*Picture is from the ABSOLUTELY perfect example of Montreal Franglais : Balconville by David Fennario.
I love writing slang. I love writing Frenglish too. I loved Gabino Iglesias’s Zero Saints because it mixed English and Spanish flawlessly.
These transitions in language come naturally to me. As someone who was raised in a city where you can easily switch between two or three languages at any moment in any discussion. Montreal has it’s own slang, it’s own language. We grew up part Québécois, part Canadian, watched American television and mixed everything and anything from Spanish, to Creole to Greek and more recently, Arabic in the daily language of things. The specific language here is known as “Joual”, and “Frenglish” or “Franglais” which are slightly different interpretations of a similar thing and used frequently.
Writing Slang is a very “oral” issue. You have to get that feel for the moments where people switch “naturally” between one language or another. I noticed similar patterns between Iglesias’ work and my own which lead me to believe there might be similarities in the pacing and tempo.
Writing slang is also very hard and it comes with a problem: You want to have that “legitimate” local flavour but you might not want to alienate every reader out there. There are two ways you can go about his :
1 – write the entire story in slang and make it a “local” piece of literary work that people might be interested in IF they are interested in that local culture.
2- Integrate enough of it to get that “reality” in the story while allowing the reader to stay in the story.
The bottom line is that it has to ring true. I’ve decided to include some Joual in every or my works. It becomes a hard balancing act that I’d like to think I’ve managed to pull off over the years.
Below is a deli scene from my upcoming novel : “Down With the Underdogs.”
I find delis, in Montreal at least, is the absolute best place to ring true to both Frenglish and the working class, so if you’re looking to write slang, this could be an example for you.
Excerpt from the upcoming novel Down With the Underdogs.
“Good! That’s good for you. What can I get for the boss then,”
“Two hot-dogs, mayo, and a coke.”
“Alright,” Vincent said. He turned to some kid over at the counter. He was busy on his cellphone. “Hey. Michael. Two steamé avec mayo.”
“Add a fry to that.”
“Avec une fritte!” he added. The kid wasn’t moving. Vincent sighed. I laughed.
“Coming up,” the kid said in English with a thick Quebecois accent but only after finishing his text.
Vincent looked to us. “Eh! I’m gonna have to get rid of that kid.”
“Doesn’t work much?”
“He’s got a girl on his mind that one, I tell you,” he said as he ran a towel over his counter.
“Don’t we all?”
“I mean. I’m no brain surgeon. But he’s not going to school, he’s not really working. I got him here part time and as far as I know he’s got nothing else going.” He nodded his head. “C’est ben’ triste quand tu y’ penses.” He added in French. “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t know anything, but he’s not looking to learn the job, you know? This is a subtle business.”
“A diner is subtle business?” Phil asked.
“Of course it is? Are you kidding me?”
The waitress came around, “Vince’,” she said, “deux poutines ‘pis une rondelle su’a’ trois.”
Vincent shouted the order in Frenglish to his cook and leaned back on his counter. “It’s like in the morning, he makes the eggs and half the damn egg is sticking there, burnt to the plate. Une croute ça d’épaisse, osti. And I tell him, ‘Jesus Christ that’s my profit you’re burning over there.’ And I’m not even talking about the time we’ll waste cleaning this mess up. Ciboire! Où l’autre jour,” he sighed. “I mean we get some of those fruit flies in the garbage back there, ‘tsé! Ta-bernak! Some mess that was. So I go out and they sell me this powder to put in the bottom of the bags and this kid he sees the powder and he doesn’t ask about it and the bag’s empty and he just changes it. No wonder I’m losing my shirt over this place.”
We all thought is was funny. We all smiled and had a good time. The guy was probably just as broke has he was saying he was. There’s no way there was any real money in food services. But it was the way he turned all of it into a grandiose story of life and death.
I liked it. I liked it a lot.
“He doesn’t get it,” Vincent continued. “Y’ comprends pas,” he repeated in French. “You got to count everything. Every bag, every egg, every bun, everything, Ostie! Otherwise you’re eating your profit, ‘tsé.” The deli’s phone rang. Vicent picked it up and shouted “yeah?” He paused for a second and then started speaking Greek. He looked back at us and switched to French and English gain, “Heille ça s’en viens là, guys! Alright? Deux minutes, OK?” before going right back to shouting in Greek on the phone.
There was no other way to say it: I fucking loved this city.
My “Down With the Underdogs” tribute to the mystery scene
To the former punks
And factory workers
Border crossing saviors
To the inner-city players,
Of both style and substance
Silent geeks, the crazy kind
And other Fuck the World
Types or people,
My kind of people,
Down with the underdogs.
And now some context to this post:
I’m in the editing of my next novel, Down With the Underdogs, with no date in sight, but I am starting to think about things like tributes and photos and covers and working on expanding my network…that kind of shit.
Some version of this thing will go in as tribute in the book.
As for networking, I decided to go to any artistic or literary event I could find these past few weeks.
Tonight, I went to a mile-end poetry reading. And I’m a kid from the East, so you know I don’t fit in no fucking mile-end poetry reading. I also happen to be a poet who doesn’t really like poetry, or as Bukowski would say, “it’s all so boring! Where’s the guts?”
I mean, Cat Kidd was as impressive as I expected her to be, but the rest of it, I could’ve lived without. I mean, they can do whatever they want and who gives a fuck, it’s all good and well and everything, but it did make me realize just how much I could appreciate the mystery scene I landed in a few months ago.
Some of you I’ve met in real life, others I’ve only met online, but there is this unique meeting point of so many representatives of the working class in the people I’ve met. The bottom half of society is well represented with you and I wanted to say it, I guess.
I have known real love
Love met in the haze of
Love met in the hail of
And the still cold rain
Of early spring
I have known real love
In black and white
And the purest drive of passion
Made for music,
Made for movies
And the greater pages of literature
A love of guts
Like The Ring of Fire
Love is a Dog from Hell
I have met love for the ages
I really did
The stuff of legends
I swear to god
Love that drives you to madness
Love that drives you
To a life of pure
And honest labour.
Some men would rather die in the hell of battle
As other will lose their soul on a line.
I was the latter and still don’t know if I regret it.
I have met true love
Love stuck in the endless fights
Of ego, pride
And the trappings of ambition.
There really is nothing worse than ambition.
But I stuck with it
Or high water
I stuck with it.
And the best
It has to be the worst
Is I still can’t say why.
It’s Been Days and I still Can’t Name This One (poem).
In the eve
Of crashing economies
That never seem to collapse
And dissolving political landscapes
That never seem to change
We feel like rats.
We truly do.
Rats in a maze
Or ants in the sand
We are contained
And prayed upon,
Fed, yet controlled
Who never seem to fall ill
Once the rations go sour
And we are eating our crumbs.
Keep calm and carry on
God Save the Queen,
And manageable inflation.
If anything at all,
Four hundred years of “corporation”
Have thought us
Wealth always only goes one way
So we retract
We take shelter into small homes
That seem to be getting smaller every year.
We give in to simple pleasures of the flesh
Drink ‘til we’re numb
And fuck the pain away.
We indulge in the faceless idols of the world
The ever changing faces
Spoon fed, sure
But force fed, still
Through screen and paper
We receive their impossible iterations
And accept our feeble limits.
We feel irrelevant
We become irrelevant
Destined to fail
With no end in sight.
We find ourselves stuck.
Trapped somewhere in the middle
Down inside the limbo
Of desensitized aggression
And sexualized despair.
We seek revenge on people who have done us no wrong
We wish harm on those would could do us good
We take it all for fact
And to hell with the consequences.
We hate for the simple fact that it is easy
And natural to us
Hatred can be as natural to man
And any man,
There are no exceptions to this.
Hatred can be as natural to man as love can be
So why does it feel so simple
Why does it feel so seamless?
Why does it seem so fulfilling?
Maybe hunger has something to do with it.
There has to be a reason.
Debt and taxes and all the wars of the world?
The victims always sound the same.
Over 2000 years since Thucydides
And we have yet to learn a thing.
Same questions hoping for new answers?
Not a god damned thing, I tell you.
I simply wished for a simple life
A truly simple kind of life.
What could be more important than family,
Or a home at night?
Popcorn and pop
And a movie sometimes
Then the struggle with the baths
And the teeth and the pajamas
With a good night kiss and a hug
That’s just a second longer than usual
As the day fades away, solemn in the night
The safety of it all
Can hide the poverty
And the struggles and the pain
It makes you forget the warehouse job
And the endless flow of brown boxes.
It really does
It can hide the troubles and the bills
And the never-ending need for food.
And the pinch of daily grievances
A father and a husband,
Us against the world
Through a decade of one’s born days.
For a few moments
When the lights are out but the kids are peaceful,
Asleep in the nicest bed you could afford
And it seems to be enough
So you turn off the lights
And think maybe,
You finally starting to win.
I used to be a very negative man. I used to believe no one was going nowhere and why not get it over with sooner rather than lather.
This week of first : first day of graduate school, first time I buy a home and fist time I take a plane.
I was never in “absolute poverty.” I am well aware of that. I was never in a war nor had I ever lived in a bombed out country. I was simply working class in an era that has very poor prospects for the working class. Factories are closing, warehouses are closing. The kinds of jobs I used to know how to do aren’t in demand anymore.
I had to make a change and it was going to take work. That what the moral of my first novel, The Factory Line : “Don’t be here in ten years.”
It actually took a decade to get out of it.
These past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a good woman, we had children together and worked tirelessly to make ends meet, keep jobs (with very mixed results) and get ahead in life.
I have eaten my “yellow cans of beans” for years to save every buck I could…(for those who are not from Canada, there is such a thing as “the yellow brand” here that is the cheapest version of anything in a yellow can with the simple name of the item written on it, very “Dharma initiative”.
I am also well aware that I am lucky enough to be Canadian, where healthcare is free (I’ll take a waiting list over a 15k bill any day!) and education is cheap.
I can now say that all those years of patience and sacrifice have paid off… Yesterday I’ve started my MBA. That’s correct. A Diploma that costs tens of thousands of dollars in most of the developed world (especially in the US) will cost me about 7000$ CDN total, and half of that will be subsidized by the provincial government one way or the other because I am statistically poor. (I do feel very rich even with my income and the possessions I have… most people ask for too much, that’s for sure.)
I am a working class kid doing an MBA at Concordia. I had my first day yesterday and it was amazing. Concordia is amazing. We had discussions about the influence of “structures” over “individual behaviour” and how such or such system allows liberty or how others favoured “deviant behaviours” and so on…
I now have a chance to make a dent in the bullshit I know still exists.
I was confirmed in my belief that this was no small achievement when I say statistics in La Presse about the “state of things in Montreal”… Most people on this city are still very poor. Only about 22% are owners of their own homes, much less in the parts of town me and my family are from (Tetreaultville to Centre-Sud), the whole lower-East end of the city.
It’s still poor. Numbers aren’t that good. Wages go from half the Canadian average to 2 thirds at the very best. Lots of unemployment, welfare and single moms.
I feel luck and proud to have made it that far. Once I’m done with grad school, I need to find a way to help out in whatever ways I can.
Today I can’t say I’m still working class. I still work a warehouse until I get a better job, but my livelihood is no longer solely resting on my hands for labour.
I’ve become the owner of my own apartment as well yesterday. Went to the notary and signed papers right there. It wasn’t such a huge moment in of itself. Perhaps the significance of it will be felt when we actually move in a few weeks.
It was hard to move out of “rentals” as the prices keep going up and wages are stagnant, it’s very difficult to “make it.” have the minimum deposits and clear the bank’s. I was lucky enough to have my parents help me. It took absolutely everything we had, me, my wife and my parents, for me to get a loan. I had saved up 10000 dollars (at a rate of about 1200 a year) and my parents chipped in the last 3000. We have a very simple two bedroom condo that will cost us about 900 a month with all taxes and fees included.
The way rents are going, we landed exactly where we needed to land.
This week I will take the plane for the first time as well. I will fly for two days to New-Orleans for a book convention.
Years of work are coming together on this. I self-published out of college, managed to meet a few good people with that. Kept writing and putting out books, working the indy scene in Montreal until I won an Indy prize for a novel.
I stopped my instincts of self-publishing again and looked at the market. There were a few new publishing houses doing this completely differently than the “old” publishing system. I was lucky enough to know a guy who knew a guy and got onboard one of those publishing houses at they were on the rise. That was about two years ago.
The publishing house was Down and Out books and they’re turning five in a big way with releases every month and a Bouchercon anthology coming up with many of their authors on shortlists for awards.
I will go to Bouchercon this week thanks to them.
I am very grateful.
If you’ve read all of this, maybe you wonder what words of advice I could have. I wrote them a while ago in Northern Gothic, I believe :
“Pick a line, stick to it, don’t fuck up.”
Being Canadian also helps, seriously. (Nearly) Free education is a fucking bliss.
Here’s an interview I did with The Big Thrill – The Magazine of the International Thriller Writers. It came out yesterday.
Thank you to Terri Nolan for giving me so much of her time, do visit her website here : http://terrinolan.com/
The Interview was summarized here :