Reflection on the A to Z Challenge

survivor_[2013]Wow, that was one intense month of blogging.

I am really glad I signed up for the experience. I was looking for an excuse to kick start my blog and open up and this proved to be a good experience. I enjoyed checking out other people’s blogs during the challenge and getting a flavour for what else is out there. There were some blogs that I will definitely start following on a more regular basis.

Its unfortunate that due to cross-platform incompatibilities between Blogger and WordPress that it made it harder to follow or like blogs that I visited and I think it may have hurt traffic to my blog too. That being said I didn’t sign up to the challenge necessarily looking for an audience. I signed up for the opportunity to write whatever I felt like on 26 topics and force myself to sit down and write almost every day.

My problem is I like to write essay length posts, which can be time consuming and may not necessarily the length most people like to read. Personally, when it’s a topic that interests me I like a detailed in depth post. Maybe I am an exception.

I hope I have the time and energy to sign up again next year, although I think I make do a theme next year and concentrate on something related to writing or Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Thanks again to the organizers and everyone who participated. Thanks to Scribofelidae at What I Write for turning me onto the A-to-Z challenge. Thanks to my sister Dee who was crazy enough to join me in doing this on her blog – Cheaper by Eleven who’s humour always makes me laugh. Definitely check out her posts about her family adventures.

Next up at SooGuy.com I get back to my Johnny Depp Tribute reviewing all of his films in honour of his 30 years in movies and his 50th birthday, with Ed Wood being the next in the list.

Z is for Zombies

a-to-z-letters-z I can’t believe the A to Z Challenge is coming to an end. It’s been an interesting experience and I want to thank everyone who took the time to read some of my entries and a big thanks to those that took time to comment.

Zombies seem to be everywhere these days (no not literally, you can put down the crossbow). From AMC’s The Walking Dead to the upcoming movie World War Z they’re on the big screen and small screen. I won’t bore you with a long lecture on the history of the undead in popular culture, especially since I am far from an expert. Personally, I suspect part of our fascination with zombies is our uneasy relationship with death in modern society as well as our fears of disease and sickness. On the one hand we a reluctant to talk about death in our society, we hide it from public view and only reluctantly deal with it in our mourning rituals. We act as if death itself were contagious and that we don’t want to risk drawing attention to ourselves by talking about it. I also think that we fear (and rightly so) infectious disease and its spread. From influenza pandemics to exotic and deadly viruses like Ebola and Coronavirus we fear the rapid, uncontrolable spread of disease that can rob of us family and friends and threaten ourselves.

It’s interesting in recent years that serious organizations like the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have come out with Zombie Preparedness programs. While it is tongue in cheek, it does serve a real purpose in getting people thinking about dealing with the spread of such an outbreak.

Like my passion time travel, I find Zombies a very rich story telling device that can be used in so many ways. From slow zombies to fast zombies and everything in between. While most modern fans of Zombies wouldn’t consider re-animating the dead on purpose to be true zombies, I consider Frankenstein and re-animated zombies found in Voodoo culture like depicted in the movie “The Serpent and the Rainbow” to be direct ancestors to the modern day zombie in fiction.

In 2003 Max Brooks wrote The Zombie Survival Guide which was a very popular guide that discuss both the history of the zombie and also survival techniques. Online I follow a twitter feed called Zombie Training that offers no nonsense practical advice on surviving zombies. More than once I’ve read on of their tweets and thought, that makes perfect sense.

Getting back to the fiction side of things I want to leave you with a couple of references for interesting additions to the genre.

The first is a short Australian film that you can find online called “I Love Sarah Jane” that is heart breaking in more than one way and is only 14 minutes long.

The second is for the trailer for Warm Bodies (2013) that uses Zombies in a way to explore what makes us human. The movie is based on the book by Issac Marion.

The last is a trailer for a film I keep meaning to watch but haven’t seen yet. A Canadian film called Pontypool that looks at language as a virus. It’s based on the book “Pontypool Changes Everthing” by Tony Burgess

What’s your take on Zombies? Love them or hate them?

Y is for Yesterday

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Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

Yesterday – Beatles

When I was a kid, our grade 8 class choose Yesterday for our graduation theme complete with the Beatles song “Yesterday” as our song. It was an odd choice considering the song wasn’t even ‘current’ – this would have been 1982, long past the prime for that classic to be in the consciousness of a bunch of 13 and 14 year old kids. Yes we were passing into another stage in our life and growing up, but why were we so nostalgic for ‘yesterday’ is beyond me.

They say that youth is wasted on the young, and the older I get the more I have to agree with that sentiment. I think one of the reasons that statement rings true is because ‘the young’ act like they have all the time in the world, and older people shake their heads wishing they still were ‘younger’ with more time on the clock. The reason I put ‘young’ in quotes is because its all relative. A 30-something might feel like youth is wasted on the ‘young’ 20 year old, the same way a senior might look at at 30 year old and think the same thing.

It’s one thing to be nostalgic about ‘yesterday’, but there’s nothing to be gained by having regrets about what might have been. Yesterday is in the past and time machines notwithstanding, nothing is going to change what happened. The best anyone can do is move forward and make the best of the time they have left in this life.

It’s never to late to start on a new adventure, try a project you always wanted to start, or try learning a new skill. David Seidler’s Oscar win for his screenplay for The King’s Speech in 2011 was not only notable for the fact that he was the oldest to win that particular aware at 70, he was also developing the story for more than 30 years. A stutter himself, Seidler had always been interested in writing about King George VI’s struggle, but had difficulty finding enough information on Dr. Lionel Logue, the Australian who successful treated the King. He contacted one of Dr. Logue’s descendants and was given access to Logue’s journals under the condition that the Queen Mother gave her approval. After writing to her personal secretary in the early 1980s and receiving the reply that she agreed but not during her lifetime, Seidler abandoned the project for more than 25 years. Only well after the Queen Mother died in 2002 did he look to revive the project.

Seidler said during his acceptance speech “My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer”. Better a late bloomer than regretting what might have been.

X Marks the Spot

a-to-z-letters-x I’ve been a day behind almost the entire week, so I apologize in advance for the double post today, but I want to try to get caught up before calling it a night.

I can’t quite put my finger when I first fell in love with maps. It may have been an excessive amount of creating, colouring and labelling maps in elementary school as part of the core curriculum that warp me as a young kid. It may have been a family road trip to Florida when I was 8 that kick started it and grabbing one too many handfuls of maps and tourist brochures at roadside stops along the I-75. Regardless I have found maps fascinating for as long as I can remember. The details they reveal about the history of a place, the lay of the land, the map maker themselves, and just the artistic nature of some maps.

Geography was always one of my favourite subjects in school, but for some reason I didn’t stick with it when I went to University. Instead I enrolled in a Engineering program and went on to fail out in the first year. While the details of how I came to fail out are more complicated than I want to get into in this post, suffice it to say that in the end I wasn’t as well suited to Engineering as I had been lead to believe. Oddly enough I did enrol in the Geography Department the next semester eventually getting a degree in Environmental Management.

I think in another life I must have been a cartographer. I have an old 1899 map of the City of Toronto hanging above my desk and its beautiful to look as much as its interesting in all the detail that it holds. It shows creeks and waterways long since paved over and redirected through storm sewers. Shorelines and roadways that have warped and shifted as the city developed. In that way the cartographer is a bit of a historian, documenting places in time as much as space.

W is for Writing Groups

a-to-z-letters-w Writing can be very isolating and solitary experience, so its no surprise that writers tend to seek out kindred spirits. I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in a number of writing groups over the years. Each group has taught me so much about myself and about my writing.

Writing groups have given me opportunities to learn from other writers with different view points and writing experience, as well as sharing my own. Having other people you trust to critique your work and bounce ideas off is crucial. Writing groups can be a source of support, motivation, inspiration and at times, even frustration. Writing groups are tenuous beasts threatened by pressures of work and family commitments, personality clashes, and geography, but when the work they are a sight to behold.

I have met life long friends through writing groups and long after the groups have dissolved I still keep in contact with people from some of my previous critique groups. The core of my current group has been together for more than 4 years now, which is a testament to the strength of the relationships we have forged. Like any relationship, communication is key and we’ve had to recalibrate our wants and needs as time and projects have progressed.

If I could give one piece of advice to writers starting out would be to reach out to other writers and open yourself up to sharing your work and receiving feedback. It’s scary and they don’t call it critiquing for nothing. You’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear about that piece that you thought was PERFECT. You’re probably going to feel like you don’t know anything after someone with more experience points out everything that’s wrong with your work from grammar to viewpoint and everything in between, but trust me when I say its all worth it. All the writers that I have met along the way have been patient, giving of themselves and their time, and you want to know a secret – they WANT YOU TO SUCCEED. They want you to grow as a writer, they want you to write that kick ass story that will make them wish they had thought of it.

I remember when I took my first baby steps on the path to becoming a writer, I asked a friend who I knew was a writer to take a look at something and give me their feedback. The writer asked me if I was ready for this and I said I was, but in truth that first critique was an eye opener in more ways than one. I realized that a) I had a long way to go on the path to becoming published b) that I had to be open to receiving the honest feedback that they were offering. I don’t regret asking for that critique and that sort of feedback made me eventually join my first critique/writing group which would start me down the road to where I am today.

I want to thank every one who has ever taken time to read one of my stories and give me feedback whether it was part of one of these groups as a one-on-one favour. I may not always act on your advice, but I will ALWAYS take it to heart with all the consideration that it was given.

V is for Villains

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I try to give both my heroes and villains an emotional dimensionality which provides the motivation for their actions. ~Sidney Sheldon

It’s always a challenge to create believable villains as a counterpoint to your protagonist. Villains can’t be over the top, moustache twisting, maniacal laughing, psychopaths without justifying how the character got there. Or can they?

Ledger_Joker

Heath Ledger’s The Joker from The Dark Knight comes to mind as one example of a villain who is all of those things, yet it still works as a believable character. He’s single minded, has no regard for anyone but himself, is unstoppable.

A good villain should be motivated, driven, focused. Villains aren’t afraid to reach for their ‘dreams’, no matter how big or how small. Take this guy. Obsessed with eliminating the Rebels, he built a Death Star not once but twice!

darth-vader

A good villain should command respect or at least fear from your minions and foes alike, whether you employ the occasional force choke to achieve it or whether you have to eat your foes.

jaws_shot4l

What are some of your favourite fictional villains? What makes them great characters?

U is for Ukulele

a-to-z-letters-u Once associated with falsetto signing Tiny Tim and his Tiptoe Through the Tulips , the ukulele has been quietly making the rounds as the hipster instrument du jour in recent years.

It’s relatively easy to learn (or so I am told), its relatively inexpensive to pick up, and the fact that its more portable than say a full sized guitar means people can take it places with them.

SF Author John Scalzi demonstrates his cover of Radiohead’s Creep here.

Here’s a wonderful cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Jake Shimabukuro

And I’ll leave you with a third video of Danielle Ate the Sandwich, who’s both talented and funny, signing an original composition called Canada.

Don’t worry I don’t plan on picking up one any time soon, but I may continue to google some fine ukulele covers on YouTube.

EDIT: FOUND THIS VIDEO ONLINE TODAY (Apr 25th) Had to share. You rarely see people having this much of a good time on the Toronto Subway.

T is for Time

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Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.
~ Fly Like an Eagle – Steve Miller Band

I’ve always been fascinated about time as a human construct since I was a kid. Like gravity, time is a unseen force, yet its influence on us informs every waking minute of our lives. We plan our days around minutes, our social lives around days of the week and we can plan our future, retirement and even our deaths based on what we think the future holds.

I remember a teacher in elementary school commenting once on the date and the time, saying something to the effect “You will never relive this exact same moment, again. This second, minute, hour, day, and year is gone.” I can’t recall what we were discussing, but something in the way he said it made a connection go off in my head. It wasn’t so much an epiphany as a waking to the truth of the matter.

We tend to measure time as if we can parcel out the exact minutes and seconds like some physical element like water or air, yet intuitively we all experience time differently. Our perception of time can slow down, speed up, and everything in between depending on the circumstances. Waiting to get news on something or sitting around a doctor’s waiting room, time can seem to crawl. In the heat of intense experience time can seem to elongate seconds stretching out to minutes. Even in life as we get older, the years tend feel like they come faster.

My interest in time has lead me to both read about in fiction and in non-fiction. In fiction I love reading about – you guessed it – time travel. If you are going to explore time and all its ramifications what better way than to turn the concept inside out and bend time. Time and by extension time travel has been used as a literary devices as long as there has been story telling. I started ‘collecting’ examples of time travel in 1999 on my website Andy’s Anachronisms.

Two non-fiction reads that I found fascinating are:

A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist, or How Every Culture Keeps Time Just a Little Bit Differently by Robert Levine

and

Time Lord : Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise

Both books look at how we perceive time culturally and how it influences how we behave & interact with the world around us.

I am always looking for more references both to time travel and the concept of time in general so feel free to share with me if you have any favourites.

S is for Satire and Sarcasm

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Satire (n) –1) the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. 2) a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn derision or ridicule.

At an early age, long before I could tie my shoes or count to a hundred, I was exposed to sarcasm. I knew the power or a well-timed verbal barb courtesy of my mother. People often say that they don’t suffer fools gladly; well my mom is definitely one of those people. If you’re being foolish or asking a foolish question she’s going to tell you to your face EXACTLY why it’s foolish. More times than not it was directed at people that crossed my mother, but even her own family was not off limits. It may sound like a form of child-abuse to some, but to me it was training at the feet of a master. Like the oratory power of a silver-tongued politician, my mother’s wit and sarcasm is a gift and to see it in action is awe inspiring. Even if I didn’t fathom the nuances of her verbal prowess at that early age, I soon grew to appreciate it and respect it.

Having such a good teacher, I was forced to develop some self-discipline when it came to my own sarcastic tongue for fear of alienating friends, enraging teachers, and later in life co-workers and bosses. I learned that just because you have the ammunition, doesn’t mean you have to use it.

With such a pedigree it’s little wonder that I came to love satire and sarcasm in popular culture. Comedians like George Carlin, Lewis Black, Al Franken, Bill Maher, Steven Wright, Bill Murray, Monty Python, Mary Walsh, Ricky Gervais, Rick Mercer, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Artists like Gary Larson (Farside), Matt Groening (Life in Hell, The Simpsons, Futurama), Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury), Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), and Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County). Authors, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Coupland. Movies like Mike Judge’s Office Space and Idiocracy, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, any Monty Python movie, any Mel Brooks’ film, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the list goes on and on.

Looking over that list I suppose I tend towards political satire or at least satire that challenges authority and social norms. I guess its little wonder that my favourite Looney Tunes characters include Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Foghorn Leghorn. A more sarcastic, anti-establishment, bunch I can’t imagine.

I’ve been trying to develop my own satirical voice in my writing, but with all things as subjective as humour it’s difficult to tell if you’re hitting the mark or making jokes and references that only you appreciate. I guess it will have to wait until my writing group, and hopefully the public in general, passes judgment before I know if the legacy of my mother’s wit and sarcasm has been passed to my writing ability.

Right now I have an urge to go watch some of those fantastic movies I mentioned.

Who are some of your favorite satirists?

R is for Relationships

a-to-z-letters-r I wanted to post a witty or sage quote about relationships and friendship, but none that I looked up seemed to encapsulate everything I wanted to say about the subject. Relationships are individual social contracts, negotiated between people often without any spoken agreement. We tend to associate with people that in some way complement our temperament and interests and are enjoyable to be with.

As kids we find it easy to make friends, so broad are our interests. As we grow older we become more discerning, more selective in who we establish relationships with. People that we can trust, people that make us laugh and feel good, basically people that we want to share our time and space with. It’s those relationships that we cherish and work to preserve.

Unfortunately circumstances in life often intervene to test our relationships. People move away, enter into new jobs, start new relationships, start families, discover new passions. All these things temper our relationships, whether they are happening to us or our friends. Friendships often adapt, sometimes for the better, because of these changes, but on occasion they wither and retreat.

I am fortunate enough to have a handful of close friendships that have with stood the test of time. Many of those friendships, because of distances, do not get the love and attention they deserve, but as a true testament to the strength of the bond those friends act as if no time has lapsed at all when we do talk or meet up.

Not to sound melancholy, but as I get older my only regret is that its hard to make new friends. Perhaps I am more guarded, perhaps people are too busy to look for new friendships in the people they meet. Don’t get me wrong I am thankful to the few people I have become friends with in later in life, but I still feel like there must be more kindred spirits out there waiting to connect.