News | 2006

2006 Reading List

Well, I did it. Seventy books in one year. Whew. Most of the books I enjoyed, some I didn't, but I'd say it's fair to say I've learned something from every one of them. Three of my favourites were David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Jose Saramago's Blindness, and Timothy Taylor's Stanley Park.

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What Have You Been Reading?

At the end of last year, one of my writing instructors suggested I keep track of all the books I read. I tried it, and it's been kind of enlightening. Not only can I go back and see what authors were influencing me during the year, but I've also been keeping count. On Boxing Day I did a total and found out I've read 64 books this year. Holy crap, that's a lot. In fact, it's the same as my old football jersey number.

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Blenz, Unplugged

Last night, seven poets and authors got together for the last of the Blenz readings for 2006. Unfortunately, the power was out in most of Vancouver, and our sound man wasn't able to make it. However, we bravely soldiered on, threw a stool in the middle of the coffee shop, raised our voices, and went on with the reading. Everyone on the bill showed and gave a terrific performance.

The one down side for me was that because the power was out, I didn't get the selection I was going to read off my computer, and so I was forced to read a story I had lying around, already committed to paper (so no, I didn't end up debuting my novel at all). I'd written the piece I read before my year at The Writer's Studio, and while I was reading it, I realized just how much I've learned this year. A year ago I thought the piece was pretty close to being finished. Last night, I saw just how much more work I still needed to do. As I've discovered at the many readings I've given this year, there's nothing like reading your work in public to show you where the holes in a story are.

You're Invited

Blenz December 2006

The last of the Blenz Reading Series for 2006 will be held this Friday night at the Blenz Coffee Shop at the corner of Richards and Hastings in downtown Vancouver. Six readers are on the playbill, including yours truly. We read from 7:00 to 9:00, and I'll be publicly debuting the novel I've been writing this year (draft three, and counting)-- I'm going to read a portion from the third chapter. This will be the first time I've let anyone except my writing group meet my characters. I hope Janie, my protagonist, behaves herself. She can be a bit flippant at times.

I've Been Googled

Ever since I got back to Canada, I've had people from my past running across my website and contacting me. My old university roommate. An ex-girlfriend. The best man at my wedding. Some of these revived friendships have worked out, some haven't. I think part of the success of rekindlement may have to do with the reasons we parted company in the first place. If we parted on good terms, or else our relationship was a victim of geography, things seem to work out just fine. If we parted because, honestly, we shouldn't have been together in the first place, then things seem to run downhill soon after the initial "hello, do you remember me?"

The reason I bring this up now is that I've had three of these experiences this week. The first, a cousin I haven't heard from in years. The second, a man I used to work with many years ago. The third, an old friend from my days as a shovelbum, doing archaeology in Ontario. We'll see where these renewed contacts lead. Fingers crossed.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Helen Sears, our wonderful host for the Blenz Reading Series in downtown Vancouver has asked to take a break for next month. To help keep the Blenz Readings going, I volunteered to host in Helen's stead for the next reading on December 15th. I've really enjoyed the Blenz readings this year (I believe I've read at four of them already), and I think they have tremendous value for new writers to get experience reading their work in public. Hopefully I can do the job justice. Helen is always terrific and gracious and very, very welcoming.

Literary Hors d'Oeuvres

Last night, a few of my fellow students from The Writer's Studio got together for a reading at 32 Books in Edgemont Village. The owner of the bookstore, Deb McVittie, is a program alumna from 2005 and she'd hosted the event as An Evening of Literary Hors d'Oeurves with the SFU Writer's Studio Grads. The wine was nice, the appetizers superb, the readers clear and entertaining, and the venue cozy and intimate. All in all, a rather successful reading.

The Secret of Good Writing

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

I've just started reading William Zinsser's On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction and I came upon this little gem of a paragraph I just had to share. Back when I was doing my undergrad, a rhetoric prof of mine kept expounding the theory of economy (as it relates to writing), and I've been a believer ever since.

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The Vancouver International Writers Festival

Emerge

Last night, at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island, the students of this year's Writer's Studio got together, and read our work to a fairly well-filled house. It was a fun evening, and everyone did well.

The funny thing for me last night was the stage lighting. I've never read on a stage in a theatre before and I was half-surprised to find that I couldn't see most of the audience. I'd heard before that stage lights dazzle a performers eyes, and it's true--I could only see about the first five rows into the audience. I found it a little unnerving--sort of like reading to a blank wall. I'm used to seeing people's faces when I read and I get pleasure out of their reactions. Last night, I still got laughs in the places I was expecting, but I couldn't see by whom.

Also, last night, we launched Emerge, our Studio anthology. I even got to sign a copy or two. All in all, a very healthy night for the ego.

A Successful Test Flight

Emerge

The students of The Writer's Studio will be reading at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island next Sunday. While it's not mandatory, we've been encouraged to read the work we'll be publishing in Emerge, our anthology being released the same day. Our only problem is time. For the reading next Sunday, the Vancouver International Writers Festival has given us about three minutes each. I've had to take my story, "The House of Lancaster," a cute little tale set in a strip club in Etobicoke, and basically chop it in half to get it down to the three minute mark.

Last night, I presented the new, slimmmed-down version of "The House of Lancaster" at a reading in downtown Vancouver. From all the feedback I got, I think I cut the right bits out. People still enjoyed the story, even though I didn't get to say nearly as many naughty words as the original. Oh well, I guess I'm now good to go for a general audience.

Joan McEwen, Take a Bow

A friend of mine, Joan McEwen, recently placed second with her piece "In the Balance" in a short story contest put on by Room of One's Own. McEwen, a Vancouver writer and labour arbitrator, is part of this year's fiction cohort enrolled in Simon Fraser University's The Writer's Studio. Way to go!

Playwrighting Tools

The Playwright's Guidebook by Stuart Spencer

I'm in the middle of writing two plays, and for help, I've turned to Stuart Spencer's The Playwright's Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing. Spencer breaks his book into four sections: structure, the creative process, dealing with problems, and some advice. For the most part, he speaks of plays holistically, saying that most elements in successful plays are seamlessly woven together.

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Get 'em While They're Hot

Spinning Whorl

"Recursion," my science fiction ghost story, appears in the current issue of Spinning Whorl.

 

 

 

A Terrific Show

Thursday night, the writers of this year's Writer's Studio got together for a reading at Crush Champagne Lounge in downtown Vancouver. It was an awesome show--there were many terrific readers and some very entertaining stories and poems. If this show was any indication, our appearance at the Vancouver International Writers Festival is going to be great.

Draft Two, In the Can

I've just finished the second draft of the novel I'm currently writing. When I finished the first draft back in May, I didn't feel relieved at getting it done. This time around, I'm having, what I think, is a much more normal response: I'm happy, elated, tired, drained, and looking for a drink. Whew. Time to put the feet up for a bit.

Recursion, Recursed

I got a wonderful letter from the publisher of Spinning Whorl magazine the other day: he'd like to publish my story "Recursion" in his fall issue. "Recursion" placed fourth in the First Annual Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest Halloween Short Fiction Contest last year. I'm so stoked--this is my first reprint.

Alien Witchcraft

Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest is running their Halloween Short Fiction Contest again. This year's theme is alien witchcraft. Last year, my story "Recursion" came in fourth and was published on Apex Online. Check out the rules and prizes and other important information by clicking on the banner below. The deadline is October 15th, 2006.

Halloween Short Fiction Contest

Science Fiction and Poetry

A while back, I was interviewed by Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest's editor, Jason Sizemore. During the interview, he asked me if I agreed with the assertion that "many folks in the science fiction genre dismiss poetry." I answered that I thought people's resistance to poetry had more to do with their introduction to it rather than their interest in science fiction. Today, I came across a quote from Ray Bradbury (didn't he write a science fiction novel or two?) that I found rather interesting. I share it with you now:

Read poetry...every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles that you don't use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition....Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard short story teachers recommending them for browsing.

Aiming High

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner

I've just finished reading John Gardner's The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. Excellent book, demanding at times (as Gardner was), but filled with some really good stuff. Near the end, Gardner makes this wonderful assertion that really struck me: "Every true apprentice writer has, however he may try to keep it secret even from himself, only one major goal: glory. The shoddy writer wants only publication." I guess now that modesty's out of the way, we can get down to the important business of becoming famous.

Building a Plot

The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing

I'm in the middle of reading The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing and I came across this article by Mary Kittredge called "Hot to Plot! A Plotting 'System' That Works." Kittredge's ideas seem simple at one level, but on another they seem bang on.

 

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Apparently, My Poetry Isn't All Bad

Last night I went to a poetry salon put on by the mentor of the poetry group in the writing program I'm in. I've never taken a poetry-writing class before, and my experiences of studying poetry at university were rather obfuscating. It was very heartening to hear that my poetry isn't nearly as bad as I thought it was--in fact, she said she liked the three poems I presented for workshopping. Wow. Who knew?

No Need for Shame

Adaptation Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Last week I took a week-long intensive screenwriting course at a local university. One of the films on the curriculum was Adaptation, starring Nicholas Cage, Merryl Streep, and Chris Cooper. In the film, some of the characters go to Robert McKee's story seminar and read his book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. Now, I've read McKee's book this year and got quite a lot out of it, but in the film, one of the characters derides McKee's work.

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A Listing of Values

The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly

In one of my classes, we've been discussing states of consciousness of the narrative--essentially, a question which drives your story. We've been finding that for a lot of our work, we write with similar states of consciousness for different projects. This reminded me of something I read in Carol Bly's The Passionate, Accurate Story. Bly suggests that you write out a listing of your own values to see what questions really drive you to write.

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And Again, No Fruit

I read last night at a studio reading, and everything went well again (no one threw rotten eggs or tomatoes). Seven other writers from my program (The Writer's Studio at SFU) read as well, and I say in all humility, we rocked. It was a great night, the stories and poetry were fresh and engaging, and the whole thing was a lot of fun. The piece I read was a reworked version of a story I read at Blenz a few weeks ago, and those people who heard both versions liked the revisions. Whew.

Blenz Reading Series

I read two stories at the Blenz coffee shop on the corner of Richards and Hastings last night, and everything seemed to go well. The past few times I've read, I presented serious material, and I found it disconcerting to read to an audience that didn't react. I was always left wondering if people were listening to me, or just tuning me out and being polite by not throwing things. Well, I had no doubts last night. Both stories got laughs (luckily at all the right places), so I'm pretty sure I was at least mildly entertaining. Actually, I had a lot of fun, and it was pretty cool to hear some of the other writers who read as well.

The Art of the Short Review

Ladykiller by Charlotte Gill

Last month, I sat in on The Art of the Short Review workshop put on by Patty Osborne and Geist Magazine at the Listel Hotel in Vancouver. Geist has published several of the reviews written in that workshop, and mine, called "Roads to Reason" on Charlotte Gill's debut short story collection Ladykiller, appeared on the Geist website.

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No Sense of Relief

I've just finished the first draft of the novel I'm currently writing, and I've just had the weirdest feeling: I don't feel relieved at getting it done. The last time I wrote a novel, when I finished my first draft I was elated. Happy. Rather proud of myself, in fact. This time, I'm lost, I'm edgy, I don't know what to do with myself. I've made a commitment to put the story away for at least a month before I look at it again, just to get objective about it. The trouble is, I find that I'm missing my characters. Their story is done, but I feel sad not being with them everyday. I expected the feelings (while I was writing it) of it being crap and then really cool (sometimes on the same day), but this feeling of being lost was totally unexpected.

Capsize Points

I came across this quote from John L'Heureux which I just had to write down--it sort of hammers home the idea of fictional capsize points we've been taught in our program this year. A story is about a single moment in a character's life when a definitive choice is made, after which nothing is the same.

Avoiding Confusion

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway

I've been reading Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft for the past while. While she presents heaps of good stuff about writing, I came across some ideas about identifying characters that struck me as really essential (her section on Credibility in Chapter 4: Building Character). She suggests that you identify your characters early to help readers from becoming confused. Burroway says: ...we need to know, preferably in the first paragraph, the character's gender, age, and race or nationality. We need to know something of his or her class, period, and region. A profession...and a marital status help, too. By getting these elements into a story early (this is not an information dump, but rather a creative description), you can keep your readers from becoming confused as to who is doing what to whom and your story will move quickly.

My Name Got Dropped

So, I'm reading an interview with John Mantooth, the second place finisher in the Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest Halloween Contest, when whose name do I read in a question by Apex Managing Editor Jason Sizemore? My own. How cool is that? When Sizemore and I were doing my interview, the question of Apex tattoos on my shoulder came up. Apparently, he gave Mantooth the opportunity to go one better.

Fan Mail

I've gotten my first fan mail over the weekend. Two people who've read my story "Recursion" in Apex Online #16 wrote to me to say that they both really enjoyed it. They've made my day--no one's ever written me out of the blue with kind things to say before. Thank you to both of you.

A Kind Audience

I read my story "Treed" at a coffee shop last night in downtown Vancouver. I think it was received well: no one threw fruit, no one heckled, and everyone was really supportive. I was a little unsure about reading it, on account of it's the story of a werewolf who gets chased up a tree. It's definitvely not literature, but in the end, no one seemed to mind and everything went okay. I've volunteered to read again at the next reading on June 9. The coolest thing about last night was that I had an unexpected fan section. A friend of mine and his partner showed up as well as my wife. I wasn't expecting any of them, so that was a very cool surprise. The group drinks afterwords were certainly welcome. A person can get rather parched, reading into a mike for a whole ten minutes straight...

No Great Mischief

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

Wow. I've just finished reading No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod, and I am impressed. I loved it, and not just because the book opens where I grew up and everything seemed familiar. In fact, even though most of the story is about a family in Cape Breton, MacLeod highlights spots across Canada that I'm familiar with--Calgary, northern Ontario, Squamish, Cape Breton, Quebec--and the book made me wish I had more exposure to the rest of Canada when I was growing up (I grew up in southwestern Ontario, and we heard more about the States than the rest of Canada). I think MacLeod might slam James Wolfe one or two too many times in the book (he quotes Wolfe as saying that if the Highlanders die on the Plains of Abraham, then it's "no great mischief"--admittedly, it does shed a different light on Wolfe's character than that which was taught in high school history), but overall a delightful read. The fact that my wife's grandmother was a McDonald from Nova Scotia (the family in the novel) had nothing to do with it. Honest.

Reading A Million Little Pieces in Public

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Last night, a friend of mine asked me why I was embarassed to be seen reading A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. A completely valid question. Primarily, I didn't want people to see me reading it because of the controversy surrounding the book (if you haven't heard, Frey and Doubleday published the book as non-fiction, Oprah endorsed it, and then, Frey revealed that he embellished and altered facts as he saw fit). Now, I hate to be seen to be jumping on a bandwagon, and I felt that I was doing just that by reading the book. However, I did have another purpose in mind--I thought that to be completely fair to Frey, I would have to read his book before I had the right to comment on it.

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Saramago on Writing

Blindness by Jose Saramago

In his book, Blindness, Jose Saramago, drops a quote or two about writing. This is one of my favourites:

You are a writer, you have...an obligation to know words, therefore you know that adjectives are of no use to us, if a person kills another, for example, it would be better to state this fact openly, directly, and to trust that the horror of the act, in itself, is so shocking that there is no need for us to say it was horrible.
p. 292, Saramago, Jose. Blindness. Harcourt Brace & Company, San Diego, 1999. Translated by Juan Sager, 1997.

It's Official

Jason Sizemore, over at Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, has just released Apex Online #16. My story, "Recursion," which placed fourth in Apex's Halloween Fiction Contest, appears online along with an interview Sizemore did with me. I'm stoked. My first published work. I'm also stoked because he called me "young." My ego's healthy enough that I took the "hot-shot" as a matter of course...

The Technique of Scene Analysis

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Recently, I've read Robert McKee's Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. Awesome book. Even though McKee deals with screen writing, his comments are definitely applicable to most fiction. The idea I want to highlight today is his technique for analyzing scenes (chapter 11). In our Writer's Studio workshop, we're analyzing fiction and I thought McKee's ideas were an interesting way to get down to looking at what works for a scene and what doesn't, with the intent of making it easier for us to provide helpful criticism (beyond what's the statement of theme for the work and where's the capsize point).

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Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I just finished Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and I must say I'm impressed. The book is built on six separate but linked stories in the manner of Russian matryoshka dolls. Each story deals with a different time period: 1850, 1931, 1975, present day, the not-so-distant future, and a post-apocalyptic era. Each story is written in a different form (from journal entries to a series of letters to short "chapteroids" (as Mitchell calls them), to an interview and a longer narrative, and plays with concepts from different genres (historical fiction, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy). Each story interrupts it's predecessor (moving forward in time) until the middle of the book (the post-apocalytic fantasy), and then each story then ties itself back (going backward) so the whole work both begins and ends in the past. Simply brilliant. Maybe a touch preachy at the end, but on the whole, I found the concept intrigiung and well thought-out--not gimmicky at all. Another minor frustration I had is due to how I feel when I finish a book--I'm generally sad to leave the ficticious world behind. Here, I had to say good-bye six times, but I enjoyed each leave-taking immensely.

Three Tips for When Your Story is Being Discussed

Fiction Workshop Companion by Jon Volkmer

Also from Jon Volkmer's Fiction Workshop Companion, his most important advice for writers whose work is being workshopped:

 

 

 

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The Ten Commandments of Workshop Criticism

Fiction Workshop Companion by Jon Volkmer

I just finished reading Jon Volkmer's Fiction Workshop Companion and he has listed out his ten commandments for criticizing fiction in workshop. Very interesting stuff, especially seeing as I'm involved in workshopping my fiction at the moment.

 

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Recent News

My story "Recursion" placed fourth in the first annual Apex short fiction contest. The contest asked for science fiction ghost stories under 2,000 words. It'll be appearing in Apex Online in the next few months.