When Christie Blatchford Came Calling

Christie Blatchford

She was interested in law and order, and only in law and order. That was both her strength and her limitation.

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR ○ FEBRUARY 15, 2020 ○ Personal Essay

ON THE MORNING OF Monday February 4, 2008 I got a phone call from Christie Blatchford. I was the Director of Communications at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and Blatchford was working on a series of articles for the National Post concerning the Yellow Quill First Nation, where the AHF had funded a project.

In a few years I’d be writing for the National Post myself, but I never got to know Christie Blatchford well. I’d long known of her work, and we’d had a few conversations. Even before I’d ever spoken to her I had inferred from her writing that she was tough and to-the-point. And she was. Her vocabulary was peppered with shits and fucks, which was fine by me. I knew why she was calling: she had a hunch that with a bit of digging she’d unearth nastiness. The Executive Director, Mike DeGagne, was lining his pockets, or perhaps we were funnelling dollars to the well-connected. Something had to be rotten in the state of Denmark, and Blatchford was calling me to work out exactly what it was.

After the call I wrote a briefing note and took it to Mike. He knew Blatchford’s writing, and so he knew as I did that she wasn’t exactly a champion of Indigenous perspectives. I had a standing policy with journalists, which was to educate them as best I could about the nature and importance of our work, and to win them over to the cause. If it took days or months or even years, so be it. My door was always open to them, and so was my phone line. I’d give them as much time as they wanted. Sometimes I found myself pushing on an open door, as was the case with media folks like Marie Wadden and Shelagh Rogers, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case with Blatchford. She was a court reporter who’d seen the worst of humanity. For years my father was an OPP court officer, so I was well acquainted with the skeptical mindset that this work engendered. In fact I welcomed the skeptics because I understood them. So winning over Blatchford became something of an obsession.

I said to Mike, listen, I think I know what makes Christie Blatchford tick. She’s drawn to the courts because it throws the drama of human morality into sharp relief. The injustice she confronts there makes her churn wth indignation, and if we can make her see that we’re in the business of addressing historic injustices, maybe she’ll become as fierce an advocate as she is a critic. Imagine that! After all, I said, inside every skeptic is a disappointed idealist. Let’s invite her to the office and put every goddamn file in front of her, nothing hidden, and let her see with her own eyes that we are not the villains she imagines—and that to the contrary we are trying to do something of positive value.

It was an easy pitch, not that Mike ever resisted my counsel. He ran a transparent operation and in sixteen years no one ever caught us with our knickers round the ankles, although many of the best put their shoulder into it. I remember sitting at the AHF boardroom table with Curt Petrovich, an investigative reporter who cast a cold eye on our organization. He went away disappointed, as they all did. I’ll be candid and admit that I enjoyed the game. I had journalism in my background and respected people who were hard headed and tenacious and challenging. Suppose there was in fact corruption. Well, then we would have deserved to be brought down, and the fact is I admire the people who commit themselves to doing it.

When I was young and contemplating a career in journalism, Blatchford was living the life that I fantasized for myself. The by-line at a major outlet, fame, house parties where the booze flowed and the elbows of colleagues rubbed. Back then journalists could still believe they were doing something nobIe, even if it was bullshit, and there was no shortage of money to help them do it. That’s all gone. I was just old enough for the dying years of the old school of journalism, where newsrooms were loud and smoked-filled and a lunch would stretch well into the afternoon. Now the business of journalism goes about in eerie silence, and the changes are so remarkable and happened so fast (at least it seems that way now) that Kelly McParland and I got talking about it one day at the National Post’s headquarters. Some of the changes reflect the decline of the occupation, but most of the change is good. The alcoholism is no longer glamourized, and while journalism remains dominated by men, chauvinism is regarded more as a bug than a feature. Editors tell me they want a more diverse workforce and admit they have a ways to go. So there’s that.

Why this digression into the world of journalism? In my ideal world I would have won Blatchford over and, who knows, we might have become colleagues and even friends. But I was operating in the real world, where neither of these happened. Christie Blatchford made it very clear to me that she was interested in law and order, and only in law and order. That was both her strength and her limitation. When she realized there was nothing lurid to write about the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, nothing to get people outraged over, no human malfeasance to press into the ready forms of her worldview, she lost all interest. One day the calls just stopped, and she moved on.

I kept her phone number and her email and I suppose I also held to a remnant of my idealism, because I sent her an email later on, when she was writing articles about Caledonia. Once again, I tried to win her over. Christie, I wrote, there’s a long history leading up to the Haldimand Tract dispute, and if you really want to understand what’s happening today, and if you want your readers to truly understand, and to be informed, you need to look at that context. Nothing is going to change in this country until we come to terms with the past, I told her. And after all, isn’t it the job of a journalist to dig, and to present all the perspectives, and to make people understand?

Christie was a lot of things, but one thing she wasn’t was subtle. She had told me in no uncertain terms that she was only interested in punishing people who had broken the law, and I guess I should have left it at that. In any case, she never wrote back. ⌾

The columnist versus the commons

In my experience it is not the editors of papers but rather the readers who are intolerant of unorthodoxy

Editorials

✎  WAYNE K. SPEAR | MARCH 13, 2017 • Personal Essays

ALL WHO HAVE WRITTEN for the newspaper editorial section know what readers know, that theirs is a strange and, in some respects, ridiculous task. We understand how tedious it can be to discover us, once again, with our opinions of the moment. In the defence of editorialists, however, I’ll note it’s simply the case that someone must fill the area between the ads, and a fellow with something to say about the President’s latest tweet (or whatever) is a cost-effective proposition. Not only this, comment sections are as a rule popular features of a paper. As a result you are probably stuck with us, as we with you. This being so, isn’t it time we confessed to some unspoken truths of editorial, opinion, or political writing?

I have already alluded to the self-awareness of an op-ed writer, whose job subsists on the improbable and therefore embarrassing conceit that she has something useful, intelligent, and worthwhile to say on any and every topic. A columnist is someone forever sticking out his neck, a broadsheet whack-a-mole impelled by some impenetrable force that no normal person experiences. This raises the unavoidable question, What compels an opinion writer to do it? There are as many possible answers as there are people to give them, but the more credible explanations begin with the observation that newspaper columnists are human beings driven by ordinary human impulses, such as ego, need for acceptance, a desire to do something useful with one’s time in this world, and so on. Once a writer has clothing and shelter (not easily obtained by the labor of writing, alone) she moves up the hierarchy of need, where objects like belonging and love and meaning obtain. A news writer is likely to offer you all kinds of high-minded and self-congratulatory nonsense—he is defending democracy, fighting for truth, standing up for the little guy—but none of these speak to the base and universal human motivations. Taking my own case, I knew I was going to be a writer by age eight, long before I knew there was something called “politics.” From this it follows that my ultimate motivations as a writer, whatever they may be, must involve things that would be available to a typical eight-year-old. And sure enough, I recall from my earliest days a fascination with the sound of words and the shape of printed letters, the feel of paper and the smell of books, the click of typewriter keys. First came the inner compulsion to write, and only years later the ennobling propaganda.

Notice that, for the purposes of this essay, I am focused on writers of opinion pieces. Much of what I have to say will apply to novelists and journalists and poets, but these are not my concern. The relationship of a professional editorialist to the novelist is that writers start out imagining themselves the next Faulkner or what-have-you, and when this turns out not to be the case, they go in search of other pastures, arriving eventually at the opinion pages. There is a definite hierarchy of writerly ambition, with literary fiction at the top and mere utilitarian prose—things like tampon instructions or VCR manuals—at the bottom. The editorialist is somewhere in-between. It is a broad category of persons, comprising well-paid media celebrities as well as obscure bloggers. Most opinion writers work for no money and less fame, a sure indication that something beyond material gain is their motivation. I mention this because I have encountered the charge that my opinions are purchased, which is not the case. Everything I have written at the National Post, for example, is untainted by the moral filth of pecuniary recompense. Once in about 2012 Kelly McParland took me out for lunch, on Postmedia’s dime, and although the leasing of my opinions could have been put into play, no one present (McParland, Matt Gurney, and Christopher Nardi) undertook the gambit.

This leads me to a second common misconception, that opinion writers are under the control of media owners and/or editors. The problem with this notion is that it posits a totalitarian world of invigilating Big Brothers and thoroughgoing thought control, a proposition which requires efficiencies well beyond contemporary newsrooms, including Postmedia. I know as fact that editorial staff have been cut to the point at which articles now get published with only the most cursory review. My opinions have never once been censored or silenced by an editor, but then again I have yet to call for Marxist-Leninist revolution or Juche in the classroom or other beyond-the-limit measures. For reasons I’ve never understood I got a few letters over the years accusing me of subservience to Jonathan Kay (the former National Post editor), but we spoke only twice in the years he was there, and as I recall them our conversations went something like the following:

– How are you?
– I’m doing well. Some weather we’ve been having.
– Yeah, some weather.
– Etc.

This is as good a place as any to note in passing that the “provocateur” type of columnist, Ezra Levant for instance, often turns out to be mild and unobjectionable when you meet him. (People you have only known from television also tend to be smaller than you imagined.) Opinionists are no more anti-social jerks than any other segment of the population, and it is revealing when we suppose people with whom we disagree to be bad people. Nor are comment pages run as a matter of course by zealots. In reality, editorialists intuitively sense where the boundaries of respectability are and go about their business accordingly. The term for this is self-censorship, which is nothing to be proud of but neither is it necessarily an evil. The person who decides not to tell her grandmother about the great sex she had last weekend is self-censoring, and good on it. I can remember the times when I decided not to write something that I wanted to, and invariably those decisions had to do with considerations such as decorum or libel—for example wanting to call such-and-such politician a “lying piece of fucking shit” but deciding against it. Jon Kay and I had, and have, real disagreements, especially as concerns Indigenous people, and it happened that we took them to the pages of the National Post.

In my experience it is not the editors of papers but rather the readers who are intolerant of unorthodoxy. To write opinion pieces is to be denounced as a Bolshevik and a mouthpiece of the dividend-drawing classes, in equal measure. No matter what you do half of your readers will decide that you are a dangerous left-wing radical and the other half that you are a reactionary war-monger and capitalist-apologist. My friend at Macleans, the columnist Terry Glavin, collects insults the way our parents’ generation collected the porcelain Wade figurines that came with their tea. Most of the email an editorialist receives is incoherent if not deranged, so much so that a writer for the newspapers soon enough comes to regard his mail-bag as a kind of freak show offered up by Providence for his amusement. Along the way, many editorialists and would-be influencers confront the unpleasant fact that they have gone into the business under the false expectation of serious and important conversation. At 25 years of age the budding columnist envisions a milieu of movers and shakers, but by 35 hers is a world of Internet trolls and inboxes stuffed with cut-and-paste invective. Whatever one says to the contrary, the first time you are attacked it is arresting. Until you have been denounced by a stranger in a public manner, you have no idea how it will feel. Some of your detractors will go to great lengths, probing into your history and your finances and your family for something to hurl against you. But the other surprise is how quickly the attacks become routine and tiresome, even absurd. To read a newspaper comment section thread is to witness a form of human entropy, and since one grasps the point the very first time, I saw no use in reading the comments ever again.

On the subject of comments, a number of truisms occurred to me quickly. The first is that many judgements about a columnist’s work are based on the headline alone, which is supplied by the newspaper’s headline editor and not by the author of the article. But even in those rare cases when a reader has attended to your words, his judgement of your writing will almost always come down to the question of whether or not he agrees with what he takes to be your politics. If he disagrees, then you will be dismissed as a stupid and incompetent hack, a lousy writer, a fool, a fascist, etc. If she agrees, you will be praised, but either way the thing is meaningless. What you will likely never encounter is actual criticism, which is to say discernment of the strengths and weaknesses of your position, as well as of the mechanics by which it is articulated. For years I waited in vain for the person who would say: “I disagree with your politics, but I think you’re a good writer, and here’s why…” (or the inverse: you’re absolutely right, but a shame about the writing). Everyone is sorting out whether or not you are on their team, so that they might stuff you into the appropriate conceptual drawer. After this there is nothing to do but string together the appropriate adjectives and press send.

My object in the preceding is not to elicit sympathy for the editorialist. No one who insists upon broadcasting his unsolicited opinions to the world deserves coddling. Criticism, abuse, insult—we ask for and therefore deserve all of it. Of course there are, or ought to be, limits to this arrangement, such as injunctions against violent physical attacks. An editorialist should not be subject to credible threats of harm, whether in the real or virtual world. When you write for a newspaper, especially a national one, you have something that is denied to the great mass of people, a voice which is carried over the air. Perhaps no one will pay any heed to you, but you nonetheless will be perceived to have a measure of power and privilege, a perception which can be invidious. I have always felt a keen awareness of this, and it has made me sympathetic to the critics, up to a point. Many times I have been the fellow yelling at the television, to no use, and I know how it feels. One of the terrible shortcomings of our age is that we have made it possible for corporations, media conglomerates, politicians, and celebrities to pound their nonsense into our ears no matter where we are, but we have not made it possible for the common citizen to be heard even on matters that effect her deeply. If the revolution ever arrives, it is probable that the talking heads and the spokespersons and the pundits will be rounded up and shot, which is after all an unanswerable retort. ⌾

The Ottawa Book Awards and new work from Chelsea Vowel

27075_pm_indigenous_writes_cover_v3-768x987.jpg

I’ve been working away these past months at the 2016 Ottawa Book Awards reading list. One of three jurors in the non-fiction category, I drew up my list of finalists this past week, along with my colleagues. I’m pleased to say there was consensus on three of our top five selections. Early in June, I expect, we’ll sort matters out.

There’s an opportunity cost to a commitment of this scale. I agreed to read 21 books in about as many weeks, some of them rather hefty and dense. That’s a lot of hours I could have been doing many other things, but I did enjoy the labour and along the way discovered some books I might not have found otherwise.

Now I have a smallish library of book award books I will be passing along. Only a couple weeks ago I (once again) thinned out the over-flowing shelves, and I’ve no desire to go backwards. Already I have specific books in mind for specific people. And I wish I could tell you what I’ve read and what I thought about it, but until the requisite announcements have been made, I’m keeping my reading list and my thoughts private.

In the meantime, here’s a book I’m looking forward to reading, to recommending, and to giving away. It’s by Chelsea Vowel, more widely known by the name âpihtawikosisân. The book will be released in September but is available now for pre-order.

 

The Cree should have a flip-chart easel ceremony. No, just kidding.

Woods

THERE’S AN EASY WAY to tell you’ve been spending too much time with the Cree, and it’s this:

When you find yourself saying, “No, just kidding” every time you are just kidding.

As in, “Three guys walk into a bar. No, just kidding.”

If you know any Cree people, you know what I’m talking about.

And speaking of the Cree…

…a long, long, long time ago, the indigenous people of this land had an important right of passage.

When a young man, or a young woman, reached the ceremonial age, all of the people in the community would gather at a sacred spot.

Maybe in the woods, or at the centre of the village, or in the longhouse near the fires. Every nation had their own, sacred spot.

They would call the young man, or young woman, before the gathered community.

It would get very quiet. Electricity would pass through the crowd. Everyone would watch transfixed.

Because the special day had arrived to present the young man, or the young woman, with his, or her …

very own flip-chart easel.

Okay, I made this up. But the point of the story is that today I bought a flip-chart easel.

And owning my own flip-chart easel makes me feel all grown up, or something.

It’s not my company’s flip-chart easel, or my team’s, or my business partner’s. It’s MINE.

And there are so many uses for a flip-chart easel that I can’t believe everyone doesn’t have one of his, or her, own.

I think that’s because there are no decent flip-chart easel ceremonies.

Anyway, from now on I’m going to do everything by flip chart.

Christmas cards, love letters, and tax returns can all totally be done on a flip chart, and why they aren’t already is truly a mystery to me.

You can even set it up on the bus, during the ride from Staples to the subway home, and do a team-building workshop. Trust me, I thought about it.

Here’s just the first of many uses I have found for my flip-chart easel.

flip-chart-1

So, yeah, I think I’ll do only flip-chart-Twitter from now on.

And here’s another use, which will finally resolve something I’ve been meaning to tell my son.

flip-chart-2

No, just kidding.

Is one of these your perfect journal?

stack-1

Yes, it’s true: I have a lot of blank books

DOZENS OF THEM, tucked away in a drawer, waiting to be filled with the URLs of websites I’ve discovered, lists of books to read, ideas, things overheard on the subway, recipes, interviews, and other ephemera.

If there was a TV show about people with a lot of blank books, I’d probably be on it. Not that I’m a hoarder. I try to keep my stationery fetish in check: for every blank book that I buy, there are at least ten I would like to buy but don’t. And I fill these books up pretty quick.

stack-2

They come from all over the world, in many sizes and shapes and textures and colors. Some blank books are almost too beautiful to write in. I’ve coveted, but have never bought, a Cavallini Roma Lussa journal. This week I saw one at The Paper Place, here in Toronto. These journals are works of art, more suitable for use as a Downton Abbey prop than for defacing with my prosaic grocery lists.

Roma Lussa, a journal good enough to eat
Roma Lussa, a journal good enough to eat

What makes a blank book great?

I look for specific qualities in a blank book. To be great, the following criteria must be met.

Good binding. I want my books to lay flat. If I have to use a hand to keep it open while I write, I’m probably going to pass. Although ring bindings are best for books that open and lay flat, my preference is for stitched bindings. Rings add bulk and also can get caught on clothing or the lining of a satchel. Glue bindings can come loose, so I look for paper that has been gathered into signatures and threaded with a quality material.

Proper lines. By this I mean the lines should give me enough room for my writing but not be so generous that I can’t get a decent amount of text on the page. As I get older, the balance changes. I now look for more line height, since my eyes aren’t what they used to be. Also, I pass on a blank book if the lines don’t go to the edge of the page. I don’t have a good reason for this: I just think that lines which go to the edge of the page look nicer. It’s probably just me having an OCD moment.

Good paper. Again, this is objective. Because I write with a fountain pen, bleeding can be an issue. Also, the paper should take up the ink without feathering. Nowadays most journals pass these tests, so really what I’m looking for is a paper that feels and looks decent. Like most of these criteria, this is subjective. Over the years, I’ve learned which journals provide for the best writing. More on that in a moment.

Good covers. Have you ever bought a shrink-wrapped journal? Then, after a couple weeks of use, you discover that the covers curl? I’ve had this experience enough times that I now usually avoid anything shrink-wrapped. A cover should feel good in the hand, protect the pages, and keep its shape. I also prefer that it not have writing. So I mostly avoid journals that say JOURNAL on them, or that have inspirational quotations. An embossed logo is fine, since it’s subtle and blends in. Other than that, the plain old cover is for me.

Pockets. This one is optional. I won’t pass over a journal that doesn’t have pockets, but if it meets all the other criteria and also has a place to tuck receipts and lists, then bonus points. The Moleskine notebooks have a cover flap which serves this function, and I love it.

Here are some of my all-time favorite journals

clare-fontaine
You can’t not mention Clarefontaine. They make great papers. You can throw anything at a Clarefontaine journal, no problems. The most saturated ink will not bleed or feather. They come in a huge variety of formats. There are pockets. The covers have a great hand-feel. They stand up well to abuse. And Clarefontaine is a well-priced product, aiming at the practical rather than the precious. This was purchased at the most excellent Paper Papier in Ottawa, my 3rd fav stationery store in Canada. Buy something there and say Hi to Gary.

coach-house
I had no idea until this week that Coach House Press made blank books. I don’t know why every publisher doesn’t make a journal that conforms to its book specs. I would definitely buy a Penguin or Random House or Oxford University Press or Anansi blank book that looked and felt like their paper backs. Especially Anansi. (P.S. I found this at Wonder Pens on Dundas West.)

moleskine-large
This is the Moleskine large notebook in the new Cranberry color, purchased at Valhalla Cards. I have already put a big thumbprint on it, and I guess that’s my only complaint about these. For some reason they seem to attract stains. I have these in three colors: Black is business, grey is personal research, and kraft is scribbles. I don’t know what cranberry is yet, but this is an unlined journal so I may dedicate it to sketches, mind maps and planning.

moleskine-sketch

Another Moleskine, in landscape. Like the journal below, this can be used as a reporter’s notebook, and that’s what I’m going to do. (Found in Vancouver at Paper-Ya.)

monsieur
Most journals are standard book format, so I’m always on the look-out for something unusual. I like the A5. In fact, I really like European paper sizes. For some reason that tiny difference of a few millimetres, between Letter and A4, really works for me. So I’m looking forward to opening this A5 journal and using it with my interviews. (Also from Paper-Ya.)

pocket-dept
SQUARE NOTEBOOKS! They are so, so hard to find, and I really like them. Rarely do I pass up a square notebook. The Pocket Dept. notebooks are pretty decent. Nice laid paper, solid bindings. This one is the perfect size: 6X6. It’s called the Backpack, and that’s probably where it will go. Love it! (Bought at Valhalla Cards, Queen Street West, Toronto.)

press-bound
Ah, Pressbound. It’s the brain-child of Melissa Gruntkosky. I’m an Art Deco junkie, and so her vintage designs paired with quality hand-made paper is irresistible. I love everything about Melissa. On her About page she gives her grandma a shout-out and says she loves beer. Grandma-shout-outs+beer+top-quality-journals=big win. What are you waiting for? Go buy something.

rialto
This Rialto Books “Venetian hand-bound” leather journal, by Darren Cole of Toronto, was a gift. Again, almost too nice to write in. But one day soon….

rustico
I found this Rustico felt journal cover at Paper-Ya in Vancouver, my second-fav stationery store in Canada. (My #1 fav is the mind-blowing Papeterie Nota Bene, in Montreal. It’s so good I’m scared to go there.) The refills are hard to find here in Toronto, but fortunately a Moleskine (just barely) will fit.

senfort
Here’s a Senfort ring-bound journal from Wallack’s. I like the heavy plasticized cover. This is one rugged journal. The paper is also very nice.

twin-ring
Last, but not least, Twin Ring. These are great, and they seem to be everywhere. I bought this one at a now-defunct Ottawa stationery store. They come in a variety of formats and colors. They really do provide satisfaction, as the cover states. By the way, does anyone know if the text is Engrish? Or maybe even faux Engrish? It’s just “off” enough that it kind of makes you chuckle. Anyway, Engrish is brilliant.

How about you?

Now it’s your turn to tell me about your great blank books!

Find me on Twitter. Check out my latest book.

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Dear Mister Captain—please let me on the life boat

Ship-Captain

NOTE—This piece is based on a writing assignment in the book 642 Things to Write About, published by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto:

“Only ten people will fit in the life raft. Convince the Captain that you should be one of them.”

MR SMITH? Hi!—sorry about the mister. I realize I should have said captain. I know it’s not the best time, with the boat sinking and all, but I’ve been meaning to say that’s a nice uniform. The contrast of black and gold is masculine, audacious even, and conveys authority—while also being stylish. So often these days dress is nothing but function. Or you have uniforms like on the Love Boat, which have no gravitas whatsoever. I mean, short-sleeves? Really? Captain Stubing was no Mr. Smith, if you ask me. Sure, he was pleasant, but is pleasant really what you want when the ship is going down? Which brings me to what I was hoping to discuss with you, and I know you’re a busy man. All I’m asking for is a minute of your time and that you’ll consider letting me on the life boat. This is my story.

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I am fighting the war for freedom on eBay

elgin

YEARS AGO, I bought the 1929 Elgin art deco watch pictured above. Recently the crystal fell out and the minute hand caught on my jacket sleeve and was pulled off.

Off I went to the neighborhood repair person, an old-school Eastern European who I’ve done business with before. Our conversation went something like this.

Can I has more? Click for more!

How my school days prepared me for a world which doesn’t exist, and didn’t prepare me for the one that does

Ressi57h

SCHOOL DAYS. They were so long ago, you probably don’t remember them. Or maybe what you remember didn’t happen.

I’m talking about you, not about me. My memories, of being the team captain and MVP, are as sound as any Ken Burns documentary. See how the camera pans across a photo of me, holding an electrified cattle prod to keep from being torn to pieces by sex-crazed females? It’s more dramatic with video, but that’s what you get when imaginary Ken Burns narrates the Dionysian out-in-the-woods madness that was your school days.

I can has more? (Click for more!)

An open letter to Stephen King

stephen-king
I‘VE JUST FINISHED On Writing. It’s been years since I’ve read one of your books, and I enjoyed this one enough that I’ll be reading another soon.

We have some things in common. Like you, I started a satirical magazine in high school. Mine was better received by staff than yours, owing I suspect to the principle that satire is a mirror in which we see the reflection of all faces but our own. I stopped writing satire for this reason, which from your perspective will appear as an irony. The point is that satire will either provoke your targets or it won’t, and whatever the outcome you’ll wonder if the buck was worth the bang, or lack of it.

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My Grade 11 English Teacher, Mrs. Joyce, Marks Christmas Carols

f
Jingle Bells

Obviously the bells jingle: that’s what they are made to do. Try “bells, bells all the way.” (See Strunk and White, “Omit needless words.”) Also, does the protagonist have some sort of objection to a multi-horse and/or closed sleigh? If so, explain; if not, cut. C-

Let it Snow

Do you really mean to say that the weather outside is filled with fright? If so, this is a pathetic fallacy. And who exactly is going to “let it snow”? Who could stop it snowing? Use the indicative mood to invigorate your prose. C

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

What is the significance of the chestnuts? You open the scene with them but don’t do much else. Remember: if there is a gun on the mantle in act one, it must be fired by act four. Perhaps the roasted chestnuts could explode and disfigure Jack Frost, or the reindeer could eat them and lose their powers of flight. This would create an interesting narrative problem for Santa to resolve. “Yuletide carols being sung by a choir” should be “a choir sings Yuletide carols.” Avoid passive voice. D+

Little Drummer Boy

What on earth is a pa rum pum pum pum? Does the drummer boy suffer from some kind of compulsive tick? Is he trying to communicate an important message. Is the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum akin to the “ou-boum” of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India? Explore. D-

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer

If the nose is said to glow, then it is implicitly very bright. Show, don’t tell. D

Silent night

Silent? With the quaking shepherds and the streaming glories and the singing hosts. Do you know how many people are in a host? And they’re singing. Try editing this one with a view to making it about a rowdy night. C

O Christmas Tree

Twenty-four lines to establish that it’s a nice tree, because it has green and sparkly branches? Remember: brevity is the soul of wit. D-

Winter Wonderland

Too much going on here. First there are bells, then glistening snow. Why has the bluebird gone? And what is the significance of this “new bird”? Why even bring birds into it? Clearly this story is about a couple who are so eager to marry that they’ll let a snowman “do the job,” as you so vulgarly put it. The rest is just confusing. Cut. C-

Away in a Manger

The baby is either away, or else in the manger. I don’t understand how the protagonist can be in the barn, and then looking down from the sky—all within a few lines. This is fine if you are writing in a genre, such as science fiction, that allows for teleportation. Perhaps you could re-write this as an extra-terrestrial carol about futuristic travel. C

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Find me on Twitter and, also, here is my new book.

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5 tell-tale warning signs that you may be a writer

Warning: you may be a writer!

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WHAT IS A WRITER? The screen shot above has some suggestions: writers are crazy, forgetful and always selling someone out.

Now, I’m a writer and I must object to this libel. I am not “always” selling someone out. Tuesday to Friday I write, Saturday I do laundry, and Sunday morning I take a long walk in the park. That leaves, at most, Sunday afternoon and all of Monday for selling people out.

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5 common mistakes made by writers

PAPER-AND-PENCIL

IF YOU READ this little website of mine, you probably know I’m a fan of science and that I talk about sciency and logically things all the time. My partner Nicole follows IFLScience, where they have some science gift ideas that are cool and that you should definitely check out, for that special science nerd in your life.

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1/2 of self-published authors earn under $500: I’ve figured out how not to be one of them

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WELCOME to Christmas, the time of year when people dress up like serious adults, to go to staff parties where they act like drunken toddlers.

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