New Essay on Obedience in THIS Magazine

by Sean on November 21, 2015

in Non-Fiction

THIS magTHIS Magazine has published my newest essay in their November/December 2015 issue, which is centred on ideas of how to build a better world through our kids.

My piece was inspired by a dinner I had at my girlfriend’s family home, during which there was a moment that got me thinking a lot about my approach to obedience and how it might relate to the world around me. I found a number of tie-ins (too many to include within my word limit) with some recent political and cultural events in Canada and the US.

I’m really enjoying this kind of writing lately, and I’m happy to see progressive mags like THIS still going strong. You can check out the new issue at most bookstores or order it online.


Writers + Social MediaBack when the weather was warmer and I could bike around Toronto without my hands turning to ice, I pitched and submitted another essay to Full Stop. (Check out my earlier essay on grieving through writing here.)

This time, I wanted to focus on how writers engage with the public today and why some—such as Jonathan Franzen—have reacted negatively to social media vs. traditional media, while others like Elena Ferrante entirely reject the necessity for an author’s presence beyond the published material.

I have an optimistic slant on social media’s ability to bring people together on an endless variety of topics. For example: someone shared a link to my essay on reddit, and a small handful of writers discussed various misreadings of what I wrote. The best part for me was the irony of writers participating in a self-selecting social media community only to condemn social media’s interference with writers’ lives.

I see Twitter/Facebook/reddit/etc as part of a digital commons—a shared meta-space where people can argue endlessly with strangers or help one another grow through support and shared information. I’m fascinated by the ways writers choose to engage the public and believe that there are many more divisive evolutions yet to come in the writing life.

Read “Writers and the Slow Road to #Progress” here.

My Summer 2015 Reads

by Sean on September 23, 2015

in Fiction, Film, Worth a Read

It’s been an incredibly busy summer so far. I’ve been working with some great new clients and will be sharing more of my creative work in the future. As always, I still carve out time to read as much as I can and try to stay on top of what’s new in the publishing world. Here are some of the books I checked out in the past few months.

Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi

boysnowbird My first experience with Oyeyemi. For such a young writer (younger than me, anyway), she’s definitely got the hang of staying productive—not to mention staying consistent in her critical successes. In 2013, Granta called her one of the Best Young British Novelists.

The writing in Boy, Snow, Bird is clean and engaging, but I found the book a bit disorienting. It’s hard for me to narrow down the source of this. I think it’s something to do with characters’ physical movements through scenes and environments, as if some crucial details are missing that would make the flow a lot smoother.

Oyeyemi may be doing this on purpose (I’d have to read more of her to know that). There’s a stark contrast between how the narrative unfolds when we’re inside a characters’ mind and when we’re following them through the world. Because of this, I’m lukewarm on the book.

Loitering: New & Collected Essays
by Charles D’Ambrosio

LoiteringI’ve read some of D’Ambrosio’s short stories before in The Dead Fish Museum, so I didn’t really need to hear much hype before I was convinced to check out this collection of essays. That said, I was definitely pushed over the edge by Philip Lopate’s glowing review of the book.

And yet, there’s something missing here. It’s definitely not the quality of writing—D’Ambrosio is solid, if a little too busy, on the page. He’s at his best when his sentence construction is more straightforward, which isn’t often enough. There are a couple of essays that really shine (“This is Living”, “Salinger and Sobs”) and others that just make you feel sad for the depth of D’Ambrosio’s personal struggles over the years. This book just doesn’t add up to anything that’s worthy of pushing on your friends.

I could totally see individual pieces showing up on reading lists for creative nonfiction courses, but as a whole, these essays are the kind of work that you read one time or when you’re required to, not because you’re in any great need for the experience they offer.

The Days of Abandonment
by Elena Ferrante

Days of AbandonmentWho can possibly avoid Ferrante’s name lately? She’s verging on becoming a publishing phenomenon, and that’s partly due to her refusal to engage with media (a tactic she has remained committed to since the beginning of her publishing career). Ferrante is a kind of enigma in today’s world, and that’s pretty much why I was interested in checking out her work.

While it’s the author’s Neapolitan novels that have received the most buzz, The Days of Abandonment is the book that caught my eye. It feels like it was written in a burst of anxious rage. I’m a slow reader, but this took no time at all.

The basic gist is that a late-30s woman is abandoned by her husband and left to raise their two kids on her own. However, it’s not the daily chores of life that wear her down, but her self-destructive nature. She is her own worst enemy and we follow her down the rabbit hole of second-guesses and self-doubt. The narrative is pretty simple, structurally speaking, but the book is unlike any other that I’ve read recently.

The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houellebecq

Elementary ParticlesI’m constantly wondering whether I like Houellebecq as a novelist or just like watching a car crash occur on nearly every page of his books. He makes me cringe whenever he writes about women-as-objects—something he does often—but he’s also a novelist with some big ideas. It’s a very hard balance for me as a reader.

In The Elementary Particles, the majority of the misogynism is bound within the perspective of a damaged character—and that somehow makes it more palatable, since it’s easier to find a character repulsive and continue reading rather than openly suspecting the novelist himself is a monster. (Not that any of that absolves Houellebecq.)

As a writer of “big ideas,” there are many on offer here—though most will be familiar to anyone who has read Houellebecq’s later books, The Possibility of an Island and The Map and the Territory (both of which are superior). It can be pretty slow going in some sections. That’s because Houellebecq is guilty of using scenes between characters as an opportunity for pontificating in long droning thoughts. People in this book don’t engage with each other on a meaningful level… though that may be the very point he’s trying to make.

Edward Hopper "Summer Interior"

Full Stop recently published my essay on grief-themed books from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Paul Auster, and Joan Didion.

“Why did you want to write about such a heavy subject?” you may ask. Well, I’m not altogether sure what compelled me to write this piece. The idea hit me the moment I looked over at a stack of books sitting in front of my (poorly undermatched) bookcase: Knausgaard’s first volume of My Struggle, Auster’s Invention of Solitude, and Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking were bunched together at the top.

It struck me as odd that they shared such an intimate topic and I found myself thinking about exploring it further. After a bit of brainstorming, I pitched a feature essay to Full Stop and got the green light – which led to a lot more brainstorming, writing, and rewriting.

I’m pretty satisfied with the result. Let me know what you think!

NY Times Review Policy Loosens Distributor Grip

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Just before spring arrived this year, The New York Times quietly changed its movie review policy. Instead of reviewing everything that got a proper release in a theatre (in Manhattan) for a certain amount of days (at least a week), they decided to branch out and include films that are finding new ways to reach viewers through […]

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3 Reasons Why I Love Freelancing

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I’ve been a full-time freelance copywriter for three years now, building on three previous years as a staff copywriter in a private post-secondary institution. In a traditional agency environment, those six years may have led me to a senior copywriter position by now. So why don’t I seek out a full-time position somewhere? 1. Focused Productivity It’s hard for writers […]

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My Winter Reads

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I’ve been so busy with work this winter that my reading is falling behind. I know this because my teetering stack of unread books is starting to become structurally unsound. It’s worth noting that the books I’m carrying around with me lately are sometimes literary magazines. After years of buying lit mags (or “supporting” them, […]

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Changing Direction in 2015

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2014 was a strange and surprising year, both professionally and personally. A few projects that mean the world to me went in – shall we say – unique directions I hadn’t anticipated. And yet, my career as a freelance copywriter has continued to rise well beyond my initial expectations when I arrived in Toronto in […]

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There’s No Denying John Oliver is a Journalist

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There’s been some debate about John Oliver’s somewhat-dubious claims that he and others, like Jon Stewart, are not journalists. He stresses that they’re comedians and everything they do on their shows is in the service of comedy. Here’s a quote from Oliver that appeared in a recent New York Times piece: “We are making jokes […]

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Dumping Money on the Didion Doc Kickstarter

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Readers of my blog probably how much I love Joan Didion– I’m sorry, what? You don’t? Dude, come on. Okay, so now that we all know how much I admire her writing, then you’ll understand why I had to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign (embedded below) that seeks to produce a documentary about her life. At the […]

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