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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.

  • Correction Line
    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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Sunday
Nov202016

So who do you sound like?

I have this nasty habit of explaining music in terms of who the artist (or band) sounds like. Oh, you know, it's kind of a Beck meets Jack White and has a baby with Aretha Franklin. (hmm, that would be a cool sound).

I say nasty habit, because I never know if I am honouring or insulting the music. One of my favorite local bands, no longer around (Western States), in my mind were a dead ringer for Wilco. (See: all things I obsess about: here they are on Colbert.)

Love, love, loved all of the Western States, especially the lead singer and main writer. I had the luck of attending one of their album releases, where I met the lead guy, and asked him - so, who are your influences? I waited for him to say Jeff Tweedy and the Boys, but he didn't. He said, Neil Young. But, but... Okay, well, Neil is amazing. But don't you think you guys sound kinda like Wilco? Especially early Wilco?

"Oh yeah, sure. But it's cooler to say we were influenced by Neil." 

Huh. I guess I landed on the insult button there. Though, I still wonder what he meant. Sure, Wilco was influenced by Neil (damn, who wasn't?)... but, but, but. Own your influence man!

Okay, before I get too indignant. Let's talk about this in terms of that big buzz word for writers: VOICE. As in, you gotta find your voice... man. I think it needs a "man" at the end.

When I started writing, I was majorly influenced by Salinger, Carver, Marquez, and for sure Hemingway. I had what George Saunders referred to as a "Hemingway Boner." (now there's a literary term for ya). So while I searched for my voice, I was looking for it somehow within these influences. Problem is, I just end up sounding like an imitation-Hemingway. A faux, ersatz, lesser, stinkin-up-the-joint version of Papa H. actually. 

I watch a lot of writer interviews. Hey, I don't get out much! And over the years, I've come to understand this imitation phase as natural. Saunders had that Hemingway boner for a long time, until he finally figured out it was fake. Someone, maybe John Gardner, said that you need to read all the Hemingway you can get your hands on... and then read all the Faulkner you can, to get Hemingway out of your head.

I think what I've realized is that the voice thing will come along, and you need not force it. I was really struck by a Tobias Wolff interview I watched tonight on the treadmill (yeah, yeah, see above comment) - in the interview he is asked a question about voice. It doesn't help that the interviewer is kinda nerdy herself. But it was refreshing to see a great writer and teacher like Wolff (who incidentally was Saunders' Prof at Syracuse), respond by saying that voice was overrated. And writing doesn't really work that way.

I've had a lot of writer/reader obsessions over the years. Read this blog, you will find them. And I have seen my own work as a writerly stew of the people I read. If someone happens to comment that my latest novel sounds a bit like Richard Ford, well, I will proceed to bear hug that person, and possibly offer to buy the next round, or three. But I think, more importantly, I am starting to understand that my writing is not some French reduction of Ford, DeLillo, and a shot of Carver (hey, I'm a cook, I'm allowed the metaphor). Moreover, my work is staring to sound like, well, me. For instance, I actually use the word "moreover" when I talk - and not just for effect! (I think.)

Why isn't there a compound word "lessover". Like when I want the next thing I say to mean even less than the thing I just said.

I digress. Usually.

So while it might be good to know who you sound like in the beginning - we all sound like someone. It is better to sound more and more like yourself. This is way harder than you can imagine. Saunders remarked that rewriting makes him sound even more like himself than he is.

And there is nothing lessover about that.
Deep? Yeah, I know.

The interview below is around a half-hour long, and looks like bad cable TV (that opening!) - but it is worth it for the wisdom Tobias Wolff shares. And yes, that interviewer is kinda geeky. But I listen to writer interviews on the treadmill - so what the hell do I know?

 

 

Sunday
Nov132016

Obsession, Altman, and the Art of Story

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about a certain Robert Altman film -- there was a time when all I thought of was Altman films. Well, maybe not all, but let's just say things got a bit obsessive -- just as they did with Sam Peckinpah, Don DeLillo, and the music of a certain Chicago band, which will remain nameless (WILCO).

What can I say, I'm a bit of an obsessive guy. One of my guilty pleasures is reading film criticism. I can disappear quite deeply into the minutia of what a certain scene in an underrated Peckinpah classic means in philosophical, sociological, and all the "cals." So there was a time when Altman was "it."

The film I've been thinking about (because geeky folk like me don't say "movie"), is McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The death of Leonard Cohen sprang the memory, since that was the first time I was really struck by his music. Sure, I knew Bird on the Wire, Suzanne, and the one K.D. Lang sings the most -- but it was the music of the Altman film that nailed me. I found out recently that Cohen didn't write the songs for the film, but in a way, Altman wrote the film based on the songs. If you dig around on the net, you will see what I mean. But whichever way it was, the film is a masterpiece. Not when it came out though. It was mostly panned except for frequent Altman cheerleader, the New Yorker's Pauline Kael. And Kael was right (and as usual, she was brilliant, so fricken' brilliant.)

I haven't seen the film in a few years because I have to be in the right mood -- that mood being super melancholy, or willing to become that way. It's a very sad film, Roger Ebert says it is one of the saddest in his glowing review. I actually tried to find Kael's review, but it is seemingly impossible. If someone knows where I can find it, please send me a link.

But what I know and remember of the film, is that when McCabe wanders into the town (like some Joseph looking for a manger... as Cohen sings) the people living there are not just some people that are sitting around on a film set, waiting for their chance to say their scripted lines. Rather, these people have been there for a very long time, just waiting for a story to happen, or maybe just for life to continue in its damp, muddy, dirty, underlit way. Other reviewers, Ebert or Kael, I forget which one, have also noted this.

This opening scene of McCabe & Mrs. Miller relates to how a story is formed... in the best of ways. My favourite blurb of my favourite book also relates here. Don DeLillo's Underworld is a beast of a book (900+ pages) and also happens to be my favourite book. I don't say that to be some sort of pretentious literary sort, this novel brought together everything that I loved (okay, obsessed) about DeLillo, and the rewards of that challenging read were huge. Michael Ondaatje blurbed the book, which went something like: a great novel teaches you how to read it. But in my memory Ondaatje, also said something about trusting an author to take you into town, and explain what you see, and what you will learn and feel. This is paramount in a DeLillo book, where the reader might be somewhat fearful to tread (or just damn confused).

Walking into an Altman film, or a DeLillo book, is like that. You need to trust, that if you just go awhile, you will be okay, things will become clear... or clear enough. This is the sort of trust I need as a writer when I begin a story. I need to trust that the story will talk to me, take me by the hand and tell me what it is about. 

When I began as a writer this kind of trust was hard. Ok, it was fucking impossible. I had so much to say, and to impart, and to teach, and, and, and... It took me a long time to learn that writing this way was akin to driving up my truckload of manure and dumping my shit onto poor reader's head. There. Got it now? Aren't I clever? Next.

I stole the manure metaphor from George Saunders (current obsession). And it nailed it for me.

I digress. Often.

The art, and craft, of the story is to be able to trust where it will take you as a writer. It's actually something that is very hard to do, and it takes a long time to learn it. Ask any writer, and I think you will get a version of this process.

So while I think about John McCabe (Pudgy McCabe!) wandering into that barely built, greasy, wet town, full of people who have inhabited the place for so long... I think of my own work-in-progress, and how I need to trust that it will eventually speak to me about where it's going. Um, please... just a hint, a nudge, would really help.

Here's some more Saunders on the relationship between the writer and the reader.

 

 

 

Thursday
Nov102016

Time to get at it...

Okay, I've been a slacker, it's true. And this post may be met with cynicism. As in... oh yeah, you're going to blog more, like you always say.

I mean, damn, even your daughter is even more regular at this!

See:  Anthems of a 20Something - no really do, it's a damn fine blog.

But as mentioned, big news and such is afoot. I do in fact have a novel coming out next year. And my publisher will be launching me on their site on Monday, Nov. 14. So I want to do my part, and get back to blogging. I do enjoy writing the blog, though my digressive brain (regressive?) tends to take trips down paths of non-writing. Even the clunkiness of that sentence screams at me— you're outta practice boy!

So here is where you come in. 

What would you like to see from me in the next weeks and months? I can give more background on some LSD folks (as seen in posts below), but I am not sure it will catch interest. More likely some stories of my dancing with the publishing industry... but even moreover, talking about the craft itself. I am an absolute pig for interviews on craft and storytelling. Pig? Hmm, devourer? Obsessive eater?

I digress. Often. You know what I mean.

I'd love to talk shop, like where I get my ideas (drugstore down the street), what I read (everything), what I eat (same), and the finer points of the narrative distance between different forms of Third-Person POV (say wha?)

But let me know, I am Craig, I am your blogger. The regular posting begins now. No really, don't look at me like that.

And as I started, I end with one of my biggest heroes talking shop:
In Defense of Darkness

 

 

Sunday
Sep252016

Through the doors of perception

One of the figures I continually bumped against while researching my novel, was Aldous Huxley. I'd of course heard of him - I tried Brave New World, but never finished it (unlike my son, who I believe this was a significant book.)

I can't recall when I first heard the story of his correspondence and friendship with Dr. Humphrey Osmond (Weyburn), but I do remember going, um, "no way." This of course had to do with the coining of the word "psychedelic."

Osmond's letter to Huxley:

Later, when discussing his flight of hallucinogenic fancy, Huxley, writing to Osmond, penned this bit of verse:

To make this mundane world sublime, / take half a gram of phanerothyme.

The word phanerothyme, cobbled together from the Greek, translates roughly to “manifest spirit.”

In response Osmond wrote some poetry of his own, in the process coining a term that soon spread around the world:

To fathom Hell or soar Angelic, / just take a pinch of psychedelic.


Soon after finding this out, I would often ask people if they knew the word, psychedelic, was coined in Weyburn, Sask., Canada. And when no one believed me, my defense was, "but it's on Wikipedia!" I also recall this was in the beginnings of writing the book, around 2008 maybe. And Wiki was new (need to fact check that.) Anyway, no one believed it - and I doubted it myself.

But back to Huxley. The English writer wove through the story of early LSD testing, and I did end up reading his Doors of Perception.  A book, that with some help from William Blake, gave the band The Doors their name.

Only recently, I found out that Huxley's nephew worked at the Weyburn hospital, and administered LSD to Kay Parley. Ms. Parley, now in her 90's, wrote a book on her experience at the mental hospital, and devotes a chapter to LSD. Her book was published just this March (link below).

Inside the Mental
SILENCE, STIGMA, PSYCHIATRY, AND LSD

 

More on Huxley in my next post.  

Sunday
Sep112016

Let's talk about the Bear

 

"There's nothing wrong with Bear that a few billion less brain cells wouldn't cure."

Here is another in my series on some fascinating LSD Pioneers that I came across in the research for my novel, Fall In One Day.

When I first came across the person either named Owsley Stanley, or Stanley Owsley, I never could figure it out,... he seemed almost mythical. Here was a character linked to Kesey and his Electric Kool-Aid tests, the Grateful Dead, and then overlaps with Aldous Huxley, Leary, and Dr. Osmond back in Saskatchewan - and then the kicker for me, the subject of a Steely Dan tune?

The deeper I went, the weirder it got - provider of the purest LSD in North America in the 60's, probably supplier from everyone in the Dead to Cary Grant (!), inventor of a monitor system that was at least a decade ahead of it time, and and and... my point is not to do an exhaustive treatment of him, more just a flavour of a brilliant, and probably very troubled man, that saw the power of LSD, and the possible goodness in it;

Hard to know where to start with the Bear (his nickname because of a preponderance of chest hair as a teenager). His full name was Augustus Owsley Stanley - often known just as Owsley, or to some friends August. I came across that last bit when deciding how to put him into the novel - but of course, now I can't find that piece of research.

I also recall not finding a lot of articles online about him when I first started researching - but since his death in 2011, there seems to have been an explosion of material written about him.

Here is an excerpt from the start of a piece the NY Times wrote about him after his death.

***

Mr. Stanley, the Dead’s former financial backer, pharmaceutical supplier and sound engineer, was in recent decades a reclusive, almost mythically enigmatic figure. He moved to Australia in the 1980s, as he explained in his rare interviews, so he might survive what he believed to be a coming Ice Age that would annihilate the Northern Hemisphere.

Once renowned as an artisan of acid, Mr. Stanley turned out LSD said to be purer and finer than any other. He was also among the first individuals (in many accounts, the very first) to mass-produce the drug; its resulting wide availability provided the chemical underpinnings of an era of love, music, grooviness and much else. Conservatively tallied, Mr. Stanley’s career output was more than a million doses, in some estimates more than five million.

His was the acid behind the Acid Tests conducted by the novelist Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, the group of psychedelic adherents whose exploits were chronicled by Tom Wolfe in his 1968 book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” The music world immortalized Mr. Stanley in a host of songs, including the Dead’s “Alice D. Millionaire” (a play on a newspaper headline, describing one of his several arrests, that called him an “LSD Millionaire”) and Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne.”

***

Yes, that was the Steely Dan tune. And I love how it took a while for Donald Fagen (or maybe it was Becker) to admit that's who they were singing about.

Here's a link to the rest of the NYT article:

And here, of course, is the Dan.

(oh, and a great article that does a close read of the lyrics)

 

Some more about Owsley in my next post.