In a very near future that is both familiar and troubling, three lives intersect in a time of crisis. The Blue Light Project is a gripping literary thriller about a four day hostage situation in a television studio.
  
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There's a riot going on: Talking to Timothy Taylor about The Blue Light Project

From the Montreal Gazette, an interview with Ian McGillis.

 

 

Timothy Taylor's new The Blue Light Project is that rare beast: a popular novel of ideas. It's a book whose firm narrative grip goes hand in hand with its thematic depth, a book that addresses topical issues with a rigor that feels timeless, while retaining a playfulness, suspensefulness, and plain readability that many a thriller writer would sell his last plot convention for. Last week, I was able to sit down and talk with Taylor during his brief promotional swing through Montreal. He was feeling a bit rough but rose to the occasion admirably. For maximum enjoyment of what follows, readers are encouraged to first check my Gazette review of the book. Also, the curious are urged to explore Taylor's above-linked website for information on some of the street artists whose work helped inspire the novel.  IM
 
The Blue Light Project pulls in and refracts a lot of themes. It's a very ambitious novel in that sense. I wonder, from among all that you've taken on, what the kernel for the book was for you.
 
The original motive was actually not thematic, it was more structural. I wanted to write something that had a very strong front-to-back pull. Like an artist might wake up one morning and decide they want to work in muted pastel shades, I decided that I really wanted something that had urgency. That just felt right for me now, instead of something slower-paced and contemplative. ...
So with that in mind, the idea of a hostage crisis came fairly quickly. It cannot end well for all parties—a hostage crisis is one of those things where somebody will be disappointed at the end of the day. So that was appealing on a strictly narrative level. And then fame very quickly came to be the central concern. It’s a little difficult to tease out the exact sequence of how ideas cluster, but it seems to me that the discussion, the meditation, on fame, very quickly came to occupy the central thematic position.
 
Fame is certainly something that touches every major character in the novel, for better or worse.
 
The three points of view that dominate the book—the artist, the athlete and the journalist—each have a distinct relationship with it, either having fallen from fame or having achieved it and experienced its de-stabilizing qualities. To release oneself to fame is to release one’s sense of self into an entirely volatile environment. That’s (athlete) Eve, of course, and she’s well aware of it, hence her appreciation of, but discomfort with, the attention she receives, and her increasing discomfort with (husband) Nick’s apparent dependency on her fame. To discover that in your partner is to discover that your sense of self is a moving target, because it appears to vacillate with your own fortunes. Once someone you love turns into that sort of moving target, you question the inherent permanence of the relationship. Let’s talk about sports: there are sports stars we feel ambivalent about and there are sports stars that we hate, but thinking of this the other day, I thought it’s hard to think of another type of fame where there’s the opportunity to be so pure and untrammeled, you know? There is a chance for a superstar in sports to be that purely esteemed. I think of a Silken Laumann or someone like that: it’s amateur, it’s selfless.
 
And then there's Thom Pegg, the fallen journalist. He gets the raw end of the fame deal, doesn't he?
 
He’s infamous, he’s disliked, he’s bitter. He’s the author of his own misfortune to a large extent, and then in the ultimate painful irony he ends up being a documenter of the fame of others, which is why he acquires the reputation for occasionally taking someone down.
 
You touch on the ethical issue that caused Pegg's fall: his fabrication of sources. The question is posed as to whether it's okay to use nefarious means if the end--in this case, to expose something evil--is honorable.
 
He asks himself at one point, ‘Did I make up the black site? No, I didn’t make that up, that was real.’ I would say that that kind of conflict is impossible to resolve. Madness that way lies. At some point you just have to stick by the rules because you know that, while you might accomplish something good in your one breach of the standards, you would bring the entire project into discredit and damage the possibility of anybody going forward to do the same kind of good. You can’t do that without destroying the machine, so that’s why it has to be stopped, and that’s why he’s punished accordingly. He can think it through in his head maybe, but I don’t go with him there.
 
What about your decision to leave the city where the book is set unnamed?’
 
I wanted to universalize the phenomenon. I think this is our stuff, you know? These are our issues, not just Pittsburgh’s issues or Vancouver’s issues. Ultimately it had to be an urban everywhere. If I’d placed it somewhere specific it would be too easy for someone to say, ‘Well, that would only happen there.’ Something interesting is that it’s only been here in Montreal where people, two of them, have said, in effect, ‘Well, it’s clearly not here, that couldn’t have happened here.’ It leads me to believe Montreal has a singular sense of itself.
 
The reader, in my view, is asked to take a bit of a leap in accepting the idea of "The Kill", a sort of ritualistic culling of a successful and innocent candidate on an Idol-style TV show. How plausible do you think that is?
 
I think it’s incredibly plausible. Reality television is a machinery for humiliation. Celebrity itself is a quasi-sacrificial system. That machinery does not work unless you cut someone loose every now and again. You have to vent the system, and the reason you have to is that we all think that weshould be famous. It’s the one seemingly common value that we’ve arrived at. We can’t quite agree on anything else anymore, we’ve let go of a lot of what we used to stand for, but it seems like the last man standing is going to be fame, getting status and acclaim in the eyes of our peers. Once that’s the common denominator of all cultural transactions, then we start to resent the people who get it, because we want the same thing. We no longer look at celebrities and say, ‘Well, that’s the celebrity class. Those are the people who get to be famous. I’m clearly not one of them.’ Not at all. We say, ‘That totally could be me.’ But with that in mind, celebrity never comes without this embedded underlying resentment. You just have to look at Charlie Sheen. What’s happening there is that celebration that emerges from resentment. ‘Bring him down! They don’t deserve it any more than I do, and now one of them’s going to fall. Let’s watch.’ That’s the reality of reality television. So, The Kill? Not implausible at all. That’s what we’re already doing anyway.
 
In those terms, Rabbit, the underground artist, is kind of the anti-Charlie Sheen.
 
He’s anti-renown. He’s decided to take as his value the anonymity of the public act for which no authorship is claimed. The new image that we need, the "adequate image" that Herzog refers to, is the one that is a gift, the act that is of pure selflessness. If you can’t make that kind of act, then you’re merely caught up in the kind of resentment I described earlier.
 
The whole art vs commerce debate, in which Rabbit clearly represents one side, was thought by many to have been obliterated back in the 1960s by Andy Warhol.
 
Well, he may have obliterated the distinction in large swathes of the art market, which is exactly why we don’t respond to contemporary art with anything in the way of heart or warmth. When I look at a Damien Hirst diamond-encrusted skull, I respond to it exactly the way I do when I read about a collateralized debt obligation. I go, ‘That’s a pretty clever thing. I can tell exactly why you made it, I can see all the motives behind it, I know exactly how that came into the world.’ There’s nothing magical about it. When I see something the source of which I can’t explain, the motive behind which I can’t easily tease out, that’s a glimpse of divinity there, that’s the uncaused cause, and it’s extremely rare. There is a category of human experience that meets that. The blink of first love is like that. Where does that come from, ‘I’m in love’? Which is why I resent anthropological explanations of love in terms of chemistry and hormones, because that’s not how we live it. At its best and most effective, art can be that way. But it isn’t always. Andy Warhol sure as f—k isn’t.
 
Readers are sure to bring memories of certain real-life public events--the Russian Theatre Crisis, G8 and G20-style mass demonstrations and the crackdowns thereupon--to their experience of the book.
 
The Russian Theatre Crisis was a direct inspiration, but G20 hadn’t happened yet when I finished the book; I think the manuscript was in the editing stage. I did watch tape of Genoa in 2001, and I read material about riot psychology and police psychology. I’m also a bit of a student of Rene Girard, a French intellectual who’s been quite influential. But this stuff goes way back. Von Clausewitz talked about how violence between hostile parties becomes reciprocal and how that’s what leads to escalation. That is an extremely powerful idea, that combatants copy one another, and that’s very much what I was driving at in the book with the notion of violence being contagious. Eve senses that. It felt like if one person had it, it could spread. That’s very much my belief about violence. As people, we copy each other. As a matter of neurological wiring, we are mimetic creatures; that’s why we have language, that’s why we can read the moods of others by looking at their faces. The parallels between the G20 and the riots I describe in the novel became almost eerie. You recall that in the investigation that briefly opened into the G20 they talked about police taking off their name tags, many more than were originally admitted? Fascinating. The police come face to face with an undifferentiated crowd, the members of which can’t be held individually responsible for their actions because they are anonymous within the group, and what’s their response? They remove their name tags, so that the police themselves can submerge their individuality into a crowd of almost identical construction. That’s a mimetic action. Same thing with the infiltration that happened at the summit in Genoa. It was a like a football game where the offense and defense were in the same huddle. It’s crazy, and it’s been going on for years. This is an allegation, I stress, but a photographer I was just working with in Toronto told me he was walking through the crowd (at the G20)  when he saw a guy wearing the press credentials of a friend of his. And he happened to know that that friend was in police custody at that moment. He went up to the guy and said , ‘I happen to know that you’re not this person,’ and the guy said ‘I’m a really good friend of his,’ and the photographer said, ‘No you’re not, you’re a cop.’ So, talk about mirroring behavior. I become you in order to beat you. So, these are the aspects of crowd dynamics that I’m trying to explore. We copy, and it results in escalation. An important idea and a scary idea.
 
Did you find it necessary or expedient, for research and veracity purposes, to watch a lot of Idol- and reality-style TV?
 
You know what I did? And you can do this yourself if you want to go down a wormhole for a couple of hours. A friend turned me on to a whole category of YouTube videos called reaction videos. What people do is set up the camera on the day when the winner is going to be announced and they film their live reactions. Depending on your perspective it’s riveting or chilling or distressing. People are weeping, storming around the room breaking things, responding with intense personal connection to the event. So, if ever you want illustrated how embedded in the self these competitions become, how engaged with the fame of others people get, watch some of those reaction videos.
 
But isn't it inevitable that, knowing they'll be posting, people will start to ham it up for their own cameras?
 
Excellent question, and the larger the phenomenon became, the more you would suspect the result. But I mean, you do what you do as a job, and I would suspect that if I threw a big fake on you, if I were way out of my zone, you would question me. So just watch one of those videos. When the switch goes and the person reacts, it seemed pretty intensely real to me. 
Posted: Saturday, Mar. 12, 2011 9:11am

Praise for The Blue Light Project

 The Blue Light Project has garnered a lot of press attention this past week. And it’s almost all been very positive. The book is an Amazon.ca New and Notable Title as well as an Amazon.ca Spring Book Feature. Author profiles have now run in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post.

But the reviews have been really appreciative and I’m proud to share a few quotes with you.

Delightfully engrossing. . . . Holding The Blue Light Project together is Taylor’s prose style, which jumps across the page like a joyful, risk-loving parkour artist.” -- Winnipeg Free Press

An ambitious novel, one that challenges its readers to pay attention or get left behind, but it is definitely worth the necessary concentration. . . . It is about the power of art to heal in the aftermath of tragedy. And from a literary standpoint, it works extremely well. The Blue Light Project’s closing image will stay with readers for a long time after they close the book. . . . A wonderful novela thought-provoking and challenging story that will lead to debate and discussion among readers and might even change the way you look at our celebrity-driven culture.” -- The Vancouver Sun

Taylor is an intelligent writer, and one whose novels suggest that he has strong political convictions. Some of the best and most unsettling moments come when the grim ironies of the plot illustrate how governments . . . are quietly dismantling long-taken-for-granted rights and privileges and replacing them with libertarian pseudo-freedoms. . . . Taylor will one day be a Canadian icon.” -- J.C. Sutcliffe, The Globe and Mail

A breakneck literary thriller that combines the worlds of conspiracy theory, reality TV, celebrity culture and street art.” -- Mark Medley, National Post

Astonishing, breath-taking passages of explosive writing. . . . One of the most beautiful and moving codas to a novel I have read for many a year. . . . The Blue Light Project will give you pause, will make you look at media differently than you did before, and the hostage-taking . . . will keep you engaged. . . . A novel worth reading.” -- By the Book Reviews

“It’s tempting to race through The Blue Light Project. It has the compelling narrative momentum and intricate plotting of a thriller. Resist the temptation, because this fourth book from Vancouver’s Timothy Taylor is as much a novel of ideas as it is a page-turner. It’s a crucible of topical issues. . . . By turns hopeful and alarming, The Blue Light Project is a thought-provoking take on what one character calls ‘our toxic times.’” -- Barbara Carey, Toronto Star

“Terrorism, fame, celebrity worship, art vs. commerce––they’re all themes that can and do carry many a novel by themselves, so Taylor risks overload in taking on all of them. He manages it by skilfully juggling the intimate with the public, the small-scale with the monumental. Confining the action to a three-day period, he ramps up the suspense as effectively as any more conventional thriller writer could. . . . The scenario he presents is all too plausible, the time all too contemporary. Best of all––and here is where the writer he most recalls is Don DeLillo––Taylor finds surprising angles into his material. . . . In the end, for all horror on display, hope is what The Blue Light Project holds out.” -- Ian McGillis, The Gazette

Beautifully written and brimming with important ideas. . . . Taylor skillfully portrays a city losing its collective mind. . . . Offering astute satire . . . , Taylor comments pointedly on celebrity and art’s redemptive qualities. The sequence where Rabbit puts his installation into place has an exquisite tension showcasing Taylor’s excellent chops. . . . His themes are absolutely of the moment, and his characters are consistently fascinating.” -- NOW (Toronto)

 

Posted: Monday, Mar. 7, 2011 10:05am

Postmodern Research

I was honored to have JermIX do the cover of The Blue Light Project American edition. He's just posted a great piece on his blog describing the process.

Jerm's description of how he went about it opens a window into the two-way creative relationship that this book had with the artists who inspired it. I was absorbing their work into the novel, describing it and making it part of the narrative. But then the novel itself - specifically, pages from a very early draft - had been included in street art as far back as 2008.

Perhaps most satisfying, art I "invented" for the book has lately been appearing on the streets. I've now seen You'll Find It Where You Last Saw It posters. There's this whole Faith Wall sticker campaign that Jerm describes. There's even a documentary film being shot about the relationship between Cameraman and Rabbit.

An interviewer suggested recently that the novel was post-modern. In the sense that authenticity and authorship are no longer concrete concepts, I was forced to agree.

 

Posted: Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011 3:19pm

The brutal honesty of Doug Coupland

A fantastic, supportive quote has come in from UBC English professor Laura Moss, who is also an editor at the literary quarterly Canadian Literature, and the author of Canadian Literature in English: Texts and Contexts

In the this quote, Moss compares my work to Coupland. I'm flattered by that comarison, as I admire Coupland a lot. And having had dinner at his house once, I'll tell you a secret. Eve's brother Ali, in the novel, lives in a house that was inspired by my memories of Coupland's beautiful house.

The book is available from AMAZON here. Please give it a look.

Laura writes:

"The Blue Light Project slows down today's accelerated world in order to sympathetically probe the constraints of celebrity, public art, and biopolitics in the context of contemporary terrorism. At the core of this suspenseful novel is a hostage crisis that is terrifyingly real. Taylor forces us to consider probabilities.   What might happen at the confluence of fear, love, and hope?

Just as Taylor's first novel Stanley Park concludes with one of the most memorable meals in contemporary literature, the final illumination in The Blue Light Project will haunt readers for decades to come. 

Writing at times with the incisive vision of Margaret Atwood, the broken lyricism of Michael Ondaatje, the social realism of Rohinton Mistry, and the brutal honesty of Douglas Coupland, Timothy Taylor now firmly ranks among Canada's finest authors.

The Blue Light Project is an important book. Pay attention."

Again, if you're interested in trying out this "thriller that makes you think", please visit AMAZON with this link

Posted: Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 5:36pm

As It Is: And/Or/Neither/Nor Work by Andrew (A01) Owen

Andrew (A01) Owen was a huge influence on me during the writing of The Blue Light Project. His street activity was high during the months I was writing and researching the book, primarily in the form of 1:1 scale "re-photo-cubic-surfaces". I became very intrigued by this practice and by this artist. Over the following years, I got to know him a little better, and began to realize that he had 20 years of intense production already behind him, dozens of interesting and beautiful works, not an eclectic gathering as a person might first mistakenly think, but bound thematically. I was able appreciate this more fully when he mounted a show at Marion Scott Gallery last year. I wrote a review of that show for Canadian Art, which I'm re-running below.

Check out more of Andrew's work at A01creative.

----

As It Is: And/Or/Neither/Nor  work by Andrew A01 Owen

Andrew Owen’s basic idea is elusive. But then, that’s exactly the core of Andrew Owen’s basic idea: that a great deal eludes us, perhaps nowhere more so than in the consumerized West. We live, Owen asserts – via an impressive range of work at his first solo show in Canada in almost 20 years – on the twilight side of a yawning subjectivity gap, a chasm of personal and cultural bias that separates us from the truth about… well, about anything.

Art objects are crucially affected in this analysis, of course, with both the subjectivity of the artist and that of the viewer contributing to a permanently flawed communication. How to conquer that? Owen asks, in effect. His answer to which is to get the artist as far as possible out of the way. And each work in this show represents a discrete attempt on Owen’s part to do so.

I say “elusive”, because the idea takes some teasing out. At first glance, the MSG show incorporates work so diverse in media and aesthetic tone – from floral impressions to fragmented photographic collages to re-purposed advertisement hoardings – that it would be easy enough to conclude that three or four artists were involved. But it’s all Owen, all tuned to the same conceptual key. And once this harmonization is sensed, the body of work transmutes satisfyingly from multifarious to singular.

The floral impressions are field compositions, positive stencils made by pressing layers of wild flowers to the canvas, and applying a different layer of paint over each. As bits of organic matter tend to remain stuck to these canvases, and paint also ghost in under the leaves, these works are naturally randomized. They’ve been exposed to the whims of wind and other conditions in the field. And so the flowers have been allowed, in effect, to speak for themselves.

The photo collages take a diametrically different approach to the same problem. Using a technique he describes as “photo-cubism”, Owen delivers a portrait – of flowers or groups of people – by rendering them in an intense flurry of different views. This is brought to its most expressive form in the large work Photo-cubic Stoop Punks: Portrait Tableau. That piece – depicting of a group of punk rockers assembled on a stoop in Toronto Kensington Market – is not a collage of objects, but of available perspectives. It’s a collage designed not to bridge the subjectivity gap, in other words, but to erect a sign that reads, roughly, mind the gap.

 

 

 

Posted: Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 11:28am

The Blue Light Project at the Vancouver International Writers Festival

 

Incite April 6

7:30 PM on Wednesday, April 6th

Alice McKay room, Central Vancouver Public Library

 

Incite will feature a presentation from Timothy Taylor about his new novel The Blue Light Project. Involving three days in the life of a city gripped by a hostage taking in a television studio at the center of town, The Blue Light Project is part page-turning thriller. (A bookseller who read an advance copy recently posted to her Facebook page that the book had kept her up until 4:30 in the morning!)

 

But the novel is more importantly about the way people source hope in troubled times. From love, certainly, which never loses its capacity to surprise. But also from art, the magical power of which retains the ability to shock us out of our routines, and inspire us to look at the future in a new way.

For this presentation, Timothy will present some of the street art images that were published in the book, discussing their influence and the stories behind them.

 

 

The evening will begin with a discussion with two very exciting new writers: Gurjinder Basran (Everything was Goodbye) and Rupinder Gill (On the Outside Looking Indian).

 

 

 

 

Posted: Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011 10:06am

The Blue Light Project Book Trailer

The Blue Light Project book trailer is out. Click here to watch.

Thanks Scott Sellers and Dean Bernard, also DP Douglas Nelson and Editor Scott Douglas for making this happen.

Posted: Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011 2:49pm

US Cover Finalized

 This cover was commissioned by Soft Skull and I think it turned out great. It's based on JermIX's street art installation Cascading Confession, which Jerm has described to me as the hardest thing he's ever done. You can understand why. It's a poem about a painful set of young adult experiences, laid over the pages of his autobiography. The poem is "cascading" into place with letters falling from above.


When I first saw this work in real life, I remember thinking: this is a better artistic representation of the writing process than I've ever seen before. It captures the difficulty and the hope.

 

Posted: Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011 11:40am

Scott Sellers on The Blue Light Project

Scott Sellers is the VP Marketing Strategy for Random House of Canada. He spoke recently to Michelle MacAleese of Knopf Canada about The Blue Light Project.

Please click HERE to see the video.

 

Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 8:40am

The Blue Light Project - The Canadian Cover

The Canadian cover of my new novel has been finalized. Scott Richardson is the designer and I think he's done a great job. The flying man is doing a parkour stunt. Wonder what he's running from? I bet it's really tense. I bet there's danger involved.

I'd buy it. Of course, I am biased.

Posted: Monday, Jun. 21, 2010 9:01pm