Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing After Retirement

Got my copy of Writing After Retirement: Tips by Successful Retired Writers [edited by Christine Redman-Waldeyer and Carole Smallwood. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press (Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)] with my chapter, "Estate Planning for Authors" in the mail yesterday. My suggestions are pretty basic, and come with the disclaimer that I am no lawyer, but hopefully get people thinking about how they want their literary legacy handled after they're gone....

The other 26 chapters in the collection are filled with tips on how to write by successful authors from across a variety of genres and communities. Together, they provide a pretty realistic portrayal of the challenges / obstacles aspiring writers face. This collection is aimed at writers starting after retirement, but most of the advice would be applicable to everyone.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Missing Elephant

Sept 11 is the launch of the anthology, They Have To Take You In, in which my story, "The Missing Elephant" appears. The anthology is edited by Ursula Pflug and is a fund raiser for the Dana Fund:

    The Dana Fund was created in July of 2010 at the Canadian Mental Health Agency (CMHA HKPR) in Peterborough Ontario, at the suggestion of friends and family who wished to make donations in her memory. Dana Tkachenko inspired many people through her own experiences of struggling against tremendous obstacles and succeeding in creating a stable and fulfilling life for herself and her family. Dana’s memory is honoured through the Dana Fund, by dedicating donations to the cause of supporting young women and families in transition, experiencing similar challenges, who could benefit from some help along the way." - Gordon Langill

Basically, the anthology is about the importance of family and/or its various dysfunctions. I wrote the "Missing Elephant" specifically for the anthology, so it's my first attempt at CanLit rather than SF.

I'm quite pleased with it, but it's hard to be objective and I was outside my usual genre. I had my usual editor go through it before submitting to the anthology and made the requisite changes, but my editor wondered how credible it was...but of course, it is pure autobiography. Life really is stranger than fiction. The number of times in a month I'll say, "I'd put that in my novel, but who would believe it?" in reference to this or that incident with colleagues or family...or in this case, my own stupidity. Hardly credit the incident in question myself...but absolutely accurate, save for the changed names. But presumably Ursula liked it, since she took it for the anthology, and she is a pretty fabulous writer/editor, so I'll take that as sufficient validation.

Being somewhat satisfied with "The Missing Elephant" I tried a second CanLit story, though with a slight SF edge to it. I am really happy with that one, but it is still doing the rounds of Canlit mags.... Hard to tell if the rejections are because it's not up to standard, or if even a trace of SF is a hard sell to CanLit markets. I'll try it with SF markets next time it comes back, when the question will be whether SF markets will accept anything that Canlit.... Eventually, I'll put everything into a collection of my short fiction, but I would prefer to have the validation of previous publication before I include anything in it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

30th Anniversary of Neuromancer

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

I keep trying to get my kids interested in the movies I liked, and they always ask, "Is it old?" And I'll say, "No no, fairly recent." And they'll ask, "Is it in colour?" and I'll say, "Yes! It's in Colour! Geeze! I'm not that old" and then I'll look it up and it will have been filmed in the 80s, which my kids confuse with the 1800s... "Really Dad? That old?! Then, no." Because a lot of older movies do not hold up for this generation.

Tried to recommend Neuromancer to Tigana this week, and she asked "How old?" and I had to think...

"It's a very influential book," I said, stalling. "You know, half the stuff on the Internet was named after what Gibson predicted in that book. The nerds who read that book were the same nerds that went out and built what he had described!"

And Tigana looked at me and said, "Neuromancer was before the Internet? That old? Were there dinosaurs?"

Hard to believe it's 30 years old. I remember Gibson doing readings from chapters in progress at conventions two to three years before that even. Great book. Still a great book, though feels more contemporary than predictive these days.

(Same with Karl Schroeder's Lady of Mazes which came out before Facebook and other social media. Fabulously brilliant predictive SF, but it only came out in 2005 and everything in those first couple of chapters is just, you know, how things are....)

Guardian article on the 30th anniversary of publication of Nueromancer.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tigana vs Plested

My family came up to Calgary to pick me up from When Words Collide Convention, and I had arranged with Mike Plested to meet Tigana. Mike graciously dedicated his second Mik Murdoch novel The Power Within (which was launched that weekend) to Tigana. Tigana, of course, had no idea he had done that until he presented her with a signed copy in the lobby of the Carriage House Inn at the end of WWC. She was kind of impressed! The dedication reads:

    For all those people who have supported Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero and especially to Tigana Runté who told her dad Mik was worth publishing in the first place.

Of course, he then enlisted Tigana's promise to read his fantasy novel and pressure me to publish that too....

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Pairs for Lunch

When we were in London this summer, Mary arranged for me to go to Paris for lunch at the Eiffel Tower. Partly, it was the absurdity of going to another country and back for lunch, but mostly I had wanted to take the Chunnel. Ever since I can remember, I grew up reading about how they were going to push a tunnel under the English channel someday, but it was widely dismissed as scifi. I have crossed the channel several times by ship and hovercraft, but the Chunnel has always been on my bucket list as part of the future I had been promised in the 1950s. So, here it is, a reality, so had to take it. The Eurostar was well organized, very fast, and goes through a lot of (ear-pooping) tunnels before it gets to THE tunnel, so in someways a bit anticlimactic because it's, you know, just another tunnel, albeit slightly longer than the others. Still, you know, kind of cool that this SF future was real and I was actually doing it. Commuters all around me taking it for granted. So cool.

Halfway through the tunnel, the large black businessman squeezed into the seat next to me suddenly closed his computer and turned to me, and said, "We're under the ocean now, you know! Do you realize just how crazy that is! I mean, when you really think about it, how cool is that!"

And I said, "I know! It's the future!"

And we just sat there appreciating our mutual sense of wonder at it all, and then he opened his computer again and started typing and I went back to reading. But I loved that shared moment, and that at least some commuters still got it!

I'm still like that on airplanes sometimes too....

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Aurora Award Nomination (2014)

My keynote address at Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy June 8, 2013: "Why I Read Canadian SF: The Social dimension of Reading" has been shortlisted for an Aurora Award. (an abstract is available at

Also pleased to see Susan MacGregor's The Tattooed Witch, a book I acquired and edited for Five Rivers Publishing, nominated for Best Novel! (Other novel nominees are Robert Sawyer, Gay Kay, Julie Czerneda and Chadwick Ginther, so one hell of an impressive crowd).

So that's the second year in a row that one of the books for which I was editor has made it to the Aurora ballot. (Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero was nominated last year in the Young Adult Novel category, but lost out to YA giant, Charles DeLint.)

And although not one of the books I edited, I was also pleased to see another Five Rivers book on the Young Adult Novel short list: David Ladroute's Out of Time. And Susan Forest, another Five Rivers' author, is nominated for short story category. So four nominations in four categories for Five Rivers. Not a bad year at all (and that's only the SF line!)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hyperbole and a Half (Review)

Saw a copy of the newly released Hyperbole and a Half book in the airport bookstore and immediately bought it even though it weighs the same as a brick (and I don't mean the red brick bricks, but one of those giant fancy patio bricks you use to hold up your bookshelves before you are well off enough to buy real bookcases) and would be an enormous pain to carry around, not only on the plane, but for the rest of our vacation. I thought, "this would be a fun read on the plane" and better than working on the paper that was due the instant I got back from our trip, so I impulsively bought it.

I did not, however, get to actually read it on the plane. I stupidly carried it out in plain sight (well, I had the backpack and carryon in my hands already, along with my passport and boarding pass, so what else could I have done in the fourteen seconds between buying the book and rushing to the gate?) where anyone could see it. And Tigana, my 15 year old, said "What's that?" And I probably could have said, "It's a dissertation I have to read for next Monday", and everything would have been fine, probably, but instead I stupidly said, "It's a book by this guy with a great website" (which incidentally shows I wasn't really paying attention because it is by a woman and—turns out those drawings are autobiographical drawings of a woman, not an alien unicorn) and Tigana said, "Okay, I'll read that on the plane instead of The Glass Menagerie, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable decision for a high school kid to make while on vacation. Except, you know, it meant I didn't get to read it on the plane which had kind of been the point.

Two flaws here: first, planes are small confined spaces where people are crowded in very closely together and if one starts laughing hysterically, and banging one's head against the window in the window seat, other people are inclined to turn around to stare and/or glare at you. We were surrounded by babies and toddlers, but nobody was glaring at them, because everyone, including the babies and toddlers, was too distracted by the teenager who apparently suffered from intermittent fits that would cause her to bash around uncontrollably in her seat. Second, Tigana's little sister sits beside Tigana on planes and you cannot tell a ten-year old, "It's nothing, go back to your Archie comic" repeatedly when what you are reading is causing you act like a crazy person. So eventually Tigana had to read portions of Hyperbole and a Half to Kasia which is not entirely a good idea, role-model-wise, when several of these stories are in fact autobiographical explorations of the author's childhood. And the stories of adulthood are definitely not always appropriate for 10 year olds. Probably not 15 year olds, or anyone, really, but Tigana read Kasia the stories about the dogs, which is fine, except that they describe two of our own dogs perfectly.

Anyway, it's that kind of a book. The backcover testimonial for the book is from the author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened which is on my to-be-read list but I haven't actually got around to reading yet, but which the rest of my family found very funny, only now they agree thatHyperbole and a Half is way funnier. Falling-out-of-seat-even-though-you-are-still-wearing-the-seatbelt funny.

Except for the chapter on Depression, which Mary read and said it didn't seem even remotely funny to her, but which struck her as the best, most profoundly accurate depiction of depression she has ever come across in print. And which she told Tigana to keep handy for whenever one of her friends was suffering depression so that Tigana could understand what they were going through. I have to say that I also found that chapter really helpful in understanding what it is like to be depressed, though I did, you know, laugh a lot. [The other book I usually recommend to people trying to understand what it is like for their depressed significant other is Alicia Hendley's A Subtle Thing which provides a lot of insight but is, um, well, really depressing to read. (Probably why Alicia's other book, Type which is a brilliant YA about a society that sorts kids by their Myer-Briggs results, sells way better....)]

So stop whatever you're doing and buy Hyperbole and a Half right now. If you don't love it, I will personally refund your money.

Okay, that last bit was a lie. I maybe got carried away there. Actually, if you don't find it funny, I will just respect you less as a friend. But pretty sure you will like it, that's what I'm saying.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

SF Canada Bookstore

Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2013 (also links 2012 if missed last year's) If you know SF/F readers, give Canadian for Xmas!" I have to say, that's a nice looking collection of books. Considering that back in the 1970s, when I was first starting to think that there might be Canadian SF authors, I could only identify about two dozen books...that's not a bad annual output! Does a Canadian proud.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Update #1

Coming up on November, so NaNoWriMo time again. Here is an interesting set of posts on whether it is better to plan out one's novel in detail, or to just start writing and see where it goes.

On planning:

On just going with the flow:

I'm usually some combination of both. I often have an idea that has been perculating in my head for years, often decades, where I have daydreamed various scenes here and there while walking the dog or shoveling snow. So I have a general idea of what the novel is about, who the main characters are, and where the novel is going, but with really only fragments of scenes here and there and big gaps between. No real structure or outline. So NaNoWriMo is a chance to get what I have down on paper and to see if I can connect the dots. The end result is often very different than where I started, and I occasionally write myself into corners by writing blindly; but on the other hand, I often generate new scenes and characters I would never have thought of if I were using a disciplined outline. By writing myself into corners, I force the protagonist to come up with a way to extricate himself, which I would never have thought of in an outline, because I would have known better than place him in that corner in the first place, if I had had a plan. So my hero is much cleverer and a much faster talker than he would have been otherwise.

It's true that I have had to cut whole sections of the novel that haven't worked out, because by going in that direction I precluded something that I realized had to come in later for the novel to work, or that went against character, or otherwise didn't work out. But at 2000 words a day, I could afford to dump a ten or twelve page section and try again; whereas if an outline had called for that scene and it had taken me a month to write, I would be far more reluctant to give up on it, persisting to the point of such frustration that I might be tempted to abandon the whole project as undoable.

I'm also quite a slow writer and tend to write longish novels, so has taken me two to three NaNoWriMo to get first complete draft. Now is the time for outlining, to make sure that I haven't lost track of any of the bits I started with (I lost two of the main characters there for awhile, and had to go back an account for their absence) and that everything works logically. I was actually surprised to find that my subconcious had indeed planted many of the clues in early chapters to foreshadow the unfolding of the mystery, even though I had had no idea what that mystery was when I set out.  So having a first draft, I can go back and get a plan for the revision; I can use what my subconscious provided as raw data and use the resulting outline to tighten everything up so that the structure really works.

Or at least, that's the plan.  Come Friday I start work on my new novel (opening scene clearly in my head, though getting that scene down on paper is a whole other thing) so will have to see how far on the back burner the previous novel gets pushed.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013

Well, gearing up for NaNoWriMo for November 2013. Not hopeful I will achieve a lot, given that I am both teaching and editing during November. I will feel too guilty if I work on my own novel when there is a significant stack of others' manuscripts languishing on my desk awaiting my editing. But I routinely daydream/work on the opening scenes of this novel as I go to sleep each night, so would like to get those down on paper, so I could move onto the next set of scenes without fear of forgetting the details of what I have so far. We'll see if I can achieve a modest goal of say, 10,000 words. That ought to cover the protagonist's arrival and first night at his new command, at least.

I started this novel when I was in grade 9, so that's over 45 years ago. Current version is probably somewhat different than the original: for one thing, book now starts in the middle, and uses flashbacks for the slower original opening chapters. But basic concepts haven't changed. Ironically, hero is 64, which I thought was pretty innovative back when I was 15 and tired of all the coming of age fantasy novels that dominate that genre. Now of course, everyone will just assume I made the protagonist that old because I am myself coming up on that age. So funny. Hopefully, I am a somewhat better writer than I was at 15, but still like the cast of characters and world building from back then. Just now I maybe have the requisite skills to actually get my ideas down on the page.

Friday, September 06, 2013

On Becoming a Scientist

So after her rant against Canadian history yesterday, Kasia (my almost-10 daughter) said that she wants to grow up to be a scientist. "Dad, for my 13th birthday, instead of a horse, I am thinking now that what I'd really like is if you could arrange for me to visit a scientist's lab where I could learn how to be a scientist. Could you do that?" Um, yeah, I could. And I'd like to officially note that today is the day she first decided to be a scientist, so that we have that down in writing for her biographer.

Native Content in the Alberta Social Studies Curriculum

When I was one of the researchers on the Decore Report, an examination of the portrayal of First Nations in Alberta Social Studies Curriculum back in the late 1980s, we identified four problems: (1) discussion of the native people disappeared by turn of last century...there were the dinosaurs, then the natives then the explorers...and that's it for native content. As if no native contributed to WWII or hockey or whatever, so forget about 'em. When we complained to guys who wrote the textbooks on WWII or etc that there was no native content they just looked at us like we were crazy and asked, why would we have native content in book on WWII? (2) a lot of the content that was there was racist--e.g., Champlain's description of how Iroquois lived makes kids shiver with how primitive they were, but of course, Champlain's point was that these were admirable traits and ideas that the French should maybe adopt--but kids miss that Europeans were that primitive in Champlain's time too, because material not placed in context for them; (3) whenever there was First Nations content, it was THE SAME CONTENT over and over and over. At first I thought it was a deliberate attempt to bore kids into ignoring Native cultures, but quickly realized it was laziness. Authors looking for a picture of a teepee for their chapter would choose the first one they came across, rather than take their own or look around, and apparently they all used the same photo service. The result is that every mention of First Nation content is Jerry Potts-- and the same photo of him every time-- and the same one teepee. How could kids not be bored by the message that there are four Natives worth talking about and only 11 photos of Native content? And (4) what we came to call the 'dancing minority trick' which was that any time authors wanted to show First Nations or Ukrainian culture or whatever, they inevitably did so by showing said minority in traditional garb, dancing. And I understand that if you are looking for a picture of a Ukrainian or a Blackfoot, then a guy in a suit doesn't seem like much of a photo, even though that's what they actually look like. If you want someone who looks Ukrainian then doing the dance in traditional garb is the photo you use, but the message that kids get is consequently really distorted. Because First Native culture isn't just teepees and dances. But kids only ever get the superficial stuff about teepees and dancing around a campfire, not the deeper stuff about spirituality or different ways of looking at the world etc.

The situation has improved somewhat since then, but while the blatant racism is gone and the absence of First Nations content after 1900 is gone, I think we may still have the problem with the dancing minority trick and the repetition of the same limited material over and over again.

And now we have another variation of #1, which is the intrusion of native content...the need to get authors to stop ignoring First Nations after 1900 led to Departments of Education having to say, "include First Nations content or else!" to textbook writers, and that was a necessary and good thing, because authors writing about WWII discovered that there were First Nation's heroes in both WWI and WWII worth writing about, once they thought to look. So that worked out. But now that "First Nation's content?" is one of the items on textbook checklists, publishers are sticking it in whether it is relevant or not. So, I'm re-editing a series of biographies on Canadian PMs from another publisher, and in the middle of a discussion of this or that PM, there suddenly appear a couple of pages on native people of that era...and it's just kind of inserted at random. Not, "what was this PM's policies on First Nations?", but just sort of, "Meanwhile, back on the reserve..." What the hey? And of course, these fact pages are the exact same 'facts' as in every other book...creating mind-numbing repetition to turn kids off any possible interest in First Nations. Head:Desk. So nice try, but no cigar.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

On Canadian History

Kasia (my almost-10 yr old): "I finished my report for Canadian history."

Me: "That was fast. What did you write on?"

Kasia: "How I feel about Canadian history. " Hands me an 8.5X11 sheet of paper covered on both sides with a continuous row of "Z"s.

Point taken.

But the thing is, Canadian history is actually really interesting. Fascinating piece on Albertan Two-gun Cohen this morning on CBC morning a case in point. After listening to his story, interviewer asked, "How come we never heard of this guy before? It's a fantastic story!" And the journalist essentially shrugged on air and said, "it's how Canadians teach history: they leave out all the interesting characters".

Drives me crazy.

My students never found Canadian history boring, but then the story of confederation is one of bribery, booze, and backstabbing when I tell it. And McKenzie King! Who could find King boring? How cool is it to find out that Canadian foreign policy was dictated by his dead mother (via a psychic)? "Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription" is one of the great bafflegab statements of all time. And compare King's handling of the Bing scandal with say, Watergate. And what other world leader stole stones out of Buckingham palace for their private estates as King did with Kingsmere?

I'm telling you, Canadian history is engrossing if you actually know any of it.