Two years ago I put out my first newsletter to a handful of people. My own Gmail account flagged it as ‘suspicious.’
I can’t really say, “…and now look where we are” because I don’t really know where we are. Every month this reaches more people and the content keeps evolving. This month I’ve included an essay on politics and art. Next month I’m going to try serializing a short story. I’m still learning how to do this, and if there are parts you want more of—interviews, writing advice, recommendations—I’m happy to listen.
(And if this gets flagged as suspicious, please whitelist it—details on how here.)
My article on Riverview, “How a Century-Old Vancouver Mental Hospital Became a Film Industry Hot Spot,” is online at Montecristo. Some strange shit happened at that place.
For July and August, the price of Mystery Writing Mastery is only $179.99. I’m working on creating a short story seminar for August, which will be free for everyone who’s signed up. Beginning Your Mystery is perpetually free.
I’m setting up events for the fall, including an in-person launch for Hell and Gone. Imagine being able to drink and socialize and buy books...I can't wait.
I’ve been thinking about three interdigitating problems relating to politics and art.
The first and most horrible is the confirmation of child graveyards at former residential schools—215 in Kamloops, 751 in Cowessess in Saskatchewan. More to come.
Canada is, among other things, a brutal colonial enterprise designed to extract resources and murder Indigenous people.
There are actionable things people can do to help transform Canada—writing to the Prime Minister and your MP to support Indigenous self-government and empowerment in the parliamentary process; donating to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society; reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and its Calls to Action, and electing people committed to implementing them; working for prison reform, drug decriminalization and harm reduction; continuing to read and listen. I would urge you to do all of these things. They are all inadequate, but they’re not nothing.
I don’t know how best to lobby for these actions on social media. Fundamentally I don’t feel Twitter et al are fitted to discussing the catastrophic. When confronted with something of that magnitude, social media breaks down into performative empathy, me-first grief narrativizing, thread-creating speechifying, Daily Show-lite snark, and a lot of ‘This. This right here.’ I really hate that part of social media: its sapping of emotional nuance and dynamism, its moping ‘creatives’, its vilifying of the confused and its valorizing of the unthinking. If you’re losing your mind because a pop star has centrist leanings, how the hell can you process a genocide?
But is saying nothing worse? How best to be an (ugh) digital citizen?
In an interview, screenwriter Tony Gilroy said that Trump’s election made him question his assumptions about American values he thought everyone shared. For instance, Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate reporting was (he thought) a remarkable and worthwhile achievement. Bringing down a corrupt president was good.
But for a lot of people, partisanship excuses corruption. There are people who think freedom of the press is wrong. Free speech is wrong. Holding authority accountable is inconvenient.
Gilroy said this (from what I remember) with dismay, but as if it were just a fact. We share a world with some people who think Woodward and Bernstein were traitors.
So how do you exist with people like that? How do they exist with you? And how as a writer do you communicate with a group which doesn’t value what you do? Ignore them, write them off, reach out? Manipulate your material so it doesn’t offend? And where do you set the limit for any of these strategies?
I have a relative who doesn't believe in vaccines, who lives with and is supported by his senior citizen mother. He has cut off communication with family members who believe his actions put his mother in harm's way. If the two of them come out of the pandemic without dying of COVID, doubtless he will feel entirely justified that it was all a big hoax.
We all know people like that, I guess.
The third strand is a piece my friend Charlie Demers wrote about filmmaker John Sayles, director of Matewan and Lone Star among other great films. Sayles’s movies are liberal in ways that Hollywood pays lip service to. They’re about the interconnectedness of people, historically, geographically, politically. As Charlie wrote about the coal strike in Matewan:
“Released the same year as Predator and Full Metal Jacket, this was a war movie where half the troops were women; where many of the soldiers fighting on the same side didn’t speak the same language. When the bosses try to break the union by replacing the white Anglo strikers with Italian immigrants and African-Americans, the miners are faced with a choice: they can have their nativism and their racism, or they can have their union, but not both.”
Sayles’s films don’t cop out with the good guys defeating political straw men villains, or with a “we’re all shades of grey so what can you do?” shrug of the shoulders. Matewan ends with a shot of an underage kid back at work in a coal mine, now paid better but still breathing in coal dust. That’s what victory looks like.
Sayles’s idea of leftism is perhaps not ultimately compatible with the stay-in-your-lane, Disney-is-great orthodoxy of modern leftism. For reasons many and complex, films that ask one to look outside one’s purview are pretty rare.
Last newsletter I joked that I was rewatching The Wire, and that it was good “despite what most leftists think.” People wrote in not getting the joke—part of which is that it wasn’t funny (shame on me)...
...but also my faulty assumption that the values of David Simon and Ed Burns’s wide-reaching, humanist, socially engaged drama about the drug war are still what we associate with ‘the left’. That storytelling is as much about wading into complex and messy social issues and sitting with them, as it is about solving them heroically and definitively. That street people and dope slingers, teachers and yes even cops, can be as fascinating as the damn Mandalorian.
We have a lot to learn about the world we live in.
Please donate what you can to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, and if you’re in Canada, write to your MP and the Prime Minister to urge the government to implement the TRC Calls to Action.
You can read Charlie’s excellent Sayles piece at his Substack.
Next month I’ll have some film/TV news, as well as some Hell and Gone stuff to share. Thanks for reading this.