Category Archives: writer

The Art of Non-Conformity

Posted: December 1, 2016 at 11:05 am


I’m featured on “The Art of Non-Conformity,” a website for people with unconventional ideas about work and happiness. It was started by Chris Guillebeau, a New York Times bestselling author. The website has 100,000 subscribers. Check out what he said about me (some of it true): Special shout out to my friend Sharka Stuyt who plays a role in the story.

On Writing Like Stephen King

Posted: September 27, 2016 at 12:03 pm


I can DRAW Stephen King, but I want to WRITE like Stephen King.

The seller of 350 million books should know something about writing, so in 2000 Stephen King published his memoir On Writing. Part autobiography, part writing tutorial, On Writing has become every writer’s best friend. You look really busy watching cat videos today, so don’t read his book…here are Stephen King’s main tips for good writing (in bold) with my humble comments underneath:

Use the simplest word.

I have a tendency to show off, slipping in big words so everyone knows I have lots of book learnin’. This is stupid and counter-productive. Never use “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” when you can say “great.”

Use the word which first comes to mind, if it is appropriate and colourful.

You don’t have to construct elaborate, tortured phrases that take time to decipher and appreciate. For example, it’s a bit contrived, and not necessary to describe a notorious American politician as a “tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced ferret-wearing shitgibbon.” It’s better to say what you think of, without thinking, like “ignorant blowhard bully.”

Well, you could also say, “racist, sexist block of aged Cheddar.”

Or, “microwaved circus peanut.”

Or, “jack-o-lantern head on a drunken bear.”

Or, “ludicrous tangerine ballbag.”

Or, “mangled apricot hellbeast.”

Actually, those are all pretty good. Forget this rule.

Use active, not passive verbs.

With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something.

As in, “Bill had a vasectomy.”

Passive verbs aren’t as powerful. With a passive verb, something is being done TO the subject of the sentence. As in,

“A vasectomy was performed on Bill, (who endured the humiliating procedure with characteristic calm and good humour).”

The adverb is not your friend. Use sparingly.

Excessive use of adverbs is lazy writing. A poor writer may write, “When Mary’s father FORCEFULLY ENTERED his teenager’s bedroom and AGGRESSIVELY POINTED his shotgun at Mary’s boyfriend, Fred RAN QUICKLY to his car.” It’s better to find more descriptive verbs:

EXPLODING into his teenager’s bedroom, Mary’s father TERRORIZED Mary’s boyfriend with his shotgun until Fred BOLTED to his car.”

Use “he said” and “she said” in dialogue.

As readers, we should focus on the dialogue, understanding the characters’ feelings through their words. Some writers (formerly, me), try to get cute with their verbal markers, leading to:

“And that’s why the vicar had a budgie,” he CROWED his punchline.

Not only is this verbal attribution trying too hard to be clever, it detracts from the character’s words. It would be better to set the scene like this:

The crowd anticipated the punchline. Jim leapt atop his chair, flung his arms wide, and said, “And that’s why the vicar had a budgie.”

Don’t use adverbs in dialogue attribution.

“You’re an idiot, Billy,” Carol said DISMISSIVELY.

Such dialogue attribution is sometimes called a “Swifty” after Tom Swift, the brave hero of a series of boys’ adventure novels written by Victor Appleton II.

It’s more evocative if you remove the adverb and add action to the scene:

“You’re an idiot, Billy,” said Carol. She rolled her eyes, sighed, and bent over her iPhone to play Words With Friends.

You are allowed to use a Swifty if it’s a parlour game with your pals, as in, “You got a nice butt, lady,” he said CHEEKILY.

Possessives always add  ‘s,  even if the word ends in s.

If we want to refer to the bottom of the sea, the locker of Davy Jones, we should say, “Davy Jones’s locker.” But that’s only according to Stephen King and the Chicago Manual of Style. The Associated Press style dictates, “Davy Jones’ locker.” No extra “s”. It’s a raging controversy. So Stephen King has only half of the English speaking world on his side with this one.

By the way, “David Jones” is the real name of rocker David Bowie (and also the name of the lead singer of The Monkees). This quirky fact has nothing to do with Stephen King.

Less TV, more reading.

Stephen King’s number one piece of advice to writers is that to be a good writer, you have to read a lot of different writers. And read ALL the time. I think that was my only preparation before I impulsively ditched my legal career to become a professional writer.

I am trying to follow Stephen King’s suggestions in my writing. Obviously, it’s been successful for him. Emulating Stephen King has yet to translate into a publishing deal for me. Maybe all I have to do to entice a publisher is add some telekinesis or a sentient automobile to my book. Best seller!

The Scars of Childhood

Posted: August 4, 2016 at 3:07 pm

Billy boy2

A thin line of blood and drool connected my mouth to the floor as I sat on the desk in Doctor Redekop’s office. The doctor leaned forward in his chair, his prodigious belly resting on his knees, straining the buttons of his white lab coat. Stubbing out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray, he said, “It’s not too bad, Billy. You won’t need stitches.”

I tried to block the pain by replaying in my head the circumstances which brought me to Doctor Redekop’s office one winter morning of my tenth year. It was recess, and the schoolyard was a frigid expanse of asphalt. The recent snowfall had melted, collecting in shallow pools. Flash-frozen overnight, these pools became zamboni-quality ice sheets. Children took turns running on asphalt, then leaping to the ice for long, two-footed slides. The end of the slide required a casual hop onto the asphalt, like stepping off of a speeding escalator. An orderly, if crooked line snaked through the schoolyard as each child waited his chance on the longest of the ice sheets.

Running at supersonic speed, I landed my Kodiak winter boots on the ice and careened along the glassy expanse. Without warning, I became victim to slide-us interruptus when an unidentified, snowsuited leg blocked my path (I have always expected Johnny Constantino, but this has never been verified and since Johnny turned out such a likeable adult, I feel it’s not worth investigating 48 years after the fact). Airborne, I didn’t have time to think, “boy, this is going to hurt,” when I splatted face first onto the ice, my teeth slicing through my bottom lip. Crying, covered in blood, I stood and took my crimson mitten from my mouth. No longer held in place, my almost completely severed lip swung free like the head of Nearly Headless Nick. This was the lip Doctor Redekop felt would heal without stitches. I have always been self-conscious of, and carry to this day a large bump and scar on my bottom lip. Something to remember Doctor Redekop by.

Not learning my lesson, I went again to Doctor Redekop when I was 14. Like many teenage boys, I had embarrassing, painful, non-chick-digging acne across my back and shoulders. “Go in your backyard, take off your shirt and get the worst sunburn you can possibly stand,” advised Doctor Redekop with 1968 sensibility. “That’ll dry it up and you’ll be fine.” What followed were a painful couple of days, but my acne took years to clear. I’m still waiting to see what the legacy of Doctor Redekop’s advice will be. You know, like skin cancer.

This Could Never Happen In France

Posted: July 19, 2016 at 7:30 pm

Driving Bear-1

A bear ripped open a Lexus like a can opener two Saturdays ago in West Vancouver. The Lexus’s security system couldn’t mask the smell of a tray of sandwiches, left in the car overnight for a potluck the next day.

This could never happen in France, for three reasons:

1. There are no bears in France. OK, there are actually seven in the Pyrenees, on the French/Spanish border. But these bears never dine in France, preferring the tapas in Spain. France instead has fierce sangliers, wild boars up to 500 pounds. Some of them could eat a Lexus, with or without sandwiches.

2. No one has a Lexus in France. A luxury car in France is impractical. The roads aren’t Lexus-wide, and to park, you must be unconcerned with your car’s structural integrity and paint color. Besides,  a Frenchman doesn’t measure his self esteem by his luxury vehicle, but by how well the wine he chose for dinner last night paired with his meal.

3. A party tray of sandwiches would never be left in a car because no one would eat a pre-made sandwich in France. “Merde!  You expect me to eat something made with yesterday’s bread? Pas de chance! We’re not savages here!”


Pukin In Lucan

Posted: June 23, 2016 at 9:32 pm


The moment Sproner set the table on fire, the evening took a crooked turn at the Orange Shillelagh Pub.

Where else would a college kid want to be on Saint Patrick’s Day? As a sophomore at Western University in London Ontario, it was my pleasure to introduce the freshmen in my dorm to an honoured Saint Patrick’s tradition, Pukin’ In Lucan. I rented a big yellow school bus to transport 50 guys from our campus to Lucan, a rough, working-class village of Irish descendants 30 minutes from London.

The clientele at the Orange Shillelagh that night was a mix of college kids with alligators on their golf shirts and the Irish townies who wanted to kill them. As a self-satisfied member of the former group, I was unaware how irritating our boisterous drinking games and other antics must have seemed to the locals. We chugged pint after pint of green beer, and sang vulgar rugby songs, standing on chairs. We took breaks to hoot encouragement toward Princess Glow, a corpulent, energetic stripper on a stage slightly larger than a coffee table. I sat at a small, round table with three guys from my dorm: Sproner (one name only, like Prince or Madonna), Hulk (not the real Hulk, but a guy with fists the size of hams, ready for clobberin’), and bespectacled John Mann. The table was topped by a drab, felt slipcover, best to absorb spilled beer. Bored, Sproner flicked his lighter and touched it to the felt. With a whoosh the entire surface became a low flame. The fire lit something in Hulk’s eye, or maybe it was the mickey of vodka he guzzled between beers, but Hulk took the empty bottle from his breast pocket and threw it at a townie table. The bottle smashed against the chair holding a townie wife, spraying glass on her back and hair. Hulk sauntered to the townie table, very cool, to end the fight he started. The townies stood so quickly their chairs overturned and they lunged at Hulk.

“He’ll be fine,” said Sproner. “There’s only three of them.”

“Uh, Sproner….look at the table,” I said. Flames licked higher as the felt blackened.

“Oh, shit.”

Sproner and I swept our table of glasses and tried to smother the fire with plastic-covered menus. This only fanned the flames. Amid the chaos, John Mann really, really needed a bathroom break. And not the kind of bathroom break one would like to have in a gritty bar of questionable sanitary practices. The sit-down kind.

A word about John Mann. He lived in the dorm room next to mine, and never made one peep. Never played his stereo loud, never banged on the wall (the other 30 guys we lived with did this every day). He was gangly, pimpled, and socially awkward. His eyes looked enormous as seen through coke-bottle glasses. He rarely spoke above a whisper. So I was shocked he came to Lucan, drank his share of green beer and seemed to be enjoying himself. He was a new man(n). I was thankful for the transformative properties of beer, ribald songs, fighting and a naked woman.

John Mann was in a hurry, and lucky the only bathroom stall was free. The latch on the stall was broken, but John Mann could close, if not lock, the door, the kind that hovered a foot from the floor. He dropped his underwear and pants to his ankles, sitting just in time. Once the emergency had passed, John Mann contemplated his life in the pose of Rodin’s The Thinker. The evening was shaping up to be the highlight of his social season, the highlight of his social life, the best night of his life. John Mann couldn’t have been happier than he was at that exact moment, sitting on a scuzzy bar toilet with a fuzzy head and diarrhea. He was yanked from his reverie by a loud bang as someone crashed through the outer door of the bathroom.

Under his stall door, John Mann could see a pair of frantic feet, darting to and fro. John Mann sat up straight upon hearing a low gurgle, deep in the intruder’s throat. The disembodied feet dashed toward John Mann’s stall. The door burst open, scraping John Mann’s knee as it swung. John Mann’s roommate Cyrus leapt toward John Mann with an arched back and an open mouth. John Mann was frozen in place, but really, where else could he go in that split second? A gusher of emerald puke exploded from Cyrus’s mouth, landing on John Mann’s naked lap, legs, and the clothes bunched at his feet. John Mann could feel puke sliding off his thighs and testicles, dollops splashing in the toilet bowl below him.

Cyrus swiped his mouth with the back of his hand and silently, sheepishly, left John Mann on his throne with the stall door open. John Mann sat still for a few moments, then calmly stood. He methodically wiped his body and clothes clean of green vomit, as clean as was possible using one industrial size roll of toilet paper. John Mann pulled up his pants, washed his hands and returned to our charred table in the bar. He ordered another green beer. John Mann wasn’t going to miss the rest of the best night of his life.