Posts tagged ‘canadian writers’

April 20, 2011

Sticky in August

sticky-in-august-adrian-brijbassi-short-storyThe time for the affair was now. Carol reaffirmed the fact in her mind as she drove to New York on an August weekend so hot and sticky that to breathe or concentrate became a chore. She wanted it before she turned forty and before she and Greg had kids, which, given that she was thirty-seven, would be soon. The affair, Carol hoped as she sat in midtown traffic congested by steam and bodies drizzled in sweat, would be like the ones she read about in books, with the women perching themselves in place to be approached. The seductions in paperback were quick, the affairs torrid and brief, the men discarded like old dolls, grins intact. Having gotten away with it — or not — the women returned to their sedate lives thrilled with the act. The rare regret had an existence as deep and long as a hangover.

Carol’s affair, were it to happen, would have to be fit in around the convention schedule, a busy one packed with seminars and lectures, beginning with the opening reception and four-course dinner. Twenty tables filled an ornate ballroom occupied by librarians, who, like the books and periodicals they file, were organized by commonality and last name. Carol was seated with seven others from the state’s capital region and, as she expected, the women outnumbered the men. The two males at the table, like most of the others in the room, looked plain and bookish, clearly embedded in mid-career goals for money and respect. Their lack of attractiveness, though disappointing in a basic aesthetic sense, didn’t bother Carol; she was almost certain the affair wouldn’t be with another librarian.

For one thing, she might see him again, at one of these conventions, or worse, one of her colleagues might run across him. He, this would-be lover, would say, “Oh, do you know Carol? Second to the chief librarian in Albany?” and they would make chit-chat and discuss how he knew her and if he were a gentleman he would lie. Librarians were good at spotting lies, though; novels are filled with them.

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December 23, 2010

Evoke All the Senses in Your Writing

Many aspiring novelists and short-story practitioners are advised in their creative writing classrooms to imagine a camera on the shoulders of their characters as they lead readers through scenes. The thinking is this practice forces the writer to add detail while also understanding the tactile surroundings of their story.

It’s not bad advice, but it’s far from complete as far as a technique for character development goes. The reason for the shortcoming is because characters are supposed to be three-dimensional. That means when writers rely predominantly on describing what they see they may fail to develop fully drawn characters who experience life in a truly profound way that makes them come to life.

David Morrell, who taught for many years in the esteemed English department at Iowa University, advises aiming for a ratio that will force you to add senses beyond the visual. For every visual sense, you should have two others present, says the author of “First Blood” (a novel whose literary merits have been tarnished because its lead character was transformed into a one-dimensional killing machine in the “Rambo” movie series).

Strict adherence to any formula isn’t good. In this case, it could cause you to overwrite. But if you craft your story well, then putting Morrell’s advice into practice makes your characters more fully developed than if you simply treated them like robots being filmed.

Many excerpts could be chosen to illustrate this example of writing, but I picked the following passage because it is short and comes from a great piece of fiction. It is the second paragraph of “The Chrysanthemums”, a well-known John Steinbeck story about internal conflict, isolation and sexual frustration. Notice the variety of senses the Noble Prize winner incorporates with the nouns and verbs he chooses here:

“It was a time of quiet and of waiting. The air was cold and tender. A light wind blew up from the southwest so that the farmers were mildly hopeful of a good rain before long; but fog and rain did not go together.”

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October 1, 2009

Masquerade

She tied her hair into a ponytail, buttoned her leather coat, and thought of a polite way to put it. The issue was his friend’s Halloween party, an annual tradition, with a barbecue, joke prizes, and a midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. He called it campy and she nodded, without adding the adjectives that came to her mind.

In past years he’d gone as athletes, either famous ones, like Babe Ruth, for which he strapped a pillow around his torso and carried a bat in one hand and a liquor bottle in the other, or generic models, such as the toothless hockey player last year. “I said ‘eh’ a lot.” He grinned and looked for a response. “Like, ‘You havin’ a good time, eh? Get you some dessert, eh?'”

With a polite smile, she said no thanks and they continued by the window of the pastry shop that was two doors from the restaurant they had just left. The night was cool and the wind blustered, stinging skin, and rustling up leaves and cloaks.

“So, will you come? It really is a lot of fun.” His grin remained, his voice was joyful.

She locked her arm around his elbow, forming a link that felt secure and necessary. A strong gust whistled and smacked the side of her face. The cold burned and caused her to sniffle. To shield herself, she ducked into his wall of a shoulder and waited for the warmth to return to her cheeks. They headed for the subway, passing familiar bars noisy with activity and full of women desperate to look sexy. His mouth scraped against the side of her head as he pressed himself against her earlobe.

“Did you hear me?” he whispered. The sharpness of his chin felt like a nudge.

“Yes, I did.” With a fluid motion, she unlooped her arm from his and placed her hands in her coat pockets.

She bunched her shoulders and turned away, thinking she was better off with the cold. This relationship of theirs teetered between commitment and division, a tenuous state that could tilt on one true act of love or the slightest betrayal.

Rock music played in a bar and she peered into the window as if the notes would sound clearer or more resonant if she could identify the musicians from whom they came. The bar was dark and any figures she could see were faceless, shapeless blobs. The starkest image, in fact, was a reflection of them. She frowned and the old, unfortunate trinity of wrinkles formed on her forehead above the bridge of her nose. His face was stern, his eyes hard and focused on her.

He spoke again, this time with a hint of disappointment, a childish whine. “I’d really like you to come and I thought we could dress up together.”

A laugh spurted from her throat and in the window she watched her mouth spread into a wide smile. “I’m sorry.” She put a hand over her lips to stifle the laughter.

He frowned and his jaw bones jutted out as the skin around them went taut. Even as she apologized again, snickers continued to escape from the sides of her mouth. Rejection — even the perception of it — will cause anger and fear to swell, and at that moment his urge was to shake her and command her not to laugh like that again. Instead, he turned his eyes to the headlights of oncoming cars. He aimed to name the makes and models of each when it drove by. The mind game was a distraction meant to invoke patience, but after only a few cars, almost all Japenese coupes, the exercise grew tedious and the expungent glare of a set of lights and another ripple of wind caused him to droop his head.

Although she had apologized twice, he could tell there was only a touch of remorse in her words, so he decided to test her sincerity. Speaking into the wind and staring at the gray sidewalk, he reiterated his hope for the party. “I thought we could go as like a team. I’d be a quarterback and you could be a cheerleader. A lot of my friends’ girlfriends go along with that kind of thing. Last year, someone went as a hot dog and his fiancee went as a bun.”

Her eyebrows raised and her head shook the way heads shake when people can’t believe someone is being serious.

“No, really, it was a good costume. You know, the innuendo.”

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September 13, 2009

A Scene from September 11

The Gazette’s main office was located on West Street, in a twenty-four-story building that had the Hudson to the west and the Twin Towers to the east. When the possibility of the towers collapsing entered the minds of the editors, support staff, and firefighters, it became clear evacuation was necessary, and publication of a September 12th edition was in serious jeopardy, along with mere existence. As my superiors scurried to find a way to get a paper out, and eventually succeeding, we reporters and photographers took to the streets on what, chillingly, was a perfect summer day, with the sky pristinely, ubiquitously blue except for where it was interrupted by the searing sun and the conflagration of man’s wrath.

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September 3, 2009

Repairs

repairs-adrian-brijbassi-short-story-prize-winner

[Short story won the 2003 Whitman Award for Fiction from Southampton College]

At first, the loud revving and squeaks were disturbances Sally hoped would go away. Thinking it possible that cars came with the ability to diagnose and repair themselves, she felt all she needed to do was avoid overstressing the vehicle, an old blue Taurus Marc had found in a used lot three years ago. The car didn’t cost much more than their monthly mortgage payment and Sally initially feared it would have constant problems, because of its age and cheap price. All it ever required, though, was regular maintenance and Sally gained faith in the Taurus as a strong car. Even when it began to exhibit signs of weariness, she had no doubts it could be fully revived with proper attention. So, she wasn’t surprised and was even a bit proud when some of her methods appeared to work.

If she let the car idle for three or four minutes, the engine would rev lower. A gas tank that was always at least half-full made for a smoother ride and a full, fresh tank prevented the loud coughs she often heard when the car was turned on or off. However, the squeaking persisted whenever she applied the brakes with any force beyond a tap and this caused her to drive slower and avoid the highways. She also stayed well behind any car in front of her, especially when her son was in the passenger seat. For a boy of sixteen, he frightened easily and Sally knew Peter wasn’t at all comfortable with his mother behind the wheel of any automobile, particular that one, with all its weird noises. On the days she met him at school, he would sit completely still in the passenger seat and hold his breath, never saying a word to Sally, not even on the day she figured out how to make the squeaks go away. She drove so slow through town and on the back roads that led to their home that a simple touch of the brake pedal would cause the car to roll to the speed of a wheelchair. At stops, Sally wouldn’t need to keep her foot on the brake at all, and when it was time to depress the accelerator, she did so gently and the car commenced with its Little Engine That Could routine.

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August 16, 2009

A Final and Lasting Solitude

[“A Final and Lasting Solitude” is a novel-in-progress]

PART I: AUGUST
Chapter One

Montreal. Winter waits in the distance and when it comes it will be harsh. For now, it is hot and this place has a ripeness to it. Young people teem about in gangs. They parade noisily, drunkenly down avenues and boulevards, through cobblestone streets. They pass places of worship and do not pause or quell their voices in reverence. They speak in French and English and in something called franglais, a perverse blend of the two. Many of them wear their Christian cross, and little else. Women, indeed, show much of themselves, without shame. They walk bare-bellied in the streets, their bosoms hanging out like bunched fruit, eyes skittering about uncontrollably when men pass. I have watched them as they ogle each other, these women and those men, the ones proud of their bare, pink chests and the clothes they have and choose not to wear.

It should not surprise me, this immodesty. I have seen it everywhere outside the confines of my home. I have seen it inside my home, seeping into the minds of the young, their impure thoughts propagating like vermin. For this reason, I willingly subject myself to these sights and to the presence of these people. There are many sacrifices to Allah, I understand, and toiling for Him here is but one. Besides, it will not be for long. A dawn approaches and I have been called upon. Humbly, I will do my part to see its rise.

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June 24, 2009

Sub-Sahara

Smoke evaporates from Camels choked
by the fingers of my two friends who lean
over a railing, elbows pressed to granite
Eyes lost in a blue-black canopy,
Night,
made to shroud a desert and the death
we three knew crept
Into homes and tents, under the blankets
of hospital beds, through children’s pores,
out of needles potent with devilment,
the stumps of hacked-away limbs, and
exit wounds ripped by bullet heads

May 4, 2009

Modern Hustler

Smack hard the gavel
only after contemplation
of opportunity, its alacrity, too

Have you ever peddled a product on eBay
for twice what you paid?
Have you bought a stock on a tip,
some kind of inside communicado,
then sold it on the same?

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