Letter from Jail

As some of you know, in addition to being a writer, I work full time on conservation issues in the Crown of the Continent. One of the campaigns I’ve been helping with for the last year is the effort to the protect the Castle Special Place. This 1000 square kilometer wildland north of Waterton Lakes National Park is crucial for the future of grizzly bears in the province, and is a vital part of the local tourism economy. Now logging has started in the Castle, but not before brave local residents protested for three weeks straight, holding the equipment at bay. Last week four people were arrested and the stand off came to and end. Below is a letter they wrote to Alberta Premier Alison Redford from the Pincher Creek Jail.

LETTER TO THE PREMIER FROM THE PINCHER CREEK JAIL February 1, 2012

Mike Judd, one of four authors of this Letter from Jail, speaking to a rally of 150 people in the Castle Special Place

Dear Premier Redford;

Around the World people have been fined and imprisoned for rejecting industrial clear-cut logging and the ecological devastation that it eventually brings to a nation. Here are a few examples: 1200 arrested at Reedy Creek, Australia; 800 at Clayaquot in B.C.; over 100 in Chital, Pakistan; 22 women at Grant’s Pass in Oregon; and over 60 First Nations People in the Great Bear Forest in B.C.; and today, four in Pincher Creek, Alberta.

In his book Collapse, Jerad Diamond delineates how deforestation is one of the major factors that lead to the disappearance of many past civilizations, and Global Forest Watch reports that 13,000,000 hectares of forest disappear annually around the World. Do you need to add this thin belt along the Eastern Slopes of Alberta to that statistic?

We’ve already seen over four decades of industrial logging in the Oldman Watershed and particularly in the headwaters of the Castle-Carbondale part of that drainage. We’ve seen the miles of stumps, windrows of waste wood, eroded skid roads, collapsing stream banks, weeds, escalating off-road vehicle abuse, and of course the 22,000 hectare fire that took place in all of that.

Now you’ve sanctioned removing most of the last small piece of intact forest left in this corner of the province. The place where the Grizzly, the Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Limber Pine and so many unique plants are listed by law, federally and provincially, as endangered. This area is also the study area for Grizzly Bear DNA research to establish how many or how few are left. It is classified as “critical winter ungulate range” where industrial activity is not allowed, by regulation. How have you justified removing those rules?

As you know, 75% of Southern Albertans do not want the Castle logged anymore. You have heard from many thousands via email and telephone messages to your office. Your response to date is to maintain the status quo, which is business as usual. Where is the change in that?

So here we sit today, four old men who have joined the thousands of voices in Alberta and around the World, the voices for wilderness, wildlife, water conservation, forest integrity, sustainability, healthy recreation, and everything that is good and beautiful in the Southern Alberta Eastern Slopes.

Why don’t you make the real change you promised, and that you have the authority to make, and stop this betrayal of the public trust?

Beaver Mines Lake Campground in the Castle Special Place: the new view for campers will be of clear cuts. Welcome to Alberta.

Mike Judd

Jim Palmer

Reynold Reimer

Richard Collier

(If you want to get involved, please call Premier Redford at 310-0000 or from outside Alberta 780-427-2251 and ask that logging be halted and that the Castle be made a Wildland Park.)

My Best Idea; My Worst Mistake

This post originally appeared as a guest blog post on novelist and editor Scott Bury’s Written Words site. You can follow Scott on Twitter @ScotttheWriter. Scott hosts guest bloggers that answer the questions: “what’s the best thing you have done as a writer? What’s the worst?” Scott also provides great editorial advice, which is how I came to know Scott’s blog.

I’ve been writing for more than twenty years, having started with angst-ridden teenaged poetry penned under a street lamp, and proceeded to angst-ridden personal columns for my local newspapers. Five years ago, most of the angst out of my system, I started publishing books on activism and eastern philosophy along with three separate crime-series with an environmental or historical theme.

The best thing I’ve done when it comes to writing – besides developing the discipline to rise very early each morning and pound out a few thousand words before the rest of the world wakes – was to develop a plan for where I wanted my writing to take me.

For a number of years I was a consultant helping businesses and non-profit organizations develop communications and strategic plans, so the notion was familiar to me. If you have a plan for where you want to go, it’s easier to get there. If a business is trying to sell organic coffee, or a non-profit trying to end homelessness would benefit from a plan to achieve success, why not a writer?

A writing plan needn’t be elaborate: for me its takes the form of a couple of charts. What books to I hope to write, and by when? Which do I have publishers lined up for? What do I need to do in order to find a publisher for those I’m not already under contract for?

Most importantly, how many books do I need to sell in order to make writing my day job? I love getting up at 5am to write before the kids are awake and my full time work begins, but sometime down the road I’d like to clear some of the mental clutter and dedicate myself full-time to scribbling. To do that, I figure I have to sell around 25-30,000 books a year. What do I need to do to reach that number? What does my backlist look like, and how many titles do I need to my name to reach that goal?

I plotted this all out in Word, and ran the numbers in Excel, and then went for a stiff drink.

But knowing what my goal is, and what I have to do to reach it, keeps me focused.

The worst thing I’ve ever done as a writer is to not learn from my own mistakes. Over twenty plus years as a writer I’ve made plenty. The one I keep making may seem common-place, but it’s a serious threat to achieving my game plan. I suck at self-editing. In fact, my story editor sent me one of Scott’s blog posts as a not-so-subtle hint to get on top of the editorial process, and that’s how we came to be swapping stories.

I get so caught up in the story, the plot, the dialog, that I miss important grammatical mistakes. I make them again and again. I also use crutch phrases and clichés too often. Finally, I tend to add unnecessary description, such as the 156 times one of my character’s “nodded” in a recent manuscript. I went through and cut 152 of those in the 7th draft. After a while the reader just gets dizzy.

To achieve my goal of writing for a living, I have to write the very best books I can. To do that, I have to be mindful of the mistakes I make over and over again, and keep my eye on my goals.

To keep up to date with my process towards my writing goals, and how I overcome my chronic mistakes, follow me on Twitter @stephenlegault

Guest Blog by Scott Bury

Scott Bury is an Ottawa based writer, editor and communications adviser. This is the first time I’ve ever swapped guest blogs with anyone and would love your feedback: leave a comment below. I’ll post my note from Scott’s Blog here later.

What good is writing?

I was wondering how I could contribute to Stephen’s fine blog in return for the excellent post he wrote for mine, and after reading his post on January 13, “I am a radical,” I found that inspiration.

I blog for a couple of reasons. The most obvious, and the noblest (I hope) is to help other people communicate more clearly and easily. My target audience is not just professional writers and those who want to write for a living, but also those who have to communicate as part of their jobs as managers or professionals in other fields.

The other, perhaps less noble reason is to point out where someone is misusing words either when they really ought to know better, or where they’re deliberately trying to mislead us. A good Canadian example comes out of the opposition to the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline from the Tarsands to British Columbia. Natural Resources Minister Joe Olivier is just one federal government figure to apply the “radical” label in an attempt to discredit any opposition. Fortunately, most of us can see through that attempt to paint anyone who disagrees with the government as an enemy of the country.

That raises a question, though: people generally see through those attempts; so why do governments and wannabe governments keep doing it?

Yes, we do have a message applicable today

Stephen writes historical mysteries and other historical stories — in other words, they happened a long time ago and no matter how much you want to, you cannot change it. But that doesn’t mean they’re not relevant today — it means the opposite, in fact.

In his blog, Stephen states that how he knew that while he wanted to deliver a message in his novels, if he wanted an audience to read them they would have to have a real plot and compelling, believable characters. Audiences have an unprecedented and vast choice in reading material today. They need a good reason to read your book, and a rant about whatever cause you feel passionate about won’t do it.

“After reading a stack of soggy paperbacks by Lawrence Saunders and others, I got the idea that I too could write a murder mystery and use it as a foil for my environmental message. I knew from the start that Cole couldn’t just be a fictional version of Stephen Legault; there had to be a plot, not just a polemic,” he writes in his blog.

In my case, I tried to evoke myths from several different cultures in my first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth. I hope that I at least hint at a few underlying themes applicable today: environmental  degradation; acceptance of people with disabilities or abilities different from our own; and the absurdities in organized religion; and how we need to be skeptical of the history taught to us, to name just four.

You may not agree with these messages. That’s fine. You don’t have to. I hope you’ll read my book and enjoy the story, the action, the romance, the development of a character.

I also hope that you might start thinking about ideas you never thought of before. That may provoke you to write something, yourself: to respond with a comment on a blog or a news feed, or to write a letter to your legislative representative. Or maybe, to write a book of your own. Warning: expressing yourself leaves you vulnerable to being labelled as a “radical,” or a “reactionary,” or a “pundit.” It’s like having the teacher tell you to sit down and speak only when acknowledged.

There has always been a titanic effort by those with power to control speech and expression. They command formidable resources, and regularly employ them to squelch anyone who disagrees with them — especially when those dissidents have the potential to mobilize others.

In the West, where money rules uncriticized, radicals like Stephen Legault get labelled as something undesirable. If you start a blog to promote or just expound your own ideas, you may find the corporate media scoffing at you as a “self publisher.” Sadly, snobbery works. (You remember junior high, don’t you?)

But we’re not in junior high, anymore. There are more of us outside the media establishment than within it, and we all have the right to express ourselves, and we all need to hear you. That’s called democracy.

So here’s my final goal as a communicator: I want to open up publishing and communications. No more gatekeepers. We need editors (and I’m not saying that just because I am an editor) to make our messages as effectiveness as possible. We need editors as quality control, but not as gatekeepers.

So speak, write, dance, sing. Be heard. What’s democracy for?

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScotttheWriter.