Friday, September 30, 2005

Inspiration

Believe it or not, someone has actually asked me the "where do you get your ideas?" question, as if coming up with a good story idea is akin to being able to catch a fly in the palm of your hand.

Take today, for example. I'm at work, mindlessly typing numbers and postal codes into the system and listening to my very cool The New Pornographers CD, which I've been trying to track down for about five years and only got this week. As I'm listening to the first song, I'm reminded of a novel I tried to start a few months ago. It was something vastly different than my usual writing, so I didn't want to talk about it unless it worked. It didn't. The second song begins, and the chorus gives me an idea. The third songs plays and gives me another. Those ideas somehow meld with an idea I had for a post-GERA novel and another idea I had for a really dark, creepy short story. And, without warning, it all comes together.

Of course, I had no paper to write on save for two receipts (Subway sandwiches and bus tickets were my saving grace, this time). So, there I am, sitting at my desk, madly scribbling all my notes in very tiny words so I can get it all down, on the back of receipts. The girl sitting next to me, who just started three days ago, thought it was part of the job and asked me what I was doing. Being the perfectly cool guy that I am, I turned a little bit red and said "Oh...uhh...umm...nothing", shoved the receipts into my bag and went back to typing.

This situation isn't a hugely unique one for me(save for the extreme excitement about the idea - I think it'll be a good one). I come up with ideas all the time, from seemingly unconnected things. In fact, I'd say only about 50% of my ideas make it to paper. About 25% make it past the first chapter. And only 10% ever get finished.

How easily do you come up with ideas?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 4

I've updated the results sheet, so go check it out on the sidebar. People linking to this blog jumped up a little this week, for no apparent reason, which was nice - it's the first significant gain made in Technorati links yet (I should also note that my Technorati rank went from roughly 117,000 at the start of the week to 75,000 at the end).

Additionally, we're on break again from BE visitors. However, hits from them have begun to slow down a little (it seems the frequency of hits you get from them is in direct proportion to how many credits you have left in your BE account), so I don't imagine I'll be pausing next week.

And for those who recommended I notify Problogger, I did a couple of days ago. No response yet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Ordinary Decent Criminal

Given the number of bankable stars in this film (of course, Colin Farrell wasn't famous at the time) I'm surprised this movie was never given a theatrical release in the States. Essentially, the film plays like a series of miniature heist movies, with Spacey as the mastermind. The heists themselves have a bunch of inconsistencies and there's no shortage of plot holes, but I was enjoying the movie's light mood enough not to care. A good weekend flick, for when you just want to kick back and relax. My grade: B

Synopsis: Michael Lynch is Dublin's most notorious criminal, his brazen robberies making him the bane of the GardaĆ­ and a hero to his fellow working class city Northsiders. When not playing happy families with his two wives - sisters Christine and Lisa - and his children, Lynch is busy plotting elaborate heists, thinking as much about the showmanship of it all as he is the loot involved. On his case is Garda Noel Quigley, his determination to convict Lynch slowly turning into an obsession. Inevitably, a showdown looms. (via Imdb)

Director: Thaddeus O'Sullivan (The Heart of Me)
Writer: Gerard Stembridge (About Adam)
Stars: Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects), Linda Fiorentino (Dogma), Stephen Dillane (The Hours), Helen Baxendale ("Friends"), Peter Mullan (Trainspotting), David Hayman (Rob Roy), Colin Farrell (Phone Booth), Tim Loane

Useless Trivia: Spacey suggested Farrell for the part of one of his gang members after watching him in the play In a Little World of Our Own at the Donmar Warehouse in London.

A Quick Remark

Further to the discussion on sex the other day, piksea remarks in a comment that the sex in Brave New World and The Handmaid's Tale wasn't really about sex, but about portraying some defining characteristic of the society in which it resided. The comment is right on the money.

So, I'll just note that the best sex is allegorical*.

*Still, I'd recommend against shouting out "Oh, baby! It's so allegorical!" when you're in bed with your significant other. It'll probably kill the mood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Researching Rio

A very quick question - I'm doing a little bit of research for GERA and am sending a call out to anyone who happens to have visited or, even better, lived in, Rio de Janiero. Specifically, I'm looking for physical descriptions of the Barra da Tijuca section of town. Can anyone help me out? Leave a comment or send me an email if you've been there.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sex! - Part 2

Well, the comments in part one went in a bit of a different direction than I'd intended, so let me flesh out what I wanted to get into with this post. Basically, the whole explicit vs. implied argument doesn't mean much to me - I'm not offended by sex scenes in books, nor do they do much to turn me on, so I can take it or leave it. What I'm interested in is the role that sex plays in science fiction, not whether or not it's "right" to have an explicit sex scene for no apparent reason. Anyway...onto the post.

Oh, and I apologize in advance to the hard SF crowd as most of my opinions are based on sociological SF - it's what I read and I find that sex in hard SF tends to be of the throwaway type (ie. hero sleeps with double agent femme fatale and/or finally enters into relationship with long-term romantic interest - or "hero gets the girl" syndrome).

Anyhow, here's what I'd like to suggest: In science fiction, most particularly in SF that depicts a future Earth or human perspectives in an alien world, depictions of sex are absolutely vital. To my mind, any science fiction that wants to deal with a radically different society has to, at some point, deal with sex. Case in point: the institutionalized orgies of Brave New World. BNW is an overwhelmingly sexual novel, and it has to be because it's primarily about a world that reduces human nature to a mechanized assembly line - hence the rigid structure and scheduling of the orgies. The book is forced to give an account of sexuality because, as a look at humans in a radically different setting, it's forced to examine human nature. This, I argue, is what makes a great science fiction book - the unflinching examination of the human condition - and, sex being a rather important part of being human, great sociological SF necessarily has to look at sex in some form. Does that logic work for everyone?

There are a number of other books that would fit well into this argument (namely Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Butler's Lilith's Brood trilogy and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale - all women, by the way, which I don't think is a coincidence) but BNW is the most obvious example.

I'd also like to assert that SF not so concerned with a radically different society also has to look at sexuality. Just as futuristic SF looks at possible trends in the basic day-to-day lives of people ahead of our time (ie. owning electric animals in Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and jacking into a three dimensional net in Gibson's Neuromancer or Stephenson's Snow Crash) one has to acknowledge that society's view of sex will most certainly change in the future. Think back one hundred years and try to imagine society's views on pre-marital sex as compared with today's. Obviously a difference, right? Well, I think SF, insofar as it looks into other cultural changes, has a responsibility to look at changes in the perception of sex. These aren't things that have to overwhelm a story, but can add depth if used correctly.

To use myself as an example, there's quite a lot of homosexuality in Glistening Edges and Right Angles. That's not in there just for the hell of it. Instead, it's a manifestation of my belief that the world, right now, is on something of sexual precipice (regarding a lot of things, actually, but homosexuality is the biggest) and that within two or three generations, people who think homosexuals are immoral sinners will be thought of the same way we today think of people who disapproved of civil rights for minorities (or women, for that matter). The sexuality of my characters doesn't have an effect on the plot of the story, it's just there, as an element of everyday life in my futuristic society.

So, now that I've clarified myself, any opinions?

Sex!

Really, though, I have more motivation than upping my search results - honest. Anyhow, I wanted to remark on the fact that, for the first time, implied sex has been making its way into my stories. It appears in "Between Eternities" and also in the first chapter of Glistening Edges and Right Angles.

Basically, I'm simply curious about people's reactions to this. Science fiction, as something of an inherently experimental genre which has never failed to push the boundaries, doesn't generally shy away from sex. However, it never seems to entirely embrace it, either (unless you're talking about a Capobianco/Barton novel, in which little else takes place aside from sex and sexual politics).

So, what do you think is the place of sex in SF?

(Brief post, I know - I'll expand with my thoughts tonight once I get home from school and check out the comments.)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

SF Read of the Week/Writing Challenge

200 pages of reading for school + massive volume of submissions to Apodis anthology + 18 hours of work over the past two days + infection from wisdom teeth operation = Argh!

I had no time to look around the web this week, so no RotW.

Writing challenge (one I'm blatantly stealing from elsewhere - actually, part of a contest I once took part in): You receive a letter and all that's inside is a blade of grass. Why? Keep it under 100 words, and it doesn't have to be SF this week.

Have fun. See you Monday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friends, Family and Blogs

A couple of emails from old friends which delivered some interesting news sparked this question in me. I wonder, for those of you who have quasi-personal blogs (my definition of quasi-personal, by the way, means something like this blog - a blog where you are free to discuss your opinions on the world as well as certain aspects of your life, but one that leaves out a significant portion of your private, day-to-day life), how many of you are visited by friends and family. I know that my Dad and my brother read this blog on a semi-regular basis, but as far as I know, no one else in my family or circle of friends does.

Personally, I'd love to have more friends and family members frequent my blog. I don't share anything private here, obviously, so I don't think there would be any harm done. It would be a good way, I think, to let people know what the big things going on in my life are.

What about you? Do you like having people you know in meatspace (apparently that's what all the cool SF kids are calling it now) browsing your blog?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 3

Yet again, the blog is without BE visitors for the next two days, as I've surpassed 7500 BE hits. To make things a little easier for those with interest in experiment results, the PDF file is now accessable via the sidebar.

Again, no big change this week - though I have been pleased by the slow but steady increase in other blogs linking to me.

Fargo

I'm a Coen brothers fan and Fargo is generally regarded as their masterpiece, so I thought I'd enjoy it much more than I actually did. It's a quiet, simple film about kidnapping, parking lots and woodchippers with (as per usual in a Coen brothers movie) has a great script and great dialogue. All of the actors are perfect in their roles - especially Coen regulars Buscemi and McDormand. Macy, though, really blew me away. He received an Oscar nomination for this role, and how Cuba Gooding Jr. (for Jerry Maguire) managed to beat him out is beyond me. However, I think it might have been the very subtlety of the movie that threw me off. I plan to watch it again in the future, as I have a feeling it'll be one of those flicks that grows on me. My grade: B

Synopsis: Jerry Lundegaard is in a financial jam and, out of desperation, comes up with a plan to hire someone to kidnap his wife and demand ransom from her wealthy father, to be secretly split between Jerry and the perpetrators. Jerry, who is not the most astute of individuals, hires a couple of real losers from the frozen northern reaches of Fargo, North Dakota for the job. Then things begin to slip from bad to worse as Jerry helplessly watches on. (via Imdb)

Directors and Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski)
Stars: William H. Macy (Magnolia), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs), Frances McDormand (Almost Famous), Peter Stormare (Armageddon), Harve Presnell (Face/Off), John Carroll Lynch ("The Drew Carey Show"), Steve Park

Useless Trivia: William H. Macy begged the Coens for the role of Jerry. When they didn't get back to him, he flew to New York and told them "I'm very, very worried that you are going to screw up this movie by giving this role to somebody else. It's my role, and I'll shoot your dogs if you don't give it to me."

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall

Author M.G. Vassanji took home his second Giller Prize for this novel and ever since I read the back cover blurb (which was quite some time ago) I've wanted to read the book. Well, I finally did and I must say that my reaction was mixed.

The novel follows the life of Vikram Lall, an Indian living in Kenya. The book is at its most effective when Vassanji describes Lall's childhood during the Mau Mau emergency, when Kenyans were fighting for their independence, and less so during his adulthood, as a man of much prestige in the Kenyan government who helps corrupt officials funnel money this way and that. Lall is a complex character, both likeable and not, who rings true when the author portrays him as a child and young man, but who becomes less believable as he ages.

It was a good read, though, despite its drawbacks and if you're interested in reading about other cultures, I'd recommend it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bookner

For people who haven't heard of it yet, Bookner is a peer-review website that, instead of helping writers to get feedback on their work (which is nice, but there are a ton of other outlets for that), tries to get manuscripts into the hands of agents.

Basically, you submit your manuscript and agree to review the work of others. Reviewers assign a rating to the work, and agents are notified about the highest rated manuscripts. Sounds great, right? I think that, in theory, it's a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, there are two things that, in my opinion, are fatal flaws for this upstart.

My problems:

The reviewer doesn't actually have to read your book. On their FAQ, the response to "How do I review a manuscript?" is as follows:

This is very easy. Just pretend you are at a bookstore, either a physical one or an online retailer like Amazon. You are checking out books to try and decide whether you might want to buy them.
Amazon let you read the first few pages; you might want to do that. Or you might do the electronic equivalent of flipping through the pages, by browsing a little here and there and scanning the pages.
If you have spent a little time with the book, you should be ready to answer some simple multiple-choice questions. The questions have been designed to be easy to answer yet still indicative of your opinion - your feelings - regarding this book. You will be asked about 10 questions, all of them multiple choice.
Reviewing a book can take as little as 15 - 20 minutes. Unless, of course, you get engrossed to the extent that you end up reading the whole thing.

Now, I'm not going to be one to say you have to read an entire book to realize that it'll probably be good, or probably be bad, or anything like that. Working as an editor, you quickly realize that you don't often have to eat the whole egg to find out it's rotten. So, what's my issue? Well, it's the fact that you're expected to give an accurate review after only fifteen minutes with a book. Now, maybe these ten multiple choice questions are so mind-blowingly insightful that my fears will be allayed, but I'm doubtful. Furthermore, there's no evidence, as of yet, that the reviewer even has to look through the book at all - theoretically, they could just mark down a bunch of random answers. I'd like to know how exactly these reviews will be verified.

Issue number two - Most people out there are pretty decent, but there always seems to be a handful of jerks thrown into the equation for good measure. This is a bit of a continuation of my last point, but what's in place to stop a jerky author from handing out a bunch of crappy ratings to make their own MS look good in comparison?

Issue number three - Will literary agents actually use this system. So far, there's no evidence that they will. Bookner admits to not having contacted any agencies at this point in the game due to the fact that they haven't had enough writers sign up. Fair enough - I can accept that. Nonetheless, literary agents are already up to their ears in submissions, so why should I be inclined to believe that, regardless of whether these works have been pre-graded, they'd go searching for another place to find manuscripts?

I imagine I'll sign up, just to see what it's all about, even though I don't have a manuscript ready. In fact, I think I'll pop the creator a message to see if he can resolve any of these issues. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dream Cast

You know, it's been a while since I last started a fad that spanned the globe, so I thought it was about time to take another shot at it. So, here's my gift to all you blogger/writers: a meme wherein you detail who would play your characters in a movie and why. Have at it (and post a comment here if you do end up doing it - I'm interested in seeing the results).

For Blurred Line/Glistening Edges and Right Angles, here's who I'd cast (forgive the large number of characters and, depending on your screen resolution, the formatting):

From left to right: John Leguizamo as Rodney, badass loneboy. Leguizamo is a great actor and has played some pretty badass types in the past (see Carlito's Way). Jake Gyllenhaal as the isolated Regular. Another great actor, Gyllenhaal has both the look and the ability to portray the lonely gamer. Famke Janssen as the aimless and confused android Kat. Again, looks like Kat and has proved her acting ability in many indie flicks as well as summer blockbusters.

From left to right: Ashley Judd as Mel, harried robotics scientist at Summerstone. Judd has displayed a nice range and Mel, for a character who doesn't stick around that long, is relatively complex and something of an enigma. Jason Statham as Jeebs, badass British loneboy. I actually modeled Jeebs after Statham, so this selection was easy.




From left to right: Grace Park as Mia, badass lonegirl - girlfriend of badass loneboy Rodney. Park caught my attention on the new "Battlestar Galactica" and would fit perfectly. Naomie Harris as Nakato, protector of the free androids and black market entrepreneur. Harris was excellent in 28 Days Later and the toughness she displayed in that role would be perfect for Nakato.


From left to right: Campbell Scott as Crawford, leader of the android rights movement (and something else?). Scott can play "nice-guy" Crawford as well as whatever personality I attach to Crawford further down the line. Kirsten Dunst as Tweak, android black market entreprenuer - girlfriend of Nakato. Tweak is cute, but spurs along much of the action early on in the novel, so she's not just a one-dimensional character. Dunst would be perfect, but she'd have to dye her hair black.

Interpretations

While reading the comments on yesterday's discussion (which were very good, by the way - I love getting great comments) I was thinking about some things that I could post as a possible corollary to that discussion, and this is what came to me.

For those of you who write, what is your general response when someone reads something into your work that you never intended to be there? Personally, I find it interesting to read other perspectives on my work but sometimes can't restrain a smile.

I'll direct you to the review of Blurred Line over at Round Table Reviews. The reviewer didn't seem to like the book much but thought my use of technology was very cool. Of course, the technological side of the book is probably the area into which I put the least amount of effort. It was largely cobbled together from a collection of other books and movies and just there to hold the plot together. Yet, apparently, this is where I was most innovative.

Has anyone else ever had a review like this?

Odds and Ends

Writing Challenge Results: Heaps of cool points to both Eric and redphi5h, who decided that the guy in the picture was a film director and a playwright, respectively. Actually, the picture is of Fernando Meirelles, director of City of God and The Constant Gardener.

GERA: After a rather long break from writing this, I've been back at it. Hopefully I can nudge that progress bar up a little over the next few days.

Other writings: I'd start a post-apocalyptic short story a few weeks ago and was about 1000 words in when I realized it was dreary and pointless. I scrapped it and have changed the setting and main character. It's working better now.

Life as an editor: The anthology is coming along - I recently accepted story number two. Still have a number of submissions to get through before the end of the month, though.

Monday, September 19, 2005

On Audiobooks

I've heard a lot of talk over the past few days (from blogs and acquaintances) about the use of audiobooks and/or podcasting, so I thought I'd provide my personal take. Now, before I start on the bad, let me briefly mention the good, just so no one accuses me of having neglected the positives. During the school year, I work part time doing data entry. Basically, you're sitting in front of the computer for eight hours, so if you're a reader, you've got precious little time to do so, save for breaks. Thanks to audiobooks, though, a number of my co-workers are able to catch up on reading while at work. That's the good.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop me from hating audiobooks. Besides the fact that I find them terrible to listen to, I have a more fundamental issue to mention. Basically, it has to do with one of the basic points of literature, in general. One of the great things about literature (whether it be prose or poetry) is that its really plays with language. Literature loves irony. To my mind, one of the defining characteristics of a literary experience is that it need not be the same for everyone. Books can me different things to different people.

Anyhow, here's my point - to take a page from Marshall "The Medium is the message" McLuhan - the meaning of a text is changed depending on the medium by which it is transmitted. Think of the way you read - you visualize certain characters in a specific way, you can imagine their tone of voice during dialogue. Even when reading certain sentences, you can stress or unstress certain words, supplying meaning in the way that resonates most with you. To that end, reading is a performance that comes from yourself.

Audiobooks, on the other hand, necessarily cut you out of this process, because someone is giving you their interpretation of the text. They choose how a sentence sounds, they choose the tone of dialogue, etc, etc. This, then, is the root of my problem with audiobooks. When you listen to them, you're never getting the true text - you're missing out on the interactive experience of reading. Instead, you're stuck with getting the book as it sounds to someone else.

Your point of view? Agree? Disagree?

Brief WBA Reminder

Thought I should make another quick post about recruitment for The Writers Blog Alliance. It's like BoingBoing - but just for writers. Cool, huh?

A more detailed explanation here. Or, go ahead and register here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Weekly Writing Challenge

I've given Weekly Music the boot, since its popularity seemed to decrease each week. However, I wanted to keep the double features on the weekend, so I've decided to make the writing challenge a weekly event.

Of course, giving you sentences to finish, or pictures from which you're to write a short piece on might get repetitive. I'm going to do these things, but I'll try to mix it up every now and then.

For today, try out a character sketch. Let me know the following character's name, occupation, something distinctive about their personality and, if they were to be the star of your short story, what obstacle would they face?

And, for anyone who enters, there's the chance for ever-prestigious cool points.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

SF Read of the Week

I have to think these thoughts everyday or... something. I'm not sure what.

Sometimes I say these thoughts out loud, when things get really fragmented.

I say, "I am real."

An absolutely fantastic story this week - I encourage you all to take the time to read it. Check out Tade Thompson's "The McMahon Institute for Unquiet Minds" at Ideomancer.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Requiem for a Dream

Since watching Darren Aronofsky's brilliant indie flick Pi, this movie has been on my to-watch list. I finally did and...well, wow. I'm not the kind of person who generally has strong emotional responses to movies (only one movie has ever made me cry - and I watch a lot of depressing dramas) but this one, after it was over, left me shaking for a solid minute. Aronofsky manages to make every scene feel like the most important of the movie, but the climactic scene is so raw and powerful that, even though you'll want to look away, you won't be able to. This may just have usurped American History X as my favourite movie of all time. My grade: A+

Synopsis: Sara Goldfarb is a lonely widow who is revitalized by the prospect of appearing on television as a game show contestant, while her son Harry, his girlfriend Marion, and his friend Tyrone have devised an illicit shortcut to wealth and ease. Lulled by early successes, Sara, Harry, Marion and Tyrone convince themselves that unforeseen setbacks are only temporary. They ignore their deteriorating circumstances and focus all their energies on realizing their beautiful visions of the future. Even as the promise of fulfillment disappears to nothingness, they cling to the delusions that are slowly destroying their lives, denying reality until at last they are eye to eye with their worst nightmares. (via Yahoo)

Director: Darren Aronofsky (Pi)
Writers: Hubert Selby Jr. (Fear X) and Darren Aronofsky (Pi) based on Selby's novel
Stars: Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Jared Leto (The Thin Red Line), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), Marlon Wayans (The Ladykillers), Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore)

Useless Trivia: During the scene where Sara gives a speech about aging, the camera drifts slightly off center. Aronofsky confronted the cinematographer about it, only to discover that he'd been crying during the take. This take was eventually used in the movie.

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 2

Instead of listing results inside a messy post, I've thrown together a little PDF chart that should make things easier to follow. Have a look at it here.

On another note, we're without BE visitors for the next two days again, having surpassed the 5000 visitor mark.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rejection #3

Another rejection for "Between Eternities" today, this one from print magazine Fictitious Force. And, again, it's a semi-positive rejection, as the editor remarked that it did manage to make the first cut.

Given the number of people passing through here on a daily basis, I'd like to once again offer it up for critique. The story has gone through a number of edits, thanks largely to the good people over at OWW (if you're a science fiction or fantasy writer, be sure to join up - it's worth every penny). What that means is that I'm generally satisfied with the bulk of the story. However, one question still nags at me, and that regards the final scene of the story - do I discard it or keep it?

If you'd like to give me a hand and let me know your opinion, drop me a line and I'll email you a PDF of the story.

Edit: Forgot to warn anyone who reads - this is the kind of story that'd be R-rated. Course language, violence and implied sex lie within.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Writing and Cooking (And How to Give Feedback)

Ahh...plagiarism. Apologies in advance to melly over at All Kinds of Writing, who recently wrote a very interesting post about the feedback we love getting as writers and the stuff that's, well, not so great (be sure to read it - I feel it my duty to at least send her a few visitors so long as I'm stealing from her). Due to the fact that I was at school from 11 AM to 7 PM today (my first day back) - and that, as a result, my brain cells are all screaming bloody murder with their last breaths before dying pitiful deaths (really, they're just slumping over, it's pathetic) - I can't come up with my own original blog post, so I'm just going to riff on hers.

I hate cooking. Always did.

I have been, instead, blessed by three amazing things:
  • The Microwave (O Wondrous Invention of Inventions!)
  • The fact that I live in a major urban center with a wide selection of restaurants.
  • The fact that my girlfriend and her mother feel sorry for me and my woefully inadequate diet and, as a result, attempt to funnel impossibly large amounts of food into my mouth at all times. (As you can imagine, I go over there a lot.)

Of course, over the course of time, you're bound to have meals that just don't agree with you. From the microwave, more often than not, it's expected. So, when it spits out a slimy, frozen-in-the-middle but burnt-on-the-outsides dinner for me, I gulp it down with a smile on my face, knowing it at least passes the hunger test. I'll criticize it, of course, but I don't expect a gourmet feast, so I'm never too hard on it. Getting a meal I don't really like from my girlfriend or her mother, though, is a bit more of a delicate matter. I'd never dream of being critical because I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. If a restaurant meal doesn't succeed, though, I'm all righteous outrage and critical to the last.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, I've always been of the opinion that writers, when giving feedback, do it in a manner according to whose work it is they're critiquing. For example, the teenager who has just written his first short story and is entirely enthusiastic about it - they're a microwave. Whenever I critique a story over at Fictionpress, largely a site for teen writers, I'm relatively gentle, pointing out one or two of the more glaring errors while highlighting positive aspects. After all, no one wants to scare off a potential writer (though maybe we should - there's enough competition out there already).

The generous girlfriend and her mother - those are friends or acquaintances who are just starting out. After I mentioned (as casually as possible) that I'd published a novel to friends and acquaintances, both those I know in day-to-day life and those I know through the internet, a few who had dabbled in writing started to write in earnest. Of course, they wanted my opinion. And, while some of the stuff they came out with wasn't bad at all, I found it nearly impossible to give any negative feedback.

"Serious" writers (ie. those who have been at it for a while) are restaurants. I give these people full-on critiques. After all, if you're going to make it as a writer, you definitely need to know how to deal with criticism. For the most part, they're pretty good sports about it.

I'm curious, how do you dole out criticism to those of different skill levels?

A Note to Writers

I've been inundated with submissions for the Apodis anthology over the past couple of days. There doesn't seem to be any particular reason for the sudden increase - just a fluke, I suppose. Anyhow, I thought this would be a good time to point out some things that really bug me as an editor.
  • If you happen to be submitting to a market via email with your story file as an attachment, put your email address directly into the document. Searching back through stacks of emails to find which address goes with which story is irritating.
  • Don't send an unedited story. Just don't. Ever.
  • Typos and spelling mistakes shouldn't be shrugged off. I've stopped reading a few relatively well-written stories because they've been littered with typos. I mean, if you're submitting to a paying market, make the effort to present your story in a professional manner.
  • I don't have strict format guidelines because, as a writer, I find it a chore to convert my manuscript into whatever format a market wants (and, of course, they all manage to be different). However, that doesn't mean you can submit an entire story in one paragraph. That'll earn you instant rejection.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Weekly Music

The Trews - Den of Thieves

Who are they?: A Canadian roots rock band who quickly became one of my favourite groups after I picked up their debut album, House of Ill Fame (which I looked at last week). As much as I love that album, Den of Thieves is even better. This time around, the band collabarated with Canadian rock icon Gordie Johnson (formerly of Big Sugar) on many of their songs. If you're into this type of music, you should definitely pick up this CD - although, as far as I know, they don't yet have American distribution, so if you live in the States, you'd have to pick it up via Amazon or through MapleMusic.com (a great place for fans of Canadian music).

4 Songs: I had a difficult time picking just four songs from this album. At fifteen tracks and clocking in at 58 minutes, it's somewhat longer than the average rock CD these days, and it didn't help the about half of them are truly outstanding songs. "Cry" and "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me" are catchy rock songs that should give you an idea of what The Trews are all about ("Cry" also sports a groovy horn section that pops up at about the two minute mark). "Montebello Park", my favourite song from the album, channels indie pop without deviating too far from the band's own style. "Ishmael & Maggie" is a barroom ode to the broken-hearted that would sound right at home being played in an East Coast pub.

Next week: I've been looking solely at rock albums thus far, so next week I'll slow things down a little bit with Anna Nalick's debut CD, Wreck of the Day.

Press ZAP to play and press it again to skip songs.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

BL on Blogma

I was a little surprised today to find myself quoted on Blogma, a CNET News site that covers how the blogosphere is reacting to various news stories. I was quoted after my post about Amazon Shorts, along with three other bloggers, all of whom happen to be published writers (including my own personal blog hero, John Scalzi).

Of course, I come off quite nicely as the underinformed optimist and, basically, the least intelligent member of the group. But, hey, this has to mean I'm somewhere in the same ballpark, right?

...Right?

Oh well, just have a look at the article.

The Brothers McMullen

This romantic comedy from Edward Burns (one of my favourite actors) has its charming moments, if you happen to like "talkie" dramatic comedies. Burns' dialogue is good, but the script's plot leaves something to be desired. Poor editing and an uneven effort from the cast (save for Burns and Connie Britton, as the eldest brother's wife) bog down an otherwise enjoyable film. My grade: C+

Synopsis: Three Irish-Catholic brothers living in Long Island--a "serious" Catholic worried about his relationship with a Jewish woman, a steadfast husband having an affair, and a commitment-phobe being pressured by a girlfriend--talk over their romantic entanglements. Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. (via Yahoo)

Writer and Director: Edward Burns (She's The One)
Stars: Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan), Mike McGlone (The Bone Collector), Jack Mulcahy, Maxine Bahns (She's The One), Connie Britton ("Spin City"), Shari Albert, Jennifer Jostyn (House of 1000 Corpses), Elizabeth McKay

Useless Trivia: To finance this movie, Burns saved up the cash he made working as a "go-for" on Entertainment Tonight. His father also put up ten grand to help get the film made.

SF Read of the Week

I pry open her mouth. She resists, for some reason, but I pry her lips and teeth apart and shove the stone in, banging it against the plate of her false teeth. She stares straight ahead but makes a funny noise. I keep her mouth open and, practically sitting now, almost on the arm of the chair, grab a handful of stones and begin shoving them into her mouth. Her arms flap up, she jerks her head. "Come on," I say, "you remember, don't you?"

This story of a mother dealing with her child being sent off to war will be perfect for the literary SF crowd, or the literary crowd that doesn't much like science fiction but can deal with magical realism.

It's "Anyway" by Mary Rickert, at Scifiction.

Radio Blog Config

A commenter writes to tell me that my radio blog is covering up my posts. Argh! It doesn't seem to want to confine itself within a certain space (hence its not being on my sidebar), so I tried to put it in the most out of the way place where it wouldn't block out anything.

Anyhow, if it is blocking out any posts for people, leave a comment (and telling me your screen resolution would help, too). Thanks in advance.

Edit: I've moved it up slightly, so that it's aligned with the title bar. At least this way, even if it inches over to the right on some screens, it won't block any content.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Mars Inc.

When Mars gets a colony, it probably won't be the American flag that's flying, but a corporate logo. That's right, the corporate world has now laid claim to Mars (I knew it was coming, just not so soon). A Florida-based company has announced a project with the ultimate aim of establishing a colony on Mars. Within five years, they expect to have a 2500 sq. ft. replica of the settlement open to the public here on Earth.

Read the full article.

Katrina Photo Album

Unlike most of the rest of the blogosphere, I haven't mentioned Katrina at all. That's because, well, what can I add? I've never even had a basement flood, or been without power for more than two days. As far as the politics of Katrina go, most people have been accusing FEMA and the Bush administration of gross incompetence. Oh my, really? What a surprise! And, although I agree that the government's response to Katrina has been an unmitigated disaster, it's not my government, now is it? (Of course, the Canadian government wasn't very quick off the mark to offer support, either.)

Anyhow, I'd like to present to you an album of photos taken by a New Orleans resident took over the course of five days, covering the mood before Katrina, the day of, and the flooding after. It's eye-opening. There are nearly 200 photos (all with captions), so block out a few minutes of your schedule to look at them.

(via Scalzi's By The Way)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Three Things

1) Belated cool points
2) Quick question
3) GERA Update

First off, a heaping pile of belated cool points to Bryan Edward Hill, whose entry in Writing Challenge #1 stood out above all others. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me ponder what had been done in that alien suit.

Also, I've been wondering how many people out there have actually downloaded (or at least opened and had a look at) the PDF version of Blurred Line. If you have, leave a quick comment.

Finally, the following is probably solely of interest to those who have read Blurred Line. I've completed the first two chapters of GERA, which probably doesn't sound that impressive, but these chapters are far more fleshed out than chapters were in BL. One of the complaints about BL was its jumpiness. Since I wanted to keep the intertwined multi-POV format of BL, I've decided on longer chapters to help combat this feeling of jumpiness. Most people who read the book also noted that Rodney was their favourite character and they'll be delighted to know that GERA is fairly Rodney-centric. The number of characters whose POV is used has been drastically reduced when compared with BL, where you had the AI, Mel, Jeebs, Kat, Jordan, Rodney, Dr. Summerstone and the Regular. GERA will be from the point of view of only four characters: Rodney, Kat, Crawford and Nakato (though there will be small bits from the AI and the Regular). I'll likely post a brief excerpt in a few days, so stay tuned.

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 1

The BL Blog is without any BlogExplosion hits for the next two days, so I can try to get a read on whether my page view levels have increased or not. I mentioned that I'd do this every 2500 visitors, and this was achieved in the first week (actually, almost 3500 hits were recorded from BE over the past week).

For the moment, I'll note the other methods by which I'm measuring this blog's popularity.

Comment Volumes: Experienced a huge surge upwards this week. Pre-Experiment stats: 1.00-1.29 per day. Week 1 stats: 8.17 per day.

Google Search ("Blurred Line Blog"): No significant change. Pre-Experiment stats: 25 relevant results, 631 total. Week 1 stats: 26 relevant results, 745 total.

Google Search (links to blurredline.com/blog): Slight increase. Pre-Experiment stats: 22 relevant results, 24 total. Week 1 stats: 29 relevant results, 30 total.

Technorati Search ("Blurred Line Blog"): No real change - all the new links come from myself. Pre-Experiment stats: 5 links. Week 1 stats: 8 links.

Technorati Search (links to blurredline.com/blog): Slight increase, but artificially inflated because three of the new links come from the same site. Pre-Experiment stats: 9 links. Week 1 stats: 14 links.

Emails: No change. Pre-Experiment stats: 0. Week 1 stats: 0.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Novel Length

A commenter writes:

Are you telling me that you write a whole book in 60k words?!

I've written plenty of stuff (some science fiction) but I've always thought a full on book ought to be at least 100k...

Well, to put things rather bluntly, I think the notion that a book ought to be a certain length is...well, wrong. I realize that in SF&F there's a trend towards having longer novels, but this is no reason to assert that all books within the genre should be a certain length.

My writing style lends itself to shorter works. I tend to use short, fragmented sentences and often opt for dialogue over prose. This shortens a piece considerably. Mind you, even writers who utilize a somewhat more traditional style often turn in works far under 100k. Consider the following well-known SF novels:

Jennifer Government - Max Barry (82,063 words)
Neuromancer - William Gibson (78,797 words)
Man Plus - Fredrik Pohl (75,217 words)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick (62,076 words)
We - Yevgeny Zamyatin (56,557 words)
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow (50,019 words)

Word is that publishers are leaning towards shorter works these days, on account of people having less time to read (but then why is the Barocque Cycle doing so well?). Anyhow, I'm curious...

When you walk into a bookstore or library, does the size of the book play a role in how likely you are to pick it up? Or, if you're a writer, do you strive for a certain word count?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cool Points and Chocolate

First off, my response to the writing challenge: This is me, flabbergasted by both the number and quality of responses (note: my eyes don't look like that, that's just the bad red-eye reduction on my photo editing program). Now, time to dole out cool points...

Cool points to greywulf for bringing Larry to uncontrollable blubbering. Cool points to forty2 for referencing everybody's favourite alcoholic drink. Cool points to sideshow for social commentary. Cool points to melly for defending the honour of a classic catch phrase.

I'm away again today, to make the yearly pilgrimage to the nearby Hershey's Chocolate Factory, where, among other things, I plan to buy five pound bags of imperfect Almond Toffee Bars for a few loonies. This will be followed by much eating of chocolate and, to keep the evening topical, I believe Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is on the slate, too.

In the meantime, discuss your favourite kind of chocolate.

Croupier

The movie box promotes this film as a thriller but, if it is a thriller, it's one of the most sluggishly paced thrillers ever made. Clive Owen turned in a spectacularly subdued performance as writer/croupier Jack/Jake and really held the movie together, even when a heist subplot threatened to make the whole thing just a little bit silly. It definitely won't keep you on the edge of your seat, but a good film to check out nonetheless. My grade: B

Synopsis: The gripping story of a writer who gets more than he bargained for when he takes a job at a casino in order to gather material for a novel. As he falls deeper into his life as a dealer, he finds himself becoming the wretched character that he's been writing about. (via Yahoo)

Director: Mike Hodges (Get Carter - the original, not the crappy Stallone remake)
Writer: Paul Mayersberg (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence)
Stars: Clive Owen (Closer), Gina McKee (Wonderland), Alex Kingston (Essex Boys)

Useless Trivia: Clive Owen prepared for the role by being trained by professional croupiers.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Writing Challenge #1

I'm going to be away today, helping my girlfriend to prepare for a Labour Day BBQ, where I plan to beat a large percentage of my brain cells into submission with alcohol. In any case, I wanted to post something more interesting than an open thread. So, in keeping with this blog's target audience of SF readers and writers, I bring you the very first Blurred Line Blog Writing Challenge.

The assignment is to complete the following passage:

Unclean Larry pointed his raygun at the alien. "Go ahead, punk, make my nanosecond."
The alien raised its...


Try to keep it under fifty words. Five cool points to my favourites. Ten cool points to anyone who can make me laugh so hard my drink shoots out my nose.

Disclaimer: Cool points may or may not have any real value.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The More Things Change...

Circa September 3, 2004 in the original incarnation of The Blurred Line Blog, I remark that I hadn't done much work lately on BL2. Well, a year later, the same is true (for those of you who don't know, I trashed most of my first draft of the sequel to Blurred Line and started from scratch). Even more telling is this...

Word count on 09/03/2004: 4789
Word count on 09/04/2005: 4536

Argh! Now there's a number that makes me want to tuck myself away in front of my computer for the next week, doing nothing but writing.

Oh well, if nothing else, I can say this September 4th is better. Last year, I was suffering extreme intestinal cramps from a McChicken eaten at a rest stop McDonald's just after we'd crossed the border into the States.

Wherein I Blatantly Self-Promote

I've tried to restrain myself thus far, but it seems a shame, with all the hits I'm getting, not to wave my hands frantically and yell "Look at me! Check out my book!" at least once. So, consider yourselves warned - what follows is blatant self-promotion.

If you're a fan of cyberpunk, science fiction or thrillers feel free to check out my novel, Blurred Line. I published the book with a POD company back in November 2004 and then, after forming my own company, republished it this past June. Since I own the company, I'm able to offer up the novel completely free of charge in electronic format for everyone to read. All you have to do is click on the last link under the "Buy Blurred Line" heading on your right. The book has had some positive reviews (including one from Writer's Digest) which you can check out by heading over to www.blurredline.com and click on the "reviews" tab.

If you happen to be a science fiction writer and have an interest in publishing with a POD company, you might want to have a look at Apodis Publishing or, at the very least, check out the company's press release for more info. Also, I'm currently accepting submissions for a short story anthology (and yes, I pay) so if you're into that, you can check out the FAQ on the website.

Alright, I'm finished. Won't happen again. Promise.

Weekly Music

The Trews
Who are they?: A great Canadian rock band, and arguably the best mainstream band our country has produced in...well, ever (in my opinion, at least). Their first album, House of Ill Fame was released in 2003 and spawned four hit singles and went gold. Single number two, "Not Ready To Go" hit #1 on the CanRock radio charts and was the most played rock song in Canada in 2004. These guys play old-fashioned, straight up rock and roll - and they do it to perfection.

4 Songs: "Every Inambition" was the band's first single, and the reason I picked up the CD. Its maddeningly infectious guitar riff really sticks in your head. "When You Leave" is an upbeat rootsy song with great lyrics. "Fleeting Trust" was the fourth and final single, and delivers yet another infectious guitar riff. "Stray", the album's last song, is another great song with solid lyrics.

Next Week: The only thing that bothered me about this album was that I didn't believe they'd ever be able to come out with a decent follow up. Turns out, I needn't have worried. The band's second album, Den of Thieves, was released at the end of August and I'll be taking a look at it next week.

Press ZAP to play, and press it again to skip songs.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Romper Stomper

There's more to this movie than simply a chance to see Russell Crowe in his pre-Hollywood days. Its take on the neo-Nazi subculture is far more raw than in American History X (which happens to be my favourite movie) but when the film changes focus it loses its way. Nevertheless, Crowe's performance is excellent and this is a film that won't leave you for a while. Sadly, Daniel Pollock, who is very good as the right hand man of Crowe's character, committed suicide before the film was ever released. My grade: B-

Synopsis: A gang of neo-Nazi skinheads in Melbourne, Australia fight the Vietnamese population and each other. (via Yahoo)

Writer and Director: Geoffrey Wright (Metal Skin)
Stars: Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Daniel Pollock, Jacqueline McKenzie (Deep Blue Sea)

Useless Trivia: The lead role of Hando was intended for Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn. However, Mendelsohn did not look menacing when his head was shaved and Crowe, who desperately wanted the part, convinved the director to change his mind.

SF Read of the Week

We're in a room with windows that look into other rooms. (Why do they do that? Windows are supposed to look outside.)

There's me, sitting in a chair with arms, like the queen, and Doctor Hudd, and another doctor, and a nurse. The really big man is watching us through one of those windows. (Lucky the windows don't look outside, really, or he'd have to stand on the windowsill.) Doctor Hudd is reading out loud from a bit of paper.

Moderate learning disabilities, he says. Schizoaffective disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, epilepsy, depressive psychosis. Well, Keith, he says. Looks like you've got a pretty good bundle there.

Doctors believe that the insane can see into the future in this fantastic story from Patrick Samphire. It's the second time I've feature a Samphire story, the first being "A Field Guide to Ugly Places", which I recommend you check out in the RotW archive.

This is "Next" at Abyss & Apex.

Pick Up a Lit Mag Day

After leaving it to languish on the shelf for a week while I was recovering from my operation (I just didn't have the energy to go out looking for another market), I finally sent "Between Eternities" off again the other day, this time to a print magazine. I wonder, though, how many people actually read them. Personally, I'm a huge fan of the short story format, but I've never gone out and bought an issue of a literary magazine in my life, which seems a shame. What's more, I think that's true for most people out there, even those who are avid readers. So, if you're in the market for a read this Labour Day Weekend, why not try on a lit mag for size? If you like SF, here are a few places to start:

Friday, September 02, 2005

Pandora

Part of the Music Genome Project, Pandora is a music recommendation tool that bases its recommendations not on ratings by users, but on the tonality, rhythm, and vocal characteristics of specific songs or bands. You simply type in your favourite band name, and up pops your recommendations. I tried it for a few bands and was impressed, as it recommended a good number of groups I'd never heard of, as well as some others I knew and enjoyed. You can try it free for ten hours, but after that, it's $36 a year.

(via Futurismic)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Oryx and Crake

Finished reading this yesterday. Atwood's put together an amazing science fiction novel (that's right, I said SF, but I'm not going to go down that road again) that follows one of the last humans alive, Snowman, after an epidemic sweeps the globe. Snowman is something of a prophet to the race of people that will inherit the Earth (and were, incidentally, created by his friend, Crake). Atwood spins a tale with fantastic characters, as usual, and her ending, which she leaves open-ended, is perfect. Unsettling, witty, and unbelievably well-written. Go check this one out.

As an aside, I've decided not to start another novel at the moment, seeing how the beginning of school is just a week away. I usually do my reading during breaktime at work, so instead I've brought my notebook along with me and have used the time to work on GERA and, inspired as I was by Atwood's book, to sketch out my own post-apocalyptic short story.