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)