Tag Archives: Kevin Smith

Margaret E. Atwood Followed You

On November 14, 2010, I wrote a blog post titled Brick Walls, New Beginnings. In it, I wrote about Randy Pausch’s last lecture and inspiration from seeing Kevin Smith at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square. That was eight and a half years ago and recently I was at the Centre in the Square again, only this time I wasn’t there to see a foul-mouthed filmmaker for whom I have a giant man-crush. This time I was there to see award-winning, critically acclaimed, world-renowned author and Canadian icon, Margaret Atwood.

I’m going to be 100% honest here and say that I’ve tried to read a number of her novels and have had a hard time with them. She’s one hell of a writer, to be sure, but something about the books I picked up didn’t resonate with me. Then, there’s the Handmaid’s Tale. That one positively shook me (seriously, you have to read that book). I am also a huge fan of all the editorials and articles she’s written over the years, as well as her comic.

As a Canadian, a writer, an unabashed liberal, and an aspiring feminist, I could not pass up the opportunity to hear Ms. Atwood speak. I asked my 16-year-old daughter, who is also all those things (except she’s an actual feminist and helping me on my journey toward being one as well) if she wanted to go with me and her response in the affirmative came in the snap of a finger. The stage was set.

Waiting for Atwood.

How much was I looking forward to this? Time for a little backstory:

In 2012 I followed a boatload of accounts on Twitter. Of them, well over a hundred were writers. One day I noticed that only three of them didn’t follow me back: Amber Naslund, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood. In an effort to coerce the three non-following amigos to follow me on Twitter I sent out this tweet:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
And wouldn’t you know it, within minutes this notification popped up on my phone:

I am suddenly very aware of all the words I plan to use on Twitter.”

Suffice it to say, I lost my mind. The fact that she hasn’t unfollowed me since then is somewhat of a miracle.

(If you’re reading this, Margaret, please don’t unfollow me)

So, how did it go?

I’m actually having a hard time describing it because it was just that fantastic. Atwood’s sense of humour is razor sharp. The interviewer kept having to bring her back to the topic because she would run off on these wonderfully humourous tangents. Another thing that became apparent rather quickly, and it should be pointed out that this should be obvious to anyone who’s ever even heard of her, is that Margaret Atwood is one hell of a storyteller. Wow. I mean, just wow. It was absolutely amazing.

She’s also one of the most quotable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing speak. I was going to write them all down so I could tweet them or post them as captions on photos for Instagram, but there were too many.

Diaene Vernile (left) talks with Margaret Atwood

She talked about growing up in Quebec without any of the big city conveniences that were starting to take hold. There was a lot of talk about how she became a writer and her influences. Talk eventually turned to the Handmaid’s Tale and what was going on around her when she wrote it. Here’s an interesting bit of information. Everything that happened in that book has actually happened at some time or place in human history. Everything. And if that’s not enough to rock you to your core I don’t know what is.

The thing about the whole evening was I learned as much about Margaret Atwood, the Canadian literary hero, as I did about myself, the struggling-to-make-it part-time writer, husband, and father of two.

I wish I could have recorded the entire session because I certainly would have been going back to it time after time to pick out those truly wonderful nuggets of inspiration or those key lessons about writing, which she didn’t hit you over the head with but rather sprinkled in here and there so only those paying attention noticed them. As it was, there were two takeaways that I am prepared to share:

  1. She wrote her first book when she was 7. It was about an ant, and in her words (mostly, I think I remembered them correctly), “Nothing happened until the fourth quarter! As an egg, an ant does nothing. As a larva, an ant does nothing but eat and sleep. As a pupa, an ant does nothing. The only reason to keep turning pages was to find out if anything ever happens. I tell people, if you’re writing a murder mystery, move up the corpse! People need to know about the dead body, or if there even is one, sooner than later.”
  2. Work with what you’ve got and never give up. She grew up without electricity in the middle of a remote area of Quebec. There were books though, so she read them. There were pencils and paper, so she wrote. Her first novel, still to this day unpublished, was handwritten (because at that time she didn’t know how to type) on blank exam booklets from the university where she was studying. “It just happened to work out that every chapter was exactly as long as one of those booklets.” 

So, there you have it. A taste of what I experienced Thursday night. To share that moment with my daughter was indescribable and I will cherish the memory of it for the rest of my life. What it’s also done is strengthened my resolve with respect to learning my craft. I have a story idea for something Margaret Atwood-ish. It’s more a cross between 1984, Farenheight 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Asimov’s essay The Last Question, but the point is I am not ready to write it yet. I need to learn more, work harder, and make a metric tonne more mistakes before I can tackle it.

So I will.

~ Andrew

Why I’m a Big Fan of Kevin Smith (Again)

It’s time I tell you about Kevin Smith. Some of you might be saying, “Who?” but let me assure you that you are probably familiar with at least a small portion of his body of work. I won’t go into all of it here, Wikipedia does a fantastic job of covering it, but I will highlight a few key things. 
Kevin’s rise in Hollywood started with the low-budget film, Clerks, starring two characters Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (played by Smith). It was picked up by the Weinstein studio, Miramax, and thus began the View Askew franchise. Kevin would crank out a bunch more flicks with the Weinsteins over the years and that relationship solidified Kevin’s place in the movie-making world. 
Kevin before anything else is a writer, and this is where his influence on me comes into play. This very blog and the beginning of my writing career owes it’s continued existence, in part, to Kevin Smith. I wrote about it back on November 14, 2010, in a post I titled “Brick Walls, New Beginnings” and it was absolutely the pivotal moment in my journey as a writer. I’d encourage you to go take a look at that post when you’re done with this one. 
Aside from jump-starting my butt into gear writing-wise, that was also the beginning of the boost in viewership to my blog (it went from a few people reading it to a few dozen people reading it!) That may not seem like much, but when your blog is essentially only being read by your mom and a few friends and then you have literal random strangers reading it from all over the world, well, that’s a big thing. 

Anyway, this is all just the long way of saying that I went from simply enjoying Kevin Smith’s work to being a big fan. Sure, we’ve had our bumps along the road, and I’ll fully admit that over the last few years my interest has waned. But, BUT, Kevin has this way of doing something that always pulls me back in. 
At the top of that list is his love and respect for his daughter (and all women, for that matter) which, in my opinion, sets the gold standard, as well as his ability to interact positively with fans, and generally be a good human.

Example 1: Responding to an Instagram Troll Who Cyberbullied Harley

There’s a great article on it from Greg Gilman at The Wrap. I’ll summarize it as best I can:

  • A troll tries to take a bite out of Harley Quinn Smith.
  • Smith responds not with vitriol or a counterattack, which would not surprise anyone if he were not Kevin Smith, but he is, and he fired back with some sage advice. 

You can view the whole message below, but here’s the ending:

“You want attention? Don’t make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you’re not being useful in this world you’re being useless. Don’t be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy!”

What it’s like to be my daughter: 17 year old @harleyquinnsmith_ received this message simply for the heinous crime of posting a pic of herself on @instagram. I have zero clue what the reference to #TheMatrix is all about but, wow – way to unload on a teen girl because YOU have nothing to do in life. But even though I should be apoplectic about it, my kid thought it was funny. “I’d be mad if I had a tiny dick and anonymous voice too,” she said, bemused by the bitterness. But here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice for folks like this Troll: if you hate me (or my kid) this much, the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same. The best revenge is living insanely well – so if you wanna get back at a 17 year old girl for the grievous crime of enjoying her life, the best way to do it is to succeed in your OWN existence. Show the world WHY we should be paying attention to you instead of anyone else. Because randomly attacking others merely communicates how creatively and emotionally bankrupt you are. You think you have something to offer the world but others are getting all the attention? Don’t bitch or punish the world: just create. Create something nobody’s ever seen before and there is a good chance the world will notice you. Attacking teen girls on the Internet is the saddest form of masturbation that exists and requires no discernible skill or talent. You want attention? Don’t make yourself mad, make something original and fun. Because if you’re not being useful in this world you’re being useless. Don’t be useless: go make stuff that makes people happy! #KevinSmith #HarleyQuinnSmith #YogaHosers
A post shared by Kevin Smith (@thatkevinsmith) on

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Example 2: Response to an Uber Driver Who Tried to Abduct Harley

This is a scary story which Stephanie Webber from US Weekly magazine outlines. Again, I’ll sum it up: 

  • Shit-for-brains Uber driver tries to abduct Kevin Smith’s daughter, Harley.
  • She avoids a really terrifying situation.
  • Kevin sends out an immediate warning tweet to his 3.36 million followers.
  • Gets Harley a big “Sorry Men Suck” cake.

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Example 3: Donating His Residuals From Weinstein Movies to Women in Film

A short but good write-up from Joyce Chen at Rolling Stone can be summarized thusly: Smith feels ashamed of his association with Harvey Weinstein and is henceforth donating all the residuals from the movies he made with him to Women in Film, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of women working in the screen industries.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThose are just a few big, public examples of Kev doing the right thing. Countless other more subtle examples can be found by listening to one of his many podcasts or going to one of his patented An Evening With Kevin Smith Q&A sessions, or simply following him on Twitter. Hell, when he heard about the elder abuse happening with comic book legend Stan Lee his first instinct was to reach out and offer the 95-year-old Lee a place to live and this was AFTER Kevin himself suffered a near-fatal heart attack just six weeks earlier!

So, for anyone who cares, I’m back on the Kevin Smith fanboy train (again) though I’m not sure I ever fully left. To this day I wonder if he ever hung the photo art I gave him.

In SMOD we trust.

Thank you, sir, for continuing to create, for continuing to inspire others to create, and for making it appear easy to always do the right thing.

~ Andrew


Link List:

Connections

I am a writer. As such, I have a lot of friends who are writers. I have even more acquaintances who are writers. On social media (mostly Facebook but also Instagram and Twitter) I would wager that my interactions with writers outnumber interactions with everyone else combined. I have a short list of non-family members that I put into the category of close friends. There are two from my university days and another three that I didn’t even know existed until I started writing, and more specifically, started participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as well like to call it, or if we’re being particularly lazy, “NaNo”.

NaNo is a challenge to writers everywhere to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In other words, write a novel in thirty days. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day, for an entire month. It’s a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot. Trust me, I know. I participated in this challenge six years in a row from 2011 to 2016 and was only successful four out of those six years.

For a number of reasons, I’m not doing NaNo this year. A friend asked me if it felt weird and I said that it did. Other than the fact I’ve done it for six years in a row now I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. I thought a bit about it a bit more and came to the conclusion that it felt weird because NaNoWriMo is a big reason that I am a writer at all.

In early 2010 I started dabbling with some writing. Not simply jotting stuff down and blogging every now and then, but writing with plot and character in mind. Well, sort of. I was blogging somewhat regularly and I had every intention of starting a big screenwriting project, at some point, some time, you know, later. But by some sheer twist of fate, it was the month of November that all that changed.

If anyone out there is a fan of the James Burke show Connections (and Connections 2 and Connections 3) you’ll see that my “path to success” goes WAY back and isn’t exactly a straight line.

That’s Why I’m on This Oil Rig a Writer

  • In 1993 I worked as a clerk at a video store before heading off to university.
  • It was that first year at university that I would have a little girlfriend trouble.
  • While that was going on, Kevin Smith was writing the movie Clerks. It is a movie about a couple dudes working as, well, clerks. One in a video store and one at a convenience store. One of the clerks has girlfriend trouble. 
  • That movie came out in 1994 and I saw it when it hit video stores in 1995. The movie changed the way I looked at films and my whole creative process and I was an immediate fan. 
  • Later that year I got back together with one of my girlfriends from back in 1993. We would get married on November 6, 1999.  
  • Fast forward to 2010. Kevin Smith had made ten movies and was a huge success and doing his Q&A sessions and multiple podcasts. My wife looks out her office window one day and sees a billboard advertising Kevin Smith coming to town just a few days before our anniversary.
  • We attend the show and have a great time and it sparked something in me. Afterwards, I came across this blogger and writer by the name of Robert Chazz Chute who wrote about his experience at the same show. In his post, he mentioned this weird thing called NaNoWriMo. I, in turn, wrote a blog post about getting off my ass and actually writing something. It was going to be a screenplay. 
  • In 2011 I started writing the screenplay and I was having a conversation with one of those close friends I mentioned earlier in the post. I was lamenting that I was having a hard time getting my story to fit into the framework of a film. He said that he didn’t want to see an Andrew Butters movie. He’d rather read an Andrew Butters book. So, I switched gears and started to write it as a novel. 
  • In November 2011, I attempted my first NaNoWriMo. I was there alongside Robert cranking out words and having a great time. It was on Twitter during NaNo that I met a writer by the name of Jennifer Gracen.
  • Jennifer was a NaNo cheerleader and she introduced me to a whole number of other writers and eventually she invited me into a writer’s group on Facebook. One of these individuals is now one of my other close friends, Gordon Bonnet. We joke that we are brothers from different mothers. Twins separated at birth and by more than a decade and several strands of DNA. 
  • One of the Twitter NaNo folks Jennifer introduced me to almost died due to a medical complication and there was an anthology being put together to raise money to help pay her medical bills. I wrote a piece of creative non-fiction about the unexpected death of my wife’s brother and Jennifer edited that piece for me. It was eventually accepted into the anthology and just like that, I had my first published piece. 
  • Shortly thereafter I had a photographer friend, Christine Reid, do some headshots for me. If I was going to write books I was going to need pictures for back covers, right?
  • Then, in 2014 my daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was going to require spinal fusion surgery. Since there was little information out on the web from girls and families that have gone through this, my genius wife decided that we should keep a family blog to chronicle the journey. 
  • A year post-surgery the blog was done and I decided that if I could add a bit more context to the blog posts that it would make a pretty powerful book. In October 2016 I finished Bent But Not Broken: One Family’s Scoliosis Journey
  • In January of 2017, I was talking to another writer, one to whom I was introduced at the same time as my brudder from another mudder. She suggested I talk to him about Bent. So, I did. He was beta reading the manuscript and unbeknownst to me had given it to the Editorial Board at his publisher, Oghma Creative Media. A few weeks later I had my first writing contract.
  • A couple months later, the Oghma founder was asking me for a headshot for an announcement on their Facebook page about my signing. I pointed him to the folder of headshots that my friend Christine did for me.
  • He asked me if I did any acting when inquiring about why I had headshots taken. I told him I had them done so I’d have something for a book cover one day. He said, “Oh, you’ve written other stuff?” and I told him I had a few pieces of almost completed fiction plus bits and bobs of incomplete stuff that will take shape at some point. He invited me to the publisher’s writing retreat in the summer and said we would talk.
  • I returned home in August of 2017 from my publisher’s writing retreat with two book contracts: one for a standalone psychological thriller (short novel) and one for an open-ended suspense series called The “No” Conspiracies (which will be at least five books at this point). 
  • Bent But Not Broken comes out on the third anniversary of my daughter’s surgery on January 20, 2018. 
  • Hard Truth (the short novel) comes out in September of 2018.
  • No Fixed Address: The “No” Conspiracies Book #1 comes out in March 2019.
  • No Known Cure: The “No” Conspiracies Book #2 comes out in September 2019, which currently sits at about 25,000 words. 
    • To bring this all full circle, it’s worth noting that this was the movie I started writing back in 2010 and ended up being the book I started writing during my very first NaNoWriMo back in 2011. 
    • In fact, of the seven books I have either written or have committed to writing, four of them have been NaNo projects.
As you can see, there are a whole lot of connections that brought me from A to B on this writing journey of mine. I look at the long list of events above and if you remove any one of them the chain collapses. I see all those events as the kindling and the fuel for my fire. If that’s true, then learning about NaNoWriMo was the spark. The annual challenge for writers around the globe that I found out about at just the right time because the impact that a single Kevin Smith show had on a guy named Robert which prompted him to write a blog post that I happened to read. 
Here are tonight’s three stars of the game: 
  • Kevin Smith. For writing Clerks, deciding to do a show in Kitchener of all places in 2010, and inspiring writers and filmmakers in ways that only you can do.
  • Robert Chazz Chute. For sharing your fanboiness of Kevin Smith and writing and introducing me to the world of writing (also, for that drive into Toronto to go see Kev’s movie Red State when I was suffering from post-concussion syndrome).
  • My wife. For taking a minute out of her day to look out the window and suggest that a Kevin Smith show would be a good anniversary present, and for being the bond that has held together so many of the links in my chain for nearly a quarter of a century. You’re why I’m on this oil rig, baby. Happy Anniversary!
~ Andrew

To Create or Not to Create? There is No Question.

Last night I went out to see The Monuments Men with my wife (good movie that could/should have been amazing) and I drove the babysitter home it dawned on me that I was without a post topic for this week, so I asked the sitter for her thoughts.

We bantered around a couple ideas when finally she said to me, “Do you listen to the radio?”

Anyone who read last week’s post about the radio promo I disagreed with knows that I listen to the radio now and then so I replied honestly with, “On occasion, yes.”

What she said next intrigued me (but given her upbringing I was not surprised). She said, “You could do your post on why it is that most artists that seem to be popular on the radio today aren’t very good.”

Now this isn’t simply a case of an old fart like me complaining about the music (or art in general) of the kids today. This is a very intelligent, well adjusted, popular, 15 year old girl saying that what’s popular today in the music department is coming up drastically short. I happen to think she’s right, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

One woman wrecking machine.

Since the dawn of time there has always been debate over the quality of art. This is not a new thing, and every medium or genre sees its share of great and not-so-great artists over the years. A couple hundred years ago it’s entirely possible that fans of an up-and-coming Mozart thought that J.S. Bach was a hack.

So after hearing the babysitter’s suggestion, and fresh out of the movie theatre where I spent 90 minutes watching men risk, and sacrifice, their lives for great works of art, I got to thinking:

If the Nazis sought out to destroy the “Wrecking Ball” video, every copy of Twilight, and the movie Jersey Girl, would anyone care?

I can imagine that Miley Cyrus, Stephenie Meyer, and Kevin Smith would care; though from what I’ve heard from Kevin he might be willing to let that one go.

More importantly, I think a great many other people would care as well, myself included. As much as I think Miley is nothing more than an overproduced PR stunt; as much as reading a few chapters of Twilight to my daughter made me want to re-take high school English; and as much as watching Jersey Girl made me question my man-crush for Kevin Smith; these are all just personal opinions based on limited knowledge.

All the “bad” art has just as much place in the world as the “great” art. Yes, it only took one person to write the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” (as performed by Queen) and something like five to write “Baby” (as performed by Justin Bieber), but when it’s all said and done, what we’re left with is more art. As individuals we can always choose to vote with our wallets, our page views, our downloads, and our ‘likes’.

“Like”

Thankfully, we’re not all programmed to appreciate the same things and while I’d rather poke my eyes out with a salad fork than watch another Rebecca Black video the reality is that not every musician can be Freddy Mercury, not every painter can be Claude Monet, not every poet can be Edgar Allan Poe, and not every novelist can be J.K. Rowling.

The Nazis wanted it all and when they realized that wasn’t possible they set out to destroy it. The good news is The Monuments Men and hundreds of other conscientious civilians saved a lot of it, and would have saved the rest had they been given the chance. What really struck me was they didn’t just save the “classics” (though it is understandable why that was the focus).

Matt Damon is shown returning an ordinary portrait to the home of a Jewish family that had long since left Paris. Whether that’s true to the actual story or not, the sentiment is the same: art matters, and the absolute worst thing we can do is destroy it.

Coming in a close second would be if we stop creating it in the first place.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0omja1ivpx0?rel=0]

~ Andrew