was probably a “shitty plunger.”
He sat with his eyes closed the entire booking, rocking a bit to the music, and when he left he didn’t say goodbye, and David left as well to hail a cab for him.
As I’ve written earlier, after the success of the Faster Than Light pilot, we did not receive a green light to proceed with a series. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Director of Radio Programming at the time, Adrian Mills, did not reject the show outright. The following summer James Roy, now Acting Director of Radio Drama, approached me about doing another pilot for a summer run of the show. Presented in a half hour format, it would be Faster Than Light “light”. Unfortunately, James had no budget for it.
No problem. We took a radio play directed by Bill Lane from the archives and built a show around it. I wrote a frame for the show about auditioning for a new host. Rob’s main competition was a robot called Huey (played by Julian Ford) whose main claim to fame was starring as a robot in the classic science fiction movie Silent Running with Bruce Dern. Huey didn’t get the job. Linda Spence also acted in this pilot as a fictional Associate Producer. The concept for Faster Than Light was gradually crystallizing in my mind: it would be a fictional show about making a science fiction radio show. A show within a show. Very meta.
The summer series didn’t pan out, though. James was willing to proceed, but with no funding and very little time to write and produce ten episodes, I didn’t think I could do the show justice. Seeing as it appeared we’d have an opportunity to try again later with proper funding and adequate time, I opted to wait.
That fall we did get funding to do another pilot. For this attempt, I brought in Fergus Heywood to co-produce. Fergus had been highly recommended to me by Greg Sinclair. He enthusiastically agreed to help out. We were assigned Alison Moss as Senior Producer, who I always loved working with. I would eventually work with her on the summer replacement series Next with Nora Young. So it was a good team.
Chris Boyce, Head of the Program Development Committee, organized a facilitated session to help us further define the show. Fergus, Alison, Rob Sawyer, Chris Boyce and I all sat down to figure it out. Richard Handler, an experienced Arts producer, was also involved. This third pilot was a serious effort, but the whole spirit was completely different than the first pilot. The show would be half hour instead of an hour. It would include one full cast radio play instead of two, and it would not include a continuation of Captain’s Away, although I had written several episodes.
Chris had us come up with a mandate:
“To fire the imaginations of Canadians by presenting thought provoking encounters with masters of science fiction and fantasy along with engaging dramatizations of their work.”
When we were finally ready, I hired Wayne Richards to write and record original theme music for the opening of the show. We would use an original composition from Fergus Heywood for the closing. Having decided to make the theme of this pilot “The Other,” we secured the services of Cathi Bond, an experienced freelancer, to produce a short documentary on “the other” in science fiction films throughout history.
I wrote a high production frame for the episode that consisted of three parts. In the opening, a mad scientist creates a host for the show in an homage to Frankenstein, a classic “other” in science fiction. The mad scientist was played by Tony Daniels, who did a brilliant German accent as Dr. Frankenstein. Once the host has been created, he takes over and introduces the show. After the first part of the show, a second interlude or frame features the mad scientist conducting an experiment in which he accidentally transforms himself into a fly (an obvious homage to The Fly). Rob the host returns to usher us into the next part of the show, an original adaptation of Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson, adapted and directed by Barry Morgan. The end credits featured Rob as the host along with the mad scientist. Not realizing that the fly trapped in the studio with him is the mad scientist, Rob swats him.
I was attempting to seamlessly mix representational radio with presentational radio. The drama and the high production intro, middle and extro were all representational. You listened to those the way you would watch a movie or television show. They weren’t talking directly to the audience. They were meant to be entertaining as opposed to informative. Whereas the bits with Rob talking directly to the audience, and Cathi Bond presenting her short documentary, were presentational. The trick was to guide the audience from one style of radio to another without confusing them.
Ultimately the fate of the show would be determined by the Program Development Committee, a group of several experienced broadcasters assembled by Chris Boyce. I remember one of the members of this group listening to the opening of the show after I had finished mixing it. I was quite proud of it. I thought it was funny and that the sound effects and mix had achieved what I’d set out to do. This person listened to it, gave me no feedback whatsoever, and left the studio. My impression was that he didn’t get it, and didn’t like it. This did not bode well.
We finished the pilot and submitted it to the Program Development Committee. A representative of the committee phoned me sometime afterward to tell me the bad news. They weren’t going to pick up the show as it stood. They just didn’t think it worked. More work was required.
I didn’t entirely disagree. I didn’t think it had worked as well as the original pilot. The original pilot had had room to breathe. It possessed a certain charm. We hadn’t overthought it. The elements stood on their own. Rob brought a passion and an authenticity to it. The second pilot had itself been a Frankenstein monster. I liked the frame we had created for it. But I had been forced to edit the heck out of the radio play that I’d borrowed from the archives to make it fit. Even the audio quality of the radio play hadn’t been up to snuff; it had originally been recorded on tape and sounded a few tape generations old. The third pilot had more going for it. I liked the frame. I liked the opening and closing music. I liked Barry Morgan’s Richard Matheson adaptation. I liked Cathi’s piece. But somehow it didn’t all gell the same as the original.
Nevertheless, the committee still hadn’t given us a definitive “no.” They offered us a chance to make yet a fourth pilot. By now people in the drama department were calling me Wing Commander Joe, I had so many pilots under me.
So, with a thread of hope still dangling before us, Fergus, Rob, Alison and I got together to talk about it. Rob made the point that maybe the show needed to be more serious, that our problem was trying to mix humour with seriousness. Thinking of shows like MASH and Life is Beautiful, I didn’t think that was the issue, though it could well have confused the Development Committee. Rob also objected to the CBC’s obvious efforts to make the show “stealth” science fiction. They didn’t want the show to be overtly about science fiction and fantasy. They wanted it to be something else that happened to include science fiction and fantasy. I agreed with Rob on this point. There seemed to be a slight bias against science fiction and fantasy. And not only that: against radio plays, too. Against storytelling. Against the representational. (This would be made abundantly clear when the entire radio drama department was shut down a few short years later, ostensibly as a response to financial pressures.)
Which was too bad. Because by now I had refined the concept even further. I was thinking that the host should be a sonic sorcerer, with the power to do anything, be anywhere. This concept, coupled with effective, liberal use of sound effects, would have several virtues. It would allow us to harness the enormous imaginative potential of radio. If the host wanted to be on the surface of Mars, he could be there in the blink of an eye—faster than light, if you will. If he wanted to lasso a comet by the tail, he could. He could pilot a spaceship, visit Heaven or Hell, single-handedly battle an army of knights… or simply conduct an interview. It solved the conceptual problem of how to veer from the fantastic portions of the show’s “frame” to the magazine elements of the show:
FEMALE VOICE: (TREATED) Incoming vessel. You have three seconds to identify yourself before we open fire.
HOST: (TWO SECOND BEAT) (TREATED) I’m Robert J. Sawyer, commanding Faster Than Light on CBC Radio. Be advised that if you open fire, we will respond.
FEMALE VOICE: Acknowledged, Faster Than Light. What, may I ask, will you respond with?
ROB: How about an interview with Canadian Independent author Maaja Wentz?
You see how it would work? Playful and imaginative. Veering seamlessly from fantasy to reality. It would itself be science fiction and fantasy while presenting the same to our listeners.
Alas, it never happened. The committee never did say no outright, but the truth is, Faster Than Light as we conceived of it never stood much of a chance. What we wanted to do was too much at odds with what the powers that be at the time were willing to let us do. Greg Sinclair was head of the drama department at the time (but did not represent the Program Development Committee… I felt he was on my side). We discussed the project and mutually decided to pull the plug. To make it work for the CBC, we were going to have to turn it into a show that none of us believed in or wanted to do. Greg informed Rob Sawyer.
We never got the green light that I had dreamed about for so long.
Still, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I’m proud of all three pilots. Rob and I became friends. I thank him for his generosity and time in trying to make it work. Later, he asked me to read and comment on the third draft of his novel Rollback (about a man and a woman in their eighties who agree to undergo a procedure to make them younger. It only works on the man. Of course, this has huge implications on their relationship. It’s a great read.) Rob made the protagonist a CBC Recording Engineer/Producer, which is what I aspired to be. He also featured me as a character in the novel, on page ninety-nine.
I went back to my normal life working on other people’s radio shows. That year CBC Radio launched a show called WireTap. I could barely make myself listen to it, out of jealousy, I suppose. Finally listening to an episode one day, I found myself impressed. I wrote the producers of Wiretap and told them how much I liked the episode, which had included some scby Roience fiction. I used my cbc.ca email address so that they would know that it came from a colleague. Nobody from the show ever responded.
Had I managed to get Faster Than Light on the air, I would have personally responded to every single email the show received.