Saturday, 29 October 2011

McLuhan’s World, Indeed

Much has been sung about the man, who would have been 100 years old this year. His theories have been lauded, bandied about, criticized and dissected.

But in the end, Marshall McLuhan was right: “The medium is the message.” There’s no denying it, for even as I write this, I’m taking part in his theories. And yes, we are a “global village,” and one that is getting smaller by the year, thanks to media technology.

McLuhan predicted an entity like the Web, that all-encompassing, overpowering means of communication and information that forms our everyday life – from work to education and business. The proof is before us, on our phones and our computer screens. It is amorphous and unseen; it is cyberspace, the information superhighway, virtual reality.

McLuhan’s ideas really hit home this week as I started a new media job. I’ve known for years McLuhan was right, but the past few years have seen staggering advances in how we communicate and produce information. I can sit in a Hamilton, Ont. newsroom, in front of a computer, and edit and write headlines for a newspaper that is two thousand miles away. It’s just how things are done now.

The production of hundreds of newspapers across North America has been outsourced to centres such as this, where designers and editors put the flesh on the bones on a newspaper. No longer do you have to sit in a city's newsroom to do the job. It’s all part of the Information Revolution, which is taking us, whether we want it or not, to even higher levels of communication.

Is it bad? As someone who started out in the newspaper business when hot type was still around, I’d say no. I’m no sentimentalist. I think progress is good. Change is good. The transformation of the media world the last twenty years has been fabulous, innovative and creative.

Most importantly? The message – and the global village - is alive and kicking.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Vancouver International Writers Festival

Just finished my final event at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. A brunch with a bunch of great writers, Canadian and Australian. The four days were great but it was so action packed that I haven't had time to post anything. I really don't have time now but will do more when I get back home.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

So Shoot Me

Over on the Crime Writers of Canada National Crime Writing Blog we're writing on the theme of how killing people on paper isn't as easy as it seems. Blame it on CSI, but the average reader is much more savvy about things like blood spatter and gunshot residue. That means if you use these technical terms, you better use them properly.

I ran into a problem when I was using - that is, misusing - prescription drugs. Sure, most people won't know that it's hard to kill someone quickly with drug overdoses. Then a nurse will read your ms and tell you it doesn't work that way. Fortunately the nurse is a friend and she happened to have her outdated copies of her drug bibles. 

Some authors get around the technicalities by letting the cops work it out while their amateur sleuth puzzles out the motives. Others, myself included, do a lot of research. If we're lucky and tenacious, we make friends in the right places. I pick the brains of my friends, my friends' friends and people on the street if I over hear an irresistible tidbit of information. My children pretend they don’t know me, then laugh at me later.

Currently I have an almost pathological need to ask police officers questions. You can always tell when a cop walks into a coffee shop where I'm writing. My eyes light up. I take in visual details and look for an opening to glean a bit more knowledge.

So shoot me.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

That Special Scene

A famous screenwriter and director is quoted in John Brady’s The Craft of the Screenwriter saying that at heart of any movie is a single scene, a scene that is the reason for the whole story. Maybe I watch too many movies but still…do you have a favourite novel? A book where the climax is that one revealing, crucial scene, a scene that resonates, reverberates with the author’s intent? Scenes without which there is no story, no meaning, no reason to read any further? What are they? What makes them compelling? I think it was Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, who said the above but it may have been Robert Towne who wrote Chinatown. Anyway, screenwriters have to reveal character, push the plot forward with very spare dialogue. Not much back-story allowed. As I drive to the finale of my current novel I find myself almost longing for the discipline of screenwriting some days. I must be looking for that extra special scene.