Sunday, June 29, 2014

State of Sin: The Last Day

Today is a very special day that's both a happy day and a sad day.

A year and a day ago, I started officially writing the first draft of State of Sin. I'd planned on finishing the draft in a year flat, but hey, it's been a fun weekend, including finishing reading June's book. So today I write the last chapter to be written of State of Sin. I say the last to be written as opposed to the last in the book - I wrote the chapters out of order for the most part. You'd be impressed at how easy that makes foreshadowing. The less impressive explanation is that the fourth chapter was so difficult to write I had to come back to it a couple times, and I wasn't about to delay the rest of the novel for its benefit. At that point, writing in order was scrapped. That's fine, though, as State of Sin is as much a collection of short stories as it is a novel, each with a different narrator. There are twenty-nine narrators over the span of twenty-four chapters and a prologue. Over the past year, I've been a teenage girl, a housewife, an elderly person and a homeless person, among others, four people I thought I'd never be. I went into State of Sin thinking it'd be easier to write because I'd never get bored of a particular narrator. Naturally, it was far tougher. The closest comparison is writing a Machine of Death book all by yourself. Something like Megamorphs may also be a decent comparison, although the narrators in those books recur quite often. In State of Sin, no character ever appears twice, whether as a narrator or otherwise.

Whether I'll write another novel after State of Sin, I'm not sure. I might get so wrapped up in other pursuits I only ever have time to write short stories. Alternatively, I might want to take the plunge of writing a novel again at some point. At my current rate, having started novels in 2007*, 2009^, 2010** and 2013^^, I'll be back on the trail in a year or two. Part of me hopes I will be. Part of me hopes I won't be. I suppose it'll come down to whether I feel I have as compelling a storyline again.

State of Sin is unique to me in the sense that it's the first novel I've written that has a story I truly love. I originally came up with the story in about 2003 when learning about token economies in high school. From then, it's been a lot of putting the idea in the back of my head while writing other novels (technically, seven of them), refining the idea once I realized this was really going to happen (from mid-2012 onward), and doing things like drawing maps of where everyone lives.

From the time I was no taller than my bed, I've wanted to write fiction, especially novels. I wrote a 33,000-word story at age fourteen and went from there. Although State of Sin will be in editing for probably all of July, today could be the last day of my life I ever spend just sitting and writing part of a novel-length work of fiction. How fitting that this chapter will be so much about reflection.

*This novel, entitled Beautiful You, has only been read by a handful of people. It took me six months in almost exactly the first half of 2007. It's abjectly terrible in some ways but it contains some good ideas and was an important step in my development as a fiction writer. Think of it as my Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment. It's also the longest piece of anything I've ever written, coming in at almost 154,000 words. When considering a page holds about 500 words, that's a 308-page book.

^This novel, entitled Inside the Rift, was written in two and a half months. I don't recommend that, for any aspiring authors reading this post. Inside the Rift has its charms, and was ready to be sent to publishers according to an author who read a small part of it, but I ultimately balked because I wanted something better. It's still a pretty solid book, especially what I consider to be the best setting description I've ever written. My goal of writing a novel revolving around setting rather than character or plot was achieved; whether that's a good thing, time may tell. It's the only one of the four novels written from a third-person perspective, something I used a lot more often earlier in my writing career. If/when I write another novel, I'll probably go back to this perspective. Inside the Rift is around 108,000 words.

**This novel, entitled Void, is my shortest at about 71,000 words. It was written in three months from 2010-2011. It was my easiest to write in that it only has one narrator but my toughest in that the subject matter was difficult to get on the screen. I flirted with submitting it and may still do so - watch for it?

^^This novel is State of Sin. It's taken the longest of any novel I've ever written. I've also had to juggle the most responsibilities while writing it, making this no surprise. It's over 132,000 words so far, and will probably end up in the 140,000 range, making it my second-longest work.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Eyeball Selfies

The wide world of selfies needs something new. I propose eyeball selfies. They can look very different based on how far the camera is from your face, how open your eye is, what the lighting's like, and (ouch) whether you accidentally left the flash on. They're also uniquely you.

Here are four I took last week. You can see I was pretty tired at the time.

Eye partially closed: It looks a little like an oyster with a moustache.


Eye open, less zoomed in: You can see the eye clearly but you can also see my hair wasn't in the greatest shape that day.


Flash on: This looks like something from the Blair Witch Project, only better.


True close-up: I think this is the best one. Behold my eye!


That's all for now. Try some of your own!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy First Day of Summer!

It's a beautiful day out in Edmonton and has all the makings of something truly special. Hope everyone has a good one!

Friday, June 20, 2014

LinkedIn Pulse: 5 Signs You're Going to Make It Big One Day

I'm on LinkedIn, and I enjoy it quite a bit, yet I rarely mention it on here. Well, now I am.

This article released yesterday by Ariella Coombs, her first for the site, is exactly what the title says. In order to reproduce as little of the article as possible, and to make everything nice and accessible, here are the 5 Signs:

1. You’ve Got A Dream (A Big One!)
2. You’ve Got A Road Map, But You're Prepared To Take Detours
3. You’re Extremely Curious
4. You’re A Little Cocky (Just A Little)
5. You Realize Failure Is A Minor Setback, Not A Game Changer

While this isn't empirically tested or peer-reviewed, it's an uplifting little editorial. I hope I'm five for five.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

May's Book: Before Motown

Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-1960 by Lars Bjorn with Jim Gallert
Music (2001 - 207 pp.)

Before Motown is, in Professor Lars Bjorn's own words, "the first book-length treatment of Detroit jazz history." (1, fn 1) That alone makes it a worthy read. The book's thesis, that Detroit was a seminal jazz city for a period of about forty years but especially during the 1950s, is driven home by a breakdown of the people and places that made Detroit music what it was prior to the Motown explosion. My background playing jazz trumpet and my rearing on Motown as a child made this book an obvious read for me.

Before Motown progresses chronologically, roughly by decade, before veering off into related musical forms (blues, early Motown) near the end. It is a setup that works, as most readers will not be starting the book with a good understanding of the artistic and social climate of Detroit in 1920. I surely did not. Race relations factor into the book as much as music does at times, although the artists, clubs and songs that defined Detroit in the jazz era are always at the forefront. An example of race relations shaping early Detroit band music is in the name of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, a 1920s-'30s band named to sound exotic but who were, in reality, from Ohio. (26) Various maps of racial migration throughout the 1920-1960 period are useful.

Within Before Motown, there are dozens of anecdotes intertwined by virtue of jazz and Detroit. A couple stand out. One is of Miles Davis's time spent in Detroit in 1953-1954, when he was coming off some of the most frequent heroin use of his life and therefore specifically wanted to avoid the rampantly abusive New York City scene. When in Detroit, he borrowed a trumpet every night for shows from a then 14-year old Lonnie Hillyer, who would also become a great musician. Hillyer's mother made Davis return the instrument every night so he could not pawn it for drug money, and indeed, Davis kept his word. (137-138) Another is the briefly told life story of John Lee Hooker in the blues chapter. In a reminder of how different the World War II era was from the current financial situation, Hooker remarked in an interview that "At that time jobs weren't hard to get - it was during the war. Good money too. You could go anywhere any day and get a job..." (174) This passage must seem alien to current job seekers.

It is truly a shame that many of the artists featured so prominently in Before Motown have either been recorded sparingly or never been recorded at all. Some, like well-known pianist Phil Hill from the late '40s and early '50s, lack personal pages on sites like Wikipedia or Rate Your Music. It is simultaneously enlightening to learn about what must have been a really interesting scene and frustrating to have to relegate many artists' sounds to the imagination. Reading about clubs like the Blue Bird Inn, the Flame, and so on, it would have been nice to somehow gain a greater appreciation to how the music there sounded in the '40s-'50s heyday. All considered, the reader is blessed with photographic evidence, including a picture of Frank (alto sax) and Gene (bass) Taylor standing on top of a bar. (190) Copies of old concert posters also pop up throughout the book.

My only qualm with Before Motown is that it sometimes takes on an encyclopedic quality, bombarding the reader with snippet-sized life stories that do not always tie into the overarching narrative in an obvious way. That the appendices do not include a list of jazz musicians from different decades or styles compounds this problem. It also has many island quotations, which can become troublesome when there is a sentence followed by a not entirely related quotation. These are minor issues, though, as the book is still very readable. Before Motown contains a lot of information, and digesting it takes longer than the 207-page count implies.

Ease of Reading: 5
Educational Content: 8