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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

THE INFLUENCE OF OTHER WRITERS


This is something I've written for literary mag, Open Book Toronto, answering the question:  How does reading other writers of fiction inform your work?
Here goes...

A more direct way to phrase the question might have been: How does reading other writers of fiction influence your work? I’ve sometimes heard authors say they make a point of not reading other writers while they’re in the middle of putting together a new book or story because they don’t want their “voice” being influenced. Sure, I get that but I do find it a bit precious – and anyway, it assumes the author has total control of everything he or she is communicating.
When I’m working on piece of writing, I’ll read all sorts, old favorites and new material, vaguely hoping my own stuff will get a boost of some kind. If a piece of prose truly reaches me, maybe its effect will be visceral and not just cerebral - I mean make me feel differently, see things differently. Something like that can help validate unformed and even unrecognized concepts of my own and bring them to life. Besides, I’ll take all the help I can get.
But what I really love is when a writer tells one story on the surface - the direct narrative – but then there’s a whole other set of meanings beneath, working between the lines, so to speak. Handled by a skilled practitioner, an entirely different tale emerges. And I don’t mean symbolism – more like what amounts to a parallel world of unanswered questions and mysterious possibilities. The beauty of that is to wonder how much the writer consciously intended and how much of this submerged story is the reader’s projection.
In the same way, I get a big kick out of a reader mentioning something they understood from a passage I’ve written but their interpretation wasn’t what I’d meant at all – at least not what I thought I meant. So it can be the reader who tells the writer what the story is actually about, forcing the writer to reconsider their own motives and methods.
It makes me appreciate writers who always push the outer edge of that tenuous ground, not entirely sure what exactly they are revealing about themselves and what is being communicated with absolute certainty. Among modern fiction writers, someone like Jeanette Winterson gets to me that way, or John Banville, William Burroughs, Angela Carter and Michel Houellebecq, to name a few. It’s a thrill to see them handle an idea so deftly and work it so subtly. Like a great rock’n’roll hook, on the surface it might seem simple but can evoke an unexpected emotional response that takes you to places you’ve never been and could not have predicted.  



Friday, April 13, 2012

SONG KRAN: Spring Break Thai style!

How To Fuck Your Psychiatrist - Part 6: Now up at EXPLICIT CINEMA

This past week all of Thailand has been celebrating the beginning of the new year with something called Song Kran. Also known as the “Water Festival”, it  started out as quaint fertility ritual heralding the beginning of the rainy season. However, Chiang Mai veterans told me it’s degenerated into a massive drunken water fight that results in several thousand deaths and maimings every year. Kicking off in mid-April, it goes on for about five days. In the south it’s not the be-all but here up in sleepy ol’ Chiang Mai, it’s the year’s biggest blow out.
    A week before Song Kran got going, I had a boozehound and a cokehead yelling at me about how great it is. The cokehead got hysterical, kept shouting: “You can’t be cynical, Baz! You HAVE to go!”
I don’t usually take advice from cokeheads – and of course she didn’t stay in Chiang Mai for the festivities but that’s another story. Anyway, I thought I’d check it out and basically, what we have here is Spring Break as practiced around the globe – people getting drunk and acting out. Like elsewhere, the idea is to swill great amounts of low-grade alcohol and behave like a binge-drinking halfwit. But the Chiang Mai difference is you stand on the road with massive waterguns while others stand in the back of passing pickups trucks, also armed with massive waterguns and have these massive water fights –  using stinking filthy canal water. Meanwhile, other combatants hurl buckets of ice every direction.
   Forewarned, I put on a full-face Dakar helmet with dark visor locked down, board shorts, Caterpillar work boots laced up tight and armored riding gloves for landing with hands on road, if it came to that. I also sanded the sidewall edge of my dirtbike’s tires, for better wet grip.
   Here in the outskirts it was fairly muted, a few kids on the roadside meekly chucking little plastic buckets full of relatively clean looking water. But down in the old city, within Chiang Mai’s ancient moat and walls, it was pretty much a shitfaced madhouse. Perhaps the universal language is not music but acting like a tittering idiot while wasted on alcohol. That seems to bring down all language barriers in a big hurry.
A central theme of Song Kran seems to be that if you see a scooter or motorcycle coming past, it’s a real laugh to hit the rider and passenger with a powerhose or big bucket of ice, temporarily blinding them. I saw a teenaged girl riding a scooter take a face full of ice and slam head first into the tailgate of a pickup without even slowly down. Even the ambulance was hosed and pelted with ice.
One guy hurled a plastic bucket of water at me then threw the bucket, bouncing it off my helmet. I instinctively booted him in the chest with the flat of my left foot as I rolled past and sent him sprawling into his friends. I was told you’re not supposed to get annoyed or angry with people constantly hurling toilet water and ice in your face or pouring it down your back. You’re supposed to laugh along with them. Which is why most expats who’ve live here through several Song Krans either leave town for the week or get supplies and hole up at home, avoiding the whole moronic affair. Me, I lasted a couple hours of getting soaked and bombarded with ice and almost wiping out a few times. Good thing I’ve ridden drunk so often in the past – all that  practice came in handy.
Oh, and if you do want to know about the legitimate cultural origins of this festival, go do a goog-wank. I’m sure some pinhead has plenty to say about it, with linked footnotes and everything.
   At least with Spring Break in places like South Padre Island, Daytona and Cancun, you can rely on seeing – or maybe even getting - some random public sex but not in prissy ol’ C.M. Nope, sorry. No girls flaunting their awesome tits and no boys showing off their hot butts. Though I did see one white chick with blonde skull-braids flash a single breast. Thanks, kid.
   Of course your average Thai is far too demure for something like that. Perhaps they could invite the endless mob of illiterate peasant kids who work as criminally underpaid whores in this otherwise morally pristine society. Now THAT would spice up the party. But pay them something decent for a change. After all, they are the hardest working people in the whole country.

How to make a faffy little Thai girl wipe out on her scooter

South Padre Island: Going head-to-head.
Sadly, something you'll  never see in prissy ol' Chiang Mai

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

FISTS OF FURY - Part 2

While splabbing on about whatever in my previous post, Fists of Fury Part 1, I never got around to the actual point...
Okay, so here's the deal. A month ago or so my publisher got an email from this alleged boxer/poet/playwright/all-round tough guy, Combo - a creep I know in Canada. I'd threatened to torture and kill him for reasons outlined in my previous post - basically he's an asshole who treated his gf like shit - and i happened to have a crush on her but whatevs, that's a whole other story.
His email to my publisher was a proposal for a boxing match between he and I at the launch party for my upcoming novel, Mount Royal. However, he did say he'd require 3 months warning so he could get back into fighting trim. It's been a couple or four decades since he's heard the bell of pugilistic manliness ring in anger, etc.
My publisher laughed her ass off when she told me about it. She never quite believed my so-called exaggerations about what a jackoff Combo could be. His emails sealed the deal - he officially became a completely untenable idiot in her books. Till then she'd harbored an illusion he might be a legitimate human being. As if.
But the best part is - and this is just a fucking scream - a week after his first email wanting to fight me, he writes back to my publisher and tells her he regrets he won't be able to take part in this boxing match he's proposed because his doctor has advised him his back is too fragile. What a big fat drag, eh?
Last year around this time, I'd threatened to run him over with a tow truck I was driving back then to try to make a living (don't bother - long hours and dangerously abusive customers for shitty pay).
I had my reasons for want to hurt Combo, as I've outlined above and in my previous post, but also because  he called Mike Tyson a "ghetto punk." It's too bad Combo won't be able to work himself into a 175 pounds of coiled steel because that means while his fit and buff self is waiting at the bus stop to go to the book launch party where he plans to beat my brains in, I won't have the chance to come racing up in a tow truck, jump the curb and run him over without even slowing down.
Or as another legendary "ghetto punk", Jack Dempsey, was reputed to have quipped: "If you fight fair, you fight once."

Monday, April 2, 2012

FISTS OF FURY + other tales of abject misery

Before I get on my high horse about committing grievous bodily harm via email, you can click on this link to read: HOW TO F*CK YOUR PSYCHIATRIST 5

Okay, now on with Fists of Fury + miserable tales of abject stupidity or whatever...
A while ago my publisher writes me a tipsy email about this idiot we both know. This guy and me - let's call him Combo - we'd had a bit of a run-in. I got all fired up and felt like I really had no choice, no option - so I threatened to kill the asshole, run him over with a tow-truck I'd been driving at the time -really shitty way to make a buck, by the way.
Combo he had some claim to fame, was an ex-boxer or something, played an 'old school' tough street dude persona to the hilt. Well, he pulled that act with good girls; well brought-up women with plenty of brains but somewhat naive about how venal guys can really be and with the nicely bred manners to not dump these creeps immediately.
With other guys around Combo kept his trap shut. He seemed to hang his whole schtick on having worked at a car factory for a summer and having had one big deal boxing match where he beat the living shit out of some bald old fool.
Combo mostly got on my nerves cuz of how he mistreated his girlfriend, just using her in the worst ways possible, taking up all her time, money, attention, freaking out if she didn't immediately answer his eight thousand daily phone calls, that kind of Pass/Agg bullshit, really gross to watch. He'd just sweat and hang onto her elbow in public, always shooing her away with lines like: "You've got that appointment to go to, right?"
And she'd look non-plussed for a second and then look crestfallen when she realized she's being told to get lost cuz some guy friend of Combo's is paying attention to her - as in her specifically.
She was passive and nice enough to do as she was told. Combo refused to discuss her and always acted like he barely knew her when the chick was his conduit to anything to do with the real world.
Now the really stupid part is my 'attacks' on Combo happened over email. Some of them while I was still back in Canuckistan and some while I was overseas. No, really. I'm not kidding.
I wrote him and threatened to run him over with a tow truck and he writes back and says - get this - "I never thought I would do this but I'm calling the police. I am old and sick. You have no right to bully me."
I kept at him, threatening all kinds of castration and mayhem and he actually goes to the cops. Unbelievable but true.
And you'll love what the cop at the precinct desk told him. I laughed my ass off - I'm sure the cop did too.
Okay, imagine this scene:
A guy walks into the station, goes up to the desk. Some bored cop is reading The Sun, shaking his head about those hopeless, overpaid morons, the Toronto Maple Leafs. He hears somebody clear his throat. Glances up and sees Combo - who looks like he's slept in his clothes for the past decade.
The gimp's got one of those big, wide-eyed looks on him, like he's caught in the high-beams of a big ugly tow-truck speeding toward him in the dead of night - that kind of look.
So Combo's mouth goes dry suddenly, can barely get his lips apart, white spittle at the corners and the cop's instantly annoyed, thinking: "What's this asshole want?"
He listens to Combo's tale, some guy on the other side of the world is threatening to kill me... via email.
"Where'd you say this guy is?"
"Vietnam."
"He's Vietnamese?"
"No, he's Greek."
"Ya don't say? Have you asked him to stop?"
Combo, the tough guy, street heavy ex-boxer looks around, still unblinking. "Uh.... no."
"Try that and lemme know what happens."
"Uh... okay."
The cop goes back to his paper, half grinning to himself, again shaking his head, thinking: "And I thought the Leafs were useless fucking retards."
A younger cop saunters out to the counter from some back room and lifts his chin at the slowly retreating Combo who barely squeaks out the words: "Um... is that it?"
"Yeah," the cop says without looking at him. "Try what I said and report back." He turns and mutters to the younger cop. The two of them stare at Combo as he tentatively goes toward the door, unsatisfied with the outcome but unable to think of anything else to say. Well, he has just been told to fuck off so there isn't much left to do but fuck right off.
Anyway, a few months later - oh, in the meantime I'd threatened to punch out a friend of his - this fat little moron called Howie who got his rocks off screaming at a couple women I know whenever he'd run into them at lit events and the like. Howie would just walk up to them and start flipping out in their faces, super ugly and aggressive and just losing his shit on them. So I wrote HIM from overseas and told him to stop that shit or I'd straighten him out when I got back - or I'd get a couple friends of mine to pay him a visit and teach the stupid fuck some manners. Apparently, he's stayed away since then. It's too bad in way. I would have enjoyed running into him at some boring lit gathering and giving him a nice fat open-handed slap, the same way you spank a hot girl's ass - nice red hand print - but this time across Howie's fat cheek. What's he gonna do, call the cops? And say what? "That man slapped  me." The cops would see me smiling and nodding and saying; "Yeah, I gave him a little love slap. Don't worry, it's a domestic. He's my boyfriend."
The cops would shake their heads and grin and look at each other. "Fuckin fags..."