Sunday, October 30, 2005

Weekly Writing Challenge

First order of business: Cool points for last week. I think both entries deserve some - our anonymous poster for turning the opening lines of Neuromancer into a zinger on FOX and greywulf for turning the same lines of the cyberpunk classic into what sounds like a pretty decent piece of space opera.

This week, in honour of Hallowe'en, your assignment is to inject holiday scariness into a place where it has no business being. Extra points for blood, guts, and gore.

(Anyone who has Barney the dinosaur devouring all the children he can find will lose marks for a lack of creativity.)

SF Read of the Week

I found it in the back of a neighbor’s garage. They were retiring and moving to Florida, and they’d put most of their stuff up for sale rather than pay to ship it south.

I was eleven years old, and I was looking for a Tarzan book, or maybe one of Clarence Mulford’s Hopalong Cassidy epics, or perhaps (if my mother was looking the other way) a forbidden Mickey Spillane novel. I found them, too–and then the real world intruded. They were 50 cents each (and a whole dollar for Kiss Me Deadly), and all I had was a nickel.

As promised, this week's installment of the RotW is the winner of the 2005 Hugo Award - "Travels With My Cats" by Mike Resnick (late, I know - but what are you gonna do). Enjoy.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Disco Transformer

In lieu of an actual post, I give you this thirty second video clip...

Disco Dancing Citroen Transformer

(It's been a long day.)

(via Scalzi's By The Way)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

NaNo Countdown

With only four more days to go before NaNoWriMo kicks off, I'm torn over how I should go about preparing. On the one hand, there's the urge to come up with a bunch of scenes and work out an outline so that I can keep my speed up and really make a pass at the 50,000 mark. On the other, though, I'm tempted to just leave it as is and see where it takes me. Anyhow, I thought I'd lay out what I have and hope that, when I've written it all down, it looks like enough.

Here's what I have:

Characters - The main character is pretty clear in my mind. Why? Well, because he's a terribly pathetic version of myself with all of my worst traits emphasized. It'll be the perfect read for anyone who's interested in my dark side. Anyway, after that, I've got some ideas about his two friends/co-workers. At this point, though, they're not really characters - just sketches characterized by one or two defining qualities. Finally, I have a pair of romantic interests to deal with. One is a very idealized character, and she's something of an enigma to me. The other one, ironically, is entirely enigmatic but I know exactly where I'm going with her.

Plot - If you're looking at plot in the most basic of terms, I have most of it down. I have a beginning, I have an incident that kicks things off, I have a middle and I have some vague ideas that come after a middle. An ending eludes me.

Scenes - I have a few specific scenes in mind, including the first, where my MC along with his two co-workers are having a meeting (they work at a "Woman Gives Birth to Alien Baby" type tabloid). I've also sketched out a few other scenes that will be placed near the beginning of the novel - mentoring in a bar, watching a high school play (where Mr. MC thinks obsessively about hitting a thick-necked kid with a golf club, just for kicks), surfing eBay and working on a novel. Beyond that, I only have a few ideas for scenes throughout the rest of the novel.

Looking on it now, actually, I think this might be enough planning to get me through.

Sleepers

Most of the time, when I see a very good movie, I'm content. After all, Hollywood isn't exactly pumping them out these days. Every so often, though, a very good movie comes along that has all the ingredients to be a great one but just can't put all the parts together. This is one of those flicks. It has a compelling story, a well-written script and a cast (De Niro, Hoffman, Bacon, Pitt, I could go on) that one can only dream about. Somehow, though, it ends up as less than the sum of its parts. That's not to say it's a bad movie - on the contrary, it's a gripping and entertaining film, but it leaves you with the feeling that it could've been more. None of the cast members are really awe-inspiring, but all are solid (De Niro's is the best performance) , and special mention should be given to the actors who play the young versions of the four central characters - they hold their own with the big name talent. My grade: A-

Synopsis: After a prank goes disastrously wrong, a group of boys are sent to a detention center where they are brutalized; years later, they get their chance for revenge. (via Imdb)

Director: Barry Levinson (Rain Man)
Writer: Barry Levinson (Liberty Heights) based on the book by Lorenzo Carcaterra
Stars: Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13), Robert De Niro (Goodfellas), Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate), Jason Patric (Narc), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting), Brad Pitt (Fight Club), Billy Crudup (Almost Famous), Ron Eldard (Black Hawk Down), Brad Renfro (Ghost World), Joseph Perrino (The Mighty), Jonathan Tucker (The Virgin Suicides), Geoffrey Wigdor (Levity), Frank Medrano (Suicide Kings), Vittorio Gassman

Useless Trivia: Thanks to the logistics of the shoot, Bacon never even met co-stars De Niro and Hoffman.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On Writing What You Enjoy

Now that NaNoWriMo is less than a week away, one of the municipal liasons for Ottawa has started doing a 7 Days of Plot exercise on the message boards, taken from NaNo creator Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem. The first of Baty's suggestions she mentions is the fact that you should write the kind of story you would enjoy reading.

My response? Well, duh. Thanks for the insight, Chris.

However, I was thinking about it further yesterday and realized that it's such an obvious thing that many writers are apt to forget about it. Case in point: Blurred Line was written at a relatively pedestrian pace, until I introduced Rodney. The chapters that featured him, because he was a character I could really get into and because the diction in those chapters was something that I was altogether more comfortable with, ended up being written in a flash (comparatively, at least).

The thing about that novel, in general, was that I was absolutely determined to write something "good". Of course, the overall plot was similar to many of the books I enjoyed reading, but as for many of the individual scenes, they simply were not written in the style I would have most enjoyed reading. Except for the Rodney scenes. And, not surprisingly, almost everyone who has read the book has remarked that the chapters which feature him are, by far, the best in the book.

So, although Baty's suggestion seems an obvious one, I'd recommend to everybody that you inspect your writing and really make sure it's the kind of thing you'd love to read. After all, if you don't love your work, who will?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Time Top 100 Novels Since 1923

About a week ago, Time released its list of the best one hundred novels of the last eighty two years. Personally, I thought it was an excellent list, as the critics were wise enough to expand their horizons and include stuff like Neuromancer, Snow Crash and a PKD novel on the list. The bloggy thing to do, of course, is to list the novels and bold the ones I've read, so who am I to flout the customs of the blogosphere? Actually, I'm embarassed by the number of books on the list I've not read, so if I haven't read the specific book, but have at least read something else by the same author, I'll bold the author's name.

The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
All The King's Men - Robert Penn Warren
American Pastoral - Philip Roth
An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
The Assistant - Bernard Malamud
At Swim-Two-Birds - Flann O'Brien
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Berlin Stories - Christopher Isherwood
The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder
Call It Sleep - Henry Roth
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Catcher In the Rye - J.D. Salinger
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
The Confessions of Nat Turner - William Styron
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon
A Dance to the Music of Time - Anthony Powell
The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West
Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
A Death in the Family - James Agee
The Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen
Deliverance - James Dickey
Dog Soldiers - Robert Stone
Falconer - John Cheever
The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles
The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Go Tell it on the Mountain - James Baldwin
Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
The Heart of the Matter - Graeme Greene
Herzog - Saul Bellow
Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson
A House for Mr. Biswas - V.S. Naipaul
I, Claudius - Robert Graves
Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Light in August - William Faulkner
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
Loving - Henry Green
Lucky Jim - Kingsley Amis
The Man Who Loved Children - Christina Stead
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Money - Martin Amis
The Moviegoer - Walker Percy
Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
Naked Lunch - William Burroughs
Native Son - Richard Wright
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
1984 - George Orwell
On The Road - Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
The Painted Bird - Jerzy Kosinski
Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov
A Passage to India - E.M. Forster
Play It As It Lays - Joan Didion
Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
Possession - A.S. Byatt
The Power and the Glory - Graeme Greene
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
Rabbit, Run - John Updike
Ragtime - E.L. Doctorow
The Recognitions - William Gaddis
Red Harvest - Dashiell Hammett
Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
The Sot-Weed Factor - John Barth
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
The Sportswriter - Richard Ford
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - John Le Carre
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
Ubik - Philip K. Dick
Under The Net - Iris Murdoch
Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry
Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
White Noise - Don DeLillo
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Better Late Than Never

"Between Eternities" is now online at Speculative.ca, so be sure to head on over and check it out. It's two days later than expected, but I can't really complain. I'm too busy salivating over all the Subway sandwiches that $60 is going to buy.

In the meantime, I've been working on a midterm for my Elizabethan and Metaphysical Poetry class. It's pretty dry and I'm not having much success, but this is something that can't really afford to be late. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be handed in until 5:30 tomorrow, so my plan is to come home after my morning class and polish it off in the two hours I'll have before I need to catch the bus back to school again. I know, I know - I shouldn't cut it so close. For whatever reason, though, I just can't get motivated to work on a paper unless there's a gun pointed at my head. I'm sure it'll be my undoing one day.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Beginnings are important. As everyone knows, you have to hook your reader early on in order to keep them interested. So, here's the task for the week - I'll select a number of my favourite novel beginnings and post the first sentence or two. You pick one and expand it into a paragraph. If you can hook me, you get cool points. If you can hook me more effectively than the actual author did, well, I'll have to trade in all of my worldly possessions so that I have enough cool points to give you. Have fun.

1. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

2. Horselover Fat's nervous breakdown began the day he got the phonecall from Gloria asking if he had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself.

3. Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his hair.

4. I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.

5. All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

SF Read of the Week

"I’m just a realistic man," I said. "When I was a kid, I wanted so badly to believe A Princess of Mars was true that I used to stand in my backyard every night and reach my hands out to Mars, just the way you did. I kept waiting to get whisked away from the mundane life I’d been living and transported to Barsoom." I paused. "It never happened. All I got from all that reaching was sore shoulders and a lot of teasing from friends who didn’t read books."

Another 2005 Hugo nominee for you this week. Mike Resnick, of course, has won pretty much every science fiction award known to man. While this story didn't take home the award, another of his managed the feat. I figure I'll finish off the month with that one, though.

For the moment, check out Resnick's "A Princess of Earth" at Asimov's.

Michael Bay, Eat Your Heart Out

Prey Alone is an over the top action flick that would make Michael Bay green with envy. It never lets up, probably because, at fifteen minutes, it doesn't have time to. Oh, and I should also mention that the entire movie, save for the actors and a few stage props, was filmed in front of a green screen and had computer generated effects inserted.

And it's amazing. To think an independant team of filmmakers on a budget of 80,000 Euros could create something this professional together is, well, you've got to see it for yourself.

Download it here. (And be sure to get the high res version)

(via Greywulf's Lair)

Friday, October 21, 2005

Glimpse

A memory:

Crossing a vast suburban desert. A five-year old Rodney walks only on the yellow lines. If he doesn’t, quicksand will swallow him up, unless he runs very quickly. So, when he runs out of yellow, he speeds across asphalt to the next series of intersecting lines. His mother looks on indulgently. He does not know to savour these moments. In two months’ time, his mother will be dead, stabbed during an argument with the landlord.

At the far end of the parking lot, where the yellow lines and black quicksand emerge from the grass, an old woman sits at a makeshift flower stand. It is made out of thin slices of lumber and an assortment of cardboard boxes. Rodney wanders over, quicksand forgotten. He recognizes roses, tulips and daisies, but can’t put a name to the others.

The woman smiles, hopeful. “Would you like one?”

Rodney looks for his mother, who has remained in the empty spaces of the parking lot. She is talking to a man Rodney hasn’t seen before. Objects are passed from one to the other, their motions like sand, soft and fluid. Rodney concentrates on the petals of a light purple flower that’s red in the middle. Touches them. Looks worriedly towards the credit slot that sits atop the stand, making the cardboard boxes beneath it a glaring anachronism.

The woman follows his gaze across the stand. “No matter,” she says. “It’ll be our secret.”

The Interpreter

From the previews, I was of the assumption that this film would be a somewhat above-average thriller (thanks to its actors and director). However, I was still impressed at its quality when I watched it. The film is definitely one of the more intelligent thrillers I've seen and many of the scenes are well-acted and well-written enough to have appeared in a drama. The "thrilling" sequences do not come often, as director Pollack seems to have gone for a gradual uncovering of the truth. When he does want to ratchet up the tension, though, it's done expertly. My grade: B+

Synopsis: Political intrigue and deception unfold inside the United Nations, where a US Secret Service agent is assigned to investigate an interpreter who overhears an assassination plot. (via Imdb)

Director: Syndey Pollack (Three Days of the Condor)
Writers: Charles Randolph (The Life of David Gale), Scott Frank (Minority Report), Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List)
Stars: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge), Sean Penn (Mystic River), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Earl Cameron (Thunderball), Jesper Christensen (Uprising), George Harris (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Maz Jobrani (Friday After Next), Byron Utley

Useless Trivia: The film began shooting without a complete script and the writers had to put things together as production was taking place. Both Kidman and Penn signed on to appear in the movie before a script was in place.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 7

Yet another week of record setting uneventfulness here. The blog did, however, surpass 15,000 BE visitors, so once again we're on pause at BE to measure hits.

Personally, I'm under the assumption that this blog has essentially done all it can do with regards to Blog Explosion. In fact, I imagine people are getting sick of seeing it over and over when surfing. Don't worry guys, just 10,000 more hits to go.

A Handful of Dust

Another book assigned for my Modern British Literature class, Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust turned out to be something of a mystery to me. Most of the book is about the relationship between Tony and Brenda Last, a married couple in their early thirties who live in the British countryside (I'll estimate the setting to be the late 1920's or early 30's). Tony's obsessed with the upkeep of his ugly house and Brenda's terribly bored, so she takes a lover in London - a somewhat shallow man by the name of John Beaver, who doesn't have much regard with Brenda save for the fact that she makes him popular. This section, which takes up the bulk of the novel, is generally enjoyable - its mockery of the British upper class is skillfully done and the three principle characters are fully realized. When Tony and Brenda split, though, Tony embarks a journey of exploration to South America where he comes to such an end that it becomes difficult to believe that you're really reading the same book. I have absolutely no idea what to make of it, so hopefully when we get to studying it in class some light will be shed on things for me. You might want to give it a shot, though - after all, one of the quotes on the back cover describes it as one of the best novels of the twentieth century.

Dig!

When I first heard about the existence of a documentary profiling The Dandy Warhols, I was excited. The Dandies have been one of my favourite bands for a number of years now, so the film was obviously something I was interested in. However, although the movie is narrated by Dandies frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, it is mostly about "musical genius" Anton Newcombe and his failed band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Ordinarily, this would have disappointed me, but Newcombe's personality is so interesting and extreme that it has no trouble carrying the film at all. Definitely recommended for those that are into their music (and even more so if you're into either of these bands). My grade: B+

Synopsis: A documentary on the once-promising American rock bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, and the friendship/rivalry between their respective founders, Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor. (via Imdb)

Director: Ondi Timoner

Useless Trivia: Shot over the space of seven years, Timoner compiled 1500 hours of footage for this movie.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Turning Over a New Leaf

Thanks to some recent events in my personal life, I was thinking about the process of turning over a new leaf. It's difficult, sometimes, and always full of uncertainty, but what's the connection with writing, you ask? Well, it also had me thinking about my project of NaNoWriMo, which will be my first big foray outside of science fiction. I wonder, having written exclusively in one genre for a relatively long time, how easy is it for someone to suddenly change genres and take a shot at something else?

I find that most of the writers I talk to have relatively varied reading interests but, if they're genre fiction writers, for example, then that's all that they tend to write. Furthermore, if they happen to be writers of a specific subgenere, they generally stick to that in their writings. I'm not out to say that this is a bad thing, of course. If, based on people's reading tastes, we can assume that it's not an out-and-out contempt or dislike (or even indifference, for that matter) for other genres, what is it that keeps us writing one genre. Is it a subconscious thing? A level of comfort and familiarity?

I think that, perhaps, it is because we equate writing a certain genre with writing itself. For example, when I first started writing back at the end of middle school and beginning of high school, I was writing science fiction. At the time, there were two clearly defined areas of writing to my mind - 1) School writing such as essays, reading responses, and creative work that usually consisted of poems and some highly regimented form of the short story and 2) Pleasure writing, where I could do what I wanted however I wanted to do it. For me, this meant SF. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that SF has been closely equated with creativity for me. In fact, one of the reasons I didn't make an attempt at literary fiction earlier is because I thought it would hinder my creativity. After all, our world sets certain limits on the realm of possibility. I no longer agree with that idea and, as a result, made my decision to go with a LitFic story for next month's event.

Any other opinions? Or perhaps some outright disagreement?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Brief Update

First order of business - a big pile of cool points for greywulf and Orikinla. Both of the entries in this week's challenge were very nice.

Secondly, regarding the business over at Speculative.ca, "Between Eternities" will be featured on the page from October 21st to October 27th. From October 28th to November 3rd, I'll be the site's "Guest of Honour" and will be involved with some Q&A with the site's visitors. So, be sure to pop in during that time. I'll also note that the story which will follow mine is called "Twice a God", by the very talented David McGillveray who was featured on Byzarium one month before I was. Coincidence? I think not. Anyhow, I also encourage you to check out his story, which will be on the site from November 11th to the 17th and his "Guest of Honour" session, which will be from the 18th to the 24th.

With any luck, I'll be back with a substantial post tomorrow. Bear with me for the moment.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Weekly Writing Challenge

Your assignment this week, should you choose to accept it: The opening scene of your story is set in the place depicted below. Present your main character and show why they happen to be in this place. (No length restrictions this week - but if it's long, send it to me in an email and I'll post any really good ones when I deliver the results.)

Ray

If you pay any attention to movies at all, chances are you heard about the rave reviews Jamie Foxx was getting for his portrayal of Ray Charles. Those reviews are spot on - Foxx is perfect. The supporting cast, too, is quite good. And, obviously, the film's music is terrific. The movie itself, though, didn't quite measure up to the acting performances or the music. There were times when it went above and beyond your standard biopic, but others when it felt like I was watching something I'd already seen. Also, when the movie has run its two and a half hour course, things still feel strangely unfinished. Certainly, though, it's worth watching for the tremendous performances and great soundtrack. My grade: B+

Synopsis: Soul singer Ray Charles' life transpires on-screen, from his humble beginnings in Georgia, where he went blind at the age of seven, to his pre-fame life touring the South, and on to his career as one of the most enduring, inimitable performers in modern music. (via Imdb)

Director: Taylor Hackford (The Devil's Advocate)
Writers: James L. White and Taylor Hackford
Stars: Jamie Foxx (Collateral), Kerry Washington (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Regina King (Miss Congeniality 2), Clifton Powell (Dead Presidents), Bokeem Woodbine (The Big Hit), Harry J. Lennix (The Matrix Reloaded), Sharon Warren, Aunjanue Ellis (Men of Honor), David Krumholtz (10 Things I Hate About You), Curtis Armstrong (Risky Business)

Useless Trivia: Director Taylor Hackford secured the rights to Ray Charles's life story in 1987 but couldn't find a studio to finance the film. When the film did go into production, it was shot without studio backing. Once it was completed, Universal stepped in to distribute partly because one of the studio's executives was a big fan, who used to hitchhike to Hollywood to watch Ray Charles concerts.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

SF Read of the Week

Aunty Em's man was not doing well at all. He had been droopy and gray ever since the neighbor Mr. Kimura had died, shuffling around the house in nothing but socks and bathrobe. He had even lost interest in the model train layout that he and the neighbor were building in the garage. Sometimes he stayed in bed until eleven in the morning and had ancient Twinkies for lunch.

Another 2005 Hugo short story nominee for you this week, this one from reknowned SF writer James Patrick Kelly. It's "The Best Christmas Ever" at SciFiction.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Published!

I received an email yesterday informing me that "Between Eternities" had been accepted for publication over at Speculative.ca. If you haven't heard of the site, there's probably good reason - they're just making their first foray into the land of fiction, although there's a number of essays posted on the site as well as some blog post-esque thoughts on writing.

I've been told to expect to see the story featured on the site for a week later this month, and I may also be participating in an interview/Q&A session. I'm not sure how that's going to work, but I'll let everyone know the details when I find out.

And, last but not least, payment is a cool $60 CDN, making it a relatively well-paying market (not professional, but certainly respectable). So, be sure to cruise on over to their site and give it a once-over.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 6

The results sheet has been updated in the sidebar, reflecting the slowest week thus far in the experiment. I should also note that we've reached the halfway mark, as the site surpassed 12,500 Blog Explosion visitors a few days ago. Here's hoping that next week things will be a little more active.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Can Writing Be Learned?

In the writers' communities that I've been a part of, this is one question that seems to pop up from time to time. Most people, I think, are starting to come around to the idea that you can learn to write as opposed to needing some inborn talent. That said, I think that those without that special innate talent are forever doomed to be "lesser" writers. But, hey, that didn't stop Tom Clancy from getting onto the bestseller lists, now did it?

Personally, I'm of the opinion that writing can indeed be learned. However, I'm not sure whether one can truly learn to write well in a classroom setting. In high school, I took a class called Writer's Craft and, during the course of the semester, turned out work that was far worse then what I'd been writing at home. Looking back on it now, I'm not sure I even managed to improve much from the experience. In my opinion, there are three aspects to pay attention to when learning how to write.

The first, and most important, is to realize that writing is something that's learned by doing. Every new story, even every new character is important to the development of a budding writer, because it forces them to try different things. This is why it's probably not a great idea for first time writers to plan long epics, or stories with sequel after sequel - because it doesn't ask the writer to do anything new, and results in stagnation. Of course, when I was starting out, the first thing I wrote was a novel intended to have many sequels, followed by a novelette that did, end up, having many sequels. To this day, it's a path I regret choosing. Those two projects lasted over two years and, when I look back, there's not much improvement to be seen.

Of course, this isn't to say that if you churn out hundreds of short stories you're well on your way to being a great writer. You've also got to read. A lot. And not just your favourite series, or what's assigned in school, or the latest bestseller, but everything you can get your hands on. Novels, short stories, poetry, drama - it all contributes to developing a sense of what makes great literature. And, if you can get a handle on that, you have a pretty sizeable advantage over the rest of the crowd.

Finally (and some people may argue this point) I think that interaction is absolutely crucial to a writer's development. You have to get acquainted, in some form or another, with other writers. Your opinions are good, of course, but let's face it - a writer's success is based entirely on the opinion of others. Interaction with other writers helps to gather more views on the craft of writing itself and also teaches valuable lessons about critiquing, finding markets, doing research, etc., etc.

Do these three things for long enough (I think it was Bradbury who said that a writer needed to have written one million words before they could truly be considered a writer) and you'll probably start to have some successes.

Of course, this isn't to say that learning how to write in a classroom is useless, I just have no real experience there. In fact, one of my life goals to accomplish before the age of thirty is to attend the Clarion writers workshop. If you haven't heard of it, Clarion (there are three workshops, one in Seattle, one at the university of Michigan and one in Australia) is an intense six-week long "bootcamp" for SF&F writers. Workshops are given by top writers in the field (the 2005 lineup at Clarion East consisted of Hugo winner Joan Vinge, World Fantasy and Tiptree winner Gwyneth Jones, Nebula and Hugo nominee Charles Coleman Finlay, Campbell and Locus winner Cory Doctorow, Nebula winner Walter Jon Williams, Nebula winner Leslie What and Asimov's editor Sheila Williams) and attendees learn tips and tricks, write short stories and have them evaluated by both those teaching and their fellow students. Man, I would kill to go to that.

But, I digress. Maybe someone else has had a better experience in a classroom setting?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On Shakespeare

The other day, I read a seemingly innocent post on the NaNoWriMo forums about what Shakespearean play people's work most resembled. I mentioned that mine would be a little like Othello, if Othello and Iago were the same character and Desdemona was imaginary. And, the more I thought about things, the more I realized that I could make a pretty interesting story if I played up these elements.

I've always found Shakespeare somewhat interesting (which you'll know if you've read King Lear and Blurred Line). That said, it wasn't really until last year, when I took two university courses devoted entirely to Shakespeare, that I became a real fan of his work. Actually, I can pinpoint the moment. In one class, we'd been reading Titus Andronicus and during a discussion I had to explain to another student why I thought the play was, by far, his worst. This, of course, involved highlighting everything he managed to get right about human nature (among other things) in his other plays.

Of course, everything there is to say about Shakespeare has already been said, so I don't plan to write an essay in this post. Instead, let me make one recommendation to all of the would-be writers out there - read your Shakespeare. The man certainly knew a thing or two.

Personally, I recommend Othello, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Two Books

Crome Yellow - Aldous Huxley

This book is one of the two assigned for my Modern British Literature class and I read it in bits and pieces over the past week. The plot follows a group of upper-class British intellectuals who stay at the home, the titular Crome Yellow, of Henry Wimbush. Primarily, the reader follows Denis Stone, a young twentysomething poet who happens to be desperately in love with Wimbush's niece, but is too shy to do much about it. Huxley, at this point in his career, was a pointed satirist, and that's pretty much what you're getting here. The book pokes fun at the intellectuals throughout and the humour holds up surprisingly well. However, the most interesting part of the book comes from the dialogue of a character called Mr. Scogan, who details his plans for a "Rational State". Huxley, of course, would pen Brave New World eleven years later and it's quite interesting to see many of the ideas taking shape in this book. The book is a pretty quick read (the cheap Dover edition clocks in at 174 pages) so if this kind of genre happens to be your thing, it might be a good weekend read.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

Haddon's novel has been one of those "buzz" books over the past few months that I seem to see everyone reading. So, when I saw it at the bookstore for 30% off, I decided I'd give it a try. This book follows autistic teenager Christopher Boone, who finds his neighbour's dog murdered and sets out on a quest to find the culprit. Notable for the fact that it's written in first person from the point of view of an autistic individual, Haddon does a fantastic job of communicating what life is like for the autistic (the author bio notes that he spent a number of years working with autistic children). Christopher is an extremely enjoyable character and the book makes for an entertaining read. Another good book for a weekend, I managed to polish this one off in about two hours. Recommended.

Europa Europa

You're unlikely to find a movie based on a true story that's as fascinating as this one. Nominated for an Oscar, this German film is easy to get caught up in. However, for me, there seemed to be something lacking - as strong as this film was, I thought that given its source material it could've been even better. Marco Hofschneider is fantastic in the lead role. Fans of the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset movies will recognize a young Julie Delpy (then just twenty years old) who delivers a nice, but brief, performance as the lead's Jew-hating girlfriend. My grade: B+

Plot Synopsis: A Jewish boy separated from his family in the early days of WWII poses as a German orphan and is taken into the heart of the Nazi world as a 'war hero' and eventually becomes part of the Hitler Youth. Although improbabilities and happenstance are cornerstones of the film, it is based upon a true story. (via Imdb)

Director: Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden)
Writers: Agnieska Holland (Trois couleurs: Bleu) and Paul Hengge, based on the book by Solomon Perel
Stars: Marco Hofschneider (Immortal Beloved), Julie Delpy (Before Sunset), Rene Hofschneider, Delphine Forest, Erich Schwarz, Andrzej Mastalerz, Hanns Zischler (The Cement Garden)

Useless Trivia: The lead role of Solomon was intended for Rene Hofschneider. By the time production began, however, Rene was too old for the role and it was given to his brother, Marco. Rene ended up playing Solomon's older brother.

Welcome Home

I had a nice welcome as I returned home from a weekend away this morning. A convoy of firetrucks were parked in front of my apartment building, lights flashing, and all the residents were milling about on the lawn. After about ten minutes, the firemen emerged, looking relatively casual, and we were ushered into the building. I still have absolutely no clue as to what the problem was - maybe a gas leak or an overheated turkey.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Thanksgiving Weekend Roundup

It's Thanksgiving weekend up here in Canada. For those Americans wondering why we do it in October - I'm not too sure, but I imagine that if we waited another month to celebrate the harvest season, we'd be dealing with snow and frost, which doesn't quite seem to be in keeping with the celebration. Anyhow, this means that, like all good university students, I'll be off to traverse the province in order to exploit family for large meals. The downside, of course, is that I probably won't have a chance to blog again until I return on Monday. In the meantime, I figure I ought to post about RotW and the Writing Challenge before I leave.

SF Read of the Week

I didn't have much time to read this week (it was something of a hectic week for deadlines for the anthology submissions), and an idea dawned on me. Since, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I'm planning to spend the rest of October getting a little bit ahead on my schoolwork, I'll be sacrificing the time I usually devote to reading stories on the web. However, for the rest of the month, I'll be presenting you with the 2005 Hugo nominees for best short story.

Rathburn–perhaps he couldn’t use his name in speech, but no one could keep him from thinking it–opened his mouth to protest. He had money–lots of money. But, no, no, he’d signed all that away. His biometrics were meaningless; his retinal scans were no longer registered. Even if he could get out of this velvet prison and access one, no ATM in the world would dispense cash to him. Oh, there were plenty of stocks and bonds in his name . . . but it wasn’t his name anymore.

Today, I present "Shed Skin" by Robert J. Sawyer, who is without a doubt the most decorated Canadian SF writer in the history of the genre (I mean, the guy is winner or runner-up for the Aurora award pretty much every year). This story was published in Analog in January 2004 and is now available online for your reading pleasure.

Writing Challenge

Seeing as how I've got a quasi-Canadian theme going on here, let me continue. An alien spacecraft lands in Canada (whether it be a city, the wilderness, or wherever is up to you). A little green man emerges and says, "Take me to your leader".

Extra cool points for humour. Even more extra cool points if I decide you "get" Canada. And even more cool points if you spell a word like humour with a u.

Have a good weekend everyone. See you Monday.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Waiting is the Hardest Part

Three and a half weeks away from the start of November, NaNoWriMo has already brought me a first. I sit here, desperately wanting to get to work on writing, but unable to - not because of a lack of ideas or concentration, but because it's against the rules. You're to start a new project for the event and can't write down anything that'll be inserted verbatim into your novel come November. So, instead, I've been jotting down obscure notes like 'freeze-frame meeting' and 'barstool tutoring - Ancient Android' in my notebook, in the hopes that I'll remember what the hell it was I'd thought of writing.

Personally, this is a situation I've never been in before. I tend to be one of those people who stare at the computer screen (or blank page) dumbly for extended periods of time, occasionally marking down a sentence or two, before hitting on an idea that sends me on a flurry of writing. After that idea is exhausting, I'm back to staring. So, on the one hand, I have high hopes for the early parts of November, since I'm already full up of ideas on how I want specific scenes to feel or how I want them to progress. In the meantime, though, I'm going crazy not being able to write.

If you've done NaNo before, how do you deal with this? Aside from, say, heavily dosing yourself with sedatives throughout the month of October.

Plans for today involve throwing myself headlong into GERA for a couple of hours and then watching a movie about a Jewish kid in the Hitler Youth. That should keep me suitably distracted.

Blog Exchange Experiment: Week 5

The updated results are now up in the sidebar. Nothing really interesting to report this week, except that, for the first time, I didn't get 2500 BE visitors. That means, of course, that there won't be a blog pause until next week.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Musical Inspiration

I made a post over at the NaNoWriMo forums about writing novels or stories based on music. The response to the post seems to indicate that this is a common phenomenon. In fact, a few people are going so far as to write stories where each chapter is based around a different song by a specific group.

In my own personal experience, music has inspired me not just in a general sort of way, but to the point of giving me ideas for plot points. For example, Split Second, an unfinished novel that eventually became the premise upon which Blurred Line is based, was inspired partly by a trio of Matthew Good songs, "Advertising on Police Cars", "The Workers Sing a Song of Mass Production" and "Sort of a Protest Song". In fact, if you look hard enough, you can even find a direct reference in BL to the first song, when it's mentioned that police wear the badges of their corporate sponsors on their uniforms.

For my NaNo project, which as I mentioned earlier was partly inspired by three songs by The New Pornographers, I've gone even further. The book is (tentatively) titled Mass Romantic, after both the album and the CD's first song. My main character is going to be a writer for one of those "Woman Gives Birth to Alien Bat Baby" type tabloids, thanks largely to song #2, "The Fake Headlines". A song called "The Body Says No" was influential in some fleshing out of the plot and a couple of other songs from the album helped with minor points as well.

Throw in the fact that I've had a short story inspired by yet another Matt Good song, it's pretty clear (that in addition to the fact that I should be taking a trip to Vancouver to kiss the ground these musicians walk on) that I'm influenced by music.

Anyone else?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Writing Prompts

This is something of a continuation of Friday's post on inspiration, as writing prompts have long been used to combat a lack thereof. Lately, I've been seeing quite a lot of writing prompts around and I have to wonder - are they good for anything more than a quick exercise?

In my opinion, they work for the same reason that I sometimes blog when I'm in the midst of a bout of writer's block - they kickstart your synapses, get your hands moving on the keyboard and, for a little while, get your mind off of your project, which sometimes is all you need. Quite often, however, when I see a writing prompt, it's couched in the context of something along the lines of "Need an idea for your next story? Here are some prompts". For me, it just doesn't work that way.

What do you make of them?

Odds and Ends

Writing Challenge: A big pile of cool points to Eric and Millo for their very nice entries on this week's writing challenge. And one big sympathy cool point to atomic bombshell.

NaNo: Looks like their servers are up again, so if you're interested, you're now able to sign up.

GERA: You may have noticed the word count stuck at 6k for quite some time now, but, believe it or not, I've actually been doing a fair amount of work on it. The only reason I haven't updated is because most of that work is scribbled into a notebook and hasn't yet been typed up. Hopefully, when I do get it all typed up, I'll be pushing that 10k mark again.

Nerdly Salivations: Let me state my position about video games; I think they're cool, but rarely do I go out and by one. To put it frankly, most games just don't get me very excited. But when one does, I become obsessed with it. Currently, I'm in the throes of obsession for a game called The Movies which isn't even due out until early November. Being a film buff, the premise that you can run your own movie studio holds immense appeal to me. But here's the kicker - you can make the movies. No joke. There are upwards of 7000 sets to shoot on, customizable actors and actresses, and...well, I can't do the range of options justice in a short post. You'll have to check out the site to see it for yourself.

Monday, October 03, 2005

NaNoWriMo 2005

After briefly mulling over the idea to participate in NaNoWriMo the past two years, I've finally decided to take on the challenge and participate this year. I'm not entirely confident of my ability to finish, but I'll give it a shot. Basically, the deciding factor for me this time was the fact that, unlike the last two years, I actually have a solid idea for a novel.

For the uninitiated, let me explain exactly what NaNoWriMo is. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. The goal is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the space of thirty days. Last year, if I remember correctly, there were 42,000 participants with around 6000 of them managing to finish. The theory is that encouragement from a pretty tightly-knit NaNoWriMo community along with an actual deadline helps to spur people on.

It'll be a mammoth undertaking for me, as I'm a very slow writer - somewhere in the neighbourhood of two or three hundred words an hour. At that rate, I'd have to write for at least five and a half hours a day to reach the 50,000 word target. Obviously that's not going to happen, so I'll have to make a concerted effort to spend less time editing as I write.

So, who's with me? I know Yzabel over at the Y Logs is up for it and she's posted a list of her resolutions for this year's event.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Writing Challenge

As I've spent most of the day so far fighting off a hangover, I'd like to be comforted by stories of fictional people having a harder time of it than me. So, this week's writing challenge; your character wakes up after a night of hard drinking. Give me a survey of the scene and have them come to some sort of horribly shocking realization.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

SF Read(s) of the Week

Something had reached through her memories, sending tendrils of thought from deep in her past to her present. As if another mind had tried to force itself into hers. It had woven its own pattern, created its own connections.

Was this what my mind had looked like with Paolo Tikaram's Weave installed? I wondered. I remembered Weaving the model of his entire mind from fragments of his Edits and records of his life. I remembered almost losing myself to it.

I've only read the first of two parts, but even so this is by far the most intriguing read I've come across this week. It's Jason Stoddard's "Exception" at Strange Horizons.

Part 1 here, part 2 here.