Monday, April 23, 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Literature meets technology


Not sure how I react to this one...

Twitter is a website that updates one on what one's friends are doing at any particular second (Twitter describes itself as "A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing?") That's already an awesomely "we have the technology so we're going to do it whether it is socially reasonable or not", but someone decided to use a twitter feed to read James Joyce's Ulysses, one line every 15 minutes. To quote the original mandate:


Booktwo is currently using Swotter to read James Joyce’s Ulysses to the world. Aside from it being one of our favourite books, it also contains enough strangeness to make anyone coming across it at random pay attention. Possibly.

You can see how it’s getting on at http://twitter.com/booktwo. If you’d like to subscribe, get a twitter account if you don’t have one, and make friends with booktwo.

Ulysses, in the Gutenberg plain text edition, has 24765 lines. Reading one every fifteen minutes, it is going to take 257 days (about eight months) to read Ulysses to Twitter. Swotter started reading on the 28th of February, 2007, so should finish around the middle of November.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mom


An older photo of my Mom, before she went into extended care home

Easter Decorations at West Edmonton Mall

One of dozens of Christmas Trees up at West Edmonton Mall over Easter

 

 

 

 

 


We were in Edmonton briefly over the Easter Weekend to celebrate my mother's 98th birthday and Mary's mother's 75th birthday. But no trip is allowed to Edmonton without a stop at West Edmonton Mall so that Kasia and Tigana can have a quick round of bungie jumping on the Center of Gravity trampolines.

This being the Easter weekend, we were a bit concerned by the sight of Christmas trees everywhere throughout the mall. At 800 stores, WEM is one of the largest malls in the world, but Edmontonians have long held the suspicion that it is only a matter of time before it, like other malls before it, starts its slow decline into ruin. The apparent lack of staff or funding priorities to take down last Christmas' trees seemed a pretty blatant sign that the mall's collapes was nigh.


However, as it turns out, it's not that at all. The mall is the location for a movie and the trees are props. To quote the WEM website:

West Edmonton Mall to star in major Hollywood picture

With the official Christmas holiday having been over for several weeks, many people have wondered why West Edmonton Mall has not taken down its Christmas decorations. Now the answer can be explained. Christmas will soon be coming again to West Edmonton Mall as it has been chosen as the primary location for the major Hollywood motion picture `Christmas in Wonderland.`


I guess I'm reassured.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

M. D. Benoit Interview Introduction

M.D. Benoit, on Virtual Tour


M.D. Benoit's third published novel, Synergy, is coming out this week, prompting this virtual book tour. I had the opportunity to interview Dominique over the course of the last several weeks, and tried to focus on areas not likely already covered elsewhere in her tour. So let me just briefly introduce her book:

Synergy is a near future (perhaps alternate history) novel set in Ottawa. The plot concerns a genetic researcher in a future where genetic research is so tightly controlled as to be effectively banned. The illegal research attracts the attention of a local drug lord, government regulators, and the statistician hired to help analyze the data (unaware that the research is unauthorized). Some interesting speculation on genetics, the role of dreams in innovation, and the ethics of research form subthemes within the larger narrative, but mostly this is an actioner -- especially in the second half of the book where it becomes quite a page-turner.

In another interview, Benoit mentions that she would cast John Cusack as protagonist Torver Lockwood, and Natalie Portman as statistician, Demetria Greyson. I would have said Kevin Spacy for Lockwood, but I get Cusack: the point is he's not your typical scientist hero. Indeed, none of the characters in Synergy are exactly sympathetic; instead of simple black and white dichotomies, Benoit gives you complex people with their own agendas, some of whom end up more on the side of the angles than others, but all of whom have their dark sides.

For more on the book, check out
The Synergy book launch page

The Synergy video

Win a free copy of Synergy


And so, on to the interview:

M. D. Benoit on Publishing


M. D. Benoit on Virtual Book Tour in front of famous rail bridge, Lethbridge Alberta, via this blog


Interviewed by Robert Runté

Robert: As the big monopoly publishers increasingly focus on a few blockbuster-style titles/authors with sales in the millions, we've seen the emergence of many more regional and specialty presses to fill the vacuum for titles with more limited local or genre appeal. I'm interested in how authors decide where to position themselves in the market. What made you choose to go with a small specialty press like Zumaya, rather than a more mass market publisher?


Dominique: In the beginning, I tried the large presses (Tor, Baen, etc.) and I had some nibbles, but the responses always ended up as "we like what you write but we can’t fit it anywhere." I've learned that large publishers are not flexible with mixed genres or difficult to classify books, and my books definitely are. So I decided to look for a publisher that could be more flexible in its approach. I found this is the case with small independent publishers. I liked what Zumaya Publications published, so I submitted to them.


Robert: What drew you to Zumaya Otherworlds specifically?


Dominique: The imprint was created last year. Even though they’re small, Zumaya puts you through the same rigorous submission and edit process as any other respected publisher. They're very professional, but because they have little overhead, they can spend more time with their authors. All the books they publish are different. I liked that, too. Instead of feeling like a misfit, I feel I found a home. Yet, even though Zumaya Publications takes in a different kind of fiction, it doesn't accept every manuscript that comes across its desk. They receive about 25 submissions a week. The rate of acceptance is around 1-2%. They’re looking for quality writing as well as the different.



Robert: Some small presses make a point of providing much more intensive support for authors than the big mass market houses do these days, in hopes that the extra editorial support will compensate for the lack of big $ advances. Other small presses make a point of “not tampering” with the author's manuscript, protecting them from the over zealous (and not necessarily SF-savvy) copy editors sometimes encountered in the big publishing houses. Where does Zumaya fall on that continuum in terms of the kind of editorial support you have received? What has working with Zumaya been like?


Dominique: At Zumaya, you can develop a relationship with your editor. There’s a real give-and-take, but the editor has the final say in some cases. Once trust has been established, as happened with my editor, Liz Burton, there’s a sort of symbiosis that happens. A lot of the editing is done through Instant Messenger, a sign of the times, I guess. We’ll discuss something through the chat, the same way it would’ve been done on the phone or through email, and we solve issues a lot faster.

M. D. Benoit on Cover Art

Cover of M.D. Benoit's latest novel, Synergy, now available from Amazon.com.


Robert: Most writers have stories (positive or negative) about the cover art for their books. Did you choose the artists, or did the publisher?


Dominique: The publisher chose the artist, but I did have some input into the creative process. For instance, I didn’t want people in my covers for the Jack Meter Case File series, because I don’t really describe my main character, Jack Meter. Martine Jardin, the cover artist and designer, came up with the door opening unto the universe, which we’ll keep for the entire series. I liked the concept.

For Synergy, Moor Dragon (who worked on covers for Ursula LeGuin) did the cover. Again, I wanted something that evoked DNA and time. Hence the ribbons and the DNA ladders on the cover.

Robert: How much input did you have over what your covers would look like? Did you get to see preliminary sketches, or did the final cover just turn up as a fait accompli?


Dominique: As I said, I was able to suggest some things, and I saw the covers several times before they were firmed up. I didn’t have final approval, but I didn’t feel ignored, either. On the Synergy cover, I suggested a couple of things I didn’t like, and they were changed.


Robert: How well do you feel the covers reflect the tone/theme/story of the novels?


Dominique: All the covers I have relate to the story inside, which cannot always be said in SF. I’m satisfied with that.


Robert:W hat would your ideal cover for Synergy have looked like?


Dominique: Hmm. That’s kind of a trick question since I’m not an artist. As I said, the cover of Synergy reflects the story inside.

M.D. Benoit on Authors on the Web

M.D. Benoit on Virtual Tour outside Lethbridge WaterTower (now resturant) via this blog



Robert: One of the factors that attracted me to your writing originally was your blog. It was one of the very first blogs of someone I didn’t already know that I started reading on a regular basis. How important do you think it is for an author to maintain a presence on the web?


Dominique: It’s absolutely crucial, especially for an emerging writer or a writer who can’t get a lot of financial support from her publisher. I think blogs are becoming the medium to communicate with people, but still a website is important. Websites give static information that gets lost from one post to the other. By having a blog, visitors can get to know you, see what’s important to you, how you look at life.


Robert: How much time do you put into your blog? Do you have more than one?


Dominique: I have my own, Life’s Weirder than Fiction. I also contribute to It’s a mad, mad, world: Writing confessions of ten mad authors. Jack Meter also has his own blog, The Jack Meter Case Files. He gets to talk about the darker side of life, makes fun of people, and chats about his cases. I’ve just started this one, so it’s not quite honed, yet.


Robert: How does keeping your blog relate to your novel writing? Does it relate, or do you see these as completely separate activities? Do you ever use blog postings as a kind of ‘warm up’ activity before starting in on the day’s fiction writing? As a ‘cool down’ exercise? As a coffee break when ‘blocked’?


Dominique: My blog activities are mostly separate from my writing. I’ll mention what I’m doing, of course, and sometimes post excerpts, but I didn’t want it to be another writer’s blog discussing angst and difficulties. I really think that life is weirder than fiction, and I wanted to prove it. So the site is eclectic, sometimes humorous, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes looking for beauty through art and photography. I also post book reviews, since I’m an avid reader and opinionated.


Robert: Have you ever used a blog to workshop scenes from your writing? Get input from your blog readership?


Dominique: Never, and that was never my intention to do so. I find it really annoying to visit other blogs and find that they’ve put a raw piece of work up and are looking for feedback. What, do they want me to do their work for them?


Robert: Some authors have told me that they use their blogs to vent, so that they keep whatever this week’s hobbyhorse happens to be out of their novel — that without the blog, they find their characters suddenly holding forth about the importance of table manners or the War in Iraq or whatever, whether or not it actually fits the book. Have you consciously used your blog this way?


Dominique: Never, and again, it was never my intention to do so. I have a very active brain, with a strange, curious bent, so there’s no place for rants. Who cares about my opinions, anyway? If, on the other hand, my blog were strictly a political blog, then I’d feel free to rant, since I’d feel that not only that was my main interest, but that I have some knowledge about what’s going on.

If I really feel like ranting, I’ll usually post a comment on someone else’s blog, start a discussion that way. I follow about two dozen blogs myself.


Robert: Who does your webpage design? There are some very slick touches! Is it something you take on yourself, or do you (like many authors) contract that out to professionals?


Dominique: I’m lucky that my husband, Daniel, is a web designer. He did, however, start from an Open Source design, which was free (indicated at the bottom of my site). I do all the maintenance myself, had to teach myself html to do so, but I have a lot more control over the site, and don’t have to wait for changes. I can make them immediately.

I think it’s very important to have a professional-looking website. A lot of authors skimp on that. I’d be curious to find out if visitors get the impression that the author’s writing is also amateurish from the look of the website.

M. D. Benoit on Synergy


Robert: What drew you to your interest in genetics?


Dominique: I became interested in genetic engineering during the controversies about Genetically Modified Organisms. Then I came upon a newspaper article about genetic warfare, and I followed avidly the issues around cloning with Dolly the sheep and the race to map the human genome. This gave me ideas for stories. Synergy is about genetic modification and warfare. The next in the trio of novels about genetic engineering, Catalyst, is about human cloning farms. The third, which I’m working on right now, is entitled Entropy, and deals with the consequences of monoculture and genetically modifying food staples like rice, maize, and wheat.


Robert: Where did the complex characters come from in this novel? Did you model the characters on people you know, or are they entirely from your own imagination?


Dominique: Torver Lockwood, one of my two protagonists, popped out of a dream, all grown up. I woke up one morning and there he was, standing, and saying "Damn. I missed five years." He was the catalyst for the story I wanted to write.

Demetria was harder to write. As you noted earlier, I seem to be more comfortable writing from a man's point-of-view, so she was more difficult to "create". But part of the concept of the story was to have two broken people who became whole when they were together, like yin and yang, or sister souls. One white, one black. Or one black, one white. No one's perfect. I'm not talking about romance, here, but of finding something in someone else that makes you a better person when you're with them.

So I constructed Demetria painstakingly, but neither of them were based on people I knew. Occasionally, I'll do that. In Meter Made, I modeled one of the minor characters after someone I despised, then killed him off. Great fun.


Robert:There are a couple of important dream sequences in this novel. Were they inspired by Watson's story that he dreamed the double helix, or are you just interested in the role of dreams and the unconscious in research/creativity?


Dominique: I've always been a vivid dreamer. I dream in color, and can often remember my dreams days or weeks after I've had them. People shake their head when I recount my dreams, in great detail. I've also read a lot of Jung, and his interpretations of dreams have always fascinated me (some of these analyses are downright weird, almost as weird as the dreams themselves). In Synergy the visions, or dream sequences, were a way for me to explore the subconscious and provide Demetria with an outlet to question herself and her actions, to destabilize her world, while at the same time provide a connection with Torver.


Robert: What do you hope readers will take away with them from reading Synergy?


Dominique: First, that it was an entertaining book, that it took them away from their own reality, that they escaped into a new world for a while. Second, that it gets them to think about genetic engineering and its implications. A lot is happening, these days, from patenting genes and weaponry research, to modifying our food. It's important to be aware and informed, and not necessarily believe the politicians.


Robert: And, kind of a trivial question, but I'm curious: Where does the name "Torver" come from?


Dominique: Funny you should ask that. His name is a deviation of Trevor, but I had the idea from the French word "torve" which means grim, menacing, baleful. The names of my characters are all somehow related to the story. Demetria means "earth mother"; she provides Torver with grounding and a dose of reality.

M. D. Benoit on Jack Meter Series




Robert: Are your previous two books still available?


Dominique: Yes, both Metered Space and Meter Made are available on amazon.com and amazon.uk. Metered Space is also available on amazon.ca. And of course, both are available as ebooks from fictionwise.com.



Robert: Can you briefly talk about the Jack Meter books for those who may be unfamiliar with that series?


Dominique: Jack Meter is a Private Investigator living in Ottawa, Canada. In Metered Space, after Jack’s physicist girlfriend died in a lab explosion, he’s gone on a downhill curve of smoking and boozing that leads pretty much to only one conclusion. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. Jack gets kidnapped by aliens who “repair” him, give him a universe-hopping device, and the job of retrieving a stolen transporter. In Meter Made, Jack teams up with a sexy intergalactic agent to find out who is stealing pieces of the universe, and why.

I call them my “Sam Spade in space”, Dashiell Hammett mixed with Terry Pratchett. They’re tongue-in-cheek, irreverent, fun. Definitely not literature. I have no pretensions to that effect.


Robert:I am interested in how authors choose the gender of their protagonists. Why did you choose to write about a male lead in the Jack Meter books rather than write from a woman’s perspective?


Dominique: Probably because in most of the SF genre, males dominate. On the other hand, Jack would be helpless without Claire Foucault, a biochemist, who ends up —very reluctantly— his sidekick.

It’s also a way for me to explore gender differences and the power men have in this world. I come from a very conservative family, where female and male roles were firmly established. In a way, using a male protagonist might have been a way to break free, at least in the imaginary world, or these restrictions.

M.D. Benoit on M. D. Benoit

M.D. Benoit on Virtual Tour to University of Lethbridge, via this blog


Robert: So, let me ask you about your heritage. Are you primarily a francophone or an anglophone? How does your francophone heritage influence your work? I hadn’t thought of it until you mentioned it again just now, but now that I think of it, I believe I can detect a francophone literary undercurrent, though it’s hard to put my finger on exactly. Maybe a slightly more literary edge? Or am I imaging that?


Dominique: I am a francophone writing in English. I didn't learn English (enough to be functional) until I was 21, so I read only in French until then. I come from a small town in the Hautes Laurentides where to this day it is still 100% francophone, mainly white, and Catholic. Fortunately, we had a great library, and I've always been a reader, so by the age of 15 I'd read at least one book from most of the Nobel Prize winners from 1930 to 1960. I'd also read the classics –Hugo, Stendhal, Verlaine, Apollinaire, Camus, Balzac, for instance-- by the time I was 21, and of course read our own Quebec writers, Marie-Claire Blais, Yves Beauchemin, Rock Carrier, Francois Xavier-Garneau, Anne Hébert. I was also a fan of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle (I read most of his work), and Henri Vernes, whose character was a French version of James Bond. So yes, you could say that my early reading has influenced my writing. Francophones also have a different way of addressing issues; it’s a cultural thing, so maybe that also translates into my writing.


The first novel I read in English (with a dictionary beside me) was Lord Foul's Bane, from the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson. It had a huge impact on me.


Robert: Do you read a lot of French/Quebec SF? Any?


Dominique: I'm starting to, now. I haven't before, mainly because of the accessibility of French material. It's changing, though, so I've started reading in French again, but I find written French language often ponderous and static. My problem is that I live in an Anglophone environment, so it’s difficult to get recommendations. It’s the same for music. A year ago, I started listening to Radio Canada’s Espace Musique, and, after 20 years, I find I’m slowly reconnecting with my heritage. It’s very rewarding.


Robert:Then let me ask another obvious interview question — who are the big influences on your writing? ( I’m thinking here particularly of your latest novel, Synergy, rather than the Meter books which I assume owe a lot to Sam Spade detective genre etc.) Who are the SF writers who’ve had the greatest impact on you / your writing?


Dominique: Certainly, Donaldson’s anti-hero, Thomas Covenant, influenced me a lot. The thought of engaging your reader with someone who’s totally unsympathetic fascinates me. For storytelling, Orson Scott Card, Anne Tyler, Guy Gavriel Kay. For setting, China Miéville, Gordon R. Dickson, Roger Zelazny, Arthur C. Clarke. For characterization, Alice Munro, Kurt Vonnegut. Two authors have had a huge impact on my way of thinking through a story, and they’re not SF writers: Isabel Allende, and José Saramago. I’m fortunate that I can read both in the original language they write in.


Robert: Do you read a lot of SF, or do you read a range of genres? If I were to ask you what you read in an average month, what would I find on your bookshelf? Any genre you don’t like/read?


Dominique: I read SF, but I’m also an extremely eclectic reader. The only books I won’t read are erotica and horror. Last month I read Elizabeth Lowell (romantic suspense), Joshua Palmatier (Fantasy), C. C. Benison (Mystery), Tanya Huff (Fantasy). Reading right now Jed Rudenfeld (Historical Mystery) and the Idiot’s Guide to Learning Italian. On my shelf is Nalo Hopkinson (Fantasy), Christopher Moore (Humour/Fantasy), Salman Rushdie (Literary), M. K. Fisher (Non-fiction), and Mark Twain (Satire). I’ve also on reserve at the library Dave Duncan, David Baldacci, Elizabeth Moon, Nicholas Sparks, R. J. Harlick, Sherilynn Kenyon, C. S. Friedman, Dan Simmons, Sandy Ault.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

M. D. Benoit Virtual Tour Here Tomorrow!

Just a reminder that tomorrow, Wed April 4, 2007, Dominque (the 'D' in M.D.) Benoit will be here on the next stop of her Virtual Book Tour promoting her new book, Synergy. I will be posting my extensive interview with her (about five posting's worth) and she will be monitoring my blog all day on the 4th to respond to any comments or questions you may have. Should be interesting!

I find the idea of a virtual book tour a fascinating development...googling the "virtual book tour" demonstrates that the concept is already widely in use throughout cyberspace. It represents an interesting compromise between the personal contact available through a book tour and the practical reality that most publishers no longer fund travel to the extent they once did. And such virtual activities somehow make cyberspace's geography more 'real' somehow. I'm sure there's a paper in there somewhere.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gotcha!

Having Slept in sich on Saturday, Sunday was my turn to get up with the kids.

Tigana and Kasia played together nicely, Kasia now being old enough and articulate enough to take part in Tigana's elaborate role plays. At one point Tigana pulled out her kid friendly makeup kit and drew crowns on herself and Kasia's forehead. Tigana's artistic efforts weren't half bad in creating reasonably believable crowns, once I had verified that the makeup came off with just water. As Tigana wandered off to watch TV, Kasia came over to me and proceeded to draw a crown on my forehead.

Kasia worked at her artistic creation for a long time -- maybe fifteen minutes -- taking meticulous care to get everything just so, switching back and forth between the various shades of purple and pink available in the kit. Being semi-comatose, I was happy just to have her somewhere I could see her, so we were both happy with the activity. Eventually, I went over to the mirror to see what my crown looked like.

Okay, let's be real here: my three year old's artistic endeaver's in no way resembled a crown -- what I had on my forehead was a four inch multicolored bruise.

Hmmm, I think. I enlist Tigana's aid to run and tell Mom (waiting for sounds of activity so as not to actually wake her up for this) that Dad had walked into the downstairs pillar while carrying Kasia. (I will confess here to a reputation for a certain level of klutziness that makes such a claim altogether too believable.) Tigana is keyed to say that she thinks I should go to the Doctor but that I refused to wake Mom.

When Mary comes down to start making brunch, she takes one look at my forehead and freaks. "Oh my god, your head!"

Gotcha! April Fool's!

Mary concedes that for the first time ever, I have managed to 'get her' on April Fool's.

===

My favorite April Fool's was when the Discovery Channel got me. Back before Mary and the kids, the days sort of drifted into one another and I remember getting up and turning on TV while I made breakfast, and being distracted by a documentary that explained why the Earth was really flat. Round to be sure, but flat. Various experts explained the evidence that proved the earth was flat, why the pictures of Earth as a sphere were an optical illusion, and why the widespread belief that the Earth was a sphere was a conspiracy and ignorant superstition.

Considerably upset that the Discovery would give equal time to this Creationist-style nonsense, I sat down to write a letter/email of protest. Deciding to get the specific details right, I noted the time, 10:30 AM, and the Date, April First, and then wrote about half a line before the April First part penetrated. D'oh!

But it was a brilliant hoax! Completely deadpan documentary, and no commentary by announcers before or after. I wonder how many people were taken in, if just for a moment....