Thursday, December 31, 2009

Champagne and caviar!

Where has the time gone? I've been meaning to do a year-in-review post. i might still do it this weekend if there's time. Or maybe I'll just forget about the year that was and move on to the year that is. So let us say goodbye to the Noughts, and hello to the ... the teens? What is this new decade called?

Anyway, there is lots to look forward to, including new books, new writing developments, the one-year blogiversary (spelling?), and other acts bordering on knavery. I wish you well, and thanks for sticking with me this long.

As for the title, I'm driving tonight, so no champagne for me. And caviar? My inner vegetarian is shrieking at the thought.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Season's Readings, aka Books Are Great Gifts

Some people associate this time of year with gathering around evergreens. Others prefer candelabras, and still others prefer listening to white noise on the radio. Some of those people give presents at this time of year, and sometimes they give books. However, giving a book can be difficult. Most fiction and non-fiction books (aside from cookbooks, textbooks, and collector's items) are relatively cheap. Think about the average presents you buy for people. Books are probably on the low-end scale when it comes to cost.

So it isn't the cost of the book that gets people flustered. Some people don't know which book to buy. Here is a bit of unsolicited advice, followed by a short, incomplete list.

First of all, go beyond the bestsellers. You're looking for a gift for someone who reads, and if that person cares enough to read a lot, that person has probably got the obvious books. The exception to this would be children's classics that a lot of people have read, but they may not own copies any more. I'm talking about titles like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or The Paper Bag Princess. Where the Wild Things Are could have been on this list last year. Now I think everyone owns a copy.

Second of all, put some thought into it. Giving a book says one of two things: a) you know the person well, and the gift is going to be appreciated, or b) you couldn't think of anything else--and I mean you couldn't think of a single thing. In either case, you need the gift to be thoughtful. I hope the following list helps.

Ever wondered what Aristotle was thinking when he was tutoring a Macedonian prince named Alexander? The Golden Mean, by Annabel Lyon, gives you some clues. (This novel includes strong language, sexual themes, and violence.) It got massive press in Canada this year, but I don't know how it's getting promoted elsewhere in the world.

Sticking with the Greek theme, Gates of Fire, by Stephen Pressfield, is one of the grittiest books I've ever read. There is no "THIS! IS! SPARTA!", but the story has everything from Frank Miller's 300, and then some. (By the way, you've seen 1776, right?)

For those into historical fiction with a dash of romance, there is The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. What's a girl gotta do to survive and thrive in Renaissance Florence?

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson, offers a fresh look on fantasy. Even better, it's the rare fantasy novel that is one book long. I also reviewed it earlier this year.

Want a graphic novel? Skim is worth it for Jillian Tamaki's art alone, but Mariko Tamaki's story is every bit as good.

Know someone who's interested in multiculturalism, and wants to know why it seems to work in Canada when it doesn't in other countries? Try A Fair Country, by John Ralston Saul. Read the section called "A Métis Civilization" if you want to score bonus points with the reader.

I hesitate to put Coraline on this list, because the movie has made it a popular title (as if being written by Neil Gaiman wasn't enough of a boost), but if you know a child (age 8+) who doesn't have this book, you can be the cool one who introduces him or her to this tale. It has kidnapped parents, talking cats, and mice that play in a marching band. Scary enough to grab a child's attention, but not scary enough to get them to stop reading.

The bottom line is that you can get someone a good book just by putting a little bit of thought into it.

Note: This list was (mostly) free of picture books, kid-lit, and teen-fic for reasons relating to my work. But I can casually mention that you can visit my publisher's web site here and browse through some of the categories, such as "Governor General's Literary Award winners". Do as you will.

(Photo courtesy of bibliodyssey.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

'Tis the season

Pictures of the first snow and some reindeer. Before you ask, I forgot to resize most of the photos. Holiday reads coming soon, but there's this in the meantime.

Guess who?

The view from my room.

My neighbourhood.

The parking lot at work. Not everyone showed up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Panic

"People do not put a high value on books," one of my teachers said, and she had a point. Books as physical objects are not worth that much to most people. How often do you buy a book? How often do your friends buy them? How well do you take care of them? Would you spend more on a book than on another item you liked?

Books are usually for entertainment and leisure, and even there they're second-class citizens to movies, music, and video games. Think about how much money each industry makes in comparison. Books that aren't intended for your reading pleasure may have it even worse. Just think about all the textbooks you've bought and used in your life.

What we like are the stories within the books. Oh, some people take more pleasure than others in the feel or smell of a book, or they go crazy for hardcovers, or they love the conveniently small size of mass market paperbacks. But usually people care more about what's IN the pages than the pages themselves.

I was reminded of that on a crowded subway. Some guy was reading a book at my station, and when we got into the subway car he sat down while I elected to stand. I saw right away that he was reading The Shadow Rising, the fourth Wheel of Time novel and easily one of my Top 3 in the series. Incidentally, it has what might be my least favourite cover of all the books*.

I could see what chapter he was on, and if anyone on the subway cared to look around at the other passengers instead of pretending that they were in a teeny tiny bubble isolated from the rest of humanity, they might have noticed a bit of a grin on my face as I pictured Rand's exodus from Tear, with Mat trailing along against his will. I was toting up the how many crowning moments of awesome there were in that one book. I held myself back from saying something to the guy (that would have been weird... didn't you read the part about ignoring other people on the subway?), but I still wondered whether he was re-reading the books or if it was his first time through. You know what parts to anticipate when you re-read a favourite book, and it almost makes those parts better. On the other hand, you can never really recapture the initial moments of wonder. so did the guy have any idea what was going to happen at Rhuidean? Did he know about Mat's trip through the twisted door frame ter'angreal? Did he know that the Aiel were really descended from--well, I'll say no more.

My point (if I have one) is that the stories are what gives value to the books. Books as a medium for the masses are a relatively recent invention, only going back about 500 years for the invention of the printing press. Stories, on the other hand, have been around forever. From wall-paintings in la grotte de Lasceaux, to the oral traditions of every culture, the stories will be told. They will live on. Somehow.

*As with other things WOT-related, Leigh Butler nailed the description for this loathed cover, "in which The Little Woman cooks for Random Archer Guy and his friend Eighties Sweatband Guy, who clearly fell through a time warp from a Richard Simmons workout tape onto the Oregon Trail, where he never got a chance to learn how to wear them old-fangled coats before they all died of dysentery." Charming, no?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh no! The plot makes no sense!

To plot, or not to plot, that is the question. Whatever your experience with writing, you fall into one of two categories: Those who outline their stories, or those who say “To Hell with outlines!” There is no middle ground.

Which option is better? Each side has their defenders. Among the authors I respect, Stephen King hates the idea of outlines, while Terry Brooks is a firm believer in sitting down for a few days and sketching out the major points of the story. King says you should just write and let the story tell itself. Brooks responded that not everyone (including him) is Stephen King, therefore it won’t work for everyone.

Brooks is an interesting case because his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, was not plotted. He did the same thing for his next story, but it was so terrible (according to him) that he shelved it and switched to outlines forever. The result was The Elfstones of Shannara, a book many people consider his best. (Personally, I like a lot of his books better than Elfstones, but I digress.)

I think one thing to keep in mind is how much you write. If you write 2000 words a day, every day, then you’ll be finished your first draft within three months, give or take a few weeks. Your story will be fresh in your mind, and you will be so immersed in the work that you’ll have a really good idea of what’s working in the manuscript and what stinks. If—like a certain knavish blogger—you only write in fits and starts, then the feel of your story will escape you because you are not always writing. An outline could be your saving grace.

I’m still trying to fight the good fight for the No Outline team, but I’m starting to wonder if Brooks wasn’t right about King. (Interesting note: Stephen King claims the only days he doesn’t write are Christmas and his birthday. He’s lying. He writes on those days, too.) Both have published amusing and informative memoirs. I wrote about King’s On Writing in my last post. Brooks’s book is called Sometimes the Magic Works.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Writing

On Writing, by Stephen King is the best book I have ever read about the craft of writing.*

I bought it a few years ago because I liked the cover and the smooth feel of the dust jacket. At 3.99, I also liked the price. I’d never read anything by King at that point. I didn’t care for horror novels, and I thought King was a hack. But, I harbored dreams of writing the next great fantasy novel, and here was a book that looked like it had some answers tucked away in the pages. Answers? More like revelations.

The book begins with a little bit about young Stevie King. It seems he had the writing bug all his life, and the author takes you through the ups and downs of his life, right up to the early part of this decade, just after he was crushed by the drunk driver of a van while out on an evening stroll. Almost every personal story relates to writing in some way, setting up the tips and lessons in the second half of the book.

Give this book a try if you want to write. Give it a try even if you just want to read a really good memoir.

All this makes me happy to see such a glowing review for King’s new book, Under the Dome. It just reinforces my opinion of King as one of my favorite authors, and one of the best authors around.

And here is some Toronto representation with an interview, and another review.

Oh, right, the Stephen-King-is-a-hack thing. I revised that opinion a long time ago.

*Although, Strunk-n-White is probably my favorite book on the specifics of writing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Here is the Thursday morning roundup for your reading and writing pleasure:

Because everyone likes a good list, I present Eric Brown's Ten Tips for Aspiring Writers

Also for writers, tips on making the most of a character's first appearance.

Very good, in-depth look at picking someone to criticize your writing.

Here's a review of High Fidelity, a book I've recommended to just about everyone, including Deanna at Mom - Musings.

And, while I'm not a parent, and I don't hear the pitter-pattering feet of little bambinos, this is an interesting list of the best books on parenting. I don't read much non-fiction, but I'll probably crack open a couple of these when the time comes. Eventually. is giving away a book called A Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children. As in cooking children. It's fairy tale based, or so I assume. Enter by November 15th.

I think that's all for now. If you have any links to share, post them in the comments and I'll add them here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Giller wrap-up

Some photos and notes from last night's Giller Light Bash, celebrating the nominees (and the eventual winner) of the Scotiabank Giller prize. For those of you writing in Canada, the Giller is a huge prize with lots of prestige, and a cool $50,000. (Note: The other four nominees still get $5,000 each. Not too shabby.) Here is a breakdown of the nominees, and you can also read excerpts from the books.

The winner was Linden MacIntyre, for The Bishop's man and you can read more from the Star and the Globe. Congratulations, Mr. MacIntyre.

I went to the event at the Berkeley Church at the last minute, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, I had no idea so many people would be dressed with jackets and ties. Being new to publishing meant that I only knew a handful of people there, but these are some of the people I either know or just met. Or in some cases I just photographed them surreptitiously.

Acrobats? Sure. Why not? I think they were from a troupe called Gravityworks.

And who are these two scalawags? Hmm? Well, Rowan is the one in the suit, and I'm the one who needs a shave.

I should also thank someone for letting me in for free. I just wish I knew who. See, I signed up for a ticket from @meghanmac on Twitter, and she told me to meet the Booknet Canada people at the door. There were no Booknet people. Instead, there were people with tickets who wanted to give me one of the tickets set aside for Booknet. I tried to explain my situation (I thought I still had to pay), and they assured me that these ones were set aside and already paid for. If there was a mixup and I took someone's pre-paid ticket, I wholeheartedly apologize. Please let me know. If this was the way things were supposed to go, then thank you very much. I had a great time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Book 12 of The Wheel of Time, which has another awful cover. I should be used to them by now.

I've been going back and forth with myself the last few days, not sure whether I should write this or not. I worry that I cannot be objective, because I am a fan of the authors and the series. In the end, my desire to write about the book won out. You'll have to take anything I say with a pound of salt (although it's not all favorable), and make up your own mind about the review.

Please, please, PLEASE, if you are going to read this book and you do not care to find out what happens, do not continue reading this post. I don't know how I can make it any clearer.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Not extreme spoilers, but there's enough. Alright? Alright. Let us proceed.


“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”

Those words effectively began the series years ago. Now, almost twenty years later, the end is in sight. Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, and Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish the sprawling epic. That required a lot of work, but Sanderson was up to the task and now the rest of us can see what he has made of another man’s work.

The most immediate answer is that he has done well. If fact, he exceeded my already high expectations. TGS provides excitement and laughter, shock and sadness, and it gives the sense that the conclusion is very near. This is a good thing, because it is book twelve, and both Sanderson and TOR Books have promised the series has only two books left, both to be published within the next two years or sooner. The title alludes to the storm that will break on or before the Last Battle, and that storm is coming fast. The biggest complaint most people had against the last few books was that they moved at a glacial pace. That started to change with the last book, Knife of Dreams, but things really get going in TGS. You know when there's a moment of suspense in a film, and the violins are drawing out a really high note, building tension until something pops out of the dark and you jump in your seat? That's what most of TGS is like, but with payoff after payoff. This should appease any fans still harboring ill will from Book 10, Crossroads of Twilight (aka The One Where Nothing Happens).

As of the previous book, the Light Brigade was in no shape to march off and battle the Dark. Our hero, Rand al’Thor, has a lot of work to do. It’s tough to unite the world when everyone thinks you will destroy the world anyway. Those people have a point.

One of Sanderson’s biggest success in this book is Rand. Everyone worries about Rand going crazy, but this is the book where it finally happens. Twice. It’s understandable given the mountain of things he’s had to overcome, but it’s very sad to see him finally succumb to madness. It is also terrifying. Rand is no longer an innocent farmboy, and he’s causing as much chaos and destruction as the Dark One. He breaks rules he once held sacred, and he commits acts that could probably damn his soul. There are so many lows to choose from, but the most disappointing has to be the confrontation with his father, a meeting people have been waiting for since Rand and Tam parted ways in the first book. It’s to Sanderson’s credit that he can make all of the chaos work so well.

Sanderson’s other success is Egwene al’Vere. I don’t think she ever held the dubious title of Most Annoying WOT Character for me, but she used to be close. Instead, she continues the steady rise to maturity that she began in the last couple of books, and here she completes her transformation as the most awesome character at this point. Mat is still my favourite, and Rand is still the one carrying the fate of the world, but Egwene is the one who is in control of her forces—at least until the next book.

If there is one other major highlight, it belongs to Verin, the sneakiest of sneaky Aes Sedai. I’ll say no more, but I highly doubt anyone saw her twist coming. Whether the credit for that revelation goes to Sanderson or Jordan, bravo to him.


The irrelevance of Mat and Perrin: I understand they will feature more in Book 13, just like Rand and Egwene shared top billing in this book. Here’s hoping, because their sections were small and almost pointless in this one.

Tuon: Yes, she’s Seanchan, with a way of looking at things that seems natural to the Seanchan, but it irks me no end that Mat ended up with someone who makes me *headdesk* so much. Wasn’t it enough that Perrin had to settle for Faile? (Note: I think Faile improved in this book. Just a smidgen, but there it is.) When I turned a page to see a chapter called “The Death of Tuon” I figured it was too much to hope for.

Mat’s language: Was it just me, or did he seem a lot more flippant and off-the-cuff than he used to be? He seemed like more of a caricature of Mat at first. By the end of his brief appearance he seemed more like the old Mat, but I hope for better in the next book.

Some of the language in general: I thought Brandon did a fantastic job, but there were a few word choices that seemed to stick out. I suppose the only reason I’m bringing them up is because the rest of the job was so seamless, so it made those few instances stand out even more. Of course, those might have been Jordan’s words I’m quibbling about. What do I know?

The editing: 750 pages or so is a lot to edit. No book is perfect when it comes to line or copy editing. I didn’t really notice anything until almost halfway through the book. Then in the space of about a chapter I found more than a half-dozen mistakes. I’m talking about missed words and typos. Yikes! After that I found a few more so that by the end of the book I had around 15 or so similar errors. I'm sure that’s forgivable, but the first half was clean. What happened to the second half?

Bottom line: It’s my favorite book in a long, long time. Sanderson's done a masterful work. The ending is hopeful for a change, and the goodies are enough to keep me sated until next year’s release of whatever the next book will be called. Two books to go until the end. The Last Battle is right around the corner, and I'm feeling like Rand has a shot for the first time. Yay!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tips for English Bumblers

Readers, writers, and day-to-day users of the English language, lend me your ear. I'm seeing an alarming number of error-filled manuscripts, emails, and IM conversations. There are incorrect words being used everywhere. Should you care? Please allow me to quote Mark Twain:

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Twain was a bit of a smarty-pants. Now, I am not William Strunk, or E.B. White, or even Lynne Truss, but goshdarnit I can still list some Fails and Fixes to make your writing gooder… er, better.

(Disclaimer: I started by writing my own explanations, but ended up adapting the definitions from Common Errors in English Usage by Paul Brians. It is the best help site I know of, and I don’t know what else I can say to recommend it.)

Just remember two points and you’ll never make this mistake again. (1) “it’s” always means “it is” or “it has” and nothing else. (2) Try changing the “its” in your sentence to “his” and if it doesn’t make sense, then go with “it’s.”

“You’re” is always a contraction of “you are.” If you’ve written “you’re,” try substituting “you are.” If it doesn’t work, the word you want is “your.”

“There” has “here” buried inside it to remind you it refers to place, while “their” has “heir” buried in it to remind you that it has to do with possession.

Regardless of what you have heard, “irregardless” is a redundancy. The suffix “-less” on the end of the word already makes the word negative. It doesn’t need the negative prefix “ir-” added to make it even more negative.

As in “Could have, should have, would have.” A sentence like “I would have gone if anyone had given me free tickets” is normally spoken in a slurred way so that the two words “would have” are not distinctly separated. Many people hear “would of” and that’s how they write it. Wrong. (Note that “must of” is similarly an error for “must have.”)

That’s it. See? Simple fixes. This isn’t hardcore grammar. This is easy, breezy stuff. Anyone can do it. I’m not crazy.

(Image © 2009 Tracy J. Butler, from Lackadaisy.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Be Fearless

This I believe: If you are a writer, you cannot pull your punches. That means you can’t be afraid of what anyone else will think. That will compromise the writing like nothing else.

At some point, you will have to write about some tough topics. It might occur to you that your words will offend some people, including, but not limited to: your parents, your significant other, your best friends, the world at large, etcetera. Tough. If you want to avoid offending people, don’t write.

We read to learn, to discover new information or to discover something new that was hidden in old information. We also read for entertainment, but entertainment can teach you as much as the supposedly dry and boring stuff. Don’t believe me? Candide, Gulliver’s Travels, and Watchmen are all entertaining reads, but they all speak about the human condition to a certain extent.

This leads me to Jim Nelson, the editor of GQ magazine. As in Gentleman’s Quarterly, the magazine with style advice, expensive taste, and the occasional scantily-clad woman on the cover. I don’t know what I expected from their editor-in-chief, but I sure didn’t expect a thoughtful, serious piece on the state of affairs in the home of the brave. He talks about the R-word (racism), and he’s pointing fingers. For example:

"'Pat Buchanan, rejecting a Latino Supreme Court nominee, glibly declared that “white men were 100 percent of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of the people who died at Gettysburg” and “100 percent of the people I like to eat dinner with.” (He didn’t say that last part.) Then he made his most ignoracist claim yet: “This has been a country built basically by white folks.” Which, apart from ignoring the entire history of slavery, is the subtext of every song I’ve ever heard by Toby Keith.'"

BAM! I wasn’t expecting to read a smackdown of that kind, but why not? I say good for Jim Nelson. And he didn’t stop there. That was from the September editorial. He covered exploitation and greed in October, and a pseudo-homosexual scandal in Afghanistan in November.

The editor of GQ promoting intelligent discussion and other principles of democracy? That, my friends, is fearless. So, whether you write fiction and you’re basing a bad character on one of your good friends, or whether you’re writing a short piece for a magazine owned by Condé Nast, be fearless. If Jim Nelson can do it, so can you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Pirate and the Weasel

There once was a man who worked for the Toronto Transit Commission, the esteemed mode of public transportation in the city of Toronto. Every day, people would line up outside the window of the man’s booth. They would see a man who looked like he could trace his ancestry back to some scowling pirates. It wasn’t because of the bald head, or the earring, or the hooked nose, or the thick moustache with pointy ends, although these attributes helped complete the image. No, it was because of the fierce glare he always wore. Some people thought the plexiglass window was the only thing saving them from a duel, or perhaps a walk on the plank.

This thick, duel-sparing window also had a small, inconveniently placed microphone. People would lean into the microphone and speak up, not sure they were getting through to the man. They would look at him with puzzled expressions, and wait for some kind of reaction--other than a glare. Sometimes this amused the man, but it usually irritated him. This was not one of the days when it amused him.

On this particular day, there were few subway patrons, and the man was in the booth with another of his co-workers, a man who could glare with the best of them, but who looked less like a pirate and more like a weasel with mottled fur. The two of them were drinking coffee. Some statistics claim that coffee can increase irritability, but, as Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” These men had never heard of Mark Twain, and anyway, this was not the sort of information you could share with an irritable pirate and weasel, even on the best of days. This was not the best of days, and when a young man showed up at the ticket window, the day did not get any better.

The young man looked carefree and nonchalant. He was carrying a knapsack filled with books. He was probably some kind of student. How odious. He didn’t look like a pirate or a weasel. The young man pulled out a $50 bill and held it up to the window.

“Hello,” he said. “Do you accept this?”

He was probably asking because several places in the city did not accept $50 bills since there were too many forgeries around. But the TTC accepted them. The young man should have known that, if he rode the “rocket” often enough. Clearly, he did not. The TTC employee decided to continue with his usual glare.

“Can I pay with a fifty?” the man asked again, this time leaning closer to the inconveniently placed microphone. His attitude was innocent, which is only a few letters removed from insolent, and the fare-collector was having none of it.

“For what?” he barked. Since it took longer than a second to get an answer, he tried once more, with feeling.

“For what?” he practically shouted this time.

“What do you want to pay for?” his coffee-drinking friend butted in, yelling as well. The young man’s eyebrows drew together. Was he frowning? Was he daring to judge them?

“One fare, please.” He said it like it was the most normal thing in the world to go up to a ticket window and expect to pay the fare for a subway ride.

“Hunh,” the pirate said, taking the bill.

“One fare,” the weasel said, as if that cleared everything.

The young man watched them through the glass until the change was pushed through a slot under the glass. They gave him two bills, and $10 in coins, most of it in quarters. He continued looking at the fare-collectors with a flat expression as he took his money back and paid his fare. Then he stood there for a moment, but he didn’t do anything. He just said “Thank you,” and walked away.

The bald man watched the fellow go through the turnstile. He could hear those pockets clinking with change. Something about that should have made him laugh. It was funny when they made people feel dumb. So how come it was different this time? The guy had looked… disappointed, like he expected better. Like he didn’t expect to be yelled at when all he wanted to do was pay for a fare.

“We got him good, didn’t we?” the weasel said.

“Yeah,” the pirate replied. “We sure showed him.”

Inside, he wasn’t so sure.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday finds

Technically, I found this Sunday night, but I was too tired to post. Anyway, what we have here is a short clip from a show called Bookmarks. I understand that it used to run on a local cable channel in Aurora, a cute little town where I went to school and worked for several years. So what’s so special about it? Just that one of my bosses is the very same Christie. This is the show she used to host before becoming the editor at Fitz, and I think it’s really cool.

Next up is some reassurance for aspiring writers out there. It seems that even published authors and journalists have trouble sitting down and actually writing. They will do anything to avoid writing. That means fixing the holes in the drywall, flossing, and doing the laundry. Hey, that stuff has to get done sometime. But I think the key to remember is that eventually these people do get around to writing. You can only procrastinate for so long.

This is bad news for me because I am excellent at procrastinating. Why, even now I'm... well... hmm... I guess I should go do... stuff. Tell you what. I'll leave you with this comic of the Lackadaisy cats, Viktor and Mordecai, and with this bit of news about the casting for A Game of Thrones.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

LGBT in fiction

When I read Leigh Butler's latest Wheel of Time re-read yesterday, I stumbled on a little controversy. A few of the comments after the post were either in favour of or opposed to Leigh's stance on lesbian/gay/bi/trans representation in the WOT. Of course, the issue goes beyond the WOT. Mostly, it got me thinking because I don't want to do the wrong thing as a writer. I can't really hope to be as good as Robert Jordan, but I can look at the areas where he kinda-sorta-mighta slipped up. If any of you readers are RJ devotees, my last sentence might have been blasphemy, but wait before you cast that stone. Let me recap. In brief, here is what Leigh had to say:

"After six books and umpty-thousand pages and nearly as many characters, we finally meet a gay character – and it’s Galina. Seriously? A character who is evil, creepy, bitchy, hates men, and, oh yeah, evil.

"To add insult to injury, while later books made what I believe was an effort to redress this issue, by implying (and then outright stating) the commonplace presence of “pillow friends” in the Tower (a concept I have no problem with on the face of it, though I have issues with the implementation once you start to really look at it), this is undermined by the extremely conspicuous lack of parallel phenomena on the male side of the equation. And when I say “lack”, I mean nothing. In a cast of thousands, I cannot think of one single male character in WOT who has been presented as even possibly ever having engaged in a same-sex relationship. I mean, forget social politics, that’s full of Fail just from a statistics standpoint.

"So it’s actually the double whammy of bad stereotypes: lesbians are either “fake” (as in “well, only since there are no men available...”) or devious man-haters, and gay men don’t exist at all.

"However, in Jordan’s defense, even with all I’ve said above, I honestly do not attribute the dearth of (non-evil) gay characters in WOT to either maliciousness or homophobia on Jordan’s part. Rather, I think it was the same unintentional blindness that plagues so many writers coming from a background of privilege with regard to the particular minority in question. In other words, as a straight married man with a strong military background, there’s a distinct possibility that addressing the issue of homosexuality simply never occurred to Jordan – especially in the earlier novels.

"And when it did occur to him – well. The thing is, being aware of a sensitive topic and knowing how to address/incorporate it in your own works are two very different things, as anyone in sf fandom with access to the Internet in 2009 is probably in a position to know."


FYI, I pared that down from the original commentary. Now that you've had a second, here's what I think:

When I read something, I don't like having certain issues forced into the reading matter. Religion is a good example; heavy-handed pro-religious allegories don't do it for me, and the same goes for pro-atheist views. Likewise, if someone had an overtly anti- or pro-gay agenda, I would probably get distracted from the actual story and lose interest in the book. Grind your axe all you want. Someone other than me will listen to you.

What Leigh is talking about does not involve axe-grinding. I never noticed the lack of LGBT characters in the early WOT books (probably because of my background of privilege), and I wouldn't have said it was an issue, but... RJ's books are huge. Some of them are close to a thousand pages. His world-building is mind-boggling in its enormity. No detail is too small for his notice. And that, my friends, is exactly why this looks like one of the few Fails in the series. In an epic of this scope, how did it take six books to get to the first (minor and evil) homosexual character? I would never think it was intentional. I think Leigh's right, and it was just an oversight.

Again, I don't even imagine that I'll ever write as well as RJ. I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be able to spot larger holes in my story. But at least I got a heads-up on this issue before I finished writing.

That's my opinion for now. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shameless cross-promotion

Where has the time gone? Well, it's just about the busiest time of the year in publishing, so that's where a lot of time is going. However, I've also been doing some drawing on my down time. I set up a little challenge for myself almost a month ago, and so far I'm failing. If you want to see what I'm talking about, have a peek at my other blog, Art... Maybe. That's all for now. I promise I'll write more soon. Maybe even tomorrow. Maybe.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What's a-happenin'?

So where have I been lately? Absent from the blog and Twitter for several days is where. Don't I know that I have a personal blog to run? Actually, I do. Dear blog, I have missed you.

So, what have I been up to? Well, I've been selling books. Sort of. And it's odd, because selling books has nothing to do with my job, unless you count the kinda-sorta publicity thing I do with the my work's Twitter account and Facebook group. No, I spent a few days in a film studio at Downsview Park and learned how some people get teachers to spend their government-alloted money. It's actually a lot of fun. Here I am doing... um, well, not much. It seems that Tracey, Sonya, and Rowan are doing the work. Never mind.

Terrible picture, really. Here is a better picture of Rowan with a slice of pizza. I like the pic, but it may be removed if he threatens to kill me for posting it.

This show was for the Toronto District School Board. If you're a teacher within this board, chances are that someone from your school came to load up on books for your students. As you can see here, there were thousands of books for the teachers to choose from.

When I got hired about a month ago, I was told that I'd get to go to at least one takeaway. No one explained the term. I was hoping it meant a trip to somewhere cool. The trade show in Frankfurt, Germany was out of the question, and the Chicago show already happened, but I'd settle for the less exotic Halifax or Winnipeg. I realized the true meaning was probably something warehouse related, as in "Take away the books that are on the crate by the drop-off doors." So it was nice to find out that the reality was better than that. A film studio in Downsview Park is alright, especially since I got to know my co-workers a bit better. Other than a hairy start because of computer and printer meltdowns, everything else was smooth sailing. We cracked jokes, sold books, and chatted up the good people over at Another Story (a vendor next to us). Who knew standing on your feet for 8 or 9 hours with almost no rest could be fun? Even loading all those books on and off their crates wasn't that bad. Lift with your knees; that's the key. Also, wear gloves. Crates have splinters, and they stop tickling after a few moments.

Now it's back to the office life for a few days.

Friday, September 25, 2009

For your consideration...

Are you a writer? Do you want to be a writer? Do you know anyone who says they want to be a writer? Well here are some things you should read or pass on to someone who will make good use of the information, if you haven't already exhausted the one-stop-shop for all things writing-related:

If you would like to find the balance between writing and living your life.

If you have a relationship with books. This may include writing inside the book itself (blasphemy to some).

Maybe you're a Canadian writer, so you might want to read about brooding on Muskoka chairs. I don't know if it's offensive, but it comes on the heels of other work being called unreadably Canadian, which is just ignorant.

To read as a writer is to take the first step in becoming a writer. So, are you a good reader?

If you are a reader who is not a writer, would you ever consider writing? How come?

Lastly, you may be published, or you may still be on your first draft. Here's something to consider about your website.

There is on more link, and it was the best piece I've read about getting rid of your excuses for not writing, but I can't remember where I got the link. If I remember it I'll add it soon.

EDIT: I found it! Get over your excuses for not writing. Phew!

That's all for now. Why aren't you writing yet?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Speculation: authors and the internet

One of the issues I'm interested in involves the growing use of that media to aid publishing, and how publishers are responding and adapting to new technology. Online media could lead to complications for trade publishers in the near future, but only if publishers choose not to keep up with the online world.

Some authors are embracing online networking tools (and feel free to post links to the ones you know of in the comments), and they have begun building platforms for publicity and promotion. Some have been on top of these changes for years, and their web presence is firmly established while the other authors play catch-up. Foresight and independence should be applauded, and I’m sure publishers everywhere would love to have authors share some of the promotional burden of their work. However, the online world is new and in its pioneering stage when it comes to publishing. Smaller companies with fewer staff members and limited resources could be slow to incorporate online aspects to their normal workload. Some companies might have no idea about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or book trailers on YouTube—-and even if they know about these resources, they might have no idea how to make use of them. Some or all of these applications could fail to reach the expectations of their users, or they could become obsolete within months, but the belief is growing that an author who wishes to succeed has to be willing to take care of an online platform and roll with the changes. Whether publishers want to adapt, or whether they can adapt, remains to be seen.

Delayed reaction (or at least reluctance) to make changes within the industry could push authors and even booksellers away. Smaller companies would be forced to shut down or sell off. The increase of authors without representation could mean better pickings for larger, more financially secure companies, but it is also possible that several authors would turn to self-publishing. The success of self-published books—The Shack and Eragon, among others—is boosting the popularity of ‘vanity’ publishing. Furthermore, profit margins can be greater for a self-published author than they would be for an author on a conventional publishing contract. As self-publishing becomes more common, and as authors handle their own publicity, publishing companies could be pushed into the background. The big companies would still handle blockbuster authors, but everyone else could be left jockeying for positions on Amazon.

I think that there are some people who fail to see the importance of publishers. I disagree with them. I think that when you marginalize or eliminate the publishers, then the quality of the output suffers. If that happens, then you start going down a slippery slope that begins with sloppy work hitting the bookshelves (or virtual shelves), and ends with an unsatisfied and eventually disinterested public.

Of course this doom and gloom is all hypothetical. This chain of events can be avoided if some of the links are altered. The only link publishers can control is the one they belong to. In order to exist, they must adapt.

This is a little stream-of-consciousness, and I'm sure there are holes in the theory, so feel free to poke at the holes in the comments. Nothing like promoting healthy discussion.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What are the roots that clutch...

Someone in an online group asked what she should do with the book she's written, and how she'd know if it was done. Having only limited experience in writing and publishing, I gave her my opinion. Still, the questions got me thinking. "How do I know when it's done?" or "How many revisions should I do?" are questions I hear a lot from other writers.

There is no answer for this that will work for everyone. My suggestion to the author was to put aside what she'd written, and take a few weeks or months off. I think you need to give your mind a rest and get some distance from the story. As a writer, you are too close to the subject to be objective. This is why editors can seem harsh when they cut up your beloved prose. Some editors are harsh, but ordinary readers are going to make assumptions about your writing if they find errors, and plot holes.

I don't mean to rant about the writing and editing process, because you can find better sources than me without looking all that hard. Writer's Digest is a good place to start. You can also try reading this article on revisions

Even literary geniuses don't get the words right the first time. T.S. Eliot had The Wasteland almost halved by Ezra Pound's edits. (Well, that's a bad example, because I think Pound may have gone too far.) Then there's a story about James Joyce; the story goes that a friend went to visit Joyce and found him depressed and slumped over a table. (I'm paraphrasing here, obviously.) "James, what's wrong?" "It's my writing. I can't make it work." "How much did you get done today?" "Ten words." "But... James, that's wonderful--for you." "Yes, but I don't know which order to put them in!"

You want more proof of writers getting it wrong the first time? Just look at the Bard:

"Temperamental git." Rightly so. Speaking as a writer (and sometime editor), writers as a whole are a whiny, molly-coddled bunch. Don't even make me list the examples. And, writers? Don't get in a snit. You know it's true. On the bright side, no one's perfect, and at least you get to write books.

Now it's Friday, and I don't want to drone endlessly, so here's a link for you fantasy writers who are interested in writing trilogies. Or rather, it's how to get agents to pay attention to you. I'm sure it works even if you don't write fantasy, but since fantasy is what I write, and since fantasy as a genre has more trilogies than any other genre (source: my own head), then fantasy is what I'm going with.

That about does it. And if there are any writers out there who had their feathers ruffled by my comments, please know that my tongue was planted firmly in cheek. Now stop whining and get back to writing your magnum opus. Shoo!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

While my focus goes on leave

First, I demand (ok, request) that you play this song while listening to this post.

Second, it's been two years since James Rigney (aka Robert Jordan) passed away. Two years to the day. Of course, I didn't find out until by birthday, four days from now, and that made for some shocking birthday news. There is a very nice remembrance over at The Thirteenth Depository.

On a happier note, I saw Nick Hornby on Sunday. He happens to be one of my favourite authors (as my answers in my BBAW interview will prove). And... wait.. there's an interruption coming... I'm sorry. I'm going to finish talking about Nick Hornby, but Robert Jordan was one of my favourite authors of all time!

See what I did there? Yeah, please don't judge me.

Anyway, it was great to listen to Mr Hornby talk about his writing process, writing in general, and music. People mention his football (soccer) obsession, but I rarely hear people talk about his musical tastes. There is some very good music referenced in About a Boy (the book, not the movie), and in High Fidelity (the book, not the movie). And since tonight is a night of tangents, how about I just tell you that sometimes the movies get it right. For example: The Velvet Underground. Or Dry the Rain, by The Beta Band.

Then again, maybe it's a personal thing. Maybe it's like why I can relate to the store guys in the following clip, and why others might not.

Oh well. I'm too exhausted. My next post will be more linear, straightforward, and sensical.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW Interview

Welcome, fellow knaves! It is Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and that means there are a couple of interviews for you to read. The one on this page has me interviewing the author of Mom-Musings. She is one heck of a blogger and book reviewer, and she was good enough to answer all my questions. To read the half where I got interviewed, just visit her site because it should be up sometime today. To see what other interviews are going on this week, just visit the BBAW page. Enjoy!

Q: First off, how about you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I'm Deanna - wife to my husband for the 20 years, Mom to six children (19,14,12,10,6 and 3), Labor and Delivery Nurse for the past 13 years. Those are my defining job titles. Myself, I love horses (do not own one but used to work with them throughout my teen years), photography (need to spiff up this skill area...on my list of things but I easily fall back on my son's knowledge to help me out),listening to music (especially listening to those I deem talented - however that is defined), reading...yes indeed...I am an avid reader. I will say, I grew up reading. Always had a book. My twenties and early thirties brought down time in the area of fiction reading as I home schooled my children and read parenting and schooling type books. This last year, my avid reading self has come back in full force. There are so many books that it boggles my mind...

Q: Your blog is called Mom-Musings. I understand you have six (!) children. How did you get into blogging, and what do you do when you're not reading or blogging?
A: Okay...I started blogging for my own family sake. I love the idea of journaling but never kept with it. Not only that, the journals that I did start seemed to be lost in some box back in some dusty corner. I figured that blogging was a good way to journal while at the same time it stays in the same place. I blogged about my family for my out-of-town family would stay updated on our happenings. Last summer my blogging started to change a bit. I started joining some on-line book clubs which then lead to my book reviews. I also enjoy the layout process as when I originally went to college I was going in the direction of photography and graphic arts. Hmm...that changed a bit. Anyways, outside of blogging or reading, I am busy working, laundry, cooking, cleaning, playing, outdoor stuff and doing activities with the kids.

Q: You're also a very dedicated blogger, with frequent posts. It's a trait I envy. What is your secret?
A: Secret? No secret, except that it seems to be a high interest of mine, at the moment. When I am done reading a book, I immediately write down my thoughts. That helps for my reviews. If I wait too long there is a risk that I will forget some details and/or lose my enthusiasm. I tend to write up my posts early in the morning or late at night. The other part that keeps me thriving is the book blogging community. I really like the connections that I have been making, very fun.

Q: I notice that you do book giveaways? When did that start, and how did you get into it?
A: I only have just started with book giveaways. I do it hesitantly because I know that my blog is not a high-traffic blog and worry that my giveaway post will be ignored. *smile* Interesting enough, I do have other bloggers participating in my giveaways. Whew! Thanks Goodness. I decided to host giveaways because I have way too many books in my home. I thought it would be a good way to share with others some books that I love but do not necessarily need to keep in my house. Currently, I have a book by Michelle Moran, The Heretic Queen, as a giveaway. Michelle is making this giveaway possible. I have several other book giveaway ideas planned. Ultimately, I am having fun with the giveaway as I love sharing and spreading around books to others.

Q: What is the 100+ Challenge?
A: The 100+ Reading Challenge is hosted by J.Kaye's Book Blog. The idea of this challenge is to try and read 100 or more books during the year 2009.

Q: It's the middle of Spember, so you have 3 and a half months to go before the deadline. How do you think you'll do by the end?
A: I have done well. I have read, to date, 138 books for the year 2009. I do not have an end-goal number because my initial thought was to try and read 100 books. Actually, I am a bit embarrassed by the amount of books I have read. Why? I know that I read fast. I also know that some people think I am a bitty nutty with all the books I have read. These people are my IRL peeps who humorously crack jokes. Love their "lack of understanding" for they truly are the ones missing out...ha! All good fun.
The coolest thing about my avid-reading is that I have seen my older girls flourish in the reading journey. I swear, there is a direct correlation between my increase reading and their increase reading. Pretty cool!

Q: 138 books?! Wow! They'll be upping the competition because of you next year. Moving on. I know you love historical fiction, but the only novel I've read in the genre is Gates of Fire, by Stephen Pressfield. I loved it. What would you recommend for further reading?
A: Honestly, this is a tough question. I have read many wonderful historical fiction novels with most of them set in the courts of royals. Let me think...yes... I have one. I read Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton last August (2008). This book is a thought provoking book that centers in South Africa in 1946. This is a time period where there was great division amongst white people and the "natives". I will say that the first chapters were rough to get through so I gave up. With the encouragement for a friend, I gave the book another go. I am thankful that I did. Take a look at my review for further insight. Oh yes, this book is one of my first reviews. You can see how my review "layouts" have changed. It is fun to look back at older reviews.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell - I have not read this book yet. It is on my to-read list and has been highly recommend by others that I know in real life. If you do decide to read either Cry, the Beloved Country or The Last Kingdom - please let me know what you think of the read. I really enjoy reading others opinions and takes on books that I have read as well.

Q: Hardcover, paperback, or e-book?
A: For books that I want to keep on my bookshelf for years, will re-read, and one day will want my children to read... hardcover. All other books... paperback

Q: Team Jacob or Team Edward? No, I'm just kidding. Honestly though, do we need more vampires?
A: Very cute and funny! Ha! You see, I loved...and I mean loved...the Twilight books last summer (2008). At that time, Team Edward all the way.
Seriously, we need more vampires? Yes and no. I do not need more teenage-Edward type vampires. I like the paranormal genre so I do like vampires and such. Ummm... I like a good "alpha" type vamp but sometimes get a bit sick of the whole lusty romance edge. What I do like and would love a bit more of is Anne Rice's Louis!!! Interview With the Vampire is one my all-time favorite vampire books. Long answer... huh? *smile*

Q: Since this is about appreciating book bloggers, is there another book blog that you'd like to plug?
A: Yeah... there are several book blogs out there that have played an influential role of some type in my blogging. I will name three that I frequent the most although I do have about 75 book blogs in my GoogleReader. Wow! Did not realize that until just now when I counted.
5 Minutes for Books - This wonderful book blog community is where my book reviewing has truly started. I joined in their Classics Bookclub last fall. Every tuesday they hold some sort of book community event: Kid's Picks, What's On Your Nightstand?, I read it!, Book Club. They also post some fabulous book reviews. From 5 Minutes for Books I have "met" several other book bloggers and visit their sites frequently.
Queen of Happy Endings - Alaine is a fabulous blogger. I have felt a "connection" with Alaine. We tend to read the same books and genre. Her likes and dislikes tend to be the same as mine or at least hover close. She is friendly. I enjoy her blog.
Royal Reviews - Love this blog. They hold weekly book themes. Reviews, interviews, guest posts, book giveaways. They will be hosting Ancient History Week featuring Michelle Moran during the week of Sept. 13th.
Stainless Steel Droppings - This blog is newer to me. I have started visiting it more frequently. I will say, when I grow up, I would like to write like Carl.

Q: Aside from book blogging, you also participate in memes. Can you mention what you do on at least one of them?
A: Golly, which one...which one should I choose... Thursday Tunes or Wondrous Words... hmm...which one? Thursday Tunes hosted by S.Krishna's Books. I love this meme. I am discovering music that I would not otherwise heard if it were not for S.Krishna's Books. She showcases a variety of types of music. Also, there have been other participants from which I have learned about other artists as well.

Q: I liked the Camping vs. Hotels question you asked me in your interview, so now I want to know which you'd prefer.
A: Camping!! Every summer we visit Wisconsin Dells. We camp by the Wisconsin River along with my brother and his daughter. It is a lot of fun, inexpensive and I know who slept in my bedding last. When I traveled to Israel in Feb. 2009, sleeping in "hotels" was yucky. I would have rather slept in my sleeping bag with my pillow on the floor. *smile* *shrug*
We are thinking of making a trip into Canada (possibly near Quebec) next summer. Our 14 year old daughter has strong desire to live in Canada, we have a few passports that need to be utilized, so a camping trip is in order. * smile*

Q: Your daughter has good taste. Alright, it's time for lists. Best book of 2009 (so far):
A: tough one as I have several favorite books for 2009. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Q: Top 5 books you want to read:
A: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon (she is my favorite author. Can you tell? I will be attending a book tour signing on Sept 30th that I absolutely psyched about)
The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Swan Maiden by Jules Watson
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Q: Top 5 books you think others should read:
A: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (I recommend the whole series)
The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Hood by Stephen Lawhead
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


For those of you who are not eagle-eyed readers, that list contains six books. Deanna threw one in as a freebie because she's nice like that. Aaaaand that's all we have for this interview. Once again, thank you Deanna for participating. Thank you to all the readers, and remember to check out the other half of this interview at Deanna's site. Follow us, or RSS the feed, or scribble down our URLs on a scrap of paper somewhere. Whichever you decide to do, have a great day, and see you soon!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book blogging updates

To make up for the lack of September posts, be prepared for a flurry of them in the next couple of weeks, starting tomorrow. One reason for the recent dry spell was my work. I finished my internship at a publishing house, and then I was hired by said house. Fantasic, right? Well, yes, especially because now I'm getting paid. Still, my duties expanded, leaving me with little time to blog or to do anything blog-worthy last week.

On a sad note, I'm going to halt reviews of children's books. My publishing house focuses on YA and children's books, so it would be a conflict of interests if I posted reviews of books published either by us or by our competitors. Therefore I will not be able to post everything I read. I might find a way around this at some time.

On a good note, this is Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and yours truly is part of it. I conducted one interview, and then I got interviewed as well. Come back tomorrow (September 15th) to read the Q & A session.

Also, it's Monday. You know what that means, right?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And now for something completely different

Yes, I know that most of my writings focus on books and literary musings, but I'm deviating a bit (ok, a lot) for the duration of this post. I'm staying up late to email out these photos, so I figured I might as well post a couple on my blog.

Backstory: I enjoy taking photos. One of my best friends asked my to take photos of an event that he and a few others were throwing. It was a fun night. My musical tastes veer towards indie/garage rock, but I've been to a couple of electro shows and they are a lot of fun. If you're at all interested in the growing electro scene in Toronto, check out Plugged Not Thugged. And if you need photos of your event in the GTA, leave me a message.

For some reason (probably one that has to do with the time), I can't get the blogger templates to work like I want them to. Since I'm tired of pasting codes and squinting at HTML, I'm putting the photos up like this, caption-free.

Top to bottom, the images are of DJs O-God and Mister Mandelephant, Dick Diamonds pointing the mic and then rocking the crowd, the partying of said crowd, and the disco ball at the Augusta House. Apparently the Augusta House wants to use my photos, but I can't find their website so I don't know what that's about. Click on the images to enlarge them.

And that's that. I shall forthwith resume my usual reports of knavery.

EDIT: For the love of Charles Dickens... I thought I resized the photos so they would be tiny, low-quality things, not unlike the size Facebook uses. One of these days I'm going to pick up a program like Lightroom or Photoshop, and I will learn how to digitally edit photos.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tiny rumblings

It's been quiet for the last week due to things like illness, fatigue, and work-related stuff. Oh, there's nothing bad with work, but my internship officially ends on Friday. There have been hints about an extension of some sort, but I won't know anything officially for a few more days.

In the meantime, I've been applying elsewhere so my eggs aren't all in one basket. I should be getting feedback from that ASAP.

Do I want to work near to home or far from home? Do I want to make little pay or less pay? These are questions I'll consider, but my thing about going all-in with a career choice is that I have to be ok with doing whatever it takes. I think I am.

In other news: YA book review coming soon. Get ready for an imaginative, weird, and surprisingly sexual take on an old tale. I'll say no more.

What, that's not a good enough teaser for you? It's 2:30 am. What more do you want from me? Go to bed! (But please come back tomorrow. I like you.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to promote your book. Maybe.

This week has unofficially been the week of The Guild. I can't wait for Season 3, and if you haven't watched this web-series yet, please do. Do you really need any other reason than the video for Do You Wanna Date My Avatar? I didn't think so.

While we're on the subject of videos, I've been watching book trailers lately. They're not exactly new, but publishers still don't know how to do them well. Books aren't a visual medium, so compatibility is problem number one. Other things to consider: Should the trailer be campy and low-fi? Should it be as glossy as Hollywood? Small publishers get the short end of the stick, because what do you do if you're a small publisher and you don't have money for a fancy production?

I believe the answer to all of this is creativity. You can have a slick production that is uninspiring, or something made on a basic computer program for free that is interesting. You can even use stick figures.

Of course, if you're a huge company like the American division of Random House, you can be creative AND slick. The book trailer for Libba Bray's Going Bovine is not on YouTube, so you'll just have to follow this link and watch it there. This trailer has Libba Bray going all out, and her craziness is perfect. If you have a book, and you want it to sell, this might be what you have to do. Libba Bray is embracing it, and that's a good thing.

I've been wanting to do some work like this for a while. Then again, I just like working on film stuff in general, especially low/no-budget stuff. I think the lack of money forces you to be creative.

Looking ahead: There will be precious little going on in the ways of creativity this weekend. I have a million things to do at home, a goodbye party, a wedding, and a welcome-back party to attend. I'll try to get some sleep somewhere in there. As the six-fingered man would say, if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything. If anyone would know, it's Count Rugen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Avatars, gamers, and nice guys

Here's a little bit of awesomeness that I have to share. (Yes, I say "awesomeness".)

First is the video for Do You Wanna Date My Avatar, by The Guild. I'd never heard of The Guild until an hour ago. Now I've watched some episodes online and I'm in love. And I'm not even a gamer! I'm like a starting character who needs to do some levelling. Or something to that effect. My favourite line: "I'm better than a real-world quest. You'll touch my plus 5 to dexterity vest." Directed by Jed Whedon.

Here is The Guild's website, and here is Felicia Day's site. She's the writer/producer/star/singer, and she's really good on violin.

The second thing I wanted to post is completely different from the first. It's about Nice Guys. What could anyone have to say about Nice Guys, other than we like them and their niceguyishness? Well, apparently there's a lot to be said against them. (A LOT. Make sure you have a few minutes.) My interest was piqued when Leigh Butler had this to say in her fantastic Wheel of Time Re-read commentary:

"That last is the ultimate pitfall of the Nice Guy. Anyone who hasn’t read that link, male or female, do yourself a favor and do so. And guys? Don’t be that guy. Really. And girls? Don’t be the female version of that guy, either. Really."

Pitfall of the Nice Guy? ¿Qué? So I read it, and now I'd have to agree. I think I've known some Nice Guys. I may even have been one, but hopefully not since high school. I hope I'm an actual nice guy. Sure, no one's perfect, but there ARE good guys out there, so why can't I aspire to be one?

You can read it here, courtesy of DivaLion. Naturally, it's just one person's opinion. Feel free to share your own.

EDIT (Added after initial posting)
It seems I won first prize in a TwitterFic contest by Book View Cafe last week. Entrants had five chances to tell a story using spiders and space stations, and to write it in 126 characters. Stories were judged on creative use of the theme and the medium. My one entry was: "Mr Kubrick? I know you want spider costumes, but if we dress the boys as apes, we'll save cash for the rotating space station." In all honesty, I much preferred one of the other entries that didn't even make the final list, but I digress. See the winners here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Feelin' Fine

What a busy week. Interning is fun, but sometimes I have to juggle my schedule a bit. Between that and getting ready for my band's last show (more on that next week), I am bushed.

But soft, what light from yonder window breaks? It is the weekend and--Oh look, there goes the sun. Sigh. This weekend isn't going to get any less hectic, is it? Monday will be here before I know it and then I'll be all ZOMG!!! It's freakin' Monday!!!eleventy!

Ah, where was I? Ok, I have two books to finish reading, a show to play, a zombie game to lose, a few jobs to apply to, a chapter to finish writing, and a title to invent for my book. I was thinking along the lines of All Work and No Play Make Francesco a Little ... something something. The thud you just heard was sound of my head slamming into the desk.

In upcoming news, look for interviews to start cropping up on the blog. More details to follow. Bon weekend!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old stories for a new audience

The weekend may be over, but the severe thuderstorms remain. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

These days I'm reading a book based on an old fairy tale. I won't say which fairy tale, but there was a Disney movie made of it, and I'm 99% sure the the brothers at Grimm Inc. did an adaptation as well. The version I'm reading is completely different from Disney's (which is good), and darker and more mature than Grimm's (which could be good).

Anyway, it got me thinking about these old stories that keep getting reinvented and reinterpreted for the adults and children of every generation. It's how Baba Yaga can go from Russian stories to the American Hellboy comics, to the Japanese anime Spirited Away. Or how Dorothy can go from a Frank Baum novel to Technicolour MGM, to Ryan Bourret's Postcards from Oz project (seriously, check it out). Or how Dracula and vampires can... um, you know what? We don't need more vampire talk.

Anyway, I'll review this book in a few days. I hope the quality is consistent to the end, because I'm going out on a Neil-Gaiman-recommended limb for this one. The first line shocked me, and the rest of the chapter was very eye-opening. I thought to myself: "This is a fairy tale adaptation? For kids?!" But why not? Audiences evolve, and children will read shocking material anyway, whether it's with our consent or not. As long as the writing quality is good, let 'em have it. I think the hermanos Grimm would have agreed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Book review: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell.

What was it that attracted me to this book? The cooking? The Paris/New York combination? The upcoming film version? I think it was a mix of all three. I must admit that I was wary at first. The book is a memoir, a genre that used to be non-fiction until James Frey and his ilk blew it up into a million little pieces. On the other hand, the film posters and the movie tie-in edition of Julie and Julia had me thinking the book would be chick-lit. That wouldn't be so bad, but could I handle another fluff piece? (James Patterson, all is not yet forgiven for Sundays At Tiffany's).

I worried for nothing. Julie and Julia is not chick-lit at all. Nor is it a bad memoir.

Julie and Julia is named after the project Julie Powell started in 2002, when she was 29. Her goal was to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, risking well-being and sanity for... well, we'll get to that. 524 recipes in 365 days. It's an interesting premise, and readers get the full experience of the highs and lows of Julie's Year of Cooking Dangerously.

Whatever you may think of the premise, the book has literary merits. Powell knows how to write well. True, the book sometimes reads like a blog--for the good reason that Powell blogged about the project for a year before turning it into book--but several passages rise above that. From being a government drone to hacking bone marrow, or from living in a hellish "loft" in Queens to saving a crumbling marriage, everything rings of authenticity.

Julie begins her project in anonymity, but within a short time she has a loyal following of blog readers, also known as the bleaders. When the going gets tough (and sometimes it gets very, very tough), Julie is compelled to continue. It took me about half the book to understand just how challenging this project actually was; cooking all those recipes--french cuisine, no less--from scratch, nearly every day for a year. Sometimes the same recipe would have to be made every day for a week because it formed the foundation of another recipe. Sometimes the same thing would have to be cooked several times in the same day because it would not turn out. All this while working as a government secretary, and trying to keep a marriage intact.

The problem with being so busy is there aren't many outlets for frustration. Her husband, Eric, is a huge help. If their marriage could withstand that year, it can withstand anything. Julie's friends give moral support when they can, but they're not around that much, and they're underdrawn. At least the bleaders are supportive, and there's always vodka gimlets and episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Reading the cooking sections works two ways. On the one hand, it's great for the details. This is an average person in an average kitchen, making all the mistakes that someone with no chef training would make. And that's fantastic. It's real, and it sucks you in. Readers will be right there with Julie, cursing Julia Child and MtAoFC when something goes wrong over one mis-read instruction in the cookbook. On the other hand, be prepared for some very vivid images. Some recipes are not for the faint of heart. You could be a red-blooded meatitarian with nothing but disdain for vegans, and you will still want to take a breather after some of Julie's ordeals. Even the author had to take a break and visit her parents in Texas after a couple of episodes with lobsters.

Occasionally there are little sections--vignettes, almost--about Julia Child, written from her husband Paul's perspective. We get to see Julia after she was a World War II spy, but before she became interested in cooking. It's an interesting parallel, although there could have been more of it.

In closing, I think this is a really good book. It is vivid and insightful, and there is a lot that will feel familiar to anyone who is or has been a twentysomething in need of a purpose in life. Which brings us to the reason behind the Julie/Julia project. Early on in the book, Julie's mother asks her why she is doing the project. Julie doesn't really know, but the answer becomes more apparent with each month as she does battle in the kitchen. It's about finding inspiration and dedication, even if you risk your health and sanity, and even if you put on twenty pounds of butter-weight.

Verdict: Recommended

NOTE: For anyone going to see the movie, it shares the same name as the book, but the film is actually a combination of this memoir, and My Life in France, by Julia Child.
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