Wednesday 27 April 2016

Money for nuthin?

It's a crushing realization to face.  Most folk who write the cheques for creative talent projects are blind to quality.  Whether unable due to genetic damage or because they're wearing heavy blindfolds of dollar bills, they cannot differentiate between schlock and skill.  

Today, I can only cite the example of self-publishers who are as pleased as puppies with the book cover they've created, using the tools provided in their word processing software and images scrounged/stolen off the web.  An actual artist could create a more pleasing image by accidentally mashing a dog turd flat under his shoe…but artists cost MONEY.

And then…I spin once around in my chair and I’m wearing just such a blindfold.

I’ve spoken to professional editors.  One in particular is a friend and gave me his most cut-rate chum discount.  He’s charging the industry-guild standard and I can’t afford it, even discounted.  I can’t afford the lowest level of service, a thorough proofing for typos, grammar and general structure.  The next level involving plot and coherency and tone…might as well ask me for a kidney.  

Luckily, for that “typo level”, I have a squad of amateur folk who are skilled enough in such matters that they could go Pro, if so inclined.  For the higher, foggier, realm of structure, it is pretty much down to me trying to be objective.  I get enough positive feedback from fellow writers and layfolk to be confident I’m offering something well above a mashed dog turd, but I can’t help but gnaw my lip a bit.

How about you?  Have you snarled in frustration at being under-appreciated and underfunded for your creative talent?  Have you saved a buck by trying to be creative all on your own?

Sunday 24 April 2016

Before you point out "plot hole"...

Whenever a critique starts with "plot holes you could drive a (big thing) thru", I wince.  And then maybe cringe. There may be a heartfelt sigh thrown in.

It's nearly certain the person making the challenge loses credibility in at least one of three ways:

1) Sharp and spikey ignorance of some facet of our world.
"They're based in New York and over the commercial break, they're suddenly in Boston! Sneer! How?" 
"They took an airplane." 
"A what?"
 "An airplane. A flying machine people use to travel." 
"Well, I never heard of an 'airplane'? How do they expect the average viewer to know such crazy things?"

2) Not actually paying attention to the plot.
"She picked up the phone and called the mayor directly. That's just silly!"
"She's the mayor's daughter." 
"What? When did they reveal that?" 
"In the first episode." 
"Well, they shouldn't be so obscure and make it clearer."

3) They really don't like the show, so are in no mood for granting leeway.
"How did they get across the city so fast in gridlock traffic? That's story-breaking unrealistic!" 
"The cop show you never miss does that every episode." 
"Yeah, well...the cop on that show is cute. This guy is ugly and has a funny moustache."

If all three of these situations can be honestly said not to apply, then we can talk “plot holes”.

(Amendment Clause:  Innocent confusion may prevail in some instances.  The original production might have had explanations of “airplanes” or “mayor’s daughters”, but we only saw the episode after some greedy editing job removed that scene in order to show us dancing rabbits selling toilet paper.)

Friday 22 April 2016


Did I just indulge in "clickbait" with that title? Maybe. Apologies if you've come looking for sexual content, because that's not the usage of the word "porn" I'm exploring here today.

In writing (and film), there is the "mainstream". Real people involved with real problems in the real world. On a personal note, this is often real boring.

Because I'm not alone in that somewhat facetious remark, the next level is "genre fiction". This is (real) people with (real) problems in the (real) world. In this case, substitute one of those (real) with "unreal". In good genre fiction, usually only one substitution is allowed. Exceptions can be made with a skilled writer at the keyboard.

Some of the breadth and depth of characterization or other storytelling requirements might suffer in service to the Unreal. Skilled writers can rise to the challenge and provide a balanced story even while catering to the fans who love the Unreal aspect. Mediocre writers put all their energies into the Unreal, leaving the Real aspects to languish. (and thus give the genre a rank odour to outsiders poking their nose in)

Below bad genre writing is Porn. This is where the Real aspects are lucky if they're included, and are pathetic cliches if present. All energies are focused on the Unreal, creating a wild imbalance of storytelling.

Today, I'm asserting that Porn needs an adjective. We're all familiar with sex-porn. (The real: "Pizza delivery!" "Come in while I get my purse. Oops, my bath towel slipped!"...and the ensuing 97% is the Unreal.) Another widespread example would be kung fu or martial arts porn. ("You are terrorizing my family and the neighbourhood!" "HAHAHA...yes I am. What are you going to do about it peasant?"...and the ensuing 97% is Unreal)

I've heard the recently blockbuster "The Martian" called "competence porn" (the book more than the movie). I'll agree with that. Yesterday I finished a book that could only be called "slacker-gamer addict porn", where flimsy cliches support a tale of these video game junkies rising to save the world with more panache and skill than a dozen round tables of noble knights.

Sometimes porn is what a person wants. Sometimes, all I eat for supper is a bag of cookies. An occasional indulgence is allowed, but it's the dark path to mental scurvy and the guilt crabs.

My point? I wish vendors, and maybe reviewers, would call a porn a porn. After my recent experience, don't tell me the story is an in-depth look into pizza delivery. Be honest and tell me it's mostly about naked people getting sweaty.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Another comic rant?

Here I am, reading another frustrating review praising the "bold and exciting changes in (long-established character)  This ain't your daddy's (character)!"  

This perpetual hamster wheel of changing what ain't broke leaves me queasy and grumpy.

Then a metaphor hit me.

There are two types of comic book fans.  Give a kid a random bunch of toys including action figures.

Oh…hold on.  I don't have to reinvent the wheel here.  Toy Story (the first one) did it already.

Andy plays with his toys and intends to play with them tomorrow.  His plots are wild and goofy, but the characters stay true. Woody and Buzz are heroes thru out.  The toys are elements that inspire his imagination, and creativity.

Sid, the scritch kid next door, obviously never leaves this world.  His imagination is locked in reality.  His toys are just toys.  He has fun with them, but his joy comes from messing with pieces of plastic and testing them to (literal) destruction.

Andy treasures his toys because he has a strong hope that they'll take him to new worlds of imagination and fun tomorrow and next week and next month and who knows how far?  And when they no longer have the power to lift his growing mind (Toy Story 3), he passes them on to aid the younger generation.

Sid is interested only in the visceral cheap thrills of the moment.  He'll mash them and rebuild them then twist them until they're unrecognizable pieces.  Then, for the grand finale, he shoves a firecracker up their ass and blows them to bits.  He was vastly entertained, but only for a few days.  Now he looks for something else to warp and bend.

And, requiring no great stretch of cognition, there you have in a nutshell the two camps of comic book creators and fans.

Sunday 17 April 2016

The book of the month

Abigail Maye "Blackie" Brewster can't believe her luck—schlepping around in the summer heat as the assistant of a high-maintenance movie producer.  When did her life become a mix of flat and irritating?  What's a world-wandering nomad from Saskatchewan to do?

Abagael Mae "Magpie” Brewster can't believe her luck—spending the summer sailing the skies in a prototype steam blimp, flying a circuit of the Western Domains, engaging in a little light espionage.  What more could a University of Saskatchewan Academician desire?

Blackie's life veers in a direction that threatens to snap her mind.  Magpie's light-hearted spying takes a hard and dangerous direction that threatens to snap her spirit.  When the paths of these identical twins born of different mothers intersect and tangle together, their lives become a race across a rolling prairie landscape both familiar and strange.

Home on the Strange is a rootin'-tootin' daredevil tale of far-fetched fiction in a west that does not share our history.

Learn more about the book and buy an ePub copy!

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Fair warning

Oh, the fun of an "English Class"

It may seem oxymoronic, being a writer and all, but I never enjoyed “English Class”.  Back in high school, this covered lessons grammar, composition, writing, Shakespeare, poetry and story analysis.  Okay, some it ain't so bad.  Shakespeare is good.  Poetry rather depends on how much nuts a person can tolerate in their ice cream.  So, I should be more precise in saying I never enjoyed the “story analysis” part of any of these lessons.  Nothing kills "Hamlet" for more students than spending a month mulching every Act and Scene for its secret meaning.  Poetry lies lifeless and dead after each stanza is wrung for every drop of "what is the theme"?

For years upon years I have avoided the scenarios where fiction is formally scrutinized to find the allegorical subtext of the underlying metaphor’s inherent flaws.  This month I voluntarily entered that realm again.  It’s a non-credit university class in Canadian Science Fiction.  Based on the recommendation that the professor possesses a dynamic, congenial and open-minded style, I decided to go for it.

After four classes, the professor’s reputation is well-deserved and my classmates are a friendly bunch.’s still an English Class.

If you will permit me this analogy:  imagine a group of us being served a “Fiesta Omelette”.  First impressions agree that the cook diced up ingredients to create a flavour evoking the cuisines from south of the Rio Grande.

Then we start discussing just what ingredients are in the recipe.  The teacher knows, but wants us to figure things out.  We list mushrooms, tomatoes, bell pepper, maybe some jalapeƱo, and the we start to peter out.  Coaxed by the teacher, we are intrigued to learn the cook’s secret ingredients are a splash of tequila and a pinch of oregano!

And that’s interesting and I’d be a happy puppy to stop there.

However, the analysis proceeds.  Someone read the cook is a fat, lesbian Baldonian.  Is it appropriate that she appropriate the Mexican culture?  Another suspects the eggs weren’t locally-sourced from free range hens, so does it even qualify to be called an omelette?  Encouraged by the teacher, the babble rises about whether the tequila is a sexist attack on the values of new immigrants?  And the mushrooms, well, the mushrooms are an obvious penis substitute.  Furthermore...

The "omelette" in this analogy is sitting in my mind like a glop of cold mud.  I don't care if I ever read anything by this author ever again.  My high school reflexes come out.  As my classmates vigorously debate whether the story has an anti-homosexual agenda, I start to doodle in my notebook...

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Speculative fiction chatter

A couple of years ago, I followed a chatter stream on the ethics of parallel Earth plagiarism.  As in, a world next door where their history has been rattled enough that many Names are not the same.  Given that situation, how much of a rat would a person be to copy the Great Works of Creativity here and flog them over there?  Or vice versa?

The ethics, morality and legality of all that is interesting, but it triggered some thinking of an attendant nature:  would flogging these works even be possible?  

The more I think on it, the more I marvel at how particular the consumer field really is for any crops to grow.  First off, there are the blatant shifts and tastes.  There I go, loaded down with, say, the entire Beatles sheet music catalogue to a world that never heard of Lennon-McCartney.  Grinning away at the easy money to come.  

But...history has it that the Beatles met with more than a few rejections from record labels before someone took a chance on them.  Couple that with a music history trivia fact that many Big Record Companies thought rock n’ roll was an unpleasant fad that would end soon enough.  Somewhat impatient, they tried to force the end by making a big push with “bossa nova” (“Blame it on the Bossa Nova” by Eydie Gorme being a noteworthy effort).  We know how that effort fared in our world, but suppose it was a resounding success in this parallel Earth?  It could be very likely that my sheaf of Beatle’s music is of interest only to indie bands playing to a minority fringe of diehard rockers.

Let’s not get into hyper-detail.  Suffice to say that such a traveller would be playing very long odds indeed to “speculate” by taking an armload of popular creativity and expecting it to pay off.

The odds improve if the traveller can scout ahead and get the lay of the creative landscape first.  Find out what s/he can export or import that synchs up with successful trends.

BUT, even then, that traveller better be well-connected in the field to make use of his stolen works.  So I take the “Wings” songbook to a world where Paul McCartney was murdered instead of John Lennon.  And vice versa, bring home a suitcase of Lennon songs from that world.  I have no way to flog them in either world.  I can’t begin to conceive how to claim I came into possession of a dusty old trunk of lost tunes that would hold up under scrutiny.  I could have the cojones to claim them as my own, but I’d only be lost in a crowd of hopeful musicians, trying to get a meeting/break.

Books, art, music...whoever tries to pull this “import scam” has to be already connected in the particular industry to be able to step to the front of the very long queue with the treasure in hand.

A scenario/plot could be worked out where the right person with the right savvy with the right connections comes into the means of hopping to parallel Earths...but I can’t see it happening to the rest of us.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Chapters or not to chapters

Spinning off the Great Prologue Question:  Do we really need "chapters"?

In the midst of discussing whether "Prologue" is a dirty word, the obvious solution came forth to simply call it "Chapter 1" and avoid the stigma of labels.  The chat whirled away whether the Prologue's content could be smoothly and thematically considered a "Chapter".  

In the meantime, I sat back and puzzled at why we need these artificial breaks in the narrative. Are they there for people to have milestones as they race each other?  "I've read all the way to Chapter 9!"  Or a way to keep track of your progress "Don't tell me anything!  I'm only up to Chapter 9!"

As I write, I put in an extra line to denote time passing and/or a change of scene.  Definitely when there’s a viewpoint shift.  Is that extra space not enough?  When it came time to publish Home on the Strange-a Brewster & Brewster Adventure, I was prepared to stick to my guns and not bother with these “we now pause for a commercial” chapter breaks.  But then my sister suggested I could put spot illustrations at each chapter.  Really give some value and pizazz.  So I went thru the entire manuscript and picked moments to make very big pause moments.

If I go the illustration route with my work-in-progress, I’ll do it again.  But if no drawings, I may not bother.  Am I crazy?

Monday 4 April 2016

Unsung SF film

The number of definitions for “science fiction” is roughly equal to half the number of individuals who have read a science fiction book.  In other words, there are a lot of definitions.  Trying to pin down the precise definition is like polling a line-up at Starbucks on the perfect cup of coffee.  It occupies a lot of time at pubs and/or conventions.

For myself, I generally say it’s “the real world plus X”.  Sometimes “X” can be a clever little invention, an alien fleet descending from the sky or the real world plus 3000 years of accumulated history (ie: the future).  Of course, if “X” gets too whackadoodle, the book drifts into “fantasy”.

The “addition of a new invention and its effect on our real world” is a definition that borders on the axiomatic.  Naturally, just how radical that gizmo is results in bigger ripple-shocks in our world, but the basic framework is “new invention-gadget impacts people and their lives”.  I’m not saying this is the only definition of SF, but it is one of biggies.

Okay.  I don’t see anyone squirming in disagreement out there so far.  Let's proceed.

With that preamble digested, I present to you a movie that is an unsung (hee-hee) example of Science Fiction.  A movie many people greatly enjoy, not realizing they are watching that “weirdo SF stuff”.  A movie ignored when the other SF film classics of the 1950’s are ranked and discussed.

“Singing in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.  (1952)

The invention of the talking motion picture turns the lives of Our Heroes upside down, thoroughly rattles the industry (Hollywood) and goes on to alter our culture for a century and still counting.

How is that not science fiction?

Thank you for your attention.