Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Driving in Snow

Thoughts some people seemed to be thinking whilst driving home after karate last night in the snow:
  1. It has snowed an inch in the last half hour! I shall drive faster, in order to get home quickly, in case conditions get worse!
  2. There are three lanes on this street, and one other car. Perhaps I should tailgate her.

One of the sweetest moments of my life was one evening last winter when I was driving to band practice. it was snowing. I glanced in my rear view mirror, and there was an SUV driving way too close to me, the way they do. I glanced at the road in front of me. I glanced back in the rear view mirror, and the SUV was now facing the wrong direction in traffic, maybe 50 meters back, and miraculously, no one had hit it.

Sometimes when I just need a smile, I think of that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"The Voyage of the Star of the North" by my dad

Why I read it: I'm back from my vacation visiting my dad and seeing my sisters, and almost all the reading I did was probably about 100,000 words of my dad's novel mark VII. That means there are six predecessors (although he claims to have "lost" the first one). That 100,000 or so words was 230 pages. There are supposedly another thousand pages. I read maybe 32 chapters. there are over a hundred. It was really long.

I suggested he take out about ten of those 32 chapters. I hope he does.

Tastes like chicken: maybe Rick Blechta's book, because it takes place largely with North Americans trying to find their way around in Europe (the parts I would have him keep, anyway).

Bookmark: none. Loose sheets.

What I liked: There are two storylines that converged a few chapters before I stopped reading. I liked the one about the Gutenberg bible, or maybe the weapons.

Not so much: The storyline that followed the messed-up teenaged girl had way too much repetitive detail.

What I can steal: At least I can learn to take criticism. My dad listened to me go on at great length about how I didn't need to follow every inch of the constantly growing tear in Fiona's sweater. There must have been at least five pages about that stupid sweater.

Also, I can watch my characters obsessing about things.

Also, Simone/Symonne is a Mary Sue.

With all its flaws, I was curious how the story would come out.

I think on Elizabeth Bear's blog she described a second draft as a first draft minus 15%. For me, I need to learn to first-draft tighter. Both my things lately have been about 40% longer than I meant. For my dad, it's maybe 400%. take out some of those chapters! Leave the character a little more mysterious! Let us wonder why she's such a mess, rather than rehashing the same wretched scene from her childhood in flashbacks four or five times!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Payback" by Margaret Atwood

Why I read it: My sister asked for it for Christmas, and we have a little bit of a tradition in our family: when someone gives you a book, you say "how was it?"
Also, I read a review of it in Salon, and the review said 80% of it was good, and I was curious about both the topic, and whether the last bit was as bad as the reviewer had said.
Bookmark: Paybuck with Margaret Atwood's picture on it.
Tastes like chicken: The Amy Vanderbilt Etiquette book I bought last week. Not so much the other MA books I've read before, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I had a strong aversion to Surfacing.
What I liked: First of all, I really enjoyed the way she connected debt to wrecking the environment. As Elizabeth May said in the CDN election a couple of months ago, being Green means living within your means, which is a matter of fiscal policy as well as environmental.
Also, I've read some of the same books that MA referred to in this one. That made me feel smart. And the wry humour of MA's style really works for me. I liked the voice.
What I hated: Well, the Salon reviewer had a point with the whole Scrooge thing in the last chapter. It was extremely not subtle.
What I can steal: She's got a very distinctive voice. I can't steal that, but I can learn how she uses it in different styles of writing. Also, I liked the message, for the most part.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Maybe the financial crisis isn't as dire as we thought

...because we seem to have lost all sense of perspective.

We're having a snowstorm right now. It's snowing. It's cold. But it's a Snowpocalypse? The Snowmageddon?

Apparently we're going to get about 20cm. I'm sure we'll all die.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thin-skinned Robyn will be striking back?

On the weekend I went to see my friend Nadine. She asked me to send her a short story. Except at the same time, she told me the tale of her friend who writes songs, who always gets upset and defensive when she tears their work to shreds. Sell it to me, this idea of sending stories your way!

Yesterday, I emailed two short stories to her. I wonder if that was a bad idea...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What is your plan?

There's an ad for a funeral home that runs in my local paper. It reads something like:

"Shan Jahan built the Taj Mahal in his favourite wife's memory. What's your plan?"

And I always think to myself, "Inadequate, in comparison."

Monday, December 15, 2008

In which knitting a sock leads to an understanding of literature

Usually I avoid those royalist documentaries on the CBC, but I was trying to finish knitting a sock, and surfing to find something better would have used one of my hands, so I left the channel where it was. And thus, I watched "Prince Charles's Other Mistress", the story of Dale Tryon.

The whole time I was thinking to myself, some future Phillipa Gregory is going to write an awesome historical novel about this. In her sad demise, Dale jumped out of a window, or was pushed, and broke her back, and apparently went mad. I can see why people would want to write semi-biographical historical novels. If it was fiction, people would say it was too over the top, and no one would ever do that in real life.

More shockingly (if that's possible), in my lifetime, women are still more eligible to be the mistress of the Prince of Wales if they are married, and a woman will stay faithful to her husband after marriage until she produces a male heir, at which point it seems sort of like her husband can be completely compicit in pimping her out to whomever. This seems so Tudor to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"The Midwich Cuckoos" by John Wyndham

Why I read it: It had been lying around my house for a long time. I think I got it from my friend Shari when she got rid of most of her books when she moved to England like seven years ago. The boy has been reading "The Chrysalids", also by Wyndham, for English class at school. I was wondering if this would be a good thing to recommend to him, now that he's finished the Twilight series for the second time, so I read it. I'm not sure it's a good choice for the boy, because it doesn't really have kid protagonists.

Also, I might be going through a stage of "reading from the stash" just a little bit.

Tastes like chicken: HG Wells, which is referenced a lot later in the story, and maybe the new Battlestar Galactica.

Bookmark: One of those cheque-ordering forms from my chequebook.

What I liked: The very British style. There were moments that were quite funny to me, because they were just so deadpan. I love the deadpan style. I liked the way it didn't really seem like science fiction; it was just a story. And I liked the ending. I knew something was up. I thought the candies were poisoned, though it did seem like there was an awful lot of equipment going to that film showing...

What I disliked: When I was reading this last Saturday at the YMCA, I had to ask one of the physicians that were standing around (there were at least two in the room) what an occiput was. Then I got in a pointless argument with a non-physician about whether occiput and Oxycontin have a similar root. I think not.

Lessons learned (what I can steal): It was nice to read a science fiction book that I enjoyed, because I've been going through a spell of wondering if maybe science fiction is not for me.

In other news: I let Ed read Watcher, and he didn't say it was crap. I think I removed the right thousand words.

Monday, December 08, 2008


That's my total word count today on Watcher. Surely I can remove three more words. Time for a new draft!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Watcher some more

Last night I typed up the story I wrote for the Toronto Star Short Story Contest. And you know what? This one is almost a thousand words too long, too! Is everything I write 40% longer than I intended? Today I will print it, and I already thought of some ways it could be less crap. 29 days...

Monday, December 01, 2008

"The Princess and the Goblin" by George Macdonald

Why I read it: I bought this two or three years ago at the Fryeburg fleamarket because I needed something to occupy the boy with for a few hours (those trips to the fleamarket with my relatives can be interminable). And then, this book appeared on a list of good books that shouldn't be forgotten (get them out of your local library!) in the back of I think "The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner. That moved it up the list. And then, I used it for a while as my carry around book. And then I just decided to finish it.

Bookmark: Mexican 50 peso note.

Tastes like chicken: While the intro referred a lot to Lewis Carroll, this seemed more like "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" to me.

What I liked: The magic was not treated like magic at all. Maybe it's because the main character starts out as eight years old, and is maybe 10 by the end. But the magic was just there, and treated like nature. There was a wonderful acceptance of the world just as it is, without trying to explain it that much.

What I hated: The voice was very different than people write now. And yet, it didn't bother me. It felt like a story meant to be read out loud, or told from memory. So, what I hate is actually that we've got this idea somehow that the only good stories are "show, don't tell" stories. Is this a fad? Are "show, don't tell" stories really better? Are we limiting the stories we can tell by making restrictions like "show, don't tell"? I realize this may be the storytelling equivalent of "keep your hip down" (which is what I'm always told in karate), and therefore I will always fight against it.

What I can steal: Turn your weaknesses into strengths, right? If I can't stop telling, then maybe I have to find a voice where telling works. Or maybe voice is just an excuse to start telling, not showing.

In other news: Apparently the Toronto Star Short Story Contest deadline is Dec 31. I should start working on that?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Cemetery of the Nameless" by Rick Blechta

Why I read it: Last March I wandered over to the Chapters across from the YMCA, and I went up the stairs to where the good books are, and there, sitting at the signing table, was Rick Blechta. I played for him years ago at the RCM, and I'd bought one of his books then, and read it, and it was great to see him again. And of course I bought a book.

It's kind of scary to read a book by someone you know and like. What if I hate it? What if it sucks? So it took a little while to get around to it. Also, crime fiction isn't really my genre.

Bookmark: Promo for "A Case of You", Rick's latest book.

Tastes like chicken: Probably the other book by Rick that I've read, "The Lark Ascending", which features the same characters. Other than that, well, I dunno. I don't read much crime fiction (I generally find the hard-boiled voice not florid enough. Not enough metaphors or something. Too many short sentences, not enough commas).

What I liked: First, I really liked the press clippings at the start of each chapter. They were very entertaining, the way they evolved as public opinion evolved about Tory.

This is the sort of thing I would expect Rick to write. He used to tell us, when he conducted the RCM Wind Ensemble, stories about people finding a page of an old Bach piece or something, at flea markets in Europe, or musicians wrapping their sandwiches in the 2nd violin part... I really liked the way he wrote about classical music. The relationship between soloist and orchestra, and soloist and conductor, seemed really true to me.

There was a neat trick in the couple of GGK books I read a couple of months ago where the author preambles a section with really obvious foreshadowing of how badly it's going to go, or how it could have gone a lot worse. That seems to be more standard in mysteries.

What I hated: I found the time flow confusing sometimes. The story is told from two POVs: Rocky and Tory. Generally this was fine, except somtimes something would happen in Tory's POV and then it wouldn't have happened until scenes later in Rocky's. This didn't ruin the story for me, though it would be neat to do the "putting Memento in order" thing to see if the peculiar chronology was really necessary.

Also, I found the date rape drug revelation incredibly not surprising. How could a bunch of normal people, law enforcement professionals, and psychiatrists not think of that? And the Robert Sawyer moment on p. 220. I felt like he'd maybe donated enough money to the United Way to get his name and novel mentioned in this book.

What I can steal: First of all, it's a good thing to read outside my comfort zone. I am unlikely to ever write a murder mystery. Even if someone got murdered in a story I wrote, the story would probably be categorized as something else first. And it was an entertaining read. Maybe what I learned was to redefine the meaning of "write what you know". I hope Rick hasn't experienced the "crime" portion of the story, but he knows music, that's for sure. And he's found a way to work that into his books really well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quiz Filler!

Yep, I entered my blog into this little thing:

And I am...

ESTP - The Doers

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities. The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Somewhat true.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Random Thought

It's very hard to write a story in third-person when you have been deeply engrossed in a book written in first-person. Especially when that book switches first-person viewpoints.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Less than 6000

As planned, I did some edits on "One Unicorn; Missing Uncle" (which is still a crappy title, but at least provided me with some guidance as to what the story is about). It is now down to 5711, which is a reduction of about 650 words. I sure write a lot of extra verbiage.

And I now have 1% of the etiquette (really about a charm school) story done. I think I need to get a book or two about etiquette (as out-of-date as possible).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Moraine No More

If I was ever going to finish this story, I realized it had to have a better title than Moraine, because that's just not descriptive of anything in the story. It's just the setting. So last night I rechristened the wretched tale "One Unicorn; Missing Uncle". This does two things for me:

  • Aligns me with a camp in the on-going Unicorns vs. Zombies debate (I learned about the rivalry here). I also chose to start the Etiquette story, not the Zombie story, as my next project (I'm on page 4!), so I guess at least for now, I'm on Team Unicorn. This title, though still sucking, helped me start at the back of the story and do a bit more editing (on paper, maybe I'll type it in tonight...), working back-to-front for a nice change of scenery.
  • Allows me to use my favorite piece of punctuation! A couple of years ago I took a copy-editing course where each of us, in order to introduce ourselves, had to tell our name, what we work at, and what our favorite punctuation mark is, and why. I said semi-colon, because once I was told by a teaching assistant that I shouldn't use more than one semi-colon on a page (have I told this story before? probably). That seemed like the stupidest rule ever, and I've strived to use semi-colons where appropriate ever since.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Raincloud" by Richard Todd

Why I read it: Several weeks ago the author was at my local Chapters, sitting at a table, saying "hello" to the people walking by. So I wandered over and made some comment about "the glamorous life of the writer." After a while I let him sign a book for me. He looked like he figured I was going to ditch it in a stack on my way to the cash.

He asked me if I was a writer. I said that yes, I write computer manuals. He asked if I'd written the manual for his blender. I said no. He asked if I wrote other things on the side. I said yes, but my team leader says that TWs can't write anything fiction, and the other writer I work with gets grant money occasionally to write pilots of TV shows. And he said "That's all very interesting, but what do you write?" so I confessed to writing short stories that I keep in a filing cabinet, because they are crap. That's kind of sad, isn't it? I shouldn't tell people that.

Tastes like chicken: Reminded me of Andrew Pyper's "Lost Girls", but maybe just because both were about dead people in lake country (Ontario north of Toronto) and had protagonists who did too many drugs.

Bookmark: Clipping from the local paper with a photo of the author, saying he'd been shilling his book at the local Chapters. With absolutely no editorial comment on the book. That amused me.

What I liked: The setting was neat. One of the stories I have bubbling in my brain but as yet unstarted takes place in a more northerly-Ontario (I hate to say Northern Ontario, because people seem to think that starts around Sudbury, and that makes me uncomfortable) locale, and I haven't really been to any place like that or lived anywhere like that, so any information is useful, sort of like research. But annoyint to me was that the author didn't want to commit himself to any real place names. Like, he kept referring to the big city Hank the main detective was from as Fort York, and is that a real place, or is he referring to Toronto?

The town the story is set in has a dark history; 20 or 25 years ago they had a Jonestown-style massacre of 1st nations people in a local church. Everyone in the story was working through that history a little bit, which rounded the characters out well.

What I hated: Maybe this isn't the genre for me. Certainly it's not a genre I read a lot of. But it didn't seem very artful. The descriptions seemed sort of obvious. Like, a washroom in a seedy bar is described as smelling like urine. That's not very surprising.

I wish it had been edited more thoroughly, maybe. At one point it seemed like the characters were having two lunches in one day.

Also, the main character was writing I guess what I'd describe as a popular history of the local massacre. I always dislike when a character is conveniently a writer in order to bring facts or data into the story. It seems too neat. I wonder if I did this when I had the students at St. Praxis write homework assignments.

What I can steal: I got the feeling from talking to the author that you know, maybe I really can do this too. Write novels, I mean.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I may have mentioned this before, but...

If you tell me Everything is our #1 priority, that's the same as saying nothing is.

And then I typed "the end"

On "watcher" of course. Now I get to choose what to start next. I think I'm ready to embark on another first draft novel (editing is a separate activity, and ongoing on everything).

Three choices:
  • Thing about the birds
  • Thing about etiquette
  • Thing about zombies

Etiquette is winning right now in my brain. I'm trying to come up with a system to keep it driving forward, like "Moraine" did.

I need a proper title for Moraine. That would bring it all together, I think. Maybe when the boy reads it (I left the draft on the kitchen table, maybe he'll pick it up...) he'll have an idea.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Darkmans" by Nicola Barker

Why I read it: There was a review in Salon, and so I requested the book from the library. Actually I requested it months after I'd read the review, because the review of the book reminded me of Nadine, my ex-coworker who is a britophile. I think what I liked in the review was the description of the layers upon layers of history in the ground in Britain, which aren't so apparent here in North America. While there's history underneath everything here, too, it seems like natural history, not so much human history. Maybe the First Nations lived lighter on the land than Angles and Saxons ever did in Britain.

I had a conversation with the librarian when I checked it out, that resulted in the conclusion that I was going to have to read 40 pages per day to get it read on time, because there were other requests so I wouldn't be able to renew it. Did I mention before why it was "in transit" and the like for several weeks? (I have a feeling I wrote a note about this somewhere.) I believe that was because it was on the "seven day no renewal" shelf. There are some issues, I think, with the TPL computer system. Still, I got my book eventually so it's all good now.

Bookmark: Scrap paper on which I scribbled notes.

Tastes like chicken: Joseph Cornell. Crazy, but true.

What I liked: For an 838-page book, it sure moved along. I couldn't tell you what the plot was, but the story mostly centers on a father and son who have a fractured relationship. The son turns out to be much more intelligent and knowledgeable than he seemed at the beginning of the story, and the father much more broken for a much longer period of time. I was surprised that the experiences that were outlined near the start of the book as being the formation of his current wretched condition had happened a long time ago.

There was so much stuff going on. There was so much history, so much, well, I hate to call it research, because I know I've complained about other books as seeming research-heavy. But this wasn't research for the sake of having some facts, it was research that was like foundation cards on which the whole crazy teetering stack of characters could stay upright. I assume the facts were true. Maybe that's stupid of me. It's just that the details that I had heard of before were true, so I figure the ones I hadn't heard of were, too. Jaffa cakes really exist, after all. Maybe there really isn't a sect of Kurds with a hatred of lettuce who worship peacocks. Then I'm a sucker. I'm okay with that.

What I hated: Let me take this opportunity to rant about the formatting. Who typesets a novel in Frugiter Lite? I only noticed because we use Frutiger (it's a sans-serif) at work, but certainly not in the main body of anything. The paragraph indentations seemed random. It took me quite a while to get used to the crazy spots where sometimes pages and pages would be double-spaced, and then I started to understand it, and that was okay. And the quarter-page gaps where sections within a chapter started and ended. And some "parts" (the book was divided into I think five) had numbered chapters, whereas others had chapters that were named after places.

Some characters would occasionally launch into a different language, and that was in a bold, serifed font, but translated into English. This was funny. I didn't mind the Britishisms that the Salon reviewer complained about. I live in Canada. I spell color one way or the other depending on mood, and whether I'm at work or not.

What I can steal: This is the sort of book that I hope will infuse my being and make me a better writer. Reading it was like watching someone walk a tightrope, or play Paganini, or watching a heist movie, or NASCAR. There were so many places where it could just fall apart, fall into sappiness, or just get annoying, or crash and burn, but it managed to work.

Maybe I can work the obliqueness, the subtlety, into my own writing. I liked that we the readers were allowed to draw inferences, figure that after the end of the book, this character and that character were going to hook up, Kane would have a point to his life, Dory had burned his whole neighbourhood down... but it was never said explicitly. That was nice. If I didn't want something to happen or have happened, I didn't need to be mad about it, because it was all in my own mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I'm about 100 words from my target wordcount, which, knowing me, means I will write another thousand words before I can let it end. And from where I am now, it doesn't look like there's that much to take out.

And Moraine, well, it got longer again. But the words were good words, worth having. I'm going to have to get ruthless with some of my precious ones.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

And then it got longer again

I'm now at about 6400. But that's okay, I think the 500 or so words that I added are good words (I bottomed out at around 5900, but then started trying to flesh out one of my characters, and well...). I did get rid of a couple of pages of notes, which means that the pile of papers surrounding Moraine is getting smaller.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Moraine has been read by another human

Friday I printed out a draft, and I let Ed read it. He didn't say it sucked, he didn't call it unoriginal, and he seemed to have liked some aspects of it, so I guess that's good. He confirmed that I need to work on the Uncle Dave character. I think I need to flesh out his history a bit on scrap paper.

Yesterday we were discussing the story over dinner after a walk in Stouffville (the point was to walk on the OR Moraine) and the boy got peeved that he hadn't gotten to read the wretched story. I told him he could read the next draft. So I guess I have two volunteer readers now.

And then, I was doing basically data entry on some markups I'd done on the printout (reorganized and tightened the opening a little bit) and my wordcount actually fell below 6000! 5998. It does want to be shorter. I thought so.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I added some words, and it still got shorter.

I'm down to just over 6000 words now. Last night I spent about an hour working on the setting, and somehow it still got shorter.

In other news, apparently I have no physical limitations. All of my limitations are mental. Though I may be taking this comment out of context. Okay, I am. Did I ever mention that my superhero name is Miss Interpretation?

Also, EG TourGuide, you will be amused to know that while I was doing research (I wanted the proper name of whatever is killing the red pines in York Regional Forest), your blog was the #2 hit! Well done.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Last night I removed 1030 more words from Moraine, and it was, if anything, easier than the first thousand. Maybe that was due to a rather self-actualizing hour spent one-on-one with Sensei, or maybe I just recognized that the easy words to take out were gone, and I was going to have to cut ruthlessly if I was going to make it happen.

The night in between, I was supposed to put some words in, but I watched election coverage instead. I must say, that went very well.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


That's how many words I managed to remove last night from Moraine. When I set myself the goal of removing 1000 words, clearly I hadn't considered how that involved removing 12% of the words, and how I wanted to remove about 0% of the story.

It took a couple of hours, but I managed to do it. And just think, I get to do it at least twice more! And as I work along, that last 1000 words is going to be close to 20% of the words that are left! But now I get to put some in, which is fun, I guess.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Typing Moraine

So if I wrote less than four more pages long hand on Moraine, and then called it over, it shouldn't have added that many more words, maybe 600. So I typed it up on Saturday, and added a little bit (mostly parenthetical statements of "fact check that"), and now it's over 8000. I don't think it merits more than 5000, but maybe I'm wrong. Also, the market I picked to target the story to (I'm thinking this may be a method to motivate myself) doesn't really publish things longer than 5000 words...

I made myself a to-do list for it, and if I can do one item per day, that would be good, and then I can let someone read it. Because there's at least one person who's whining about "why don't you let me read things? You know I can read your handwriting..." Um, because my first drafts are crap?
  • Remove 1000 words
  • Ester doesn't want to run away, per se...
  • Remove 1000 more words
  • Fix Dave's backstory (it's a jumble now)
  • Remove 1000 more words

I could go on.

And I started something else. I'm calling it "Watcher". It's about surveillance cameras.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Quiz filler that will surprise no one.

Your result for Howard Gardner's Eight Types of Intelligence Test ...


27% Logical, 14% Spatial, 55% Linguistic, 31% Intrapersonal, 25% Interpersonal, 31% Musical, 22% Bodily-Kinesthetic and 31% Naturalistic!

"Verbal-linguistic intelligence has to do with words, spoken or written. People with verbal-linguistic intelligence display a facility with words and languages. They are typically good at reading, writing, telling stories and memorizing words and dates. They tend to learn best by reading, taking notes, listening to lectures, and via discussion and debate. They are also frequently skilled at explaining, teaching and oration or persuasive speaking. Those with verbal-linguistic intelligence learn foreign languages very easily as they have high verbal memory and recall, and an ability to understand and manipulate syntax and structure.

Careers which suit those with this intelligence include writers, lawyers, philosophers, journalists, politicians and teachers." (Wikipedia)

Friday, October 31, 2008


So a couple of days I thought I was done with this short story, and I wrote the last line of the story. I even dated it (that's how I can tell it's over). It was a little long, at 6600 words (I was aiming for 5000). But then I was walking to work, and I thought, "My, that was a lame ending. My endings are all crap." So yesterday morning, I scribbled out the date and wrote a bit more. And this morning I wrote a bit more again, and I dated it and called it done.

And still, that ending seemed lame. So a few minutes later, in the last paragraph, I scratched out "the Oak Ridges Moraine" and wrote in "that stupid moraine". Much better. Now I can move on.

But in the meantime, I was doing a little research about the Moraine, and I discovered that EGTourGuide lives on it. Only by one or two hundred feet, but I thought it was funny. Good for you, EGTourGuide, with all those excellent plants growing on that substandard soil, where in the olden days (you know, the 90's) most people used to think was only suitable for building subdivisions on. I guess that's why your soil is so sandy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm on the social committee at work. Because I'm a writer, they often ask me to whip something up for some pitch somewhere. We're starting our annual corporate charity donation campaign with a raffle for sports tickets for a game tomorrow night.

So I wrote:
"Tired of spending Halloween cowering at home with the lights off so people
won't knock on your door and demand candy? * Tired of the yearly ritual of
walking your kids around the neighbourhood, because they wear all-black costumes
and masks they can't see out of? Here's something better you could do on
Halloween Night!

* Note: the draw will be held October 29th, so if you don't win, there
are still a couple of days to pick up some candy to give out, if you're so
inclined. "

And that became:

"Looking for an alternate way to spend Halloween?"

Apparently they were afraid I was going to offend somebody.

This made me very sad.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Think work-related thoughts

It's the new meme I'm trying to spread around the office, along with "I want to be a high contributor". That's a performance management rating, by the way.

Let's ignore for the moment that I'm writing this at work. Please, it's a short post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Blood and Iron" by Elizabeth Bear

Why I read it: Part of the "blogger's books" project. I've been reading her blog for maybe a year. As a published-writer wannabe, her blog is maybe the best one I read. That's because she goes on at great length about the life of a writer, how the money comes in, how the words go out, how her hormonal cycle affects her climbing, her writing, her motivation.

I was really happy that I liked this book.

Tastes like chicken: Covers a lot the same ground as GGK "The Summer Tree" - a lot the same supporting characters out of mythology -- wild hunt, Arthur, etc. But this book seemed like it added something, wasn't just the standard rehashed blend of northwestern euro myth.

Bookmark: Library receipt.

What I liked: To start with, I agreed with the theme that better for humanity in general to have some risk (fairies) than for humanity to become sheep... in order for us to stay human (i.e., intelligent), we need an element of danger.

While there were probably as many named characters in this book as in, say, The Summer Tree, I didn't seem to have trouble keeping track of them. There were plenty of unfamiliar names, and characters that were known by more than one name (I was going to try to spell one here, but Whiskey a.k.a. Uigebaudgh just doesn't look right and I can't remember any others right now) but that wasn't a problem.

After I got into the book Saturday, this one almost became a stay-up-all-night-to-finish book, except that I thought it might be good to be awake for work the next day. That was strange, because it was also a book that I had to put down very few chapters because I was getting upset. Both Seeker and Matthew made some horrific choices that I totally disagreed with, and the tension built really well. I kept saying to myself that I would stop reading at the end of a chapter, and then I would start the next chapter and not really be sure how that had happened.

I guess I talked this one up at home, because Ed asked if he could read it, too.

What I disliked: Sometimes I got confused about where we were, and had to read a section again, or skip back a page to find out, oh, we're in the cave with asleep Arthur... This might have been on purpose. Sometimes I didn't feel quite smart enough for this book.

The main character is a baby-stealer for the fairies, who was in fact a changeling. And this leads me to a little rant that's been festering in the back of my brain. Back in the spring, there was a story in which a mother sells her rotten daughter to the peddlars. The internets took sides and an editor who had rejected the story got involved, and the author defended herself. And that's all fine. I have no position on the argument. Except: someone suggested why doesn't she have the child get sold to space aliens or fairies or something. And that bugged me. I've always thought the aliens and fairies and the like are stand-ins for "other" where other is peddlars or Roma or gypsies (in this case) or infidels or whatever. And while I'm not one of those and therefore can only be offended on their behalf (and only apparently if I choose to be) isn't it just as wrong to have a mother sell her daughter to the fairies? Wouldn't most of the people who were offended in the first place still know they were being implied, and still be offended? I know I would be.

Lessons learned (what I can steal): The way she used first person/third person (Seeker)/third person (Elaine) depending on what character we were following at the time was really neat.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Things change, or they stay the same.

We just had curriculum night at the boy's school. When talking to his English teacher, she mentioned that they will be reading "The Chrysalids" by John Wyndham this year (the context was that "the boy reads too much, and don't worry, we will read a book this year, but I can't give you a grade on reading unassigned novels in class. It's great that you love to read, but...") Anyway.

The Crysalids is a fabulous book. What I remember is: There's a boy and his younger sister, and their mother is very stressed out about pregancies, because no one wants to be producing mutant babies. And apparently that's pretty common in the post-apocalyptic future in which they live. Their father is some kind of religious nut. The boy has a friend with six toes. Many of the children are psychic. In order to avert whatever crisis of being found out is going to befall them, the children, led by the boy's younger sister, use their psi powers to cry for help (the boy's sister cries really loud). Australians come and save them.

I think, based on nothing, that's not an incredibly bad plot summary for something I read 25 years ago, when I was in Grade 9. But that's the problem. Have no new books come out that are more relevant to Grade 9 students?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"The Summer Tree" by Guy Gavriel Kay

Why I read it: The last GGK I read was such a disappointment, I wanted to see if he was really as good as I remembered. I've read this before, but it was at least 15 years ago.

Bookmark: Hard cover flap

Tastes like chicken: What I most strongly remember about this series from before is that it is definitely derivative. It feels like the sort of thing some well-educated person would write who wanted to write a best-selling fantasy novel (full disclosure: I have a draft around the house that is titled "Best-Selling Fantasy Novel", BSFN for short) would write.

There are dwarves, elves (lios alfar), orcs or dark elves(svart alfar), an unkillable evil, interventions from gods, an old king with two sons who have quite the rivalry, a neighbouring king with a stunningly beautiful daughter (people are never plain in a BSFN, are they?), wizards but not too many, various competing systems of magic... I remember it getting even more derivative as the series progressed. I'm sure I'll find out.

What I liked: One thing was that the characters had back-story. Another thing was, the story involves five people from Toronto being magically transported into a different realm, Fionavar. But who cares about that? I liked all the Toronto shout-outs -- philosopher's walk, UofT, Bloor St., etc. I am so shallow that way.

What I hated: Too many made-up words (why call the elves lios alfar? why call the orcs or dark elves svart alfar? Obviously it was just to confuse me...) Too many named characters. I really liked what Kate Elliot did, naming characters as the POV would name them -- shorter, taller, loud guy, etc., rather than names. It really helped me not need to consult a glossary. Glossaries are pompous and annoying.

Some of the sentences seemed too long with too many commas. I think that was a stylistic decision, by design. He was going for a mythic feel, like Tolkien did... These sections would probably sound great when read out loud. Unfortunately, I read this book in my head, and the sentences just confused me and slowed me down.

Lessons learned: I really liked what I think of as the "untapped possibilities", the immediate foreshadowing that starts a lot of sections. These are little statements of "if things had gone differently, they would have died right there." And then you read the section, finding out how much worse it could have gone. It diffuses the stress and makes the story seem more mythic. And interestingly enough, the same sections seemed so awful in "Ysabel", set in the present day.

I would like to try that technique in a story somewhere, and see if it works for me.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

"The Old Butcher Shoppe" truck

It's another truck I see driving around town, and once again, I betcha your East Gwillimbury Tourguide would have taken a picture.

But here's my beef. If you're going to spell Shop "shoppe", I really think you should go all the way, and use Ye and Olde. And then, you can't just spell Butcher the usual way. How about Butchyr? Like vampyr, only worse.

"Ye Olde Butchyr Shoppe", doesn't that sound much more like a place where the staff could be dismembering people?

Oh. That's not what they're going for?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Finished the lobster

I finished the story about the lobsters. It sucks. I started another short story. This one seems better. It's about the Oak Ridges Moraine. I'm sure I will offend everyone.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Ysabel" by Guy Gavriel Kay

Why I read it: I gave it to Ed for his birthday last year. Nadine read it recently (I think she's doing a GGK festival, because she borrowed "The Summer Tree" from me a couple of weeks ago and gave it back last week). She's asked me two or three times since if I've read Ysabel yet, I guess so we can discuss it. Still no "Darkmans". It's still "in transit." I don't think that word means what TPL thinks it means.

Tastes like chicken: Tim Wynne-Jones, maybe crossed with "Da Vinci Code" but without the lame-assed puzzles. I'm wondering if he was intending to write a YA book here. I saw this book on a display for the library at the boy's school, but I don't feel like it was marketed to teens. Maybe that's because GGK doesn't have a teen audience really (though I think the Fionavar Tapestry would be great for teens).

Somehow I missed that Kim and Dave were from the Fionavar Tapestry until Nadine pointed it out, not surprising as I read them like 10 years ago.

Bookmark: Hardcover flap.

What I liked: Very readable. I recommended it to the boy, who probably won't read it because he seems to disdain of anyone who likes Alanis Morrissette. Whatever. He didn't seem to remember who U2 were, proving once again that he really is one of the pod people, switched out at some point when I wasn't paying attention.

I liked the use of time, which wasn't necessarily linear. A chapter would start on, say, the morning of day 3, and then go back and think about what happened the night before, mulling over a scene the reader hadn't actually experienced the first time through. It was a nice technique to add some depth and space from the story.

What I hated: The voice didn't seem like a teenager. The story is told, except for a very few scenes, through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy. The beginning had a lot of name-dropping -- Amazon, Led Zeppelin, Google, Alanis Morrissette, iPods, U2... Nadine said she thought it wouldn't date well. I think it's worse -- I think it's extensive research as a substitute for character development. Maybe it works better for historical fantasy. Mercifully, that went away for the most part after the first few chapters.

I would have liked the Ysabel story from history to be more fleshed out. It was alluded to, how it's changed over the millennia, as different Ysabels come and go, but I would have liked to read more of what the different Ysabels did. It was glossed over. Also, I would love to have known more about how the two men competing for her pass their time, other than that one did a lot of sculpture and the other learned to turn himself into an owl. Maybe GGK was trying to make me fill in that information myself.

Also, one of GGK's trademarks, the immediate foreshadow (this is where he starts a section with a "it could have come out so much better" type statement, or "if he'd done something different he would have died..." or "later on, he would think of this as the moment he became a man". Those aren't quotes; they came out of my brain. But that concept) didn't work nearly so well here. I felt like it was trying to make the story seem more mythic, and I didn't feel like Ned had really grown as a character much at all.

I also didn't like the Medecins sans Frontieres tie-in. It seemed unneccessary and gratuitous.

What I can learn: Chapter 7 made no sense when read in sequence between chapters 6 and 8. I mean, it made a little sense, but it didn't add hardly anything to the story. I felt like that day, which would have been, I think, day 3 in France, had more stuff in it originally, but when the editing went along and scenes and sections got moved around, all the meat got removed from the day, and there was almost no point to it. If I had been writing this, I would probably have dropped the day entirely and moved the important conversation between Melanie and Ned to the day before, then made the mom call every day rather than every second day. That's how I would have fixed it. And also, there's a trip to a town that seems like it's just down the street near the beginning of the book, and then seems vastly far away towards the end. That didn't work for me. So, I learned to spend more time with the Excel spreadsheet and maps, and always read my Toothbrush manuscript one more time after I've changed things.

And I can't even make myself read it once through, so I guess I'm doomed. I think I'll go back and read some early GGK to see if I'd misjudged him...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle

Why I read it: Well, I didn't really, not this time through. I read parts of it to the boy, but then he moved on and read the rest of it and the sequel himself. It was about a month ago. I'm only mentioning it now because it's banned books week and I didn't really realize that it was a "most challenged" book.

Bookmark: Probably a Yugioh card or something.

Tastes like Chicken: This one for me is like Shakespeare or the bible. I've read it so many times, it doesn't compare to anything else. Other things compare to it (I almost wrote IT there, and that wouldn't have been good).

What I liked: Familiarity. I also liked that the boy finally read the thing.

What I hated: As an adult, and having probably read this book five or six times before, the religious content seemed heavy-handed. I never noticed that before. It seems just absurd to me that anyone would think that references to witches (Mrs Which) and crystal balls would be offensive. And also all that non-standard religious fare I guess offended people.

Lessons learned: Read things again. You get something else the next time through. (Not that I really need reminding about that.)

The boy thought the ending was lame, but that didn't stop him from reading the next book in the series, and then asking me to get the third out of the library for him. I can see his point. the ending was kind of pat and simple, and doesn't fit in with where YA seems to go these days... percocet and prostitution and stuff like that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Across the Wall" by Garth Nix

Why I read it: I'd just finished something else and had another book listed as "in transit" at the library, so I didn't want to start anything long, because the "in transit" book was a leaden tome at something like 838 pages, so when it was mine I wanted to be able to devote my full attention to it. There are holds after me, so no renewal available. I didn't want to have to put something down half-way through, and I didn't want to read my carry-around book, because a good carry-around book is hard to find and needs to be dragged out as long as possible. Short stories seemed like the perfect choice. I could put the book down at any convenient spot and not have to recapture characters or place.

I finished the book, and the library book is still "in transit"! Well done, TPL! (It's "Darkmans" by Nicola Barker, if the suspense is killing you).

Tastes like chicken: I've read pretty much every published book by Garth Nix except Thursday and Friday, which are around here somewhere. The boy has read them all, even Sabriel and Lirael, which I was afraid he would think of as chick books. But then, he's read all but about 150 pages of the Twilight series, so I guess he's pretty comfortable with any fictional reading material.

Bookmark: A piece of scrap paper with "When Saturday?" scrawled across it. (The boy was right -- it was August 1, not that he'll be reading this... but I guess I'll be going to Chapters on Saturday)

What I liked: The Ancelstierre story. I always liked Ancelstierre better than the Old Kingdom (even if I don't like trying to spell it, thanks Google!). It seems populated, whereas the Old Kingdom seems to have pockets of institutionalization in it, but no villagers. "Nicholas Sayre..." hit all the right notes for someone (me) who read the books three or four years ago. The right characters were mentioned (Lirael, Sabriel, Samael, Touchstone), paperwings, the clayr. It was all so "I remember that" without it being important that I remembered many details of the plot of the previous books. I'm not sure how well it would work for someone who hadn't read the series.

I liked the Nimue story very much, and the Hansel-and-Gretel retelling. And I liked "Endings" better than I expected.

What I hated: The first time I encountered an "Author's note" in a short story collection I was probably 14 and reading "The Early Asimov" and Ursula K. Leguin's "The Wind's Twelve Quarters". I've always found author's notes to be self-indulgent*. Maybe it's part of why people think short stories are only written for other writers. The notes were interesting to me, from a process point-of-view, but I'm not sure most people would care.

The "Choose Your own Adventure" story... I've always hated these. The only way to know you got your money's worth (i.e., read the whole thing) is to read all the numbers you didn't tick off (defacing the adventure). It makes me feel like a product reader rather than a process reader, and that's something I'd rather like to hide from myself.

I didn't like the western too much -- no point to it.

What I can steal: Well, after complaining about author's notes, I always learn a lot from them. Not that having read all those things by Piers Anthony have ever made me a better writer (or given me the nerve to even attempt to get someone to read something I wrote). But the process is interesting. Clearly I am the target audience. I just wonder if they drive other people off sometimes.

*A blogger with approximately two readers maybe should be commenting on self-indulgence, but... shut up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"The Priest: A Gothic Romance" by Thomas M. Disch

Why I read it: I liked the previous book I'd read by this author, so when I was at the library checking to see if what I'd requested was in (it wasn't) I got this instead.

Bookmark: Library receipt.

Tastes like chicken: Probably the only thing comparable for me would be his other book.

What I liked: The characters were very amusing. I was quite curious how an author could make a book work, when the main character was a pedophile priest. And it did work. I would say it helped that we rather drew away from the priest towards the end and took more interest in the other characters, and it didn't hurt that the priest... well, let's say that things didn't go too well for him.

What I hated: Two things.
  • I hated the author's need to wrap everything up with a tidy explanation at the end. He did this in "the MD" as well. Just be in the ridiculous, go with it, let the characters revel in the hell of their own making. Though I did rather like the resolution of the abortion sub-plot.
  • Whenever I put the book down, I would be confused for a chapter or two about who was who. I wish there were more identifiers other than name for the characters. All the priests and their henchpeople, for example, tended to blend together. Or maybe that was the point. Also, all the pregnant girls. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps that was intentional. Still, it was annoying at the time.

What I can steal: Good god, this was a cheeky book. I would love to not be afraid of offending people. If I could learn to offend people just a little bit like TMD did, I would probably be much more successful.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Today when I got to work I opened the internet to discover that David Foster Wallace had died. This made me very sad. While I only read one of his books, I enjoyed it very much. See this post. I'd meant to read Infinite Jest, but never gotten around to it. I guess I'm going to have to make a tag for writers who were seemingly suicides (I'm reading another Tom Disch book now).

Anyway, in one of the obits, I came across this article, which I found very amusing. And so, the next short story I write will be about lobsters.

Okay, I admit it, it was going to be anyway, when I'm finished this one I'm working on now, which will be probably tomorrow. That one is about funerals. I'm so cheery.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I got nothin' so I'll do a quiz

Your result for The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test...

The Cardinal

You scored 58% Cardinal, 38% Monk, 29% Lady, and 30% Knight!

You are the real power behind the throne. No one dares dispute or refuse you. Which is good because that's how you get things done. You are also, however, completely corrupt and highly immoral. This doesn't bother you in the least as you lounge around your rich comfortable surroundings, reveling in wealth and authority.

Take The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test at HelloQuizzy

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WM (waste management) truck

If only I ever carried my camera around everywhere I went, like your EG tourguide does, I would show a picture of the truck. On the side it said something like "We have preserved 17,000 hectares of habitat for wildlife". I'm sure it's not what they were going for, but the image that immediately popped into my mind was of bears, raccoons, seagulls, and maybe even crows traipsing over a garbage dump.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Accidental City" by Robert Fulford

Why I read it: One of my coworkers, Nadine, lent it to me, and then several weeks later she gave notice, so I thought I'd better read it now, so I could give it back before she left. I would have gotten to it eventually, since I live here (the book is sort of a cultural history of Toronto), so it's the only city I can write about (set my stories in) with any real sense of authority, and it would be good to "understand" it from another perspective (historical in this case).

Also, after rather a long string of novels, I thought it was time to read some non-fiction.

There was a documentary I saw a little while ago, "Let's all hate Toronto". When I told Nadine that ultimately Torontonians hate this city the most, because we hate it every day, whereas people from, say, Vancouver, really only hate Toronto on special occasions, she said that was typically Toronto-centric thing to say. She commutes every day from K-W.

What I liked: I got a little self-righteous glow from having been in tons of the ravines of Toronto because of geocaching, but I also liked the history of the public places that I know so well. I regularly go to the Scarborough Town Centre area and North York city centre, and I find these places bizarre, so it was neat to read how they came about. I've been to the island a bunch of times, and the beach, and I lived in the Village by the Grange for a little while in the 90's, and all these places were given a lot of attention.

What I hated: Well, I wished there were more pictures and maps. I found the chapter on public art especially frustrating, because a lot of the art I just couldn't visualize. If there had been a map in every chapter, with labels of where each item was located, that would have been cool. It also would have made the book more expensive, though (not for me, however, as I was just borrowing it).

What I can Steal: One thing this book made me think about was stories that could take place here. Vampires could live in that underground network of tunnels under the towers downtown (so great for pedestrians in the winter, but I might populate it with a series of imaginary restaurants or something). Werebeasts could live in the etched ravine parklands beneath the flat city. (Did I mention I was out bike riding with Ed and the boy a couple of weekends ago, and we saw actual deer! Two of them! just north of Finch ave., west of Leslie.) Maybe these would be more like the animal spirits of Widdershins than the werecreatures of Laurel K. Hamilton, though.

Also, since Toothbrush takes place in Toronto, this book probably helped me with the settings, though I don't know it yet. Next draft will be better.

Bookmark: Ball band from Patons Kroy Orangina, out of which I made mini-cable gloves a couple of years ago.

Ed is reading it now.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"Widdershins" by Charles de Lint

Why I read it: I finished the first two of the three books I took on vacation in two days, so when I found myself in a bookstore in North Conway NH (due to the boy's need for more Twilight books -- he'll be embarrassed that I mentioned that), I thought I'd pick something up. They had a shelf of ARCs they were selling for charity, and I'd never read an ARC before, so I thought that would be neat. I'd heard the name of the author before, though I don't think it ever appeared in the list.

Tastes like chicken: A cross between Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" and Emma Bull's "Finder", with a chunk of that short story by Kelly Link I read in a magazine a while ago thrown in (the one about the girl with a boy shadow, and the pocket universes).

Bookmark: White Birch Books complementary bookmark.

What I liked: For one thing, it made me want to take out my fiddle and, I don't know, try to tune it or something (I am a very crap fiddle player, and I can't even tune the instrument, but that's another story). The story also made me think I'm wasting my lifewith this 40-hour-per-week day job, and I own too much stuff, and my life would be better if only I could cull down my wardrobe.

What I hated: For me, the climax of the tale was at p. 400 or so, and the book ended on p. 560, so there were 160 pages of denouement. I think that's because for me the story was about the war between cousins and fairies. That meant that almost a quarter of the book was a bit of a slog for me.

I recognize that for CdL, the book was about the relationships between the people, not the silly war with the buffalo and the fairies, so for him the climax was much later. But I did feel like it was chapter after chapter of "and then", "and then", to drag things out to make word count. I admit that I might care more about the characters like Raylene if I had read what I think of as the prequel(s?). Also, since it felt like we had to tie off every character with a happy relationship by the last page (Grey=Christiana wtf?) it particularly rankled me that we had Galfreya just get blown off and then never heard from again. And everyone else from the fairy court. I guess Fairies don't have "thank you"?

What I can steal: I loved the blended euro-western feel. The characters were great. Awesome lifestyle guide. Not one character obsessed about money.

I think maybe I should change the name of "what I hate" to "Peeves" or something. Those weren't things I hated at all, they just irritated me.

But at least I don't have a cat:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"The Darkness the Comes Before" by R. Scott Bakker

Why I read it: I bought it a couple of years ago because the cover looked interesting. I started it a couple of months ago in the tub, but put it down again 14 pages in, and didn't pick it up again. (In this case, the long prologue seemed like a mistake -- this one seemed nearly unintelligible.)When I was packing to go on vacation, I selected it knowing I was unlikely to get through it when I had to go to work every day.

Tastes like chicken: The Black Rose/Shadows Linger?

What I liked: For fantasy, the characters were non-standard. The wizard, for example, was described as portly.

What I hated: The author didn't seem to have much use for women in his world. There were three of note -- a prostitute with a heart of gold, the 61-year-old dowager empress (I forget her title) who is particularly despicable because she's always dressed as a vampire serpent queen geriatric skank, and a concubine who, though mentioned on the back cover, turns up about 80% through the book seemingly solely to fall in love with the guy everyone else falls in love with (man or woman). I don't need a Xena in every story, but a woman who, I don't know, uses her wiles rather than just being a carry-along victim would be nice.

What I can steal: Well, the psychology of the world was neat -- the religion/magic standoff/war, and there were some interesting characters. I got little sense of place, though.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I forgot to mention...

Last Friday I finished the latest page-a-day project, a wretched novel that I will now put in a cupboard to ferment for a few months or years, in hopes that when I take it out again, it will somehow magically become, you know, good.

In the meantime, I am working on a couple of short stories until I decide what to do next.

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Great Expectations" Charles Dickens

Why I read it: A year ago, maybe two, I was documenting a product that had PIPs in it (or Pips, or PiPs, depending on who's writing). PIP stands for picture-in-picture, like when a news reader has a graphic over their shoulder on TV. So I was in a teleconference, and a senior manager said "Let's count how many times she says PIP." So we did. And every time I heard the word PIP, I thought of this book, so I started to read it.

Last year, when I was going through my phase of losing library books (It only happened twice, and I've done my penance) I wanted to have a "carry around" book. This would be something I could always find my place in, and if I lost it (because I owned it) I could always get a replacement, and not owe the library money. So I've been reading this book for quite a while. I read 100 pages on a business trip to Ottawa in May. I finished it on vacation.

What I liked: The easiest thing was that this book is so archetypal, even though I hadn't read it before, huge parts were familiar. (Most people read GE in grade 11 English, but I took that in summer school and wound up with "elective children's literature" which ironically I did very poorly in. Like I got about a 57. I failed every essay. The teacher and I were not on the same page.)

But I remember doing portions of this book in Linguistics and Literature in university, and people refer to it other places -- Jasper Fforde comes to mind. So I knew all about Magwitch and Biddy and the general outline of the plot.

I bet people have written theses on subjects like "Marriage in Dickens". I loved best the wedding scene, where Wemmick pretends he's going fishing, and says at the end "let me ask you whether anyone would suppose this to be a wedding party!" Loved it.

What I hated: End notes. Footnotes are better.

What I can steal: Well, the idea that according to the footnotes "walking 26 miles will strain the readers' credulity, but..."

Tastes like chicken: Strange and Norrell come to mind...

Bookmark: Library receipt for "Sarah" !?!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"We Have Always Lived in the Castle" Shirley Jackson

Why I read it: It was on the list in my notebook of things to read, and then Gwenda Bond referred to it and "The Lottery", so I requested the book from the library.

I might have mentioned I was on vacation last week. I read three books. This was the first.

Tastes like chicken: Weirdly, Doris Lessing's "The Fifth Child".

What I liked: I liked a lot. The foreward by Jonathan Lethem mentioned "The Lottery" as being something every North American kid read in school, and I didn't remember it by the title, so I pulled out my Norton Anthology of Short Fiction from University, and sure enough, "The Lottery" was there. So I read it, and yes, I had read it before. I remembered being angry at the ending the first time I read it, and I was angry this time too. I don't think I read it in University, because there was no underlining in pencil or red ink like there was on some of the other stories.

Anyway, I thought the way we viewed "We have always lived in the castle" through Merricat's eyes was wonderful. Jackson really got inside Merricat's view of the world, and skewed everything towards Merricat's really disturbed interpretations of people's actions, her magical realism (none of which seemed to work). She was very childish, very sheltered, and not in a good way.

I kept wondering if the townspeople being asses was all in her own mind, and then what they did immediately after the fire was a bit of a surprises because it was so primal, so wild, so animalistic. And then the switch they went through at the end, that was beautiful.

What I hated: There was a section of the book maybe about half-way through (I don't know about other editions; mine was 146 pages long, so this would have been between perhaps pages 70 and 90) that I found really stressful. This would have been about when Cousin Charles arrived. I had to skip forward and make sure the story wasn't going to continue with Cousin Charles messing up Merricat's tidy little world before I could go on. Other people might not have that problem.

But after that I was very satisfied with the ending. It was totally worth the stress of the middle bit.

What I can steal: Oh I don't know, maybe Jackson's confidence in writing stories that make people uncomfortable. I may spend way too much time trying to avoid offending people. Also, I liked the length. Why go on for 700 pages, if you can tell such a good story in just a few?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Last week I went on my annual Maine vacation, where I usually see my dad and one if not more of my sisters. Before I went, I had to work a Saturday morning in order to get some TW projects done, so I used the office printer to print "Toothbrushing Club" on scrap paper (It adds an extra dimension to the story to see hardware installation instructions on the backs, right?). I stuck it in a binder, and I took it on vacation with me, meaning to mark it up with a copy-edit while I was away from the computer.

Didn't do that.

Anyway, I showed the binder to my dad and my sister, but neither of them was exactly chomping at the bit to read the thing. They flipped through, I guess.

Saturday morning, my dad asked to look at it again. I thought, awesome, this is my chance for some actual feedback!

Apparently not.

My dad totally fixated on "What font is this?" Times New Roman (windows default body text) "What size is it?" 10, again the default. "Is this double-spaced?" Yes. "How did you make the spreadsheet list of chapters at the back?" That was Excel. "How did you get it to look so good?" I printed it double-spaced on the office laserjet. "Why didn't you start new chapters on new pages?" Because I'm cheap and lazy. "How did you get it to number correctly?" It's one giant Word file. On and on, for about an hour.

Oh well. I guess at least it looks good.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"The M.D.: a horror story" by Thomas M. Disch

Why I read it: Read an obit of the author a couple of weeks ago, and it made me regret not having read anything by him when he was alive. Then, when I was at the library a couple of weeks ago to see if anything I'd requested had come in, I perused the shelves so as not to leave empty-handed, and this was a name I remembered (and in fact the first book in what appeared to be a series that I had written down on my "list").

What I liked: I haven't read much horror, except for the occasional Stephen King that I picked up at relatives' houses when I was trapped there, and the like. So I don't even know if this is typical of the genre, or even really falls within the genre. It seemed to me like a well-done deal-with-the-devil tale. It had engaging characters, a believable location, etc. I got the feeling from the obit that Disch was a "somebody" in science fiction circles. I liked that part of the story took place in the past, and then moved into the future for the last 150 pages or so. Except it wasn't the future anymore, as the book was published in 1990, and the last section took place in 1999, so... What one of my coworkers said I think Robert J. Sawyer said about Science Fiction -- there's no point, since 2001 is past, and none of the stuff that happened in the Arthur C. Clarke book has come true.

I really liked the deal-with-the-devil that's not a devil, it's Santa, or Mercury. It seemed like a nice twist to me, but maybe if I'd read, like, any horror, it would seem old hat.

Oh, I also liked the shout-outs to Canada, especially the one on p. 29, all about how much Ned's father Lance hated Canada, but he was sort of stuck there. I think all people who live here feel that way some of the time. It's part of the Canadian way.

What I hated: There was an annoying lack of page numbers on chapter title pages, and on the left face. Also, once it moved into the "future" I had a harder time identifying with the characters, mostly because a huge amount of time had passed, maybe. Also, I didn't particularly like the medical explanation for William and Judge at the end, and the explanation of the plague that had been unleashed didn't completely work for me.

What I can steal: Certainly it opens up a different genre for me. I think I'll pick up the other books in the series (I saw "The Priest" beside this one when I took it out, and I think all three are at the closest library, which I never go to because its hours are so unrealistic).

I would not recommend this book to ardent religious people. Devout Catholics who read it would only be angered.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mia would be so proud

You Are Fencing

You're competitive but not brutally so. You compete to make yourself better.

You find having an opponent to be challenging and rewarding.

You are fierce when you're in a competition, but you don't wish your rivals any real harm.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Toothbrush: Day 401 of the confinement

A couple of weeks ago on Monarchy was about Queen Mary and her confinement when she was confused and thought she was pregnant but really it was all in her head. This wretched novel is the same. 401 is a number pulled out of a hat of course, but still...

Today I wrote two lame scraps of the backstory into the text, and then I fell back on my favourite activity, moving sections around! Soon every scene will have been in every spot, except the first and the last!

Actually, I have this Excel spreadsheet (like apparently Justine Larbalestier suggested but doesn't really use, and that's fine, but her novels clearly don't have this massive flaw in that they... I don't even know what's wrong with it except that it's not as good as it should be) anyway, I started trying to apply a normal time frame, a schedule to events, like, you know, weekdays have to come between weekends, and you can't have a whole string of tuesdays in a row, and I couldn't even make that work properly. I know this activity of applying days of the week to sequences will help. I do. But I can't get past half-way through. Then it makes no sense and I have nothing but weekdays, and I don't even know what days they are. Arrgh.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Toothbrush: My 400th day in detention

Or so it seems. Worked on the wretched thing for about an hour and a half.
  • Wrote two scenes that were from my notes from last weekend. The two scenes were all about my fairies' motives. Oh, and their clothes. Fairies' clothes are very important.
  • Tried to make two of the settings more consistent, but probably just made them more boring and illogical. I found myself trying to do keyword searches in order to find all the instances where things were, well, not what I'm going for now (what I was going for last year being something completely different). Some of the techniques I use in technical writing, like "search and replace" just don't translate well to fiction, where consistency of terminology would make my prose seem as boring as, well, a computer manual. And no one wants to read those.
  • Considered adding the backstory I thought of a couple of days ago, but couldn't bring myself to do it (I will -- it needs to be done).
  • Refigured one character again. How many times will I rewrite her? I hope none. It all goes towards making my setting more believable. How many schools have a dental hygienist in 2008? I'm thinking none.

Maybe I'll figure out how to work that backstory in while I'm sleeping tonight, and I'll wake up in the morning raring to go at it. But somehow I doubt it. I will have to push, rather than it pushing at me. It only ever pushes at me when there's no way I can work on it "right now". It sucks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke

Wow, the publisher and editor must have had a lot of confidence in Susanna Clarke. This is one fat book for a first novel. And there are some bizarre (though consistent) spellings. Or maybe I was reading an English edition. (I just looked it up, and the one that I kept noticing, "shew", is archaic, according to Oxford, so I guess it's an affectation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Why I read it: I must have seen reviews of it. I asked for it for two or three years in a row for Christmas, but nobody obliged (maybe because it's so long). So, one day I was at the library to see if any of the books I had requested were available (they weren't), and I wandered over to the paperback shelves, and there it was, so I picked it up. I had been idlely looking at the Bernard Cornwell titles, I think, trying to figure out which I had read.

What I liked: Pretty much everything. It's written very much in the style of a Dickens novel, and fortunately, I like Dickens. It's very funny, but a dry wit. The magicians are borderline incompetent, but can still do amazing things. I read a review somewhere (might have been one of the blurbs at the front), wherein the writer said the book made her question her knowledge of English history. Had there ever been a Northern King? It seemed so possible! Especially to us in North America, where we don't remember our English history so well. I loved the "real" characters that were worked in -- Wellington, Byron, mad King George. That made it just a little bit more believable.

This book reminded me a little of the Bartemious trilogy (Jonathan Stroud). maybe it was the gaslight/London mood, and the otherworld magic helpers. The magic seemed pretty well-defined in those books, and in this.

What I hated: Well, it was really long, and owing to other commitments (like work) it took me four weeks to read. Though I did read another book in that time...

I loved the ending. It's really nice to read a book that is 1006 pages long that doesn't require a sequel or six. Not that I hate series, but it was really nice to read a self-contained story for a change. I liked how it didn't wrap up everything. The characters are going to continue on, and English magic, well... I'm not sure if this would count as a spoiler, but one thing was festering in my brain. But the column of night. Well, all the other thistle-haired man's magic was undone. That made me think that the column of night might have been something that Strange accidentally did to himself? I really liked, though, that not everything had to be explained.

What I can steal: I can't really see myself writing something like this. The "about the author" said this book took ten years to write. I can totally see that. The history, the footnotes, also the whole petty rivalry between groups of men might translate in an interesting way to the whole karate thing I haven't written yet.

I already mentioned in a previous entry that I realized, while reading this book, that my fairies were too benign. Not any more! I guess that's another thing I stole. Though not wholesale. My fairies are very different than these, but not so innocent any more.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Now I don't have to delete the Fairies

Today I was reading "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" and I realized the problem with the Toothbrushing Club is that the fairies are too benign. And to think on about Tuesday I was considering just taking them out, they bored me so much.

Not anymore. Onward!

Monday, July 28, 2008

When will it end?

I must have worked on that wretched Toothbrush novel for two hours today, and my second draft still isn't done! When will this stupid thing be finished? I'm only about three-quarters of the way through! I can't stop moving scenes!

Reality is setting in. Maybe my goal was a tad unrealistic, considering my lack of commitment to achieving it. Will I really be ready for a line edit by Friday? I think not. Is this the despair that JL was referring to (I think it was she who said that despair is an integral part of the rewriting process), or am I just some kind of lazy dilettante?

I think I'll just go watch "Monarchy" on TVO.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Half-day vacation

Today I took a half-day (afternoon) vacation from work, and I actually worked on my wretched novel for two hours! What a better way to spend the afternoon than buying more pairs of jeans and shirts I won't wear at the mall.

One of the other TWs got a marked-up manual back with a big rant on it about how a DIP switch is actually an entire block of controls, and each individual control is a "post". Well, she thought that was silly, and went on a walking tour of the office asking different people what they would call the individual components and the entire thing. The best answer: one of the engineers told her that he doesn't know what it's called in English, but if you translated it out of German, it would be a "mouse piano".

That has got to be the coolest technical phrase ever. It almost makes me want to learn German.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Old Man's War" by John Scalzi

Why I read it: This is part of my project to read books by the bloggers I read, so I'll know whether I should take their advice. The blog is, if you're one of the 3 people on the planet who doesn't read it. I got the book as a PDF as a free download from Tor, just for signing up.

What I loved: The idea is neat. I can tell he's been a marketing writer, because the marketing material that is part of the story is very realistic.

What I hated: This was not the book for me! I think I may just hate science fiction. Or at least outer space science fiction. Even though I wrote one once. (It's filed away.) The cover references comparing Scalzi to Heinlein should have been a giveaway, because I don't think I ever finished a Heinlein book, even though I've got Stranger in a Strange Land around here somewhere, and really wanted to finish Number of the Beast (but just couldn't).

I felt like there was no plot to speak of. Guy goes into space military, guy tries to survive. It seemed extremely episodic to me, and around page 200 I was kind of wishing it was like those Conan collections or something, where Conan goes to a different planet and has a different battle experience, or Conan as a young warrior, or Conan as a pirate king, or whatever.

The book was divided into three parts. The first was about joining up and then getting a new body. Part two consisted of many disconnected experience-gaining battles. The last chapter of part two was where the "plot" seemed to start. Part three consisted of saving humanity and finding a humanizing relationship which is coincidentally with someone he knew back on Earth who just sort of appeared in what seemed like a very unlikely way.

One of the things that bugged me was that there was no foreshadowing at all. I wish I could remember if those Heinlein books had any foreshadowing. Also, I'm not really an infantry type of person; I'm more into single combat I guess. And there was way, way too much dialog for me. This is what my first drafts sometimes feel like while I'm writing them -- endless cute conversations that fill a daily quota easily.

Also, I kept wanting him to approach some of the ethical dilemmas he was creating a little more directly. The CDF's mandate is evil, in my opinion, and killing off the old body was taken pretty lightly. But then, I'm only 110 pages in, so maybe we'll go a little deeper on all of that.

I am not a scientist, but the science made no sense to me. I do not understand at all how a skip drive could ever make the universe a viable place to travel around. I mean, if you're just going to another universe, I do not understand how you get displaced in space. And I don't understand how you wind up in a place that has, you know, the same history every time. But maybe this is why I did so poorly in 1st year university physics.

At the same time, I got all the way to the end of the book, so it can't have been that bad. I was able to keep picking it up again (there's a Mark Twain quote about a book that, once you put it down, you just can't pick it up again, and this wasn't that book).

What I can steal (a.k.a. conclussions): Well, I finished this book, so it can't have been that bad. And I still enjoy his blog. And also, I've never read an entire book as a PDF before, and that was an interesting experience. Not as portable as a paperback, but I survived (other attempts have failed, so it is notable).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

That's why I do this

Now, I must tell you my story about last night's band practice.

In the summer, we don't have access to the high school we normally practice in, the high school being closed. So we use a church basement. Last night was our third rehearsal there for this summer.

The first week we played there, a filmy grime covered everything and there was a smell of mildew, due no doubt to a recent flood.

The second week, there were massive hepa filters with giant plastic tubes (a foot tall) leading to the windows. They were quite loud. We turned them off so we could hear ourselves.

This week, same as last week, we went in through the basement door (so the drummer, tuba player, etc. don't have to carry their instruments through a series of narrow stairwells, etc.) as usual, shut the hepa filters off, set up, sat down and started playing.

And about 45 minutes later an older gentleman came in and asked "Is Mrs. X here?" (Obviously names changed to protect the not present to defend themselves. And note the clever pseudonyms.)

"No," we said vaguely.

"Is Mr. X here?" he asked.

"No, he's with Mrs. X on vacation," we mumbled.

"Who can I talk to, then?" he asked.

The band president stood up and said "Well, I'm the president. You can talk to me."

And the man said "Nobody is supposed to be in here. You shouldn't be in here. This building has been condemned."

We didn't leave. No, not us. "Oh, we'll be fine," our conductor said. "There are lots of doctors in this band. And we need the practice."

Well, I don't know about you, but when I'm playing in a condemned building, I really think the Clash should be involved. Or the Violent Femmes. Or the Sex Pistols. We played a medley of themes from "South Pacific". However, we did play them quite poorly.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Yesterday evening I again looked at my draft of toothbrush. Third day in a row!

Target: "readable" draft by 15 August (2008).

Tasks remaining:
  • Finish second pass

  • Stop moving sections around

  • Read the whole thing before inflicting it on others (probably includes a line edit)

Um, good luck with that?

Every day I write a page in my current first draft (I always have one. Sometimes it's a short story, or a screenplay. Currently it is a novel). Yesterday morning I was writing along, and one of my characters said something that ABSOLUTELY SHOCKED me. She made a wild accusation at one of the other characters, and I said to myself, "OMG (actually I swore, but you know what I mean), how did she know that?" And then I realized, she's absolutely right. I've got 300 pages written here in long, dreadful, poorly developed prose (a first draft is just a shell to fill in with a story later on, right?) and this character was, well, that way the whole time, and I had no idea. Amazing.

Maybe I can finish this thing now, so I can start something else.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Worked on the wretched TBC again last night, for probably an hour, moving scenes around to make them make sense. Seems I had no action for about the first 30 pages of the story. Now at least something happens. I move one thing, and then I have to move about six other things to make it make sense again.

And then this afternoon I looked at the second half of the print-out I made weeks ago. I've barely touched the second half lately, so I was thinking I should have a go before I printed it out again. OMG, dispair really is an integral part of the writing process.

I booked my vacation for 18-22 August, and my goal is to have a readable draft by then, to fob off on my poor, unsuspecting sisters. Maybe I should go back to the beginning again, since that's the part they would start with...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I could never give up my day job

We were all standing around, water cooler style, and there was a lull in the "how I spent my Canada day" conversation" stories. So, I said "We were sitting on a patio on Sunday evening, and Ed had just ordered a coffee, when he said to me 'I have a confession to make.'"

You can imagine how everyone's ears perked up.

I continued my really quite lame tale. "And he said, 'That coffee I served you this morning was decaf. I'm really sorry. I bought it at the corner store by accident. They changed the colors of the cans, and I grabbed the wrong one by mistake.' And I said something about how I accidentally put 1% instead of skim in my coffee one time at work because the cafeteria switched milk brands. And I said I forgave him, and I didn't even have a headache, though I did sort of feel draggy all day." I thought I'd kicked too much the day before or something.

"And then we bought real coffee at the corner store," I went on (and on), "And I mixed the decaf (we had leftovers -- funny how no one thought that fake coffee wasn't working for them, and felt the urge to finish the pot) with the real coffee in my french press. The coffee I make in the french press is usually too strong, and gives me a headache the other way -- too much caffeine."

And my coworkers all stood there as if there might be a punch line. So the point is, even if I sold my novel and it was a best seller and I was offered a contract for five more books, I would never give up my day job. You can't buy an audience for a story like that. (And I'm sure, considering my vast genius, my boss and I could work something out so I could do my book tours. Or convention season. Whatever.)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"The Chaos King" by Laura Ruby

Why I read it: Cybils nominee.

What I liked: Excellent sense of humour. I read the boy the part where Georgie is reading the Book of the Undead, and it's like bad greeting card poetry, and he said he wanted to read this when I was done. That's always a good sign.

What I hated: I felt like I was reading a sequel, though there was no indication anywhere in the book that this was the case. There were tons of references to back story. Also, it seemed like there was an awful lot of tell in those portions.
So I looked on Amazon, and in fact this is the sequel to "The Wall and the Wing". It would have been nice maybe to have that indicated somewhere on the cover. Unless that book did remarkably poorly, and they wanted people to read this one as a standalone, or not feel obligated to read the first one first. This somewhat angers me.

Though to be fair, the blurbs on the back were all for "The Wall and the Wing". Maybe that was a hint I just didn't know about.

Also, while the world seemed to be making fun of the worst bits of ours -- obsessions with celebrity and short term memory, and the like -- I felt sometimes like I was reading advertising copy.

What I can steal: I loved the amount of detail. I loved the energy. I loved that Georgie might be beautiful but she just isn't aware of it. The characters were great. But I wish I had known it was book 2. Maybe I should rename this section "Lessons", and the lesson for this book should be that if there's a prequel, either don't mention it at all, or make it really clear on the front of the book or on the inside flap. And that's something that I bet most authors don't have a whole lot of control over.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Spirit Gate" by Kate Elliott

Why I read it: A few weeks ago I read a "Big Idea" by Kate Elliott, I think to announce "Shadow Gate", the second book in the series, on In the piece, she said the idea for eagle reeves came from her husband, who is a cop, and a really crappy ABBA song. I was, of course hooked.

What I loved: The world seemed really non-European to me -- very, I don't know, Chinese maybe. The Qin might be like Mongols, and the Sirniakan Empire might be the middle kingdom, I don't know. The people aren't blond. There aren't elves or fairies, but demons and gods.

I loved that the author let me feel smart. She never told me, but let me guess what Kesh's treasure was, and then have a self-satisfied glow when I found out. She didn't say where Bai had been, but let me guess, and again turn out to be right. Characters have nicknames and I get to figure it out on my own. In fact, when a character is listening to other people he doesn't know, that character will give those characters descriptive names. I really liked that. The author gets into the heads of each of the POV characters' heads really well.

Also, I was describing the way the reeve halls were set up, and it seemed the way you might set up, say the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police). People are transferred in and out of different bases, but it's not ideal, and if the command is bad in one, then it will attract bad people, and the like. I say the OPP, because it's more far-flung than, say, the Metro Toronto Police force. The distances between the halls seem important to me, because it means communication is limited.

What I hated: Sometimes when I read a book, I find it too stressful and have to put it down. The tension gets built up, and I need a release. This book, especially in the Joss sections, had a lot of tension. But I found it bled off quickly (the fevered nature of it) and I appreciated that. There was only one time that I had to flip ahead to make sure I wasn't going to be left hanging too long. (Some books I've started reading, I've abandoned because I don't feel any resolution coming to relieve the stress. Ed and the boy have both called dibs on reading this next--I guess the eagle reeve concept drew them in too--so I was obligated to finish.)

Also, book one of seven?!? Ugh. And only two are out.

What I can steal: There was a moment when Joss was casually thinking about his eagle choosing a new reeve if he should die in this sticky situation (page 259, for anyone keeping score), and he said "preferably someone with a better personality than the Snake." I loved this. Joss the character doesn't like the Snake, but he hasn't really been thinking about the Snake for pages. He's been thinking, rather, about his current investigation. It was such a human moment that really made the character seem alive. And the book was littered with moments like that, tossed off phrases that were so in the voice of the character. They all saw the world through their own lens, and we readers can see the flaws that get them there. That's the way real people's minds work -- the petty antagonisms rise to the surface.

I really liked it, too, when Horas was put in charge of a mission, and everyone else was waiting for him to tell them what to do, and in his own mind, he was thinking they were just going to blame him for whatever went wrong afterward, no matter what he decided. Sure, to some degree that was true, but really, they were waiting for him to lead, because he was supposed to be leading. It wasn't malice at all.

I suppose this isn't so much stealing, as learning from someone who I think builds really good characters.