Sudbury Ink – A Sudbury Writers’ Guild Anthology

Cover of the Sudbury Ink anthology by the Sudbury Writers' Guild

Cover of the Sudbury Ink anthology by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild

I am proud to be included in this anthology – Sudbury Ink –  published by the Sudbury Writers’ Guild. The organisation has a long history of bringing together writers in the community in order to support each other, they’ve been around since 1992.

I’ve had the honour of being the co-chair of the group for the past two years along with my fellow writer Mat Del Papa. While I can’t claim the anthology was my brain-child, I can take some responsibility for helping usher it into print. After a long journey its been fantastic to unpack the books, hand them out to the authors who contributed to them, and also to get them into the hands of eager readers.

This past weekend I gifted a copy to my best friend from high school’s mother who was celebrating her 80th birthday. To see her eyes light up when I told her I had two stories in the anthology and that I had signed the book for her, was a nice reminder of why I ultimately do this. I want to connect with people. To share my stories. To see them off into the world, and to hopefully lodge into people’s brains (in a good way – not in a parasitic ear worm kind of way – KHAN!)

While the book has been available for about a week now, we still have a long way to go in promoting it. Locally you can find it in a couple of the books stores (Coles in the New Sudbury Mall and Bay Used Books on Elm). As well we are hosting our official launch this coming weekend Nov 12 at the Main Branch of the Sudbury Public Library on McKenzie Street. Facebook Event here – https://www.facebook.com/events/528043247395580/

Individual members are also selling copies, if you know any. (Hint – me!) Although my own stash is dwindling fast. An ebook version is in the works and should be available before Christmas – just in time for gift giving electronically!

I have two pieces in this anthology:

Frozen – , a flash fiction piece which originally came to me one cold winter evening while shovelling my driveway and remembering the many times I spent ice fishing in my youth. Ice fishing is not incidentally fishing for ice, but actually drilling a hole in the ice suspended above a frozen lake and jigging for fish in the cold waters below.

Mother’s Day is a longer piece that contains more traditional science fiction elements to it, but remains firmly rooted in family relationships and memories. Mother’s Day explores the question of what is the value of a memory and how clearly would you like to interact with those memories?

I’m looking forward to reading from them this coming weekend. This has been a great experience and with everyone’s support hopefully there will be a volume 2 that will feature more talented writers from Sudbury.

Con Report: Ad Astra 2016 – Part I

The annual Ad Astra convention in Toronto* is one of those local SF&F conventions that I have been attending off and on since early 2000s. After I moved North ten years ago, its gotten a lot more challenging to attend, logistically, financially, and  requires a time commitment from both my work and family for me to attend. I was undecided about attending this year’s convention (Apr 29 – May 1st, 2016) for a while due to all those factors, but in the end decided I had to go.

There’s something to be said for devoting a weekend to talking about the craft of writing and geeking out over books, authors, and all stuff science fiction and fantasy related with old friends and people you just met.  I find it reinvigorating and gets me excited all over again about writing. Especially my own writing.

This year I didn’t go so much for the Guest of Honours as I did the panels. That’s not a slight on any of the guests, they had fabulous GOHs in Tom Doherty of Tor (Publishing), Jack Whyte (Author), Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savoy of ChiZine Publications (Editors/Publishers), and Catherine Asaro (Author / Musician).

Despite the schedule not being released until the week before the con, the panel descriptions were available a month or more ahead of the convention and helped solidify my decision to go. When the schedule was finally released I had a number of conflicting decsions to make and one of the panels near and dear to my heart was being held from 2-3 pm on the final day of the con when I had planned to travel home.

Below is a run down on my weekend and a brief glimpse at the panels and what I thought I got out of them.

Friday – April 29th, 2016

I arrived at the hotel around supper time, checked in and dealt with a few irregularities with my room (AC was not working) and ran to meet fellow writers from Sudbury for dinner in the hotel bar. We compared notes on our 1st and 2nd picks for the weekend and tried to figure of which ones we had in common. After supper it was off to our first panels of the weekend.

7 pm – Gateways to Science Fiction and Fantasy

What draws writers, and readers, to science fiction and fantasy in the first place? For some it’s their childhood reading tastes; for others, it might be RPGs, a movie, a tv show, or a specific book or author encountered as a teen or adult. Does how you came to the genre affect what you expect of it?


Panelists:
JD Deluzio, Robert Boyczuk, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Simon McNeil

I was curious about this panel for a couple of reasons. Firstly, one of the writing associations I am involved in locally is a mix of writers from all genres and only a handful of us are SF&F writers. We’re having a discussion in May on what got us into the genre and I thought this panel might help spark some ideas to discuss and recommendations to make to the non-genre readers in the group.

The evidence of the greying of fandom was evident in the audience for this panel with most of us in attendance being north of 40 and probably the majority was closer to 60 if I had to guess based on the comments. One of the moderators was born in late 1970s which made him probably the youngest of the bunch.

Interestingly enough the panellists and audience members fell into one of three camps, although there were some overlap in how they came to SF & F., Either their parents were fully supportive and they read to them from classics like Tolkien  or their parents were indifferent/hostile toward genre and frivolous things like reading comics/watching tv which encourage them to seek it out more. Other people were drawn to it either through a love of space exploration of the 1950s through 1970s and its representation in pop culture of the time. Several panellists and audience members, myself included mentioned getting hooked on Lost in Space and Twilight Zone.

When the conversation turned to getting other people involved in SF&F the suggestion was don’t try to immediately introduce them to the “classics”. Chose something contemporary. One suggestion was Robert Charles Wilson. Another was Robert Sawyer. Both Canadians of course.

There was some discussion about people already reading SF&F and not even realizing it – i.e. Hunger Games. There was also discussion about mainstream culture erasing labels of genres. The conversation also drifted to introducing our own kids into the genre and where to begin. It gave me pause to think about the direct and indirect influences I expose my kids to and that I have opportunity to make a more conscientious effort in that area.

8 pm – The Medium is the Message – Plays, Screenplays, Novels and Other Media

As a writer, you may have considered writing that novel. But what about that screenplay? That play? That board game? That web series? How can you make a living as a writer or create that great work of art while thinking outside the box of simply words on a page? This panel is about transitioning between various mediums to create the universe that lives in your mind, some of which you maybe never even considered, and how to approach each one differently.

Panelists:

Jen Frankel, Leah Bobet

I was interested in this panel for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I took part in a playwright workshop a few years back and was curious to see other people’s experiences in applying their love of SF&F to other media.

Both Jenn Frankel and Leah Bobet were knowledgable and entertaining speakers with a variety of experience in other mediums. Leah has experience in video games, comics, and art installations in addition to her novels. Jenn has experience in theatre and TV production.

It was interesting to hear their experiences, but I found I was looking for more pointers on how to develop your work in other mediums. I asked them about developing works for other mediums and how does one break into that medium. My point being that its hard enough to get traditionally published, so for a writer to invest time and energy into developing say a play or screenplay without knowing the business side of the industry seems like a very big gamble. The response I got was a combination of  its who you know and that it all depends on who you came up with in the writing world. Encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

One audience member with some theatre background was more helpful in the practical pointers and gave me some suggestions after the panel for which I was thankful. Sorry I never got his name. Good panel over all and don’t regret sitting in on it for a minute.

9 pm – Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Launch Party

9 pm –  Robert J. Sawyer Birthday Party

These were two separate events that I wanted to pop into that started at the same time. I showed up to wish Rob Sawyer a Happy Birthday and to snag a piece of very delicious cake. Was that maple flavoured icing?  I managed to miss the signing of Happy Birthday (I assume everyone sang?) As you would expect Rob Sawyer has a sizable number of friends and fans so the room was quite busy so I didn’t stay as long as I might have.

I made my way down the hall to the Clockwork Canada launch party where I was just in time for the readings to begin. Editor Dominik Parisien was talking about the anthology and his vision for it before introducing the 4 authors he had on hand to read from it.
Charlotte Ashley,  Kate Heartfield, Kate Story, and Claire Humphrey each read a portion of their stories and I was hooked by each of them. The collection is a blend of steampunk/alternate history in a Canadian setting. Of course I bought a copy and had the authors sign their stories. I look forward to reading the collection. IF you are curious about it Tor.com had a favourable review of it the week before it was launched here – http://www.tor.com/2016/04/29/book-reviews-anthology-clockwork-canada/

Up next Day 2 – Saturday at Ad Astra

 

What I Read in 2015: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Audio Books

So I thought I would take a few minutes to wrap up what I read in 2015.

2015 was the year that I finally embraced the power of Audible. Back when I was living in Toronto and commuting on public transit it was easy to read a book weekly. These days if I am reading it can take me a month to get through one book. As my GoodReads stats can attest  I was having a hard time making 12 books a year for the last couple of years. You can’t imagine how sad that makes someone who loves fiction in all shapes and sizes both as a writer and a reader. There are so many books and so little time.

TimeEnoughAtLast

An apocalypse might be the only way to free up enough reading time, but we all know how that works out.

I first tried out Audible.com in late 2014 and was soon hooked buying a membership which gives a free monthly credit and discounts on other titles. One of the reasons I “resisted” audio books (and this is going to sound dumb) is because it felt like cheating. It felt like reading the Coles Notes (Cliff Notes to you Americans) version instead of the real thing. That’s being unfair of course, because Audible versions are mostly unabridged and there’s no explanation/summary of the concepts in the story for you to grasp. Still when talking to people about a book I just read in conversation, I pause and explain that I didn’t “read” it that I listened to it on audio as if I am apologizing for not being literate enough to read it. I guess that’s probably the real reason right there. That I somehow think people are going to judge me as less literate or something. Huh, see blogging can tell you something about yourself. Anyhow this was the year that I embraced the audio book full on. As you will see from my list, the majority were audio books.

I set my goals for 2015 at 24 books, but ended up only hitting 16 for the year. Just slightly more than a book a month, but still progress on my recent downward trend.

Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin translated by Ken Liu

Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu translated by Ken Liu

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu Translated by Ken Liu. Narrated by Luke Daniels

First up was this mind-bending tale from China’s celebrated science fiction author Cixin Liu whose work is just being discovered by English audiences thanks to this fabulous translation by SF author Ken Liu.

I don’t think I can even begin to summarize the plot of this novel and do it justice. The description in GoodReads mentions that it’s “a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.” Yeah, lets go with that.

It involves aliens trying to communicate via physics and using simulated worlds/game in a conspiracy all set against the backdrop of China and all the politics that go with it. If you like Hard SF and head scratchy this one is for you.

As for the Audio production of this story – I would listen to ANYTHING narrated by Luke Daniels. The first audio book from Audible that I listened to was Michael Underwood’s “Crocus and Shield” which Luke narrates with a full cast of voices that brought the text to life.

I’m looking forward to listening to the other books in this series as they become available.

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep by Timothy Verstynen, Bradley Voytek

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep by Timothy Verstynen, Bradley Voytek

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain by Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek. Narrated by Scott Aiello.

I would have read this one just  based on the title’s play on words of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?” alone, but it had the added bonus that it came recommended by Canadian SF author Robert J. Sawyer.

Basically Verstynen and Voytek are two neuroscientist dudes by day and geeks by night who pulled together some very scientific observations about zombie behaviour based on representation of zombies in pop culture.  While I went in expecting them to lean more on the pop culture side of the equation, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book is structured in such a way that you are sneakily being educated about neuroscience.

Don’t be put off by the thought of trying to understand neuroscience terms like ganglia and how Alzheimers works on the brain. The audio production of this novel lends itself beautifully to the text as it is related in a very informal lecture style and Scott Aiello’s delivery as narrator is very accessible. I would definitely recommend to fans of Zombies or someone just wanting to learn more about how the brain works, but to approach it in a fun way.

Silver Screen Fiend - by Patton Oswalt

Silver Screen Fiend – by Patton Oswalt

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt. Narrated by the Author.

I’ve been vaguely aware of Patton Oswalt’s career as a comedian and an actor for a few years now, but had never really tuned into him until recently. I was curious when this book came out since I’m a lapsed cinephile myself and this book covers a period of Oswalt’s life when he was obsessively watching “classic” films as part of his education on the way to becoming a film director during the ’90s when I too was an active movie junkie.

As far as autobiographies go its an interesting inside look both at the comedy business and the cult like nature of cinephiles that relish that next hit of celluloid. Oswalt does a great job of telling a good anecdote while at the same time having the maturity and insight to put it in perspective. One part coming of age story and one part pursuing the creative dream, it was a worthy read.

Autobiographies on audio books are a perfect medium if they are read by the author. The author knows the stories intimately and the delivery is better than anything you could expect from either reading it on the page yourself or having someone else narrate them.

Hominids - Robert J. Sawyer

Hominids – Robert J. Sawyer

Hominids (Neanderthal Parallax #1) by Robert J. Sawyer. Narrated by Jonathan Davis

I read this book initially back when it was first released in 2003 and decided to revisit it when it came up as a deal on Audible.com one day. Here’s what I said in my GoodReads.com review of it (lightly edited for clarity here)

The first in a trilogy Hominids does a good job of being a stand alone book as well as opening up the world for future books. To date I have still only read/listened to the first book of the series.

While I have problems with some of the choices the author makes for telling the narrative in this story including rape as a character motivation, I have to temper that disappointment/frustration with the things the author gets right.

In addition to imagining an alternate universe where Neanderthals rose to prominence as Humans faded from existence, Robert Sawyer explores a number of larger issues including religion, violence in society, and the rise of consciousness. He does this while essential framing the narrative as both a stranger-in-a-strange-land story and a courtroom/mystery drama.

While the book may not be for everyone and I would have a hard time recommending it to a general audience based on the issues I outlined above, I think its a worthy read for the larger issues it explores.

Nothing in particular stood out about the audio production of this one, maybe because I was already familiar with the story.

An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin

An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin

An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin Narrated by the Author

My second memoir of the year was by Alan Arkin. His journey into acting is an interesting one and as you’d expect with someone with such a rich career, Arkin has a lot of insight into his life and a creative process. A short book (4 hours and change listening time) it was  quick read.

I enjoy listening to people talking about their creative process as it is often illuminating and gives me food for thought for my own creative process. My only criticism of the memoir was that it was very narrowly drawn memoir and Arkin, doesn’t dwell on aspects of his life that he doesn’t want to share. Which is fine, except that it sometimes fell like he was glossing over things to perhaps paint himself in a better light. Regardless I would recommend it to people with an interest in acting or Arkin himself.

Not My Father's Son: A Memoir

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming, Narrated by the Author

I had wanted to check out this memoir of Alan Cumming since it came out in print back in 2014, but getting it on Audio was worth the wait. Again having the author read his own words carries so much more emotional weight and in the case of Cumming’s memoir its essential.

The memoir deals largely with the emotional and physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his father growing up and how he’s been forced to deal with it all his life. Not an easy topic for him to discuss or the audience to listen to, but a very poignant one that was worth listening to. The novel is also about family and what it is that means. Alan recounts the story of his mother’s father, his maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, and the mystery behind his disappearance in the Far East after WWII as it came out during the filming of an episode of the genealogy show “Who do You Think You Are?”.

Genius by by Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen

Genius by by Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen

Genius by Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen (Illustrations)

I picked this graphic novel up at a used book sale, intrigued by the premise and the artwork. Middle-aged Teddy Marx works as a quantum physicist who feels like he’s not living up to his potential genius. He becomes obsessed with his father-in-laws connection to Einstein and a potential secret that Einstein shared with his father-in-law that may unlock secrets to the universe and could elevate Teddy’s standing as a physicist if he could uncover it.

The story didn’t really go where I expected, which is a good and a bad thing. I liked what it did with the story, but just didn’t feel as connected to it as I wanted to be. Your mileage may vary.

 

The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere by John Chu

I’m cheating a bit with this one since it was a stand alone short story and not a novel, but I am counting it and sharing it all the same. It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2014 and I finally got around to downloading it and reading it.

Definitely not your typically SF story, but so poignantly done that you can’t call it anything else but speculative fiction. Here’s the description from the GoodReads.com blurb about the book:

In the near future water falls from the sky whenever someone lies (either a mist or a torrential flood depending on the intensity of the lie). This makes life difficult for Matt as he maneuvers the marriage question with his lover and how best to “come out” to his traditional Chinese parents.

Definitely check it out.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, Narrated by Almarie Guerra

My favourite new book of 2015, this book hit all the sweet spots for me. It was gripping, well written, great characters, had a nice blend of SF and Detective Noir going for it, plus Almarie Guerra’s delivery in audio was on fire.

Set in a near future that hits a little too close to home for comfort, Bacigalupi paints a frightening picture of a perpetually drought stricken Southwest where those with wealth have sought to control their destinies and insulate themselves from the impending environmental disasters while the rest of the world lives on the edge of ruin. Thrown into this is a Water Knife named Angel who is essentially a hired gun for powerful interests who does what it takes to secure the water rights necessary for his clients prosperity. Angel’s story becomes intertwined with two other characters – Lucy Monroe a investigative reporter who’s become increasingly caught up in the corrupt powers at play, and naive but tough Maria Villarosa, an orphaned Texan migrant who calls Phoenix home but dreams of breaking free and escaping to the North.

The ride was well worth it and in the end its one of those stories that you can’t stop thinking about.

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I took time this summer to read Charlotte’s Web to my 8 year old daughter. A classic that was a treat to go back and read as an adult. I found E.B. White’s characters delightful and the voices he lends the animals are so distinct and memorable.

The other thing I liked about Charlotte’s web is that it doesn’t pull any punches. Things such as Wilbur’s fate and Charlotte’s future are not shied away from.

There’s a reason why this is such a timeless book. If you haven’t read it before or it’s been a long time since you last spent time with it,  I suggest you take a moment to get reacquainted. You’ll be surprised at how well it stands up.

An Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler's Army by Georg Rauch

An Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army
by Georg Rauch

An Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army by Georg Rauch

Another memoir, this one brought home by 11 year old son from a Scholastic book fair. I was a bit dubious at first that this book was being market to such as young audience. My son and I chose this to read along together.

It’s essentially a posthumous reprint of the author Georg Rauch’s memoir that was initially published in the 1980s while he was still alive. Repackaged and promoted to a new audience the book is well written and harrowing first hand account of a young man conscripted against his will and forced to serve in what he knows is a losing war.

Georg survives what sound like impossible odds in the book. He shares his opinion and experience with the war through a series of letters sent home to his Mutti (Mother) and fillls in the remaining recollections with very vivid anecdotes.

My son who was on a real World War II history kick appreciated this insight into the war from such a unique perspective as a Austrian Jew forced to fight for the German army. Definitely mature subject matter, but a good eye opener for a young audience.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora (#1 Gentlemen Bastards) by Scott Lynch, Narrated by Michael Page

I had hear a great many good things about this novel before downloading it on audio. I haven’t been a big reader of Fantasy novels since high school which was many years in my past. After listening to this audio book, all I had to say was that if more Fantasy was like this I would read more.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was fun, entertaining, gripping and managed to transport me to a fantasy world unlike most I had seen. Set in a vaguely Venetian setting, the story revolves around Locke Lamora, an orphan with a unique talent for thieving. The book builds, taking the time to inter-weave Locke’s back story into the present intrigue that he and his gang are working on. Locke’s Gentlemen Bastards soon find themselves caught up in the Grey King’s own plans to unseat the ruling Capa Barsavi.

I loved the characters and the world building that went into this book. Throughout the book the author pauses after a particular action filled chapter to cut to an “Interlude” where he takes the time to tell more of Locke’s and his bands’ backstory, which one some level should be frustrating delay in the action for the reader, but actually worked for me as the interludes were a good mix of delayed gratification and foreshadowing that made the story stronger.

I had the good fortune of meeting Scott Lynch in person this year (no, not name dropping at all!) and had a chance to tell him first hand how I admired the amount of craft that went into this novel, as well as thanked him for the frustration he caused me at these drawn out interludes that worked so well.

I can see why he has the following he does. I hope to get a chance to read/listen to the rest of the series in the near future. I would highly recommend the audio production of the Lies of Locke Lamora because the banter works so well and the narrator Michael Page does a good job of coming up with so many distinct voices for the characters.

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister Mine
by Nalo Hopkinson

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson Narrated by Robin Miles

I read and enjoyed Nalo Hopkinson’s earlier urban fantasy novel Brown Girl in the Ring a few years ago and wanted to try her more recent novel – Sister Mine.

The novel focuses on the relationship of Makeda and Abby, formerly co-joined sisters, with an special bond. Their family is descended from celestial beings and there is a power struggle going on that they are not fully aware of. Nalo Hopkinson does a wonderful job painting a picture of a Toronto not seen by others and the familial struggle between siblings is all too real. The ending was a little less tidy than you might otherwise expect, but in hindsight I was okay with that and how it fit with the rest of the book. It was an enjoyable read/listen and I look forward to more of her work.

Camp X by Eric Walters

Camp X by Eric Walters

Camp X by Eric Walters

I recommended this to my son as story that might interest him. I hadn’t read it before myself, but was aware of Eric Walters writing and this series. Set in Canada during World War II the Camp X series follows two young protagonists 12 year old George and his older brother Jack as they get entangled in a series of adventures involving the secret spy camp located outside of Toronto called Camp X.

We read this together and I have to say it was a gripping read and a perfect fit for my 11 year old son who has some learning disabilities and has been a delayed reader. Perfect, not in that it was easy for him, but rather that it was such a page turner that he couldn’t put it down. More than once he said to me that he didn’t want to put it down and go to bed. Since finishing the book in September he has left me in the dust reading another 3 or four in the series. I think Eric Walters has a fan for life now.

The Peripheral by William Gibson

The Peripheral by William Gibson

The Peripheral by William Gibson, Narrated by

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this novel. I hadn’t read any reviews or descriptions, but knew there was some sort of ‘time travel’ element to it. As with much of Gibson’s work he doesn’t slow down to explain concepts to the reader and expects you to keep up and that you’ll piece together things as you go which was fine by me. I’m glad I listened to it on audio though, because I think had I been reading it I would have tended to put it aside for long stretches as I tried to absorb what was happening. With audio I was afforded the luxury of being able to push ahead and keep going while on my daily commute.

Gibson’s characters and his world building were fabulous in this story, although the central plot driving the tale left me a bit wanting. It seemed to be a bit of a MacGuffin (definition here) and I felt that despite the tension throughout there was not as much at stake as was let on.

I loved how Gibson captured the nuances of the characters dialogue and that it felt authentic to their different eras and circumstances. The narrator Lorelei King did a great job with the dialogue for the characters, but I found her narration otherwise robotic sounding. So much so that I found myself googling the narrator to see if she was the voice of Siri or not. I am not sure the choice was intentional or not, but I found it distracting at first.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Star Wars: Aftermath – By Chuck Wendig, Narrated by Marc Thompson.

Despite being a life long Star Wars fan, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in the Expanded Universe growing up. Not sure why I hadn’t, but I decided it was time to dip my toes into the Star Wars literary world by reading Chuck Wendig’s book Aftermath. The story takes place in the wake of the explosion of the 2nd Death Star and the fallout from end of the Empire’s iron-fisted reign.

First a word about the production values of this audio version. This was the first audio book I had listened to where it was more of a ‘radio play’ than a dramatic reading as it was complete with sound effects and some musical score during critical scenes. I can’t complain about added Star Wars sound effects of blaster fire or Tie Fighters screaming across my speakers, because who doesn’t love that.  I have to admit, though there were a few times where I muted the sound to check to see if the noises I was hearing were the background thrum of Star Destroyer engines or some odd noise my car was making.

I thought the story was well done and I loved the characters and their interactions.I thought the parent/child relationship at the heart of the story played well and I love stories that include family. I felt the story was a good balance of action and introspection on the nature of the battle between the Empire and the New Republic and what it meant to overthrow the government. I think Chuck Wendig brought a unique perspective to the Star Wars universe both in his love for Star Wars and in his view of the world. I don’t know how to explain it, but the novel felt to me like it had a very uniquely American perspective to it, and I mean that in a good way. Buy me a beer sometime and I will try to do a better job of explaining what I mean by that.

I’d highly recommend this to fans of the Star Wars franchise and people new to Star Wars the same.

I thought Marc Thompson did a good job narrating, but his voice characterizations for Temmin Wexley and Admiral Ackbar reminded me a bit too much like other characters from non-Star Wars properties that it distracted me at first. I won’t mention who they reminded me of to avoid prejudicing you in case you choose to listen to it.

In Conclusion

Not the most diverse reading list in the world, but perhaps one reflective of my random/eclectic tastes. I didn’t plan out this reading list in 2015, but rather just went from one property to another. There were a few books on my reading list in 2015 that I started but didn’t finish before the year ended, so they didn’t get included here. They will probably make appearances on my 2016 list, assuming I finish them.

For 2016 I hope to make it to 24 books as planned. I suspect there will be fewer books that I read to my kids (not that I don’t enjoy reading to them!), and fewer autobiographies, but you never know.

I also read a lot of comics during 2015 (although my backlog of comics to-be-read is getting out of hand), and hope to do a little retrospective post of that side of my literary reading elsewhere on this blog.

Oh, and congrats if you read this all the way through this post. I had no idea I was going to write 4,000 words plus about 16 titles I read this year. Thanks for reading along.

What were some of your favourite reads of 2015?

Return from Viable Paradise

IMG_3156Well it’s be nearly two months since I returned from Viable Paradise and felt it was time to do a wrap up post of sorts. I started a post almost immediately after returning at the end of October, but kept stalling on it. Mainly because it felt too raw, too incomplete. Like I was only telling half the story. What’s that you say? A writer at a loss for words! It happens, deal with it.

In a word the experience was INTENSE, but in a good way.

Before I went to VP I had this idea to make buttons that read I SURVIVED VIABLE PARADISE 19″ to hand out to my fellow classmates on our final day together.  I am so glad I didn’t.  SURVIVING is completely the wrong word to describe the experience.

To survive something is to endure it. To put up with something and come out the other side despite it. Like surviving a bad relationship or a really boring meeting at work.  VP is not about surviving. It’s about surrendering and being reborn as a writer, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Before I applied, I had heard VP being described as a type of writer’s “boot camp”. I took it  to mean that you were immersed in the workshop and that you were there for ONE thing to become better writers. It wasn’t until I was there and in the middle of our writing assignment that I realized it was much more than that.  I had spent the better part of two days attending the lectures, scribbling in my notebook and trying to keep up with all the great and useful stuff I was being told. I had no idea when I was going to have the time to process it all and apply it. I told myself, just write the story assignment and try not to get caught up in applying everything I was learning in the moment. Then an interesting thing happened. THE STORY WROTE ITSELF.

No not literally, but what I mean is that up until that point in my life I couldn’t explain my short story writing process to you if you held a gun to my head. It was just something that happened (and not always consistently). After only a few days of intense VP workshop I found myself applying stuff I had been learning without even realizing it. It was like in the original Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel all those seemingly mundane and repetitive jobs to do when all Daniel wants to do is learn karate. Finally Daniel has had enough and demands to know when the old master is going to teach him karate, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel step through all the tasks – “Wax on. Wax Off” and “Paint the Fence” and its then that Daniel realizes he has absorbed the lessons already without realizing it. Young Daniel’s mind is blown. It was that kind of epiphany.

There I was having a mild panic attack one day – How I was going to write a short story in less than two days? The next thing I knew I had an outline and was banging away the keyboard well on my way to completing my story. I am not sure what came over me.

The great thing about the workshop is that it keeps you so busy that you have little time to over-think things. Just keep swimming. Every minute you are there counts, whether you are attending lectures, writing, or chatting with instructors and classmates over dinner or in the few quiet moments there were.

The week went by in a blur and in that way that time has of dilating when you are busy, stuff that happened only the day before felt like a lifetime ago and it was easy to lose track of the days and hours. The instructors and staff at the workshop were fabulous and I never felt more cared for in my life (no offence to my mother!). Since the staff are all former students of VP themselves, they are well attuned to the rhythm of the week and know intimately what the students are going through.

I felt privileged to be surrounded by so many talented people, especially my fellow classmates. I think one of the reasons I hesitated finishing this post in November was because of my inability to put into words what it meant to connect with my classmates.  It was like discovering an extended family you never knew you had. I still can’t quite describe what it means to find your tribe in the way that you experience it at VP. I am sure VP alumni reading this will simply nod along in agreement, and for those of you that may have never experienced something similar will have to take my word for it.

I felt like our class was fairly tight going into VP as we got to know each other during the almost 4 months leading up to the workshop through emails and social media, but it wasn’t until we were forged in the same fire that we really bonded. The price of admission was worth the friendships that have stemmed from the experience both my classmates and other VP alum that have been more than generous to use newbies.

I’d definitely recommend Viable Paradise to others with the caveat that it has to be the right fit for you and what you are looking for. It will not suit all people’s needs or personalities, but then again, I suppose that’s why there is an application process. So the instructors can be assured they are reaching those that will benefit the most from the experience. I know I will be applying the lessons I learned at the workshop for years to come.

Before I close, a few pieces of practical advice. 1) Bring good walking shoes. I brought my everyday shoes and thought they would stand up to the rigours of the workshop, but not even close. As much as you are sitting around for hours at a time in lectures there are also frequent walks during the week and I had the blisters to prove it. 2) Don’t over plan for food. The instructions say you are responsible for breakfast and lunch, during the week and that they generally feed you one meal a day, but I found that I had a bit too much food left over at the end of the week. Non-perishable stuff can be donated to a local food bank, but anything open or perishable has to be used up or tossed out. There are opportunities to grab more supplies during the week and the staff is very helpful in that regards.

A final word of caution. The facilities currently being used pose serious accessibility issues for people with mobility restrictions. Stairs abound at the Inn and there are weird little step downs into the suites on the second floor of the Inn. That and the lofts of the suites have very narrow spiral staircases for access. I know the workshop has a long history with the Inn, but they seriously need to reconsider the facility’s accessibility or they are going to potentially exclude a lot of talented writers based on this barrier alone.

If you want to know more or ask a specific question leave a message in the comments or drop me an email.

 

 

The Final Countdown

I can’t believe it’s October already. There’s so much to look forward  what with Thanksgiving (The Canadian Version), the return of hockey (the NHL and my beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs, not to mention my son’s house league), and a Federal election with the tantalizing promise of political change (I can dream can’t I).

But none of that can compare to my trip to Viable Paradise in less than two weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been aiming towards this writing workshop for almost 4 years. Even after receiving my acceptance in June it still felt surreal and intangible.

It’s been slowly starting to become tangible in the passing weeks with each incremental step in preparing for the workshop.From getting to know my fellow classmates online to booking travel arrangements and accommodations each thing has taken me a step closer to the actual workshop.

With the Canadian dollar at an 11 year low (It’s costing me almost an extra 38 cents on the dollar for every dollar I spend in the US) I joking said to a friend that I must really want to go to this workshop to pay the extra money that its costing me.

I’d like to think I am as prepared as I can be for the workshop, but the thing I keep telling myself is to go there ready to learn and absorb. To be open to learning from the instructors and my classmates and to not stress over the travel and being away from home from a week. Any of those anxieties will seem like small potatoes once I am in the thick of it.

Sure I’ve got that the equivalent of back-to-school jitters, but I know that these are my people and that based on what I’ve read of previous alumni’s experience that I am in for a  potentially life-changing experience, if I am just open to receiving it.

I hope to share some of my experiences of the journey via this blog, but be forewarned I won’t be updating this in real-time. It will probably be sometime in November before I’ve had a chance to decompress form the experience and put my thoughts in some sort of order.

I plan to take lots of notes while I am away, not just notes about the workshop and writing, but notes about the experience itself. I want to absorb as much as as I can of the experience.

Wish me luck and I will see you on the other side.

 

Lost In La Mancha (2002)

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Lost in La Mancha (2002) with Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and Jean Rochefort

Lost in La Mancha chronicles director Terry Gilliam’s (Time Bandits, Brazil) attempt to make  “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” a long simmering project close to the director’s heart.

Johnny Depp was to star in the movie as Toby Grisoni, an advertising executive from the future that is transported in time to Don Quixote’s time and is mistaken for Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza.

The documentary was filmed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe who had previously worked with Gilliam on Twelve Monkeys when they made another behind the scenes documentary The Hamster Factor and Other Tales from the Twelve Monkeys. (Which is well worth a look for those interested in Gilliam’s creative process and the movie.) What the documentary film makers did not bargain for when filming this latest documentary was the disastrous turns the filming of Gilliam’s latest opus would take.

Gilliam’s reputation had made it necessary for him to go outside the Hollywood studio system and to finance the film on his own. Gilliam and his team laid the ground work raising the capital through a series of European investors and secured sites in Spain for filming. What they didn’t foresee was a number of increasingly insurmountable road blocks that would be thrown at them. From the deteriorating health of Jean Rocherfort, who was critical in his role as Don Quixote, to a flash flood on the second day of shooting that destroyed valuable equipment.  The shooting schedule and viability of the film was quickly thrown into doubt.

The documentary captures, Gilliam’s creative process and the behind the scenes look at the few takes they did manage to get, as well as the rising tension and uncertainty of the future of the film. It’s ironic that the film itself takes on a quixotic nature as Gilliam soon becomes the one “tilting at windmills”.

The few scenes featuring Depp show a promising role where his character is the audience’s contemporary guide in to Cervantes world of Don Quixote, much in the way that Twain’s Connecticut in King Arthur’s Court was a “contemporary” guide to the Knights of the Round Table.

Since the film was halted in 2000 and the rights held by the insurance company,  there has been several attempts by Gilliam to restart the film. In 2008 Gilliam confirmed that he had entered into pre-production on the film with Robert Duvall and Johnny Depp attached. Since that time though Johnny Depp’s role has been replace by Ewan McGregor according to reports when plans resurfaced for the film in 2010. The film sounds as if it is still going ahead with a major re-write and plot change and may be released in theatres as well as on Amazon eventually.

You can read more details about the film here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Killed_Don_Quixote

http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/terry-gilliams-amazon-deal-is-for-us-release-of-don-quixote-possibly-a-defective-detective-mini-series-20150609

Sarah Connor and the Strong Female Character

Terminator (1984)

Terminator (1984)

I had the opportunity to rewatch the original Terminator (1984) with my son last night on Netflix. He’s getting to that age where he’s mature enough and patient enough to sit through “classic” grown-up films that I enjoyed and form part of my pop culture DNA.

The point of my post, was not so much my son’s reaction to the movie (which was interesting in itself), but rather my own thoughts about  Sarah Connor and the role of the strong female character.

OLD MAN ALERT: I first saw Terminator in probably the summer of 1985 or 86 when I was a teenager. It was a year or two after it had been in theatres when it showed up on a FREE preview weekend of The First Choice movie network on pay-TV in Canada. I sat mesmerized watching it late one night, riveted by the action and Brad Fidel’s score. Since then I have probably watched it a dozen or more times and have probably owned it on everything except LaserDisc and Betamax(Yes it was released on both those formats.)

We’ve all come to view Sarah Connor in general, and Linda Hamilton’s version in particular as the definition of a strong female lead. There is no denying that she’s all that, but oddly I think that when you ask most people about Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor they picture this:

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

And not this version below:

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator (1984)

Obviously the first one looks more “badass” than the other, but the second one is no less strong a female lead than the other.

In the original film, Sarah is a young waitress working a thankless job at a local family diner and sharing an apartment with her friend Ginger. Just a girl in her 20s trying to figure out her place in life. She’s caught up in this unbelievable and traumatic experience  as she targeted by the Terminator that will stop at nothing to kill her. (Spoiler Alert!) Sure she triumphs in the end , but through it all she reacts as many of us might; with disbelief, shock, tears, fear, and anger. You know normal human emotions given the circumstances.

Sadly, it’s not just Sarah’s reaction in the circumstances that makes her a “strong” female character, but rather our own low expectations of female characters in similar circumstances. The fact that she perseveres and goads on a critically injured Kyle Reese in the final battle is due to the fact that the director and writer Cameron has allowed her character to go through those events and survive.

Having all the answers and being tough as nails is one way to have a “strong character”. Another more realistic way is to allow them to be human, show emotion, and have weaknesses, and STILL triumph. This applies to both male and female characters.

Not to steal away from Sarah’s character, but take a moment to contrast the two male lease, the Terminator and Kyle Reese. While the Terminator can rely on his virtually indestructible nature to survive, emphasized by Arnold’s hyper-masculine body builder physique,  Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and his “average” male physique by contrast  must rely on the strength of his wit and loyalty to John Connor to survive. Even though human and weaker physically, Reese is a stronger and well rounded character as we learn what motivates him and his passion to save Sarah.

Cameron has been held up as one of those pioneering writer/directors in Hollywood that instead of trying to turn women into male action heroes, wrote women characters that were true to themselves and their femininity and still saved the day. Thankfully we’ve had more creative people, both male and female come up through the ranks in the last 30 or so years that also believe in creating believable female characters that carry the story on their own.

In Equality Now speech, May 15, 2006 Joss Whedon related a story where he was asked “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” again and again by reporters during press junkets.  His variety of responses were thoughtful and revealing, but he ended the story in frustration and his final response was “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

I try to write strong characters in my own stories regardless of whether they’re male or female. In my story “Second Harvest”, Charlotte is young nurse serving with the Canadian Army in World War I and has seen a lot of horrible things. Not just the horrors of war, but also what the doctors and scientists have done with the bodies of the dead in the name of science and winning the war. She’s basically had a mental breakdown and has been discharged and returns home, where she has to confront her role in the war. I think through it all her humanity is what carries her forward. She has a compassion for those that have suffered at the hands of others during the war and eventually wants to balance the injustice.

Maybe, it was seeing characters such as Sarah Connor as an impressionable teen that helped shaped my views in some small way. I just hope I can continue to carry the torch forward in my own writing when it comes to writing believable and strong female characters.

I leave you with a quote from J.J. Abrams another director/writer from my generation that sums up what I’m trying to say.

I don’t try and write strong female characters or strong male characters, I just try and write, hopefully, strong characters and sometimes they happen to be female.

J. J. Abrams

Writer: Level Up!

Writing is a long journey and as a writer it helps to stop and get the lay of the land every once in a while. To pause and look back and to see how far you’ve come, but also l to look ahead at that next summit, catch your breath and say”Let’s do this”.

Portrait of the writer as a young man.

Portrait of the writer as a young man.

I’ve been writing all my life. Most of it spent wandering aimlessly hoping I would hit upon some magic formula for success. (What can I say I was young and naive)  I wasted much of my youth thinking I had all the time in the world to write and that someday I would REALLY crack down and take it seriously. It wasn’t until my wife and I were expecting our first child 12 years ago that I committed myself to this path that I am on now.

I realized then that if I didn’t double down and make an effort that I risked losing my writing to the demands of parenthood and family life. It would be far too easy to say – “I’ll pick it up again when my kids are older and I have more time.” Of course there never is enough time. You have to carve that time out of everything.

I became active in writing groups, both while I was living in Toronto and now here in Sudbury. I attended workshops, read books about writing, and most of all took the time to write. Ever so slowly, its been paying off. My writing has steadily improved and just last year I sold my first short story, Second Harvest to Fictionvale.com.

Back in 2011 one of my writing buddies – Stephanie Charette applied to and attended a workshop called Viable Paradise at Martha’s Vineyard. The workshop is a week long intense session with professional writers and editors in science fiction and fantasy. Here’s how they describe the workshop:

Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni. ~From Viable Paradise website.

Stephanie came back from that workshop a changed person.  She encouraged me to apply practically the minute she stepped off the plane in 2011. I wanted to attend, but I somehow had excuses for not applying each year. Too busy with work. Too busy with family commitments. I can’t afford the money this year. I can’t get the time off work. “Next year I’ll apply” I said. For three years. 

Then 2015 came around and I looked up at that next summit and said “Let’s do this!” My family was on board and I was finally in a position at work where I could manage the time off. I enlisted the help of my writing circle of friends both to be my cheer leading squad and to help me whip my application into shape.

I submitted my application a few weeks before the application period closed and waited – until yesterday when I got the word.

I have been accepted! Look out VP19 here I come! (Well, in 4 months anyhow)

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up

Scott Pilgrim Levels Up

I suddenly feel like I have levelled up as a writer. Ready to take on this challenge. (Okay maybe the true Level Up won’t come until AFTER the workshop, but you know what I mean.)

Thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way on this journey, I couldn’t have done it with out you. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my writing life and more than just the new skills I will add to my tool kit, I am looking forward to the new friendships and personal connections that will flow from it.

 

Supporting Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) held their AGM yesterday in Vancouver and in addition to the business aspects of the association, the nomination list for the 2015 Aurora Prize were announced.

You can check out the full list here – 2015 Aurora Awards Nominees

As you may recall my short story “Second Harvest” was eligible to be nominated and I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to consider it. Even though my story did not make the final ballot, I can’t be disappointed.  There are so many fabulous authors and short stories that did make the final ballot. We are fortunate to have so much talent writing in Canada and from a Canadian perspective.

While the Aurora Awards are given “to honour the best Canadian science fiction and fantasy literary works, artwork, and fan activities from the previous year” that is only part of the mission in my mind. The larger purpose is to bring recognition to the work that is being created by Canadians in the field of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If your a long time member of the CSSFA, or just signed up for the first time this year as I did, make sure you take time read what you can of the nominated work (A Voter Package of stories should be available in the coming weeks here Aurora Award Voter Package). Voting runs from June 1st 2015 and will close at Midnight (end of day) EDT on October 17th, 2015.

You can support Canadian science fiction and fantasy, by reading it, writing it, and talking about the stories that move  you with your friends and family. We need to encourage and support both the next generation of creators and fans.

Good Luck to all the nominees.

Canada’s Prix Aurora Awards

In case you didn’t know Canada has it’s own Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards called the Auroras. The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) administers the awards which are awarded in a number of categories including Best Novel, Best YA Novel, Best Short Fiction, Best Graphic Novel, Best Poem/Song, Best Related Work, and Best Artist, as well as a number of Fan related categories.

Canadians who have produced work in those categories are eligible to be nominated each year for work produced in the previous year. Nominations are made by members of the CSFFA and once nominations have been closed online voting takes place for several months by the members again to decide on winners.

The reason I am telling you all this is because I only just recently learned that my short story Second Harvest that was published in May 2014 by Fictionvale is eligible to be nominated for the Short Fiction award.

The problem is I just found out that nominations close on April 25th, 2015 for this years awards. That’s this Saturday at midnight!

Now I realize that Fictionvale may not have the readership of other more traditional publications and the fact that even fewer of the readers of the magazine are probably Canadian and eligible to vote in the Aurora Awards, so that’s why I am putting this post together and letting you know.

If you’ve read my story and enjoyed it and would like to support it by nominating it for the Short Fiction award, I would be very grateful. There is a lot of great short fiction being produced by Canadians right now and it would be an honour just to be nominated amongst them.

If you’re interested in nominating my story or someone else’s work head on over to Aurora Awards site (Link: – http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/) and click on Join/Nominate/Vote button on the top menu. There’s one catch and that you have to become a member of the CSFFA to be able to nominate and vote, but its a simple process and only costs $10 for the year. Yes, I realize $10 is a princely sum when you’ve got better things to be spending it on, but by becoming a member you are eligible to receive FREE copies of nominated stories/novels to vote on as part of the voters package. So don’t think of it as a membership fee, think of it as a donation for all the free reading material you are about to receive once nominations close.

Voting begins June 1st and closes Oct 17th, 2015. Plenty of time to read through the nominations and vote on your favourites.

The Aurora awards will be present during SFContario 6 / Canvention 35 on the weekend of November 20-22, 2015 in Toronto.

Thanks for your time and consideration and please take a moment to support Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy. I know I will be nominating/voting for some of the favourites I’ve read this year.