August 5, 2014

"Derry Daring Rides" in The Loose Canon

My short story "Derry Daring Rides" can be read in The Loose Canon, an online journal from Montreal. Zsolt Alapi, co-editor of Siren Song Publishing, knew my writing through Black Bile Press in Ottawa and asked if I could send a couple stories his way. I thought "Derry" would be a good fit for The Loose Canon, and so did he!

Evel Kneivel vs. Derry Daring 

"Derry Daring Rides" excerpt:

My glorious minions. Fred says. I know you’ve been waiting to hear me unveil my sentimental favourite. I loved Steve Austin too, Dougie, and Lee Majors did a bang-up job on TV, but for me, nothing beat the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle Stadium.

I sit and turn up the volume.

That’s right, folks. Evel—that long-forgotten genius of daredevil. A man who wasn’t afraid to face his fears. A man driving a legacy. A man who lingers in the minds of men everywhere. Evel and his awesome stars and stripes motorcycle came with a ramp, launch pad, and fold-out stadium stands. That sucker went a mile! Okay, maybe not a mile but at least ten feet. And the sky-hook, don’t get me started on the sky-hook! That was his coup de grĂ¢ce...

...It’s Angie on the line, Fred says. Okay Angie, let it ride. What was your ultimate toy?
“Derry Daring,” I say. “She was to Evel Knievel who Pinky Tuscadero was to The Fonz.”­­­ 

I like the cut of your jib, young lady. Tell us more.

"Derry Daring Rides" went through many incarnations and is part of my first collection, Men and the Drink. This story was inspired by Evel Kneivel, the 1970s toy Derry Daring and my favourite Toronto dive bar from days gone by, The Duke of Connaught.

Dive Bars: 10 Quintessential Quirks

Other stories you can read online...

"Thank You for Disappearing" in PANK
"Little Hawk" in Little Fiction
"Rivals" in Joyland
"The Promise of Puppies" in Dragnet Magazine
"Hybrid Love" in Lies With Occasional Truth

July 23, 2014

Harry Crews On Writing

Excerpts from Getting Naked with Harry Crews

"If you're gonna write, for God in heaven's sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you've been told. Sometimes the lies were told you by people who meant you well, and who meant the very best for you. Your mama might have. I know my mama told me some of them great lies. She didn't mean it. She didn't think they were lies. She didn't think they were lies then, don't think they're lies now. I know in fact they're lies. Don't make her bad, it's just the way we are. But if you're gonna write fiction, you have to get right on down to it."

"If you're writing a thing honestly, there are plans you can make, there are outlines you can make, there are notes that you can make to yourself about your intentions. All of those things invariably change. They are reshaped and rethought. Writing is a very, very messy business."

"Conception is pristine and pure and has all manner of hope in it, but between conception and execution, something gets lost. I'm sorry, bud, don't let anybody shit you, there's a big gap there. There's always going to be a big gap there, and you can drink yourself to death over it or you can shoot yourself in the head over it or you can be an asshole to your family about it. There's a lot of ways you can handle it, and everybody, every man and woman, comes to their peace with that however they do. I got no advice here, everybody works it out for him or her self."

"As soon as something pleasant and cheerful and confectionery occurs to me, I'll write about it; but I can only write about whatever comes. And what has come thus far has been a kind of blackness."

"When I start writing, I say to God, 'God, give me five hundred words. I don't want to be greedy, although I am at times a very greedy person; but I'm not greedy today. Give me five hundred words and I'll be satisfied. I don't want to know the whole rest of the book. All I want to know is the next five hundred words. Thank you. Amen.' And then, do it. Five hundred words, after all isn't much. If you double-space and you've got good margins so you can make notes to yourself, you're only writing two hundred and fifty words a page. That's two pages. Now that's going to sound very mechanical, very arbitrary, but that's the way I do it. That's the way I think. Many times those two pages go somewhere else, usually the trash basket or furnace. Andrew Lytle used to say, 'Fire is a great refiner.' And it is."

"I'd give you this: that to be a fiction writer means you spend most of your time thinking about, meditating upon, trying to dissect and understand just those aspects of the human animal that other human beings try their damnedest never to think about."

"Being a fiction writer is a good way to go crazy, it's a good way to be a nervous wreck, it's a good way to become a drunk. You continually pick at yourself, the little sores that you have. They scab over and you pick them open again. Other people not only let them scab over, they let them scar over. They leave it alone. Writers don't do that. They can't keep their fingers out of the sore. They've got to keep it bleeding. And it's off that blood that they make their stuff."

"And my mother to this very day does not understand why somebody would give you good money for something that was made up. As John Updike said when he accepted the National Book Award, 'Fiction is a tissue of lies that's truer than anything that ever happened.' Yeah, the nuts and bolts in there may not be the truth, but the truth of the heart, again, those great abstract nouns, 'hope' and 'despair' and 'love' and 'ambition,' and all the rest of it. Those are the only things that are worth considering anyway, aren't they?"

"Talent helps. Listen, get all the talent you can. But writing is guts and it's courage. You cannot have a failure of courage. Everybody in the world is telling you you're no good, and you can't do it, and it's not going to work. You've got to keep talking to yourself, say, 'Come on, son. Come on..."

"I know writers are very fond of saying that they're not in their own books: 'Don't look for me in my book, I'm not in here anywhere.' Well, they probably are not in there in full form. But their prejudices, their sentiments, their biases, their angle of vision on the world - to say that's not in the book is bullshit and they know it. 'Don't confuse me on some kind of one-to-one basis with somebody inside the book.' This is particularly true if they're writing a first-person novel. Readers are often inclined to confuse the voice, that 'I,' with the person that's writing it, but that's a distinction that writers insist upon, and I think rightly so. I know I sure as hell do."

"You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That's what I've discovered about writing. The world doesn't want you to do a damn thing. If you wait till you got time to write a novel or time to write a story or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read - if you wait for the time, you'll never do it. 'Cause there ain't no time; world don't want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week."

"I can't understand anybody who tells me that they enjoy writing, that it's fun. Frankly, I don't believe them. It's certainly never been fun for me. What is a real rush, for me, is after you've done it, before you even sent it to New York, and that's it. I know this is strange, but when you look at it, and you think, 'Before me, this was not. Because of me, this is.' Now that's a rush."

Harry Crews (1935-2012) was an American novelist, playwright, short story writer, and essayist.

The Dirt Worker's Journal: Jason E. Hodges talks to Harry Crews

May 29, 2014

Peter McArthur: History Under the Trees

Peter McArthur 1866 - 1924

History Under the Trees
Peter McArthur: The house, the life, the writings
July 5, 2014, 1:00pm
Doon Heritage Village / Waterloo Region Museum
10 Huron Road, Kitchener, Ontario

Waterloo Historical Society’s History Under the Trees will remember my great grandfather Peter McArthur. The once-famous author’s birth cabin (and also where he lived for the final two decades of his life) has been a prominent part of the village streetscape at Doon Heritage Village in Kitchener. WHS has invited Professor Adam Crerar of Wilfrid Laurier University to help us rediscover McArthur’s life and writings.

McArthurs gather for History Under the Trees

"From 1909 until his death in 1924, Peter McArthur became one of Canada's most popular writers by describing life on his Middlesex County farm in articles for the Toronto Globe and the Farmer's Advocate of London, Ontario. That he was able to appeal to both rural and urban readers is interesting in two respects: it suggests that the lines between the country and the city were considerably more amorophous than contemporary rhetoric has suggested, and it provides an example of anti-modernist writing that gave as much pleasure to the "folk" as it did to the urban middle-class."
-"Writing Across the Rural-Urban Divide: The Case of Peter McArthur, 1909-24" by Adam Crerar, Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 2007

Peter McArthur's family home, constructed c. 1835 in Ekfrid Township and donated to Doon Heritage Crossroads in 1962.

May 7, 2014

Big Rig Adventure

Big Rig Route: 10,402 km / 6,459 miles

Toronto, ON → Milton, ON → Sarnia, ON 
361 km

I love road trips but without a driver's licence, it's rare to find myself a passenger. A friend, who has been driving a tractor trailer for twenty-eight years, invited me to ride along on one of his runs (April 9 - 21). He picked me up in Toronto and we drove to the trucking yard in Milton, where we grabbed his sleeper cab and bobtailed to Molson Canada for a trailer full of beer to haul to Kent, Washington. After we would drive down through California to pick up produce to transport back to Toronto. Truckers refer to this route as "runnin' the triangle." We hit the trail at 7pm and hitched it to the post in Sarnia. 

Dedicated Truck 521

42,000 lbs of Labbat's Blue

DAY 2 
Sarnia, ON → Walcott, IA
813 km

We crossed the border and headed west across Michigan, stopping in Battle Creek for kibbles 'n' bits. After driving through Indiana and Illinois, we stopped at the Iowa 80 in Walcott. It's the largest truckstop in the world, hosting the annual Trucker's Jamboree with truck beauty contests, live music, cook-outs, and fireworks. They sell everything you need to pimp out your truck and also have a barbershop, massage clinic, dentist, and mini movie theatre. Most truckstops are now called travel centres and cater to all motorists, as before they only made money off truckers for fuel and parts.

Iowa 80: World's Largest Truckstop

Walcott, IA → Rapid City, SD
1260 km

We tried sleeping with the heat off last night, so it wouldn't be so noisy but woke up freezing at 5am. Oops! The contrast between the blue skies and yellow fields of Iowa, heading west on I-80, was beautiful. We stopped in Des Moines for our first showers of the trip. Truckers get free showers with their rewards card, collecting points through purchasing fuel. I broke out the flip flops as we crossed into South Dakota on I-29, and later... tried a little driving! The heat was back on for our sleepover in Rapid City.

Atlantic, Iowa

Mitchell, South Dakota

Chamberlain, South Dakota

Rapid City, SD → Belgrade, MT
904 km

After a breakfast buffet in Rapid City, we left South Dakota on Highway 212, kitty-cornered Wyoming, and then started across Montana. This state is so vast, and I was impressed by its ever changing landscape and climate. I love mountains! The cows were all lying down in the fields... they know their weather! We hit rain, then heavy snow from Livingston to Bozeman, but things cleared up at Belgrade where we stopped for the night. 

Spearfish, South Dakota

Highway 212, Montana

Big Timber, Montana

Belgrade, MT → Ellensburg, WA
904 km

We drove through Butte, birthplace of Evel Knievel, and then stopped for the best breakfast at River City Grill in Missoula before leaving Montana. After passing through the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, we parked for showers in Post Falls. Into Washington, there were expansive farmlands one after the other, before we crossed the beautiful Columbia River at sunset. We hitched it to the post in Ellensburg, with a plan to deliver the next morning. 

Butte, Montana

Montana Idaho Border

Ritzville, Washington

Columbia River, Washington

Ellensburg, WA → Kent, WA
170 km

It was only a two-hour drive from Ellensburg to our delivery site in Kent, but alas, we were not able to unload until the following day. This was a good time to take the mandatory 36-hour reset. We spent the day and night in the distribution parking lot and made do with vending machine goodies. While my driver napped, I traipsed around a grassy field, watched planes come and go from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and made friends with a lone Canada Goose.

Ellensburg, Washington

Cle Elum, Washington

Kent, Washington

Kent, WA → Medford, OR
694 km

We unloaded the beer at 9am and were on the road again at 10. Tumwater was our first stop along I-5 for kibbles and showers. From there we faxed ahead for an Oregon trucking permit. Most companies pay annual state fees, but not if they don't pass through often. In Portland, we hit rush hour passing over the pretty Willamette River and then continued south through lush farmlands (grass smells good!) with sheep, sheep, and more sheep. We slept in Medford, our last stop before California.

Portland, Oregon

Salem, Oregon

Medford, OR → Lodi, CA
553 km

My driver and I had a morning routine: he filled out his log book while I tidied our "little house on wheels". California is rolling hills and mountains... and warm! After a long winter in Toronto, that still wasn't over, it was great to wear a dress and sandals! We drove down the I-5, passing breathtaking Mount Shasta and true blue Lake Shasta before stopping in Corning, where we ate breakfast and got the truck washed. We continued down to Lodi and parked 521, renting a room for the night. A real bed was nice, but I did miss being in the truck, the noise and vibrations - everything!

Weed, California

Mount Shasta in Shasta National Forest, California

Shasta Lake in Mountain Gate, California

Lodi, CA → Salinas, CA → Bakersfield, CA
572 km

We drove west towards the coast to Salinas for pickup. Five hours and three stops later, we had 34,000 lbs of baby spinach, kale, red and green leaf lettuce, romaine, and celery loaded and ready to transport back to Canada. Reefer on... ready to roll. Heading down Highway 101, we stopped in King City for kibbles and did our first bit of night driving until we retired in Bakersfield. Although my driver often travels at night, he planned for very little on this trip, so I wouldn't miss anything!

Hollister, California

Salinas, California

Salinas, California

DAY 10
Bakersfield, CA → Fillmore, UT
904 km

I loved this last leg of California, with its rolling hills, Joshua trees, wind turbines, trains, and desert landscape. At Barstow, we hopped on the I-15 to travel up to Primm, Nevada for lunch and a wee bit of gambling before running parallel to the Vegas Strip. We were only in Arizona for half an hour, but the Virgin Mountains were a trip highlight! We drove through much of Utah in the dark before parking in Fillmore for the night. I would wait until the next day to see this state.  

Bakersfield, California

Tehachapi, California

Virgin Mountains, Arizona

I-15 through Virgin Mountains

Virgin River, Arizona

Virgin Mountains and Virgin River, Arizona

DAY 11
Fillmore, UT → Big Springs, NE
1140 km

We stopped in Nephi for breakfast before driving past the gorgeous Tintic Mountains in Provo and the Wasatch Range in Park City. On the way out west, we only travelled the northeast corner of Wyoming... now we would cross the entire state. In Evanston, we saw our one and only trailer rollover, likely caused by the driver falling asleep. The Green River Twin Tunnel was also a trip highlight, with my driver pulling his horn going through. After a quick stop in Rawlins for showers, we left Utah and drove into Nebraska under bright stars and lightning in the distance where we hitched it to the post in Big Springs.

Provo, Utah

Evanston, Wyoming

Green River, Wyoming

DAY 12
Big Springs, NE → Walcott, IA
1020 km

The end of the trip was near... so I soaked up all the warmth and beauty of Nebraska. We stopped in Wood River for our last fill-up of diesel, and then Grand Island for kibbles. The state was very dry, with most of its creeks and rivers dried up. A few drops of rain threatened, but it didn't really come down until we hit Lincoln. In Walcott, we had come full circle and parked again for the night at the Iowa 80 Truckstop.

Big Springs, Nebraska

North Platte, Nebraska

Wood River, Nebraska

Wood River, Nebraska

DAY 13
Walcott, IA → Milton, ON → Toronto, ON
1102 km

Our last day of driving... was travelled mostly in silence. After declaring a few trinkets at the border, we made it back to the trucking yard in Milton around midnight and unhitched the trailer to be taken by a city driver to Cambridge. My driver filled out his paper work while I packed up our belongings. The trip went faster than I could have ever imagined, but I've been invited to tag along again. I feel perfectly suited to the trucking lifestyle, everything that is, except the driving!

Blue River Bridge between Port Huron, Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario

Follow the Big Rig Travels blog to road trip across America with Big Rig Steve!