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Ed Griffin

It’s with regret that I hear of the passing of Ed Griffin, Canadian writer, champion of prison reform, and mentor to many, who taught creative writing at a number of Canadian prisons, until his progressive views on the rehabilitation of prisoners saw him barred from giving any more of the classes that had meant a lot to many inmates.

Ed was no stranger to controversy. He was active in the civil rights movement of the ‘60s, and marched in Selma with Martin Luther King. He became a Roman Catholic priest in 1962, but left the priesthood in 1968. In 1976, he opened a commercial greenhouse in suburban Milwaukee with his wife Kathy, raising children and growing flowers. In 1988 the family moved to British Columbia, where he helped to establish a writing community in Surrey. He is the founder of Western Canada’s largest writer’s conference, the Surrey Writers’ Conference.

I met Ed during my early forays online in 2012. He turned out to be a good friend, writing reviews for my animal novel MagnifiCat, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY and for a number of the short stories I formatted and put on the web, http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI Quick with an encouraging word, and never one to complain, he told us of his diagnosis of prostate cancer about a year ago. Gradually his posts at Writers Write Daily, https://writerswritedaily.wordpress.com/ and Prison Uncensored, https://prisonuncensored.wordpress.com/ slowed to a trickle and finally stopped. When I emailed him one time to ask how he was, he replied cheerfully, saying the medication he was now on made him lethargic and it was difficult for him to write posts. About a week ago, I woke up one night thinking about him and rose to find an email in my Inbox, telling me of his passing.

As part of his championing of those in prison, through the John Howard Society, a humanitarian organization, http://www.johnhowardbc.ca/ Ed started a little bursary called the Ed Griffin Educational Bursary This bursary, to which anyone can contribute, aims to help inmates with the expenses of higher education. Those contributing receive a tax receipt from the John Howard Society, who present money to the educational institution the winning inmate has chosen. Anyone wishing to honour his memory in a concrete way might consider donating at: http://www.edgriffin.net/bursary.html

I know Ed would like that.

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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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Internet friend Ed Griffin continues his run of prison reform novels with Delaney’s Hope, an upbeat idea for a new kind of prison.

Delaney's Hope coveAvailable at: http://www.amazon.com/Delaneys-Hope-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B00GFGEBMG

In this guest blog Ed talks about the wellsprings of his hope for reforms and the novels in which he’s put forward these ideas.

Ed Griffin:

I am interested in prison reform. This is a direct result of teaching writing in prison for twenty years. It’s an indirect result of my education and service as a Roman Catholic priest for five and a half years. I heard the message of the gospel that we were to care for the “least of the brethren.” In my opinion, there wasn’t anybody more least in our society than a federal inmate.

I left the priesthood a few years after marching in Selma with Doctor Martin Luther King. That’s another story, relayed in my non-fiction book, Once A Priest.

I’ve written a lot about prison reform. My first novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw, is a story about Frank Villa, who convinces the US Government to put 300 hardened convicts on an island with their families and let them rule themselves. The federal government has finally realized that they can’t keep paying for prisons. Right now it costs $100 a day to keep a man in prison. So they let Frank Villa have an abandoned Naval base on the island of Adak in the Aleutians. No guards will be on the island, but the US Coast Guard will patrol the waters around Adak, and they will shoot to kill.

Half way to Russia and caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it rains and snows 85% of the time on Adak. In addition, a fierce wind called a Williwaw builds up behind the mountains and smashes down on houses, equipment and even children. In World War II, the weather killed more soldiers than the enemy did.

Frank also faces a convict who plans to use this situation to his own advantage. He knows that each convict leaves prison with $200. He’s eager to help them spend it.

Can convicts rule themselves? This is an issue the novel looks into.

My second book about prison is non-fiction. It’s called Dystopia. An inmate in my writing class joined me in telling the story of prison. We each wrote our stories, not in lesson form, but by relaying the stories of the men we met there.

I told why I came to teach in prison, despite my wife’s worry. Then I started with my first scary day and told about all the people I met in my class. One of the most amazing people I met was Mike Oulton. He’d been arrested in Mexico for trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States. His sentence was ten years, two of which he spent in a Mexican prison and eight of which he spent in a Canadian prison. Mike also tells stories of the men and the staff he met in all those years, and he hints at which prison system he liked better. Mike’s been out now for seven years and he’s doing well. He works as an MC and as a master of ceremonies for weddings. This is right in line with Mike’s whole life, but now he’s found legitimate ways to express his exuberant personality.

The third book about prison reform is my latest novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney is a prison official who put his feet up for twenty years. He tried at the beginning to make changes, but his superiors stepped on him, and so, he did nothing. But then his missionary brother died for standing up to the oil people who wanted to take his parishioners’ land. Delaney feels guilty about wasting all those years, and he tries to repent by setting up a prison that really works. He convinces the government to let him use an abandoned minimum security prison in Wisconsin.

At the beginning he will only have five prisoners and three staff, counting himself. The criminal history of each inmate is given, as well as a picture of the staff. Delaney tries to break down the ‘us and them’ that exist in every prison. He tries to show the inmates that we are all weak human beings and no one, including the staff, is perfect.

His inmates include a drug smuggler who tries to sabotage everything Delaney tries to do. Another man killed his wife in front of their son. A third inmate ran a commercial greenhouse and cheated on the rules. That might have been okay, but then he knocked an old man out of tree, a neighbor who opposed his plans. The old man died. A sheriff who wanted this land to build a big maximum security prison convinced a sex offender to come to the prison, where he presented Delaney with a lot of problems.

Another thing Delaney tries to deal with is the sexism of prisons. Yes, what we now mean by a male prison is not a place for women, but Delaney points out that almost all of society is mixed male and female. If he can create a calm atmosphere, there is no reason why male and female inmates can’t be integrated at least as far as programs are concerned.

The prison starts and Delaney faces problem after problem after problem. Will it work? Can a prison work that’s not like what we have today?

Prison reform is not a popular subject, but we need to face it. When we hear that California spends more money on prisons than it does on education, we begin to ask questions. When we hear that the United States is one of the countries with the most prisoners, it’s time to look at prison reform. And Canada now with its conservative government tries to win votes on the backs of inmates. Right-minded people do not agree.

I hope my two novels and one non-fiction book about prison reform will have an impact. When I started to write, I promised myself I would never bore the reader; I would show, not tell; I would not let one word of opinion enter the story. I hope I have succeeded.

Ed Griffin

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I don’t know about you, but I enjoy hearing other authors talk about the genesis of their work. Below is Ed Griffin’s raison d’etre for the writing of his latest novel Veto, available now from Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Veto-ebook/dp/B005ZIT5DK/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1346464570&sr=1-1&keywords=Veto

Ed Griffin: What’s the matter with me?  I know that action adventure stories sell best. Then why do I go and write a story about a woman who becomes Secretary General of the United Nations?

I remember sitting down with my brother-in-law after dinner at his house. I told him about my idea. He clearly thought I was nuts.

But the story wouldn’t let me go. What if the UN really lived up to its promise? What if it could really help people? What if it was more democratic? Why should the winners of World War II have a veto over the actions of everyone else? France, England, the United States, Russia and China? What about India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan? The recent trouble with Syria – how would it be different if the UN was different?

So a woman, a UN bureaucrat, gets herself chosen as the Secretary General. She tries to help people and is stopped by moneyed interests and eventually by the veto. Does she throw up her hands and say, “Well, I tried.”  No, she goes after the problem at the heart of UN failures, the veto.

And of course, the closer she gets to succeeding, the more the opposition tries to get her out of the way. And that is the action-adventure part.

Where did I get this interest in the UN? I’m almost reluctant to name the first mentor who put me on the UN path. I don’t want to be seen as some sort of religious nut. But it was Pope John the 23rd, the one who opened the windows in the church and called the Vatican Council.

He wrote a letter (encyclical) called Pacem In Terris (Peace on Earth). This pope was well-loved, but conservative commentators did not like this letter. Four important paragraphs are dedicated to the UN. He wanted every human being to “find in this organization an effective safeguard of his personal rights; those rights, that is, which derive directly from his dignity as a human person, and which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable.”

He praises the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the United Nations General Assembly, because “it is a solemn recognition of the personal dignity of every human being; an assertion of everyone’s right to be free to seek out the truth, to follow moral principles, discharge the duties imposed by justice, and lead a fully human life. It also recognized other rights connected with these.”

I wish the Catholic Church of today followed the ideas of this pope.

I also was amazed at the European Union. How could these countries which had fought each other for centuries, come together in a political and economic union? I read a history of the European Union and learned that it IS possible to set up structures that can help the world become a better place.

Where did I get all this information about other countries? From the Internet. There is a world of information out there. I spent hours on line. For example, where does the Secretary General live? What kind of home is it?  The answers are all on the Internet, but it does take some careful work.

Why so much attention on Somalia? When I was at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, my roommate was a man from Somalia, Abdul Elmi. He taught me a lot about Somalia and gave me a feel for the country and the people. I read more and more about Somalia. Abdul was an architecture student and he had to learn all about building below the frost line, even though there is no frost line in Somalia. He returned to his country, but the leader then was Sid Bare, a cruel dictator. Abdul was able to get out of Somalia and return to America, where I sponsored him to enter the country. He still lives and works in Milwaukee. So Somalia is almost in my blood. Most of us white people cannot tell one African from another, and no doubt I could not tell a Sudanese from a person from Zambia, but I can spot Somalis. I was waiting in line at McDonalds recently and I walked up to a guy and asked “Somalia?” He smiled and said yes and we had a great conversation.

What did I learn from writing VETO? I learned that it is possible for institutions to change. First the world tried the League of Nations and then the UN. Maybe someday a Pilar Marti will come along and make the UN an effective tool to help people.

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