Archive | Writing

Thoughts about the writing life, professional issues, the state of the industry and philosophical concerns for writers.

Writing The Fatness

The Fatness

Click the image to get it at Amazon!

I’m not sure how interesting it is for readers to know the story behind the story, but I thought I’d share my experiences with writing this book.

This one was personal.

I’ve struggled with weight issues most of my life, so I found it quite difficult to write a humorous account of what it would be like to be imprisoned for your weight.

Really difficult.

As is the case for many of my novels, the idea for The Fatness first came to me, in a dream. I’d been reading The Obesity Myth, by Paul Campos. It’s an eye-opening non-fiction about the bad science surrounding the idea of the obesity “epidemic.” This was sometime in 2005, the year ENC Press published my first book The Amadeus Net.

So that’s a horrible notion, I thought. Concentration camps for fat people. That’s terrifying. And strangely compelling. I could see people thinking this was actually a good idea, policy wise. But I trust my readers to know satire when they see it, so I wrote four chapters…

They were terrible. There was nothing funny about the book. It wasn’t biting satire, it was just bitter.

I made several other attempts, all failures. Six years ago I even got as far as completing an outline and a large chunk of a draft. But it wasn’t really what I wanted the book to be. It was strained and really not funny in a way that was compassionate for the inmates of the Calorie Reduction Centers.

Then four years ago I got serious about my own weight issues. I worked with two wonderful personal trainers and got my weight down below the dreaded 30 BMI for the first time in years, and for some reason, that gave me the ability to write the book. I think I needed to understand the process of losing weight so that I could communicate it properly. Within the course of a year I managed to produce a draft of the book I felt was good.

The following year I worked with my editor and produced two more drafts. Then my life got really complicated. My long-term relationship ended, my dog died, and I started a new and extremely challenging work position. (Sounds like a bad country and western song, doesn’t it?) So it took a few more years until I was ready to start the publishing process. Yeah, sometimes it takes that long.

This is the longest gestation period for a book I’ve written. By comparison, my first novel, The Amadeus Net, was a breeze. It only took 10 years from start to finish.

But I think it’s the best book I’ve written (so far) and the positive reviews seem to back up that feeling. I’m particularly pleased that readers feel the book is satirical, yet has a big heart that is compassionate for people struggling with weight issues. As the book taught me, there’s no easy answers.

Learn more about the book here.

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Feeding the Beast

This is a script for a piece I read on CBC Radio (Ontario Morning) way back in 2006, when some people still didn’t know what a blog was.

Feeding the Beast

by Mark A. Rayner

Hi, my name is Mark, and I am a writer with a problem. There is a monster eating my novel.

It is an insatiable beast. A slobbery demon that greets me every day with an obscene wink, and asks:

“What are you going to feed me this morning, Mark?”

It’s my weblog. Or blog for short.

#

Blogs are the latest version of the personal web page. (You know, the kind of website that has lots of cat pictures on it.) But blogs are used for a wider variety of things than that. There are blogs about technology, history, books, politics, bat-grooming. You name it and there’s probably a blog about it.

Some people treat their blogs like a diary, except instead of writing in a book with a lock on it, they’re posted online for everyone in the world to read. Many of these blog-writers — or bloggers — get fired from their jobs for revealing wildly inappropriate things about their workplace. I’d say that happens to about half of them. The other half thinks its cool.

But the one thing all of them have in common is that to be successful, blogs must be updated on a pretty regular basis. The more often, the better.

They must be fed.

#

“Skwib requires sustenance Mark. Must have copy.”

My Beast is called The Skwib. I feed it short fiction, satire and the occasional bit of humorous commentary.

It likes the short fiction and the satire the best, which figures… That also takes the most time to write.

And so, part of my morning writing time — time I should be devoting to my new novel — is taken up by the Beast.

This would be fine if I was some kind of genius, a prolific scribbler. But I’m in the Thomas Mann school of writing. He’s the German dude who wrote The Magic Mountain, and said:

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Though I imagine he said it in German.

So why start and feed a blog? I don’t know. It’s kind of like asking me why I used to wear a leather tie, or rugby pants. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, I’m not so sure, but the act of feeding it does keep me writing, no matter what.

#

“Feeeed me.”

The Fatness

Click on the image to check out an excerpt.

Okay, gotta go, I think it’s started snacking on my short stories now.

The End

Update, 2017: I’ve been starving the beast of late, which I why I have a new book coming in November, called The Fatness:

A satire about concentration camps for fat people and bureaucracy gone mad. (A love story.)

You can check out an excerpt here.

Originally published August 2006. Photo by Danielle Blumenthal, via Flickr.

Alexandra Leaving – a short history

This song is based on a poem by the Greek poet, Constantine P. Cavafy. His source material was a story from Plutarch about Mark Anthony, as he watched his allies and supporters leave Alexandra before his enemy Octavian attacked the city. The original poem is called “The god forsakes Antony,” and is a meditation on the vagaries of fate. It’s a beautiful and poetic warning that casts Anthony in a tragic light and encourages him to accept his end in a manly way. And there’s no doubt: he’s losing Alexandra, but he’s losing his life too. [Poem here.] Mark Anthony was a larger-than-life guy, and he came to a larger-than-life end.

Cohen kicks it up a notch, of course, and retools this legend for the 21st century. He makes this about personal relationships, and how we should face their endings.

My favourite line is: “Do not choose a coward’s explanation that hides behind the cause and the effect.”

Co-written by Sharon Robinson, who sings it beautifully here:

Alexandra Leaving

Suddenly the night has grown colder
The god of love preparing to depart
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder,
They slip between the sentries of the heart

Upheld by the simplicities of pleasure
They gain the light, they formlessly entwine
And radiant beyond your widest measure
They fall among the voices and the wine

It’s not a trick, your senses all deceiving
A fitful dream, the morning will exhaust
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Even though she sleeps upon your satin
Even though she wakes you with a kiss
Do not say the moment was imagined
Do not stoop to strategies like this

As someone long prepared for this to happen
Go firmly to the window, drink it in
Exquisite music Alexandra laughing
Your first commitments tangible again

And you who had the honor of her evening,
And by the honor had your own restored
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Alexandra leaving with her Lord

Even though she sleeps upon your satin
Even though she wakes you with a kiss
Do not say the moment was imagined
Do not stoop to strategies like this

As someone long prepared for the occasion
In full command of every plan you wrecked
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
that hides behind the cause and the effect

And you who were bewildered by a meaning
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen / Sharon Robinson
Alexandra Leaving lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC