Category Archives: My Writing

Losing My Stand-up Comedy Virginity – Onstage! :0

On 27 April 2013 I performed my first-ever stand-up comedy routine, at Lazy Daisy’s Café in Toronto as part of Erin Keaney’s Time Out! series. It went extremely well – great fun to be included in a lineup of terrific comics. Here’s an excerpt from my 10 minute-bit:

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How to Survive the Copyedit

When you do get published, there comes before the typesetting of your work one of the many events of great vulnerability for a writer: the copyedit. The copyeditor won’t tell you if she likes your work – she’ll just tell you where you went wrong, how you went wrong, and how you can make it right.

I always bring my work as close as possible to perfection before submission, reasoning that the volume of submissions an editor must manage forces him to read not with an eye toward acceptance, but rejection. This means that minimizing errors reduces the number of handles an editor can use to carry your work to the trash bin.

Because I think I’m pretty good at getting the manuscript right, the copyedit always unnerves me, especially in a long work like a novel. The biggest casualty of long workspans is consistency. Everything from your use of the Oxford comma to your basic diction can change over a period of three or five years, and the copyeditor is there to normalize these changes.

The copyeditor is your friend. You may not feel that way about this overscrupulous nitpicker (copyeditor note: redundancy), but trust her. She will keep you from making a fool of yourself, or at least try, with the resources at hand, i.e., your manuscript.

In this day and age (copyeditor note: cliché), most copyeditors work through your Microsoft Word document with the track changes feature enabled, often adding comments to justify corrections or offer suggestions. Julia Armstrong from my alma mater, the University of Toronto, lists in a document for a copyediting workshop the five Cs of copyediting:

“Make the copy clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.” She adds, “Copy editors should make it say what it means, and mean what it says.”

While this is all fair and true, a certain latitude needs to be applied when the work in question in fiction, as authors may stretch or break specific rules in the name of art.

I’ve just endured – er – enjoyed the copyedit of my forthcoming novel, The Sky Manifest. Here is the copyeditor at work, in this case improving clarity:

  • “He watched through the steel grating moirés of light rippling across the plates of broken ice below…” becomes, “He watched through the steel grating as moirés of light rippled across the plates of broken ice below…”

There are lots of examples of correcting errors, usually of the type where precision that is not considered during composition becomes essential once the work goes public, for example:

  • Pine-Sol, not Pine Sol; CorningWare, not Corningware
  • The title of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” vs. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”; the copyeditor writes: “Sources, even authoritative ones, seem to disagree on whether the g is dropped. I’m following the punctuation used on the cover of the single.”

I want to commend the copyeditor’s astute concern regarding characters smoking in a tavern:

The province-wide ban on indoor smoking (enclosed workplaces and enclosed public places) went into effect on May 31, 2006, according to this page:

Near the end of the book, the TV news covers the release of the final Harry Potter book, which came out in July 2007. I’m not sure exactly how much time is meant to elapse offstage while Nathan cycles the continent (it certainly could be more than a year), so I’m flagging this just in case it’s a concern. (Same concern would then apply to the bar in Thunder Bay where Nathan meets the pimp.)

The Choo Choo could be a bar that flouts the new law, but that would be inconsistent with Claire’s nervous adherence to the liquor-serving rules.

Another excellent example: I refer to a newspaper headline reporting the D-Day invasion, speculating that the headline would read, “ALLIES LAND IN FRANCE!” To my own credit, I was not far from the mark. But the copyeditor noticed a discrepancy and corrected it, by finding the headline itself in the Globe & Mail’s archives, where it stands minus the exclamation point:

Allies Land in France

The book’s style includes some quirks, for example the frequent compounding of specific adjective-noun combinations, such as “towtruck” and “heatlamps,” (much like the word “copyeditor,” which some insist on writing as “copy-editor”), saddling this copyeditor with the extra chore of assessing the comprehensibility of each (for example, “arclamps” could be misread as “ar-clamps”), while adding candidate phrases to the mix (steeringwheel vs. steering wheel).

I like occasionally to use ambiguous descriptions when the characteristic being described is inconsequential to the plot. In The Sky Manifest, two come to mind. The first is “Eyes the colour of beer bottles.” The copyeditor rightly asserts, “This doesn’t specify the colour (beer bottles come in a variety of colours).” I used this description because the character’s eyecolour is irrelevant to the story, and I like it that his eyes might vary by reader. One might imagine his eye colour as brown, while someone else makes them green. If you drink a lot of Corona, perhaps they’re clear, or the colour of Corona beer itself.

In another section, a man is described as a “slight codger.” The copyeditor asks, “is this a slight (small) man who is a codger, or is he a bit of a codger?” The character described is inconsequential – the ambiguity of the description allows the reader to decide.

I’m tickled by the idea that the ambiguity of these two phrases represents an overt variance in a process of reader interpretation that runs throughout the entire novel. I do not tell you how to respond to Nathan’s reaction to the girl in the amusement park ride – you respond according to your own values, ideas, culture, thoughts. While interpretation of character responses are more subtle than those surrounding physical descriptions, they are in fact more important that the colour of a man’s eyes or whether an old coot is only slightly a coot, or a little coot.

In the end I concede the first point, but maintain the second. The beer bottle eyes are now “eyes like brown beachglass,” to prevent the ambiguity from interrupting the flow of the text, while the second is left to the reader’s discretion. You get to decide what kind of codger greets Nathan at the Canada-U.S. border. It’s like a painfully subtle Choose Your Own Adventure.

All in all, this was a labourious laborious, but unconfrontational copyedit, and I’m pleased with the care and treatment of the copyeditor. I still have no idea if he liked the book. But he made it right, and for that, I’m thankful.

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Free eBook, 21 January 2013

NiaS trade 3D cover

My novel is again free for Kindle, January 21st. You can find a long excerpt here, or here’s a brief sampler:


“Your ETA was out by fourteen minutes,” Tessa mutters through a cigarette as she banks to line up the dirt strip.

“The wind changed,” Cordell replies. “You haven’t set the gyrocompass in an hour.”

Tessa says nothing, stubs out the cigarette. Cordell rubs his chin, pledges to recheck his plotting. His eyes follow a bolt of green which runs from the hills below to the opposite horizon, impaling at the plain’s midpoint the clustered structures of a town surrounded by a lowrise sprawl of slum. The runway lies within an irrigated patch of green, some sort of orchard, though it’s hard to tell from this altitude.

“Do they know we’re coming?” Cordell asks.

“Yeah. Yesterday.”

The plane descends steeply, and Tessa battles a crosswind, twisting the yoke to the left while standing on the right rudder pedal, nose askew of the centreline. She trims the elevator, drops the flaps, and throttles back, releasing rudder and aileron, allowing the plane to straighten out. The craft sinks to the sand and they rumble down the runway, decelerating as Tessa cuts the throttles. Cordell looks through the side window, sees limes dangling from the branches like verdant Christmas ornaments, gleaming in the sunlight. He spots among the shrubbery a yellow bulldozer parked with its blade facing the runway and for an instant he sees what looks like a man in military fatigues crouched in the seat.

He is about to comment when Tessa barks, “What’s this?” Cordell stretches his neck to look through her side window, sees an army truck with soldiers clustered in the back pull out from among the trees and onto the runway’s edge, matching their speed.

“Up!” Cordell cries. “Up up up, take us up! It’s a trap!”

“Yeah, got it,” Tessa says, reaching for the throttles before she calls, “Not enough runway!”

She stands on the brakes and they slam into their restraints. The plane pitches forward and Cordell feels the cockpit tilt sickeningly, thinks the tailwheel has lifted and they are tipping onto the nose. Tessa lets up and the tail thumps to the ground. The army truck continues until the soldiers hammer on the cab’s roof and the vehicle brakes. Tessa whirls the plane to face down the strip. “Puts wind behind us, but here goes,” she growls. She slams the throttles forward.

There is motion in the trees on the runway’s left side, and then like a yellow animal scooting headlong into traffic the bulldozer emerges and rolls onto the strip. It reaches the centreline and stops and the soldier in the seat turns to watch their approach, his mouth agape. Tessa grits her teeth, grunts, “All right, soldier. A little game of pollo.”

With only seconds to escape, the soldier leaps from the bulldozer’s saddle and lopes into the trees. Tessa pumps the brakes while Cordell grips the armrests and the Duck skids towards the yellow machine. A moment before collision Tessa swerves off the runway and they race for the trees. Cordell throws his hands over his face, hears the slap of leaves and twigs against the wings and fuselage. He hears branches snapping and the hollow tattoo of trunks against the aluminum, and when he lowers his hands he sees greenery whip against his window.

They stop. Tessa struggles out of her harness and launches her hand under her seat. It emerges clutching a nickelplated Beretta. She checks the magazine, chambers a round, and darts down the aisle.

“Wait,” Cordell yells. “Wait!”

He thrashes out of his seatbelt and hobbles down the aisle where Tessa is lifting a curtain from a window.

They hear from outside a truck’s approach, hear it skid to a stop, footsteps on dirt, voices. Then someone thumps on the door.

Abra la puerta!” a voice demands.

Without a thought Cordell’s hand shoots out and plucks the Beretta from Tessa’s hand. They are both amazed by the speed of this move, and Tessa turns to him with a bewildered look. Then they each notice the weapon in Cordell’s hand, and Tessa makes a move for it, but Cordell draws it back. Her face flushes with rage.

“Give me that,” she growls.

Fear prickles along Cordell’s spine. “No,” he says softly.

“Bechard, I’m serious. Give me that gun.”

“I can’t, Tessa. You don’t stand a chance.”

She steps towards him like a panther, muscles tensed, ready to pounce. “That’s for me to decide.”

“Thank me later,” he says.

She leaps. With a flick of his wrist Cordell tosses the gun away just as she topples him, her hands snapping around his wrists. The fall winds him and the back of his head slams against the deck. She scrambles on top, straddles him, clamping his hips between her knees with surprising force. “Give it back!” she yells, spraying his face with spittle. He turns his head and struggles. Then she spots his empty hand and her grip falters. She is about to jump up when the door flies open and a dozen rifle barrels bristle inside. Tessa roars with rage, rears up, and with a mighty swing slugs Cordell in the jaw.