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Far From Alone in the Universe (Writing Life)

A Reflection on the Writing Life
Writing is, truly as well as stereotypically, a lonely job; fiction writing at any rate, since writing for electronic media is generally collaborative; scripts can’t reach their intended audiences until they go through processes that involve performers, producers, directors, clients, managers and other stakeholders. But I also wonder if writers were ever quite as lonely as we fancy ourselves. When I look honestly at my ‘writing career,’ I realize that I have always sought out ‘community’ on some level.
As a high school/university student I never really found ‘my people,’ either in the fan  or the writing community at the University of Victoria. A few of my creative writing profs were encouraging and sympathetic, especially W.D. Valgardson, Charles Lillard and Cherie Thiessen - even though none of them shared my passion for literature of the fantastic. I made a few friends on campus, mostly while finishing my degree as a part time student. The writing its…

What Good Are the Keys to the Kingdom Once the Locks Have Been Changed?

Power is the grail, the advantage, the force that propels us to greatness. In real life as in fiction, the quest for power is the driving force behind most action and interaction; the hidden agenda of which no one speaks, but which engages the mind and sharpens the focus and closes the fist. Power comes in many guises; boundless riches; irresistible good looks; fame enough to command respect; the political clout to see your will be done; the power to part the sea and split the sky. So often out of reach; irrevocably fleeting; never quite real, even when you lift the cup and drink its blessings.

What is power exactly? 1)The freedom to do what you want, when you want 2)Control over others; the means to make them do what you want

Physical strength made men the keepers of the keys – with a monopoly on power throughout recorded history, so much so that true matriarchal societies are considered myth. ‘White’ men have held the keys since the ‘Age of Discovery’ enabled European colonialism to loc…

Producing Beta Copies

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Weighing the Options
At first it seemed extravagant to me to print beta copies of my novel in mass market paperback format. In fact, though, it was one of the most economical and practical options.
Most of my beta readers stated a preference for a hard copy version of the ms. The cheapest way to do that would have been to print it on my home printer, but the manuscript is over 100 double-sided pages and I need a minimum of 12 copies. 1200 pages is the capacity of a standard printer cartridge at 60 dollars. And when the wear and tear on the printer is added in – it’s quite a job for a home printer. There are plenty of additional costs. I don’t own a spiral binding machine and they start at $170. The plastic binders themselves would add another $20. And the cost of shipping would be considerably more than shipping a 6 by 9 inch book. The DIY method might have been cheaper if I invested 10 or 12 hours shopping around. But if I calculate the labour at our provincial minimum wage of $15 hour…

Getting a Handle on Twitter

Maybe it’s because I’m an antisocial writer-type (although some writers seem to be naturals on Twitter), but I have had trouble from the beginning getting traction on the network.
I finally posted about it to #WriterCommunity, expressing my frustration about doing everything right (as far as I could tell) but still failing to generate much feedback or engagement.
A few others responded to my plaintive post by suggesting that engaging with other peoples’ posts was probably the best way to get the kind of feedback I was after. I had just been experiencing that very phenomenon, so (for once) understood exactly what they were saying. And they’re right.
Up until days ago, I had been approaching Twitter as a writer/aspiring guru for younger writers – expecting an audience and getting disappointed when that audience didn’t materialize.
But in fact, the answer was in front of me the whole time – embedded in the hashtag for crying out loud! #WritersCommunity.
Engagement is not preaching or laying…

Nathan Ballingrud Double Feature Book Review

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After reading the short story “Atlas of Hell,” in Ellen Datlow's Fearful Symmetries, anthology, I looked up Nathan Ballingrud on Facebook and told him how much I loved the story. He seemed pleased that I had responded positively to what he described as a real change of direction. I mentioned the story to several friends, one of whom told me, “You think that story was good, you should read his collection, North American Lake Monsters.” 
I’ve been writing and reading horror since I was a teenager, and that book was unlike anything I’d read before.Lots of people have pointed out over the years that horror is the only genre named after an emotional reaction. The stories in North American Lake Monsters are actually less about the monsters than they are about that emotional response. They aren’t just horror stories, they’re stories about horror – the emotional fallout that monsters leave in their wake. It is riveting and devastating and merciless. It reminded me of nothing less than Flan…

Review of Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand

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From the decadent, dystopian science fiction of her debut novel, Winterlong; to the immersive magic of her art world fantasies like Mortal Love; to the harsh, earthy, crystalline landscapes of her Cass Neary suspense novels; Elizabeth Hand’s ouevre is as dark, sensuous and edgy as anything out there.

I keep a copy of Hand’s short story collection, Errantry, beside my desk to give me something to aim for with my own fiction. It’s a bar so high that not many writers reach it more than a few times in their lifetimes, but Elizabeth Hand has pretty much resided there throughout her 20+ book career-to-date.

So when I received an advance reading copy of her upcoming book, Curious Toys through a Goodreads draw, I was over the moon. After reading it obsessively over the next few days, and raving about it to friends, family and co-workers, I have finished it, thought about it, and am ready to declare it one of her best.

In this convincing evocation of early 20th century Chicago, 14 year old P…

Writing Lessons from Other Disciplines

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In addition to writing, my other creative outlet is stone sculpture. The two may not seem to have much in common, but sculpting has taught me a great deal about writing. 1) Patience. If you rush a sculpture, all sorts of bad things can happen. The most obvious and common one is splitting the stone unexpectedly. When you are handcarving stone, you start with big tools, sharp hammers and chisels that can sheer away unwanted stone and help you start shaping your sculpture. Rushing this step can be a big mistake. With the amount of stone dust you raise, it can be hard to see cracks forming - and the sheer impact of each hammer blow can encourage any pre-existing hairline cracks to split wide open. I've had more than one sculpture simply sheer in half right when I was starting to get excited about what it was going to become.  If you take your time and pay attention, and you can catch a problem early enough, it can often be averted, by removing the chunk of rock that is already unstab…