Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tell the story of one of your oldest and dearest friends

Tell us the story of how and why you are connected with one of your oldest and dearest friends.

One of my oldest and dearest friends is Henry Carlo Service, but to me he’ll always be Carlo.

We met when we were both summer student workers at the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa. He wore a suit every day, but it was usually club suit (this being 1988, he wore 1988 styles... think Bobby Brown). I wore t-shirts and shorts a lot, I think.

Hard to believe that was 21 years ago. But when I see photos of me with a flat-top and him with a jheri curl, I accept it really has been more than two decades. (The photo is much later, from my wedding day in 2005.)

We really didn’t hang out at the time; we didn’t connect much at the time and two years later we admitted to each other that we’d feared the other was a sell-out. Even typing those words now makes me laugh at both the absurdity, given what I know of Carlo, and the stupidity of (in my case) an 18-year-old’s socio-political prejudice.

But the next fall Carlo and I were in the same Intro to World History class at the University of Alberta, and we formed a mini-caucus in the class on African issues, dueling as necessary with goofs, and the following year, because of him, I got involved with the Caribbean Students’ Association which was host to fascinating, extremely loud discussions on Africentric issues in the late 1980s.

Keep in mind the times: Oprah was still a little-known talk show host, but Spike Lee was the most controversial and important American film-maker with the 1989 summer release of Do the Right Thing; Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions were leading the development of political hip hop, with a range of artists including X-Clan, Queen Latifah, Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T and Ice Cube who included songs with socially-relevant lyrics andon their records. Africa medallions, kente cloth and fezes were common, as were t-shirts with Africentric images and slogans. The beginning of 1990 saw the release of Nelson Mandela and the beginning of the end of (formal) apartheid.

So it was the hey-day of the Africentric Consciousness Movement—film and music and politics expanding synergistically. And so it was for my intense friendship with Carlo.

He and I—although we look nothing alike (he’s a way better looking dude than I ever was, damn him)—were together so much that many people thought we were siblings. We recorded a hip hop song together... planned and spoke at anti-apartheid and anti-racism rallies together, and we even ended up dating the same woman (not at the same time, of course) which ended up very badly for one of us.

But throughout it all, I saw what a magnificently warm, dedicated, honourable man he was. And also the funniest guy I’ve ever known, the only person who can make me gasp for breath from laughing so hard. He’s the best story-teller I’ve ever known, too—I could probably fill books if all I did was put a microphone in front of him and asked him to tell me about all the battles he fought in defense of other people in his work as an attorney, a public school teacher and an office worker.

He’s also an excellent father, and I’ve been inspired as a father by the example he sets, his gentleness with and dedication to his children.

When we were separated by geography for many years, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to reconnect. Sometimes you find you’ve got nothing more than nostalgia, and that’s a painful and doomed way to try to restart a friendship.

But when I visited Carlo in 1997 in Kansas City after five or six years apart, I was amazed at how we simply restarted as if no time had passed, discussing new issues in the news, our relationships, our defeats, our victories. I was honoured and moved to find that we could talk with each other about the pain beneath the anger in our lives... that we could speak as older, more mature men than we were when we'd first connected. That we could share some of the worst because we already shared the best. That we could trust each other with our vulnerabilities and wounds.

Sometimes a dude is your friend, but you don't know if you can reach that level, and if you didn't in the beginning, you don't know if your friendship can turn that corner to become a far richer, deeper friendship. Ours did.

And that's why the character of Yehat Bartholomew Gerbles in my first published novel, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, is in part based on Carlo. Certainly the intensity and quality of the friendship--the brotherhood--between him and Hamza and is based on Carlo's and mine.

I told him once, years ago, that I’d always been Robin to his Batman. He told me, in surprise, that he’d thought he was the one who’d been Robin. Amazing.

Doesn’t matter. He’ll always be a hero to me.


So now, tell us the story of how and why you are connected with one of your oldest and dearest friends.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why did you become a writer?

I first decided to be a writer when I was about twelve because of comic books.

I was in grade seven. I’d been collecting comics for two years already—primarily Bill Mantlo’s Micronauts. Then I found Frank Miller’s Daredevil. He was one of the first celebrated auteurs of modern (post-Eisner, post-Ditko) comics, probably because he was in the “big two” of Marvel/DC. I’d never before seen the intensity possible in a work drawn by the same person who wrote it.

Narration in comics had generally been awful. Now I was reading DD #179 (I think), and finding a narrative shift from (I think) omniscient to first-person (reporter Ben Urich, who for some reason reminds me now of Seymour Hirsh).

That stunned me. A narrative switch? Twenty years later I’d employ that same approach to the tune of eleven narrators in my first published novel, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad.

So I’d already known, because of Michael Golden’s and Pat Broderick’s work on *Micronauts*, that I wanted to be a comic book artist. But as a result of Miller (and now that I think of it, also because of auteur Jim Starlin on *Warlock*), I was determined to write, not only draw.

By grade ten I found Frank Herbert’s *Dune* (hm… two Franks?). I’d known of the work for some time and had seen the David Lynch film on opening night, but what truly excited me about the work was the glossary. My friend Robert Oska had written his own story (for a class project) set in the *Dune* universe. I’d never seen a work so rich in imagination it demanded its own glossary. I determined one day to write my own novel with a glossary.

I’ve now written two (unpublished) SF epics with glossaries. Hopefully, when I have time to put each of those megabooks on a diet (one is 300,000 words and the other is closer to 400,000), they’ll be in a bookstore near you.

I gave up on comics when, around age 20, I’d seen the demands that drawing them made on my friend Adrian Kleinbergen, a terrific cartoonist who created the R-Mer costume that ender up in *Coyote Kings*. A ton of work for little pay, and grueling hours to meet deadlines. And hell, a page took a day and if it had mistakes, it meant starting over. As a writer, I could create a bunch of pages in one day and fix them with a few clicks or at worst, a couple of hours of revision.

I’m now at the point where I’ve written five manuscripts and am half-way through a sixth. Yet it’s been four years since I completed my last one. Although I did write a spec screenplay and a couple of spec pilots and a bunch of articles, I know how easy it is not to write a book. So if you’ve never finished a book or if you have and you’ve lost your way, as I did, let me urge you to adopt the one page a day programme. You can choose to make one page = 250 words, or 500.

You’ll often write more. Just never write less. If you can do 500 words a day, in five months your book will be done.

So I’ve asked you all to comment on why you became a writer in hopes you might inspire someone who’s never started or who’s gotten lost along the way. Because the world gets better with every good book and every person who meets his or her dream to write one.

I strongly recommend Jeff VanderMeer's forthcoming Booklife and Chris Roerden's
Don't Murder Your Mystery for great advice and inspiration on writing books.

So please, SHARE THE STORY OF HOW, WHEN AND WHY you decided to become a writer... why doing so was, as you saw it, the fulfillment of your dreams or your destiny.