On this, the eve of NaNoWriMo, I just want to wish good luck to everyone making the crazy journey to 50,000 words in 30 days. Watch this space for updates, rants and meltdowns over the next month.
Especially now that I’m firmly entrenched in freelance work and have an online brand to build. Back in August, I shed the shackles of the call centre to create a new business called Selective Stylus. The domain name has been registered, and once I get a website to attach to it, an announcement will be made.
My new business endeavour has taken me back into the world of video captioning. One of my clients has become the exclusive accessible media provider to a local university, and I’ve become their exclusive caption producer. I’ve got a blog entry or two to write about that experience. It’s a little different from the broadcast closed-captioning work I’m used to. It has been a crash course in using Telestream CaptionMaker after spending years working with Softel Swift to create captions. It’s also giving me the opportunity to create caption style and workflow guidelines for other captioners who will be coming on board as volume increases, so that’s exciting. It’s nice to stretch my brain again after a year of sticking to a call-centre script.
I’ve also got NaNoWriMo coming up — a prize I haven’t won since 2010 — and thoughts of starting another 100 Haiku in 100 Days project this winter. I missed this year’s Haiku Deathmatch, so building my arsenal and reclaiming my title in 2016 is a priority. Plus, there’s a sci-fi book blog idea that’s been on the back burner for years and may just be at the point of boiling over. There’s a domain name registered for that already, too.
So yeah, a lot has been happening, and there’s plenty that could be blogged/tweeted/facebookified/whatevered about. I’m sure I’m not the only freelancer out here in the big, wide world that needs to find that balance between doing the work that definitely brings in cash and the work that could maybe one day potentially lead to bringing in cash. If I come across any insights, I’ll be sure to share them.
For now, it’s back to the transcription project I’m already pushing a deadline on. Freelancing is nothing if not eclectic. On this current project, I’ve learned a lot more about hauling barges through the Mackenzie River watershed than I ever imagined I would.
Here I am at day 50 of my personal 100 Haikus in 100 Days challenge. I’m a little bit behind on the haiku itself, having just posted number 40, but I have plenty of time to catch up. I’ve also learned to carry a notebook and pen around with me to write down lines and images that come to mind. I had almost a dozen haiku fragments tapped into my phone before the thing slowed to a crawl and started getting hot as this phone tends to do when it’s time to clear it with a factory reset. I was so annoyed at the phone itself that I forgot there was stuff I was working on in there.
But I’ll get back on track soon enough. Not only have I been spending the last few weeks writing haiku poetry, I’ve been reading some as well. I started with Harold G. Henderson’s (what I am assuming to be) classic collection of Japanese haiku translations, An Introduction to Haiku. This was a good, quick entry into the origins and history of haiku, made fascinating by the realization of how ingrained poetry in general and haiku specifically is to Japanese culture.
What I’ve been enjoying most, though, are the issues of Scifaikuest I’ve bought over the past few years and never got around to reading. I’d never given much time to science fiction poetry before, and I’m finding myself amazed at the possibilities. It’s something I’m going to explore further.
As for my haiku, I realize that much of what I’ve been writing is kind of hackneyed, meeting the bare-minimum definition of haiku by doing little more than jamming words into a 5-7-5-syllable pattern. But it does feel good to be writing again. I’ve got a few more haiku books on my list, including collections, histories and how-tos. As I progress, I’d like to move into a more “modern” style of haiku writing with less emphasis on the syllable count and more focus on creating powerful images with minimal words. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
Click the lamp to see some of her other amazing works. She’s got a big summer sale going right now.
It’s National Grammar Day in the US (doesn’t look like it’s observed here in Canada, but give us 15 years), and I just completed my first webinar at Poynter News University. I’ve known about this site for a while, but never took any of the courses before. For those writers, teachers or language enthusiasts out there, it’s worth a browse. There are plenty of free, self-directed courses on the site, as well as cheap webinars and certifications.
The webinar I took today was 7 Tools for Next-Level Writing, at the bargain price of $9.95. If you’re interested, it was recorded and will be watchable on the site in a couple of days. As part of the lesson, the presenter emphasized the use of “mentor texts,” finding written works that have helped formed your sensibilities as a writer, re-reading them, deconstructing them and figuring out exactly what it is that makes them great. It got me thinking of some books that I’ve used in that way.
The Dork of Cork by Chet Raymo is a book I’ve read several times since first discovering it about 20 years ago. I even recently found notebooks where I had copied out passages Raymo used to describe the night sky, the flight of birds over water, the drape of a shall over a woman’s shoulder, just to try to get a sense of what it would feel like to write like that. The book itself is one of those love-it-or-hate-it deals — either you’ll find the language in it beautifully descriptive and lyrical, or you’ll think it’s self-indulgent tripe. I, obviously, am in the first camp. Not only do I find Raymo’s use of language beautiful, but I’m also fascinated at how he weaves the threads of so many lives together so smoothly.
While Canadian writer if epics Guy Gavriel Kay has written several books since, my favourite is still A Song For Arbonne. Poetic and intensely visual, Kay can juggle dozens of characters, generations of family history, and explain centuries of political intrigue without getting boring. The plot keeps moving, straight and unwavering, through everything that happens. One of my favourite themes in this book, and one that I hope to capture in a story of my own one day, is the notion that magic is much more powerful as a political force rather than a mystic one. If you’re heavily jonesing for the oft-delayed next installment of George R. R. Martin’s Westeros saga, this may be a balm to soothe your itch.
I’ve been working on a short story for years now that I can’t seem to get right. It’s one of those tough ones, where most of the story revolves around a single character doing… well, not much. This week, it occurred to me to reread Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea for help. When I first read it back in high school, I hated it. I was obliged to hate it because “they made me read it.” Now, with age, wisdom and the guidance of Coles Notes, I’m getting a deeper understanding of why this is such a classic. I still have more time to spend with it, but Hemingway’s economy of words and iconic imagery make this the mentor text I’ve been looking for. I’d also like to use it as a teaching tool when the time comes.
Does anyone else have any books they use as go-to mentor texts for their writing?
Those of you who have seen my Facebook page know I already have a cast-iron Royal manual typewriter (the first typewriter my mom bought for herself almost 60 years ago, and it still works like a charm). I love it, but the fact that it’s manual presents a problem. The lettering is a little uneven, and that that makes it tough for my OCR software to pick up what’s typed, meaning anything that I type on paper has to be completely retyped into the computer when it comes time to edit — a time-consuming pain in the ass. In fact, this blog post is being written on the old Underwood just to see if the software actually does pick up what’s on this piece of paper. I’ll post the results when it’s done. Whatever happens, this is the best $10 I’ve ever spent on Kijiji. This Underwood even uses the same ribbons as the Royal, so that’s convenient.
I know there are those of you who are asking why it matters since computers allow you to type things directly into them these days anyway. Keep in mind that while I am of the first generation that took to the Internet, I’m also of the last generation that came of age in a fully analog world — I didn’t have my first computer until I was 15. I appreciate the power and convenience computers give to writing, but there’s something about the visceral joy of hitting a key and having words slammed indelibly into a piece of paper. Once a word is on the page, there’s no second-guessing, no going back. The computer offers options, flexibility, ease of use; the typewriter is unforgiving, linear. For me, bashing out a first draft on a typewriter is like hauling a slab of granite home from the quarry on my back. Once a story is where it needs to be, I can start chiseling out the details with finer tools, aka LibreOffice‘s word processor.
And now for the results. Except for my own typos, which I would have had to fix anyway, OmniPage did a pretty good job of converting my mechanically generated document to digital. This is gonna be fun.
2013 was a heck of a year with a lot of changes. I actually turned my back on writing, opting for a return to the technical services field. That year taught me a lesson I already knew: fixing computers is much more fun as a hobby than it is as a job. After some soul searching, I’m back to living by my motto, which is also the subtitle to this blog.
It feels good to embrace the writing life again. I’ve dusted off my style guides and reference books, reconnected with a few people. I even got TESOL certified and have started the journey to teaching others how to use this language that I love.
Part of the process has been digging through the old portfolio binders looking for reminders of success. Going back all the way to the spring of 1996, I came across this story that was published in The Coast in Halifax:
On the surface, small-town life is simple. The neighbourhood has changed very little in decades, high school sweethearts are now married and the general store up the street is still run by the same ageless old man. To city folk, the small town represents idyllic tranquility; everything seems peaceful… on the surface.
In his new book, Blood On Steel, Michael Melski breaks through the ice of rural life, delving into the turbulent waters beneath. Characters in the two plays published in Blood On Steel – Joyride and Heartspent and Black Silence – are at once chillingly real and too absurd to believe. Melski himself seems as unassuming as one of his rural Nova Scotian characters, hardly looking the part of the playwright (or playboy as he refers to himself).
“I never wanted to play a part in my own life,” he laughs over copious amounts of coffee.
Perhaps it’s that down-to-earth attitude that has allowed him to enjoy the success he has had, without losing his sense of self. Melski hails from Cape Breton, a place that he describes as “part Brigadoon, part Hell’s Kitchen… like a Roger Whittaker/Van Halen medley.” He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of King’s College, and has studied theatre at Dalhousie as well as film at the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. His first two plays performed in Halifax, Hello From Sirius and The Trout Fisher’s Companion, were produced at the 1993 Halifax Theatre Explosion, which he helped establish. Joyride was first staged as part of the 1994 Atlantic Fringe Festival and premiered in the US in 1995. Last year, Melski was accepted as a writer-in-residence at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake.
“I went to Shaw in July last year and worked on a new script called Burning Schoolhouse, which is about the investigation of a sex scandal in a small-town high school,” he remembers. “I had a wonderful time at Shaw. I met some of the best people in Canadian theatre. They were very supportive.
“I had a funny experience at Shaw,” Melski continues. “Perhaps it was due to exhaustion – this was my sixth play of 1995, and I was pretty burnt – I started to change Burning Schoolhouse to make it more Victorian. Big mistake. It was pointed out to me by a couple of people that, compared to my other work, it wasn’t my natural voice. I was being too polite. When I got back, I immediately got a grant to develop Joyride further, and haven’t had a chance to get back to Burning Schoolhouse. I’m dying to get back to finish it. It says some things that I’m quite proud of.”
Melski can pinpoint the night Joyride was conceived, linking it with a change in the community spawned by the murders at a Cape Breton McDonald’s restaurant. “Some people think it’s about the McDonald’s case, but it very specifically isn’t. It’s a similar account of a crime that’s similar in nature, but the facts are very different in this case.
“Joyride is by far the most popular thing I’ve written,” Melski continues, “but Heartspent is closest to my heart.” Heartspent and Black Silence was first produced by the Eastern Front Company as part of the On The Waterfront Festival in the spring of last year. It revolves around characters that hit close to home: a young couple struggling to make ends meet while dealing with a gambling addiction.
“I got the idea about a year and a half before I wrote it, when I was in Toronto. I picked up a Greenwood racing form, and I actually saw Heartspent in one race and Black Silence in another race. It all came to me, sitting there over one cup of coffee, the idea of these two characters, where the play would be set, the mood, the tone, even the governing metaphor of wild horses tearing these two apart.
“I interviewed a lot of addicts doing the research for this,” Melski recalls. “As dark as what happens at the end of Heartspent is, it’s not as dark as reality. When you hear people say it and it’s not fiction – it happened to this person sitting across from you – it really strikes home. We want to beat the system, we want to beat the man at his own game. The sad reality is that most times, we can’t.”
Currently, Melski has many projects in development. Among them are an adaptation of Hamlet for this summer’s Shakespeare By The Sea, and a short film production entitled Young Offenders Act, which was a runner-up for the National Film Institute’s 1996 Drama Prize. He will also be attending Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre in Toronto in June. With so much on his plate, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see Michael Melski’s name soon on a stage, screen, or bookshelf near you.
This isn’t cutting-edge journalism by any means, but it was an important stepping stone in my career. The day this article was published, I was walking towards Halifax’s famous Pizza Corner for lunch when I saw some crazy dude almost kill himself trying to run across the street. Turns out that dude was Michael Melski himself. His impromptu game of human Frogger was sparked by his desire to shake my hand and thank me for being to first person to “not misquote” him in an article.
For me, that acknowledgement was a pretty big deal. I was 25 years old and had been struggling as a writer, being told by many people that I’d never make a living at it because nobody ever does. It was part of the reason why I up and moved to Halifax in the first place. Having a writer near my age who was actually making a living at it cross a busy street to thank me for a job well done was one hell of a confidence booster. Even now, it reminds me that while there are a lot of downs in this business, the ups are worth it.