Category Archives: Publishing


The Threat to Nonfiction in the Digital Age

No, this is not a serious academic treatise detailing the legal ramifications of libel and slander, copyright and moral rights, or defamation as such. Rather, I come at it from the dilemma of one engaged in frequent travel, blogging back to a select few (~65) friends  about my experiences around the world, including the people I met along the way. Stories of friends and fellow tourists alike pose the difficulty inherent in digital transparency: how to render fairly, or at all, when reactions of inaccuracy or inappropriateness of sharing are inevitable?

With Facebook and other social media now so ubiquitous, it becomes a practical problem to write about one’s own life (traveling or not), when any of the real-life characters you may write about are likely to read it or are linked to someone who will. Changing or leaving out names can help but does not ensure anonymity for those in one’s known network. So asking permission is a good solution if there is any risk of offending someone portrayed in print.

Some would object even to sharing one’s own outer and inner journey in public. I don’t mind feeding myself into that hopper, grist for the mill. I do balk, however, at reporting incidents involving people I know, or even restaurateurs or hostel managers who may find themselves Googled over to my observations one way or another.

privacyThe result of these novel inhibitions is to filter the creative lens; even, potentially, to put actual interpersonal experience off limits to nonfictional reportage—unless officialized by the interview mode, the waiver form, or by changing personal details “to protect the innocent” (as well as the guilty).

When we go down the road of Creative Nonfiction, we have an insurance policy whereby details of presentation are a matter of choice, and even of invention. If we care too much about matters of accuracy and transparency, however, our cold feet will likely lead us on a different path. That one leads to the promised land of creative freedom, but a land of exile from “what really happened”: the land of fiction.

Creative Nonfiction: A Fluid Medium

“Every single rule can and should be broken when necessary.” – conference presenter Helen Moffett, after George Orwell

woodwomanEarlier this year I attended the national conference of the Creative Nonfiction Collective, held in Victoria. Inspiring presentations, reading and discussions left me both humble, amid such talent, and motivated to improve my craft. Part of the learning was conceptual: just what is CNF, and how does it differ from topical journalistic nonfiction, and fiction?

The bottom line, I gather as a rough consensus, is that we can approach our work in progress, or consider the finished project, as a unique offering, without stressing too much on pinning category labels.

nature essays and storiesTake, for example, my book, My Country: Essays and Stories from the Edge of Wilderness. You might have to try both sides of the aisle to find this title, as it contains the full spectrum of approaches. The first section, Forest Walks and Other Exercises, comprises personal essays in the natural setting of the BC forest. The second section, Interior Rainforest, takes a narrative turn, with true stories from my two decades living in that environment. The final section, Mountain Dreams, stretches the narrative bounds to include elements of fantasy, fairy tale and magic realism, while still couched in the familiar Kootenay mountains.

formenteraAs for work in progress, I have submitted a recently revised work called Red Rock Road, Light Blue Sea, which charts a real-life pilgrimage I made in 2000 to Spain and Portugal. In this book, a travel journal on the backpacking phase of the journey gives way to an experimental novel (aren’t all novels, by definition, experimental?) which the main character attempts to write on the island of Formentera. So how to describe this original synthesis, if not with that protective umbrella, Creative Nonfiction?

Other labels might be applied: nonfiction novel, metafiction, literary nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, involuted novel, or, turning to the German, Kunstlerroman—about a character in a book who is writing a book in which he is a character. With such a confusion of terms, I favor the approach of simplicity: Creative Nonfiction.

wilderness survivalYet another wrinkle in the equation crops up with Rendezvous at Jumbo Pass: A Twisted Tale of Wilderness Survival. Originally cast as a novella, a function of its length (20,000 words) and the fictional elements (altered person and place names, and plot variations embedded within the narrative structure), this second edition comes back to the CNF corral. Personal names remain fictionalized but place names (such as Jumbo Pass) have been restored; and while the plot variations remain necessarily fictional, they revolve around the core narrative based on a real-life adventure.

yytreeI return to the premise I took away from the CNF conference I attended. The labelling and categorizing of work is quite arbitrary, and secondary to the integrity of the work itself. More important, I think, is to provide the reader with a relevant description of what a given book offers. To some readers the allure of a story based on real experience is important; others will be intrigued by the way a given work navigates that mysterious boundary between artistic creation and the world of experience we hold as real. What emerges as a universal principle is that every literary work blends, whether we acknowledge it or not, the two complementary realms, fiction and nonfiction.


The Empire of Story Arc

It was bad enough that the chorus of successful writers at the conference cheered in unison for the archetypal story formula, heroic character arc, invisible hand of the selfless author, catering to the modern reader’s insatiable taste for action, drama, tension, climax and resolution, no frills allowed.

It was bad enough that when I come home and go to a music jam the impresario says, offhand, maybe we can follow a story arc, in the next piece.

But I thought it was improvisation…?

Now even the marketers are grabbing the arc meme and running with it. “3 Must-Have Elements for a Compelling Marketing Story,” by Sonia Simone, CMO and co-founder of Copyblogger Media, starts off with rule #1: “Your story needs a hero.”

Who’s the hero? The customer, of course. The marketer/writer then serves as the (#2) helpful guide, offering to reduce for our customer/hero that tension-rich “gap — the space between what the hero wants and where she is now.”

This use of the writing model for marketing purposes mirrors the phenomenon driving the publishing world today: using marketing formulae (demographic surveys, social media, bestseller algorhythms) to write and sell popular books. Marketing and writing truly have merged, at least in the mass consumer mind.

The rest of us busk and paint on the street, set up organic produce booths, do spoken word and follow the music where it wants to go.

truth-lie theatre

Summer Bounty – a brief recap

P1020944 (477x640)It’s been a full, long summer, both productive and relaxing… still in progress. Aside from a bounty of pleasure in nature, with friends, and making music, here’s a brief recap of news on the writing front. First, a view of my outdoor office: 

Conference and Kootenays Book Tour

5RiversWWC2015 (1)Next week I’ll be passing through BC’s West Kootenays on the way to Calgary, a writing conference called When Worlds Collide. There I’ll do readings from Hunter’s Daughter and sit on four different panels about writing and editing topics: Editing Tricks, Mystery in a Foreign Location, Does Being an Editor Make You a Better Writer, and Cyberpunk and Social Order. Along the way, I’ll stop in at Nelson’s Lakeside Park for an Open Mic reading, and visit my home for two decades, the tiny backwoods community of Argenta, where I’ll do a book reading and signing at the local library.

Book Launch and Landing

IMG_1285At the end of June I joined two other Victoria writers, Dave Duncan and Paula Johanson, launching our books released this spring by Canadian publisher Five Rivers. Due to a schedule switch, I arrived 45 minutes late, with just enough time for my reading from Hunter’s Daughter. The assembled patrons of the Canadian Legion hall didn’t seem to mind.

Blog Updates

Jewel of Stillness and McKenzie Tantra – The Seeker’s Manual

6 Things that Summer Teaches Us – Medium

Works in Progess

writing on the edgeI can’t quite say that I have two new releases on the horizon, but over the spring and summer I have completed substantial revisions on two new books. Here’s a sneak preview:

Red Rock Road, Light Blue Sea, a work of creative nonfiction, charts a metafictional journey to Spain. A midlife Canadian couple plays Quixote, Crusoe, Adam and Eve—tracking landscapes between bliss and burnout, art and love. The travel sections chronicle the backpacking trip of Wilson and Noella Greenwood at the edge of the pilgrimage map, as they chase sun and a haunting Moorish palace. Then, their Formentera cottage becomes a crucible of creative and romantic tension, yielding acceptance and embrace, renewed intimacy and new art.

The Last Book takes the picaresque literary tale of Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull and propels it into the speculative waters of time travel, multiple avatars, lost civilizations, White House hackers and a dystopian future, all via a 70s joyride through middle America. In this literate mashup, Cloud Atlas meets House of Cards—with other comparisons including Kerouac, Atwood, Vonnegut, Eco, Dick.

Stay tuned, as I move these titles through the publishing pipeline and into readers’ hands.