Archive for July, 2010

Kevin Frayer

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Kudos for Canadian photojournalist Kevin Frayer appear on the NYT Lens blog:

Seven months ago, Santiago Lyon, the director of photography at The Associated Press, described Kevin Frayer as a game changer, meaning that “within hours of his arrival on any major story, his photos jump off the screen and immediately give us a competitive edge.” You have only to look at Slide 1 to know that Mr. Frayer is back in Afghanistan.

I think that recognition is well deserved. I first noticed Frayer back in May, 2000, when he was covering the Walkerton crisis. His tightly-cropped photo of five-year-old Tamara Smith clutching her teddy bear as she was wheeled out to the air ambulance ran on the front page of every newspaper I saw. It was the first picture to put a human face on the crisis, and you can see it at CTV’s “Decade of Canada“—it’s the third frame.

Note also Frayer’s shots of a Canadian sniper in Afghanistan (frame eight) and a man outside Womens’ College Hostpital during the SARS outbreak (frame 12). The latter may seem to be a mere snapshot at first glance, but notice the careful framing. Frayer has made sure that the signs to each side of his subject are legible, giving the photo context and obviating the need for a caption. It goes to show that, when the easy shots are people wearing facemasks, you can still rise above the crowd.


After missing a homecoming

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Not a homecoming for me, but for someone else. I discovered, by an accident of web surfing, that I’d missed the 2010 Michigan Author Homecoming in Lansing, which featured Benjamin Bush, Philip Caputo and Doug Stanton in a panel discussion called “Writing War: Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam.” Fortunately, it’s all available on video.

If you scroll down that page, you’ll also find information on the 2008 event, which featured Richard Ford, Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison in a panel discussion on, well, whatever the hell Richard Ford, Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison wanted to talk about. That would have been well worth attending—I like all three of those guys.

And I did attend, driving for three hours in the sweltering heat in a car with banjaxed air conditioning. Admission was free, and the hall’s seating capacity was 600; over 700 showed up, and they were packing them into the aisles. I rolled back across the Canadian border at 11:30 at night and presented to the customs agent my battered passport, which I had accidentally put through the laundry. He eyed it with suspicion, and inspected the information page.

“Sir, do you know the expiry date on this passport?”

“That passport is valid for another half-hour,” I said. “So you better hurry up.”

I do like the Canadian Border Services Agency; they have a sense of humour.

In any case, the Ford-McGuane-Harrison chat is available as a podcast and worth listening to. A nugget:

“What two people do in a room where they are alone together is a real little laboratory for morality, in a sense, because that is where you can really concentrate on what’s right and what’s wrong and who’s lying and who’s not.” — Richard Ford

Proofs of life

July 3, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s too hot to run around in the grass, and the dog is curled on the couch, looking for all the world like a contented comma. And I am working through the page proofs of Combat Camera, which arrived yesterday in a nice, fat package.

The burning question in your mind, gentle reader, must be just how much spittle I have wiped from my monitor in defence of the lowly comma. As it happens, there are 4,518 commas in the manuscript. Two have been added (one of these being my own innovation), three removed, and one turned into a semicolon, which gives us (for the engineers in the audience) a Comma Modification Rate of 0.13 percent. This much strain, the airframe can handle.

Working through the proofs does raise interesting questions of usage, particularly around that old bugbear (bug-bear, bug bear) of hyphenation and compounds. For example, is it “jack off,” or “jack-off?”

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary is no help here. (Is of no help here?) In my book it’s “jack-off” as a noun or adjective (“some little jack-off town in the middle of nowhere”), but “jack off” as a verb. The proof of this comes when you, um, conjugate the verb:

I jack off.

You jack off.

He jacks off.

This clearly doesn’t work if you hyphenate it.

Let me digress to clarify that, when I set out to become a writer, I never envisioned that I would one day discuss this particular point.

To a certain degree hyphenation is just a matter of spelling, and I think spelling is the least important thing for a writer to worry about. And sometimes, messing up the forms is just a matter of sloppiness.

But at other times, it’s a highly personal question of style. I’m finicky enough about punctuation at times to perceive a difference between “fresh water” and “freshwater,” and perhaps even “fresh-water.” These forms sound different; a space is a pause. (Similarly, that semicolon sounds different from a period.)

I recall having that debate with a technical editor, when I was working as a technical writer. I’m not sure how it arose, given that our jobs had nothing to do with water, but I became incensed at his suggestion that the latest AP stylebook (not “style book,” dammit*) gave “freshwater” for both adjective and noun, so it would henceforth be “freshwater.”

“AP is just a bunch of newspaper buffoons who know nothing about water,” I said. “Trout may be freshwater fish, but they live in fresh water.”

“As one word,” said he.

“The only trout that live in ‘freshwater,'” said I, “are those that speak English as a second language.”

This discussion continued for some five minutes, until we were both fired—some policy about workplace violence, or something like that.

Point being, as I insisted to the security guard in the parking lot, this is a highly personal question of how you think the language works. Hyphenation and the coining of compounds reflects your ear, and also how you think the language is developing. “Cell phone” became “cellphone” very rapidly, and “e-mail” has become “email,” but “tow truck” remains good old, mundane “tow truck.”

I know not why.


* “dammit” sounds different from “damn it”; the latter is much more formal. But “dammed” is never a substitute for “damned,” except when discussing the state of the (Ontario) Thames River.

Categories: combat camera, writing

On cocktails

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Galleycat informs us of a new literary libation, named the Literary Agent. This is, apparently, something of a cross between a Whiskey Sour and a Hemingway Daiquiri, but I don’t care about that.

What I care about is the first sentence of that post at Galleycat, a sentence that reminds me of why I’m glad not to be writing in the States, where nowadays (they say) you’re sunk unless you can find an agent.

That sentence is: “Literary agents are like rock stars in the world of writers, and one food blog has finally built a drink to honor these bookish representatives.”

Let me repeat that first clause, in case the horror is slow to creep upon you: “Literary agents are like rock stars in the world of writers.”

The economics of writing and publishing are quite insane. In terms of supply and demand, we have a small demand for books, a publishing industry that gluts the market with many more books than it demands, agents who in turn glut publishers with many more proposals than they require, and finally, a zillion would-be writers who glut the agents’ inboxes with many more manuscripts than they want to consider, most of which should promptly be burned as a service to humanity.

The consequence of this insane economics is that the business relationships are skewed, and we forget who’s working for whom. Agents are not stars. It’s a business, and they provide services in exchange for money, while their clients hum the opening bars of Bob Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street.”

And I’m not sure about that cocktail, either. I mean, if you’re going to have a drink called “The Literary Agent,” I think the specifications are simple: it should open with great promise and floral overtones, lead into a long, bitter finish, and then drop you in the gutter with a bad taste in your mouth.

Recipe suggestions are welcome.

Categories: publishing, writing