Saturday, December 31, 2016

[Amazing Stories] December's Writing Prompt: Alone in the World

Everyone's gathering for the holidays. What if you couldn't?

Discover your fate at Amazing Stories:

Alone in the World

(from Wallpapers Craft)

Where you are, who you are, and what you have to do in order to have the best holidays you can... given the circumstances. You could be asea in a hotel full of partiers anxious to have you educate them on your favourite customs (or drinks), or your could be asea in the Pacific. Click the bolded link to ask the questions none of us can answer in more than a story.

Friday, December 9, 2016

November's Book: Dead Wake

Dead Wake by Erik Larson
Journalism (2015 - 353 pp.)

Dead Wake is Erik Larson's 100th-anniversary-timed retelling of the sinking of the Lusitania, an event that underscored U-Boat capabilities and potentially plunged the United States into World War I. It follows the parallel stories of the ship itself, including notable passengers and crew, and the submarine U-20 that sunk it. This format echoes Larson's previous bestseller Devil in the White City, which simultaneously follows the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer who stalked it.

The introduction is best when it describes the atmosphere surrounding the Lusitania's final launch from New York City to Liverpool. It is the size, speed and modernity of the vessel. (8-9) It is the mad scramble to either board - or intentionally not board. It is the German warning that merchant ships within a designated war zone around the British Isles may be torpedoed, and the eerie lack of concern most crew and passengers showed toward that warning. (multiple citations - flipping through the book at random reveals plenty) Likewise, Larson's initial description of U-Boats and U-Boat culture reveals an autonomy their captains held that would be almost unparalleled until World War II - much of which was because U-Boats eventually went out of Germany's wirless communication range. (58) Internally, U-Boats could be extremely uncomfortable, including "hellish temperature" (64), but they also had their moments of camaraderie, such as celebrating Christmas. U-20 had six daschunds on board at point, leading officer Rudolph Zetner to note that "I slept with a torpedo and a puppy." (62) All of this occurred while the U-20 was being watched from Room 40, a secret British codebreaking location.

For those unfamiliar with the main plot points, they can be spoiled here. This is not a suspense book in the least. That said, Larson humanizes the passengers, and U-20 Captain Walther Schwieger, to the point that there is suspense. An inanimate ship like the Lusitania can sink, and everyone remembers that, but no one can name the full list of survivors and deceased. By bringing personal stories and journals into Dead Wake, with surprisingly little artistic embellishment, Larson makes the reader wonder who lives and who dies.

My favourite passenger to read about was Charles Lauriat, a well-known Boston book dealer who lost a rare copy of A Christmas Carol in the wreck. Another interesting one was Theodate Pope, a noted spiritualist whose personal background is very well documented. Among her experiences was Dr. Silas Mitchell's "Rest Cure", which ordered patients to abstain from virtually all movement, often for weeks on end. Pope came to hate the Rest Cure, as many did;* this is unsurprising when considering that one of Mitchell's treatments was "mild electrical shock, delivered while the patient was in a filled bathtub". (158) Richard Preston Prichard and Grace French apparently had a wonderful time meeting each other on the Lusitania, emerging as better candidates for a fictionalized WWI-era ocean liner romance than what viewers actually got. Then there was some torpedo-related humour, despite that one expects submarine warfare to not be funny. Margaret Mackworth and her friend Dorothy Conner unwittingly entertained 2015-2016 readers with the following exchange:
Mackworth turned to Conner and said, "I always thought a shipwreck was a well-organized affair." 
"So did I," Conner replied, "but I've learnt a devil of a lot in the last five minutes." (251)
Hint: To try to figure out who survived and who did not, read into whose post-sinking journals are quoted before the sinking. If a passenger writes about the sinking in 1916, for example, the person obviously survived. If a passenger is only mentioned in the journals of others, the chances are slimmer... but not zero. This rule is broken a few times, and some quoted passengers' journals were only retrieved later, so there are still quite a few surprises. A hundred years is a long time to recover old documents that were sealed surprisingly well.

Equally important is that the reader understands just how devastating the passenger deaths were to Schwieger, who ordered the fateful torpedo. The Germans were certainly not shy about sinking British vessels, as in this commemorative medal made at the time by German artist Karl Goetz. It is worth noting that Lusitania's building was Royal Navy-funded, the ship had military-grade armour, and was carrying munitions when it was sunk. From a military perspective, for a U-Boat to sink such an imposing ship with only one torpedo was almost unbelievable. From a human perspective, Schwieger noted that "It was the most terrible sight I have ever seen. It was impossible for me to give any help. I could have saved only a handful... The scene was too horrible to watch." (264) Then, when was WWI ever simple?

My least favourite part of Dead Wake was the end. Once the ship has sunk, and the survivors are safely returned to their families, the rest of the book feels like a New Year's party on January 4th. I especially disliked the Woodrow Wilson vignettes, which felt irrelevant to the rest of the story. Yes, the sinking of the Lusitania factored into the United States's declaration of war on Germany two years later, but the book is about the boat, not the war.** Dead Wake also ends on a strange note; its last sentence is about a minor character, much like a news story might place its facts from most to least important. A tighter ending with a bang of a concluding sentence would have made for even better reading.

That said, I doubt anyone who was on either the Lusitania or U-20 that day is fit to disagree.

Ease of Reading: 7
Educational Content: 7

*One of the Rest Cure's best known recipients was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who published "The Yellow Wall-Paper" in 1892. I have always loved the story but never knew it had been inspired so literally.

**For a great source on the causes of World War I, go with The Origins of the First World War by James Joll. Note that it is a history book, not journalism like Dead Wake, so it is denser and far less touching.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

October's Book, Finally: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

It's worth noting I did read and review a book in October, with the original idea it'd be a bonus book. November was more about releasing my own material, and reading it too.

December has some great, great books I'll post.

The first of three (November's and December's are on their way):

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Science Fiction (1966 - 382 pp.)

It's December in an even-numbered year, so you know what that means. More Heinlein!* (Completely coincidentally, as you can see from this being October's book.)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is among the most reviewed books in science fiction history. A plot summary is here. As with the other popular books I write about on this blog, I'll write more about my reading experience.

My edition says, on the front, "His classic, Hugo Award-winning novel of libertarian revolution". The aforementioned revolution figures prominently, especially in the second and third parts of the book. The parts that appealed to me the most were the oddly human interactions between our Robocop-style protagonist Manuel O'Kelly Davis and Mike/Michelle/Adam Selene/whatever you want to call the most powerful computer in the Solar System. "That Dinkum Thinkum", the book's first part, explores this relationship before the later two books conclude that an all-knowing computer is best used to topple the corrupt Lunar government. Mike "knew almost every book on Luna, could read at least a thousand times as fast as we could and never forget anything unless he chose to erase, how he could reason with perfect logic, or make shrewd guesses from insufficient data... and yet not know anything about how to be 'alive'." (57) This juxtaposition of the human-ness Mike assumes throughout the book with his sheer inhuman-ness is what makes The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress great to me.

Political, legal and economic fiction is what I write. I love analyzing these themes from their "what if?" origins, toward their more serious or more entertaining directions. It's interesting to read Heinlein, an engineer noted for his intentionally outlandish settings,** take up the reins. Certain passages, like the mishmash "the classic 'Pearl Harbor' maneuver of game theory, a great advantage in Weltpolitick" (287) make my university days spin in their graves. Others, like the frequent satires of American politics I won't expand upon further in order to avoid spoiling the plot, had me in stitches. One of my favourite lines in the whole book is when O'Kelly Davis angrily notes, "I don't know how much to tell. Can't tell all, but stuff in history books is so wrong!" (296)

A few anachronisms take away from the action. The use of gigantic, mountain-mounted catapults to transport materiel from the Earth to the Moon recalls "The Brick Moon" more than it does the space craze of the '60s. In a post-Sputnik world, couldn't the transportation method have been more Sputnik-like and less like ancient warfare? Similarly, although the story is set in 2075-76, the characters' social attitudes feel uncomfortably Mad Men-era. Whether it's Mannie forcibly rescuing his platoonmate/fellow Cabinet member/love interest Wyoming "Why Not?" Knott, including a not-too-hard push on the buttocks, (35) or the bizarre judging of a capital case of flirting with the wrong woman, (159) I don't feel the future.

One of the best things The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress does is what it doesn't do. Wyoming is apparently very attractive. Everyone has multiple wives and husbands. The book has the word "mistress" in the title. Not once is a sex scene even plausible, though. There are times when it could possibly happen offscreen, such as any of the times Wyoming puts Mannie "to bed", but it is as though the political and social events these characters endure are so grandiose they make the seemingly all-important sex irrelevant.

Current pop culture nod: It's a shame Heinlein didn't live to see the release of Black Mirror. He probably would have been invited to write an episode.

Ease of Reading: 5
Educational Content: 4

*My forays into Heinlein:
December 2012: Stranger in a Strange Land, the last book of the venerable Book a Week
December 2014: WWII-era stories: "-And He Built a Crooked House" and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag"
September 2016: Quora post referencing "-And He Built a Crooked House"

**See the aforementioned "-And He Built a Crooked House", as well as the fact that The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress takes place on a polygamous, grain-importing Moon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

[Amazing Stories] November's Writing Prompt: Rat Cage Housing

Now that my Halloween writing prompt break is over, it's back to the wild, speculative business of wondering what would happen if our world were irreparably altered.

This month, perhaps in light of the housing situation in Toronto and Vancouver, it's about cramming everyone in like rats.

Amazing Stories: Rat Cage Housing

As of a date eighteen months from now – in order to give people time to prepare – everyone has to live in a structure of the same size. This size is a height, width and depth mandated by the federal government of wherever the people live. People can move into apartment buildings that resemble the rat housing above, or they can build the appropriate structures on their own properties out of whatever materials they wish.
Some people have to downsize their residences. Others get to upsize. What about non-housing parts of a residential property, like backyards and swimming pools? What happens to cottages, cabins, beach houses and second homes? How do people manage?
So little room, so much customization. Who would benefit or hurt from this change?

Click the bolded link above to explore!

(from Wikimedia)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Null Legacy

As I promised, Null Legacy is upon us! It's only about 5 pages, as it was written as an entry in an anthology, making it the quickest read I've published yet.

My short and long descriptions from the Smashwords publication page:

Each step is a step into darkness, the same as it ever was, the same as it'll ever be. As the world erupts around one shadowy man who helps maintain order, he manipulates his surroundings while they manipulate him. An evening in a café takes him to a hill, a lake, or anywhere else lurking in the walls and tables around him, and he anticipates every one of them flawlessly.
*          *          * 
Enough test trials guarantees every ending to every story and every outcome to every event. A group of maintenance workers called nulls is enlisted to operate the world; they track it meticulously down to each time a colour changes or a shadow moves. Reality distorts in even the most everyday situations. One null visits a café where the run-down decor frequently gives away to a Carroll-esque series of seemingly random processes, and takes down every experience with robotic precision. What he never knows is when, or if, he is ever truly in control. 
A short, quick journey into the malleable, the speculative and the weird. 
Null Legacy is also available in the Toronto Writers' Co-Operative anthology Voices 2016.

It's available in PDF, EPUB, .mobi, or any other ebook format (even plain text if that possesses you). It's also available on Barnes & Noble or Kobo.

Cover picture taken my me, in Toronto, on September 2, 2016.
Null Legacy is also available in the Toronto Writers' Co-Operative release Voices 2016, which was released on November 6.

My other Smashwords releases, all free as well, all available in as many formats:

Monday, November 7, 2016

Null Legacy: It's Been Read

Yesterday, I read my short story "Null Legacy" to a small crowd at the Hinton Theatre in the Toronto Reference Library. It was one of 15 readings from the Toronto Writers' Co-Operative's Voices 2016. The anthology is 31 works of prose and poetry in all imaginable genres and then some.

"Null Legacy" is a short-short, barely more than flash fiction (about 1900 words), that blends noir and science fantasy. Our unnamed protagonist, noted mostly for his combination of robotic memory and cynical sarcasm, finds that he can shape his world merely by noting the probability of each event...

Watch for "Null Legacy" on Smashwords later this month as a free ebook!

Here's me after the event:

You can follow the TOWC on Facebook here.

To inquire about Voices 2016, email the TOWC at

Monday, October 24, 2016

[Huffington Post] How can an NFL Player Go Broke?

I'm now on The Huffington Post! I discuss the medical, tax/fee and social factors that make it a lot easier for NFL players to run out of money than you'd think.

This same answer appeared on The Sporting News earlier this month.

Link to the story:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Teetering by J. Marshall Freeman

Teetering by J. Marshall Freeman
Young Adult/Science Fantasy (2016 - 423 pp.)

Teetering is Toronto author J. Marshall Freeman's debut novel released exclusively under his RabbitFish self-publishing label. Freeman is also a member of the Toronto Writers' Co-Operative.

Our intrepid protagonist is Barnabas Bopwright, a 15-year old high school freshman who lives in a city vaguely like Toronto or New York City, set 20 minutes into the future, with a nerdy personality and a thirst for good journalism. There's a secret subway in his city, cleverly dubbed the "Aqua Line" (i.e. aquiline), which he takes to a mysterious lower city, the Valley. In the Valley, Barnabas joins a circus in order to pass himself off as a local, meets secondary characters like circus owner Dmitri Tragidenko and his sullen but creative son Wickram, and learns of a sinister plot to destroy a City... that Barnabas can no longer reach. Yes, this is a lot of fun.

One of my favourite parts of Teetering is the Drop Shop. Purveyor George Glower sells items from the City in the Valley that Valley-ites can't acquire otherwise. Wickram's reactions to these items (examples at 157-159) are some of the book's most fun and touching moments. Wickram's experiences call to mind the times when unearthing difficult-to-find comic books was a thing. Barnabas's confusion upon seeing all sorts of vaunted products he considers completely normal reminds me of the awe my American friends show toward all dressed chips.

The path from the Valley to the City is one of the book's more exciting parts. Once the City and Valley authorities figure out the subway's security flaws, Barnabas's trip home adds suspense. That he's stranded so close to home, but has no way to get back other than by enduring a Pan's Labyrinth-style cave maze full of meanies, combines classic adventure plot with an all-too-realistic missing child scenario.

Teetering's main issue is its sheer length. At approximately 183,000 words, Teetering is longer than all but two Harry Potter books, almost twice as long as The Hobbit, and almost as long as any two Hunger Games books combined. In the young adult market, which commonly pumps out books in the 60,000-70,000-word range, Freeman has effectively released a trilogy as one book. This may be less of an issue in the ebook era, but could present problems for secondary print publication rights unless Freeman can find places where the story can be split up.

Characters also give away information way too freely. This is the only area in which my normally suspended disbelief can't be suspended anymore. Characters give away everything from the existence of secret subways (20), to not using security checks at the entrances to those secret subways (51), to revealing classified information in a questionable government hearing process (257), to the existence of top-secret security software (326), culminating in a James Bond-esque villain tell-all (377), often to complete strangers. A certain character's apartment location is a deus ex machina, which proves that truly anything can salvage a seemingly terminated plot.

Things "seem" too often. A quick CTRL+F search of the ebook reveals 228 instances of the word "seem", including 190 instances of the word "seemed". In dialogue, or when trying to create an ethereal atmosphere, this can be an effective word. However, in phrases like "the sound seemed to echo on" (41), how is this structure any more effective than "the sound echoed"? People don't seem to walk. They walk.

All this said, I like a lot of the characters, especially Wickram, who appears minor at first but then evolves into everything but the protagonist. The City/Valley dynamic has plenty of creative space Freeman can mine if he wants to release a sequel. The book's WWI-era interludes provide interesting backdrop to the City, showing how it evolved from an old-style industrial town into a place somewhat like our own.

Once you read this book, you'll get this reference... raspberry soda.

Ease of Reading: 9
Educational Content: 1

Teetering comes out on Thursday, October 27, 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

[Sporting News] How Can an NFL Player Go Broke?

One of my recent Quora answers, to the question "How Can an NFL Player Go Broke?", is now featured on The Sporting News. It should be elsewhere shortly, so I'll update this post or make other posts as necessary.

I touch on:

  • Total compensation, which is often similar to what an average American makes
  • Medical issues, which affect NFL players disproportionately
  • Taxes and fees, which eat up a surprisingly high amount of pro athletes' salaries
  • Diversity in career path NFL players have outside of their football careers

Full article text is here.

Friday, September 30, 2016

September's Writing Prompt [Amazing Stories]: The Best Terrain

I'm at it again on Amazing Stories!

This time, it's setting-focused. The plot is uncertain until partway through the first part of any story that would be written about the subject.

The Best Terrain - published today

A genie approaches you with an offer he’s forcing you to take. The offer is this: you have to choose a type of terrain. Your options are forest, plains, desert, beach, or any other you can think of, as long as it’s a type of terrain. (No cities.) The following morning, you will wake up on that terrain at a random spot in the world. Getting home is your responsibility, not the genie’s. You have ten minutes to decide. If you don’t choose something, the genie will choose for you, and he’s a very grumpy genie.
What do you pick?

Getting to pick the type of terrain means no ocean dumps. (That grumpy genie might send you there if you don't pick, though.)

The protagonist's decision-making process tells a lot of the story: not only where he or she ends up but also which other characters might appear. For example, I don't think the protagonist will befriend a harp seal in the midde of the Sahara. With so much possible, and so little of the story told before the big event (although the protagonist will have to do some all-weather preparation!), it's a prompt a hundred people can write a hundred different ways.

August's Writing Prompt [Amazing Stories]: Tongue Twister

Yes, it's late for August's writing prompt. It's never too late to talk about writing, though, and with September's writing prompt coming out so soon I thought it'd be a great opportunity to post a double dose of them.

Tongue Twister - originally posted on August 31, 2016


What if the residents of two countries suddenly switched languages?
Woodland speaks Woodlandian. All its written sources are in Woodlandian, including government documents, archives, reference materials, and even everyday labels like food ingredient labels and street signs. Plainsia speaks Plainsish. All its written sources are in Plainsish, just like Woodland’s are in Woodlandian. One day, every Woodlandian speaker wakes up knowing only Plainsish, and every Plainsish speaker wakes up knowing only Woodlandian. (The few who can speak both languages become poor at both.) No one can read anything unless people from the other country help them.

Are these countries bordering, close but apart (think like Belgium and Poland having only Germany between them), or on different continents?

Who would star in this world? Translators, second-language teachers, or people whose occupations don't require them to use words very often?

Would these countries grind to a halt, or would they keep going on visual and kinetic clues? Traffic lights still work fine, and watching enough people and your workplace lift blocks implies you should probably also be lifting blocks, after all.

Would their allies help them somehow? Would enemies try to invade?

What happens when a Woodlandian and a Plainsish meet?

The multitude of questions this scenario asks could fill a series.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Designated Survivor: Cornell

The pilot of ABC's Designated Survivor is currently airing. It's the kind of show one would expect Kiefer Sutherland to headline. It's not bad so far, although a certain key dramatic moment could have used more buidup. (Those who've watched it surely know what I mean.)

Something that needs to be addressed is this, whether or not it gets the attention is deserves:

Kiefer Sutherland's character opens the series wearing a Cornell hoodie.

(from Shop Your TV)

Yes, I have the exact same one but in black.

Go Big Red!

Friday, September 16, 2016

What a Couple Can Be

A very loosely artistic take on one of my favourite recent memories (August 1):

You wouldn't recognize either of us from that picture. That's far less important than the punk-meets-'90s-computer-technology-meets-unexplained-grassy-field-(see-top-right)-meets-classic-comic-book-meets-you-wouldn't-know-this-was-taken-in-Edmonton-unless-I'd-just-told-you feel of this photo. (Unaltered version unreleased.)

It reminds me of a book I've written...

Fun fact: If you let your eyes cross, the grass extends to the top left, which is a nice substitute for the blackness there. You can pretend my hair is a bush that's far spikier than my hair actually is.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

September's Book: Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey
Non-Fiction (2011 - 275 pp.)

Fans of 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live or comedy in general have probably already read Bossypants. Those who haven't probably will. This is Tina Fey's memoir of sorts, released at a younger age than most other memoirs. It's like an autobiography but with about a joke per paragraph.

The book started weak for me. It may be a generational thing; she's kind enough to refer to generations a few times, which reminded me she's 17 years older than I am. When she was a 23-year old visiting a Planned Parenthood for a gynecological exam, (17) I was a 6-year old cheering on my Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. Maybe that's why I had a tough time finding a lot of her early years funny, especially the college-aged experiences. Once she got into her improv days in Chicago in the '90s, I perked up. Ali Faranahkian's monologue about Big Macs, which assuredly requires his host to buy him one, (83) inspires me to try something similar.

My 30 Rock fandom kept me going and it paid off huge. Off-the-cuff observations like "We were trying to make Viagra and we ended up with blood-pressure medicine" (190) give a vivid idea for how Fey felt about the show's ratings. Insider information like that is more effective than a simple recounting of a show I've watched ever could be. Also, I quite enjoy any time a book breaks from the narrative format to toss informational tidbits at the reader. Fey does that a lot, such as in a textbook-style expository blurb (84-85), or an inset magazine cover (159), or a 30 Rock FAQ. (195-196)

My favourite moments were the ones Fey spent discussing her career in television and her more recent life moments. My working not-at-all-verified theory is that, like radio stations that play new music counterintuitively have more options than radio stations that play older music, her newer memories are less rooted in life-changing moments and more rooted in mundane events. An improv comic like Fey is at her best when the humour feels natural, so being able to draw on anything from a drive on the 80W (246) to playing Scrabble* (194) is a boon. The worst thing for any funny person is to be under a spotlight and be told, "Okay, be funny now." When she gets going about TV or recent home life, Bossypants is hilarious. When she recounts her trip up Old Rag Mountain, I have a far tougher time getting lost in her romantic strife. I, for one, would have called the failed date a success purely based on the mention of Hickory Farms. (61)

Tina Fey is one for self-deprecating humour (see almost anywhere in the book). I'll follow suit. I could have sworn there was something I wanted to reference in this blog entry from either page 44 or page 244 of my edition. Naturally, both of those pages are the plain white pages between chapters. I have now literally drawn a blank.

What surprises me most isn't about Fey or about Bossypants - it's about me. This book came out in 2011, I started watching 30 Rock in 2009, and I've been familiar with SNL basically since birth. How had I not read this yet? To think I actually made time to get through really long and really arcane books first. Well, it's read now. Besides, it's not like I've ever put a book off for way too long before.

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 1

*Scrabble is far from mundane, it just probably doesn't quite rank up there in her life compared to, say, being hired by SNL.

NOTE: Bossypants has a large number of short chapters. I love that format for books, even though I don't always use it when I write. It was pioneered in the 18th century, when enough books were serialized it was a necessity. Now, it just makes books easier to read.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Naming Characters: The ID Card Test

The ID Card Test is a process I use when naming characters. Once I've named the character, taking into account name meanings and name trends, I then think about how plausible yet unique the name is. There's no Princess Virtue Eaglebrook as one of my protagonists, nor is there a John Williams.

Where does that sweet spot lie, in which a character is named uniquely enough to be discernable from other characters and real-world people, yet also plausible enough to be a real name?

Imagine an ID card like this one:*

(from Deviant Art)

Now imagine you're working at a service desk processing ID cards all day. You'll inevitably see thousands of names. Some will be more common than others. Occasionally, one will surprise you.

Lots of names are ones you've never seen before in their first name-last name combinations, yet you're not surprised to see them. This is the sweet spot. These are good character names.

A pop culture example is when Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi named the famously irritable chihuahua Ren Hoek. Kricfalusi had apparently seen the name on a mailbox and found it sufficiently interesting. He never met the real Ren Hoek, or anyone else named Ren Hoek. It's a believable name, though, having clearly been proven to exist.

In that spirit, here are some character names from my recent works:

Karen Rothwald (State of Sin)
Max Blackwell (State of Sin)
George Clark** (Where Men Gape at Dust)
Victoria Rowntree (The Love I Feel Is a Burst Inside)
Simon Goldsmith (The Love I Feel Is a Burst Inside)

I've never met anyone with any of these names. If someone reads one of my books and says "that's my name!", though, I won't be surprised. After all, I have the same name as the protagonist's father in Flowers for Algernon.

Naming characters can be difficult. Luckily, there are millions of options. Getting to a name just uncommon enough for the reader to associate it with the book can be challenging, but can be very effective once you have it.


*Not literally an Arkham Asylum ID card, probably more like a standard-issue health card or driver's license. You have to admit, someone coming up with an Arkham ID is pretty cool, though. I wonder if they're issued to Shoggoths...

**Admittedly, this one is a little on the common side.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Polish Artist Recreates 19th-Century Warsaw... But on Stilts

I don't usually reblog things, but Bored Panda's given me a reason to do that today.

Polish artist and architect Tytus Brzorzowski has painted a series of incredible watercolours of how Warsaw looked before its World War II bombings. One key difference: Everything is shifted toward the sky. He's put buildings on stilts, added open-air bridges far above the ground, and made room for streetcars to visit buildings' upper floors.

Bored Panda describes the paintings:
In his paintings we find narrow, enchanting streets, elegant townhouses and soaring towers. To reduce the shadows of these tight alleys, his buildings rest on towering stilts, creating spaces underneath for pedestrians to stroll. There is just one question: How do you get inside?

Here's what Warsaw looked like in the 1920s:

from Wikimedia

Here's Tytus's version: (more pictures here)

There isn't a good picture of the Vistula River at the Bored Panda link, but this street is kind of like a river with all the fantastical bridges crossing it.

Here's the Warsaw skyline now:

From Jeziorki
Rebuilt Warsaw has a decidedly New World feel, earning it the nickname "City of Skyscrapers" on this message board. I think it looks great - not the "deformed and sealed by the overuse of billboards" Bored Panda reports, although far different from a purely Old World-looking city like Gdansk.

Tytus has an earlier group of watercolours visible on Bored Panda here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Jerry Jenkins on New Writing

From time to time, I read other writers' blog posts. Sometimes, I even post them here! Today is one of those days.

from - a very enticingly named site!
"Why write if there's nothing new under the sun?"

Yesterday, Jerry Jenkins answered this question. At first, it seems that "You know what makes your message unique? You do!", feels like a cross between self-help literature and stating the obvious. In the following points, though, a great list emerges:

1.  Because your take will be one-of-a-kind and will appeal to people like you.

There's a new spin for everything.

A huge aspect of this is when you write. Sure, Shakespeare may have had some things to say about the human condition, but surely something else can be said now that four centuries have passed. Having had the experiences you had growing up, the surroundings you have now, the expertise that makes you knowledgeable, and the life that inspires your writing gives you that new perspective.

2. Because there’s more to say on the topic.

When will any topic ever truly be exhausted? I like this attitude. Even as seemingly a hackneyed setting as medieval-themed fantasy could use more character intrigue... or a drastic setting change. Even I'm doing something very vaguely similar. As much as humans have said over the millennia, we haven't said everything. The more we've read, the more we know what's necessary to fill the gaps.

3. Because last time, no one was listening.

This is probably the least common of the three but is probably still happening everywhere. Find your favourite old style is forgotten or was never read? Sometimes our favourite works are obscure... or sometimes we even think we can improve on them. I've been talking about this since the early days of this blog in 2012!

Jenkins's full version, sadly without my commentary, is in the bolded link above.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August's Book: Dead I Well May Be

Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty
Crime (2003 - 306 pp.)

Dead I Well May Be is Northern Irish author Adrian McKinty's first published novel. The narrator is Michael Forsythe, a 19-year old Northern Irish gangster fresh off the boat in New York City, in 1992. Although Irish-American gangsters were more 1920s fare, events in late 20th-century Northern Ireland give an impetus for renewed gang warfare. McKinty presents the NYC of the period as a tough, ruthless place where Forsythe fits into Darkey White's Irish gang. Colourful characters like Sunshine and Scotchy take up commanding posts in the gang.

Unending action is the main hallmark of the book. Every few pages, someone is getting shot, or some new fact comes to light, or a relationship is made or ruined. Some of it gets unrealistic to the point that the reader wonders if Michael is an unrealiable narrator, such as Michael's journey through the American Southwest, but it always entertains. Violence-wise, there's a Belfast six-pack, a near-beheading, various gang scuffles, and so many betrayals it becomes nearly impossible to tell who's loyal to whom. In keeping with my general rule against spoilers, I'm not giving page citations for any of those.

McKinty also has a great sense of humour. During a childhood flashback, Michael and his brother visit their neighbours the Millers for a haircut, which leads to Michael gawking at a calendar model (137) and eventually talking back to Mr. Miller. (140) Semi-frequent interactions with Michael's neighours in NYC like Ratko and Danny the Drunk lead to funny events, such as when Ratko's wife serves "sausage so undercooked an bloody I was sure it was a chastisement". (196) At one point, Michael blames the violence in Northern Ireland on poor weather. (61) I occasionally broke down laughing while reading, which was awkward both in that I was clearly reading a crime novel and most of my reading was on public transit.

Dead I Well May Be occasionally overexplains. Early in the book, Michael takes half a page giving the reader miscellaneous bits of information demonstrating that it is indeed 1992. (8) That said, McKinty is adept at using sidebars to flesh out Michael's opinions of his surroundings. Characters who die are frequently referred to in the present tense, talking about who they are at the time of Michael observing them rather than who they were in memory, making many deaths surprising. Even when Michael jumps ahead hundreds of pages, saying things like "[X] happened [Y], but I'm getting ahead of myself", it doesn't spoil the future events. Sometimes the asides are insightful, such as when Michael comments on the luxury of certain prison cells (107) or conversion rates for the brutality rates of different countries' prisons. (110) A description of Michael making Ulster fry (270) makes me want to try it myself.

Something I lost track of after the first few pages, but enjoyed throughout in a campy way, is Michael's almost constant use of the word "wee". I smiled whenever I read it. Even a barracks is at one point called "wee". It makes me think of the famous scene in The Simpsons when Groundskeeper Willie retires mid-afternoon for "a wee nip and a wee nap". By the end of Dead I Well May Be, all the surviving characters could really use exactly that.

Ease of Reading: 8
Educational Content: 2

ASIDE: When's the movie coming out? I'd love to go see it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Have a New Profile Picture!

The old one was one of my favourites. It was taken at the Royal Ontario Museum on New Year's Eve 2012, by one of my best friends. It survives on my Smashwords page.* However, I was 25 when it was taken, and I'm 29 now. People occasionally see that picture, then they meet me and are surprised at how old I am.

The new picture is again of me in downtown Toronto. I have a way of ending up in that place. This time, it's at the harbour, just west of Yonge Street. I found a round lookout-style area in the middle of a spiral staircase so I thought I'd make it home for a few minutes. Here's a stable shot:

It comes from my page.

How long it'll last, I'm not sure. The last one went from 2013-2016, which is a nice run. This one would need to last until at least April 2020 to match it. What I'll be doing on this blog by then, who knows?

*The shirt I'm wearing in that picture is from English Laundry, which worked extensively with Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland on shirt design. I assure you the tributes last December were fitting. RIP.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Shakespeare and Me: The Tempest, and All the Rest

This was well done, my bird.
Thy shape invisible retain thou still:
The trumpery in my house, go bring it hither,
For stale to catch these thieves.
(The Tempest, Act 4)


Yesterday, I finished reading The Tempest. It's the first Shakespeare play I'd read since 2010, which is the longest I've ever gone without reading one except from birth until age 14. I've spent the intervening years doing a fair bit, including a lot of reading, so I don't feel like I've cheated myself. It was just a nice time to return.

It's pointless and unfair to review a Shakespeare play the way I would review a more current and less already discussed book. What am I supposed to say? That it's great, which would be stating the obvious? That it isn't, which would be impossible to defend?

What I can say are four things:

  1. Much like Twelfth Night, the first Shakespeare play I ever read, The Tempest is a great play to introduce to students reading Shakespeare for the first time. The story is simple, there's a good dose of humour (thinking of the zany Caliban/Stephano exchanges), and it's a comedy. As culturally impactful (which, yes, needs to be a word) as plays like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are, happiness sells. There's a reason people don't go see stand-up tragedy shows, although the concept would be interesting, and arguably political humour is tragic.
  2. The relatively few settings result in very few scenes per act. The Tempest only has eight scenes, with no more than three in any given act. Acts 4 and 5 take place in the same jail cell. The idealist in me says Shakespeare's ability to use language instead of adventure to move the plot is on display here, such as when Prospero and Ariel trick Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo into seeing dog and horse apparitions at the end of Act 4. I've cited some particularly moving language at the top of this blog entry. The cynic in me says this must have been an incredibly cheap production to release. 
  3. Open-source technology may be the most viable way to maintain the public's interest in Shakespeare. Although the MIT link I included at the start of this blog entry doesn't have hyperlinks, I'd love to see a noted-up Shakespeare play with hyperlinks to the relevant references that readers may not get. It'd be a fitting replacement for the books that have Shakespeare on one side and annotations on the other.
  4. I found The Tempest an easier read than any other Shakespeare play, even though I'd gone the longest since reading the last one. What that tells me is that reading of all kinds reinforces other reading. This is why I think it's so important for fiction authors to be well-educated: it's about transferable skills. In my case, all that industrial relations prepared me for some reading, and law helped too.

Semi-related, I have a plush tiger I've owned for the vast majority of my life (since I was 8 or so?) that I named Tempest. He doubles as a puppet. Here's a picture of the cute little guy:

I took it just now. Yes, he's posing with May's book. He's also posing with an elephant-shaped bookend, recalling last May's book. If I'm Calvin, he's my Hobbes.

A full list of Shakespeare plays I've read (13 in total, or 15 if you count the two I mention at the end):

Twelfth Night (2002)
Julius Caesar (2003)
Romeo and Juliet (2004)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (2004)
Hamlet (2005)
The Merchant of Venice (2005)
Titus Andronicus (2007)*
Henry IV, Part I (2007)*
Antony and Cleopatra (2007)*
King Lear (2007)
Macbeth (2010)**
Othello (2010)**
The Tempest (2016)

I also read some of his sonnets in 2009. I vaguely recall reading Coriolanius* in 2007 and Measure for Measure in 2009, but their contents elude me to the point that I wouldn't feel able to discuss them.

Fun fact about me: Titus Andronicus is my favourite Shakespeare play.

*This is what happens when you take a course entitled "Shakespeare's Tragedies and Histories". Bizarrely, none of King Lear, Macbeth or Othello were on the syllabus.
**I read these within a couple days at the start of August. Loyal readers of this blog know my birthday is August 3, so imagine this: every year, right before my birthday, I try to accomplish as much as I can while at my current age. When I was 22, that apparently meant reading as much Shakespeare as possible. It also means that even though my Shakespeare drought lasted barely more than six years, I read The Tempest at 29 but the ones before it at 22.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mysticism over Magic: Approaching the Fantastical from a Different Perspective

Fantasy literature comes in many forms. It can be high fantasy, set in a fantasy world, or low fantasy, introducing the fantastical into everyday life. It can be set in a historical or historically inspired setting, or it can be set in a futuristic setting. It can feature non-human races, such as the canonical dragons and elves, or it can feature humans doing things humans shouldn't be able to do.

What tends to bind all these subgenres together is the existence of magic.

According to Wikipedia, "Magic or sorcery is the use of ritualssymbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of exploiting supernatural forces."

The American Heritage Dictionary is more detailed. Its three-part definition is:
Magic: 1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural. 2. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature. 3. Sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment; the use of premeditated deception or concealed equipment to produce baffling effects. From Persian magos, or "priest."
Writing-World has a comprehensive list of magic types and magic users here. For subjects like the difference between a sorcerer and an enchanter, it's a good source. It shows how diverse authors' conceptions of magic and magical people have been over the years.

Magic, as defined here, is understandably a cornerstone of almost all fantasy fiction. From some of the earliest modern fantasy, such as Lewis Carroll's Alice books, through to 20th-century classics like Narnia and Lord of the Rings, all the way up to more recent canon entries, there's magic.

Whether magic is strictly necessary for fantasy is debatable.

In my upcoming fantasy series, set in a fantastical version of early modern Central Europe,* I've gone the Gormenghast route by having a fantasy setting without the usually accompanying magic. There, the then-nascent tropes hadn't been truly codified, so it's tough to say they were ever inverted. I haven't gone quite so far.

What I've done instead is to embrace mysticism. There won't be a single wizard casting a single fireball, although more realistic innovations may appear. What there will be instead will be meditation, fortune-telling, (possible) mind-reading, and communication with the dead. How they aren't magical in this setting is a technical distinction: there's no "ritual, symbol, action, gesture or language", only a sometimes-experienced innate ability.

Back to the American Heritage Dictionary (same link as above) - it describes mysticism as
Mysticism: 1. a. A spiritual discipline aiming at union with the divine through deep meditation or trancelike contemplation. b. the experience of such communion, as described by mystics. 2. Any belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension but central to being and directly accessible by intuition. 3. confused and groundless speculation; superstitious self-delusion. From Greek mustes, or "initiate" [in Mysteries] from muein, meaning "to keep mouth closed."
My markedly areligious setting works in this context. Characters seek out spiritual experiences through being able to communicate with the dead, through raking local populations to find those who can, and through constantly questioning what goes on beyond the grave - and in each others' minds. "Deep meditation or trancelike contemplation" describes everything beyond this world they do.

This mystical focus doesn't deviate from the core of fantasy. If it happened in a contemporary urban setting, it might... but then, it could simply be considered speculative or "weird" fiction. In a traditional-ish high fantasy setting, moving the focus away from wizardry toward mind-reading allows an author, in this case me, to do two things:

  • Engage the political, social and economic possibilities created by the historical civilizations upon which fantasy worlds are based, introducing aspects of alternate history without adding too many topics to the book
  • Move the special forces away from the tangible (fire, water, lightning, ice, and so on) toward the intangible (the mind, thoughts, emotions, and so on), which, in turn, accomplishes two things:
    • Allows me to make any horror aspects more Lovecraftian, and also to make it easier for characters to lie about what they see
    • Makes physical weapons more powerful! Removing the Harry Potter-style technological backwardness among wizards because of their over-reliance on magic allows for technological progress in construction, healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, the military, and in every other way
The addition of mysticism gives the characters an ingrained belief system that lets me make them spiritual without having to invent a fantastical church. It also makes the horror elements more realistic. Zombies and vampires have devolved to the point of being kitsch, but the human mind can always be terrifying.

The removal of magic is addition by subtraction, which is where I become a fantasy novel heretic. By limiting characters to non-magical means of building civilizations and destroying each other on the battlefield, I can make inventions from the tractor to the dip pen to the needle gun matter more to the world. To state the obvious, a gun is a lot more important when you don't have a wand that shoots fire.


*Really, it'll be more of an intentional anachronism stew ranging from about 1667-1918, in order to take inspiration from these civilizations without having the audience read too much historical interpretation into any one scene.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

July's Writing Prompt [Amazing Stories]: Two Worlds

Every night, while you sleep, a coin is flipped. When you wake up, you wake up in one of two worlds.

(from Jarek Berecki via Dribbble)

Here's my writing prompt for July on Amazing Stories.

There are two worlds: one above ground and one below ground. When you wake up each day, you wake up in one of the two worlds, each with a 1/2 probability. You retain all your possessions, all your relationships, all your obligations, all your rights… but you can’t physically move them between worlds. There is also no contact between the two worlds.

There are almost infinite possibilities. Are the two worlds remotely similar? Is your occupation, social status, location, etc. the same in each, or wildly different? If you have children, how do you allocate child care duties?

You may favour one of the worlds. Maybe you'll fall asleep each night praying you'll wake up in one... or maybe they'll be so similar you'll be indifferent.

Having the same people in each world means you're likely to have certain commonalities, like language. Beyond that, anything could happen every time you shut your eyes...


I admit some Slice 'N' Hook influence here. I hope I'm among many in that being my favourite computer game.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Raichu for President

From time to time, I share my Quora answers on this blog. I think now's one of those times.

Raichu for President!

The lovable evolved mouse (pika?) arguably has a better case than any other Pokemon. Popularity and thunderbolts combine well in this volatile political climate. I've even included a press release explaining the popularity of the Raichu camp.

What's next? A Pokemon Leadership Convention?

Monday, July 25, 2016

July's Book: The Street Lawyer

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
Thriller (1998 - 449 pp.)

The Street Lawyer is John Grisham's ninth book. Its main character, Michael Brock, is a young antitrust lawyer who has a change of heart after almost being shot by a crazed homeless man. He leaves his 800-lawyer firm to work in a poverty law clinic where he can help the homeless, learning from a poverty law veteran named Mordecai Green. Brock's marriage is falling apart, the streets of Washington DC are frigid in February, and Brock's old firm is after him. I won't spoil any more.

The most convincing parts of the story are Brock's divorce and the homeless shelter scenes. Brock and his wife Claire have numerous tense interactions, such as when Brock first broaches the subject of leaving his old firm (137-139), but the reader gets to see that she still cares about him when he's in the hospital. (190) Sadly, Grisham abandons the divorce storyline, with Claire mentioned only in passing for about the last half of the book. Brock's new love interest Megan isn't developed nearly enough to properly replace Claire in the story.

The homeless shelters and soup kitchens are tougher for me to envision than romantic tension but I got a feel for how they might look and who might be there. Brock visits a few, first alongside Green, then on his own. Brock feeding a four-year old boy in one of his first soup kitchen visits is one of the book's more touching passages. Brock's interview of Paul Pelham (237-242) is loony but entertaining, like quite a few parts of the book.

The lack of realism doesn't bother me; if I wanted a realistic legal story, I'd simply ask a lawyer about his/her practice. My disbelief ceased being suspended a few times, though. One is that Brock is able to practise poverty law so quickly. He appears to have spent his entire career to that point in antitrust, yet the 14th Street Legal Clinic has him practise family law, social security law, and even do a personal bankruptcy. Bankruptcy law especially is so technical most lawyers wouldn't be able to practise it. In the real world, Brock would have to report himself to the proper licensing authority. This is inexplicably never discussed.

The writing is sometimes great, sometimes poor, and usually a bit above average. The Street Lawyer is a page-turner, as advertised. Grisham's description of the initial action scene kept me wanting to know what would happen to characters I'd never seen before. The emotional climate of the conference room - "If the nine of us had a vote, Rafter would be the first sacrificial lamb. Eight to one."* (7) - shows Brock's ability to stay witty under (literal) fire. Nonetheless, adjectives and adverbs are sometimes used where storytelling would have been better, and Grisham is a good enough storyteller to make those moments interesting. A line like "she seemed perfectly content sitting in my chair" (260) doesn't say what seeming perfectly content entails. Is she smiling? Maybe looking around the room, considering she isn't that familiar with this office? Why is she "seeming", rather than simply being, perfectly content? There are also a few hackneyed phrases, such as "greasing the skids", (55) "spellbound" (237) and "in full swing". (267) For all the variance in quality of Grisham's writing throughout the book, the last line is a great one: "I didn't dare think of the future; the past was still happening." (449)

The only moderately educational aspect of The Street Lawyer consists of basic facts like how many lawyers work at big firms and what they made back in 1998, which areas of law a poverty law clinic might practice, and so on. This book is well-suited for a flight.

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 2

*This musing really has a "Case of the Speluncean Explorers" bent. I wouldn't be surprised if Grisham's read it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mountain Lions: A Return to the East?

Yesterday, the Washington Post published this story about the idea of repopulating mountain lions to their once-native habitat in the Eastern United States. The article states:

If mountain lions returned to their eastern U.S. range, the study found, they could prevent 708,600 deer-vehicle collisions, 155 human deaths and 21,400 human injuries over 30 years. That would save at least $2.13 billion, the authors said.

Here's a picture of mountain kittens:

(from SPCR)

Whether this would qualify as introducing a species is rightfully up for debate. There are often devastating impacts of introducing new species. Then again, reintroducing old species may not have that same impact. Then, some animals are just terrifying.

Another issue is whether the apparently overly deer-afflicted areas should allow for laxer hunting laws. Venison's one of my favourite meats. Should we be the predators?

Regardless, I think the debate's been opened about what an American ecosystem needs to perform at its best. Now that we're ingrained into the territory, this is a productive conversation. Is a wild cat more effective than a gun?

Obviously, no one wants a deer crashing into a car. It doesn't work well for any of the involved parties. Reintroducing mountain lions may be a good solution. I hope it is - they're beautiful animals.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What It Means to Write a Novel (My Version, At Least)

The meaning of the novel is dynamic, not static. Since the start of the novel craze with Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740), novels have been seen as everything from cultural artifacts to learning devices to cheap entertainment. Somewhere in between, there's pop culture, spinning a yarn around the fire pit, and thinly veiled allegory about things much of the readership can't possibly understand. As merchandising opportunities, they date back at least to the aforementioned Pamela.

Then there's a different category of books. They may seem difficult at first. Alternatively, they may seem easy and fun in a way the initial readership hadn't anticipated. They may defy their genres. They may defy concepts like "plot". Whatever they are, they look unfamiliar in some way.

They're not just stories or escapes. They're inventions.

A quick summary of what I (try to?) write is from, of all unexpected places, a book on 19th-century Europe that was first published in 1970. (It's not a bad book if you need a quick overview of the period, although its appraisal of Austria's non-role in the 1863 Warsaw Uprising is baffling.) In any event, here's what historian Norman Rich has to say about the artists of the day:
"Nevertheless, many nineteenth-century artists whose works have stood the test of time remained outside the mainstream of popular culture - not necessarily because they were in revolt against society, although this was often the case, but because they followed their own artistic bent without regard to popular taste. The production of this group of nineteenth-century artists was distinguished by the desire of its creators to experiment, to discover new techniques and forms of expression, to explore new dimensions of human experience. In this respect the innovative artists of this era were akin to the scientists and inventors, who must after all be regarded as artists in their own right." 
Norman Rich, The Age of Nationalism and Reform, 1850-1890, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970, p. 54.
In everything I write, my goal is to be less like insert-formulaic-novelist-here and more like Thomas Edison. I am an inventor of concepts and a creator of worlds. (Not like this, of course.) It's well established that books can be character-driven, plot-driven or setting-driven. What can go into each of those? What can a character be? What can a plot be? What can a setting be? In each story or book I've written, I've looked at one or more of them.

  • In Void (2011 - unpublished), the entirety of the book consists of letters written by one character. I also include a matrix, a probability problem, a flowchart and a word search. The interweaving of different media in one novel should hopefully serve as an inspiration to anyone sick of all novels being the same.
  • In I Drank the Toxic Cocktail (2012), I openly question where a plot should start and end. What is the question the story answers? Who is Fairly, why is someone named after an adverb, and why is he chosen for the challenge? Does any of it matter? I also borrow heavily from Gregory Kavka, including in the story's title.
  • In The Knight and the Princess (2013), I absolutely mangle genre and plot. It's a medieval fantasy/puzzle book. The two titular characters are never shown together. One of the main characters is confronted by a mysterious jester who presents him with a Mensa puzzle. The story ends with a question mark. Whether or not it receives a warm welcome, maybe it'll inspire someone else's greatness.
  • In State of Sin (2014/2015 - not published yet, but hopefully soon!), the book is based entirely on the setting. The main plot point is a federal election. There are 24 narrators (29 in what will likely be an extended version). No character physically appears in more than one chapter, although certain prominent characters are mentioned in multiple chapters. Genre changes from chapter to chapter, with everything from bathroom humour to an I Am Legend-like story that takes place in a city somewhat like modern-day Detroit. How and why does the world function the way it does, and why are the characters telling their stories this way?
  • In The Love I Feel Is a Burst Inside (2016 - currently in the editing stages), I debut a style I call literary hyperrealism. It takes after the works of famed writers from 1890-1930 as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Henry James and William Faulkner, but then reinterprets them in light of newer works like The Night Circus. Character-oriented movies like My Dinner with Andre or When Harry Met Sally factor in as well. These influences combine in a short, fast-paced novel that sees its characters' conversations go on bizarre but relevant tangents. The third-person narration zooms in on every facial expression they make. What do Simon and Victoria teach each other about the nature of reality, even as they struggle with their feelings for each other?

No one novel or short story is the same. Each is the result of a mad scientist-style literary inventor stretching the bounds of what the medium can be. That's how it is when I write, at least.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

My Latest Quora Answer on Self-Publishing

Yesterday, I was asked to answer this question: "What is your opinion on self-publishing? Are these books not as good as books from publishing houses?"

This is what I came up with.

The short version is that I think self-publishing is like a lot of life: it's what you make of it. Fiction writing is unregulated. Anyone can write but not everyone can write well. It's a craft, it's difficult, and it's important to get right. Self-publishing requires research about the publishing industry, including such mundane things as proper formatting, and also the will to see through the other non-literary aspects of releasing a book.

You can find me self-published on:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Maple Leaves: The Pictures

Toronto over Canada Day weekend is a great place to be inspired to take pictures of maple leaves. There are certainly enough of them - species there include Norway, silver and sugar.

I had the pleasure to go for a walk yesterday and snap a couple pictures of these beautiful, patriotic plants.

Here's the lucky sugar maple leaf I found on the ground and carried with me home:

Here's a close-up I took of a Norway maple:

Leafs jerseys have generally echoed the silver maple, as they do now, but the 11-pointed design from 1970-2016 more closely resembles a sugar maple leaf. This 1970-2016 was chosen to look more like the Canadian flag and less stylized. The Canadian flag's maple leaf was chosen for its visibility in turbulent wind conditions, not for any arboreal reason, so North America's historical sugar maple enthusiasts may need to temper their joy over this one. From that last article: they're "sylvan beauty" indeed!