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  • Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    by Craig Terlson

    A collection of short stories where the humour runs dark and the slipstream bubbles up.

     

    ...imagine if Raymond Carver called up George Saunders and Joe Lansdale, and they all went drinking with Neil Gaiman.

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    Correction Line
    by Craig Terlson

    “… it's clear that Terlson is way ahead of the curve in terms of crafting an engaging premise that reaches for elevated territory and reinvents enduring archetypes of action and suspense.”  J. Schoenfelder


    "Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed."   Kay Sexton

     

    "I love a novel that you can't put down, and this is one of them."  L. Cihlar

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Wednesday
Aug302017

Cities of Men

Twitter's cool. There I said it, and we got that out of the way.

One of the many ways it is cool is the writers that I run into (and often befriend). Once such writer is William Jensen. Can't recall how we started chatting, but possibly because we both had our debut novels come out this May. We swapped novels, and to be honest it took me a while to get to reading his book. This was mostly an overbusy life, and a night table absolutely groaning under the weight of the "to-be-read" pile.

When I finally cracked it, two pages in I knew I was going to love it. True, we both had some pretty similar influences. Though, a big difference is that William is from Texas and I'm from the land of maple syrup and poutine. I also think that if I really didn't like the book, I wouldn't have finished it. And if I didn't like it, I might not review it on a public forum. Maybe, I'd send out a nervously friendly email saying, uh, yeah, it wasn't really for me.

But here is the thing - I goddamn loved it! It hit home for me in so many places. There were some funny coincidences and parallels with my novel that popped up for me. We both had teenage boy protags (12 and 15). We both were writing about different eras (70s and 80s). And strangely we both started the books with quotes from Tennyson (that was ultra-weird.)

So yes, I did end up putting the review on goodreads and Amazon. And now I am shouting about it at woofreakinhoo. 

Here it is:

Cities of Men by William Jensen

This is a novel that will stay with me a long time - and I don't say that lightly.

The characterizations and tight prose in Cities of Men reminded me of early Richard Ford, especially his novel Wildlife—in fact the novel read like a classic, with echoes of Carver, and maybe even Sherwood Anderson or Updike. But Jensen's book is more than a homage to these past greats. The story is electrifying in a way that I don't see much anymore. The charge is an emotional one, the human condition spilled out in the pain and confusion of a teenager who can't understand why the world has dealt him such a raw deal.

The deal here is Cooper (Coop) a twelve-year-old growing up in the southwest has lost his mother. Her disappearance is what drives the narrative — and it drives it like the Charger beautifully illustrated by Kevin Tong on the cover. Coop's father is a Vietnam vet with PTSD and a deep streak of violence and anger, buried within a tight skin of trying to do the right thing, seemingly ambivalent, but still ready to burst at any moment. Coop and his dad attempt in various ways to track down the wayward wife and mother, but the reader is somehow never sure how much the father wants to find her. It's a difficult emotional situation to describe, and I don't want to give away anything. But throughout the ordeal Coop goes deeper into his own pain, and his own violence emerges. I am left wondering what this book, set in the 80s, is saying about our culture of violence today, and the broken families that create it.

Especially poignant, and at times hard to read, is the relationship between Coop and his friend Donald. Jensen nails the conflicting emotions that run through adolescence, and even more so for those put under extreme duress like Coop, and those on the outside like Donald.

The novel captures the era beautifully, and characters like the father's friend Sebastian are a reminder that the druggy 70s and counter-culture 60s were not that long ago. It's an era I recall well, but in a totally different geography, still the touchstones and pop culture references enliven the narrative rather than feel forced. Maybe this is what makes it feel like it was written a while ago.

But I don't want to make this review sound like this novel doesn't have a modern sensibility. The reason why this book will stay with me is the way it describes the loneliness and confusion of growing up. Calling it "coming-of-age" gives it short shrift. Because the loneliness that it talks about affects us all. The mother wants something more of her life, Coop's father tries to make a life out of what he's been dealt, and Coop most of all exhibits the deep pain of abandonment, and raging against an unjust world. Damn right he wants to smash things.

This is a novel to read and consider. And one with a resonance that will not be easily be dismissed from the reader's memory.

5 Stars

Pick it up here.

Tuesday
Aug012017

Sleepy tired writer guy

Sorry - no blog yet. Be back at it soon.

Fringe was an amazing ride. But, oy, tired.

Friday
Jul212017

Hit the Fringe Running

Why is it that if I don't blog for a bit, spammy comments start showing up? Is that a way of kicking me in the butt?

Back from my Sask. book tour - the first of two this summer - and it was a blast. I will post a proper summary of that soon. But for now, I have hit the Fringe running. By that I mean the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. My city holds one of the best fringe fests in the country, maybe the continent. This year I believe there are almost 190 shows... including one of mine.

My daughter is a great actress and has been involved in productions over the years. She asked if I'd ever be interested in writing a show, and I pondered on it. In fact I wrote a few in my mind while at the beer tent last summer - but thankfully none of those ever hit the stage (or even the page).

But I did being writing a play dealing with something that I think a lot about - social media. I was always an early adopter, and when facebook came along (whenever that was), I jumped on. Ditto Twitter and Instagram. I love them all - they just somehow fit into the way I think. I was also aware of the growing toll they could take on me being present to my friends (and my wife!) So I, as one character in the play says, "dial it back" once in a while.

I knew if I wrote a fringe play it would be a comedy - I love all kinds of theatre, but I do tend to gravitate to the comedies. My son is an improv and sketch comedian - and my whole family is just sorta funny (goofy?)

The play, Filter This, deals with a couple that tries to see if they can live in each other's world (and I give my daughter co-creator credit, as the premise was her idea). Wanting to show how the infiltration of social media is so ever-present, I created a character that embodied those digital interactions. The Meme is on stage for the enitre play, and voices ever tweet, text, facebook post, instagram photo that happens between the other two characters. We were lucky enough to get a wonderfully physical comic actor to play this part.

Filter This opened last night to a packed house. I jokingly said to a volunteer taking tickets that I promised one laugh every two minutes... or the patron would get there money back! I didn'y have to worry though, as the place was full of laughter throughout the performance.

On purpose I didn't want to preach on either side - social media evil - social media good. I only wanted to pose some questions for the audience. What does it mean to be present? To be mindful to each other? And are there some good things about social media? Can it engage one's compassion?

The actors, the director and stage manager beautifully breathed this play into life - and I get the ultimate joy of just leaning back and listening. And I still laugh out loud at many of the parts.

Here is a link to the Fringe Website

And here is where you can pick up tickets

Fringe it up!

And spammers be quiet now.

Sunday
Jul092017

Woo-back the Sask edition

On the cusp of leaving for a mini-tour to the motherland (Saskatchewan), I thought I'd post a woo-back with a touch of my home province.

For sure it shows up in my fiction - though never named in Fall in One Day, and I've created some new towns and cities, it most definitely is a Saskatchewan landscape. Without thinking it is where I go when I start to write a story. I still like to write about other places, Mexico, Toronto, and currently, Upper Michigan. But all of those require a bit more research and work. But Sask., well, I just need to start typing and I am there.

10 Years ago in the woo-back - Grey Cup week no less - and me thinking Rider thoughts. Something else that happens when you grow up there.
Have a read, and if you're in Weyburn or Regina next week, stop by and say hi.
I'm at the Weyburn Public Library, Tues. July 11, 7:00

And then at Words in the Park - in Victoria Park, Regina - Noon

And then Chapters bookstore - southern Regina - from 4:00 - 7:00 PM.

### 

Green Fiction

Reed.George2.jpgNo, it is not a misspelling, and I am not talking about Graham Greene again. This is a blog all
about fiction and writing, but I need to make a side step into the world of sports just for amoment.

When I was a kid somebody, maybe my dad, gave me a shirt with the number 34 on the back and a very well known football logo on the front. Number 34 was George Reed, the logo was the Saskatchewan Roughriders. So I was born into this heritage, and those who follow Canadian football know there is nothing like a Rider fan. You find them everywhere, in every city across Canada and even in other countries. There is a joke about landing on another planet and listing the people you would find there - I think it goes like: a lawyer, a reverend, etc., and a Rider fan.

I used to play a bit of football, and watch a lot of it. I don't watch it, or really any sports on TV anymore. I still go to baseball games for the meditative experience, but I don't follow the big leagues. Though, there is a time when my heritage burbles up (if heritages could do that), and it doesn't happen often, barely once a generation. It is when the Riders make it to the big game, the Grey Cup - I don't like calling it Canada's Superbowl, because there is something so uniquely Canadian about it that is defies parallels. There are those people who have never watched a game all year become football fans during Grey Cup week. Although, this does depend on who is playing. And if you believe the media, this year, the year Saskatchewan finally made it to the final, it seems like every man, woman, child and dog has suddenly become a football fan. The ultimate underdogs with the best fans in sport have made it to the show, and it's better than the best fiction.

Me, I'll be thinking of that shirt from my childhood and finding me a case of Saskatchewan Pilsner. That's the one with the green label.

Go Riders.

Friday
Jun302017

Woo-back - the Canuck Edition


Me and my closest 30 million friends will be celebrating our home and native land's 150th this year. Very very proud and happy to be a Canadian - and I still might get a bit misty when singing the anthem at a ball game.

I thought I'd use the woo-back machine to search for mentions of Canada over the last 10 years, and of course I came up with a review of a Richard Ford book (an American! Sheesh).

Still, I thought Canada, the novel, was a wonderful read and Ford continues to inspire me in all his writings. His presence in the latest New Yorker, even though it was just an essay, made me buy the issue.

Here is what I thought of Canada, back in 2012:

 

Canada (Richard Ford) review

Canada

Canada by Richard Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are looking for a fast paced narrative, full of suspense and robbers on the run (r.o.r. - okay, just made that up), then look elsewhere.
But if you know Ford's elegant, stripped down prose and amazing ability to capture the intricacies of human beings better than any other writer alive (stolen quote form Globe and Mail), and you have the time to immerse yourself in a slow exploration... then this book needs 6 stars, or maybe more.

I know it won't be for everyone - and especially the dismaying amount of readers that want a narrative to drive forward - but this book will ache in my chest long after I have read it. I don't need to give away much in the plot, really there isn't much plot. In 1960, Dell Parson's parents rob a bank, he and his twin sister are set adrift. Berner, his sister, runs to California, Dell is spirited away, pre-911, to cross the border into Canada, and "hide-out" in southwestern Saskatchewan. (Right around where I was born actually). It really isn't a hiding out, but a crossing of a physical border, that parallels the metaphorical border Dell is crossing in his life. 

Sure it is a coming of age of sorts - for me it resonates best with Ford's short stories (Rock Springs) and the novella Wildlife, which also has a young person at its centre, and a shares the setting of Great Falls, Montana. It has less in common with the Bascombe books (Independence Day etc., which I have not liked as much.)
But it is much more than a sixteen year old crossing into adulthood. A melancholy pervades the book, at times it's almost too sad to read, as in when the siblings visit their parents in jail. Ford gets inside people, and even if you can't imagine what Dell's life would be like (ie: have never had a parent commit a criminal act and go to jail), you will recognize yourself in there, you will recognize humanity in there.

Dell tells this story as a 66-year old man (though, this only becomes evident in scant ways, and the voice is a teenager's, one wise beyond his years). And I can't help but think Ford is reflecting on his life through this book - he is returning to a setting from early in his career, and he is thinking about the things that led up to his life now (I think he is almost 70). As I've said, this is a sad and quiet book - but in the best sort of Wim Wenders way. I do think it will make the Pulitzer and National Book lists.

If I have one criticism of the book, it is the use of the cliffhanger type endings in some of the chapters. As in, "and he knew he would never see again", or "later when he found the man dead in the room" (these are paraphrase samples, trying not to spoil anything - but hell, right from the beginning line you know there is a robbery and a murder). I wonder if editors told Ford, "You know it's beautiful and all that, but can you crank up the tension, just a bit?" These bits seem out of place. And I want to say, shut up unnamed editor, I am just fine with the pace. I have seen Ford in interviews, including the Colbert Report (!), himself reminding the interviewer that the book is also about robbery and murders, as if to say, "hey, it's not like that literary stuff that people don't read anymore." Again, I say, Richard, shhh. It's fine. It's more than fine.

I know this is a book I will read again. The controlled and elegant prose needs to be studied. The mood is not something I look forward to, but the feelings, and even the truth, that it evokes create something that I find in classic novels: at the end, I am changed. 

At this point in my life (49), I think a lot of my Saskatchewan upbringing. Incidentally, my father was a goose hunter, also born right around the setting of the novel, and these sections of the book are crystalline in their imagery. And I think of borders, what it means to cross over them, and to never return.
My favorite quote in the book is the narrator quoting Ruskin,
"Composition is the arrangement of unequal things."

This is what Ford does. He takes these unequal things in our lives, and he puts them into stories that tell us who we are.