Monday, August 31, 2009

Dedication to the Craft

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
W. Somerset Maugham (1874 - 1965)

There has been a lot of chat out there recently about NaNoWriMo2009 coming up in November. The great debate, now, is whether or not to dedicate the time to the project. I am thinking that it is more than just giving up an hour a day to throw together a few words. Realistically, it will be more of a lock yourself in the office after supper, work until 10, go to bed, get up, work, write again, etc.

I question, at times, if I have what it will take. The j'en sais quois, the magic elixir, the brass monkeys...whichever one you best think describes the job, even if there were 10 months instead of just one. Today, over at A Broken Laptop, Mercedes M. Yardley has some excellent point on this very topic. She notes that she had wanted to write a novel for years but considered the task too daunting. She also makes an excellent observation in noting that "there isn't any magic involved." Those that did write a novel had finally made a commitment to do so.

I have always been the sort of personality that works best under pressure. Say 3 weeks are assigned to do a book report, I would wait for the last 3 days. My job works on a strict schedule to produce drawings to provide the manufacturing plant work. I took (ie. payed for) two night school classes in creative writing over a few months because I knew that there would be weekly assignments to force me to produce work. Perhaps I should look at the NaNoWriMo as a forced work project that lasts a little bit longer than a three hour class, once a week. Hmm... I guess that I'll mull it over, for just a little longer.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Old Is as Old Does

"Age to me means nothing. I can't get old; I'm working. I was old when I was twenty-one and out of work. As long as you're working, you stay young. When I'm in front of an audience, all that love and vitality sweeps over me and I forget my age."
George Burns US actor & comedian (1896 - 1996)

Was there ever a person better qualified to discuss aging better than George Burns? Helen Ginger brought up the subject yesterday on her blog Straight From Hel. The question she put to her readers was: When it comes to writers/authors, what age would you consider as “old”? The were a lot of folks with a lot of comments. But which one is correct? As I commented at her blog, you could ask 10 different people and get different answers.

Today's youth would probably look at Mick Jagger on stage and wonder what all the hoopla was about. Folks my age that grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, Beatles, etc. may (or may not) see the merit of the +65 set prancing about in tight pants and sneakers. George Burns would probably have said "He's still a kid" and joined him up on stage. Christopher Plummer is still gracing the stage in Stratford and on Broadway nearing 80 years of age.

Our 13 year old probably--definitely--thinks of us as geezers (I am nearing 47). My father worked as a painter for 50 years, and it's only been in his retirement that health issues have hit and he's now seeming a bit old. My father-in-law is 84 and has a hobby farm where he raises chickens and turkeys and a pig. He makes no money at it, but the freezer is full and he stays busy. Hmm, is that the key to youth...staying busy? George would probably agree, nodding his head sagely, sucking on a big, fat cigar.

As noted in my last post, my sister has now arrived with her 3 cats, aged 18,15 and 10. I'm no cat expert, but I think that 18 is fairly old for a feline. The oldest one, Harley, has taken to following me about the house, waddling around in a somewhat arthritic way (the cat, not me). It's dark grey coat has taken on an odd rusty hue and looks matted, even though it's not. If you can recall the play or movie version of Cats, one of them had sort of a nasty looking coat. Harley is ignoring the the looks of hate from our greyhound and is cloaked in an aloof demeanor while the "younger" cats hide from and hiss at the large dog. I suppose he's indifferent to the situation and is entitled to his peace. What's the magic number that you consider "old'?

Oh...and apologies to Helen Ginger for using her name alongside the word "aging" in my labels below.

Have a great week end all!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to Normal?

I few days have now past since my most recent award. The dust has now settled and things are getting back to normal around here. But really, what is normal? I have had to start work at 6:00am the past few mornings in an effort to push through a job this week so the manufacturing plant back in Ontario can build it next week. Ka-toosh! The whip is a-crackin' .

My sister arrived today, after a 3 day drive from London in her pick-up truck with her best friend and 3 whiny cats. She is making the move to be close to the rest of the clan and, of course, to find a job in this dicey economy. Nothing like a major change to jump-start ones life.

Now the "major change stuff" reminds me of a documentary I came across while flipping through the channels last night. Not sure if Bravo! in Canada shows the same stuff as elsewhere, but this was about the author W.P. Kinsella who wrote a number of collections of short stories and a few novels, mainly about life on the reservation for native people. He also had a following with his books about baseball. His first and most famous novel Shoeless Joe (1982) was adapted into the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams."

I can only paraphrase some of what was talked about. His early attempts at writing were met with cruel responses from publishers, basically telling him that he wasn't a writer. He worked as a government clerk, ran a pizza restaurant and drove a taxi. He attended the University of Victoria and received a Bachelor of Creative Writing in 1974 (at the age of 39). He earned a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa in 1978. At the time Shoeless Joe was published, Kinsella would have been 47 years old. I admire a man who stuck with his dream and didn't let the early setbacks deter him from achieving his goal.

I will attach the links to Wikipedia article here and to the Canadian Encyclopedia article here in case anyone wants to read a bit more about this author. One thing he did, though, that I didn't like was how he talked about other authors. He had given a talk at his old school and a person afterwards complimented him on his public speaking and generally being entertaining. He thanked them, and then went on to say that not all authors who give talks are entertaining. He specifically mentioned Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje as not being very entertaining while up on stage. Not very cool, I thought.
There were many who thought that the religious symbolism in Shoeless Joe and later, "Field of Dreams" implied that he was a religious man. He described himself as an atheist and thought that it was a credit to him that he could create this world within the story that was so convincing with its religious overtones. He said that he liked to put stuff like that in his stories as it kept the academic discussing it for a long time. Overall an interesting and somewhat controversial man. I would like to be a curmudgeonly author when I grow up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Head is Swelling...

The title is not a reference to the ongoing coughing or plague-like symptoms I may be exhibiting, or to anything evil your minds may be thinking up. This is a new week and, yes, another fine award bestowed upon yours truly.
Laura Eno at A Shift in Dimensions kindly passed on the Kreativ Blogger Award to myself and a few others. We have recently become fans of each others blogs. I especially enjoy her #fridayflash and encourage you all to go check it out.

I must, of course again cite the somewhat (in)famous Anton Gully rule of probabilities and only award this to one person lest we have several gazillion of these babies floating around by Halloween. Another blog I have been frequenting recently, and whose humour and visuals I have come to enjoy, is Jeremy Kelly's Join The Birdies. I hope that he covets this award and admires it in a locked, dark room as much as I. Congratulations, sir!

Of course winning this prize does come with a couple of must please provide a link back, pass this award on to another person or persons whose blogs you enjoy and notify your recipients.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wet and Windy

The sign, of course, is not referring to Mr. Clinton (who was here speaking a couple of months ago) but to Hurricane Bill, which is marching up the Atlantic coast. He will be introducing himself to Newfoundland, though, as the diminished Tropical Storm Bill. Those of us living at Land's Edge are huddling together tonight, under our furs, in our log cabins and melting igloos. We go through the ritual of preparing for these situations 2 or 3 times a year, although they are no where near as dangerous as when they hit the coasts of say, Florida or the Carolinas.

Preparing is not such a big deal for me...I'll be mowing the lawn (nothing says "welcome" as much as neatly trimmed dandelion and clover) and putting patio furniture and garbage bins away. More of a concern is that our son is off for another week-long camp tonight about 30min. away in Manuals. The kids sleep in covered wagons (yes, like in a John Wayne western...but not as structurally sound). I think, though, that there are beds in an in-door facility so the kids will probably be spending the night there. I'm sure there will be 70 sets of parents inquiring about this. Anyhow, I've started to ramble again. Yes, I'm still drinking the cough syrup like it was a fine wine. Wish I could shake this cold. Umm, I'll attach a photo (above) to prove to all that I'm fine, and well prepared for the wet and windy weather ahead.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sharpen your pencils

We went to the movies last night to see District 9. I'm surprised that it's been out for a week and it's only in one theatre. Guess that it's got to do with the unknown cast and relatively new director Neill Blomkamp. I suppose it has been more accepted by the mainstream audience as Peter Jackson has thrown his weight behind it. What a fantastic movie, considering the unknown cast. Quite an action/sci-fi story delving into all sorts of subject ranging from greed and betrayal to survival and humanity. Well worth the price of admission.

The highlight of going to the movies for me, or course is watching all the trailers before the main feature. There was one shown that I hadn't seen before. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is set for release on Oct. 23/09 and looks like a hoot. It stars John C. Reilly and is based on Darren Shan's book first published in 2000. The entire length of the trailer, I was thinking to myself...this something hilarious, yet bizarre, that Catherine J. Gardner or Carrie Harris would write...

So it would seem that Hollywood is knocking at the door, looking for that strange and wonderful mix of horror and comedy everybody sharpen your pencils and get to work. Attached below is the link to the official website and trailer for this movie.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

I have been off work sick the past couple of days. My wife has the same nastiness. You should all be glad that you're not here watching us hock up greenish, blackish chucks of mucus, or lung or whatever that substance is (I know that you all are mostly writers of the horror genre, so a little mucus shouldn't gross you out...)

Anyway, the days of rain have finally stopped and the clouds are parting (ha, of course they haven't. This is Newfoundland, land of never ending fog). Again I digressed, probably a result of the cough syrup I've been swilling.

Back on Monday, Anton Gully bestowed upon me the "One Lovely Blog Award" at his blog The Black Dogs of Despair Ate My Novel. If for no other reason, you have to check out his blog for the picture of the two miniature pinchers. We have something of a bond as we have both recently returned to the writing world, both started blogging about the same time and were the first visitors to each others blog.

I have been secretly basking in the warmth of receiving the "One Lovely Blog Award" but it is now time to pass on the mantle on to another.
Over the past few months I've visited the sites of many friendly and talented writers. People who's blogs are beneficial to those new to writing, that are entertaining and blogs that sort of "tell it like it is" (if I may be allowed to use a cliche). It's difficult to pick one, but I will do exactly that. One classy gentleman (and I mean that with the utmost respect) has impressed me as an educator, a writer of fine horror, an editor and seemingly a well-balanced dude. The humble and multi-talented Aaron Polson mixes an entertaining blend of the professional and the personal at his blog The Other Aaron and can be found lurking there on a regular basis.

Note that the anthology from his Fifty-Two Stitches is now available to pre-order from the Strange Publications website for $11.95 in the US, and $14.95 elsewhere.

Should Aaron choose to accept this fine award, and the ensuing hurricane of PR that comes with such, here are the rules:

1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.

2) Pass the award on.

3) Notify the award winners.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Next...Triffids?

OK, so maybe it's a slight exaggeration referring to that 1951 sci-fi novel by Wyndham. But it's weeds like these that keep me out of the garden...

About a month ago, we noticed several large plants growing along a creek close to our house. A large bulb developed at the top and eventually a pretty white flower emerged. It resembles Queen Anne's lace (or so I've read) except a lot larger (7 or 8 feet tall). We emailed photos to my mum as she's a member of an on-line gardening club but were no further in identifying it. We stumbled across an article in the London Free Press with photos of the same plant, only much larger (yes, shades of Aaron's sunflower plants). I assume it's a result of the warmer, humid climate of SW Ontario.

The plant is apparently called Giant Hogweed (known as Giant Cow Parsnip in some areas) and is considered a noxious weed ten times more dangerous than poison ivy. Now, don't we feel silly after having our son go and pose next to the thing for a few photos. If the sap gets on your skin it reacts with sunlight causing burning, painful blisters. If in your eyes it can cause temporary, or even permanent blindness. My wife sent her photos to the local newspaper and TV station to get the word out about "the invasion". The TV station didn't react, but someone from the paper called and pushed for an interview with my wife. She wasn't keen on the idea, but eventually relented and met with the reporter and showed her where the plants were. They were no longer flowering, but they used my wife's photos for the story in today's paper. I will try to link to the story on page 1 and 4 on the on-line edition of the paper, but it may not work. Just in case, I will attach the link to the Wikipedia entry here and stick on a picture of my kid next to the weed (sadly, seconds after the photo the plant incapacitated the boy with sap and bit off his left ear...).
It's a gorgeous day here, so I'm going out to the garden to finish painting the trims on the shed. And you know I'll keep an eye on the plants around me...just in case.

FYI: since posting this I notice that you can click on the link to get the front page of the newspaper, but you then have to click on the story (at the bottom of the page) to active the viewer to zoom in and to access the rest of the story on page 4.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Horror. Close to Home.

There has been a news story brewing in the Canadian media the past few days about 3 men in Saskatchewan who blasted ducks with shotguns and posted the carnage on YouTube. The court case was Monday (see CBC story here) and they were appropriately fined and the men can not apply for hunting licences for 3 wonders why they would even be allowed to pick up a weapon at all in the future. The sad part of all of this is one of the men has been telling the media that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. See his words of wisdom here...

This morning I was reading the CBC news and there is a story out of Newfoundland about 3 boys on bicycles who chased a baby moose, hitting it with sticks, until it collapsed in exhaustion and had to be put down by wildlife officers. You can link to the story here.

I'm done my rant and am now at a loss for words. I know that these actions are by no means a localized phenomenon and people all over do stupid things. We live in a large and beautiful country where you don't always have to go to the wilderness to find nature. In fact nature encroaches into urban centres and can often be found right in our back yards. I think that the subjects of group mentality and animals cruelty have been explore many times in literature. An example of this is in ' Whale For the Killing' by Canadian author Farley Mowat. I can't recall if 'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding touched on animal cruelty, but it certainly dealt with the "mob mentallity" and how cruel boys could be to one another.

Those of us with children try hard to impart the importance of nature and how to appreciate it and the creatures that live within it. I suppose not all parents do this. Or perhaps some kids don't get the message. Or is there something "broken" inside these people? Are they de-sensitized to the point that they don't understand their actions? I guess there are no easy answers and as long as there have been people, there have been cruel and senseless actions against both man and beast. Sometimes the horror hits a little too close to home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Mind of a Writer

I notice that on days when I haven't a clue what to post, I dredge up the old class notes for pearls of wisdom from some mind far greater than my own. Tonight is no exception. I guess that the act of re-reading this and typing it out will help me remember it better. Perhaps it will be of some benefit to one or you. The following passage is from Oakley Hall- The Art and Craft of Novel Writing.

Henry James said that a writer must be one upon whom nothing is lost. What writers must not lose are, at the heart of it, vivid and revealing details. A writer must be an observer, and what he observes, and collects, are the details that show, that reveal, that imply, that specify, that build character and forward the story. He finds details in the life around him-a scene observed in the Safeway or the laundromat, a conversation overheard on the bus, for example, as well as in the books he reads. Someone said that a novelist's mind is a garbage pit of odd information. It is also a storehouse of detail. Contemplating a scene that he must bring to life in fiction, he selects the details that will best serve his purpose, he contemplates the best means by which to employ them, and he renders the details by the use of action, by the employment of sensory impressions, and by the means of point of view.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Sweet Read: The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon

For those how may not have heard:

The chapbook, The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon by Catherine J. Gardner, is now available for purchase at Bucket 'O' Guts for $6 incl shipping & handling in the US (payable via paypal). If you live outside the U.S. you can email Nate Lambert at and he'll get back to you with the price including shipping & handling.

And on the cottage hunt scene...we just returned from Conception Bay North in the continuing saga of finding a cottage. The frontrunner is now a small place with a killer view of the ocean, next to a cemetery. Cool! Things are getting interesting.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes 1950-2009

I'm going to follow the lead of Catherine J. Gardner and post a clip of one of my favourite John Hughes movies. Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a must see for any fan of slapstick comedy...or domestic travel. It starred Steve Martin and the late Canadian comedian John Candy. Hughes was a gifted writer and director who died before his time.

Having trouble attaching the video trailer from YouTube directly, but here is the link.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Good evening all! We were away for a couple of days R&R in Bonavista, about 3 hours drive out of St. John's. The area is littered with cliffs, ocean vistas, quaint bays and forest-covered islands just off the coast. The history of the area dates back over 500 years.

There was an "ulterior motive" in the fact we wanted to check out a couple of cottages for sale in the hope of securing a week end getaway. Now, I know y'all are probably saying: "That Davidson must be loaded." Sorry, wish it was so but it ain't...the truth of the matter is that some fixer-upper properties (with amazing views) can still be got here for a pretty good price (ie. an average car payment), so we thought it was time to check it out before the next announcement of an oil find drives up the prices to match the rest of Canada.

As you drive into some of these small bay-side communities you can come across just about anything. Sometimes you see no sign of man or beast as you cruise the only street along the water. Often, you will see groups of men clutching their lunch-time bottles of beer grouped around an ATV or a rusty old car up on blocks. It's a bit unnerving when they give you the side-long glance and smile broadly, revealing their tooth...(Cue guitar: strum, strum, strum, strum, strum...cue banjo: doo dee doo da do da do da doo...). OK, so perhaps I exaggerated a bit...they had 3 or 4 teeth.

In one village the town-folk were out clutching their beer, watching the snowmobile competition. This is where brave young men rev-up their machines at one end of a pond and glide them across to the other side. Now I now that you're thinking "What's the big deal, it's Canada after all." True enough, but contrary to popular American belief we do not live in log cabin, or igloos, and we are not snow-bound all year around, eh? Winter only lasts for 8 months...

Some places just have a welcoming feeling and project a sense of community. People are out walking the dog (on a leash) or pushing babies in strollers. A man looks at you and gives you "the nod" in greeting. Children are playing in fields (that don't have rusty old ships or burned out pick-up trucks). It's a good sign when the tin-shack tavern is derelict but the church isn't (and not the other way around). Anyhow there were no concrete decisions made, so the hunt continues.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Entrance Into Your Story

Over the past few weeks I have been following Helen Ginger's blog, "Straight From Hel." She is a freelance novel editor out of Texas whose blog carries a wealth of useful information for writers.

Her Visual Writing Prompt from last weekend drew an analogy of your "book as a home." I couldn't make the comparison anywhere near as well as Helen, so I will link you to her blog entry here.

The question she posed was: "What kind of entry into your plot have you created?"
Attached below is my ideal entry. It is from the SpaceTransform feng shui blog and I have attached the text that appeared with the entrance below the picture.
I would like a "clutter free" entrance that is somewhat organic, displaying good balance and flow, welcoming the reader to accompany on a journey. I think the door itself is a wonderful piece of work that symbolizes humanity and the story that is about to unfold.
What would be your ideal entry?
From a Feng Shui perspective, the front entrance is one of the most important features of a home, strongly affecting the experience of its inhabitants as well as its guests.
The front entrance (or the entrance used mainly) is the face of the house, and in that sense it represents a home's image and character. It greets you as you return after each excursion. It greets guests as they enter. And it leaves the final imprint as we depart into the world. It is the window between the inside sanctuary and the outside environment, the vital passageway through which chi energy flows. The entrance therefore has a very important role and should be given appropriate care and attention.

The following should be considered:

* The entrance should be clear, visible, confident. It should not hide behind overgrown bushes or plantings.

* The front porch is not a good place to store clutter or belongings which don't have a place inside the house. Many people spend time and energy carefully arranging the interiors of their houses to create a good feeling, but if the front entrance is cluttered then the experience will still suffer; by the time they and guests have arrived in to that space, they have already been negatively affected by the entrance's first impression.

* The flow of energy into the house is affected by the objects in its way. So in addition to affecting humans' perception of the home, clutter and overgrown foliage will hamper the ability for chi to enter and vitalize the space.

* Design front entrances with care and intention: clear of clutter, with a few beautiful objects arranged in a simple, balanced, harmonious way. This will provide a positive first impression, visually and energetically, for you and your guests.

* The area just inside the entrance should also be arranged well, providing a welcoming and spacious place for us to transition between the outside and inside.

Next time you enter your front entrance, pay attention to the subtle impressions it creates. What simple changes could you make to optimize this facet of your home? [photo: front door designed by Morris Sheppard]