*I’ve been listening to a LOT of 90’s-00’S Hip-Hop for my “Montreal” project so this kind of poem flow and rhymes at a MUCH faster pace than my usual stuff. It’s different and somehow feels like my 20’s are relevant again. I like it. So there!
Cutting Corners in the Metro
Dodging and ducking keeps my mind going, mind-blowing moment of creation and the noise in my headphones adding to the pressure on my temples creates a temple of noisy noiselessness no less the beats and mcess frees my mind, sheltering me from the sea of trains spitting out endless rows of endless crowds and I navigate the flow of people like traffic cones slow moving in my face well below my pace. I understand now what it means to be a writer, to be a witness. I’m in needing of the city and I’m in needing of the stress. committing to the page and I’m stuck, couldn’t do it without fifty thousand motherfuckers fighting for my spot.
And I swift through the place aiming for a space to land, a square foot piece of concrete free for me to stand in and wait and, wait and wait and write the whole scene feeling no need to withhold the weapon of the word, Invent new worlds, take a deep breath and feel the pressure on my chest every time every line, looking for the entire world in the insides of a narrow rhyme or a flawed statement about the status of men and the fingers are my pens, fuck the clock, the electronic piece can’t keep up with what I’ve got.
Then the next train come in and I cant help but see my suicide, every time, every night, eighteen years ago but it’s still on my mind, the double head lights in the tunnel still printed on my mind. No way around it, no way to forget the single step too many so easy to take and the wind slapping me on my face so fucking close to death. But I didn’t die I managed to fly by and escape the corner of my mind that would have let me fall and die. Got my heart racing and it hasn’t stopped since. Chose this life that chose me and I stuck with it.
Short on sleep
Short on food
Low on fuel
Money is few and far between
But the words keep coming and I’m committing to the page.No end to the flow and no end to the need to spit them at your face, hour after hour ain’t nothing I can do about my case so I push on the volume, beats are relentless, going loud and pushing it louder, blowing off my ears till you’re all drowned out. Fuck the World, screw the herd, but I need the contradiction of the crowd and the artist as a man. No need to travel when you living inside your head the world never ceases to amaze when you’re free to shape it, feel it, free it, commit to it. I need to be my own thing, something somewhere anywhere or simply just right here.
The train is my kingdom and you are all my subjects. Figuring it out every now and then. The train is my kingdom and you’re all my subjects. Yeah, the train is my kingdom. It hasn’t killed me yet.
Écrire Montreal c’est tough en criss. La langue a switch tout le temps. It’s even worse in Frenglish and the only way I can explain it is that if an Idea (a thought, a concept) feels better explained in French, then we’ll switch to French, if it’s better explained in English, then we’ll switch to English.
Mais le Franglais reste une “langue” parlée. On switche naturellement d’une langue à l’autre au fil des pauses dans la discussion. C’est un peu plus compliqué côté écriture.
When exactly do you switch?
It’s really hard to understand such a “young” language. Because it is THAT… a YOUNG LANGUAGE. Still.
Ces temps-ci, j’essaye d’écrire une nouvelle litéraire appelée “Montréal” ces temps-ci et c’est difficile sur papier mais une fois de temps en temps je nail une scene comme la suivante où je suis vraiment content. Alors voilà!
I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Excerpt from MONTREAL :
“Ah ben criss,” he heard and it snapped him out of his thoughts. It was his father walking back home with a Canadian Tire bag in his hands.
“Heille! S’t’une osti de belle surprise ça le grand. Comment ça va?”
“Hey dad, what’s up.”
“Ah! Parle donc en Français un peu.”
Eli wasn’t about to do that even if he couldn’t really tell why anymore so he just said, “We’ll see.”
“Ça fait tu longtemps que t’attends? Qu’est-ce tu fais ici. T’a tu faim, quelque chose?”
“What’s up with the car?”
“Forget the car, let’s get inside.”
But Eli didn’t exactly feel like going in, so he tossed his dad a bone instead by speaking French and said, “Assis-toi.”
“Pourquoi pas,” he replied and the accent was thick.
“Heille, Tu parles vraiment comme un Anglo asteure.” his dad replied.
It was almost enough for him to up and leave but he didn’t. “My mother’s an Anglo,” he replied instead and that was the truth. “Assis-toi.”
“Alright, alright! Ok!”
“What’s in the bag?”
“Une coupe de cossins pour le char.”
“So the car is fucked.”
“Nothing I can’t fix.”
“Pis la job?”
“Bin’ d’la job?”
“Pas plus que d’habitude. On a une coupe de grosses commandes qui s’en viennent. Les chiffres sont bons.”
“Les comptes sont payés. Pis toi.”
“Meh! New day, Same bullshit,” he said, picking up a tiny piece of gravel from the porch and tossing it away. He didn’t know why he was here anymore. It felt heavy and awkward and shit. He just looked at a distance to nothing at all really.
“Les comptes se payent?” His dad asked.
“Un a fois.”
“Alright!” his dad replied. He didn’t know what to make of this neither. Ben! Tant mieux,” he tried but that didn’t stick. “Comment va ta mère?”
Eli wasn’t about to talk to his dad about his mom so maybe it was time to cut to the chase.
“I got offered a contract.”
“A contract? Doing what.”
“I sold a painting.”
“Pour vrai?” his dad replied, sincerely excited about the news. “Combiens?”
“Enough,” Eli said. “A lot,” he admitted. “It’s a pretty good paycheck.”
“Mais t’a pas l’air convaincu.”
“I don’t like the guy?”
“Rich idiot playing art collector.”
“T’aime pas le gars fait que tu prendras pas son cash?”
“Osti que t’est con,” his dad laughed, calling him an idiot. Eli almost said ‘what?’ but his dad laughed out loud. “Osti t’est vraiment con. Tu fait quoi dans vie, Elliott?”
“Exactement! Exaaaactement que je’l sais,” his dad continued he was in a really good mood. The kind of fuck the world mood you couldn’t fake unless you had been poor and working class all your life. “Laisse moi t’dire queck’ chose. Tu sais quoi, le char, là? l’osti de char! Tu sais qu’est’ qu’y’a le char?”
“Non,” Eli replied. But he liked it. He needed to get his head slapped right now and his dad was doing just that metaphorically speaking of course, but a good slap just the same.
“Tsé, le p’tit bras qui tiens sur les bornes de la batterie? Ben’ le p’tit bras est loose. La vis a serre pus’ fait que quand j’pogne une bosse, le p’tit anneau y pop’ pis’ ma batterie à marche pus. C’est niaiseux en criss, hein. Pis tu sais quoi, ca coute 70$ changer le p’tit criss de bras mais J’ai pas 70$ dans le compte drette là pour le changer fait que tu sais quoi? j’ai marché jusqu’a Canadian Tire me trouver un boutte de tuyaux de copp’, pis j’ma le squeezer entre l’anneau pis la borne pour que la vis a serre dessus.”
“Faut etre pauvre pis fatigué en tabarnak pour avoir a faire ca, Eli. How much is he giving you for your painting?”
“QUATRE MILLE PIASSES?” his dad shouted. “Eli, Tabarnak!”
“Please tell me you’ll take the money.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Elliott!” he insisted.
“It’s the only answer I can give you now, dad.”
A letter to my 20’s.
So, you’ve got guts and you’ve got a drive that no one in the world but you can understand. You have found your voice and wrote about what you knew then wrote about what you didn’t know shit about and then wrote some more and then again.
Amazing! Congratulations. You’re on the fast track to take over the literary world and shake things up, smash the walls, to hell with conventions and all hail the great (Canadian) writer.
Now that was cute, it is. The right word is…cute. So let me give you some advice while I can.
Because I’m 35 now and, well, here are three truths you could have learned at an earlier age and save yourself some pain of learning them later and then admitting to yourself in a very public post just how wrong you were back in the days.
You will need an editor.
You’re not that good. You’re not that bad either, but you’re definitely not that good. Sure you can fool yourself into thinking no one has ever written prose the way you handle it, and maybe you did find a voice that was sorta, kinda, maybe unique to you.
You still suck enough to need an editor. Not that you don’t write well, but there’s bullshit up in there, there’s filler and god forbid you EVER make a typo, right?
You will need an editor. Not just any editor, someone whom you respect and will call you on your crap. And you will send them your book thinking, “this is soooooo close to finished,” and when the manuscript will come back, you’re gonna want to quit the life altogether.
“That’s it,” you’ll think. “I’m done with this shit. Never again. Why did I bother in the first place?” You’ll mope around, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. Some of these pages weren’t as good as you thought they were.
And then you’ll get back to work, and maybe 90% of editorial comments will make it into your book, making it a much, much better book.
At one point you’ll learn to appreciate this process. You’ll do a lot more editing yourself and when you’re done with it, you’ll happily send it to someone you respect and tell them, “go ahead, massacre me.”
That’s how a book makes it from good to great (Thank BEN!)
You will follow the rules.
I know. I know. You’re still punk in your heart and following the rules is for suckers. But punk only really has three chords and maybe five songs when you really think about it, so what the fuck are you complaining about with rules.
So you will diligently use he said, she said. You will avoid adverbs at all costs and you will structure you writing.
Sure, that free verse poetry is fine and all. It’s cute. You’ll probably never write a Petrarchan Sonnet. But 90000 words don’t come so easy as some spur of the moment snowflake in a beautiful winter storm.
You want that shit to make sense, you better structure it. And guess what, people much smarter than you and much older than you already had figured it out hundreds of years before you walked this earth.
Of course the rebel in you will cringe at this, but let me tell you, and you’ll hate me for this, but the time you’re 35, you’ll be writing a five tome series where each book will be a cog in the Shakespearean five act tragedy structure (boring, right?) and each book is individually organized as a three act structure so that the reader will want to keep reading your shit. (Don’t worry you’ll still get to swear as much as you want.)
You will want a publishing deal.
Finally, you’re gonna want a publishing deal.
I know. You wrote against ANY PUBLISHING DEAL and about how the publishing industry was BULLSHIT and DEAD, so FUCKING DEAD. That was so very punk of you. You wrote that so many years ago in a VERY ANGRY post that managed to land on Huffington post that one time (so un-punk) but thankfully in French, and now every time you google yourself (you’ll do that too) it’s one of the first links up there and you just want to shoot yourself in the face. Or not.
This one’s not ENTIRELY black or white. One thing is for sure: don’t EVER sign a non-compete clause. Those are just bullshit and should belong to the past or a ditch somewhere north of Mont-Laurier.
You see, publishing houses are like people. Some are nice, some are assholes, indies can be both and majors, well, maybe. I don’t fucking know. But you’ve met great indies that offered super fair deals and shitty indies that could go fuck themselves and go bankrupt.
Still, YOU WILL WANT A PUBLISHING DEAL.
A nice one, from a good indie that cares about their writer and you’ve luckily met at least three of them in your short career, so keep hope.
Because you can’t do everything yourself. You really can’t. You’re terrible at selling your own shit. No one single person can properly handle the writing, the editing, the cover, the distribution, getting you to conventions or book fairs and handle publicity on your shit.
You’ll do a lot of that, don’t get me wrong, you’ll do a lot of everything. But you need help, especially you, my twenty-something me.
Besides, you’ll realize soon enough that even assholes aren’t always assholes. Work in this industry long enough, you’ll realize the margins are so thin and the risks are so great, it’s actually hard for anyone to make money in this business.
That’s it. For now at least.
Keep cursing like a sailor, some people actually seem to enjoy that.
Your mid 30’s self.
P.S. You will unknowingly fall asleep ten feet away from Harlan Coben on a mezzanine seat of the Orpheum theatre in New-Orleans during your very first convention because you couldn’t afford a second night in a hotel room. Tell you all about THAT some other time.
The feeling of failure, the will to quit, that shit doesn’t come from the act of writing.
The will to quit comes from the lack of basic need, food, shelter, rest…comes from the social need of “success” that is measured by the number of sales.
But none of that takes into account the notion of a successful writing session. My writing process comes in very intense outbursts of frantic writing. They come as single hours of insane typing where the entirety of the world doesn’t exist anymore. My favorite moments happen when I can’t even keep up with the words in my head. My hands can’t type fast enough, sometimes I even beat Word to it’s speed. The letters appear half a second after I typed them and a full second after they came up in my mind.
The best moments happen when I go blind on the screen and the words just come out. It’s an absolute mess to clean up but I did learn to maximize those creative outbursts in time. Making sense of the emotion, you can do that later when you mind is no longer on fire.
It’s very hard to fall into that one moment of absolute genius or madness. I think music and art is a better place for that mind frame than writing but it’s not impossible. If happens, every now and then, I manage to fall into that insane grove that only people like Trent Reznor seem to find all the time and the words come out. Weird shit comes out, very good shit comes out.
The problem with it is that more often than not, it can’t stand on its own. It’s just a piece of something that could be and nothing more. It’s a few pages at a time. I can go insane, frantic even, and shell out 1200 words in twenty minutes, that has happened. But those words won’t make any sense to anyone, maybe not even myself.
Because the mind frame I was in when I was writing so frantically only existed in that very singular moment. They can only be a collection of momentary lapses of reason.
I mean. You play a riff or you play an entire song… it may last 3 minutes. If you’re Neurosis, it will last 8 or 10 or maybe more, sometimes. That song has a few parts, 3, sometimes 4, rarely 5 or more. They repeat themselves and add on to each other and I love music. Music is absolutely necessary to the “emotion” of writing. But the writing itself doesn’t really work as répétitions of 3 or 4 or maybe 5 parts…
An album is twelve songs, an art expo is a handful of artworks and each and every one of them is perfectly valid, but a novel is a marathon, not sprint.
A novel means locking down all the feelings, the need to rest and the will to stop. A novel means writing when your body is ready to quit. It means to keep going, one line at a time, the way you count your meters at the end of a long race you’re just fucking done with.
It’s not about losing your mind onstage and feeling the single riff through your fingers like the world depended on it. Writing is a slow game and it’s strange to think of it that way, but it’s true.
It’s very, very hard to make something out of a hundred little moments of madness. Poetry works like that, songs work like that. You can put all the insanity of the universe in a few short pages, sometimes a few short words. I still think some of my best work comes in those short bursts, but the need to write novels is still there.
So you take those moments of absolute genius and you make a story out of it. I mean, A novel is 70 000 words, 80 000 words, 90 000 words. It’s ridiculous to write a novel, what an insane enterprise. Why do that at all?
I just need to do it. After all this time, the need is still there. I fucking hate it sometimes, but it’s still there.
And of course you could say “you just need to add up all those moments of pure genius/insanity. JUST those moment,” and that would make a standalone novel or story or anything else. That would be a beautiful thing and I think I’ll get there one day. I hope I make it there one day. It’s the kind of thing that can keep me up at night. CAN I WRITE A BOOK LIKE THAT?
So far I only think Burroughs has managed to do it with Naked Lunch and he probably lost his mind right there and then.
It’s getting harder for me not to go there though. I’ll admit to that. This kind of FRANTIC writing is kind of calling me. It’s a bit obsessive when I think about it. The simple act of writing is not enough anymore. I’ve filled pages and novels and it’s all fun and good, but the need to create something more than myself is still there.
I was good at hard realism and I’m still good at hard realism. But I still have this need to break all the rules again. I haven’t done that in so long, I think I’m ready for it.
I don’t know if it’ll be successful. I don’t really know at all.
Feels like this one’s out of my hands for once.
“We’ll see in a year,” I keep telling myself. “We’ll see in a year.”
The list of attendees for Bouchercon 2017 is up. (http://bouchercon2017.com/attendees/)
The Schedule is also starting to shape up. I know I’ll be there from Friday PM to Sunday and will keep you posted on developments as soon as I get any.
See you there and take care,
*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.