In a trend befitting an age of diminished attention spans, publishers are beginning to invest in the notion that good things sometimes come in small packages. For years, most of the books found in any large bookstore have been restricted to one of three formats: book rack-sized mass-market paperbacks; larger, more expsmallbooksensive trade paperbacks; and hardcovers. But a mini-revolution in miniature books has challenged the dominance of these categories, as publishers have flooded the market with books that are shorter, slimmer and cheaper.

“Small things have always had a fascination for people,” says Penguin editor in chief Katheryn Court. In 1995, the Penguin 60’s–a line of novellas, short stories, essays and poems by authors ranging from Dorothy Parker to Dostoyevsky–racked up international sales of more …

Know how to make your script memorable? The answer may surprise you.

ultraviolentI use soap operas as the ultimate example of bad screenwriting. Why? Because in a soap opera a character named Tiffany will say, “I am so furious at Todd. I’m going to go over there and give him a piece of my mind!” Cut to Todd’s. The doorbell rings, Todd answers it and, guess what? That’s right. It’s Tiffany. And, that’s tight, she comes in and yells at Todd.

There are no surprises in soaps. In fact, the events that do occur do so after months of painstakingly unsuspenseful buildup. When the Writers Guild goes on strike, the soaps are the only series that aren’t affected much. Actors have told me how the fans come in and write the scripts during the strike, the actors improvise a bit, and no one complains about loss of quality. Because there are no surprises. The fans know what’s going to happen as well as the writers themselves.

“It’s maddening, what some writers do when it comes to wasting opportunities for surprise,” says Lisa Fonti, screenwriter and part time webmaster for “I watch so many films that could have written things with so much more craftiness, and yet, they don’t.”

The best practice for us, as writers, is, as Lisa says, to surprise the audience. It is the magic of sleight of hand. It is why Pulp Fiction was such a hit. It gave us setups that we have seen many times and made us expect certain events to follow others, and then took wildly unpredictable left turns. Pulp Fiction is raunchy and raw and ultra-violent, too much for many viewers. But looking beyond that to the story, Read more about Clear Originality Makes Your Script Pop »

writefordollarsThe last time I took a vacation, I ended up at the Santa Fe, New Mexico Police Department after spending time in a hospital emergency room. I spent another pleasure trip checking out hookers holding up lampposts on one of Washington, DC’s many traffic circles. These weren’t your typical family outings. They were writer’s vacations.

The downside of a writer’s vacation is convincing those vacationing with you that they’re having fun. My experience has been that traveling companions can be less than enthusiastic (way less) about touring hospital emergency rooms, interviewing cops and otherwise veering off the tourist track for the sake of research.

Not to worry. With proper preparation, you can have your vacation and eat the fruits of a bountiful research trip, too.


removalcreamsHave you ever looked in the mirror only to see a little piece of skin peeking out in the folds of your neck? Or maybe you went to shave your armpits in the shower only to find out you razed off more than just hair? Skin tags are a very common and natural occurrence. A single person can have anywhere between one to one hundred skin tags on their body at any given time. They like to make camp in areas of the body like the armpits, groin area, folds in the neck or under breasts. They are very commonly found on newborns and the elderly and they don’t discriminate. They tend not to grow larger than 3mm across and can be removed with a variety …

dontwriteStraight talk from a bestselling novelist: If you’re still saying you don’t have the time to write, maybe it’s time to decide if you really want to.

Someday when I have the time, I’ll write a book.”

I hear that phrase often. At writers’ workshops it is intoned wistfully by silver-haired ladies whose children are the age of my husband. These women assure me they are so busy that there is simply no time to write, though they want to, of course–more than anything else in the world.

Professors of my acquaintance plead a lack of writing time with annoyance in their voices, as if the faculty senate meetings and those term papers to grade were all that had prevented them from writing Cold Mountain, achieving …

mernaidhotelMy muse stood me up at the Mermaid Hotel.

It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know I was coming to Wales. She didn’t know I’d confused her with Dylan Thomas.

Poet and playwright, drunkard and delinquent, Dylan Thomas is my favorite writer. So when my writing died, I went to Wales to retrace his life. I was convinced Thomas’s ghost (with some anatomical editing) was my muse.

Off I went, from Los Angeles to London to Cardiff to a seaside town called The Mumbles. I thought I’d find my muse in Dylan’s Cafe Bar in the Mermaid Hotel.

There it was, the destination of my dreams … burned out and boarded up. I stood there and stared, waiting for my muse to fling open the …

rejedmontonDuring the day, the south-side Edmonton neighbourhood of Whyte Avenue’s knick-knack stores, cafes and upscale restaurants are populated with young families, students, seniors and other shoppers. When festivals come to town, the artsy Whyte is often a locus of activity; pot-smoking protesters and pro-gay marchers favour it. But at night, the street’s many bars turn loose a flood of drunken ravers, frat boys and bikers. That is why the Whyte Avenue Land Use Planning Study, to be presented to city council December 15, will inject a larger state presence into the street’s class-transcending social mix.

The two-year study is the product of consultations among the merchants and residents who belong to the Old Strathcona Area Community Council. OSACC’s recommendations include increasing the number of police officers …

likeitcbEven though cities are getting steadily bigger, they are also becoming more chaotic, untrusting and ungovernable. Formation of the stabilizing cultural values upon which societies depend has been passed by default to the smaller centres and rural areas. No longer are these dismissed as backward, ignorant and uncouth. Small communities have become our last line of defence against cultural collapse.

To which all us country-dwellers can only say Amen. We have been aware of Mr. Spengler’s insight for a long time. If urbanites are becoming aware of it too, that’s a step forward.

The most striking thing about city life to us hicks is how anonymous it is. You can live your whole life without anyone knowing or caring who you are or what you do. …

misicaltacaI learned to sing by singing often–that’s all, I sing in the shower all the time, and I sang with my favourite records and stuff. It’s just like your voice is a muscle, there are muscles in there and they just get stronger over time. You can sort of hone it, and perfect the little movements that you have to make so it doesn’t hurt you or you have more stamina. I think it just takes time and singing a lot.

Did you ever take singing lessons?

[A very coy] Nope.

Do you have a particular writing process for your vocal lines, or songs in general? Do you start with lyrics or a piano line?

Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other. I don’t really pay …

horenddWhen the Alberta government helped build the hazardous waste treatment plant at Swan Hills a decade ago, taxpayers were told the facility would help protect the environment from toxic waste. But a university professor and some residents of Swan Hills, 115 miles northwest of Edmonton, claim the leaky plant is doing the opposite. The owner, Bovar Inc., is defending itself against alarming reports that toxic chemical leaks are endangering wildlife and residents who live near the plant. So far, the province’s $441-million investment in the plant has produced only a nominal financial return, and critics say that if further tests show the plant is a health threat, it could be shut down altogether, leaving taxpayers on the hook to clean up the mess.

To date, there …