Monday, September 3, 2012

Prolific vs. good

“Hitchcock is the most overrated director of all time,” the boss said one day.

At the bookstore I work at aside from selling lottery tickets, cigarettes, pop, and chips, we also buy and sell used DVDs. What prompted the boss’s comment was a box set he had just bought of Alfred Hitchcock’s early works, the crappy public domain stuff that gets sold on double-sided discs in dollar stores. I love Hitchcock but these bargain-bin collections are pretty shitty. Sure there will be a few diamonds in the rough (The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes) but most of it isn’t worth watching.

But I couldn’t let a comment like that stand. Up until that point I’d been having a bad day. I don’t remember why. Maybe I had received another story rejection. Maybe two. Maybe I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Whatever the reason, I had resigned myself to the fact that it was just going to be a bad day and there was nothing I could do about it. The boss’s comment made me stop and re-examine that. I could take anything the world cared to throw at me, but I wasn’t going to keep quiet when one of my favourite directors was being disparaged.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Mortal Kombat test

Ugh, I hate my blog. No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that! It's just, with all I have going on, the blog started to seem like just one more chore. Since I don't want this poor little website to wither and die, I'm trying not to take it so seriously.So please forgive me if the posts over the next little bit are a bit tongue in cheek. There's lots of sites you can go to for actual solid writing advice.

But today we get down to some serious business: pen names.

Pen names are a tricky business. Personally, I find it hard enough to keep a handle on myself just going by one name, so I stick with it no matter what genre I’m in. I’ve had romance, mystery stories, slice-of-life stories, horror, and sci-fi all published under ‘Shannon Fay.’

But there is another reason why I use my real name rather than a myriad collection of alias, and that’s because my name passes a little something I call the ‘Mortal Kombat test.’ I’m sharing this with you now so that you can put your name to the test and see if you need a pen name or not.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In the Future We Will Not Spend Our Money But Our Time

Lately I feel like I’m back in school again. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just surreal. This morning I got up early (well, early for me) and headed over to my old university so I could take part in a research programme the psychology department is conducting. Anyone who has ever been a cash-strapped university student is probably familiar with these trials: They run the gamut from sociological experiments to drug testing. Basically, you volunteer to become a human lab rat. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Creator and destoryer

A story of mine was recently rejected. It was actually a very nice rejection: the story had gotten far along in the submission process and I received feedback on it from the magazine’s editors. I decided to take what they had to say into consideration and tinker with the story a little bit before sending it back out (oh yeah, take that Heinlein!).

I knew what I had to do: I needed to strengthen the bad guy, smooth out the middle, and basically just set it apart from your run-of-the-mill mystery story. But when I sat down to re-write it...the re-written story was already there on my computer. Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo (that’s supposed to be the Twilight Zone theme music, in case you are horribly confused). 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

First review ever!

Diabolical Plots has reviews up for the April Daily Science Fiction stories, including mine. This is exciting for me because it’s the first time I’ve ever had a story reviewed by an impartial third party. Plus, they have some nice things to say:
“A Special Day” by Shannon Fay (debut 4/18 and reviewed by Frank D). A ski bunny takes a sudden interest in the protagonist and buys him a coffee. The ensuing conversation drifts to an unlikely subject.
The subject matter in “A Special Day” is about the day no one celebrates, the pre-anniversary date of their death. It is a day only the snow bunny can appreciate. The tale has a twist that comes out of nowhere yet isn’t surprising when it is revealed. I found the story to be sound but was one where the protagonist became a third wheel in the tale. Interesting.
 Very cool, and they're right about the main character becoming less relevant as the story goes on (though I kind of like that). But they're wrong about the main character being a guy. This isn't the first time I've seen someone make that assumption. I can see how it could happen. The main character's gender isn't central to the story and since it's a first person narration people are going to project a lot onto the character in order to fill in the gaps. It's understandable that a man reading the story would imagine that the narrator is also a guy (heck, a woman reading the story might think the main character is a guy, seeing how male is still seen as the 'default' gender).

But at the same time, I do include things to show that the narrator is a girl. There's her name for one ('Moria' may not be a popular girl name, but it's still a girl's name) and the fact that another character refers to her indirectly as 'she' ('Even a keener like you would take a break on her birthday').

Like I said, it's not central to the story, but it is there. I really believe that female characters are under represented in fiction and it's important to me to write worlds populated by woman characters. One thing I like about 'A Special Day' is that at it's heart it's just two very different girls talking at a coffee shop. Story-wise it's not a world of difference if, instead, it's a guy and a girl talking in a coffee shop, but while it might not mean a big deal to the story it makes a big difference to me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How to Turn Minor Annoyances into EPICS

Growing up my father would sing and play guitar to put me and my brother to sleep. Amidst the classic rock standards (The Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin) he also played a lot of his own material. My dad’s a gifted musician and lyricist and to me, listening to him play as I dropped off to sleep, there was never a drop in quality when he would switch back and forth between McCartney to Lennon to himself to Robert Plant. Even now as an adult I still believe that.

Dad’s songs had great melodies and lyrics but an overwhelming majority of them were about heartache. Think ‘Angie’ by the Rolling Stones, mix in ‘Yesterday’ and you’re getting close to the level of angst my dad imbued his songs with. Remember, he wrote these songs as a teenage boy, long before he fell in love with my mother, and as the saying goes he wrote what he knew. One night after listening him sing one of his more passionate songs about a woman who had cast him aside coldly and cruelly, I had to ask:

 “Jeez dad, what did this girl do to you?”

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Story in Woman's World magazine

Just a quick post to say that a romance story of mine, 'Love is in the Air,' is in this week's (the July 16th) issue of Woman's World magazine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Karate and writing

Welcome to my blog, where the Monday updates come on a Tuesday.

Last week I talked about the importance of writing everyday. This post is a bit similar to that, in that it is also about putting in the hours and not giving up. The last week or two has been pretty spotty when it comes to my 'write every day' vow. There was an out-of-town anime convention one weekend and a best friend's wedding the next. On top of that I took on some extra shifts at work to make up for the hours I lost going to these things, so all in all I've been pretty busy and it's thrown my schedule out of whack.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On the Importance of Writing Every Day

In my last post I mentioned that one of my new goals was to write every day. This might seem like an obvious goal, and in a way it is: a writer writes. You need to put in the hours to produce even crap, let alone something worth reading. Writing every day will get your story down quicker than, say, writing only every second Tuesday but only when there's a full moon.

But for me it's more than just getting things done. It's about training the mind. Let me explain by talking about roller coasters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Or, in honour of Euro Cup, GOOOOOOAAAAAALS!

Ahem. The half-year mark is a good time to look at the resolutions you set back in January. It's important not only to take stock of the work you've done so far but to also evaluate the goals themselves and see whether they're even still relevant to you.

For 2012 I made a simple, straightforward goal: each month I would submit a new story to Woman's World magazine. Woman's World is a weekly woman's magazine sold throughout North America. Each issue they publish one mystery story and one romance story.  I've had some success selling stories to them, and I wanted to build on that.

So, in the first week of January I sent off a mystery. Right on track! In February I mailed them a romance. Good job Shannon! In March...I did a lot of things in March, but subbing a story to Woman's World was not one of them. Same deal for April. It was only in May that I got back on it and sent them a mystery story. Tomorrow I plan to mail them a romance story, filling my quota for June.

So, for the first half of 2012, I'm batting an average of 4/6 when it comes to following through on my resolutions. Not the best track record. Could be worse. Either way I'm still committed to doing better. But were those even the right goals for me?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Books I've read so far in 2012 (Part 2)

Ack. My goal is to update every Monday, but it's looking like June is going to be one of those two posts months. Sorry.

Let's see, what's quick and easy and something I could post about and erase this bloggers guilt? Aha! Time for...

Books I've Read so Far in 2012 (part 2)

Wake by Robert J. Sawyer - The good: I love Becky Sharp and it's cool to see a fourteen-year-old blind girl at the center of a sci-fi series. The bad: Sawyer's sense of humour is just too corny for me. Also, he lays the Canadianisms on real think- did you know that there are differences between Canada and the U.S.? This book will hit you over the head with every single one of them.

'Wake' really feels like part one in a series. There are lots of dangling plot threads left to dangle in the wind. I didn't feel this book was satisfying on it's own, and I don't feel inclined to read part 2 and 3 to get the complete picture.

Servant of the Underworld: Obsidan & Blood, book 1 by Aliette de Bodard - A really interesting fantasy/mystery set in the Aztec empire. Ms. de Bodard does a great job of not only rebuilding the Aztec empire but creating a magic system to go with it. I look forward to reading other books in the series.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler - This book has gone on my list of 'books everyone should read.' Ms. Butler creates a world teetering between pre and post apocalyptic. Sure, there might be wild dogs roaming the streets and thieves and killers keep trying to break into your gated community, but at least there are still presidential elections. The book covers a ton of fascinating themes, including religion, race, class and gender, but still also works as a fast-paced novel about survival. 

The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer - I blogged about this one a few weeks back and how it managed to grab me out of all the other books in the used bookstore I work at. The Prophet Murders is an odd book, going back and forth between flippantly funny and drastically dark with the turn of a page. It's like if you combined 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' with the 'Shopaholic' series. I enjoyed reading it, even if it throw me for a loop sometimes with it's fluctuating moods.

Four books isn't a lot, I know, but I have been reading a ton of short stories as well. From the library's discard pile I picked up an old science fiction anthology that has several classics in it, such as 'For I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream' by Harlan Ellison and 'Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell. I've also read the latest issue of Asimov's and Interzone, and I've been making my way through 'Les Miserables' (only 500 more pages to go!). Plus there's also the myriad short stories on the net that I've read here and there.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The 'How Can I Not Read This?' Factor

Sometimes when it's slow at work I look at the books on the shelves, daring one to grab me. The other day while browsing through the mystery section I came across 'The Prophet Murders' by Mehmet Murat Somer. Here's the summary from Amazon:

"The first in a new Turkish detective series. A killer is on the loose in Istanbul and killing transvestites. Our protagonist—fellow transvestite, nightclub owner, and glamour-puss extraordinaire—turns into an investigator in the search for the killer. It’s a tough case—can she end the slaughter without breaking a nail?"

The summary on the back of the book goes into a little more detail, but the point is after reading the back my first thought was 'How could I not read this?' And as I thought that, something clicked in my mind.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rejection: The Movie- This time it’s personal

A few weeks ago I noted that I was close to getting my 100th rejection. I got it early last week. I thought it would be a big deal, but in truth I was so busy with writing and deadlines that the event barely registered and it wasn’t long before I got another rejection anyway, further diminishing the one that came before it.

But now that I have a little bit more time I can roll out some stats.  I’ve been writing seriously since about the spring of 2009. And when I say ‘seriously,’ I mean varying degrees of seriousness. In 2009 I made two short story submissions (and got me first two rejections). In 2010 I made five submissions, doubling my submission rate for the previous year and also getting me my first acceptance. In 2011 I started taking part in Write 1 Sub 1, and drove my submission count up to 60 submissions for that year (and getting three more acceptances).

So far in 2012 I’ve made 58 submissions. I’ve almost matched my submission count for 2011, and it’s not even June yet. Sure, I haven’t sold a story yet this year, but if my past stats show anything, it’s that it’s only a matter of time before I sell a story. And even if it takes a while, I’m also just pleased with how much more productive I am when it comes to writing.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Link: How to Write Flash Fiction article in The Guardian

Last Monday there was an article by David Gaffney in The Guardian about how to write flash fiction. There was a lot of good insight in it, and I encourage writers to check it out:

One of my favourites was his note about making the title work for a living. When you only have 1000 words, the title can be a godsend- it's like getting two or five or seven words scot-free! I also liked his bit about making the last line ring like a bell. Flash fiction is often compared to telling a joke, in that you've got to have just the right amount of set-up and a killer punchline. A solid last line can turn a vignette into an actual story.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sometimes I Steal Ideas from my Five-Year-Old Brother

Yesterday I was sitting in my parents' living room with my brother and sister when our five-year-old brother came downstairs.

“I am a robot,” he told us. “I know everything.”

“What’s two plus two?” I asked the robot.

“Easy,” he replied. You would think that if you knew everything there would be no easy or hard questions, just questions, but whatever. “It’s four.”

“What’s five plus five?” my other brother asks.

“Ten,” the robot replies confidently.

“What’s the square root of 16?” my sister asks. The robot narrows his eyes. We stare at it, waiting for this all-knowing machine to tell us the answer.

It sighs. “Well, I guess I have to do this now.”

The robot pulls out his toy lightsaber and slaughters all three of us.

There is a story idea in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Kingdom for a Stamp

I’m very close to getting my 100th rejection. Yay! Almost time to order the cake (I’m picturing a black forest cake with those little number candles. Mmmm.)

Out of those ninety-something rejections I’ve gotten only a handful of them were postal submissions. Most of my stories have been submitted through e-mail or online submission systems. I like living in a digital age: with e-mail I get almost immediate confirmation that the magazine received my story and sometimes even a tracking number to see how far along in the queue my story is.

The other thing I like about e-mail submitting is that it costs me nothing. I don’t have to buy paper or ink or worry if my printer is going to conk out on me. I don’t have to use an envelope and go to the post office to mail it. I don’t have to include a self-addressed stamped envelope in order to hear back about my story.

Ah, the SASE. A bit of a tricky business when you live in Canada and most of your markets are in the U.S. Canada Post is not allowed to sell U.S. stamps (or any other country’s stamps for that matter besides Canada’s) so on top of paying the two bucks it takes to mail my submission I also need to buy an International Reply Coupon for five dollars, which means that each postal submission costs me $7.00 to mail (and that’s before factoring in cost of paper and ink).

It’s a shame, because there are a lot of markets I like that only accept postal subs. I’d love to submit stuff to Fantasy & Science Fiction as often as I do to Asimov’s and Analog, but the cost has always made me hesitant. I’ll grit my teeth and do it, but it hurts.

I needed American stamps. I quickly came up with two plans of action: 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Brief Interlude

For such a long day I got very little writing done.

I woke up around eight. After a shower I go online and see what the Shock Totem prompt is for this month's flash fiction challenge. As always, it's a good one and I get five ideas right away. I mull it over as I take the bus downtown. Driver gives me an extra long transfer ticket- instead of cutting me off at 12:30, I have until 1:30 to make the round trip. Score! When you're pinching pennies even a free bus trip becomes reason to celebrate.

I get to the library in time to meet up with the lady who runs the adult literacy program. We talk for an hour about what it means to be a tutor. I'm pretty excited about this: for such a small commitment (two hours each Thursday) I could have such a huge, positive impact on someone's life. Plus, as a volunteer at the library, I don't have to worry about late fees. No late fees. So I get to do interesting, rewarding work, help somebody improve their life, and I don't have to worry about a five dollar fine if I keep those Project Runway season six DVDs out for a few extra days? This is great! Sign me up!

It's a nice spring day, so after I load up my backpack with teaching how-to books I go sit on bench. I'm eating my apple when I feel my phone buzzing in my coat pocket.

"Hello, is this Shannon?" I recognize the voice. Last week I had a interview at my old University about being a don. A don is basically like a den mother or an R.A. They live on campus and help out the students living under their supervision. I really wanted this gig. On one hand, I'd be like the most awesome big sister ever to those kids, caring but keeping them in line. On the other hand, it would be like being a writer in residence. As a don you don't get paid, but you do get a place to live and all the cafeteria food you can eat. With my essentials covered, I'd have the whole day to write.Maybe when I was feeling especially whimsical I could pretend that I was the writer-in-residence in Paris living above Shakespeare and Company. When I looked out the window I wouldn't see a boring city street but the river Seine and the Notre Dame. 

But I can tell from the voice that my little daydream is as far away from me as Paris is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Story at Daily Science Fiction; 'A Special Day'

A story of mine is online at Daily Science Fiction today. Go check it out!

(If you came to this blog after reading the story, don't click the link! You'll be sucked into a never-ending whirlpool where you read the story, click on the link for this blog, then click on the link for the story, then click on the link for this blog, then click on the link for the story...)

For 'A Special Day' I wanted to write a simple, suspenseful story. Surprise is easy, but tension? That's hard. Hitchcock once illustrated the difference by saying: "There's two people having breakfast and there's a bomb under the table. If it explodes, that's a surprise. But if it doesn't..." Now, I really do love Hitchcock, but I think he's selling himself short here. If you have interesting, sharp characters doing the talking, you don't need a bomb under the table: they are the bomb. I was trying to go for that kind of suspense with this story and I think I got it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Movie Openings vs. Book Openings: Outside-in vs. Inside-out

I know I said my next post would be about language and dialect in crime fiction, but as you can see that’s not the case. I’m still going to do it, it’s just I’m planning to use James Ellroy as my example and the books I own of his are in a box somewhere in my parents' basement. I’m moving soon and will have access to them then, but until then I’m going to procrastinate and talk about the difference between the opening minutes of a film vs. The opening pages of a novel.

Last night I watched ‘Alien’ for the first time. Everyone’s got a list of classic films they haven’t seen, and the Alien movies are on mine. My plan is to watch them all before Prometheus comes out so I can stop feigning enthusiasm whenever I’m talking about it with my fellow film geek friends. Anyway, after a long credit sequence, the movies starts off with several outer and interior shots of a spaceship. We don’t see any people, just long empty hallways (I tried to find the opening scene on Youtube, but the best I could find was here. Skip over to 2:27 to get past the credit sequence). Its a few minutes before we see any human beings. The movie starts outside (literally, with the shots outside the spaceship) and then shows us the world in more detail (the shots of the inside of the ship) and only then shows us the characters.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything I Know I Learned From Crime (Fiction) - Part 2: Strong Verbs

Strong verbs solve so many problems. They slay adjectives and adverbs, colour otherwise bland narration, and show the reader you know what you’re doing.

Crime writers are masters of the strong verb. Hardboiled prose requires crisp, clear narration. Even when we’re in the detective’s head the narration stays tight. Sure the private dick might spend a couple of paragraphs describing the other patrons at the dive bar he or she’s at, but even when the story digresses from the main plot the writing itself still stays lean and sharp.

My favourite writer for this is Charles Willeford. Just look at the opening paragraph to his novel ‘Pick-Up:’

‘It must have been around a quarter to eleven. A sailor came in and ordered a chili dog and coffee. I sliced a bun, jerked a frank out of the boiling water, nested it, poured a half-dipper of chili over the frank and sprinkled it liberally with chopped onions. I scribbled a check and put it by his plate. I wouldn't have recommended the unpalatable mess to a starving animal. The sailor was the only customer, and after he ate his dog he left.’

Now let’s look at it again, only this time I’m going to highlight the verbs.

‘It must have been around a quarter to eleven. A sailor came in and ordered a chili dog and coffee. I sliced a bun, jerked a frank out of the boiling water, nested it, poured a half-dipper of chili over the frank and sprinkled it liberally with chopped onions. I scribbled a check and put it by his plate. I wouldn't have recommended the unpalatable mess to a starving animal. The sailor was the only customer, and after he ate his dog he left.’

Now of course not all of these verbs are super exciting, but I love the strong verbs used to describe how the protagonist gets the hot dog together: sliced, jerked, nested. Such interesting actions for such a mundane task. But the words aren’t just there for razzle-dazzle: through the main character’s quick but sure movements (poured, sprinkled, scribbled) we get the sense that he’s been doing this for a long time, that he’s spent many a quarter to eleven dishing up disgusting food to strangers and that he’s tired of it. On a large scale all of this is setting up the rest of the novel. On a smaller scale it’s setting up the very next line:

‘That was the exact moment she entered.’

Ah yes, we can see now that things are about to change, that maybe this night is the last night our protagonist is going to spend slopping together chili dogs for drunken sailors. But is his life going to change for the better or worse? Well, that would be spoiling the novel.

Next week: Part 3: Lingo

Friday, March 23, 2012

Everything I Know I Learned From Crime (Fiction) - Part 1: Opening Sentences

I love crime stories. Heists, long-cons, murder gone wrong, detective stories, police procedurals, I love them all. I love crime as a genre because it is both escapism - the life of a criminal mastermind is pretty far-removed from my own law-abiding, mundane existence- yet at the same time crime manages to worm its way into everyday existence. But I also like crime stories just because I like the style of writing. Hardboiled novels have a bit of a bad rap thanks to all the noir parodies out there (i.e. “She came to the door with nothing on but the radio.”*) but there is a lot to learn from crime fiction, no matter what genre you write in. Over the next few weeks I plan to go through several of the things that crime fiction in particular has helped me with.

Part 1: Opening Sentences

Dashiell Hammett was one of the pioneers of the hardboiled detective novel. His 1929 novel Red Harvest is a particular favourite of mine, in part because of the opening sentence:

“I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.”

This opening sentence tells us several things. One, the story’s point of view is a first person narrator who likes to include lots of incidental details in his telling (do we need to know that he heard the nickname in Montana, and the name of the bar he was in? Maybe not, but this kind of detail soon became a trademark of hardboilded fiction). Also, we can see that the author has a gift for names. I mean, Hickey Dewey? A name like that is a good tip that this novel is going to be filled with over the top characters with colourful names (ironically, the protagonist is never named). Most important of all, it tells us what this book is about: not a person, not a thing, but a place. A place that has an officially friendly, welcoming name (‘Personville’) but it more commonly known as a place of moral rot and decay, a poisoned town.

(On a more meta level, it also hints that Hammett isn’t talking about a fictional place at all, but at taking a swipe at Butte, Montana.)

Phew, that’s a lot of heavy lifting for one sentence to do. But I love it. An opening sentence is like firing a bullet from a gun. The rest of the novel should follow naturally, like the trajectory of a bullet until it embeds itself in the back cover of the book.

Next up: Part Two: The Use of Strong Verbs

*Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a fun movie and an affectionate parody of the hardboiled detective genre.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Books I've read (so far) in 2012 - Part 1

'You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After Their Breakup' - If you ever want to become disillusioned about artists you admire, read a book about them. Especially one that focuses on one of the most turbulent periods in their lives, like when they all hate each other and are taking each other to court. The author does a good job of laying out the financial and legal aspects of The Beatles dissolving, while at the same time still keeping the people involved and the human drama at the forefront.

The Kingdom of the Gods
- I feel like I can never accurately judge N.K. Jemisin's books: I just have too much fun reading them to pick them apart. The book, the third in a trilogy, takes a supporting character from the previous two books and puts him in the lead. I like Sieh, but I think I like him better when there's a little more mystery to him- aka, when he's not narrating the whole book.

Let the Right One In - Sometimes you pick up a novel and after a few pages you just know that you're reading your new favourite book. That's what happened with me and Let the Right One In. The book is funny, dark, scary, violent and sweet- often all at once. It is probably my second favourite book featuring a pedophile as a main character (it would be number 1, but Lolita is a tough book to top).

The Prestige - One of the cases where the movie is better than the book. Someone had described the book to me in a way that made it sound really weird - 'Dueling magicians! And one of them turns into a ghost and haunts the others descendants!' But the book is nowhere near as wacky as I had hoped it would be. It's a fine enough novel, but I think it could have used a little more razzle-dazzle.

The Devil Wears Prada - I was on vacation, and I was just looking for something light to read, and I got it in this book.

Currently reading: Servant of The Underworld by Aliette De Bodard as part of the Absolute Write SF/F book club. If you want to take part, check out the thread here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Schopenhauer, Music, and Writing

Sorry for the no-show post last week, I was on vacation.

German philosophers have a reputation for being depressing, and it’s easy see why when they’ve got a nihilistic heavy-weight like Nietzsche on their team. But while pretty much anyone can quote Nietzsche (sometimes without even realizing it) not as many people know Arthur Schopenhauer. A 19th century writer, Schopenhauer did nothing to break the ‘German-philosophers-sure-make-you-want-to-cut-open-a-vein’ stereotype: his philosophy was a purely pessimistic one, purporting that desire could never be fulfilled, only negated.

But everybody’s got to have something that makes them happy, even a sourpuss like Schopenhauer. For him it was music. Not opera, not folk songs, but just pure instrumental music. To Schopy music in its ‘purest form’ represented the purest expression of ideas, the closest the external world could get to expressing man’s abstract inner thoughts.

As a writer, I often think about Schopenhauer’s take on music. I often listen to music as I write. Sometimes I do this for very base reasons, like to get my blood pumping and psych myself up for another round of writing (the Mortal Kombat theme is my go-to song for this. In fact I’m listening to it as I write this blog post). But more often than not it’s because the song has meaning to me and relates to the story in my mind. It’s not as simple as say, listening to a song about cowboys while writing a western. For me it’s more about how the mood of the song captures something that I’m trying to express in my work. For example, I recently finished a novella that was largely inspired by the sense of unease I get when I listen to ‘I Am The Walrus.’ Lately I’ve been listening to MGMT’s song ‘Electric Feel’ on repeat as I try to find a way to translate the smooth elation I feel whenever I hear that song. Often I will get an idea from a specific lyric, but more often it’s the music itself that gets to me. I like it when a song can make me feel something so deeply that in turn I want to figure out how to express that same feeling through a totally different medium.

And with that note, I should get back to writing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Importance of Red Shirts

Recently, a beta reader who was looking over a novella for me said she wasn’t surprised when a certain character died: something about the guy just marked him as a ‘red shirt’ from the start. At first I was a little concerned. This character’s death was supposed to be a turning point, an event that showed that we were moving into the climax of the story and that things were serious now. If this guy seemed like a red shirt, that might dampen the impact of the moment.

(Point of interest: The term ‘red shirt’ comes from the original Star Trek series and refers to the fact that whenever an away party beamed down to an alien planet, there was generally one red-shirted crew member who got eaten/phasered/wasted by the bad guys. I hope that was educational for you. Next week I will explain the term ‘Jump the shark.’).

Monday, February 13, 2012

'Absolute Visions,' on sale now!

I'm part of a fantastic writers' forum called Absolute Write. AW is packed with talented writers, so when forum owner MacAllister Stone announced that she was putting together a speculative fiction anthology there were plenty of submissions, including mine. I sent in a personal favourite: a short sci-fi story called 'The Machine that Loved Alan Turing.' It's kind of a personal one for me, which sounds weird since it's a dystopia story about a robot in love with a long dead historical figure, but hey man, I can relate. I really love this story, but I was starting to worry that I was the only one: it had been rejected seven times before I subbed it to the AW anthology.

But then...accepted! My story was one of the 19 that made it into the book. I'm humbled not only to have made it into the anthology, but to have my name alongside writers that I admire such as Suzanne Palmer and K.L. Townsend. I have yet to read the other stories in the anthology, but I am still sure of their quality.

It's really amazing to have something of mine show up when I type in my name on Amazon.  Right now the hardcopy of the book is for sale for $9.99 on here. A kindle version should be up soon, but for now I can't wait to have the real thing here in my hands.

Oh God, that last part sounds like 'That's what she said' set-up...

Anyway, in case I'm not being subtle enough: Buy this book! It's full of work by both talented writers and illustrators (did I mention there's illustrations?). Support not only the artists but a great forum.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Somethings aren't obvious until you write them

This was supposed to be a longer post about, well, anything else, like my time in Amsterdam, or how learning karate has made me a better writer, or an update on my new year’s resolution, but I’m sick. Not really sick, just kind of sick. I’ve got a killer cold that’s seeped into my bones. I’ve been downing vitamin C, lemon and honey tea, and Echinacea. I’ve even been using a neti pot to try and clear out my sinuses. A neti pot, for those of you who don’t know, is a little pot you fill with boiled water and a salt mixture. You let it cool, and then you stick it in a nostril and let the water drain out the other side of your nose. It’s like a mix between an ancient Mayan torture device and something frat boys use to initiate pledges.

I realized how sick I was when I tried to write. The only parts that were any good, the only time my words rang true, was when I wrote about how much my characters wanted to crawl into bed and go to sleep. I didn’t see how wiped out I was until I saw it written down in front of me.

So, after making an effort to put some words on the page and updating this blog, I’m going to do what my poor characters can’t and go hide under the covers. See you all in better health next week.