December 28, 2009

prototypes of life

Your father becomes the model for all fathers and authorities.

Your mother becomes the model for the idealized or typical woman.

Siblings become rivals, competitors, and perhaps even friends.

Learn! Look! Break out and redefine yourself!

Time is your one enemy. To yourself be true!

December 27, 2009

the new tablet

I just bought a Wacom graphics tablet.
It's my first tablet since maybe the KoalaPad on the Commodore 64. Seriously.

It will be nice to keep the ink, graphite or pastel off my hands, but this new doodad is going to change how I draw again... It will take some practise...

December 26, 2009

Living in the Digital Multimedia Domain...

Our urban world has become this freaky, converged, digital bubble.

As a post-boomer, I was born long enough ago that analogue, mass broadcast and print media were the dominant ways through which information was received. You listened to the radio every morning at breakfast, you read one newspaper on weekends, you read an occasional book, and you watched TV every night. We had 13 or so TV channels. Interacting with this information went as far as turning the page, or changing the channel. If you were very brave or opinionated, you might write a letter to the Editor.

Everyone probably watched, listened and read the same information as their neighbours, and getting access to some special information, like something historical or non-mainstream, meant physically travelling to the local library and going through the card catalogue and searching little code numbers on the spines of books until your neck was sore. (Microfiches were cool though - like using a history microscope.)

Multimedia, if you could call it that, started coming into my life between 1973 and 1975, when my classroom had a Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputer, and those workstations with audio cassette players for listening comprehension. It wasn't all that far removed from the Disney audio-slidestrips you could buy back then: "When Tinkerbell rings her bell, go to the next slide! *Bing*" and then you dutifully pull the little cardboard strip one slot to the right and wait for the lady on the tape to start telling you the story for that slide.

Now, 30 years later, if you live in any remotely-urbanized area, you probably have Internet access and cellphone coverage. Most people have little telephones in their pocket that have 1,000,000 times more computing power than that TRS-80. Mobility and access to information and communication wherever and whenever you want it, seems to be the defining characteristic of the current generation. Kids in their tweens have access to and are in almost constant contact with friends and family in a way that, mentally and psychologically, makes them more socially integrated and less physically present than their parents must ever have been. Global village, and global tribalism, I guess. Media and information-wise, we've changed from the mass, cookie-cutter approach, to the individualistic, a la carte menu. I find the number of TV channels available for a digital subscriber to be bewildering.

As a curious kid, I used to ask myself questions about my life or my world. Occasionally, I'd read a book to seek an answer, but most often, I'd watch a TV show. TV made us consumers of images and sounds. It changed us from page turners to channel flippers, and as a race, it probably trained us to absorb information in multiple different modes, like pictures AND sound AND text.

The next step was interactivity. Video games and other multimedia presentations showed us how immersive an interactive experience could be. We now live in an era where cinema and interactive games are becoming more and more integrated. Video games look like 3D animated action movies, and big-budget action movies possess sequences that make for good video games.

To me, the Internet, and Google in particular, is the most significant reference tool that has entered popular life in the past 20 years. Where would I be now if I wanted to research something for my next novel? There's no way in hell I could ever find the time to go down to the library and dig through some stacks or whatever. But, I can pull out my Palm Pre, enter some keywords into Google and email the results back to my Desktop PC at home. Google has replaced the Librarian, and Wikipedia has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica. Convenience and instant access have surmounted the authority of institutionalized experts. And, it's freaky how quickly and easily I accepted Wikipedia as a reliable source of facts.

So, is it ironic that I'd use modern wireless networking and Internet-based research tools to create an old-fashioned paperback novel? Are printed books dead? Will people continue to read once they start seeing books that can read to them, or show them a video, or act out the scenes in high-res 3D? Although for years now, I've received my daily news text on my smartphone (and have read a few novels in PDF or eReader formats), I think that I'm still in the transitional phase of print. Nothing seems to legitimize the written word like a physical book, a good ol' paperback novel. I don't know anyone who owns a Kindle eBook reader, but maybe it's just a matter of time.

The Good Son

The Good Son writes love letters to his old family whenever he can. He writes of how he remembers them, together and whole, with sun peeking down from between the pine trees and the smell of freshly-cut lumber in the breeze. These are some of the nice things that he wants to remember and memorialize. The Good Son feels loved now, and wants to portray to his world a lasting image of a family that did love each other once.

The Good Son writes other letters sometimes: letters asking his parents to forgive him for not saving them if he could. Or, he writes angry letters asking why they did unforgivable things to each other and themselves, and he wonders how he can forgive them.

The Good Son tries to be the Good Husband, the Good Uncle, the Good Colleague, the Good Friend, and the Good Samaritan. He wonders how good he is, or why he needs to be good at all.

One Good part of him builds and maintains a relationship with his familiar family of ghosts. The other Good part is in training: learning more and more each day to reach out to the descendants of those ghosts, and build real relationships for the future.

December 22, 2009

Bittersweet, those little twinkling lights...

Do you know that quiet moment, that happens around Christmas time? That beautiful, gentle, sweet moment? That calm, peaceful moment when all the lights in the house are off and everyone is in bed, but you're still awake? That moment when you get up and the only lights that are still on are those on the Christmas Tree or on that string of lights that you hung up as a decoration in the living room?

Although the lights are very small, they seem to emit more than their capacity in brightness and warmth. Joy isn't even physically possible from a light bulb, yet somehow they seem to beam that out too.

I have the same reaction every year: The warmth I feel is the warmth of security, where I'm part of my own loving little family. The satisfaction of having built a home where the lights can shine warmly, and where a boy doesn't have to decorate the Christmas tree all by himself because his parents are passed out.

Christmas can be bittersweet. Indeed, there were a few sad and nasty, painful Christmases, but that same kid remembers lots of good ones too. The kid remembers a real tree that smelled like pine, and the texture and weight of 40-year-old Christmas lights that probably were hung up dozens of times by his Dad's Dad, with their wrinkled cords and cracked, faded bulbs that had all but lost their tint.

The kid remembers elegant and beautiful tinted glass baubles that spoke of his Mother's family with their sense of fashion and style. Then, there were also those home-made decorations composed of egg cartons, pipe cleaners and glitter that spoke of school projects, leaner times, or of your parents back when they were kids themselves.

So, during these nights, sitting with that little string of sparkling lights glowing warmly at you in the dark, many of those old memories and feelings will creep out as you look back into your past. They're the tiny, twinkling reflections of you as you once were. They're the last remnants of the people you loved, and the magic moments from your youth, streaming back out to your adult self like million year-old light from ancient stars.

December 20, 2009

Words of Wisdom, from a wise and gentle man...

Each year, my wife receives a letter from the man who was her Special Education professor at the University of British Columbia. His name is Bob Poutt, and he instructed teachers at UBC for many years. His students are known as "Pouttians", and there are many, many of them.

Each year without fail, we receive a Christmas letter from Bob. He is always eloquent. This year, Bob 's Christmas letter contained some very beautiful words, poetry, really, and to me, it illustrates Bob's spirituality, and his humanistic, compassionate approach towards living. Please take these words to heart:
"Life need not be counted in candles or measured in numbers of years. Instead it may be counted in awe and intimacy, in triumphs, in benefits of belief, in laugh lines, in personal intensities.

"Life need not be counted in candles or measured in numbers of years, but in plans accomplished with effort and surprise, with possibilities we followed boldly, with compassionate responses, with hopes and beliefs kept alive.

"Life need not be counted in candles or measured in numbers of years that have flown. Instead it may be counted in devotion and delight, in deepending friendships, in connecting with loved ones, in building family, and in all the sweet momewnts we've known."

December 07, 2009

Hell is other people's bathrooms.

Sometimes I think that Big Brother isn't in the Government like how George Orwell predicted. Real life is even more subtle and insidious...

Sometimes, I think it's found in the mundane everyday things that are embedded in my world:

In the prescribed amounts of soap and water doled out by well-meaning ergonomicists and accountants in public washrooms.

In the watchful gaze of overly-interested cops, litigious lawyers and over-active doctors.

In some Engineer's idea of how much length of paper towel should be dispensed so you can dry your hands.

Hell really is other people.
Or maybe, Hell is just other people's bathrooms.

November 13, 2009

Trial by Hair

Getting hair coloured is becoming more and more of a production as the years go by. Luckily, I'm in good hands.

The colour itself has the consistency and temperature of yoghurt. I remind myself that I asked for this but I feel self-conscious about the process every time. Chris the hairdresser is awesome, low key fast & pro every time. I'm just self conscious about how I look during the process. I always imagine myself taking before, during and after photos, but I never do it. I think that I wouldn't want to embarrass or distract Chris from his important work. The man has a job to do and a schedule to stick to.

Halfway through applying the colour, the top of my hair is slicked down flat and the untouched ends with their faded old colour curl out and up like two big upturned wings of hair. I start to snicker when I realize that I resemble Flat-top from Dick Tracy (the movie, not the comic book).

Now I'm apparently so grey (white to be precise!) that my head must be heated under a dryer in order to open the cuticles and 'push' in the colour, so Chris puts a plastic bag on my hair and a metal clip on the front which looks odd and feels odder. Not a good look for me.

While I'm wrapped up in plastic like I have an expiry date, I must sit under the noisy magic helmet for 20 mins slowly heating my hair (and scalp and maybe brain) to some requisite colour-penetrating temperature. It's a great time to get some important writing done. Or this.

A little bell goes ding and I say that my egg is done. Nobody laughs or seems to notice. Oh well.

After the hair dryer, I sit back in the barber chair with the plastic bag on my head for 20 more mins. My scalp is all hot burning and tingly. When the bag comes off there's a rush of cool air and it feels like my brain can breathe again. Chris brings me a coffee. I feel rewarded.

The shampoo is the best part. Period.

Chris gives me an awesome cut. When it's finished, it looks great and I feel pretty damn good about it.

November 11, 2009


Watching the Remembrance Day Ceremony on Parliament Hill today, I was reminded of how much sacrifice Canadian soldiers and their families have endured over the past century. It's something about which I have no direct experience, and yet with all the conflicts going on in the world today, something about which I need to remain aware.

There is military service (and "pseudo-military" service) in my family. My maternal grandfather and namesake, Ernest Huntley Clarke, applied to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI, although he was discharged on medical grounds soon after applying. After that, he joined the RCMP, and served at posts all over western Canada over the next 30 years.

My Dad, James Evan Love, enlisted in the Canadian Army in the 1940s, missing his chance to go over to Europe during WWII. Someone had measles or smallpox, so his entire group went into quarantine, during which time the war ended. He served as a Military Policeman, and distinguished himself as a very good marksman in various competitions. Later, Dad would join the RCAF and study radar and communications, flying in planes like the Hercules and the Lancaster Bomber.

One of his other sons, my brother David, also served for many years in the Canadian Navy. I'm sure that there are also Uncles and cousins who've worked in the military, and of whose stories I am ignorant.

Watching the ceremony from Ottawa, seeing the faces of the veterans from WWII and onward, I was struck by the amazing variety of eras, cultures, conflicts and generations that were represented. Yet, when a voice called "Attention!", it looked like the whole assembly, hundreds of veterans and personnel, adjusted their stance in unison. With all that cultural and temporal diversity, there was still a common understanding of duty and personal sacrifice.

September 20, 2009

Not crossing that bridge...

I've only ever mentioned this story to a few people. It's one of those sad and embarrassing episodes that is uncomfortable to tell, and yet, important to talk about.

When I was about 10 or 11, my Grandfather came over from Victoria to visit with us. While in Vancouver, he stayed at the old Alcazar Hotel (long gone now, I believe). Poppy, as my sister and I called him, was formerly a Corporal in the RCMP, and by all accounts, a gentleman and as they say, "a stand-up guy".

My mum wasn't with us, so I assume this was during a time when she was temporarily under some Doctor's care, perhaps at Riverview or somewhere else. As kids, we just knew that Mummy wasn't well, and that she was away and we really didn't know when she'd be home again.

We all went for a car ride in Dad's 1968 Plymouth Valiant. Dad was dressed in a white long-sleeved dress shirt, no tie, and dark dress slacks. Normally, he'd wear a coloured or patterned shirt and roll up the sleeves, so the white dress shirt meant that this was a somewhat formal Sunday event. Kim and I were dressed in nice clothes as well. For the life of me now, I cannot remember if this "Sunday drive" included a visit to see our Mother, but it's a distinct possibility. My Mother would be the first person Poppy would want to see, and a major reason for his visit to Vancouver. My Mother was always very dear to Poppy, and he to her. For all I know, as genial and respectful as my father always was to his father-in-law, there might have also been a bit of tension between them, or some resentment from my Dad, seeing how much his wife idolized her father. (I can only speculate, and will never ever know.)

Anyway, Dad drove us all through town, with Poppy in the front seat and Kim and I in the back. The day was a clear and cool, with sunlight coming through the occasional cloud. We drove quietly through the West End of Vancouver and into Stanley Park. This was probably my first look at Stanley Park, and I enjoyed seeing how green everything was, and how many trees there were.

Dad seemed very quiet and didn't say very much at all. I thought his mood was strange. I didn't realize what was really going on with him.

As we approached the Lion's Gate Bridge, I saw Dad look in his rear view mirror and say something. Just before the bridge, Dad pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped. A Police Officer came up to his window and said something to him, and Dad went into his pocket and handed over something. We all got out of the car.

Dad's face was down, and his expression was very dark. We stayed by the car with Poppy while Dad was led over to the police car. The policeman put Dad's hands behind his back. I saw the glint of the handcuffs and heard the clicks as they were fastened around Dad's wrists. My Dad had been arrested for driving drunk. I'm certain that he was deeply ashamed of himself. Back then I felt so disappointed in him, and also sad for him.

The bottom had completely fallen out of our strange Sunday family drive, and we stood by the side of the road with the cars rushing past and no more sense of purpose. Kim asked Poppy something, and then Kim and I began finding a way to place or distract ourselves until a cab would come and take us home. I don't remember Poppy getting angry or even saying much at all. He kept his opinions to himself for our sake.

Thank god Poppy had been there with us. I loved my Dad, but this time, it was Poppy who was the one I looked up to.

August 24, 2009

I hate Sinatra... except when sung by this other guy...

It seems like all the local Starbucks have begun playing old swing era crooners like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Tony Bennett. I'm not a Sinatra fan, especially when I've heard "New York New York" numerous times, with each Americano, over the past two weeks.

But there's one exception: I loved hearing Sinatra when he was sung by this other guy...

Here's the story:

My wife Grace and I were sitting in our local 'bucks, crowded on a Sunday, with chattering patrons, and the same Frank playing on the speakers, yet again.

As Frank started unrolling into the second verse of "New York New York", I started hearing voices behind me. Above them, one weak voice, getting louder, singing along "Top of the Heap! A-Number-One! King of the Hill!", getting louder, and the people behind us chanting along, going "Yeah buddy! Right on!" It was a mentally challenged man, out with his housemates and his care workers, standing up with his arms outstretched, singing for all he was worth in his happy little voice, as if he was belting the chorus out right in the middle of Times Square. "Newwwwww Yoooorrrk!"

As the song ended we were all smiles, and Grace and I, and all the singer's pals and their care workers gave him a nice little round of applause. It was a sweet moment, watching someone else's unbridled joy at the act of singing...

To me, much better than anything I ever heard from Frank Sinatra...

August 03, 2009

Wiggle out of that corner, writer boy...

Joseph Campbell wrote about "The Hero With a Thousand Faces". I just had an image of my next novel having a few faces too - maybe not a thousand, but perhaps half a dozen or so.

Okay... three. I got three.

1. Framework: The Laws of my Universe

My story has a skeleton, a framework, a basic structure upon which everything else is mounted. For me, this structure helps to define the "physics" of the world in which one or more events take place. My particular framework has a few premises, such as "you can't fly or change the laws of physics", "people are born, live, and die", and many other premises that make the world of the story resemble my own reality to a large degree.

Psychologically, in some cases, dreams or imagination can be just as real or have as much impact on my characters as their waking experiences.

Real-life experience, or research that results in plausible actions and events - cause and effect - is what drives the creation of the framework, and helps to determine it's structure.
Thank God for Google. I do not know how people researched things before it.

2. Believability: Dancing on the Edge

Once I've have established a plausible-sounding story framework, I feel that any fantastic-sounding elements which I introduce don't need to be overly fantastic in order to surprise, or hopefully entertain, my reader. I think that this juxtaposition of expectations is similar to how the same middle-tone colour can appear to be darker or lighter in tone, when placed next to black of white. In other words, context is key. But how much unreality is tolerable? How much camp and wit is acceptable? How many cliffhangers can the reader stand? That kind of exciting stuff rarely happens to me. How much unbelievability is believable?

3. Dialogue and Characterization: "What are you lookin' at, Bub?"

How should people talk and behave and react to the things that happen to them? Admittedly, this is largely subjective territory, although in some ways, this aspect, which encompasses things like culture, age, society, "life" experience, and strong plot-lines, is connected to and driven by (or perhaps just interacts with?) the "Framework" aspect and the essential laws of my world.

Sometimes, this aspect of writing becomes easy and almost automatic, and for me, occasionally emerges almost spontaneously, almost from within itself. Some dialogue or setup scenes emerge in a blur, like raw material forced through a die into an extrusion that seems to have just the exact profile that's needed at the moment - a "Fuzzy Pumper Writing Factory". This experience is a major high in the process for me, emotionally.

At other times, writing is like digging a well with your fingernails - a real tough claw through very hard and stubborn territory. That's where I end up questioning myself as a writer, questioning my raw material - my past (that well that appears too dry to give me anything useful at the moment), and questioning my endurance as a writer. At these times, writing feels like a real elusive bitch-goddess... That's when I find myself going back to do more research, or seeking inspiration from other writers or from stories in other media, or just dropping the project for a little while.

But man, when I can get it so I can see that character's face, smell their hair, their cigarette smoke, and can see right through their skull into their minds, it feels like I know exactly what to say for them. When that happens, the well runneth over, and the paragraphs seem to grow and grow.

That's when it's fun to write.

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a song...

Once upon a time there was a boy
Who put his past on display for others to see.

"My life made me different, special" he sang.
"There's nobody else quite like me."

As he grew older, wiser too,
He learned that what he'd thought of himself just wasn't true.

People are unique, beautiful, intricate things,
Worthy of story and the songs that we sing.

But singing has been done over countless years,
Infinite songs sung to infinite ears.

So, no matter what you sing, your song isn't new,
No matter how hard you try.

But if you come up from the heart,
you may find that your true tone resonates and makes someone else ring.

Solos are nice, but the boy learned
that nature wants us to sing together.

June 20, 2009

Some words for my old man, for Fathers Day...

My Dad was possibly born in the wrong era: I think there was an adventurer in him, or a cowboy of some sort, trying to live a black and white life, while contradictory and complex psychologies and modern mental illnesses swirled around him. My Dad always told colourful, exciting stories of his past, that made him out to be the hero and the good guy. He was an MP in the Canadian Army, and flew in big planes when he was in the Air Force. In his heart, he was conservative and authoritarian, and in his best moments, he was firm but fair.

On the outside, people in our neighbourhood would probably see my Dad as a fairly quiet, silver-haired older man (my friends' Dads were in their forties, when mine was in his late 50s), and someone with a serious, lined face which got softer as you approached it up close.

To me, as a kid, Dad was the toughest, strongest man on any block. Physically, he could take care of himself using his voice, his head, or his hands. Even when there was more than one guy against him, swinging bottles at him, he would walk away the winner. When I was nine, we lived in a rough neighbourhood. When he had to be, my Dad was a fighter, and I was so proud of him.

When I was 11, Dad become a single parent when my Mum almost died, and went to stay in a succession of hospitals. Dad always knew what needed to be done in most situations.

When I was 13, I got a bad case of chickenpox that kept me home from school for a couple of weeks. Then, he was the nurse, dabbing calamine lotion all over me until I thought I would throw up. Past this age, I stopped kissing him goodnight - not because I didn't love him, but because we understood that it's okay for little boys to kiss their fathers, but men don't kiss like that.

As I got older and more self-sufficient, he got frailer and more dependent. When I was 17, I was by his side when he suffered a heart attack and multiple strokes, and a fractured hip. We were both scared as hell for him, yet he found the strength to say "I love you boy" to me from his temporary bed in the ER. He became helpless for a while, and had to learn to walk as part of his stroke rehab. He was learning to get back on his feet (literally) and I was getting on my feet, acting the part of a responsible young man. I started looking after the house as best I could, and he learned to walk and talk and move his limbs. We were reversed.

The sad part of Dad's physical downfall was that it came about as a result of years of alcohol abuse, smoking, stress and poor health. The lesson he taught me indirectly was that to live my life the way I wanted, I must take better care of myself than he did. He also taught me that addiction is a mysterious and bewilderingly powerful thing. After he was "healed" and back home after his many months of rehab and therapy, he began drinking again. Within months, he had another stroke, and was back in hospital, this time for good.

By the time I was 18 or 19 years old, I was aware of my Dad's weaknesses: how the same temper that gave him strength against other bad men, was a horror when brought to use against his wife or me and my sister. We learned that sometimes, his drinking or his temper meant that we could not trust him, or feel safe around him. I learned that addiction is a bitch, and the strongest man I knew was also the weakest man I knew. As I witnessed how he let himself lose control to his addiction, I vowed that I would never be that weak in that way.

Now, at 43, and after years of reflection, both loving and resenting him posthumously, I see my father as a fascinating composite of the best and worst traits we all posses: a complex man who could be gentle and loving to little children, animals, or those closest to him, and a man with a fierce pride and temper which could seem insurmountable when challenged.

At his best, he was an intellectual trapped in a blue collar, with an ability to explain aspects of electronics, RF or particles like mesons to his curious son. He was literate enough to quote Will Rogers, tell me about a Jazz trumpeter he liked, and to know the lyrics of some musical theatre on TV. He was silly, laughing along to Blazing Saddles or Wile E. Coyote.

At his worst, he was alcoholic enough, unhealthy enough, and probably depressed enough to permanently ruin his relationship with my sister, and never reflective or honest enough to admit to his own weaknesses. The hero that I had as a little boy was still inside him somewhere, but years of stress, poor choices and bad living eventually overshadowed all that dreamy, good stuff.

In his last years, Dad seemed to find his peace living semi-paralyzed and bruised, in a small room in a private hospital in Burnaby, where I'd visit him every week. Often, I'd cycle over in time for the 7:30 pm snack of sandwiches and tea, and we'd chat and watch some TV, and later I'd help him find something which he had misplaced.

He couldn't really take care of himself at all anymore, but he had 24 hour care if he needed it. In a way, his earlier life choices had taken away his later choices as well as his responsibilities. Sometimes, when his old ego and sense of self-importance would flare up, his dependence upon others would frustrate the hell out of him. Other times, he appeared relieved to not have to make decisions or deal with the stresses of life anymore.

Up until the time he passed away in 1989, Dad was one of those story tellers whose tales got bigger and better each time he told them: "The older I get, the better I was", as they say - that was my old man. Often, I would arrive outside his little room to find him sitting in his wheelchair with his chin propped up on his good hand and a dreamy grin planted on his face, probably dreaming of some adventure that had happened somewhere else, way back in the day when he was still someone's hero.

Wherever you are, old man, Happy Fathers Day. I still love you.

June 14, 2009

That faint artistic thread...

As I've slowly, gradually backtracked through my family history a little, I've come to see a number of artistic abilities in my relatives. This became one of the first commonalities that told me I shared some kind of values with someone else: the artistic urge.

That lousy lost feeling, growing up...

When I was in my tweens (like, 11, 12, or 13), I didn't know much about my family history. Perhaps this is the same for many kids from a dysfunctional family background: the sense of not belonging, the detachment from family, or sense of "being different". On the other hand, maybe that was just what was going on for me... As a kid, a sense of belonging felt important, and it never seemed to materialize in my life to that point. I always felt like a bit of an outsider to the world around me, like I didn't fit in, or was not fully integrated. I wasn't part of it - just watching it.

I saw lots of disparate pieces of life, but could not draw them together into any sort of cohesive whole relationship; there was no overall structure or system that bound life together for me. Stuff just happened, and it was hard to make sense of it all.

I also had no religion, nor any real spirituality. I didn't (and still don't really) believe in god, and saw many organized groups as havens where misled suckers consoled and supported each other. As I have grown older, and learned more about religion and spirituality, I've developed a healthy respect for religious belief and a healthy skepticism of much of organized religion. (I have great respect for another's right to believe whatever they wish, so long as they harm nobody else while doing it.)

I liked rationalism and science a lot. Practical, scientific inquiry always made some sense to me, and nature continues to awe and impress me. I'd never seen a club for atheists (why would people who don't believe in something need to come together in common cause?), and science and rationalism were everywhere I looked for them. Affiliations seemed useless.

The closest thing that ever approached a sense of the mysterious or spiritual for me was the peace that I experienced when drawing, or when absorbing myself in some literature, including pulp fiction and comic books. Something fascinating and special happened whenever I drew, coloured or looked at art that I liked: a feeling of calm, and happiness, a sense of peace. That's as close to a spiritual mystery as I have ever gotten then and since.

In the family...?

I had always known there was a little artistic flair in my Mother's family. My mother, Angela Huntley Clarke, was a talented amateur singer and pianist, and had acted in amateur theatre productions with the Victoria Gilbert and Sullivan Society in the '50s. Something in her loved music and expressing herself.

My Mum's father, Ernest Huntley Clarke was a prolific amateur photographer, documenting his life, his wife and his only daughter with hundreds of stills and moving images over the course of 40 or 50 years. "Poppy" (as my sister and I called our maternal grandfather) was also a dabbler in oil painting, and we had a few little landscapes he'd done in his later years, in his cramped little basement studio. I still have Poppy's old Walter Foster art instruction books in my bookshelf.

My mother's cousin, Shirley Nash (nee Marks) has always been a passionate oil painter in traditional still life and landscapes, and taught and encouraged painting privately for many years, in her community in Apple Valley, California.

As for my Dad, James Evan Love, although I never saw him play an instrument, apparently he could read music a bit, and could carry a tune. My Dad's brother's wife, Palma Love (nee Lovstad) was an incredibly skilled self-taught painter, who made many oil studies of local boats, and harbour and river scenes (including water traffic along the historic Skeena River) for many, many years, from her home up in Prince Rupert, BC.

To refer to my eldest sister Maggie as "quite musical", would be an understatement. Maggie has taught music to elementary school kids for years, and in her previous career, picked up a couple of Junos. Her partner, Bill Usher, has four of his own, and according to my brother Dave, this collection, sitting in their livingroom floor, is affectionately referred to as "The Clutter".

Maggie's eldest, Michael, is a musician as well, and has recently worked as an actor. My sister Kim, writes poems for herself and for friends.

For my own part, I feel very fortunate to have been able to develop a love of doodling and colouring into a professional career that has expanded on those basic impulses in shape and colour, and has projected them into modern media, in pursuits like web or graphic design. On a more personal front, fiction and storytelling has become my favourite art form in recent years.

So, there is this tendency, this artistic thread in my family, this need to create and express in some tangible way, whether it is for entertainment or as part of a profession, or whether it's for pure personal, emotional, or spiritual completion.

In that way, I think that I feel more connected than ever to my family, and to a lesser degree, somwhow connected to a long line of artists and designers going back through history, who, I expect, also probably had their own personal creative and spiritual revelations by making art.

Mountain Chickadee, from Owe Nothing
My novel, "Owe Nothing", is now available for purchase at

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Fiction by E. John Love:

May 30, 2009

Writing the novel was fun! Marketing it... not so much.

The Mountain Chickadee, from Owe Nothing...but that's life, right?

In my naivete, back in the heady days April 2009, I imagined that the act of publishing my novel "Owe Nothing" would automatically bring some level of attention, and - more importantly to me - some new readers.

Money is great, but to me, it's a by-product of the other success: popularity.

Back in 2008, as I slowly reached the final editing stage and started thinking about the publishing process, I wondered how and if my little book would make some kind of splash in "the market". I barely understood what "the market" is, much less had a plan for penetrating it successfully.

(Hm. Let me rewrite that last bit...)

...much less had a plan for joining it successfully.


A few things I've learned or opinions I've formed since April 17, 2009, when my book first went live on the Internet:
  • I probably expect too much from the webbed world, for my sporadic e-marketing efforts. As with my personal web projects, I am throwing a pebble into the sea, not a boulder. The initial splash and it's ripples won't be noticed amidst all the other motion of the ocean.
  • In many ways, it is the author or their personality or reputation that are being marketed, more than the work itself. Am I prepared to market myself in this way? I've certainly had a life worth telling. Is that the hook that will get people's attention?
  • I only need between 100 to 1000 fans. There are, I don't know, millions of authors out there, vying for attention! Good god - how would I ever be heard in a room that size? I am trying to find smaller groups, more targeted to me and my stories. "Sniper marketing", instead of a weapon of mass promotion. (Gee, I hate that metaphor.)
  • Physically, books have a long lifespan. In popular terms, less so, unless you can stir up their relevance in some way. A book can be a flash in the media, and then linger in old age in discount bins and archives for many years. Maybe all I can hope for is that copies of my book will outlive me...
  • I want feedback, commentary and reviews. Me and my jangly nerves survived the critiques back in art school. I'm ready. This is all part of the growth and refinement process. But, I must go out and make an effort to solicit the feedback I need. It won't come to me, and many ways, won't come for free.
  • At the end of the day, the story's the thing. I'm not in this to be a marketer or a salesman for my own wares. I'm in this to try and affect people and connect to them by telling my own story, thinly veiled behind some entertaining avatars.

May 25, 2009

Casting a play with composite characters

My first novel, Owe Nothing, was finally published on April 17, 2009. This is, of course, the achievement of a personal goal that took me years to accomplish (I write slowly). It's also an accomplishment in how it has allowed me to continue writing about my family history, using surrogate characters instead of directly writing about the real people.

Owe Nothing takes scraps and bits of my own personality and embeds them into the main character, a twenty-ish young man named Jack Owen, and to a lesser degree, his father Jim. Jim embodies little pieces of my Dad (also Jim) and of my brother David. Aspects of my sister Kim live on in the characters of Jack's older sister Kelly, and in Regina Coffey, whose struggles with her abusive partner Ted form a central theme in the book. Old men look back with regret on the mistakes and losses from their past, women struggle in abusive relationships, and young people try to learn about who they are and where they are going in their lives.

The list goes on and on and on through the dozen or more characters that appear throughout the novel. Structurally, it represents the method and challenge that I put to myself when originally embarking on this long writing project: How can I use the memories, emotional energy, joy, anguish, smells, temperatures and opinions from my scattered memories, and form them into a cohesive and compelling story.

Almost like a form of psychological recycling; taking images and impressions from my past, reforming and refocusing them, and spinning them out there in a new form. My hope is that it will result in a story that others will recognize and enjoy - something that resonates outside of its pages.

April 30, 2009

Near Death, and Taxes...

So, a number of months ago, I was walking to work along Broadway - a fairly busy street - enjoying a crisp, sunny morning. As I approached a driveway, I glanced at an SUV that looked like it was going to pull out in front of me to enter the street. I was sure the driver saw me approaching, and would wait for me to pass. As I crossed in front of the SUV, it started nudging out into the road, and I found myself leaning over the hood, with my feet sliding along the asphalt.I skated like this for a foot or two, hitting the hood with my hand, and immediately, the driver snapped her head to me, and a look of horror crossed her face. Obviously, she hadn't noticed me at all! I must have crossed in front of her hood just as she was checking for oncoming traffic from the opposite direction.

She slammed on the brakes, and I took a breath, stepped past, and waved her off as if to say "don't worry about it". I was adrenalized but otherwise completely unharmed, and wanted to get along to work as quickly as possible. I figured from the woman's facial expression that she might never drive again, and I decided never to assume anything about motorists.

Flash forward to last week: my wife and I were at our local H&R Block to have our taxes done. We were looking forward to seeing the same lovely lady who has prepared our returns for us for the past few years. Sure enough, she was there, and we greeted each other happily, and sat down in front of her desk.

Then she took a second look at me and started saying "Oh my god! It was you! Oh my god!"

I started to realize what she meant: She had been the driver of that SUV that had very slowly run into me! She said that she was so sorry, and that she really didn't want to lose me as a customer - especially not like that! I replied with something cute about how death and taxes always seem to be related to each other.

I saw her again just this morning at her driveway. She was pulling out and I was almost walking past. There was an obvious need to keep our eyes out for each other now, with this little scary moment in our past. She greeted me with a huge, warm smile and enthusiastic "Hello!" and held her hand out of the driver's side window for a handshake, which I happily returned. I said "I saw you!" and she said "You too!" I told her that it was always nice running into her.

April 27, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? We do - Again.

"Watchmen" is the movie I waited for with anticipation for years. Alan Moore's dark, complicated and apocalyptic story of flawed good and evil - and the difficulty in telling one from the other- became a benchmark, a high water line, for other comic book writers to emulate throughout the eighties and nineties. It was unnostalgic and unsympathetic to the plights of its characters, and utterly uncompromising in its realistic portraits of damaged men and women running around in strange costumes in the wee hours of the night.

So, in addition to being a total Watchmen fanboy, I was happy to learn that Watchmen (like Fantastic Four and other recent superhero movie franchises) was filmed here in Vancouver. Reading director Zack Snyder's blog back in 2007, I'd also learned that a major portion of the city street scenes were filmed on a backlot located somewhere on South-east Marine Drive, near where the southern edge of the city meets the Fraser River. Unfortunately, I had no idea where the set was located, having only seen a couple of promotional photographs on the web.

Yesterday, my wife and I decided to see the Watchmen a second time before it left the theatres for good. Driving from our Starbucks-of-the-day, passing the corner of Byrne Street and Marine Drive, I noticed a large paved lot in front of a warehouse. Standing up on the lot was what looked like half-completed buildings on some sort of construction site. On second glance, I saw completed storefronts, sidewalks, signs and light posts. It had to be the Watchmen outdoor shooting location!

A security guard in a truck honked at us, and waved us off - in other words, it was time to leave!

As we were driving off, I saw the following words spray painted on the back of a set piece: WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?

We did... twice in the theatre, and now from behind the scenes.

Relates Links:

Watchmen Movie Photos
Watchmen Backlot
Watchmen Locations (
Watchmen FAQ

April 09, 2009

"Owe Nothing" is now published!

Mountain Chickadee, from Owe Nothing
"Owe Nothing" is now available for purchase

After a part-time effort that took six years to write, and over a year to edit and publish, I'm very excited to have finally reached this stage!

I hope you will take a chance to enjoy Owe Nothing!

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Fiction by E. John Love:

March 31, 2009

Is Fiction a "Do Over" of Real Life?

Mountain Chickadee, from Owe Nothing

Since 2002, I've been writing fiction (well, trying to write fiction), and over the past six and a half years, I've cobbled together a fairly extensive cast of fictional characters, all inhabiting a world that has numerous similarities to my own - but better.

Surprise, surprise.

In my first book, titled Owe Nothing, my main protagonist (there are a few of 'em) is named Jack Owen. Jack is a slang or familiar form of John, or so I have been told throughout my life. (Given that I was apparently named for my grandmother's brother, John Edward, who was my Uncle "Jack", I take it as gospel.) So, Jack is a twenty-ish version of me. Kind of. Or, the me I almost with I could have been when we briefly lived in motels.

Jack's Dad is named Jim, after my Dad. He's about 55-ish, and his main issue is that generally, he questions how he got to this stage in his life with apparently so little to show for it, and with such a weak and tenuous relationship with his son (so he thinks). I'm 43 - not so far behind Jim's age that I couldn't imagine his predicament. Both my Jim and his son Jack are in a kind of life path rut, but while Jack is near the beginning of his journey, his Dad is closer to the other end.

Jack has an older sister named Kelly. I drew a lot of inspiration for Kelly from my sister Kim: her love of animals, her tenacity, and her ability to defend others to her own deteriment. A seconmd character also represents qualities of my sister: Regina Coffey, who suffers through an abusive relationship, and struggles to assert herself while raising her two sons with very little income. Regina is a survivor, but not a prosperer in life.

The world of "Owe Nothing" is a 2001-2002 version of East Vancouver, with a few curious throwbacks or hold-overs from the '70s left intact. The main incongruity is that the two large, neighbouring motels in which much of the story takes place exist at all. The Mountain View Motel (where Jack's family lives) and the Peacock Court Motel (where Regina Coffey and her sons live) were real places, both bulldozed sometime in the mid-1980s, I believe. The motel culture of Kingsway in East Vancouver was dying even when I lived in it briefly, as a kid in the mid-1970s. It was grimy and harsh in places, but also lively and friendly - like a motor-hotel version of a low rent, big city tenement project.

More to come...

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