Can-Lit: Our National Snobbery Disorder.
This is a piece I wrote some time ago at the invitation of the National Post. More relevant than ever, I believe.
The late Marian Engle once confessed to me that she occasionally enjoyed the “guilty pleasure” of reading a mystery. That sums up a common notion: a properly brought up Canadian is expected to feel guilty about reading a book that claims no pretension but to entertain. (I didn’t feel guilty about reading Bear.)
This priggish attitude toward popular fiction is deeply imbedded within our cultural establishment. By establishment, I mean the literature departments of our universities, the book pages of our journals, institutions such as the Canada Council and provincial arts bodies, the CBC, and the big publishing houses.
The infection may have begun in our libraries, and it found a host in our historic inferiority complex, a belief that our culture was little, provincial, unknown. To cover up our shame, that condition has morphed into a national snobbery disorder.
An interesting take on the Victorian airs that infested our libraries early in the last century comes from David Skene-Melvin, a librarian himself, in the preface to his bibliography, Canadian Crime Fiction (1996). “Popular fiction was considered déclassé by libraries and crime fiction beyond the pale. Up through the 1940s, at least in Canada, the public library systems did not purchase popular fiction (although they acquired ‘literature.’ If you wanted to read that sort of thing, you frequented your neighbourhood private enterprise lending library, where you paid your five cents a day to take home the latest thriller or mystery or romance or western with which to entertain yourself… It was not until social pressure in the 1950s forced public libraries to realize that if they were to survive on tax support from the masses they had to cater to mass taste [and] they began to offer ‘fiction’ collections, shelved well away from the ‘literature’ sections so as not to contaminate the latter.”
That attitude carried on to seduce academic libraries and graduate English courses, where students were made to believe that Hugo and Dostoevsky, Maugham and Conrad had not written crime and spy novels. The virus still flourishes in our schools and cultural institutions; our self-appointed guardians of culture still leave genre writers off the literary tea guest lists. She writes mysteries, my dear, she’ll show up reeking of gin. Or you get: He writes thrillers? How crass. It’s so American.
“Popular fiction” has become a term of vulgar connotation, but it reeks of ironic paradox: obviously we sobersided Canadians ought to be reading unpopular fiction. (As an aside, reflecting an antithetical American attitude, I once got a rejection from a publisher down there who complained a manuscript was “too literary for the genre.”)
Several years ago, I gave a workshop in popular fiction at one of B.C.’s annual Festival of the Arts (a program since abandoned, lamentably, by the provincial government) during which I was instructed by a Canada Council spokeswoman, in severe tones, that it does not support writers of crime fiction. I doubt that is a written policy, but it is certainly maintained by its system of elitist peer review.
Recently, Robert Sawyer, an internationally respected sci-fi’er and Hugo winner, was rejected by the Council’s peer assessors for residency at Yukon’s Berton House, a decision that was publicly and hurtfully leaked. Similar juries have turned down libraries seeking to host genre writers for readings.
In an email to me, Sawyer wrote that the best investment Canada Council could make “is in funding writers who actually might go on someday to pay taxes on their writing income.”
It is to Canada’s utter shame that William Gibson, with his vast trophy case of awards, has not been honoured in this country with a Giller or a G.-G. Meanwhile, Margaret Atwood is acclaimed for her speculative fiction and, like the late and lamented Carol Shields, has won a crime fiction award. Both are undoubted literary icons –– and indeed Atwood remains an unapologetic reader of crime fiction — but what’s wrong with this picture? I think it’s this:
Of the six Booker Prize finalists in 2002, three were Canadian - Mistry, Shields and the winner, Yann Martel. But who would disagree that our cluster of internationally known writers has since shrunk drastically? Canadians don’t even know their own authors. A recent Harris/Decima poll found that nearly half of those surveyed, and 62 per cent of young Canadians, didn’t know the name of a single domestic author. A minuscule percentage knew only four.
Ipsos Reid, in another poll, discovered that nearly a third of Canadian adults hadn’t read a book for pleasure in all of 2007. Yet, according to a federally funded study from 2008, the supply of books in the Canadian market is accelerating more rapidly than consumer demand.
The study found that title output grew 40 percent from 1998 to 2004 — to 16,776 — while publishers’ sales grew by only 11 percent. More recent figures from the Public Lending Right Commission show a parallel pattern for fiction categories. Setting aide Kidlit, an average of 850 new fiction writers, in English and French, registered with the PLR in each of the last seven years.
So as the lists of books and writers swell, sales flatline. I blame that on a push to reward insipid stuff that will never sell –– and on the failure of the Can-Lit establishment to support young writers of readable, if commercial, works. Thus new authors find themselves engaged in a cruel and unworthy competition for a declining share of readers. This in an era of disappearing book pages in our journals, publishers’ ever-thinner promotion budgets, illusory best-seller lists, and a ballooning of amateur blog-trash, while Canadians rush to the stores to buy lavishly promoted foreign blockbusters.
I’m emboldened in my views by allies unafraid to take on the hungry cyclopes guarding the lair of the literary status quo.
The New York Times recently ran Douglas Coupland’s scathing critique of Canadian literary pretentiousness: “There is a grimness about CanLit,” he wrote, in which typically authors are supported by the government “to write about small towns and/or the immigrant experience.”
Toronto novelist Stephen Marche bemoaned in a recent interview that Canada represents “the oatmeal of world literature.” It is at “the cutting edge of blandness,” he said, our fictional characters indistinguishable, innovation a dirty word.
Andrew Pyper (Lost Girls, The Trade Mission), inveighs against the tendentious insistence by Canada’s cultural mavens that those who write about crime can never be considered seriously, must face exile into a genre ghetto.
“I bristle at prejudice,” he told me. “It’s a problem in Canada – a constipation about what we call literature, a teetotalling Presbyterian reflex, guard the gates against the barbarians. Someone told a lie about literature in Canada early on, someone who prefers books that are morally obvious, quiet, settled. It’s a lie that became institutionalized.”
His recent work, The Killing Circle, does a sardonic take on what may be one of the causes of the glut of literary oatmeal: the plethora of writers’ workshops—“the true growth industry in the ink-based sector.”
Overcapacity is generally acknowledged above and below the border. Ann Beattie, once a best-selling novelist, has complained that too many wannabes are keener in being a writer than in writing. “There are too many of us,” she wrote in the New York Times, “and M.F.A. programs graduate more every year, causing publishers to suffer snow-blindness.”
Meanwhile, The Brits knight their genre writers, the Yanks lionize them, the Canucks (or at least our persons of letters) continue to treat them like unwashed in-laws tracking mud into the parlour. So sad.
From the University of Saskatchewan
Press Release October 2016
SASKATOON – He is one of Canada’s best-known novelists, an award-winning crime writer who has also been lauded for his work as a lawyer, journalist, environmentalist and civil rights activist.
On October 22, the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) will pay tribute to alumnus William Deverell when he receives an honorary Doctor of Letters during Fall Convocation ceremonies at TCU Place.
“Mr. Deverell is widely regarded in literary circles as a national treasure and we hold great admiration for all he has accomplished as an award-winning author, lawyer, environmental activist, and as a champion of civil rights,” said U of S president Peter Stoicheff. “We are pleased to have this opportunity to celebrate his many achievements since graduating from the University of Saskatchewan and we are extremely proud to call him one of our own.”
Born in Regina, Deverell earned a Bachelor of Arts and a law degree at the U of S, while serving as editor of The Sheaf student newspaper as well as working as a night editor for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He went on to earn numerous national writing honours, including the Dashiell Hammett Award for Literary Excellence and twice winning the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. Deverell, who has written 18 novels, earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers of Canada and was twice short-listed for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Deverell was the creator of the hit CBC TV series Street Legal, which has been aired in more than 50 countries, and he was one of the 100 individuals honoured as Alumni of Influence on the 100th anniversary of the College of Arts and Science in 2009. Deverell, who was a founding director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and a member of Greenpeace, has also donated all of his manuscripts, notes and letters to the U of S.
Deverell will be honoured in the afternoon convocation ceremony (2 pm) at TCU Place on October 22.
From The Blog / April 1, 2015
Sing a Worried Song is out … and I’m outa here too
“It takes a worried man to sing a worried song. I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.” It’s an old folk song that Arthur Beauchamp can’t get out of his head. But poor old Arthur will have lots to worry about, including his possible violent death.
Whatever happens to him is out of my hands now. Sing a Worried Song is out in hardcover and as an e-book as of today. Now I must return to my untitled, half-finished work-in-progress.
I’m on my way to ferry and airport.
I’m going off to commune where there’s no phone, no Internet, no email. For three plus months!
Guess Who Just Hacked Your Blog…
Guest Blog by Bill’s Best Bud / April 2, 2017
That’s your parting shot? “I’m going off to commune where there’s no phone, no Internet, no email.”
You’re off to commune with whom, some hippie muse? Shit, man, we must have missed each other by a crotch hair.
Maybe that was you getting on the ferry as I was getting off. I said to myself, that can’t be Bill. That wild Einsteinian jungle of hair, the cheap sunglasses, the shirt half tucked in. No, couldn’t be you, I decided—you were always a snappy dresser. Back then. In those times of yore.
Don’t bother scrolling down to see who hacked into your blog—yes, it’s me, Bry Pomerantz, faded wunderkind of the big screen, your long-lost, long-ignored side kicker.
So now I guess that was you packing your bags onto the boat to Vancouver, to catch your flight to wherever the hell you’re going. A scruffy, rustic, yokelized version of you. I didn’t realize your breakdown was that severe, Bill. I read about it in the paper, how you went off the deep end and joined a hippie commune.
I assume you didn’t recognize me either. I was the Cool Hand Luke in the rattletrap truck, who having befriended its stoner owner got dropped off at the local mall, whence I made my way by foot to your house, hefting a pack with forty pounds of essentials. Cigarettes, beer, an illicit over-the-counter envelope of Captagon, and—in case I was invited to stay overnight—fresh gonches and socks. My MacAir and a script I’m working on.
I well remembered your place from when you were building it—that house-warming! a donkey roast, man. That was in ’79—you’d launched your first book, Needles. I brought along my old Needles file, btw, hoping to remind you how we had such a blast collaborating on it. There’s an old snapshot in it, you and me from the seventies. Arms around each other’s shoulders. Like brothers, man. If we were any closer, we’d have been gay.
Imagine my disappointment to find you’d taken a bunk. I was anticipating that delicious moment of recognition at the door, your shock, dismay. “Old soldiers never die, eh, Bill?” You would have responded with something like, “Yeah, but they don’t seem to fade away, either.” I would have explained, to your vast relief, that I’d popped in to your hokey little island only for the day. Just time to share a fast brew, that’s all, and to check on you. I was worried—I’ve been there, I’ve had breakdowns, some lulus. And I felt a need to reconnect with you, Bill, so we could mend our wounds, align our minds, bring back the old days, the creative sharing, the trips, the plots, the games, the laughs.
I would remind you how we brainstormed Needles. Remember that snapper I pulled out of my ass, making the hero a junkie? And how I came up with that twist for Chapter 15, the undercover hooker. (I picture your face darkening. A tremor, a twitch. Fear and loathing on Garibaldi. Oops, wrong island.)
Anyway, I found your house locked up tighter than Aunt Penelope’s anus, so I wandered around your forested hillside, checked out this cute little cabin buried in the forest above your house, which turns out to be your studio.
Key under the mat—clearly an invitation from an upholder of the great Canadian tradition of hospitality, permitting wayfarers a respite from their arduous journeys, an escape from the bitter cold and shrieking gales. This is not hyperbole—I have known bitter cold and shrieking gales, much of which inclement weather came from the cold front known as Sue. (I still love you, Sue, if you are reading this.)
So if you don’t mind, I’ll crash here for a bit. Pretty basic, but beats my East-end hovel. Lots of stacked firewood for your old pot-belly, a sleeping loft, and you’ve got this beat-up old desktop, and you’ve got Internet. What you don’t have is a shitter. Ah, well, I can do as the Pope does.
Unfortunately, because of your current unreachable state there’s no way I can thank you.
Couldn’t believe you’d leave a scribbled password where any asshole could find it, taped beneath your keyboard. A password that got me into both the computer AND your blog. More soon. Off to grab a bite and a beer, if I can find a liquor outlet on this rock.
Happy Easter, btw.
Oh, and congratulations on the new book…
Posted by Bry Pomerantz on April 2, 2015
The Wild Hippie Lawyer
Guest Blog by Bill’s Best Bud / April 4, 2017
Yeah, I clipped that item from the National Post. I had no idea. The deep end? You may have tiptoed near the edge. But divorce? Shacking up with hippies?
Flashback to this summery scene: I was sitting on a bench in Stanley Park. A bench I hoped to sleep on if it didn’t rain. The Screenwriters Guild had just denied my appeal to get my membership reinstated. I was homeless, hungover, as taut as a stretched condom, exhausted from ranting on the public pathways.
The final blow had just been delivered that morning: Sue announced I was domestically redundant, and gave me my walking papers. (You won’t know Sue, she was after your time. She’s a lawyer. Also, expensively, an afficionada of fine chopped flake.)
Aimlessly, I reached over to a trash bin from whose gaping mouth protruded the front section of the National Post. Yes, I’m guilty. I occasionally look at the National Post. I am not one of your leftie poseurs who boast of never reading it, as if that’s a mark of intellectual and spiritual attainment.
And there’s this front-page memoir about a son’s attempt to rediscover his dad, a peripatetic counterculture libertarian, who “crossed paths with the noteworthy, including Bill Deverell, his wild hippie lawyer in Vancouver, later to become a best-selling crime novelist.”
And several pages in I discover that casual, almost throwaway, quote about how you finally cracked up. You went off to live with hippies? Is that where you went last Wednesday, to “commune,” as you put it? Where does one find a hippie nowadays? Let alone an entire colony? Haven’t they evolved into something else? New Agers? Scientologists? Hedge fund traders?
I thought at first Vermeulen might have been joking, but there’s nothing in the article to qualify those bald statements of fact. If Ben Vermeulen is the guy I’m thinking of, he’s a stand-up businessman, and obviously a close friend of yours. The Post is a responsible national daily. They fact-check these things. So I’m worried about you.
Maybe it was the pressure of pumping out all those novels. Or maybe the isolation got to you, too many years on a backward little island. No Starbucks, no Tim Horton’s, no Wal-marts, no big deal. But no movie houses, no concert halls, no clip joints, no bawdy shops, no buskers, no action. I thought your marriage was rocklike, Bill—she was dynamic. I say that even though she thought I was creepy and full of crap.
I’ve kept that Post article all this time, plagued by a horoscopish kind of feeling that our lives were bound to reconnect. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I phoned your number on your island. Your answering machine was more plugged than Pablo’s nose after an all-nighter.
I have tried to conjure up a picture of you in your phoneless state of bliss: a grizzled rake explaining to a nubile Libra how their stars are about to be aligned. The picture didn’t take. Can’t see you lasting half a day in a commune, Bill. I don’t see you abiding the olfactory horror of patchouli oil, or whatever they use to disguise the smells of the unwashed. I don’t remember you as one who spurns the bourgeois comforts.
More in the next few days, inshallah. Want you to understand that I’m pirating your blog only to spice it up.
Posted by Bry Pomerantz on April 4, 2015
Bry’s Blog / April 7, 2017
Good morning, Blogosphere, I’m back. Hey, Bill, in case you stop by an Internet shop—do they exist where you are?—to check your emails, I have sent a couple to your old Yahoo account. No answer. But of course, anything from muy amigo mio, unheard from for thirty-three years, goes straight into Spam.
I was hoping you might at least glance at your website, your blog, and see my entreaties to make contact. Or maybe one of your cult following of good-humoured, nonconforming eco-liberals, or a relative, your agent, publisher, somebody who knows where the fuck you are, will get word to you that Bry Pomerantz has hacked into both your writing studio and your blog.
Can you be totally out of range, in a cave? There are no iPhones in your commune? No Fuckbook addicts posting their daily drivel? Have you achieved total out-of-touchness, you and the braless pothead you hooked up with after your marriage went kaput?
Are you really working on your new book, or are you just faking off and pooting around? “Bliss,” you wrote. I have trouble believing it. A suspicion arises that you are on the run.
Establishing shot. Palm trees by the wave-lapped shore. A funky resort, a seedy three-stool bar, palapa-roofed rental units. Hippies lounging about with books or games. Hippies splashing in the water.
Cut to our hero in a hammock strung between the palms. A Corona with a wedge of lime in its neck. A book. Escape fiction, of course, because escape is the current motif of your life.
Now approaches, to your dismay, a barefoot fan from off a SunQuest charter, and he’s clutching an iPad, and he explains at agonizing length that he’s hesitant to bother you but he wonders if he could buy you another beer and, by the way, a strange individual appears to have invaded your blog.
You bark at him, you do not want to see what the Internet has dredged up on his iPad, you came to this hidden corner of the world to be free of the encroaching, smothering Web—that ultimate space alien—to escape spams and blogs and links and tweets.
The pest whom you chewed out has gone away hangdog but (and isn’t this a lovely little touch?) we cut to him returning forgivingly with another sweating cold Corona and a dog-eared manuscript that he wonders if you’d care to look at.
Fade out, opt out, drop out, that’s what you’ve done, you’ve abdicated from this petty world. Congratulations.
My Near-Death Experience
Bry’s Blog / April 13, 2017
Just had a near-death experience. I was strolling up your driveway when an old pickup rattled down the hill toward me. My only hope was to cannonball into the second growth. Blue Dodge, crumpled fender, peace decal: I told myself to remember these specifics if I survived.
But it was only your house-checker. Ingrid something. An entrepreneur, home security. I gleaned that information from this rangy, leggy lady as she helped me out of a tangle of salal. I shakily lit a cigarette and introduced myself as, essentially, your brother (showing that old photo of us), and she said, “Unreal,” and I said I write for the movies and I’m here doing a script, and she said, “Awesome,” and I asked her to thank you for letting me use your studio, and she said, “Whatever.” Rather pointedly, she didn’t ask me to move down to the house.
Would Ingrid be able to confirm that the her employer was either (a) on a research trip to the bordellos of Hamburg, (b) on a reading tour of Baffin Island, or (c) on a week-long drunk in Lower Nowhere? She managed a shrug. I finally pried from her that you had gone off “somewhere for a holiday, not sure where but I think he said Costco Rico or maybe Porto Rico.” You had promised to phone, but hadn’t.
Ingrid’s vacant look somehow complements her sex appeal, and I asked if I could buy her a drink at the bar tonight. “Not,” she said. I’m starting to get used to the curt rebuffs. Modern women seem to have lost the art of the gentle letdown, the art of masking one’s aversion with a lie (“I would love to, but…”)
Ingrid got into her truck without even a glance back to apprise what she might be missing out on. Okay, I’m sliding past middle age, but I hold my years well. Maybe it was my overpowering manly odour that turned Ingrid off. I will heat some water, clean up. I’ll go to the bar alone tonight. Ingrid can stay at home with whatever unreal or awesome things that occupy her. Reality TV. Bible studies. Whatever.
Posted by Bry Pomerantz, April 13, 2015
The Blog / April 13 (Cont’d)
After I blogged off I immediately felt the need to blog in again. I’m beginning to understand the compulsion to share with the world every thought one burps out, every fleeting mood, every meaningless observation about one’s so-called life. Won’t be long before Bloggermania shows up in the Diagnostic Manual.
For me, the addiction is cathartic. I feel an almost explosive release in talking publicly about my fucked-up life. I have no secrets. I have wandered from the paths of righteousness, but most of the laws I have broken (Narcotic Control Act, driving over .08, obscene and disgusting performance) are statute-barred.
I’m feely edgy, I’m running out of Captagon, and must find another substance to abuse. Captagon, by the way, is a pharmaceutical banned in the First World for the usual reason (it makes people happy), but available behind the counters of certain Mexican farmacias. My supply of these little pills is fast diminishing, and I am otherwise bereft of banned substances, and feeling it, and thus smoking too much.
I have to assume you’ve sworn off weed, because I can’t even find a damn roach in here. I presume this island is not without its merchants of happiness, and I shall make a connection at the bar tonight. Browning, they call it. After the poet, I assume. Any nose may ravage with impunity a rose…
Posted by Bry Pomerantz on April 13, 2015
He that filches my good name
Bry’s Blog / April 22, 2017
Good afternoon, Bill, wherever you are. Still not receiving? Or are you finally tuned in to your blog? I suspect the latter. I see you sitting tight, hoping I’ll go away. I know now why you ran off. Not to escape the horrors of civilization. To avoid me, Bry Pomerantz.
Not just because of the vast guilt and remorse you feel over plagiarizing plot, twists and title of Needles. Yes, the book’s goddamn title—you don’t remember who came up with that? How did I feel when my name didn’t even appear in your acknowledgments? Imagine the sense of being buried alive. But now you have defamed me. You’ll be singing a very worried song if I sue for libel, bub.
You had erased all your files from your computer (or so you thought), but you forgot to clean out your trash, and there it was, Worried Song2.doc, which I took to be an early draft. I got a few hundred pages into it. I appear as your nemesis. I am the literary analogue of the fucked up character who so prominently lurks throughout its early pages. Brian Pomeroy. Way to come up with an original name.
He that filches from me my good name…
“An edgy, cynical, chatterbox.” “Inventive, crazed, substance-abusing.” “A cocaine-induced psychosis that had him trying to write mystery novels.” “An infamous practical joker.” Pomerantz, aka Pomeroy, is thinly disguised as a lawyer “whose multiple offences ranged from sabotaging a prosecutor’s briefcase, from which, in front of a jury, she pulled out a dildo, to forging a love note from a judge to an attractive juror, a note that somehow made its way into the exhibit box, resulting in a mistrial.” Oh, and you have me trafficking psilocybin.
I am the bad messenger. I am the source of all of Arthur Beauchamp’s troubles in this book. I am the source of the magic mushrooms that I suspect are going to send him over the edge.
Let there be no doubt that you have faithfully rendered me. “Greying,” you write, “wiry and strong, a rugged jaw, a nose attractively broken” And you added, “with the facial creases of a life lived hard, a hint of dissolution.” (A hint of which, btw, used to turn the set designers mad with lust. The gay ones, anyway.)
You have me saying, “I tried AA, but there were too many drunks.” More proof that you plagiarized my character, because I did tell you that. I won’t deny the coke or the marriage breakdown. And okay, I did try writing mysteries when my screenwriting career took a nosedive. And, yeah, I did a trade in shrooms for a while.
Okay, so maybe I don’t have grounds for libel. But you are a body-snatcher. I am burned. I feel used.
Lust. Thrill. Kill.
Bry’s Blog / May 14, 2017
Okay, on-re-reading your partial manuscript (the copy on your computer ends at page 201), I’m thinking Brian Pomeroy comes off not too bad. Shrewd, edgy, witty, and the island ladies think I’m hot. I am in rich contrast to your Arthur Beauchamp, the emotionally self-abusing yet somehow lovable fusspot.
Sing a Worried Song. I get the title, but I’d have advised something harder. You have a vengeful thrill killer on the loose. What about, simply, Kill Arthur! Or, in the modern style, Lust. Thrill. Kill. (Title of a script I wrote in my noir phase. It’s available.) Or how about Thrill Killer Puzzles Police. Wurtz – that’s the guy you prosecuted, right? Who threatened to get you…
How does it end? Or do you know? Page 201—is that when the muse died of blockage of creative juices? When the walls closed in and you decided to go away somewhere and start life again?
As for your main plotline, let’s see, we have a sadistic, psychopathic killer on the hunt for the prosecutor who sought to convict him. Oh, dear, that’s Needles. We already did that one, didn’t we, Bill?
I don’t ask much. Just a fair cut, a bighearted slice of vigorish. A small price for the wave of relief you’ll feel, the freedom from guilt.
Do hurt feelings enter into it? You bet. Our roles might have switched, our paths been reversed. I could have been a contender, the acclaimed author of Needles. I would have followed that up with my own plethora of novels instead of being the cinema auteur who saw his career go down the toilet.
Let me come to the point. All can be forgiven. All I ask is a film option on Needles. Let me be blunter still. I’ve already written a screenplay for it. It’s got interest. Soon to be a blockbuster. Just tell me where to mail the contract.
By the way, I did a little tour of your Firefox favourites, and it seems you’re a lurker on a forum for sufferers of writer’s block. No participation from you (not that you’d ever let your guard down) but the common refrains are of fear and despair: “I feel like the walls are closing in on me,” or “I’d just like to go away somewhere and start life again.” This aids in my understanding of why you ran off manically to the nearest hippie farm.
LSD-laced punch at a parent-teacher soiree.
Bry’s Blog / May 27, 2017
INT. BROWNING PUB—NIGHT.
[A country saloon. Six-stool bar, a dozen tables, divers locals, a folk singer no one is listening to. Pool balls clacking. One barstool remains unoccupied, next to Moose: tattooed biceps, rubber boots caked in the offal from his fish boat. Pomerantz enters, takes the empty seat, refrains from asking him how many dolphins died in his nets today.]
MOOSE: You the screenwriter who was coming on to Ingrid?
[Pomerantz orders a pint while he toys with the question. Given that his only outings have been to the store to buy groceries or smokes, he wonders if this heavyweight is the island clairvoyant. All comes clear as Ingrid emerges from the women’s and blows Moose a kiss.]
MOOSE: I’ll join you in a minute, baby. [To Pomerantz:] Bill Deverell’s brother? [The tone is distrustful, hostile, and Pomerantz wonders if he is Skyler in disguise, on a killing spree, aiming at him because he’s miffed he can’t find Arthur Beauchamp at home. (Oops. Where did that come from? Ah, yes, Sing a Worried Song.)]
POMERANTZ: Brother in the spiritual sense.
MOOSE: Yeah, what movies have you written?
[Closeup on Pomerantz’s sweaty face .]
POMERANTZ (Voice over): One must assume that this seabilly intends, at some point during the evening, to beat the shit out of me. He’ll overcome any inhibitions he has about violence by getting roaring drunk first, of course. Then he’ll follow me in the dark as I leave. Talking my way out of it seems futile. The chances he has seen any of my flicks are negligible. He would not have liked the neophyte scriptwriter’s first (and only) success, “Duck, Chuck,” featuring a fucked-up Moose-like macho who keeps getting dumped by women, an art film, a couple of awards, template for all the shitty TV shows about screwed-up macho males. Then “Deadhead,” even artier, but got play in Europe, a mention at the Venice Festival. Then “The Pope’s Concubine,” which was smothered by a crypto-fascist boycott designed in the darkest, dankest crypts of the Vatican. Major theatre chains rejected it. Then two more bombs. Too clever. Too arty. The studios stopped calling my agent. My agent stop calling me. To make ends meet, I started doing crap, writing and directing bargain-basement teeners. Nerd falls for beauty queen. Girl has crush on art teacher. To stay with the competition, I had to make them raunchier, druggier, flesh flicks, tits and ass. Out of desperation I mentioned to Moose the worst of them, “Uproar at Fillmore High.” LSD-laced punch at a parent-teacher soiree.
MOOSE: I saw that! That was cool, man. [beat] You looking for something?
EXT. BROWNING BEACH - LATER
[Pomeroy and Moose are sharing a joint on a driftwood log. Moose is displaying his wares.]
MOOSE: Fifty dollars a quarter.
POMERANTZ: You okay with half now and the rest when my next royalty cheque comes in?
Which sounds like never. I didn’t tell Moose the rest of my story. How I crashed five years ago. The scandal, the trial, the stumbling toward madness. He can look it up for himself. (Keywords to Google: Pomerantz. Cannes. Stark. Naked.) I’ve never fully recovered. (Note to self: incorporate apt Will Rogers quote: “I don’t know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.”)
Anyway, all that was before Sue. That was with Mona; we had no idea a camera was on us. Before Mona, there were Gwen and her twin sister Julia (early 1980s, Laguna Beach). I am your prototypical fucked-up cool dude who keeps getting dumped by women. But only Gypsy broke my heart. You remember her, Bill, I was still with her in seventy-nine, in Vancouver, when you and I had our … what shall we call it … our little variance. Our discord. Our disunion.
Nor did I tell Moose (who was stoned, and melancholy, and wanted to share) that I’d fallen into a bitter depression, that I’m womanless and practically homeless, tapped out, living off credit cards. “It’s nothing in particular,” Sue said as she kissed me off at the bathroom door, loading up before dressing for work. “It’s just not happening.” She’s a lawyer, like you, but an honest lawyer. Painfully honest.
I sat around the Browning pub for an hour, hoping someone would offer a few cogent titbits about your breakdown, your dropping out, your late-life conversion to the counter-culture. No one seemed to know where you disappeared to. Puerto Rico got another speculative mention. So did the West Indies. “I heard he’s got a place on one of them islands down there.”
Maybe Robert Browning knows where you are. Some unsuspected isle in far-off seas.
The Death of Literature
Bry’s Blog / June 15, 2017
About your website, Bill. Can’t you kind of release some air from it so it’s not so anal-retentive with text-heavy excepts, reviews, awards, and your other little ego-warming back-slappers? So, okay, you have a honourary D. Litt. (They just want to put you out to pasture, Bill. Means you’re over the hill.)
And your blog, man, with that cheesy, snotty Horace Widgeon, the straw man you invented to make you look stylishly hip and au courant. Kill him, Bill. Hire me instead. I’m annoying in my own way, but at least I’m real.
Happily lacking in your blog, however, is the bright-eyed chattiness one expects online these days, the sharing of one’s innermost banalities, the borrowed opinions about love and art and planetary survival introduced by the blogger’s favourite cloying quote, tucked into the screen’s upper-right corner, something perhaps from Confucius: A hint of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.
But where is the angst one must expect from blogs of striving writers? I’m not talking about the trauma of arriving at your signing wearing socks with your Birkenstocks, and I’m not talking about the lonely sorrows of the creative artist, and I’m not talking about the evolving nature of the post-Derridian novel. I’m talking about the death of literature.
Shout it out.
Things that you’d blog if you weren’t such a wuss:
“The Canadian arts-and-letters scene sucks. It is conservative, elitist, totally anal and smothered by the Great National Inferiority Complex ”
“Mostly crap gets published.” (Quote Juvenal here: “Many suffer from the incurable disease of writing, and it becomes chronic in their sick minds.”)
“Crap also gets taught in lit courses, except for Shakespeare, Joyce, and Yeats.”
“Canada can count maybe four fiction writers who rank in the world’s best hundred: Laurence, Atwood, Shields, and Munroe, and then the ice gets thin.”
“My brilliance, nay, genius, is widely overlooked.”
Sorry about that, Bill, but sometimes your blimp needs some helium released.
Literature, Bill. This isn’t about the demise of the printed word, that’s already a given: book review pages going extinct, publishing houses shrivelling, retail chains collapsing under the weight of the Worldwide Web. Calvin Trillin:. “The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yoghurt.” The obituary is written, it’s online, in the Cloud. And it’s the sheer fecundity of the crap that’s up there that is smothering literature.
No one knows how to get beyond the lightweight assembly-line pop that the etailers hype as best-sellers (some, like the Ludlums, written from the grave). Yeah, you can go to a bookstore—if you can find one—and seek out the bottom-shelf nuggets, but online you’re drowning in the Amazon river with all the self-published vanity pulp, memoirs and romances and whodunits with their strangled prose and totally awesome clichés and “it’s” for “its” and clusters of exclamation marks.
Disclaimer—this rant has nothing to do with the failure of my own two efforts at fiction. I can say with pride that I had the decency not to put them online. No, this is for you, Bill. Get off your high horse and blog about the despair book lovers suffer in their quest for something readable on their pads and Kindles, something challenging, that gives pleasure. What’s left to read but blogs?
Maybe that’s where you ought to stand up to the forces throttling literature, by writing a novel starring you, Bill, and your old bud from the sixties and seventies. With eerie echoes of the truth, odd coincidences, tension, conflict, a blinding twist before the climax. A buddy book with a weepy ending, the supposed author of Needles on bended knee, confessing his sins and lies, begging forgiveness.
Before I forget, I’ve changed it the password to your blog. Your old one was too hard to remember. Crossword clue: “Whose nose grows.” Thirteen letters. Ciao for now.
I’m in You’re House!
Bry’s Blob / June 18, 2017
Though I spell checked this sucker, It will appear oblivious very quickly that I am fairy snookered, so I won’t pretend I didn’t just Polish off the twenty-sifter of rum I found stashed in the caboose of your liquor cabinet. I promise not to touch the 18-year Glenmorgie with the “happy birth day!” scrawled on the box, which I get your saving for your triumph ant return.
Love that bullet holed No Trespass sign at your door. Yeah, I’m in your house now, I’m your official house sister until Ingrid comes back. If she ever does.
[EXT. WRITING CABIN —DAY]
[Ingrid pulls up in her beater, rut sacks and a suitcase in the back. The folks singer from the bar, Chester Something, riding shotgun, only with a banjo, and he’s singing “Blowing in the Wind,” and it looks luck they’re planing to get out of Dodge.
POMERANTZ: Where’s Moose?
INGRID: Oft on his fishing boot. [extends house keys.] I’m sure you’ll look after your brother’s place real good.
POMERANTZ: Absolutely. My plea sure.
INGRID: Awesome. [extends 2 pages of house rules.]
POMERANTZ: When is Bill coming back?
POMERANTZ: I’ll look after it like its my home.
[She hands Pomerantz a bottle of BugOff.] For the termites that got into the back wall. The toilet plugs, so you wanna watch that.
POMERANTZ: No problem.
INGRID: Right on. Totally.
Totally, man. Finally, a real bed with fluffy pillows. Kitchen, cooking wear, fridge. A John, which I’ll baby, not to worry. A bat tub!
I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long
Bry’s Blog / June 20, 2017
“It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.” Hey, Bill, I couldn’t get that hoary old blues out of my freaking head. Couldn’t remember the last stanza until good old Arthur recited it (page 326). “I asked the judge what might be my fine. Twenty-one years on the Rocky Mountain line.”
Story of my life.
Okay, Bill, I’m sober and I’m flabbergasted. Respectful of your privacy, I climbed to your loft, your office-in-home, solely intending to enjoy your pretty pastoral view from windows high up. But on your desk, giving me a come-hither look, was an opened, padded brown envelope with the full 330 pages of your final copy edit.
And now I have a complete picture of your Brian Pomeroy, key words being stoner, loser, boozer, clown, crackers, sexaholic. I have a theory about why you created that raving whacko from me, you unimaginative copycat. First I thought it was just a taunt, but I’ve now picked up a more sinister message. Try this on for size—is there something deeper, buried in the author’s psyche, that makes him want to create your Pomeroy out of my bone, blood, and brain? So you could let loose the wild man within who struggles against the shackles of inhibition. Yeah, I’m the Brian in you. I’m the guy you were afraid of, yet hungered to be.
I had problems but I lived! I rode low and I rode high! You’ve never known that high!
Yeah, Deverell, I am the person you don’t have the guts to be, I’m your dark side, your shadow self, the whispering evil angel on your shoulder. I’m inside you. I’m your id.
Moose, Me, and Sonia’s Pointers
Bry’s Blog / July 12 / 2017
Did I mention I was working on a screenplay? Not Needles, Bill, that awaits our negotiations and out-of-court settlement. My current project has a mind-control theme, a subtle Stephen Kingish horror flick. No ghouls, vampires or brain-eating zombies. A New Age guru shows up in a small community and starts drawing everyone into his web like helpless flies, emptying their minds through some transformative process. Only one man resists: a cynical screenplay author and lush who is working on a script with the very same theme!
I originally had set it in a snoring little village, Nothing Happens, South Dakota, but I have been inspired to set it on an island. More isolated. Harder to escape.
So I’ve been doing my research. When I’m not in your old house plunging your balky crapper and agonizing like Job over God’s many unfairnesses, I bicycle. (Hope you don’t mind, it was in the basement, looking forlorn.) I scout the island, picking up some local street cred, the island’s essences, its basic flavours. My hero, likewise, is a newcomer, seeking the quiet of the country while taking suck from his Muse’s tits. He too is exploring the island. Likewise, he has found it a task to adapt to its eerie quiet, lacking as it does the comforting sound of car alarms and sirens in the night.
But it is lovely and peaceful and HOT in this globally warmed summer, the yellowed bluffs and simmering seas and wilted tourists. It’s a trippy little island. Some weirdos around, not counting me. Often, I share a few pints with Moose, my new best friend, who is back on the island with his fish boat. Drunkenly, we stagger out to the beach for a puff, and I put my arm around him, commiserating over faithless Ingrid, explaining there are other fish in the sea.
Nobody seems to know much about you, let alone where you are. You have a rep as a recluse. But writers like to make their own friends. Characters they invent. Or steal.
I actually attended a meeting of your Islands Trust, a dramatic event with hecklers and hooters and a staged walkout by a claque of Libertarians, one of them shouting, “I can do what I want on my own property!” I’ve been here only two weeks, and I’m siding with the drawbridgers. Cancel the ferries, arrest the developers, save farm and forest from the tide of bourgeois parvenus with their dreams of clearcut lots and monster homes and SUVs and loud powerboats.
I’m basically paraphrasing Sonia, a tree-hugger, who made a vigorous speech along those lines.
EXT. COMMUNITY HALL—DAY
[The meeting has broken up and Brian is having a smoke. Sonia approaches. A cute, pert twenty-something with boobs]
Sonia: Can I bum one? It’s my only bad habit.
Brian: I lost count of mine. [He lights her up.] That was a peppy little speech. I was the guy going, “Hear, hear!”
Sonia: I heard, heard. [Extends her hand.] Sonia. I heard you’re a screenwriter. We have a little writers’ group, it would cool if you could join us sometime. Maybe give us a couple of pointers.
Brian: Could do. [Pries his eyes from her cleavage.] And what are you working on, Sonia?
Sonia: Oh, a kind of short story. I’m not sure where it’s going.
Brian: Maybe I can you show you the way.
Sheep in the Garden, Sonia on the Futon
July 17 / Guest Blog by Bill’s Best Bud
Yo, Bill, I want you to know I’m settling in here real fine, and living small, pretty well keeping to your loft studio, where I crash on the futon. I brought up the TV so I could watch the old-movie channel. One of these days they’re going to show “Duck, Chuck,” I heard it was on their list.
The main bedroom is out of bounds, still stinks of the BuggerOff I sprayed. You may have to wash the bed covers. I’d do it myself, but the washing machine is on the fritz. Also, the toilet overflowed again. “I’m backed up too,” said the plumber. Maybe next week.
I vacated your writing studio just in time. A family of otters has taken up residence underneath it. Stinks worse than Moose’s boots.
That’s the good news. The bad news: I forgot to lay in some brew, and can only confess and seek forgiveness for getting into your 18-year-old Glenmorangie last night. I had company to entertain, I was up against the wall. Took a photo of it first for your memories.
Otherwise, all is lovely and serene. The dormer window is wide open to receive the rising sun, the warblers are warbling, the thrushes are thrushing, the quails are quailing and Mabel McGuiness’s sheep from next door—lovely fluffy ewes—are grazing in the garden. I left the gate open for now. They’re very efficient weeders.
Meanwhile, I am at my keyboard working on my treatment for “The Transformation Mission”—that’s the working title. Dignified, unschlocky. A thoughtful and frightening movie, but not some grind-house splat flick. More and more locals fall sway. The house drink is called gupa—echoes of Jonestown. But they don’t lose their lives, just their minds. It’s an allegory about the dumbing down of America.
I’ve decided to give my hero, Brian, a love interest. I played with giving the role to Sue, but I have not forgiven her (“It’s just not happening.” What was not happening?), and have settled on the hip eco-activist wannabe writer I have been sort of mentoring. I told Sonia her short story had some nice moments, but the sparring between Lana Marpole and mean-minded, pseudo-fascist, climate-change-denying Fritz Grogan needed a twist, a reversal. It needed a big sex scene.
Speaking of which, I see Sonia stirring on the futon. Hope you don’t mind if your sheets are a little spermy. Got to blog off.
The Astonishing Events That Transpired While I Was Away
Bill’s Blog / July 19, 2017
Terrible news greeted me on my return from Costa Rica. An old friend is in a coma.
I saw nothing amiss on pulling into the yard but on entering the house saw signs it had been lived in—by some grubby drifter, I assumed, though I didn’t call the RCMP right away in case he was, as it turned out, an acquaintance.
I raced through all the rooms, finally up to the loft, my office, where in the midst of the disarray was a printout of a screenplay treatment by Bry Pomerantz. My printer was still on, as was his laptop computer. Mr. Pomerantz is a fellow writer whom I haven’t seen for decades and only occasionally heard from: calls from distant locales, usually after midnight, when he was ingesting cocaine or crystal meth or similar high-speed narcotics.
Cluttered about were several empty bottles: beer, wine, an 18-year-old Highland malt. More nervous-making was the shaving mirror on my desk, with a straw. One of the windows was wide open, and an ashtray perched on the ledge had a collection of butts and what appeared to be cannabis roaches.
It was when I peered out the window that I saw the body, lying supine on the grass. I was calling 911, frantically shouting information, as I raced down there, and in my haste I fell and bruised my hand on the rocks lining the nearby flower bed. Following instructions, I found his pulse and confirmed that he was breathing.
Great credit goes to our island’s emergency responders, who were here in fewer than nine minutes: ambulance, police, even a fire truck. The Medivac helicopter was already on its way from Victoria.
Mr. Pomerantz has now been two days in a coma in Victoria General Hospital. He had a concussion and a broken arm but otherwise his physical systems are all working.
There were, of course, some issues involving the coincidence of my sudden return and Mr. Pomerantz’s fall. I had a long, frank discussion with RCMP investigators, during which I learned, to my utter shock, that he had hacked into my blog, and was carrying on about some bizarre claim over the rights of one of my books. I became quite nervous when I was required to demonstrate how I injured my right hand on the stones retaining the flower bed.
But I explained to them Mr. Pomerantz’s history of drug abuse and mental illness, and given that all the indicia of an accident were there, it appears they have eliminated any prospect of foul play. It helped that the i.d. people found a half-full bottle of beer on the grass, with his prints. The likely scenario: he accidentally brushed it over the window ledge and in making a drunken grab for it, went over the ledge himself.
Just before posting this blog, I checked with the nursing station for Mr. Pomerantz’s ward. It appears he is able to wiggle the little finger of his left hand. Let us hope for the best.
Bill’s Blog, March 30, 2015
The act of killing is an act of ultimate love
“It takes a worried man to sing a worried song. I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.” It’s an old folk song that Arthur Beauchamp can’t get out of his head. But poor old Arthur will have lots to worry about, including his possible violent death.
“Any resemblance to persons living or dead…”
The plot of Worried Man was drawn from a headline murder case I prosecuted some years ago: a thrill killing with bizarre literary nuances–the accused was inspired, copycat fashion, by the serial killer portrayed in Lawrence Sanders’s First Deadly Sin.
Though I practised mainly as as a criminal defence counsel, I was on occasion retained by the Attorney-General of British Columbia for homicide trials, some of which attracted wide public attention.The trial featured in the opening section of this novel roughly recreates one of them, an alleged thrill killing in Vancouver of a lonely down-and-outer.
The accused was John Wurtz, a bright young man visiting from Toronto. On his journey west, he’d been absorbed in The First Deadly Sin, a popular thriller by the late Lawrence Sanders, whose mentally warped serial killer uttered musings like, “The murder of a stranger. A crime without motive… The act of killing is an act of ultimate love.”
Morbidly inspired by such ruminations, Wurtz befriended the victim, a stranger to him, and found himself accused of a copycat murder, his quarry stabbed 56 times with a pair of scissors. The only evidence putting Wurtz at the scene of the crime, a humble West End flat, was a single print on a beer bottle on a window ledge.
The chief Crown witness, Wurtz’s traveling companion, had originally cooperated with the police, but at trial changed his story, supporting Wurtz’s alibi. That involved a mysterious third man who’d shown up in the flat, the victim’s jealous male lover.
The trial was a difficult one, well-defended, but after a strenuous cross-examination of the accused, the jury convicted.
As Wurtz, in handcuffs, was led past the prosecution table to begin his life sentence for first degree murder, he paused by my chair and audibly (to me) whispered, “Some day, Mr. Deverell, I’m going to get you.”
Wurtz escaped from Kingston Penitentiary a year later…
(A truer version of the actual trial, based on a script I wrote, “Death of a Stranger,” was broadcast by CBC Radio in its “Scales of Justice” series, produced by the power duo of Edward Greenspan, QC, and Guy Gavriel Kay.)
Killer Review of Sing a Worried Song
Well, the first review is in and, inevitably, with my luck, it’s from the pen of my bete noir, Horace Widgeon. Somehow the old bugger got an advance copy and persuaded the editor of The Squib, a pretentious literary quarterly, to allow him to eviscerate Sing a Worried Song.
Or rather, eviscerate its author. Maybe the people at The Squib thought it would be novel and fun to run a review by a fellow who sued the author for libel and plagiarism. (For those unaware of the history of enmity between me and the thin-skinned Cornish scoundrel, you’ll find it catalogued in the blog posts of 2014, January 22 to August 1.)
The attacks in The Squib border on the personal. “I believe I read somewhere that Deverell has a ‘cult following.’ One can only imagine what strange beliefs this cult holds.”
He writes: “An over-inflated ego is mirrored to us from his pages.” Well, if you’re looking at a mirror, Horace, aren’t you looking at yourself?
I am scolded for having an undeserved reputation. I am accused of sensationalism for recreating a real-life thrill killer. I have broken all the rules of the genre with my little literary games with voice and tenase and my “excessive doses of humour” which, by Widgeon’s fiat, are not permitted to mix with the sober business of murder.
That precept was set forth Widgeon’ manual, The Art of the Whodunit, in which he advises the aspiring writer: “Humour has its place in mystery novels in the same way in which a well-mannered child has his place in the home: unobtrusive, but permitted an occasional giggle.”
Widgeon seemed to have been dismayed to find himself mentioned more than in passing in Worried Song:
“Shockingly, a mystery I authored is widely referenced in Deverell’s seventeenth novel (compare my somewhat more generous output of thirty-three, plus three mystery-writing manuals). I found my 1986 work, For the Love of It, leaping from its pages as his source of inspiration for his thrill killing of a panhandling clown in a most tawdry fashion. (My novel, featuring as always Inspector Grodgins, my world-weary protagonist, is set not in mean streets or some remote island peopled with yokels, but in the dignity and grandeur of a nobleman’s castle.) At any rate, what we have here is a copycat murder case devised by a copycat author.”
As to the novel itself, the reviewer engages in a tortured and desperate attempt to disguise the fact he couldn’t put it down:
“I managed to finish this book in one go, finally closing my eyes at five o’clock in the morning—not that I was engrossed in it, of course, but being aware that the deadline for this review was pressing. For some reason I can’t account for, the climax has stayed with me, and in fairness to those who might find it too chilling for comfort, I feel a duty to to soften the shock.”
And, caddishly, he gives away the ending, without so much as a spoiler alert. Fortunately, The Squib has a minuscule readership, pretty well restricted to a few remote Cornish villages, and is not to be confused with the satirical English journal, The Daily Squib.
The Blog: August 1, 2014
My Grovelling Apology
Pursuant to Article 3 (a) of the Terms of Settlement in the matter of Widgeon v. Deverell, executed this date, I hereby issue the following public statement:
I, William Deverell, sincerely and without reservation apologize to Horace Widgeon, OBE, MBE, (a) for infringing copyright of his various works and writings and (b) for this blog’s many hurtful and unsparingly insensitive comments about his character and his abilities and reputation as a writer, and express my deepest regrets over the distress thereby caused.
There. That was hard to swallow. But Brian Pomerantz, my counsel—and a notorious reprobate—warned that my chances were so bleak that I might walk out of a courtroom stripped of everything but my socks and underwear. (I’d been reluctant to hire such a wild man as Pomerantz, knowing he had just served out a suspension by the Law Society, but no reputable lawyer would take it.)
(A side note: Those of you who have not been following this irregular blog, and are unaware of Horace Widgeon’s whopping suit in damages against me for libel and plagiarism, may wish to peruse the entries under 003 blog.)
Having thusly grovelled, let me suggest, Horace (if you are reading this), that you ought to have taken my postings as harmless parody—they were merely intended to provoke friendly bantering between comrades of the pen—and I regret wrongly assuming that you’d been blessed with, among your other admirable traits, a sense of humour.
Pursuant to Article 5 (b) and (c) of the Terms of Settlement neither party may divulge what went on during our negotiations, and the transcript of the examinations of discovery are sealed, but followers of this blog are entitled to at least a hint of why Widgeon, despite his solid case, accepted an apology in lieu of his claim for half a million dollars.
Without comment, I reproduce Widgeon’s dust jacket photo from The Butcher of Illings-Close and a closeup that my wily counsel developed of the book Widgeon is caressing: the writings of the Marquis de Sade.
Pomerantz roughed him up a bit during pre-trial discovery but I am restrained from mentioning the master story-teller’s remarkable effort to explain an apparent prurient interest in S&M… Enough said. Widgeon and his counsel exited the discovery room, and after a brief and apparently strained conversation (given the flushed faces), they returned to strike a deal.
I am indebted to Brian Pomerantz (literally, until I can find the wherewithal to pay his bill) who is a wannabe crime writer himself. His failure to find a publisher, I regret to say, may have contributed to his unnecessarily harsh cross-examination of the best-selling plaintiff, whose novels, interestingly, eschew themes of normal, healthy sexual intimacy.
In my next posting we’ll explore some of Widgeon’s do’s and don’t’s when it comes to matters carnal.
The Blog: July 6, 2014
On Thrill Killing, Libel, and Writers Block
Where was I? Well, obviously not looking after this sporadic blog.
In my defence, I’ve been driving to complete a first draft of an Arthur Beauchamp novel, a kind of horror sendup, a thrill killer stalking our anxiety-ridden hero. Does he survive? I won’t spoil the ending.
Still looking for a title. The Last Days of Arthur Beauchamp, something like that.
As well, I’ve been distracted by my personal horror show: that grumpy old fellow pictured in my posting of March 19 just won’t let up. To my astonishment, Horace Widgeon has discovered crowd-funding, and is exhorting his fans to kick in for the doubtless atrocious fees of his supposed hotshot counsel, Ballentine J. Bingham, Esq.
Regrettably, my guard dogs (see below) turned out not to be as ferocious as I’d hoped, and were nuzzling and crotch-sniffing Bingham’s pretty student lawyer as she thrust a writ at me through my open studio window. I wasn’t checking my security camera – too busy enjoying a scene where Beauchamp gets busted for pot trafficking.
Mesmerized by the sweet scene of face-licking dog love, I accepted the writ. It accuses me of libel and copyright theft. They’re starting at $500,000.
Come on, fellows, why can’t we settle this the old-fashioned way. A gloved slap. Muskets at fifty paces. Otherwise, I have a friend in Sicily (pictured here) prepared to make a counter-offer you can’t refuse. We would be saddened to see your client embarrassed by a public revealing of his terrible secret.
Enough said. Back to work. Here’s a lovely, long-winded tip about writers block from my nemesis’s masterwork, Secrets of the Whodunit.
“Do not mentally exhaust yourself. Before chance (and whatever small talents I possess) favoured me with literary success, I too had a day job, as inspector for Her Majesty’s Customs, and I would often arrive at work exhausted after scribbling till three in the morning. Many a smuggled item must have slipped through on my watch! So please, when you see nothing but rot on your page, take a deep breath, pack your pages away, and make a soothing cup of Earl Grey while you climb into your pyjamas.”
I prefer Chandler’s Law: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”
In my last posting, on suspects, I overlooked this delicious advice from the vigilance-challenged former customs officer:
“The tardy entrance of your final suspect must not be seen as an afterthought, idly tossed off. Even the dullest of readers should exclaim: ‘Eureka!’ as they realize they ought to have paid more attention to the boring parts.”
Next posting: how to skip over the boring parts. (For instance, the entirety of Widgeon’s short-story collection, Stiff in the Freezer.)
The Blog: May 27, 2014
On Suspects, Villains, and Masturbation
Six weeks ago, I wrote: “Next week, hopefully, advice from the master in creating the ideal suspect…” Okay, but, things got out of hand. It would take a terabyte of information to explain why and how – the end result is that I have taken in four homeless strangers threatened with eviction.
This is how I found them, behind bars, loo0king for a new home
So far, they have done an admirable job of keeping process servers from the door. Widgeon’s solicitors in England have finally found some supposedly hotshot Vancouver counsel willing to stifle my right of free expression. I know this guy. Ballentine J. Bingham, Esquire. A loudmouth. Sadly for him, his registered letters and writs of summons don’t make it past the “Premises Protected by Attack Dogs” sign.Anyway, on to my next lesson. From his masterwork, The Art of the Whodunit, here is Widgeon on suspects: “The author must offer an array of suspects, and dress them up with strong motive—or at least clothe them with the proper accoutrements of suspicion.”
There is a certain class of suspects we are admonished to disregard: the servant class. The butler mustn’t do it. Unveiling the valet, the gardener or the cook as the culprit is regarded by post-Agatha modernists like Widgeon as a cheap shot.
“Do not over-embellish your main suspect. The experienced mystery reader, aware that too many fingers of suspicion are pointed at some blackguard, will invariably dismiss him from contention, thus narrowing the field in the great battle of wits between writer and reader.”
In Chapter Seven, “Creating the Credible Villain,” Widgeon warns: “Do not indulge in personal agendas. Avoid the temptation to put the black hat on your obnoxious boss or the civil servant who sniffily told you to come back after lunch. Otherwise, you may end up modelling your villain on a very dreary bloke. Likewise, subjecting those you abhor to cruel deaths may provide a fleeting thrill — but it’s a self-indulgent, masturbatory thrill that’s not shared with the reader.”
Presumably, Widgeon considers masturbation shameful. His amanuensis, the constantly complaining Inspector Grodgins, has a favourite adjective for the dreary blokes he has to put up with: “wanking bureaucrat” and “wanking judge” and “wanking bloody chief constable.” I’d guess the overworked taunt is a kind of Freudian slip of the pen, Widgeon repressing the guilt he feels about his own excessive indulgences in that ancient, stress-relieving sin.
In the next posting we shall explore masturbation under the heading: Techniques for Overcoming Writer’s Block.
The Blog: April 13, 2014
More Hot Murder Tips
Well, three weeks have gone by and not one word from the so-called “leading Canadian counsel” whom Horace Widgeon retained to shut down this blog and put me on my beam ends (see posting March 19). I suspect the touchy old scold blanched when he heard the fee. Leading counsel don’t come cheap, even out here in the colonial backwoods. There go all his advances for his next twenty novels.
So I presume I’m free to re-embark on the project I began on this blog a few months ago, before Mr. Widgeon’s untimely intercession, of passing on to budding writers of crime fiction many of his delicious tips and techniques. All for free. No annoying ads. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Facebook.
I can’t remember where I left off, so let’s return to the beginning, the creative process, and again I take delight in gently lifting a quote from The Art of the Whodunit.
“Know where you are going. No mystery writer may successfully embark upon a cruise across the dark waters of murder without knowing the port at which he must ultimately disembark. One plans, one outlines; one builds a skeleton on which to hang flesh.” (This grisly metaphorical combo is, I feel, Widgeon at his finest). Building that outline, he warns, is the novelist’s cruellest task, demanding an outpouring of sweat that separates the women from the girls. But once your skeleton is ready to be fleshed out, the rest is a relative doddle. “After those exhausting labours, nothing refreshes the psyche more fully than tapping CHAPTER ONE onto a blank sheet of foolscap.” (Or, out of respect to the non-Luddites, a screen).
Immediately, Widgeon admonishes, you must create an air of mystery. “Something about this death must engage the reader: the senselessness of it, the apparent lack of motive, the odd choice of modus. Is a blunt instru¬ment too blunt a device? Does not the timeworn bullet to heart or head lack in subtlety when, say, a good old-fashioned strangling is available? Noose! Cleaver! Electric drill! Give in to your imagination, let it run riot through the back alleys of your mind. Poison is always fun, and one should never ignore the possibility of driving the victim to suicide. (See, for example, my 1979 thriller, Bully For You, which had dear old Inspector Grodgins mystified until the very last page!).
Few of Widgeon’s readers, I regret to say, were as mystified, except in trying to puzzle out why Grodgins was wearing only his skivvies and riding boots. I knew it was the dominatrix right from chapter two.
Oops, did it again. Gave away the ending. Now he’s really going to be mad.
Next week, hopefully, advice from the master in creating the ideal suspect…
The Blog: March 19, 2014
Widgeon Wakes Sleeping Dogs
Creator of the Inspector Grodgins Series
18, Vicarage Lane
March 18, 2013
Dear Mr. Deverell,
Many days have I struggled to still my indignation at your impertinent public response to my sincere offer to accept an unrestrained apology in settlement of issues between us. But at the risk of offending my solicitors, who advise I let sleeping dogs lie while their writ plods its way through court, I cannot let your canards go unchallenged.
Let me say firstly I am proud to bear the name of the great Horace of Caesar’s time, whose satire was intended for social abuses, not personal attacks and ridicule.
Particularly, I want to assure you that the action I am taking has nothing to do with your intemperate review of Blood on the Remainder Table. Please know that I have simply shaken off, like a wet dog, your laments about my allegedly inapt metaphors and “interminable” sentences; however, I warn you that far too often have you skated on the thin ice of libel when commenting on works by our compatriots, so I propose to strike a blow for my fellow scribes by suing you for defamation and theft (yes, theft, my good sir, for you have filched not just my good name – that “precious ointment,” if I dare quote that greatest poet and crime writer of all time) but have stolen that which I daresay does indeed enrich you: the copywritten creations born of my lonely labours at this very keyboard. I am instructed that in one of your novels, Kill All the Judges (which I haven’t read, having assigned my clerk to shoulder that repugnant task) contains some fifteen quotes lifted holus bolus from The Art of the Whodunit. That book retails at ten quid in trade paper!
Nor do my demands for satisfaction have anything to do with my narrow loss in the finals of the Nero awards of several years ago. Though as an aside, let me say there was quite a stir at Cheltenham Press when word came from the jury room that Get Grodgins was favoured. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that with Deverell on the jury, my book stood as much chance, to use a metaphor, as the egg the chicken laid on the road.
Meanwhile, I am instructed to advise you, in the event that you try to evade service of the writ, that my solicitors have retained a leading Canadian counsel to petition the courts for an injunction to close down your blog pending trial of my claim which, I shall warn you now, Mr. Deverell, will involve a sufficient sum in damages to put you on your beam ends.
Sincerely, Horace Widgeon, OBE, MBE
The Blog: March 5, 2014
A Response to Horace Widgeon
Thank you for inviting me to publish in my blog a full and unequivocal apology for whatever I said that ails you.
May I call you Horace? And perchance were you named after the great Roman poet and satirist? By intriguing coincidence he was also a How-To’er, whose The Art of Poetry, unlike the bulk of your output, is still in print, and which famously mocked the worthless creations of the literarily inept: “The mountains are in labour, and a ridiculous mouse will be born.”
Ah, but satire, as I submitted in my last posting, is not your bag, is it?
Not to rub salt, old stick, but you may remember my using that very quote in my syndicated review, some years back, of your twenty-third Inspector Grodgins mystery, Blood on the Remainder Table, in which I had a little fun with your cliché-driven sentences and fussy literary mannerisms.
And it has struck me that your skin-thickening job as a customs inspector has not quite armoured you against robust literary criticism. To be soul-searchingly fair, the threats of legal action you hurl at me really stem from that review, don’t they? To employ the kind of mixed metaphor your prose revels in, that’s a thorn that still nettles you. And surely it’s the true impetus behind what I see as an intemperate duck-fit.
As men of letters, cannot we continue our duel not with pistols but epistles – in the tradition of the great literary feuds: Wordswoth vs. Coleridge, Dickens vs. Thackeray, Hemingway vs. Faulkner? Or how about this: in settlement of your spurious claims, may I invite you to write a savage (however platitudinous) review of one of my books.
As to your threat to expel me from the IACW, please be informed that I have enjoyed a tsunami of support from comrades of the pen, led by the internationally acclaimed Steven Galloway, whose petition in support of my right to free expression and opposing my expulsion can be found here. I invite you to suck it up and sign it, and let that be an end to matters.
Otherwise, bring on your lawyers. I am ready.
I conclude by another line from Horace, Satires, Book I: “You that intend to write about what is worthy to be read more than once, blot frequently.”
The Blog: March 2, 2014
Widgeon Threatens Libel Suit
Well, friends, it appears I may be sued for libel, as well as face expulsion from the International Crime Writers Association. This is because my last few posts seem to have infuriated Cornish novelist Horace Widgeon, creator of the mildly successful Inspector Grodgins series.
The email attachment that he fired off to me (which I will reply to, but give me a while to consult with my inner lawyer) confirms one of my knocks against Widgeon: he lacks a sense of humour. I write satire. He doesn’t get satire.
Hey, Horace, me cocker, I’m only sending you up, it’s all in good fun. Get over it. Pour yourself another Laphroaig. This grumpy photo from the dust jacket of For the Fun of It suggests you could use one:
Creator of the Inspector Grodgins Series
18, Vicarage Lane
March 2, 2013
Dear Mr. Deverell.
Let me preface this letter, with as much civility as I can muster, by saying I was an early champion of your works, and felt no envy at – nay, I applauded – your unexpected success. More power to you that you slid smoothly from successful trial lawyer to successful writer (even though you didn’t pay the traditional price of living out of a suitcase padded with rejection slips).
That said, it takes no pleasure to notify you that I propose to put your legal skills to the test by taking action against you for defamation, plagiarism, and copyright infringement. As well, I shall be moving to have you struck from the Registry of the International Association of Crime Writers .
Until I came upon your posting ‘The Blog: February 18,’ I had resisted rising to the taunts and insults (inter alia: ‘He is reputed to be quite the sot’) thickly strewn about in the previous two instalments. (Two decades spent as a customs officer to finance my writing habit have endowed me with a certain thickness of skin.)
I even managed to swallow the outrage I felt at your utter defiance of international copyright laws by so generously cutting and pasting from my several texts on the art of mystery writing.
I might even have bit my tongue over your mocking use of significant content from my (very well received) novel For the Fun of It. What broke the camel’s back is that you defied paragraph 14 (b) of the IACW Code of Ethics by GIVING AWAY ITS ENDING. Un crime majeur in our profession, sir.
Please expect to hear from my solicitors should you not promptly publish in your so-called blog a full and unequivocal apology.
Horace Widgeon, OBE, MBE
The Blog: February 18, 2014
For the Fun of It
Dear future best-selling crime writers: an apology.
In my last entry, February 8, I promised that this week I would offer strategies for devising compelling, page-turning ideas for your plots – strategies that, admittedly, I filched from Horace Widgeon. But I got sidetracked by the old sot himself.
Here’s what happened. The other day I visited a used-book store – I don’t normally go to such places; it’s hard seeing your books on the dollar rack, earning not a nickel in royalties – hoping to buy a replacement copy of Widgeon’s The Mystery Novel Unravelled, one of his popular How To’s. My own copy had itself unravelled, from heavy thumbing.
None was in stock, and I ended up purchasing a dog-eared copy of one of his novels. Truth to tell, I hadn’t been keeping up with this prolific author since I was turned off by his depressing 1985 award-winner, Digging Your Own Grave.
The book I bought is titled For the Fun of It, which I thought an odd title for a crime novel. Perhaps the author had written something light-hearted for a change, hoping to persuade readers he actually has a sense of humour, one he managed to stifle in his thirty-five Inspector Grodgins novels.
For the Fun of It came out two decades ago, and no, it’s not comedic. However, to my surprise, I became completely absorbed in it. The setting, as in most of Widgeon’s fictions, is the apparently crime-ravaged town of Illings-on-Little Close, where evildoers are invariably brought to justice by the indomitable but stuffy Inspector Grodgins and his wrong-footing sidekick, Constable Marchmont.
As a result of a bullet wound to the head in a prequel, which I now regret not having read, Grodgins was still suffering a severe visual agnosia, impairing his ability to recognize familiar faces, and even objects. Despite the handicap, his finely tuned skills had him closing in on a bad apple who’d randomly killed several friendless loners.
The following majestic passage is POV the sexually challenged bad guy, who can achieve climax only in the presence of death … and commits murder, yes, for the fun of it. (Widgeon provides a dubious psychological mock-up of this rare disorder, which I’ll skip here.)
“He could feel it mounting. He could feel it coming. Then, as he watched Tom the Poacher’s ruddy face turn blue, there came an accelerating procession of orgasmic jolts, more powerful than with Donny Millibun, more powerful than in his most intense fantasies. There followed an explosion of pure, rich, volcanic pleasure that coursed hotly through every gland and organ and muscle, and that thickened and hardened his phallus until it felt like a pulsing stretch of tempered steel, and that found such shuddering, ecstatic release through that orifice that he fought to stifle a roar of rapture.”
Doubtless, before launching into that prurient paragraph, Widgeon downed a several stiff shots of his favourite malt.
Spoiler alert: if a copy of For the Fun of It happens to be lying on your bed table, as yet unopened, you ought to close this window immediately and return to your Facebook page.
I’ll give you a moment…
For those brave men and women left, here’s a synopsis of the climactic final chapter, set in the billiards room of Illings Close Castle, wherein the visually impaired inspector has assembled divers suspects with faces he can’t recognize, among them the premise’s resident earl, Lord Scarfe-Robbins – whom Grodgins isn’t able to pinpoint in the crowd, though he hurls challenges in his general direction.
“In your efforts at normal sexual conjoining,” the inspector declaims (at no one in particular), “you were impotent, sir. As Donny Millibun underwent his death throes after falling from the roof, you found yourself aroused to the point of orgasm. Then the killings began. In your warped mind, you realized you’d finally found a satisfying form of congress with another – in death. Yes, murder, the only way you could achieve a sexual climax.”
“You’re dead wrong, you rotter!”
Grodgins seeks the source of that frantic voice, and is finally able to locate Lord Scarfe-Robbins in the faceless crowd, whereupon he produces, at the end of a billiard cue, what he hopes is a pair of soiled underwear. “Your Lordship is perhaps unfamiliar with the new science of DNA profiling. The semen on this garment, sir, holds your genetic fingerprints.”
As Scarfe-Robbins bolts for the stairs, a man in some kind of uniform races off in pursuit, nearly toppling Mrs. Gullweather. Grodgins easily concludes the pursuer is Constable Marchmont.
Lord Scarfe-Robbins is ultimately marched off to the pokey swearing vengeance against the protagonist. “I’ll get you one day, Grodgins! I’ll cut out your gizzard, you stinking, short-eyed bastard!” Brilliantly setting the stage for the sequel.
In brief denouement, Inspector Grodgins arrives home, his agnosia still in full bloom, to find a female foursome playing bridge in the parlour, and he can’t tell which is his wife.
The Blog: February 8, 2014
– More Lessons from the Master: Horace Widgeon
Students of the crime genre may recall that I my last posting I promised to discuss how our guide to all things criminous, Horace Widgeon, conceives, assembles and composes the incredible plots of his Inspector Grodgins series. (And if you don’t recall, please reread the blog below. Catch up.)
In his authoritative text, The Art of the Whodunit, the celebrated author devotes an early chapter to coming up with story ideas. It is called “Conception.”
“Do not,” he exhorts, “despair if plot ideas for your first go at a mystery prove elusive. It may be (as was the case in my own first run at it) that you are thinking too hard. Yes, that often happens. The mind is too full of plots banging their heads against each other. Take a walk in a wooded vale or relax over a good book. Empty that busy mind.”
As Widgeon’s fans know (they’re called Widgeonites) he pumps out a book a year. Nine months, actually, the remaining three spent clearing his mind in his Canary Island condo, a pattern that might seem mechanical to more creative writers. He responds to that in this immoderately metaphorical passage:
“I have made it a point of pride that my novels, like human life, invariably emerge from the womb after nine months of gestation — give or take a week or two. That is followed by three months of recovery from birth pangs. Following a rigid routine demands discipline — one must set time targets. Writing is, after all, a business.” (A notion that, as he complains elsewhere, most writers don’t comprehend.)
Widgeon won’t mind if I copy another passage holus-bolus. Here he waxes lubriciously about conceiving plot ideas:
“As with human congress, a seed must be implanted, and it is here that the writer seeks deepest connection, the thrusting and straining for a rapturous moment of conception that leads to that Eureka moment: ‘The caretaker of the graveyard! Only he could have disposed of the body!’”
How does Widgeon find his own plot ideas? Tune in next week.
The Blog: January 22, 2014
– Lessons from the Master: Horace Widgeon –
Nearly two decades ago, in Kill All the Lawyers, I excerpted various writing tips from Horace Widgeon’s masterwork, The Art of the Whodunit. Then in a recent sequel, Kill All the Judges, I borrowed even more, from Widgeon’s own sequel, Secrets of the Whodunit.
It has struck me that his nuggets of wise advice ought to be displayed to a wider audience – the entire Internet in fact – and thus here, in this blog, and in several postings to come, I propose to use them as a teaching aid.
(I pause to mention that Mr. Widgeon’s consent to my use of these extracts has yet to be obtained, but see no reason why he would not be flattered.)
This effort has a double purpose: those who give a shit about this blog may recall my early promise to reveal the mysteries of The Mystery, so I believe that a deep appreciation of the master’s texts may improve the skills of those who aspire to excel in the crime genre. But I also hope that by re-reading Widgeon I will sharpen my teaching skills – preparatory to my giving a summer class at the University of British Columbia on July 15-19.
Widgeon is a bit of an acquired taste, I’m afraid, so there may be those who are insufficiently familiar with the author of the Inspector Grodgins series. The old pouf has penned some thirty-five of these, and remains prolific even into his eighties, with number thirty-six due this fall from Cheltenham Press.
But while most of his back-list is out of print – his style, one might say, has gone out of style – his delectably fusty How-To’s remain required reading for serious students of the genre. Here’s a lovely sample of his wisdom from Secrets of the Whodunit:
“I find a wee nip at the bottom of the day stirs the embers to one last spurt before the weary writer retires to the comfort of easy chair and telly.”
A “wee nip or two or three,” he might have said, or several more, for he is reputed, I regret to say, to be quite the sot, a bottle of the finest from Islay Isle ever at the ready beside his keyboard.
So let us start lesson one, appropriately, with the opening chapter of your manuscript. A death, or at the very least a disappearance, must occur in the first chapter, Widgeon instructs, preferably on the first page. He has little respect for the trend toward “literary mysteries” (I can almost see the curl of his lip as he snarls that phrase) and to what he calls “deathless prose.”
So waste little time in wasting your first victim. Ah, but first, Widgeon warns, you must know your victim:
“The writer must always retain a photograph of this unfortunate soul at an earlier time—while still in the flower of life. Take a few snapshots to remember him by, but do not dwell on him; the reader cares not whether the victim collected stamps or picked his nose or grew prize pumpkins (unless indeed it turns out he was felled, in a jealous rage, by the loser of the annual Southampton Fall Fair).”
But time flies and the recess bell is ringing. In our next post we will learn how Widgeon conceives, assembles, and composes his improbable plots.
The Blog: Blogging as Art
The Memory Quilt
Please let me introduce you to a beautiful blog, created by my daughter in memory of her mother.
My friend, the award-winning writer Brian Brett – a multi-talented artist himself – wrote this the other day:
“That’s such a fabulous blog. I passed it on to Sharon quite a while back and we’ve been finding it incredibly moving. Tamara is is creating a fabulous experience of life, Tekla, art, environment, physical visual contact. I’ll bet you’re mighty proud of her.”
Another dear friend wrote to Tamara: “I have been so moved by your blog—it’s an amazingly beautiful, heartfelt, moving, funny, touching song to Tekla.”
That’s what it is: a song, a poem.
This is the website of her blog.