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...