Monthly Archives: December 2012

Adventures on the eBook Frontier – Dispatch Eighteen

Hi all. First off, Merry Christmas. Whoops – Seasonal Greetings one and all.  Here I am, the computer Grinch, who is hard at blogging on the holiday.

Last week I got a fair bit of email indicating significant interest in how the movie business works from the writer’s end.

<And pssssssst. By the way, you can post remarks on the blog. Nothing bad will happen to you.

What initially stimulated the interest in Night Town was the heroine of the book.  Back Alley Films takes great pride in featuring women in their productions. In particular strong women, who find themselves in a pickle. The pickle is the hook I mentioned last week.

Now you’d think that since I’ve got the hook and the story has already been written, it would be relatively easy to adapt.

Wrongo bongo

The first challenge was length. My novel comes in at approximately 300 pages, meaning a goodly whack of the story line had to come out. I talked to the director, Adrienne Mitchell, and what intrigued her was the fact that the story unfolded in the dangerous, and largely unknown Toronto of the 1970s.

So the front half of the book vanished.

With that cut, came the challenge of referring to pivotal events that happened in the past, without resulting to icky cheesy flashbacks. In the movie and TV business, flashbacks are generally considered lazy writing. The odd one is okay, but they shouldn’t be a device you use regularly.

Since my young heroine, a teenage girl, becomes somewhat embroiled in the seventies drug scene, psychedelic trips worked quite nicely with taking the odd walk down memory lane. Logically they made sense. Nearly every kid coming of age in that decade tried something at least once.

Then came the BIG change. Night Town is meant to be a very broad portraiture of a family that stretches from the 1960s through to the mid seventies. Not to be hubristic, but I am a huge fan of Jonathan Franzen and John Irving. I wanted to write something broad like that, with lots of players and a big family.

Alas in the movie business, there is no market for that. What sells movies is genre. And in particular thrillers. To make a chilling thriller you need a terrifying antagonist. Adrienne and I decided on a peripheral character in the novel, and bump up him up to an out of control psycho devil. A murderous devil who takes a deadly interest in our heroine.

Once the broad strokes had been worked, Adrienne pulled out Back Alley’s big gun.

The story editor.

This is the person who can make or break a film. Think of the story editor as the chef and me as raw ingredients. I have all these tasty ingredients but not the knowledge to turn it into a gourmet meal. The story editor knows everything about how a story works and makes sure the characters remain consistent. That and a million other things from the macro to micro. The importance of a good story editor is invaluable.

I’m lucky enough to be working Marguerite Pigott, Toronto cultural bon vivant and one of busiest women on the planet.

Next week a bit more on the movie and a lot more on the book. If you’re got any questions, load up your keyboard and please fire way.






Adventures on the eBook Frontier – Dispatch Seventeen

Today I have some exciting news to share. I’ve got a movie deal.

“What?” you shriek.

“Yep,” I reply. “I’ve got an option with Back Alley Films to make a feature out of of Night Town.”

WOO HOO!!!!!

Back Alley is helmed by Adrienne Mitchell and Janis Lundman, two  Canadian female powerhouses who throw everything they’ve got into the TV shows they produce. Programs like the award winning and darker than ebony, psycho thriller “Durham County -”

And the terrific World War II period drama “Bomb Girls.”

But make no mistake, feature films are a different animal than TV. Getting a feature made depends on horse shoes up yer butt, talent and the arrival of money. Something of a miracle when it happens in Canada.

Here are  the steps I’ve been through so far. First the beat sheet. A beat sheet is an outline that should be written in very tight, highly precisioned prose. The purpose of the beat sheet is to follow all of the emotional and action beats of the main characters. They need to undulate and build, upping the stakes as the story progresses.

There also should be three plot lines.

The first plot line is the A, or main plot line. In “Night Town” it follows what happens to an adolescent girl when the unthinkable occurs and her life, which before this pivotal event was nearly ideal, is turned upside down and our girl ends up on a journey into hell.

Now you’d think that the journey into hell where she meets the devil is the A plot line. Nope. The A plot line is the relationship she has with her family which needs to be resolved, one way or another, for the story to end.

The devil is the B plot line. And the C plot line is….Hey I’m not going to tell you that because I want you to read the book. But suffice it to say, it’s terrific. Trust me.

There is also structuring the film. Most movies today follow 3 acts. There is a hook in the first act, usually near the beginning that starts the story and propels you into the first act – which usually run about 20 minutes.

This is a rule.

The second act, which is the longest in the movie, could run about 40 – 45 minutes, depending on the budget and the needs of the plot lines. And the third act, which wraps everything up,  should also come in around 20. You might fiddle with this number a tad, but these rules must be followed. Because if they’re not.

No movie.

“Night Town” can come in at no more than 90 minutes, because it costs so damned much money to make a feature film. Especially up here in Canada where the production costs are rarely recouped at the box office. Why is that you say?

We don’t have the big Yankee dollars for all the bells and whistles.

And we don’t have the same publicity machines hyping our product.

What a Canadian feature needs to get made is the love and the belief that you’ve got the best story in the world. You have to be 100 percent committed to it and be willing to sacrifice untold amount of time and aggro working for free.

It’s this passion that’s essential. And it’s this kind of passion that the director, Adrienne Mitchell, has got in spades. I know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to work with her and learn, no matter how it turns out.

More on the adventure of trying to get the movie off the ground while I simultaneously work with Iguana to get the book out the door, as well as forage for food!

Till next week

Crazy Woman Compelled by Need to Tell Stories



Adventures on the eBook Frontier – Dispatch Sixteen

I started writing Night Town about 7 years ago. Yeah I know, yikes! that’s a long time. That’s because I needed to eat, this is my first novel and I had a lot of mistakes to make and learning to do. Night Town is particularly important to me and I want it to be as good as I can possibly make it.

Why so important? Because like many other first time novelists, it is loosely based on autobiography. In particular, how my mother’s unexpected and untimely death impacted me when I was 13. That singular event has shaped my life and changed many others as well.

However I do not talk to their experience as I feel that would be an abhorrent thing to do. Is it popular these days? Yes. Is it right? To my mind no. Who am I to suppose another person’s thought process? Hence any and all other players are all purely fictional.

The novel completely ceases to be autobiographical when the heroine of the
book, Maddy, arrives in Toronto and like Dante’s Inferno, she is led down the rings of hell until she meets the devil.

Toronto was an amazing city to me back then, all of 15. I’d never experienced anything like it. Most citizens called it ‘Toronto the Good.’ Well, it wasn’t.  It was downright dangerous, but it was also exciting and remains largely unknown.

Ironically in the world of fiction (with the exception of Atwood’s early novels and In the Skin of the Lion by Ondaatje) Toronto has never really been featured. Never mind turned upside down to become a significant character.

Night Town aims to change that. It’s a document of a largely unknown city during the 1970s.

There were more sex clubs than nearly anywhere else in the world (now that porn has gone online Toronto is near the top in that as well.)

Drugs were a snap to attain. Yorkville, Rochdale and of course the corner of Yonge and Dundas were hotspots where you could peddle your wares or buy anything your heart desired.

On the heels of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, Toronto’s gay scene began boiling over. Until then, queers had congregated in strange rental spaces, out of the way spots, where the police couldn’t find them, arrest them and beat them. They were understandably afraid. The 1970s marks the beginning of the end of the fear and shame. The notion of being proud to be gay was gaining traction and we haven’t looked back since.

So Night Town is a love letter to my hometown, a city I’ve seen change so rapidly during my lifetime.

Over and out C




Adventures on the eBook Frontier – Dispatch Fifteen

Today I begin taking us back, in the hope that I can get you jazzed up about an era long gone by –  Toronto of the 1970s.

First stop, municipal politics. And in particular the man who came to be known as “the tiny, perfect mayor,” David Crombie.

“Crombie was elected to Toronto’s city council in 1970, and became Mayor of Toronto in 1972, ushering in an era of socially responsible urban development inspired by thinkers such as Jane Jacobs. Crombie was the first mayor who represented the reform movement of Toronto politics, and his policies differed sharply from those of the Old Guard who preceded him.

Much of Crombie’s time as mayor was spent trying to rein in the development industry. He initially imposed a 45 foot limit on all new constructions, but this was overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board. Crombie then put forward a new official plan that imposed varying height restrictions across the city, and this was upheld by the board.

(A very different story from today when it seems that the city can’t sell our sky space fast enough. Okay back to days of yore)

The Spadina Expressway had been halted by premier Bill Davis in 1971, but Davis continued to support the construction of the Allen Expressway in the north. Crombie attempted but failed to have it halted. He was more successful in countering plans for the Scarborough Expressway; all work was halted during Crombie’s term, leading to its eventual cancellation.

Crombie also opposed the traditional pattern of demolishing poorer neighbourhoods and replacing them by housing projects. The plans to redevelop areas such as Trefann CourtKensington Market, and Cabbagetown ended under Crombie. Instead, he oversaw the creation of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood, an area of mid-rise, mixed-use, mixed-income buildings that followed Jane Jacobs vision of urban planning.

Crombie was enormously popular as mayor, being re-elected in 1974 and 1976 with large majorities. 

Oh boy, thing have sure changed since then….

Back then the Prime Minister’s wife went clubbing at the El Mocambo with the Rolling Stones.

There was an experiment in alternative living for university students called Rochdale. Okay, so it did end up as likely the biggest party house in the world, run by bikers where you could buy any kind of dope your little heart desired. Maybe it failed on one level, but on another, it represented a time and a city where anything went and quite frequently did.

That my friends is the world of Night Town. Over the next month, I’ll dig into fashion, the music, the movies, and upload samples so you can really get an idea as to the sound and feel of Toronto 1970s style.

Got any memories of your own? Care to share? This is the place to do it. Who knows, one of your memories might find their way into the book as  a bit of contextual detailing.

Oh, and more thing, uber thanks to wikipedia for the great slice of David Crombie history that you so kindly allowed me to cut and paste.  🙂

Have a good week…..C