Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Robert J Sawyer (Page 1 of 2)

The Great Radio Drama Submission Call

One of a series of posts about working in radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

Studio 212,
Where the CBC Radio Drama Magic Happened

In late 2004, Damiano Pietropaolo, the Head of Radio Arts & Entertainment (which included Radio Drama), stepped down from that position. Greg Sinclair took his place. Greg immediately made two significant moves. First, he took me off The Schedule. Second, he put out The Great Radio Drama Submission Call.    

Taking me off The Schedule meant that I could no longer be assigned to ordinary technical bookings. I thought this was absolutely brilliant. I’d been an audio technician seventeen years and I was sick and tired of The Schedule. My every move was dictated by The Schedule. I had no control over The Schedule. If you wanted to have a meeting with me, you had to talk to the scheduling department, not me. I couldn’t plan my days or weeks because if I did, my plans could and would be overwritten by the scheduling department. I would explain this to other people in the CBC. They would have no idea what I was talking about. The Schedule was a phenomenon unique to technicians.

I was also tired of feeling like a second-class citizen. In the studio, producers called the shots. They were the bosses. They weren’t really the bosses; I didn’t report to a producer. But in the studio, if a producer said, “Do this,” I pretty much had to do it. It didn’t matter if I’d been on the job seventeen years and they’d been on the job seventeen days. Taking orders from people with a lot less experience than me was getting real old.

I got so fed up with being a tech that one day I decided I didn’t want to be credited on air as a technician anymore. I told Writers & Company producer Mary Stinson this.

“You don’t want to be in the credits anymore?” she asked.  

“By all means put me in the credits,” I told her. “Just don’t call me a tech.”

 Officially I was an Associate Producer/Technician. In my mind, I was a Recording Engineer. I aspired to be a Recording Engineer/Producer. I asked Mary not to refer to me as anything other than somebody helping put the show together. Of course, the nation didn’t care what CBC Radio called Joe Mahoney. Only Joe Mahoney cared. But Mary respected my wishes.

The second thing that Greg Sinclair did was put out The Great Radio Drama Submission Call. He wanted to reinvigorate CBC Radio Drama by attracting new talent and projects. Between The Great Radio Drama Submission Call and being taken off The Schedule this was an exciting time for me.

 The Radio Drama department received over four hundred submissions for potential projects. We divvied them up between the recording engineers and the producers to sift through. Each of us would choose one or two to develop and produce. Finally, I thought. Another shot at producing! One step closer to my dream of becoming a Recording Engineer/Producer.

I enjoyed sorting through the slush pile. As an aspiring writer my short stories had been in enough slush piles over the years. It felt good being on the other side. I loved being able to announce to the Canadian science fiction community that I was looking for their submissions on behalf of CBC Radio. I was pretty puffed up about it. But the actual work of reviewing the submissions turned out to be quite a slog. It was maddeningly difficult to discern the wheat from the chaff. So many submissions were just kind of the same. Average. Very few were obviously terrible. The whole process was so subjective. I could easily have missed projects with potential because I just didn’t know any better. Over time, though, certain submissions began to stand out, for different reasons. Sometimes the distinguishing factor was who submitted the proposal. Other times it was the proposal’s obvious quality. Yet other times it was because the proposal spoke to me in some way. And sometimes it was a combination of the above.

Robert J. Sawyer, with whom I’d worked on Faster Than Light, submitted a proposal with his friend Michael Lennick for a half hour radio play called Birth. Birth explored the accidental emergence of sentience among robots on Mars. It wound up on my final list.

Another proposal that stood out was a play called Worms for Sale by Stacy Gardner. Worms for Sale was about a witty, bored high school graduate in Newfoundland trying to decide whether to stay or leave while being a friend to her heartbroken mother. It was “a play about who we are and how we survive the elements of place.” Stacy’s proposal, which included snippets of dialogue, exhibited a fresh charm and an originality of voice that appealed to me. Worms for Sale found a home on my list.

Meanwhile, Greg Sinclair received a proposal by Joe Straczynski, otherwise known as J. Michael Straczynski, also known as JMS. Greg was quite excited about telling me about this because he knew that as a science fiction fan I would know who JMS was. He was right; I’d been aware of Joe Straczynski’s work for several years. Straczynski had been the main creative force behind the hit science fiction television series Babylon 5. He’d written most of the episodes. As far as I was concerned, he was a genius. And now Straczynski had proposed an action adventure fantasy series for CBC Radio.

Sinclair and I had images (sound bites?) of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in our minds. Adam’s bestselling books had started life as a hit radio series on the BBC.  That was the Holy Grail Sinclair and I sought. Surely a project with the likes of Straczynski would bring science fiction and fantasy fans to our doorsteps in droves, and completely rejuvenate the radio drama department. J. Michael Straczynski’s The Adventures of Apocalypse Al made the final cut.

I don’t know how many radio plays we ultimately selected, but it was a fair amount. The next step was to develop each project. I was excited to get started on my choices, Worms for Sale and Birth. I contacted Stacy Gardner and Rob Sawyer to tell them the good news and arrange times to meet. (I would wind up producing sound effects for three other projects: ManRadio, The Thing from Beyond My Closet, and The Adventures of Apocalypse Al.)

Rob arrived at the Toronto Broadcast Centre to discuss Birth accompanied by his writing partner Michael Lennick. Michael was the brother of former CBC Radio host David Lennick, who had had a radio show about fifteen years earlier called Sunny Side Up. (Sunny Side Up had actually been one of the first shows I’d ever engineered as a brand-new CBC Radio tech. Nervous, I’d managed to drop a CD on the floor. Fortunately, it had still played.)

Michael Lennick had his own claims to fame. For CFMT-TV in Toronto he’d co-written The All-Night Show, which had featured Chuck the Security Guard, played by Chas Lawther, with whom I also made a couple of radio shows over the years. It’s a small world. After that Michael toiled as a visual special effects artist for two decades, working on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and The Dead Zone, and TV series such as War of the Worlds (1988). When I met him, Michael was producing well-regarded science and history documentaries.

The Lennick boys had come from famous stock, too. As a member of Wayne & Shuster’s repertory company, their mother, Sylvia Lennick, had famously played Julius Caesar’s wife, uttering the immortal line, “I told him, Julie, don’t go!”

After meeting Rob and Michael, I met with the author of Worms for Sale. Stacy Gardner turned out to be a charismatic young woman originally from Newfoundland in Toronto working for Covenant House. Worms for Sale was the first time she’d submitted any of her work anywhere.

We brought in experienced story editors Greg Nelson and Bev Cooper to work with our new crop of writers. Greg Nelson drew Birth and Bev Cooper Worms for Sale. Each writer (or team of writers) was contracted to write three drafts and then a final polish of each script. The producers and story editors would make notes on each draft and the final polish. The purpose of the polish was to correct any remaining superficial issues once all the major problems had been (theoretically) addressed. After all that the plays would be considered ready to record.

First up for me would be Birth.

More on that next.

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Fifth Stop

Stop Five on the Great Bookshelf Tour: Third Shelf from the top, left hand side

Today’s tour starts with Robert J. Sawyer‘s Red Planet Blues. What a terrific title. To paraphrase the great Orson Welles,* with a title that good, forget the book, just release the title! Fortunately for us, Sawyer released both.

Sawyer no doubt requires no introduction to readers of this blog. Carol Birch, on the other hand , probably does. An English writer of (at last count) 12 books, she’s the author of the next novel on this section of the shelf, Jamrach’s Menagerie. What a tale this is, with plot elements lifted from the real life story of the whaling ship Essex. If you don’t know anything about what happened to the Essex, great! Don’t go looking. I’m not even going to link to it. Read Jamrach’s Menagerie first, and only then look up the true story. A haunting, unforgettable, riveting tale that will stick with you, and probably dissuade you forever from a career in whaling.

Almost hidden behind that cute little bear up there is The Moon Panther by local Whitby author Jason Shannon, a book I have not read yet. Since writing my own books, I have attended a number of book fairs, and met a lot of other indie authors like me, and if I like them, I generally purchase at least one of their books. This has resulted in a lot of books to read! And I feel tremendously guilty not having read them all yet. This is why, whenever anyone purchases one of my books, I always give them at least ten years to read it, and I’m very good about extensions. But I do very much like to support local indie authors, and I would encourage you all to do the same.

Alongside Jason’s book is Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of Horror & Fantasy, with an introduction by Neil Gaimon, as though Rudyard Kipling requires an introduction. This book was given to me by my youngest sister and her husband back when I broke my ankle to give me something to do, as I guess they figured I’d have a lot of time on my hands. As luck would have it, thanks to technology and the nature of my job, I just wound up working from home, so I didn’t have as much time on my hands as expected. Just the same I managed to read many of the stories within, and appreciated the chance to catch up on my Kipling.

I found this copy of I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy along the atrium in the CBC Toronto Broadcasting Centre. It looked interesting, so I picked it up, but haven’t read it yet.

Last year, at CANCON, a writer’s convention in Ottawa, I was about to purchase a book in the dealer’s room when I spotted the author of that book. It’s a friendly conference so I thought, oh, I’ll just introduce myself to the author and tell them I’m about to buy their book and maybe they’ll sign it for me and then I’ll have fond memories of our brief encounter while I’m reading the book and forever more. I did so. After informing the author that I was about to purchase their book, my impression was that they could not wait to get away from me. We did not chat and they did not offer to sign their book. So I put the book back and did not purchase it.

Immediately afterward I met the author C. L. Polk, who was as friendly as could be, so I bought her book instead, and she signed it for me. As an author myself, if somebody told me they were about to buy my book, they would have my full and undivided attention, not to mention gratitude. Now, I get that everyone is fighting their own battle, and maybe this other author was having a bad day, or was in a huge rush, maybe really had to pee or something, but… too bad. I bought C.L. Polk’s book instead, and it’s C. L. Polk’s book Witchmark that I’m reading RIGHT NOW instead of theirs. (Well, not exactly right now… when I finish writing this blog post.)

The Knowledge: How to rebuild our World From Scratch, by Lewis Dartnell is the book you want in your hands when civilization finally crumbles, which, from the looks of it, could happen any day now. I bought it thinking it would be handy writing a post-apocalyptic novel, which I’ve always wanted to do. Now I’m thinking it might come in handy in a month or two. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be so flip about our collective possible fate. I’ll just add that to the growing list of other things I shouldn’t do either, such as walk in the house with my boots on. Shh! Don’t tell my wife.)

Legend by David Gemmell is just a terrific book, one I’ve read several times. Thoughtful action/adventure in the sword & sorcery vein, and a treatise on heroism. Highly recommended.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. An SF classic; enuff said. Well, maybe not enough… apparently they’re making another film version of it. Here’s hoping it’s better than past versions.

Stephen King, a couple of books in the Dark Tower series. Gradually working my way through this one. I was lukewarm on the first book, but quite liked The Drawing of the Three, another clever title, I realized, once I completed the book.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. Another absolute classic. If you haven’t read this book already hie thee to a book store immediately (or, um, as soon as the pandemic is over) and pick this one up. You won’t regret it. I’ll take this opportunity to recommend another, lesser known Haldeman book as well: Camouflage, which won the Nebula Award in 2005. Just a great read.

Flesh and Gold, by Canadian author and poet Phyllis Gotlieb. I really enjoyed this book, which I suspect has flown under the radar of SF fans.

Born Standing Up is an autobiography by comedian Steve Martin. This is also a great read, really interesting insight into the man himself, the nature of comedy, and his somewhat sad relationship with his father.

An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson. Haven’t read this one yet, but looking forward to it. Some day, when I have the time. Maybe after I retire!

And finally, Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, a neat little SF tale, with a tragic story at its core, that I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Happy reading!

*Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovitch told Orson Welles he was thinking of changing the title of his film adaptation of the novel “Addie Pray” to “Paper Moon,” but wasn’t sure whether the new title worked. Orson allegedly told him, “With a title that good forget the film, just release the title!”

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Fourth Stop

Welcome to the fourth stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour of 2020, which I hope you find a bit of a distraction during these unusual times.

First up on today’s tour we have the books of illustrious Prince Edward Island based author Susan Rodgers. Susan Rodgers, you should know, is my sister, younger than me by one year, one month, and three days. I call her Sam because her initials are Susan Ann Mahoney, or at least they were before she married that Rodgers guy.

I could write an entire book about her, and our fabulous childhood together, including that incident where she heroically defended me from a pack of bullies who had stolen my mittens, and the time we got trapped on a cliff-face together (she made it off first), and so on, but that’s not what this tour is about. This tour is about books, and if you want books, Susan has written something like eighteen of them. I’ve lost count. My wife and I once marched into a bookstore and bought all of them, back when there were only nine. There, we’re done, we’ve supported her, we thought. Then she promptly wrote nine more. We’ve yet to pick those up. But we will. Maybe. Someday. Anyway, if you like angsty books about love and relationships and music and Prince Edward Island, you will LOVE Susan’s Drifters series (and related books).

Sitting in front of Susan’s books is one of my favourite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. A few things about this book. It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, which makes it special. I love everything about the design of this book, the illustrations in particular. If you look inside you will see that it is positively littered with the craziest drawings and sketches, all speaking to the nature of the content. I’ve long wanted to produce a book myself in this style. The book is about creativity and leadership, and it has many sage notions about all of that. There isn’t a much in the way of information online about MacKenzie himself. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure, but video of him does exist. The books is based on a talk he used to give, which you can see online (and when you do, you’ll see just how much of the book is based on the talk). Curiously, despite the cult status of this book, hardly anybody has viewed MacKenzie’s online talk (145 views as of today). Something else I love about the book: it was originally self-published before Viking (Penguin) picked it up.

Next up, Robert J. Sawyer‘s Rollback. Rob has written even more books than my sister, and has known great success. I’ve known Rob since before he published his first novel, Golden Fleece (which I understand wasn’t actually the first one he wrote). I met Rob working on an episode of Ideas for CBC Radio. He was a guest contributor and I was the tech. He told me about his upcoming publication and that he wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. Little did he know that it was actually ME who was going to be the professional science fiction writer! Unfortunately, I turned out to be a lazy slug of mediocre ability, whereas he is a juggernaut with a big brain and actual talent. Which explains why he’s written so many successful books and I’ve written two, one of which COULD be considered successful if you fudge the criteria for success a bit.

Fast forward a few years (ahem; that would be a Sawyer pun there, if you know the man’s oeuvre). I decided to make a radio show featuring science fiction called Faster Than Light. I asked Rob if he would host it, and he agreed to. The pilot was wildly successful, but the network didn’t pick it up as a series, the Director of Programming at the time telling the Acting Head of Radio Drama that “if we put a show like that on the air, we’ll never get it off.” Oh well.

Fast forward a few more years. Rob writes Rollback. Some of the novel involves the CBC. Rob asked me to read the third draft of the novel to fact check the CBC bits. I did, and was surprised to discover that not only was the main character based on my profession at the time (a CBC Recording Engineer), but I was actually a character in the novel! So you can see that this is kind of a special book for me, beyond being an excellent story, well told, of a man restored to youth, and the impact on those around him.

And sitting beside Rollback up there is another Sawyer novel, Hominids, the first in his well-regarded Neanderthal Parallax series. I’ve actually read many of Rob’s excellent books, though not all of them are on this bookshelf (I do have other bookshelves in the house, and at the office), and I heartily recommend them all.

One day when I was about twelve I had just finished reading a good book and was looking for another of comparable quality, so I asked my father if he could recommend one. He led me downstairs to one of his bookshelves and picked out Cappy Ricks or the Subjugation of Matt Peasley by Peter B. Kyne, published in way back in 1916. What a yarn! I loved this tale of a crusty yet loveable shipping/lumber magnate and the feisty young sailor Matt Peasley he puts to work and torments on one of his boats. I’ve read it many times since. Kyne, incidentally, also wrote The Valley of the Giants (upon which the movie is based), among many other books.

Moving on we have another ancient tome called Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees, first published in 1926. It was recommended by fellow writer Dale Sproule (former editor of the magazine TransVersions, with Sally McBride) and I’m so glad he brought it to my attention. It’s an adult fantasy about fairies that as many observers have pointed out pre-dates Lord of the Rings by many years, and quite possibly influenced such magnificent works as John Crowley’s Little, Big and Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, both of which I also loved.

Hmm. Lots to write about on this shelf! Next up we have another book by a friend, this time Thrice Burned, the second novel in Angela Misri‘s excellent Portia Adams mystery series, which I reviewed on this very blog, favourably, I might add. And beyond her a medical thriller by yet another friend, Stockholm Syndrome, by Melissa Yuan-Innes, writing as Melissa Yi. This is one of Melissa’s Dr. Hope Sze‘s books, selected as one of the best crime books of the year by CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter‘s Mystery panel.

And finally, kinda hard to make out there at the far right, we have The Lost Millennium, by Floren Diacu. This is a fascinating book, exploring the premise that history might be off by oh, say, one thousand years. That what we think of as the dark ages might be dark because they actually never happened! Whether this is true (spoiler alert: it’s probably not) this terrific little book provides great insight into how history is actually recorded and conveyed to the rest of us. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as you might think.

Other Stops on the Tour

Book That Day! May 4th for BookMarkIt!

Maybe you’ve heard of our book fair by now.

It’s called BookMarkIt!, complete with capital letters in strange places and exclamation marks that Elmore Leonard would almost certainly frown on.

BookMarkIt! happens May 4th—Star Wars Day—at the Whitby Curling Club 815 Brock Street North in Whitby, 10am until 5pm, rain or shine.

Special Guest Robert J. Sawyer

Many authors from all over Ontario will be present. Award winning science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer is our Special Guest. Well known producer, author and interviewer Mark Askwith of Prisoners of Gravity fame will also be on hand to interview some of our amazing authors. Which authors? So many to choose from! We are pleased to have Dale Sproule, Sarah Tolmie, Douglas Smith, Bernadette Dyer, A.A. Jankiewicz, Maaja Wentz, Lesley Donaldson, Yahaya Baruwa, and many more. We are also honoured to have publishers Bundoran Press, Brain Lag, and ChiZine Publications taking part. ChiZine authors David Demchuk, Stephen Michell, Michael Rowe and Brent Hayward will also be dropping by.

BookMarkIt! is designed to introduce books to to readers and readers to books.  Our mission is to promote the work of Canadian, Small Press, Independent, and genre authors. All of our resources and efforts are focused on these tasks.

David Demchuk,
Author of The Bone Mother

We are proud to be sponsored by the following terrific and generous organizations: SF Canada, Amazing Stories Magazine, On Spec Magazine, Constellate Publishing, Groupa Concrete, and Bookshelf (Writer’s Community of York Region).   

Our industrious team is active on Twitter (@it_bookmark), Facebook (@whitbybookmarkit), Instagram (whitbybookmarkit) and more. Check us out at www.bookmarkit.ca.

If you’re an author or deal in book related products, it’s not too late to join us. Tables are $75 apiece. You can sign up at www.bookmarkit.ca

If you’re a reader, reach out to us on one of our social media feeds. And by all means drop by the Whitby Curling Club May 4th to meet your favourite—or new favourite—author in person!

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