29 September 2011

Where is Catherine Deneuve?



The Shrewsdale Exit
John Buell
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972

Read the book, see the movie. Always thought that was the way to do it, so I have only myself to blame for spoiling The Shrewsdale Exit. Buell's third novel, it begins blandly – intentionally so, I think – with a family vacation:
They ordered sandwiches and beer, a Coke for the little girl, and were served in good time. They weren't in a hurry. They were going to the coast, to work their way along the ocean, camping where possible and staying in boarding houses when necessary. They talked as they ate, and in a short time they were about finished.
Within an hour – it could be two – mother and daughter are raped and murdered by a motorcycle gang. The father is left for dead, but is really only knocked out. Things move quickly in this novel; six weeks follow, during which the man buys a gun, plugs the thugs, is sent to prison and escapes into a world of pastoral beauty.

I'm spoiling things here, but not nearly as much as my reading experience was spoiled by the 1975 movie adaptation, L'agression, posted on YouTube:



Jean-Patrick Manchette's screenplay moves the action from somewhere (but not anywhere) in the United States to southern France. Buell's unwashed, wild bikers appear as efficient, faceless contract killers – characters in conspiracy. Jean-Louis Trintignant is cast as the vengeful husband and father, playing opposite Catherine Deneuve, who brings beauty and talent to the role of Sarah.

Sarah?

Sarah is not in the Buell's novel. In fact, not a word or action from la déesse de l'amour features in the book. Silly me, turning the pages I kept expecting her to appear.

I'm placing too much blame on the film. The Shrewsdale Exit is a weak novel with a strong start; the shift from the mundane to the violent is jarring, horrific and uncomfortably real. But when our hero enters prison plausibility passes, and the sure hand that wrote The Pyx and Four Days becomes shaky. In the third act, it brings us as close as I ever want to get to a Jeanette Oke farm. It's no coincidence that L'agression draws on the beginning, and only the beginning. But don't see the movie, read the book... the first 166 pages, at least.

Trivia: The L'agression soundtrack was written, in part, by Robert Charlebois (who also plays a biker). I offer this brief sample:



The very music that made the Sex Pistols seem so very attractive.

Object: A hardcover with green cloth boards with a bland dust jacket by Larry Ratzkin. The English Angus & Robertson first edition cover image trades the green road sign for blue, but is otherwise identical.

Access: The Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Angus & Robertson editions received no second printings, though there were a couple of subsequent editions in mass market paperback: Pocket (1973), Carroll & Graf (1984). I've yet to find evidence that it was included in the 1991 HarperCollins Canada trade paper reissues of Buell's novels. Canadian library users are encouraged to visit their university libraries. As far as public libraries go, only that serving the suffering residents of Toronto satisfies. As always – well, nearly always – Library and Archives Canada fails.

19 September 2011

Ronald J. Cooke, No Blockhead



A final follow-up to last week's post on The Mayor of Côte St. Paul. Promise.

Cover copy describes Ronald J. Cooke as "one of Canada's most popular writers of realistic fiction". Don't you believe it. The man never wrote anything that could be considered "realistic fiction". And, let's be honest, he was never popular. Like The House on Craig Street, his first novel, The Mayor of Côte St. Paul was a paperback original – and, like his first novel, it was printed only once in this country. Readers were left hanging nearly three decades before they saw The House on Dorchester Street, the third (and final) Ronald J. Cooke novel. Who published this much-anticipated work? A vanity press located in Cornwall, Ontario.

While I expect that Cooke sold at least a few short stories in his time, I've come across only one: "Beginner's Luck", which was appeared in the August 1950 edition of Atlantic Guardian:


The wordsmith wrote several pieces for this self-described "Magazine of Newfoundland", most having to do with those who'd achieved success far from its shores. Makes sense – owned by a Montreal company, Atlantic Guardian was run out of offices on Toronto's Bay Street. The July 1950 issue, which would have hit news stands at about the same time as The Mayor of Côte St. Paul, contains an all too clever little piece on Cooke by Associate Editor Brian Cahill.*

That lady with the gams and the megaphone is Canada's Sweetheart Barbara Ann Scott, by the way.

Never mind, here's Cahill:


An inside joke certain to send subscribers scratching their heads, it's based on the idea that Cooke was well on his way in book-writin'. And why not? The House on Craig Street was published in 1949, The Mayor of Côte St. Paul followed in 1950. However, eight years passed before the next Cooke book – a tale for children titled Algonquin Adventure (Ryerson, 1958). An even larger gap followed, only to be broken in 1979 by How to Write & Sell Travel Articles. A self-published guide, at 29 pages it's not quite right to describe it as a book... more a booklet. Others came in rapid succession, all emerging from Cooke's basement in suburban Montreal. My favourite is the suggestively titled 20 Ways to Make Big Money with Your Camera, but most deal with making big bucks through writing: Tips for the Beginner in Self-Publishing & Mail Order! (1980), How to Write & Sell Short Articles (1981), Tips on Writing and Selling Romance Novels (1985), How to Publish & Promote Your Own Writing (1986), Here's How to Write and Sell Features & Fillers to Newspapers and Syndicate Your Own Work, Too (1986), and Self-Publishing and Mail Order Made Easy (1988).

Dave Manley would approve.

* A subject of personal interest, Brian Cahill may or may not have been married to journalist Marion McCormick (even her children aren't sure) the second wife of John Glassco.

Related posts:

16 September 2011

Write Short Stories the Dave Manley Way!



A follow-up to Tuesday's post on The Mayor of Côte St. Paul.

A friend asks why Dave "proudly" shows Cherie his stacks of rejected manuscripts. "Shouldn't he be embarrassed?" Not at all. Dave knows that he needs just one breakout story before the rest will sell – valuable info gleaned from a lecture by "the great novelist" Robert Patterson:
Paterson had explained how he'd written nine books – had them all rejected. Then wrote the tenth and had it accepted with much horn-blowing. Then he had promptly retired and merely doled out his rejects at the rate of two a year. All of which were accepted and made money.
"Those stories are like money in the bank", Dave tells his girl. And so, he keeps at it, churning out two each and every week. Dave shares his method with Cherie:
"I regard a story like a game of cards – poker for example. Only in writing a story you have all the cards in your hand before you start. You can make up your own hands. The beginning is probably the most important. Writers call it the narrative hook. Introduce a character and then place him in a difficult position, sort of a tough spot. After that the writer is just as anxious as the reader to see what happens, to see if he can get out of the jam and lick the problem. The characters usually take control and the writer just writes whatever the characters suggest. I guess that's about all there is to it."
We're later treated to a scene in which we witness Dave in action. It begins with my very favourite sentence from the novel:
"I wonder if there's any mail?" wondered Dave. He started to rise from his chair, then he sat back. "I'm just looking for excuses," he cried. "Why the devil is it that writers will search for any excuse to keep from writing. We put it off till the last possible minute, but once we do get started there's no stopping us. Ideas! Ideas! That's what I need!" He glanced around the room to see if he could spot anything which would act as a starter. He wanted to do a short detective story for the Weekly Advocate. The editor had said he was interested. The rate was only $25, but he'd get more kick out of getting $25 than from $250 from run-running.
He shivered in the cold grayness of the room and started tapping the typewriter keys idly. His gaze fell on the camera on the bureau and without thinking he typed a line, "The Clue of the Missing Camera."
Then he started typing, at first slowly, then with a steady staccato as his ideas took shape. He finished the first paragraph and then read it, "Mark Graydon removed one gloved hand from the wheel of the car and patted the small German camera in his pocket – he had the evidence – nice and clean as you please. His fat, beefy face broke into a smile. He glanced out at the foggy shoreline where a twinkle of lights marked the outline of the village. Lightning racked the sky and pelts of rain as sharp as bullets whipped against the windshield, suddenly..."
Dave continued his story. Impervious of the darkening room, and the increasing coldness of his surroundings.
The Mayor of Côte St. Paul ends before Dave has a chance to send out "The Clue of the Missing Camera", so we never know whether it's his breakout story. Somehow, I doubt it.


Related posts:

13 September 2011

A Blockhead Tries Writing for Money



The Mayor of Côte St. Paul
Ronald J. Cooke
Toronto: Harlequin, 1950

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money", wrote Samuel Johnson. But is not one who persists in writing for money, without achieving a single sale, also a blockhead? The question – unintended, I assure you – lies at the heart of this, Ronald J. Cooke's second novel. Like his first, The House on Craig Street (1949), this is a tale of a struggling writer living in Depression-era Montreal. Our new hero is Winnipeg boy Dave Manley, who arrived in the city thinking that its rich atmosphere would inspire his short stories. Sadly, the seventy or so produced in the eight month since have brought nothing but a steady stream rejection notices.

Fortune both smiles and frowns when he spots a tall and leggy blonde walking at a furious pace along St Catherine Street. Dave follows her for a block or two before realizing that he's not alone:
"Time for you to check out, old boy," he said.
Dave's not talking tough to his fellow stalker, but to himself.
"You've got no business being interested in the dame. You're a struggling free-lance writer, remember. You haven't got time for dames – besides you're broke. And dames, particularly ones like that one ahead cost dough. And dough and you have no affinity. Turn your steps around bud – head back to Peel Street – buy a Star and go home.
"Nuts," thought Dave. "Editors tell me that I'm not selling my stuff because there's no life in it. Maybe this is a real life plot that'll shape into something profitable."
It doesn't matter so much that Dave is broke; turns out the leggy dame – Cherie is her name – made fistfuls of cash working for an underworld kingpin called the Mayor. "But I kept my skirts clean – no street-walking for me", she's quick to add. Now Cherie wants out. Her dream is to open a lingerie shop in little Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Cherie's escape, made with Dave's help, is remarkably easy. A lucky break. The Mayor is a sadistic psychopath – he murders by throwing darts, for goodness sake – but this doesn't stop Dave from working for him. You see, the writer is always on the hunt for new material. The way Dave figures it, "any character with as many ramifications as he has, is worth a story – maybe a dozen stories." It all turns out very badly, of course.


There's very little plot, "real life" or otherwise, in The Mayor of Côte St. Paul. Most of the book consists of Dave's persistent yapping, to himself and others, about the writing game, the writing life and ideas for the novels he's going to write. When the man does shut up, it's only so that he can listen to someone's life story, which he'll later mine for material. It's not that Dave has a passion for literature – he doesn't read – he sees it only as an easy way to make money. How frustrating then that what he calls his "stuff" doesn't sell.


As is usually the case with early Harlequins, the cover copy deceives. Sure, Cherie, "the girl from Lunenberg who had been learning about life since she was 16", intends to teach Dave what she knows, but does Dave want to know?

The first time she visits his flat, Dave welcomes her with a peck, before proudly showing off his stacks of unsold stories:
"Why don't you finish one job before you start another?" Cherie pouted.
"Meaning?" asked Dave.
"Meaning that you didn't finish that kiss,"
"One is enough for me kitten," said Dave. "Your kisses are like dynamite – sort of rock me to my heels. After all, I'm just an ordinairy guy – I'm no hero. And when a girl like you comes around it doesn't make it any easier."
"When I like a guy I like him," answered Cherie. "But you're the boss – if you don't want to kiss me it's okay."
"It's not that I don't want to kiss you," answered Dave, taking Cherie in his arms. "But you're so doggone feminine my head spins when your in my arms."
"Just like a top, eh? said Cherie, running her fingers through his hair. "Okay, let's talk about your work."
And, as always, Dave does.

Blockhead.

Object: A typical early Harlequin. The cover image is sort of interesting. Cherie's hair doesn't seem quite right for 1931; I'm not sure about that typewriter either. The depiction of the Mayor – a slim man with sharp-chin, high forehead, "well-made" nose and eyes possessing "the type of glow one might expect to find belonging to someone who dealt in the occult" – is completely off.

Access: Only the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto and McGill University have copies. It's much more common online, where decent copies go for about twelve bucks.

Related posts:

09 September 2011

Of American Pirates and Canadian Counterfeiters



I received an email recently from a publisher who took exception to a post on pirated John Glassco titles at my other blog. "Hey there," he begins, "actually, we're not quite without permission on Glassco."

Not quite.

He then goes on to acknowledge that he "may be without permission" for one of the works in question. "Amazon won't carry it, and the thing was going for $500 used before I came along," he writes in defence.

You see, the man is performing a public service.

I stand by my words, which are supported by contracts and correspondence found in the Glassco fonds at Library and Archives Canada.

As I've not responded to this email, it seems unfair to identify this particular publisher.

Not responded?

Oh, I would have, but his concluding remarks rather rubbed me the wrong way:
Too bad you didn't contact me before. I have around 14k paying customers on the site, not to mention half a million visitors each month to —. Some of these readers might have been interested in your book.
He's referring here, of course, to A Gentleman of Pleasure, my new biography of Glassco. Well, I happily sacrifice any sales that I might have enjoyed in associating myself with this individual and his various ventures. One is, after all, known by the company one keeps.

No pun intended.

With the spread of POD technology and ebooks, it's hard to imagine that the problem of piracy won't grow, perhaps returning us to the turbulence and tumultuousness of earlier times. I'm reminded of poor Mark Twain, whose pocketbook took shots from Canada in a copyright war between the United States and the British Empire. In the end, of course, it was the writer who suffered the most.

Same as it ever was.


Twain wrote about his frustration with pirates counterfeiters, he called them in a 1 October 1880 letter to Congressman Rollin M. Daggett. The letter, with entertaining p.s., can be found online here at the Mark Twain Project.

Dear Daggett—
I want to go to Washington, but it ain’t any use, business-wise, for Congress won’t bother with anything but President-making. My publisher got me to send a letter of his to Blaine a month or two ago, in which our grievance was fully set forth. I didn’t believe Blaine would interest himself in the matter, & I was right. You just get that letter from Blaine, & cast your eye over it, & try to arrive at a realizing sense of what a silly & son-of-a-bitch of a law the present law against book-piracy is. I believe it was framed by an goddamd idiot, & passed by a Congress of goddamd muttonheads.
Now
you come up here –that is the thing to do. I, also have Scotch whisky, certain lemons, & hot water, & struggle with the same every night.
Ys Ever
Mark

If you want to see how thoroughly foolish section 4964 is, just read it & substitute the words “U. S. treasury note” for the w “copy of such "counterfeit U. S. treasury note" for the words "copy of such book."
My books sell at $3.50 a copy, their Canadian counterfeit at 25 & 50 cents. If I could sieze [sic]
all the Canadian counterfeits I could no more use them to my advantage than the Government could use bogus notes to its advantage. The only desirable & useful thing, in both cases, is the utter suppression of the counterfeits. The government treats its counterfeiters as criminals, but mine as erring gentlemen. What I want is that mime mine shall be treated as criminals too.
S L C
Thirteen decades later, it's still enough to make one reach for Scotch whiskey, certain lemons and hot water.

07 September 2011

A Son's Lies My Father Told Me



Lies My Father Told Me
Norman Allan
Toronto: Signet, 1975

Back in May, I described novelizations of Canadian films as the rarest of things; I can think of only two, Whispering City and Lies My Father Told Me. This one is particularly interesting in that it was written by Norman Allan, son of novelist, playwright and screenwriter Ted Allan. We have here a son's version of his father's work.

Allan père did very well with this semi-autobiographical tale. What began as a short magazine piece, was adapted for radio, television, the cinema and, finally, the stage. Allan fis draws nothing from the original story – not so much as a sentence is similar – rather he follows his father's screenplay. Dedication is such that when the younger Allan does depart, as happens twice, one wonders whether he's not included a scene that was left on the cutting room floor. This is not to belittle his effort; the writing is tight and more than competent. The unabtrusive debut of a man who had never before published a work of fiction, it features some fairly strong imagery. Here David, the protagonist, races to feed his grandfather's horse:
I hurry along the balcony, three stories above the cobbled courtyard: three stories and a romance above Ferdeleh's stable there. A dozen dwellings, tenements of poverty, boxed and stacked: thirteen dwellings, counting Ferdeleh's, share the hemmed-in courtyard, their awkward wooden stairways sculpturing the skeletons of grotesque fairy castles. The gingerbread's all taken away, leaving only a matchstick grandeur...

I received Lies My Father Told Me as a gift back in 1976. In those dinosaur days – before Beta, VHS, DVDs and Netflix – novelizations such as these were pretty much the only way to revisit films. There were repatory theatres, of course, but I don't remember Lies My Father Told Me being offered. Television was as it is now: a crap shoot.


Jonathan Coe once described novelizations as "that bastard, misshapen offspring of the cinema and the written word". He's probably right – I agree with him on much else. But Lies My Father Told Me is the only novelization I've ever read... and I think it's pretty good.

Object: A very slim, mass market paperback with eight pages of stills from the film. Three pages of adverts provide much needed bulk. All movie-related, they range from an "exclusive movie edition" of The Three Musketeers to this biography of a hot star who had long ago gone cold:


The most interesting, I think, is the full-page push above for TV Movies.

"America's second largest indoor sport". How ribald.

Access: Six copies are currently listed online, five of which go for between one and six dollars. Only four of our university libraries hold the book – not one is located in Montreal. Patrons of public libraries are, predictably, limited to that serving the good citizens of Toronto. Library and Archives Canada fails yet again.

02 September 2011

Post-Apocalypse in Pink



The Lord's Pink Ocean
David Walker
New York: Daw, 1973

David Walker was born one hundred years ago today. There will be no coverage of this anniversary in our newspapers – and no criticism from me for the oversight. Competent and commercial, Walker sold an awful lot of novels in his time, but nothing I've read has been particularly memorable. His most successful book, Geordie (1950), the sentimental story of a simple, scrawny Scot's transformation into an Olympic hammer-thrower, sold in the six figures. Quite the accomplishment for a writer working out of St Andrews, New Brunswick. In belated recognition, I think, Walker was given back-to-back Governor General's awards for the novels that followed, The Pillar (1952) and Digby (1953). Geordie was adapted for the screen – a weak film starring the wonderful Alastair Sim – and in 1966 spawned a sequel, Come Back, Geordie. Such was the the original's success that two decades later its title continued to grace the covers of Walker's novels.

I'm not so sure that The Lord's Pink Ocean would have appealed to the audience that had been so captivated by the sentimental, uplifting story of Geordie MacTaggart. This is a novel of the 'seventies, a bleak work of science fiction set in a world deadened by a shocking pink algae. The cold waters of the Arctic and Antarctic protect several thousand survivors, but this is not their story. Instead we have the Parkers and the Smiths, two small farming families eking out a living in a secluded valley that overlooks what was once the city of Boston.

Yes, a secluded valley above Boston.

The Parkers are black, the Smiths are white; the Parkers have a boy, the Smiths have a girl; father Parker hates father Smith and vice versa. There's all sorts of stuff going on here, but for what purpose?

My reactions to The Lord's Pink Ocean mirrored those of William French, who in the 12 September 1972 edition of the Globe and Mail wrote:
I thought for a while that Walker was writing a satirical novel – that would make it more bearable. He could easily be poking fun at religion, which plays some part in the plot, or science fiction – pink algae, indeed – or industrial society, scientific progress and pollution. But the horrible realization dawned that he was serious.
French goes on to poke fun himself at Walker's dialogue, providing this example:
"Now be good sports and give our floats a mighty shove. Toodle-oo, then."
Those are the words of an Inuit Anglican minister preparing to fly off in his pontoon plane.

Like so many post-apocalyptic fantasies, The Lord's Pink Ocean works only if one doesn't pause to think. In this, film has an advantage – head shots to zombies do distract – but with a novel read over the course several evenings questions come to mind. For example, how is it that people born just a few years – or is it months? – after the collapse of civilization know next to nothing about "The Time Before"? How do two estranged men, each raised without religion, develop identical systems of belief? Why is it that they speak like 19th-century Mennonites, while their teenager children speak like... well, teenagers? And what's with that altitudinous valley anyway?

French titled his review "Blushingly Bad". A bit harsh, perhaps. The Lord's Pink Ocean is nothing more and nothing less than a middling genre novel. Might we expect better from a Governor General's Award recipient? Yes, but let's also remember that Walker was honoured in the same decade that saw the award go to Igor Gouzenko and Lionel Shapiro.

I chose to read The Lord's Pink Ocean because I thought it would be quirky enough to hold my interest. I mean, just look at the title. Maybe I made a mistake. A friend's mother recommends Walker's 1960 novel, Where the High Winds Blow, but I think the time has come to leave the author behind.

Toodle-oo, I say.

Object and access: Readers of science fiction will know what I mean in writing that this is a typical Daw paperback. For those who are unfamiliar: A nondescript mass market with a cover that does not reflect its contents. Copies of the Daw paperback are sold online for less than one Canadian dollar. The first edition, published in 1972 by Collins, can be easily had for less than eight dollars. Library shelves hold hundreds of copies, though Canadians will have to make do with the Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada and our fine universities.

01 September 2011

A Final Word on Manners


The Ottawa Citizen
14 November 1953

Look familiar? What we have here is the Mind Your Manners publicity sheet from Monday's post reproduced word for word and passed off as a book review. The Ottawa Citizen seems to have been quite keen on promoting this guide; five months later, it devoted the better part of a two-page spread to 13 cartoons inspired by the book:
These cartoons show artist Peter Whalley's reaction to a new dictionary of etiquette written by Claire Wallace and Joy Brown and titled Mind Your Manners. Whalley's interpretations are fortunately not everyone's. The authors say they could only be Whalley's.
Mind Your Manners is the outgrowth of a column on etiquette which writer-commentator Wallace syndicated to 25 newspapers across Canada between 1945 and 1949. It was bought and published by Harlequin Books, of which Joy Brown is an editor. The first printing of 30,000 has been followed by a second and seems to justify the authors' belief that there was a need for a new simplified guide to Canadian manners.
The Ottawa Citizen
24 April 1954

It would not be considered proper behaviour, I suppose, to question the motives of the paper's editors. That said, I will point out that this latter piece also reads like a Harlequin press release. Let me leave you with that thought, along with a few sample cartoons and one final rule.



Related posts:
On Addressing a Duke's Eldest Son's Younger Son