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?