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Archive for the ‘commentary’ Category

Heal your Wound, Transform the World

Posted by E on May 6, 2015

By now it seems that everybody in the world has seen yesterday’s Toronto Star article, which featured me and my journey toward understanding hate and its visceral, personal roots. I’m very grateful that Rachel Mendleson, a journalist at Canada’s largest-circulated newspaper, saw value in what I am trying to accomplish and worked so hard to share it with others.

Metro Toronto Screenshot 2015-05-06 2

The sad and painful truth is this: I have had hundreds of hits on my blog and website yesterday, but not many donations to the book campaign mentioned in the Toronto Star article. Which is the whole crux of the matter – for the last two months I’ve begged, borrowed and bothered people in order to fundraise for a project that I truly believe will make a difference in this world. But, with the exception of a few close, dear friends and a handful of people who believe in me, it’s all gone on deaf ears.

I cannot do this without your help. I’m not just talking money here – although without it, the research involved in this book simply cannot take place. But even dropping a word of encouragement. Sharing the story with others. Telling people on Facebook. Or just believing in me.

Anything at all.

But until now, everybody – yes, even YOU reading this – is probably thinking, Hey, this sounds like a cool project, so SOMEBODY’S going to help out. But the reality is, nobody will. We live in an age of indifference and self-absorption, where a guy on Kickstarter gets $50,000 to buy ingredients for a potato salad, and worthwhile projects and causes are bumped from the limelight in favour of potato-salad-guy or kong-fu-baby. It’s the reality of our time, where the trivial and the insipid have come to dominate social culture as we define it today.

So that somebody you’re thinking might be able to help me, after you leave this blog – well, that’s YOU.

There’s nobody else. If I had a dollar, even five dollars, for everybody who has checked out my blog over the last month but didn’t contribute anything, my book would have been funded by now.

There is just me. And you. And this moment – where you can decide to help me or you can walk away. This is, after all, your choice. But please don’t diminish that choice by assuming that there’s somebody else in line to help me out.

Because there isn’t.

If you DO decide to walk away, I don’t resent you. In fact, I’m kind of wishing I could walk away from it also. But the thing is, I can’t. My entire childhood and my adolescence was filled with hate, abuse and continuous trauma, and I realize today, in my 40th year, that running away from ugliness changes nothing. It’s cosmetic surgery of the heart, but doesn’t repair the wound inside your soul.

My wound goes deeper than my own childhood – it goes into the lives of my parents, and grand-parents, and great-grandparents before them. An epigenetic history of hate, oppression and suppression of the self. I carry in my blood the genetic memory of six hundred years of hatred, pogroms, wars, abuses and oppression. It’s a huge family tree of despair and longing to be remembered. Hence the name of my book.

remember meme

In Remember Your Name, I’m digging back into the personal transformations of innocents into monsters, as well as digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts (Sephardic conversos) in Europe, and the internalization of hatred and the transformation of victim into oppressor.

We see the consequences of this legacy of hate everywhere today – oppressed becomes oppressor, persecuted people turn the brutalization they suffered into outward brutality – from the peasant workers’ 20th century revolutions that turned into communist dictatorships, to the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East. Whether it means torching a police car or turning around and inflicting violence upon someone else, we as human beings are collective beings – which means that, even at our worst, we cannot constrain our emotions. They will spill out, for good and for bad, and impact the universe around us.

Right before I converted to Judaism in 2013, I had to write an essay for the rabbis at my Beit Din (Rabbinical Council) to explain why I wanted to become a Jew. This is a segment of that essay:

“My father’s denial of his religion and heritage was like an invisible wall that kept me from my past, but with each day and each hour, the wall becomes increasingly transparent. The bricks fall apart and I begin to see a glimpse of something beautiful and mystical on the other side. The shadows of those great-grandparents and the whispers of their lives comes through to me, through me, and out into my very own existence.

I feel terribly sad that I have had thousands of Jewish ancestors from Poland, Russia, Galicia, Ukraine and Romania, whose truth, lives and stories have been wiped off in only two generations. One hundred years is all it took to wipe out my family’s connection to their own lineage and heritage. I look at the world and wonder how many others walk around unaware that the blood of Sephardic conversos or Ashkenazim forced to hide their religion runs through their veins. But I aim to reclaim that heritage.”

By reclaiming this heritage, I reclaim the pain and the beauty of everyone whose blood gave birth to me today. Maybe I’m being idealistic or naïve, but I keep feeling that if I could SOMEHOW depict how pain and oppression, innocence and brutality, are so closely intertwined, then I might be able to show that there is no such thing as black or white in this world.

There is no ME or YOU. There is no Jew, Arab or Christian. We all laugh, we all cry. We all bleed.

We are ONE. Your pain is my pain, and my memories are your memories now.

Within each and every one of us there is the potential to be a victim and a victimizer, a tormentor and a tormented soul. There is love, and there is hate. And it is the uniqueness and beauty of our human experience which allows you to make that choice – the choice to get involved, to show kindness and compassion, or the choice to walk away.

Ultimately, it’s your choice.

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Posted in ancestry, canada, commentary, hate, heritage front, history, jewish, journalism, love, media, news, racism, religion, revolution, romania, toronto, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Small Press vs. Self-Publishing in the New Millenium

Posted by E on September 25, 2011

Ten years ago, if I couldn’t sell my book to a Big Six publisher I would gladly have taken the small press route. Heck, even as far back as five years ago I’d gladly have signed on the dotted line, and bragged to all my friends that at least I got a “real” publisher. I’d have used words like “legitimate” and “prestigious”, and snubbed my nose at the yucky self-published vanity “authors” who used to lurk in the gutter alleyways of imprints like Lulu.

But now, with the possibilities offered by Amazon and Smashwords, I wonder if any small publisher can come even close to the advantages offered by self-publishing. Not that self-publishing is a radically new thing. It’s basically what writers used to do for hundreds of years before established imprints took hold in the last century. So I asked this question on Twitter: If you can’t sell your book to Big Six publishers, would you go to a smaller press and get small/no advance OR self-publish?”

One person managed to give a nearly mono-syllabic answer: “small press”, but when I questioned whether splitting my royalties with a press who doesn’t have the marketing dollars to launch me (and thus force me to do my own marketing) is even worth it, she didn’t respond.

The answer seems obvious to me. I don’t begrudge the efforts of small presses and their editorial teams, but the fact of the matter is, most books published by small presses rarely sell more than about a thousand copies. Small presses do not have the budget for premium spots in bookstores, for massive advertising, and do rely heavily on authors marketing their own books. Which is something I already do every single day. And when my earnings are so small to begin with, I’m not sure I really want to split my royalties 85-15 (or worse) with a small press. I’m just being honest here.

Some may argue that small presses add an indispensable value to one’s book by providing expert editorial services and cover design. What I’d suggest is that if a writer so wishes, they can easily hire out editorial, formatting and graphic design services for a flat rate / one-time fee, rather than entering into contract with a publisher who cannot pay you an advance higher than four figures.

I believe we are living in the gold rush age of publishing. For the last couple of years, Big Six traditional publishers have bemoaned what they call a new evolution of the Guttenberg Press, an electronic Golden Age that they hope to survive unscathed. Hatchette and Random House executives have flown (no doubt first class) to meet Steve Jobs in the hope that Apple can somehow squash the Amazon revolution that precipitated a system in which Gatekeepers are being eliminated faster than one can say “Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

 I had a little laugh when I read about it, imagining all those execs in their crisp name-brand suits and ties, oiled briefcases in hand, walking pompously through Apple’s doors, thinking they have anything to leverage their arguments on. It was all the funnier, knowing that in the next five years, those New York penthouse residents will be lining up at their local Unemployment Office. Unless they package themselves out first, as several NY top editors already have been – and starting self-publishing consulting firms. Ah, the irony.

 This new age spells the end of MFA programs ran by greedy writers of the old generation, many of them mediocre writers in their own right, but who lucked out at a time when publishers would print nearly anything legible passed up the chain through nepotism and tapped favors. I mean, who in their right mind (aside from a trust fund baby) would spend $100K to get an MFA when there is no more Random House or Doubleday?

In the future literary universe, you’ll never get a huge advance. You’ll never have publishing execs speculate over your future success over endless luncheons. No, the only thing you will have to produce is a work that is good. Translation = that sells. That audiences, rather than editors and studio execs, will love.

 No more nepotism. No more favours. Of course, if you’re rich and can afford thousands on marketing, you’ll probably still manage to launch yourself out there. But without the gatekeepers, the world becomes a much more even playing field. Any hipster with a stack of flyers and a penchant for podcasting can generate the kind of grassroots buzz that can turn a coffee-stained manuscript into a bestseller.

In the new age we are entering, the ultimate gatekeeper will be the public. Only the AUDIENCE and the power of their mighty dollars will decide if your book has a future. NOT a nail-filing twenty-five year old acquisitions editor who’s rejecting anything on her desk that isn’t vampire teen porn.

 We are in a time of golden rushes. Thousands of new writers enter the self-publishing stampede with tin pan in hand, hoping to make their fortunes. Most will fail, in the same way that most authors in bookstores will fail to earn out their advance and never get anywhere.

But a few WILL succeed. Their ideas and manuscripts WILL strike gold, and when the dust settles they will enjoy the knowledge that they did it all on their own. That their success was entirely in their hands, and the profits they earned are not going toward paying for a Big Six publishers’ Fifth Avenue office suites and expense accounts, but in their own pockets.

We need to embrace this time of revolution, rather than cower and cling to sinking ships that are too bloated to sustain anybody. We need to remember that we at least have our talents and our fresh ideas, but agents and publishers, without their 15-90% cuts, have nothing. And that it was only a matter of time, in an industry that is barely a couple hundred years old, for things to change. For the unwashed masses on the outside of the palace gates to break through, behead anyone in the way and torch the whole bloody place down.

 Allons enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrive!

Posted in art, artist, books, commentary, culture, freedom, innovation, literature, publishing, technology, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The girl in the picture is me

Posted by E on August 19, 2011

The girl in this picture is me. Or rather, it was me. The me I was between age 16-18. The me I lost when I left Toronto, after testifying against a bunch of neo-Nazi leaders who led an organization co-founded by a CSIS agent. Founded, and funded, by our own Canadian government.

Nobody knows what it is like to live in the underground. It’s been romanticized, glamorized, but unless somebody’s actually lived it, nobody can imagine the toll this life can take on you.

Nameless cities, countless names, and through it all, you just ask yourself, Why do I bother? Why not just let them find me – the ones who kept tracking me down, phoning me in the night with threats like “we’re coming to get you,” and “rats end up in the sewers.”

By writing this entry, I’m coming out. Not as gay (that happened a long time ago!), but as a poser. A faker. An impostor.

This is an open letter to all my friends who will be reading this, whether via this blog or through my Facebook account link. Friends I’ve made in different cities and different countries. Friends near and far who have all called me by different names. I’m here to tell you that no, I wasn’t going through eccentric, creative phases whenever I changed cities and switched names.

 There was a reason for it. At least at the time. But as the years went by, I found myself repeating a pattern that was no longer necessary, yet I didn’t know how to stop – lying. Lying had become part of my identity. Lying about my past, my family, my name. All of it as easy as a knee-jerk reflex. Because when you discard identities like you do clothing, sometimes you don’t know how to relate to others without exposing yourself. Even when the threat has long ended.

So for all those who called me Emma in Nova Scotia or Kat in Ottawa or Elisa in the GTA, or the countless little monikers I’ve worn between one place and the next, this entry should provide the answers to some of the questions you’ve always been too polite to ask.

Why am I “coming out” now? Some of you know about my novel Race Traitor, which is loosely based on my own story. You probably didn’t realize there was a connection. What you’ve been told is that it’s a cool little thriller I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. What you don’t know is that it’s full of demons. Not of the supernatural kind, because those can be vanquished easier than those who come to you in the night, through nightmares and flashbacks and terrors that leave you shaking and wondering what the hell’s the point of going forward.  These demons are real people, and they are out there in the world. Seducing and recruiting young, impressionable people, into movements that rob them of their minds and souls. And you owe it to this world, and to all of those lost youth, to understand what happened to me. And what forced me to write this book.

The irony is, this fall my memoir was going to come out with Penguin. I turned them down, because they wanted me to expose myself and offered me nothing to compensate for the threat to my life and that of my loved ones. So instead of telling my secrets, I turned the memoir into a novel, and wrote new secrets for a new character. I’ll never regret this decision. It led me to create an updated story that will reach far more readers than the decade-old story of a girl who disappeared in 1993.

I paid the price for my privacy. I had to publish it myself. Sure, it came close to being bought several times, but ultimately rejected with comments like “this isn’t pertinent to our society anymore. The heyday of right-wing extremists is over.”

Then the shootings and bombing in Norway happened. It was a wake up call for me. Ultimately I had to fire my agent, take my career back into my own hands, and publish the book myself. Incurring, of course, the silent disapproval of nearly all my writer friends who were horrified that I’d subject myself, and my manuscript, to the ghettos of the “Indie” world. Regardless of the quality of my writing, no respectable newspaper or magazine would review my work now. I’d effectively committed career suicide.

So where does this leave me? Yeah, I guess I could go around peddling my wares on writers’ forums now. Bombarding everybody with tweets and emails begging them to buy my book. But I won’t bother to do that. I won’t plead, beg, or steal you attention with requests that you buy it.

All I wanted to do is to tell you the truth about me, and the truth behind my book. If you don’t like the subject matter or don’t want to waste five bucks on something that took me over a year to write and a lifetime to escape, I don’t give a shit. Really.

 I don’t really give a damn about anything anymore.

Posted in books, canada, commentary, crime, freedom, germany, history, letter, life, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, thoughts, toronto, writer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Norway’s attacks – debunking the terrorist myth

Posted by E on July 23, 2011

Since September 11, 2001, most people’s image of a terrorist has been that of an extremely religious, Muslim, bearded man with a burning hatred for the West. The reality of home-grown, white extremist groups and fringe left or right-wing nutcases has been relegated to the dusty corners of our consciousness. Despite the Oklahoma City bombing, despite the skinheads who marched on the streets of Toronto and London, Molotov cocktails in hand, Swastika banners in hand, we refuse to believe that a terrorist could be one of our own – not a Muslim, not a brown-skinned immigrant, but someone born and raised here.

Today Norway struggles with a momentous tragedy in its history – the bombing of a government building in Oslo and a savage massacre that took the lives of at least 80 youths in a Labour Party youth camp. The suspect – an Aryan-looking, blond and blue-eyed killer, well-known for his links to right-wing extremists, according to AFP sources.

We continue to have a heads-under-the-sand mentality in North America – that right-wing fanaticism doesn’t exist anymore, that violent skinheads and neo-fascists have been relegated to a harmless, inactive status, merely losers on Jerry Springer who garner a few laughs with their Klan-totting robes, but not much more a threat than that. And certainly NOT the types of people who can mobilize like Al-Queda, who can recruit alienated youth and train them to hate, and to kill.

When I was sixteen years old, I experienced first-hand the recruitment tactics of such a group. I witnessed more than a sixteen-year old should witness, and I testified against some very prominent neo-Nazis in open court. When the dust cleared, it became known that the white supremacist group I was being hunted by had been co-founded by an agent provocateur of the Canadian Intelligence Security Service (CSIS), our version of the CIA.

This man was provided funds to sustain this group, many of whose members travelled to Libya to meet with Moammar Gaddafi, who was at the time in the process of connecting various terrorist groups from across the world, funding and giving them access to secret training camps in the desert.

 

The fact that a government agent would have a hand in not only establishing, but fuelling a radical white supremacist group, provoked a temporary outrage in the Canadian public, but not a lasting drive for change. Within a few years, the entire story was forgotten. The former agent provocateur was relocated to another province, given a massive house in the suburbs and a generous allowance for another three years. For what amounts to teaching violent neo-Nazis how to terrorize innocent civilians, and how to smuggle guns over the border from the US. A government report came out that basically acknowledged that Operation Governor had been compromised by an “overzealous” source who might have gone “a little too far”, but nothing was ever done to bring those responsible to justice.

In fact, when I submitted my book for publication over the past year, comments ranged from the flippant to the entirely dismissive, as in the editor from Canada’s Douglas & McIntyre, who sent this rejection note: “I just feel like the issue of white supremacy has had its day, and it would take something more current for a book on this to break out.”

Just tonight, Norway’s Prime Minister, faltering before the press, answered the question “Is right-wing extremism a problem in this country?” with a wishful self-denying “No, we don’t have a big problem with right-wing extremists.” What? That’s after 92+ people have been murdered by a neo-fascist. But in his head, like in publishers and most journalists’ minds, when a Muslim kills, it’s an organized plot. When a neo-fascist kills, it’s one lone, crazy gunman. Nothing to really worry ourselves about.

To the establishment, terrorists have to be Islamic fundamentalists. Even if a Timothy McVeigh or Anders Behring Breivik pops up every few years and takes the lives of hundreds or thousands of people in the process. The fallacy of thought behind editorial boards and mass media is dismissive and shockingly small-minded. The reality is, even if a lone gunman is behind a massacre, there is an entire ideology of hatred behind him.

I suppose that soon I’ll have to list my book on Kindle, since there seem to be no interested publishers in New York who want to buy a novel based on this stuff (but they’d easily offer a million bucks to Kim Kardashian or Casey Anthony for a ghost-written memoir). I owe it to people to put this book out. I’ve received funding from Ontario and Canada arts councils for this project, and there are many of us who I believe it’s an important book since it depicts the step-by-step process of indoctrination of young people into radical terrorist groups.

But traditional publishers do not see my book as “commercial enough” (St Martins / Minotaur). Beyond the disappointment I have in the system, I genuinely wonder what Douglas & McIntyre, Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have to say tonight. I wonder if they really think a terrorist must have a Muslim face. That the subject of radical right-wingers is passé. Because if they do, they are very, very wrong. And Norway is paying the price for such a flawed assumption.

Posted in canada, commentary, crime, culture, europe, freedom, germany, literature, news, politics, press, publishing, war, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Phone Hacking deja vu

Posted by E on July 19, 2011

So this week hearings begin into the phone hacking operations by recently-defunct News of the World. Everyone is so tremendously outraged that stuffy mogul Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper employees could hack not only a poor missing teen girl’s mobile but God forbid, the Priminister and Royal Family’s own phone lines. Everyone’s scratching their heads and asking themselves, “But how could that be? Our privacy compromised like this, how can it be possible?” And now the probe goes further, wondering if the newspaper might have – gasp! – cracked into the US government’s phone database.

I can’t help but experience a strong hit of déjà vu here, like a rotten smell that just won’t go away. We’ve had much worse here, people, I want to scream. How have you all forgotten? How can you ever forget?

In the early nineties here in Canada we had a government agent operative – an undercover CSIS agent (Canada’s version of the CIA, to my American friends) – create a white supremacist group from scratch and teach them the tricks of the trade. Under CSIS’ tutelage, the white supremacist Heritage Front cracked into countless innocent people’s phone lines and terrorized them with death threats. It was called the It Campaign, and it was condoned by our own government.

Violent skinheads and gun-totting neo-Nazis telephoned people 24 hours a day to harass and force information about others out of them. They stalked their prey, followed people to and from work, targeting anti-racist activists for criminal harassment and physical assault.
All of them were taught by CSIS.
And nothing was ever done about it.

Heck, nobody wants to buy my novel – which is making editorial rounds RIGHT NOW (and being rejected, though with praise) – because apparently the thriller novel market is swamped and nobody’s buying. The fact that the novel is based on real-life and rooted in fact does not appear to sway editors. Nor that a country’s own government, through its “intelligence” body has hacked and terrorized its own people, seems to make an impression.

And in the end, aside from a few internal demotions, nobody ever prosecuted CSIS for their phone hacking. And for condoning their agents to train white supremacists to do the same. Despite the dozens of witnesses who spoke up about what had happened, despite my own much-publicized testimony on Parliament Hill, the final report excused their behaviour as having gotten “carried away” and been a tad “over-zealous” in their undercover work.

I guess watching tawdry CNN recaps is easier to swallow than knowing that things can be a lot worse than unscrupulous journalists hacking into voice mail for scoops.

Posted in books, canada, commentary, crime, england, freedom, news, politics, press, rant | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The freedom to dream, the courage to belong

Posted by E on July 13, 2011

 

I guess you can chalk me up as an aspiring, unpublished hack. You know, like 99% of artists out there reading this post 😉 A hack who’s part of this ever-changing world we live in, and who knows more than my fair share about the business. So having said all that, you know what kills me? I’ve accepted that I’m never going to be the next hot new bestselling writer out there. That I’m not going to make much more than minimal wage, and that’s taking into account the artist bursaries I may occasionally win. But the thing that kills me, more than the non-existent fame and fortune all of us writers secretly hope to stumble into, more than anything, is the knowledge that I will never be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on a shelf.

This image has haunted me since I was a little girl. It has propelled and encouraged me to take my dreams of writing stories and make them unfold from hunches, intermittent thoughts, stray words, into something that takes a life of its own. It’s this dream, this vision of my books on a shelf or on a store display under the Staff Picks section, that hurts the most to let go. To know that everything I have done in my life, all the hard work I’ve put into creating these manuscripts, means nothing at all.

Yes, bad writers self-publish all the time. Breathtakingly mediocre manuscripts get uploaded onto Kindle at every hour of every day. That was my assumption when I first encountered the notion of self-publishing, when I secretly dismissed self-published authors as untalented hacks who couldn’t earn their stripes in the real literary world.

Yes, I was a snob. WAS. But that was before I started downloading self-pubbed books on my Kindle, and realized just how many amazing, incredibly-talented people have been forced by this screwed-up industry to take this route.

There is no karmic justice in this industry. Truth of the matter is this:
1) Bad writers DO get book deals. I’ve met a few in my day, people who either never wrote more than a chapter of a book and still managed to make it onto bestseller lists. Terrible writers also manage – through nepotism, inside connections and affiliations with college writing programs – to land publishing deals for their inferior magnus opuses. I’ve seen it happen. Half of them are out teaching creative writing programs. I can’t name names, but trust me. It happens more often than you think.

2) Good writers DO fall through the cracks. On the brink of extinction, the established literary industry operate like a flock of piranhas – editors concern themselves more with keeping their jobs and minimizing the risk it takes to take on unknown writers. Often they will adopt an unspoken policy of not showing interest in something unless other editors show interest. Simply put = nobody wants to take risks anymore. And nobody wants to edit.

3) Gone are the days when a diamond in the rough could be scooped from the slush pile and whittled into brilliance. Editors, for the most part, are lazy. There – I’ve said it. Not all, because I’d hate to generalize, but a HUGE majority of large publishing house acquiring editors prefer to do just that – acquire. Not edit. Not even bother trying, actually. If the manuscript in their inbox is not pitch-perfect in terms of what they’re looking for, they’d rather reject than invite a revision.

4) Publishing houses are going extinct because of bad financial practices. Case in point:
a. At the last Book Expo America, Random House rented an ENORMOUS booth to show off how much money they had. They spared no expense in putting off the image that they are doing peachy

b. Publishers will spend a million dollars for an advance to buy on a single manuscript (again, see the bidding war piranha frenzy I mentioned earlier), and add another 500K in marketing costs to justify their gamble on one person, while the money could be spent on acquiring ten talented writers (at $100K advance each). You don’t have to have a degree in investing to see how screwed up this is.

c. A reluctance to adapt to new publishing models, save for continuous attempts to unashamedly and brutally screw over inexperienced, first-time authors over their already-meagre royalties. Example: You sell your soul if you spend a year or more on a book only to find out that you’ll make fifty cents per every ebook. But if they didn’t do that, how could they afford the huge salaries of top executives, those travel expenses to international fairs, those roomy booths at Book Expo America?

So by now you’re either cheering me on, or you’ve already written me off as a bitter industry loser. As in, I didn’t win the lottery jackpot and got a book deal yet – because this is what this really is about – LUCK. Not talent so much as sheer, unadulterated luck: the RIGHT editor, the RIGHT submission, at the RIGHT time.
FACT: the vast majority of published authors out there only received one offer. That’s right: ONE offer. There was no bidding war. No hundred grand advance. Just ONE editor who had an empty slot in next fall’s line-up. THAT alone is what separates the unwashed masses like me from the “respectable” folks in the Chapters-Indigos and Barnes & Nobles of the world.

But if it was up to the industry, that’s not where I’m headed, or where most of us younger writers trying to put our work out there are headed. By misfortune of being born in this generation, at the cusp of the extinction of the bricks-and-mortal bookstores (may be another 10-20 years, but they’re going), we are being shut out of that dream we’ve all harboured: the vision of walking into over to that store display and seeing your baby in print, ready to captivate the world.

It doesn’t mean we can’t make a name for ourselves, or serious money. People have been so successful through Kindle, it would be insane not to consider it. But what I’m taking about is your work being out on the bookshelves of a hundred stores, reaching a mainstream audience that is kept away from you by virtue of the gate-keepers.

I’ve done everything right. I’ve played by the rules. I’ve gained a few prizes here and there, won substantial artist grants, gotten my name out there. I was even accepted by the most prestigious MFA program in Canada this spring, but because I have no money whatsoever, I’ve had to defer my spot.

I’ve had not one, but two literary agents. The first was more lazy than money-hungry and spent his entire day on Twitter playing the role of big agent man but not making any sales. At all. So I fired him and started fresh. The second agent seemed more promising. I listened to him, for a while, when he told me to add more violence, more of a 24 (the TV show) plotline and more “dirty lesbo sex” to my novel so it would sell – and I did all this out of fear that he would not submit my book to publishers. Until I couldn’t take it anymore and told him I was finished. With the power struggle, and with the proposed changes. Really finished.

For the last two years I’ve allowed myself be bullied by this industry – by agents, by writer forums where self-aggrandizing, arrogant assholes who published mid-list books pull rank on new writers, by editorial rumours of what sells, by everything. And at the end of the day, what did I get?

A manuscript that has been so twisted it seems foreign to me, but meets the vision of what the industry seems to want. And sure enough, it has received several generous editorial compliments over the past month, yet it keeps getting rejected. The rejections, of course, are all over the map – editor X will praise this and complain about that, and not a day later, editor Z will complain about this, and praise that which someone else had taken issues with. But nobody wants to take a chance on me.
Nobody.

The truth is, the literary world these days is a shitty, soul-wrenching crapshoot in which only the lucky and the well-connected will find a spot to land in. And if you are like me, if the only thing you ever had to cling to in your life was writing, you’ll keep on struggling, crying, and creating.

You belong. Don’t let them convince you otherwise.

If you enjoyed the read or found it useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in agent, art, artist, belonging, books, bullshit, commentary, freedom, life, literature, manuscript, news, perseverence, poetry, press, publishing, rejection, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

On nourishing the best minds of our generation

Posted by E on July 22, 2010

Writer colonies, retreats, artist centres, whatever you call it, are intended to provide that all-too-elusive sense of belonging and recognition to writers who otherwise labour away in the seclusion of their own abodes and their own idiosyncracies and particular neuroticisms.
Coming up for a breath of fresh air, as in attending a colony and being able to create while at the same time surrounded by a whole bunch of other creative minds is invaluable. The colonies are more than just a place to eat, sleep and write — they might just lead to new friendships and new perspectives that can enhance our otherwise solitary work.

Luckily for US artists, the United States provides an abundance of colonies and fellowships one can apply for. Places that have been frequented by artists like Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, etc. I could start rattling off the names of a whole lot of places, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, for something like 30-50 bucks and the cost of mailing in a portfolio, you can apply to attend artistic residences where all your accommodations, meals and board, etc, are completely covered up to 8 weeks.

We in Canada are not so lucky. Although arts councils are there to provide much-needed support to artists as they work on their projects, they don’t fund colonies or retreats, at least none that I know of. And all the ones I’ve checked, including the famous Banff Centre for the Arts, charge a hefty thousand bucks for five days of accommodations and meals….which, to be frank, who can afford unless they already have a day job, and therefore not exactly a full-time writer to begin with?
I witnessed something odd at the Humber Summer Workshop I attended (on a scholarship, thankfully!) two Julys ago: most of the participants were made up of middle-aged professionals, otherwise-known-as weekend warriors. Not to generalize, but what I’ve observed is that often those who can afford those expensive workshops are the same people who hardly have the time necessary to complete a full-length work, quality notwithstanding.

It’s a damn shame that we can’t offer as many possibilities as the US and other European nations provide their artists. People here bitch and moan every time funding gets cut at the individual level, but sometimes I think that perhaps if there was a place we could escape to for just a little while, where we wouldn’t have to worry about distractions, finances, etc — that it might be as useful as a big-ass cheque. And equally inspiring. Not that I’d be willing to trade my OAC and CAC funding, thank you very much 🙂 but still…. wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a place existed?

I know, going to a writers’ colony for a month is no guarantee that you can produce something substantial, but then again, neither does getting a huge chunk of money insure that a writer is able to commit to the page. But having said all that, the only place that I’ve found which subsidizes Canadian writers is Berton House in the Yukon, but you have to already have published at least one book to go there. And, well, it’s quite desolate and not exactly large enough to accommodate more than one or two persons at a time.

Sadly, even though financial assistance might be provided to one or two people per program, overall it seems that Canadian writing centres seem more geared toward weekend-type writers with large bank accounts than toward the younger or less affluent people who could most benefit from an opportunity to allow their brilliance to shine through. And in the end, through this insidious practice of cultural and financial elitism, everyone suffers.

Oh, I know — writing programs are basically lucrative cash cows that keep MFA grads and other senior writers employed, but at what cost? By excluding the talented in favour of the rich (though if you’re both, you’ve hit the jackpot!), how exactly does our culture advance?

One of my biggest dreams is to someday own a place where people can come and work on their projects, a place where all costs would be absorbed, and the artist is free only to create. But until I sell a crapload of books and maybe close a movie deal or two, this will remain a wishful dream.

Posted in art, beauty, canada, commentary, freedom, poetry, thoughts, Uncategorized, usa, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More media hysteria about tourism in Mexico

Posted by E on January 2, 2009

Another Mexico tourist shooting article

So another couple of guys got shot in Mexico this week. I can barely wait until next week’s Marketplace or W5 hyped-up sensationalized story about the mass murdering of innocent Canadian tourists who flock south for a wee bit of sun and waddle in the warm and assumed-to-be-inviting waters of the Mexican peninsula….only to run in the paths of bullets, vehicles out of control and homicidal resort staff.

I’m of the opinion that, barring a few unfortunate tragedies that could happen anywhere, whether in a Mexican resort or outside a Yonge st shoe store on boxing day in Toronto, where there’s trouble, trouble will follow. These two guys were shot in a strip club, for god’s sake. I know, they were only browsing by and they really are fine, upstanding citizens on the prowl for a cheap margarita and a cheaper latina date, but honestly….

Meeting your maker in a seedy topless bar is not quite the typical tourist profile of mom and pop and their 2.5 kids tanning on the beach, coming into a hail of bullets fired by an entire Mexican mafioso escadron. I’m not saying that what happened isn’t unfortunate, because nobody deserves to be turned into a quadroplegic, but the issue is – if you don’t want trouble, don’t frequent places where beefy drunken men, lack of local language skills and tequila mix to often unfortunate results.

Yes, a tourist in Latin America does have to watch their back. As does a tourist in New York City. But given the large number of tourists from all over the world who sojourn in Mexico, and the per capita number of serious crimes inflicted on them, I think it’s safe to say that you should keep away from the hysterics inflicted upon the masses by the above-mentioned media outlets, which, although it pains me to cite the cliches, do indeed sensationalize unnecesarily to boost their ratings.

If there is any corruption and serious crime to speak of in Mexico, it is not targeted toward the gringos beached along the coasts.

Perhaps CTV, CBC, etc. should focus more on the crimes inflicted upon locals by Mexican crime lords and corrupt police. But stories about Juarez’s thousands of missing women, or the desperate poverty of the border towns where people waste their lives sowing jeans for a buck a day doesn’t scandalize the Canadian public quite the same, does it?

Posted in canada, commentary, crime, media, news, travel | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Berlin, Beijing – behind the smoke and mirrors, a monster rears its ugly head

Posted by E on August 22, 2008

Berlin 1936 = Beijing 2008. I bet Leni Riefenstahl is rolling in her grave wishing she could’ve gotten a crack at filming this one.

How are they similar? In both cases, a hopelessly corrupt IOC awards the Olympic games to a savage totalitarian state, while the world turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed by that state.

Violations against open discourse started early: as foreign journalists began converging on Beijing to cover the Summer Olympics, restrictions began to be placed on journalistic freedoms.

Since China was awarded the Games, China’s Communist Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have continually given guarantees to the world’s media that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet.
Then, the Chinese Government blew that commitment into disarray when 20,000 journalists covering the August 8 – 24 Games in Beijing were told they would be blocked from accessing some Internet sites.

China has also designated 3 parks in Beijing for “sanctioned demonstrations”, promising that there would be room for protests, provided that those planning to organize a peaceful protest would submit a petition in advance. The result: people were rounded up and arrested instead. No protest ever took place.

Australia’s Media Alliance spokesman Christopher Warren was quoted as comparing the upcoming Games to those hosted by Nazi Germany in 1936. “This promises to be the most restricted Olympics, in terms of reporting the Games and its social and political context, since Berlin in 1936”.

Everyone who has watched the Olympics has witnessed pro-Chinese cheating, none more evident than in the gymnastics fiasco. Not only are at least two of the girls underage, but in my opinion it’s pretty clear the judges have been bought. Not surprising, though, since the field of gymnastics, like figure skating, is notorious for bribing and buying of judges.

China has spent in excess of 43 billion dollars (yes, you read that right) to showcase their superiority over (and shame) all other nations who have ever hosted an Olympics. You can rest assured that the message “We’re Bigger, We’re Better” does not stop with the theatrics of the opening ceremonies, to dubbed musical productions or with little girls who are considered too ugly to represent China and must sing below a stage.

The smoke and mirrors that cover an insatiable urge to beat all others will not put all its hopes on the shoulders of mere human beings. Just think about it – if you’ve gone all the way and spent 43 billion dollars on a show, what’s a few more paltry million to buy off some judges?

This is a country where you go to jail if you speak out against the regime. Where ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and murdered in the open. Where you must fit in, must not think for yourself, must become a robot for the State.

Communism and fascism are similar in that way: they curtail the freedom to be an intellectual, to have free thought, to breathe without looking over your shoulder. They curtail the kind of music you can listen to, the kinds of magazines you read, the choice of vocation, job, and career you may ever have dreamed to have.

These are nations where children with aptitude are kidnapped from their parents and thrown into provincial facilities where they are forced to train for 16 hours a day, just to show the State as powerful and full of glory. Gold medals are stacked upon the broken bones, wilted minds and ruined bodies of young people.

You can also count on the fact that pre-Olympic discussions took place, where Chinese judging officials have been not only bribed with better apartments and salaries, but also warned that if they brought shame upon China (by marking them less than anyone else), they would be deported to some gulag somewhere and would wish for an early death.

You think it can’t happen again? Guess what? It’s happening already.

Posted in censorship, china, commentary, communism, culture, freedom, germany, news, olympics, politics, tibet, war | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Canadian fencing sucks big time

Posted by E on August 12, 2008

 

While keeping score with the Olympic games in Beijing, I hardly batted an eye as the news flashed on the official Beijing scores site: one by one, each Canadian fencer fell, pretty much after their first or second bouts. It’s a bit of a deja vu, actually, a flashback to the last Olympics – in Atlanta and Athens – when Canada managed to actually qualify more fencers to go than even this year.

And then what happened? Well, you know. What always happens.
They go home after 1 or 2 bouts.

Sorry to break it to you folks, but the sad and unfortunate reality is that Canada isn’t known for producing quality fencers, which is why the best Canadian fencers go abroad to train (look at Sherraine Schalm), and why someone like Jujie Luan, even at 50 yrs of age (an old lady to some), can qualify for a spot so easily, within 15 months. Coaching is rife with favoritism, bribes used to be common (and not just here – look at the Sports Illustrated’s infamous expose of bribery and corruption in fencing – read it here) & Canadian fencing programs here need to come a LONG way before they can be on par with the Romanians, French, Italians and Hungarians.

Even the biggest recent name in Canadian fencing, Sherraine the epeeist, who was profiled on everything from Macleans to CBC to everything else, who got a sweet book deal and on occasion has been somewhat of a media darling around here, lost in her first bout during the 2004 Athens event. She’s up tomorrow in Beijing, and as much as I’d like to see her succeed, there are no others who have tread before her. No Canadians have ever won a fencing medal. Ever.

So, Elisa, tell us, why does Canadian fencing suck?

Well, first of all, we have to put aside the popular fantasy that fencing is a sport which can be played recreationally, like volleyball or ping-pong or shooting hoops. EVERY STEP of fencing is geared toward competitions. There is no such thing, honestly, as fencing for fun; from day one, enthusiastic, wide-eyed wanna-be fencers are shoved forward onto a slaughterhouse ramp of competitive bouting. You go to amateur bouts, then to “Open” national circuits, then to international competitions. It’s what it is. Even if you want to wage your own protest and say “Hell, I’m gonna fence for fun”, your opponents will be prepping for their competitions, so it is impossible to avoid the intrinsic cut-throat nature of this sport.

But back to why it sucks big-time in this country.

The hot story this Olympics was about Jujie Luan, a former medal-winner for the Chinese waaaay back when she was still a Chinese national, having been churned out by those infamous Chinese athlete factories – you know, where they pick kids from kindergarten, assign them a sport and ship them off to athletic facilities on the other side of the country, whether the parents consent or not. Well, Jujie has been in Canada for many years now – I even got to see her some years back, fencing at the Nationals – and because of the Olympics being set in China, her homeland, she came out of self-imposed retirement. Jujie is 50 years of age, but nevertheless, within 15 months she managed to qualify for Beijing. (She was defeated in her second bout, but that’s not the point). Not to take away from Luan’s story, since training for this caliber of event is remarkable for someone her age. But fencing is NOT as physically demanding as most other Olympic sports. This is why routinely fencers up to their late 30s still qualify for Olympics. In fencing you “peak” in your mid-30s.

I think what’s more interesting is that Luan managed to qualify for a spot on the Olympic team within 15 mths. Frankly, this doesn’t say much for Canadian fencing as a whole.

When you go back to look at my former schoolmate, Sherraine Schalm, you get to see that she has actually been training in Europe for the last decade; a few years in Paris, and more recently, the last four in Hungary. Why? How could such a well-publicized Canadian athlete not actually LIVE here?

Well, other than mediocre coaches, favouritism that is so rampant – where good fencers get pushed aside by coaches who would rather sleep with their students – as it happened at my alma mater, supposedly the best varsity program for fencing in this country (where Sherraine also first came to train), where we won first place after first place in the university games for nearly a decade. The truth is, Canadian Coaches tend to play favourites, which is what the Romanians and the Chinese don’t do – for them, fencing is a business, without emotions and without bi-partisanship. If you have the spark in you, they will work it out of you. That’s their job.

Secondly, and just as importantly, government funding for “lesser-popular” sports like fencing (read: not football, soccer or hockey) is simply non-existent. Athletes are somehow expected to fund themselves, their lessons, their living expenses. Grants are few and far between, and cannot be said to even remotely cover the travel expenses of attending world championships every year.

Therefore, the pool of potential gold-medal-winning fencers has been reduced to the coach-favoured and wealthy – those whose parents and family can raise or at least scrimp together the necessary funds for them to survive as they train. You must be both to last as a competitive fencer. And if a coach doesn’t favour you, and won’t train you for free (how many do it anyway? How many retired fencer-come-coaches can afford to?) and you have to keep paying 20 bucks per lesson, how many lessons do you think you can afford? It all adds up.

Of course, to be a GOOD fencer you have to live abroad, and by the time you factor in the cost of renting a shitty apartment in a double-digit arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris, (as several people I know have done) and commuting to a gym where your teammates, via the grace of the French government, have their own personal trainers and psychologists and adorn the posters on bus shelters, you realize you’ve been pretty screwed by the country you are supposed to represent.

Now how’s that for motivation? No wonder the sport is so pathetic in this country.

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Posted in canada, china, commentary, culture, fencing, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »