When I needed a snowboarder gathering place in the book for Jefferoo and his tribe to hang out, Breadspreads seemed to have the same kind of ambiance I was looking for.
Did I ever go in? No freaking way. Beyond the fact that there was a gauntlet of couriers just to get to the door, the place exuded scruffy, effortless-cooler-than-thou. The closest I got to contact was stares from that direction if I happened to be walking down Yonge in a skirt.]]>
1. A box of black crayons. To those who are asking the obvious question: Yes, this means you will have to buy 8 boxes in order to put it together and Yes, you will have 56 other colored crayons left over. Spend the bucks at the dollar store, dickweed, and let this be the first of many opportunities you take to be thankful it isn’t you that has cancer. Give the leftover crayons to a day care, or a kid you know. Maybe give them (plus an apology) to that nice little girl you paid the dollars to for the dirty words. Yes, the Hero knows you went and did that. Shame on you. That was a test. You failed. The Hero sayeth thou shalt not do every fucking thing you’re told.
2. A pad or wadge of paper to draw on. Make it *big*, to allow for big, wild, angry strokes.
3. A CD of your head-bangingest music, be it Tool or the 1812 Overture, to encourage venting. It doesn’t have to be good, just loud enough to drown out the recipient’s shouted fury at the unfairness of the world. Better her neighbors think she’s inexplicably become a metalhead than hear every word of her personal rant against the fates through the wall.
4. Something smashable. It has to go in one good hurl. A piece of crockery, something mechanical, anything that breaks just so long as it will be rendered useless and come apart into smithereens when it is heaved at the wall or floor in rage. People hate busting up their own stuff. And don’t make it too heavy or too sturdy an item, because some of these people don’t have their usual strength and maybe don’t have the energy to keep bashing away at it.
5. A stuffed animal (any type) that can be ripped to bits. Make sure this intent is made clear in the note (yes, you will include a note with the Cancer Anger Kit), or the entire point of this item will be lost and you will be in unoriginal pink-ribboned teddy-bear territory.
6. A calendar for at least the next two months with the days circled that you will be calling this person to listen to them rant. They do not have to want to rant on those days, but it is important to let them know that you will be calling and you will be available, and they do not have to be hopeful or brave or inspiring. Then fucking DO IT.
Now you’re a Hero to somebody. Was that so damn hard?
In an e-mail exchange with a friend yesterday about Barbara Ehrenreich, I suddenly remember exactly what the insipration for the Cancer Anger Kit was from. Journalist/author Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 or thereabouts, and wrote about it for Harper’s Magazine. But not the usual uplifting survivor’s journey. That’s not her, nor Harper’s style. She wrote “Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch” and took issue with, (among other things) the infantalizing culture of pink ribbons and teddy bears around breast cancer. She describes one item she received:
“A tote bag distributed to breast cancer patients by the Libby Ross Foundation (through places such as the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center) contains, among other items, a tube of Estee Lauder Perfumed Body Creme, a hot-pink satin pillowcase. an audiotape “Meditation to Help You with Chemotherapy,” a small tin of peppermint pastilles, a set of three small inexpensive rhinestone bracelets, a pink striped “journal and sketch book,” and-somewhat jarringly - a small box of crayons. Marla Willner, one of the founders of the Libby Ross Foundation, told me that the crayons “go with the journal-for people to express different moods, different thoughts …” though she admitted she has never tried to write with crayons herself.” *
This really struck me and I started thinking of how angry I’d be if I got cancer and how pink doesn’t really go with my primary colors, skull and crossbones, dark sensibilities. And maybe relentlessly “brave” and “uplifting” attitudes just can’t be borne by some people. So Dag created a kit that reflected the right to be angry, not serene about the condition. He kept the crayons, but he made them all black. He kept the stuffed animal, but only for ripping to shreds. But the rest of his box is about the right and permission to rant at the fates that bring these things upon us.
Dag, as a character has anger issues. He has to be nice in the coffee shop every day to people and he created the Heroblog to have a place to vent his negative thoughts that he had to keep bottled up while he was “on” all day. So it’s natural that he would want to create a way for someone in a bad situation to give their own negative feelings an outlet.
Later, of course, he fucks it all up. But it was a really good idea. I’ve even though that in real life, the Cancer Anger Kit would be a great thing to make and sell, but I’m not into small business entrepreneurship. I think it could be popular, though.
* Barbara Ehrenreich, “Welcome to Cancerland”, Harper’s Magazine, New York: November 2001.]]>
The idea of items on the gourmet dessert buffet being the same cakes that the coffee shop served came from my first year university residence roommate. Yes, I’ve been saving this one up for a while. My roommate, Ilana, was vegetarian (and incidentally, loved pastry), so she took her vegetables seriously. She ate in the dining hall, like all of us residents, which was run by an outside food service. One Saturday, a she and a friend decided to treat themselves to a fine night out to the theatre and up to the CN Tower revolving restaurant for dinner (this was before its current incarnation as 360, but still supposedly a highfalutin’ meal). She got her plate and was struck by something. The carrots, she said, were way too orange. She knew that orange. She made some inquiries afterward, and discovered that the CN Tower’s food service was provided by, you got it, the same one that fed the residence kids. She’d paid forty bucks for not-particularly-good Rill Food Service vegetables in her vegetarian meal. So, in that spirit, I had Grace wind up with the same dessert she’d find at the coffee shop on the dessert buffet at the hotel.
Grace dumping a salt shaker out on the desserts she’s sampled but doesn’t want to finish, so she won’t keep picking at them and overeat is something I stole from Carnie Wilson, the singer. She underwent gastric bypass surgery, which means you can’t eat a lot of food in any sitting. It was in a celebrity magazine article that she would order a dessert when she ate out, take one bite just to taste it, then pour salt on it from the salt shaker on the table so she wouldn’t want more. I actually did this in a restaurant myself one time when I shared a dessert with a then-boyfriend. He ate his share, then prompted me to finish my half. I’d had enough, though, and he figured he would have to finish it, even though he said didn’t really want or need it so it wouldn’t go to waste. Instead, I unscrewed the salt-shaker cap and poured salt over it to spare him the guilt and the calories. He cried out, horrified I would do that to a piece of cake, and told on me to the waitress. It was wonderfully amusing and dramatic. How could I not write that into something?]]>
Secondly, for those people with e-readers, Godblog is now available as an e-book, one of the first few from my publisher. Here’s the link to it on Kobo.
Here’s the link to it on Kobo:
Third, in keeping with my plan of writing about “where your ideas came from”, I’ll shed some light on the “Swedish Mafia” T-shirt Dag receives as a gift from some of his customers in the book.
It’s a real shirt, available from Glarkware.com, a real site. The business is Toronto-based, and I’ve bought cool shirts from them before. I happened upon the Swedish Mafia shirt (available at this link http://www.glarkware.com/adult/swedish-mafia ) before I wrote Godblog, and for the sole reason that it said Swedish on it, and Dag’s background was Swedish, I found a way to stick it in the book. The shirt is really meant as a bit of a mockery of Ikea, when you read the description.
The people who founded Glarkware were also some of the original founders (since moved on) of Television Without Pity, a site with hilariously- and snarkily-written TV show recaps I enjoyed immensely, before the ownership changed hands. That site also helped inspired me to a new narrative writing style I used in the next manuscript I wrote (currently being shopped around by my agent). I thought they deserved a shoutout, so I had Dag actually mention where it come from. I hope it netted them a few sales if people were curious enough to investigate the site to see if it was real. Only after I wrote it into the book did I actually buy a Swedish Mafia shirt for myself, because I just thought I ought to have one. And when I ordered it, I put in the notes field on the online order form that I’d put it into my novel. When I got the shirt, someone named Dave had handwritten, “Coooooool!” on the packing slip. That made my day.
Here’s me in my shirt.
Edited on April 9/10 to add: I forgot when I wrote this a couple of days ago that I also gave Television Without Pity a shoutout in Godblog. When people start dropping off cans for a food drive at the BlackArts in Whistler, Heathen goes to an internet cafe to see where she might have seen mention of a food drive. She checks some of her favourite sites, including Television Without Pity.]]>
“Fine!” I thought to myself, all irritated. “I’ll write some damn business correspondence into the book, then.” And that stuff really knows how to fly out my fingertips. By the time I got where I was going, I had the first of the BlackArts internal memos. It turned out to be really quite fun to subvert the business form of communication to add another layer to the story, since you can see the behind-the-storefront machinations it gets up to firsthand. It made BlackArts corporate a character in itself, speaking with its own voice.
Now the fact that Godblog is a mix of regular prose, blog posts AND corporate memos is something that makes it sound more interesting when I describe it to potential readers.]]>
When trying to think up some customers to populate a scene with one day, I decided to poke a little fun at myself and threw a lady writer (Philippa) in there with her laptop. She’s writing a screenplay, though, which is not me, nor is the short, spiky magenta hair (mine’s long and red). But I often wondered if the coffee shop staff thought about writers like me who camp out in coffee shops the way Heathen does about the woman writer taking up space every day. I left this character a very minor one, who only appears in maybe three scenes, because I have no real desire to write about writers in my fiction. I think too many authors do that already. I want to tell them, “Quit wanking about your own profession and go learn about someone else’s!”
The reason Philippa is writing a screenplay is because I also used her to poke a little fun at the industry I work in, which is the Canadian film industry. It’s got more than its fair share of self-important people, of which she’s one. Heathen correctly pegs her as too convinced of her own intensity. This writer is also plunked into the story, finishing her screenplay, about a month or so ahead of the Whistler Film Festival, a real film festival, where she’ll no doubt pitch her script to producers and distributors. Heathen mentions the film festival to Dag, telling him that it’s good for tips.
Unlike the writer in the book, I never went home with any of the baristas in the coffeeshops I wrote in. But I did have one really surreal experience. I had gone to Vancouver for a few days vacation, still working on Godblog, and was staying in the Wedgewood Hotel (which is mentioned in the final scenes of the book, located on Robson Square). And on the Saturday morning, I went to the big Chapters (chain) bookstore a block away, also on Robson Square. This store is also mentioned in the climax of the book, its third-floor windows (where the in-store Starbucks is) a vantage point for news cameras looking down on the street below.
It’s about 10 a.m., I’m in a comfy chair with my laptop, Starbucks pastry and juice, and into the scene walks a tall, blond, young man barista. He’s in the black outfit, arrives (apparently late) at the coffee kiosk to join the barista already on duty, and puts on the green apron. He has the look of someone who’s been out late the night before, partying, or sexcapading, and starts guzzling coffee himself to become a little less bleary. I was completely gobsmacked and couldn’t stop looking at him.
Did I say anything? No. But it was quite remarkable that some version of Dag walked in while I was writing about him, on the very block in Vancouver where his story comes to a head.]]>
But we meet her as a university freshman. Like Dag, Grace is reinventing herself in Godblog. Having toed the line and done all the right things to get to the school she wants to be in, she’s determined to shed her goody-two-shoes self and become (in her eyes) more worldly. A piercing, a tattoo, clubbing and a wacky hair color are all on her agenda. The real shakeups in her life become internal, though, when Dag moves in. Suddenly she has to walk the walk of someone she really isn’t yet, someone who can cope with what Dag’s presence injects into her formerly insular life. Dag brings unsettling things, romantic and moral complications she isn’t entirely prepared for, as much as she wishes she was. Grace hopes that by faking it, she’ll make it so. Some of the time, it seems to work.]]>
Dag sees his friends doing well in snowsports. He watches Heathen’s skiing star rise as he’s had to turn his back on his snowboarding. He feels the frustration and conflicted emotions of cheering his friend’s accomplishments while feeling deep envy and discouragement.
I have writer friends. Some of them do very well. In the years of literary slogging preceding the publication of Godblog, I’ve been in the position of cheering their massive output, book deals, prizes and film options, being genuinely glad (for most of them) while at the same time wanting to kill them. Every time Dag is confronted with more evidence of Heathen’s growing success in her field, that’s right out of my gut.
The rants on Dag’s blog, well, I’ve never actually posted those myself, but I’ll cop to a number of them being my personal feelings as well. Which ones? I’m not telling. I don’t have the anonymity of the Heroblog.]]>
The simple answer to the question “Where do you get your ideas?” is “Everywhere”. Some writers I know have dissed the movie “Neverland”, about J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, for not getting the creative process right. I found that in ways, it did speak to mine. The scene where Barrie sees a woman brandishing the curved handle of her umbrella at someone, and it becomes Captain Hook’s hook, resonated with me (though I have no idea if it’s historically accurate or not).
The concept of Godblog’s protagonist Dag as a character came to me in a similar brief moment. I walk to my day job through Toronto’s financial district. In bad weather, I use the underground concourse beneath the bank towers, which is filled with shops and services. One day I was passing a coffee shop and crossing my path were two or three women in business attire, clearly from the bank tower above, walking up to the coffee bar. In a flirty singsong, they chorused “Hi, Mmmmike!” (That’s actually not his real name, but you get the idea.) Without breaking stride, I still had to look back, and saw a tall, blonde, handsome young barista greeting them.
Wow, I thought. He must be a real charmer to the ladies. As I carried on walking, I started thinking about the pressure on a guy to be the charmer and the focus of attraction to all these women, all day, at the coffee bar. And what about when he’s not feeling so charming? If he had a darker side, where would he let that out?
The barista with the blog was born.]]>