Thoughty Thursday: Things that made me go hmmmm on the interwebz, July 16-22, 2017

At this moment, I’m somewhere over the Atlantic (I hope) on my way to Hamburg via Reykjavik. And so , yes, this will be your last dose of thoughty for a few weeks.

The CBC takes a look at how the Phoenix debacle has affected Sudbury’s public servants.

Melanie Lefebvre: it’s not my job to teach you about Indigenous people. The Walrus

Yvette Brend explains how Indigenous fire wisdom is the key to megafire prevention. CBC

Willie Drye reports that Blackbeard’s ship is now confirmed to be off North Carolina’s coast. National Geographic

Tom Spender: teleportation of photons today, humans tomorrow? BBC

SciShow: CERN’s new particle and the oldest form of (animal) life.


Brenda Knowles offers some tips for coping with social anxiety and how to build resilience. Space2Live

Mark Brown: report reveals that the arts help in recovery from mental illness. The Guardian

Peter Dinklage – light up the night


Emily Reynolds reports on ravens and their theory of mind. Wired

Bored Panda lists 50 of the happiest dog memes ever.

I hope to be back on the blogging horse on the weekend of August 19 with a post about the Writing Excuses cruise.

Be well until my return.


The next chapter: 2013 in review

I think it’s important to recognize all the good things one accomplishes.  With regard to my writing, 2013 has been a banner year.  I haven’t seen its like in … well a very long time.

You may remember way back at the beginning of the year what I wrote about resolutions, how I’m not fond of them, and how I prefer to make reasonable goals so I can have a chance to reach them.

It worked a charm for me.

I wrote four (soon to be five) new short stories this year and revised six others for submission. This has resulted in three fiction publications (one paid), and another three poetry publications.

While the goal of Kasie Whitener’s Just Write Challenge was to write thirteen stories in 2013, I think that eleven was pretty darn good, considering the other things that I’ve accomplished.

I sent Initiate of Stone for a content edit in January and revised the whole thing twice. I’ve now sent the manuscript to select beta-readers and have sent it off to one agent and will ship it to one editor shortly.

In the mean time, I started on a middle grade fantasy, Gerod and the Lions, and drafted Figments, a YA fantasy, during NaNoWriMo.

Since the end of November, I’ve given myself a bit of a break. I’ve written a crap-load this year (because in addition to the 11 short stories, poetry, revisions, and the 50k+ draft, I’ve also tried to keep things rolling with my blog) and felt the distinct need for a rest before diving back into things in 2014.

Though I was not able to meet my goal of revising my blog (reader response seemed to indicate it wasn’t a priority) or moving to self-hosted WordPress, those goals remain on the list.  This time last year, I managed to accrue 100 followers on my blog. Now I’m over 222. While I’m still considering a newsletter, I continue to hold off. Until I have a novel out, I’m not certain a newsletter will have much value.

This year I also attended the Canadian Authors Association’s (CAA’s) CanWrite! Conference (June) and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (October). Both were amazing experiences, and I learned a huge amount from the sessions at both conferences.

Currently, though my services haven’t been much requested of recent months, I’m sitting on the CAA’s Program Committee, and so putting some of my efforts into not only the CanWrite! Conference, but also, the Literary Awards, the Roving Writers Program, and other events.

As a reward for all my hard work, I’m going to be investing in Scrivener, thanks to the NaNo

Scrivener (software)

Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reward discount, and purchasing the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents.

As far as what I’m aiming for in the New Year, stay tuned. I’ll have a post on more reasonable goals coming up next week.

books for sale!

books for sale! (Photo credit: bookgrl)

In the meantime, please share your accomplishments. It really helps to put them down in writing. I think when you see everything you’ve managed over the last year in print, you’ll be amazed. I was.

Then celebrate! You were fantastic! And you know what? So was I 😉

Sorry, couldn’t help the Doctor Who reference. Geek girls rule!

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection)

LEGO Doctor Who (Collection) (Photo credit: ChocolateFrogs)

My first NaNoWriMo

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

Off the top, I have to say this: I won!  My first time out and I won 🙂

Backtracking to my trip to Surrey

Before I even left, I was considering NaNo. The municipal liaison came out to the Sudbury Writers’ Guild meeting in September to promote. My leave would be until November 18, 2013, so I thought I’d probably have a chance.

While at SiWC, I heard several people talking about NaNo and how it had really helped them get their ideas down, break through writers’ block, built their confidence, and so forth.

By the time I got back, I was determined to give it a try.

I chose a project that I had outlined years ago. I’d had a little bit written, but I hadn’t touched it in years.

I was going to start over in any case.

The power of planning

I knew I was going away for a few days to visit some friends, and that I’d be going back to work before the month was out. I started out by front loading the work, trying to move ahead quickly at the beginning so I could coast a bit at the end if I needed to.

Still, when I went back to work, there were a few low count nights. I was worried.

To make time for my writing in the evenings when I went back to work, I tried using my smart(er than me) phone to keep track of my email and social media.

I got up a half-hour earlier than usual to check Facebook, WordPress follows, and my Feedly follows and share the interesting stuff on Twitter and Google+.

The pilgrim’s progress

Here’s a convenient table for you:

Day Count Total + or –
1 2161 2161 +494
2 2284 4445 +1111
3 2325 6770 +1769
4 travel 0 6770 +102
5 2122 8892 +557
6 travel 0 8892 -1110
7 1877 10769 -900
8 2168 12937 -399
9 2190 15127 +124
10 1675 16802 +132
11 1721 18528 +191
12 2284 20812 +808
13 2008 22820 +1149
14 1699 24519 +1181
15 1684 26203 +1198
16 1894 28097 +1425
17 1668 29801 +1462
18 1727 31528 +1522
19 return to work 1181 32709 +1036
20 549 33258 +82
21 507 33765 -1242
22 1822 35587 -1087
23 1814 37301 -1040
24 1707 39008 -1000
25 1731 40739 -936
26 1677 42416 -926
27 1692 44108 -901
28 757 44865 -1811
29 2232 47097 -1246
30 3802 50899 +899

What I learned

I don’t think I could do this working full time.

Having said that, it was fantastic to know that I could pull a 50000+ word draft together in 30 days. It was interesting to me because my first novel took me a year to write, working in the evenings and on weekends.

It gives me hope that if I do end up getting a deal for my work at some point and am asked to pump out sequels in swift succession, I should be able to do so. Also, if I end up going the self-publishing route, it’s always good to have moar material out there. If people like what I write, I can potentially supply the demand.

While my Samsung Galaxy Note II is quite lovely, I don’t think that I could manage my social media long term using it alone. Some of the information so easily accessible on my desktop is not so convenient to find in an Android app version of the program. Also, some things don’t translate well. Though the Feedly app appears to allow FB mentions in a post, it does not actually include them when posting to FB.

I have a few strange-looking posts over the last couple of weeks, and was not able to keep track of anyone’s birthdays on my phone, so apologies to anyone I may have offended or missed as a result.

Again, it’s good to know that I can do a minimally good job of maintaining my social media from my phone if need be.

Today, except for these blog posts, I have not written. I’ll get back on that horse shortly. I’ve also had to let a few submission deadlines slide because I just couldn’t manage to do it all. Everyone has their limits.

Coming up

I’ll be blogging in the future about my writing plans moving forward as well as a little about work. Interesting times I live in 😉

Writerly Goodness, signing off.

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Susanna Kearsley

One thing that I must comment upon with a traditional writing conference like SiWC (this is their 21st year) is the frustration of concurrent sessions.  I don’t think there was a time where I didn’t want to attend at least two of the sessions.

This is SO a first world problem, as Chuck Wendig would say.

RT's Giant Book Fair

RT’s Giant Book Fair (Photo credit: rtbookreviews)

So I got over my bad self and made some decisions.  My first one was to attend Susanna Kearsley’s session on writing supernatural aspects of stories convincingly.  Though my stories are all either straight out fantasy or science fiction, it’s always good to have a few more tools in the toolbox.

I’ve been a fan of Susanna since I took a workshop with her in Port Elgin in 1994 (possibly 1995?).  She’d just won the Catherine Cookson Award for her novel Mariana.

Here are my notes:

The mechanics

  • It starts with character.  You must have a likeable, trustworthy, relatable protagonist.
  • The protagonist can be the character who possesses supernatural skill, or they could be the biggest skeptic in the book.
  • Work on the principle of Ockham’s Razor first.  Stated succinctly, the simplest explanation is often the most correct.  People tend to rationalize the unknown.
  • Transition to deductive reasoning.  Think Sherlock Holmes: after every other possibility has been eliminated, what is left, no matter how unlikely, is the truth.
  • Respect both sides of the argument – believers and skeptics.
  • Time travel – paradox.  If you travel into the past and accidentally kill your grandfather, do you cease to exist?
  • Acknowledge accepted beliefs.
  • Research.  All psychology departments usually have parapsychology sub-departments.
  • Seek verisimilitude.
  • Your protagonist’s acceptance of the supernatural should be a gradual process.
  • You need a supporting character, someone who can help or guide your protagonist.  A true believer, or other expert in the area (professor, priest, exorcist, shaman, etc.)
  • Also, you need someone who is an even bigger skeptic than the protagonist.  As the protagonist proves to her or himself and the other skeptic that the supernatural is the only ‘rational’ explanation, he or she is also proving it to the reader.
  • Be aware of the difference between your characters and normal people.  Think of the bit of Eddie Murphy’s RAW of years ago: in the Amityville Horror, the family hears a voice say ‘get out’ and dismisses it, remaining to be assailed by the evil spirits resident in the house.  Murphy said that if the father in that story was a man of colour, he’d tell his family, “Nice place, sorry we can’t stay.  Pack your things, we’re leaving.”  Of course, there was more swearage involved 😉
  • In the handout – two accounts of a UFO sighting.  One from an air force pilot who went through the deductive reasoning process and eliminated all other reasonable alternatives until he was left with a UFO, the other from a man on LSD.  Which would you believe?  Make your protagonist reliable, unless that’s part of her or his journey, to prove what they saw despite obvious reasons not to.
  • Canadian psychic – George McMullen.  Psychometry.
  • Keep your world real, working by the rules you have established.  Naomi Novik made dragons believable.
  • Be consistent.
  • Don’t over-explain.
  • Be aware of our current level of understanding of the supernatural aspect you use in your novel.
  • Choose one thing.  Too much will overwhelm.
  • Stephen King uses wounded heroes.  They are more sympathetic.
  • No coincidence, contrivance, or anything too convenient.
  • We have been raised on nursery rhymes, fairy tales, myths, and legends – we are taught to accept the existence of magic.
  • Where/when we expect to find magic: isolated places and buildings, the woods, old houses, night time, fog or mist, the sea, transitional places like the shore, twilight, dawn, the witching hour.
  • Play with expectations, or play against them.  Against may be the more powerful technique, but it’s also the more difficult to pull off.
  • Avoid cliché.
  • Be aware of cultural biases.
  • Voice is important.  Communication is the goal of writing.  Aim for the grade eight level reader to reach the widest audience.
  • Genres: magic realism, modern gothic, paranormal, paranormal romance, historical.
  • Donald Maass has predicted that eventually, genre will be irrelevant.  It’s a marketing construct.
  • You can cross genres, but do not transcend them!
  • In historical fiction, there will be other explanations for things than there will be in a contemporary novel.
  • The outsider is a powerful thing.  Use this character to explain, gain perspective, but resist the urge to over-explain.
  • There are resources for research in the hand out:
  • Also check out the Koestler institute of parapsychology.
  • GoogleBooks is a great resource for historical records.
  • Jstore is where you can obtain information from academic journals online.

Six questions with Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer is one of many online friends I’ve made through Wordsmith Studio.  I’m happy that her novel, The 228 Legacy, is published and that she’s agreed to this interview.

Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow
photo credit Julie Daniels

Jennifer J. Chow, a Chinese-American, married into the Taiwanese culture. The 228 Legacy was inspired by the family stories she heard after viewing photos of a two-million-person human chain commemorating 228. She has traveled multiple times to Taiwan and visited places dedicated to the incident. Her experience with the elderly comes from a gerontology specialization at Cornell University and her geriatric social work experience. You can visit her online at, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


WG: Welcome, Jennifer!

Your new website’s tagline is “Asian-American fiction with a geriatric twist.” Your old blog’s was “Fortune cookie wisdom meets an Asian American writer’s life.” How does this change in tagline reflect your evolution as a writer?

JJC: The blog continues to reflect my fortune cookie life and how I’m twisted into the dual selves of my Asian-American identity. Plus, my posts still start off with a Chinese proverb, and the saying is woven into the content. When I evaluated my fiction writing, though, I discovered certain themes coming through. I enjoyed exploring various aspects of the Asian-American experience. Also, many of my stories contained older adult characters as key figures and examined the interplay between different generations, so I added in the “geriatric twist” to my tagline.

WG: How has your work in the geriatric field influenced your writing?

JJC: I’ve heard so many unique and interesting tales from my previous clients. They shared with me their life journeys and provided a lot of inspiration in my own stories. Additionally, I have a strong desire to shed light on the inner workings of people as they age. I also wanted to highlight older characters, individuals who are often caricatured in the arts—or not mentioned at all.

WG: When did the writing bug first bite you? Tell us the origin story of Jennifer J. Chow, author 🙂

JJC: I always wrote as a child, starting with a pencil on lined paper. During a field trip to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, I dropped a journal entry without realizing it. Later on, one of my schoolmates picked it up, asking, “What’s this? It reads like a story.” When I grew older, I borrowed my father’s typewriter for writing. I even remember him taking my childhood manuscripts and showing them to his colleagues at work.

WG: When I saw your book, I immediately thought of Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club). Not that it’s a poor comparison to beg, but how is The 228 Legacy different?

JJC: I would be ecstatic to have my work compared to Amy Tan’s amazing novel. I’d like to defer this answer to a Goodreads member who summed it very well: “When I first described this book to someone (it spanning several generations, the historical context, mother/daughter relationships, immigrant and second-generation Asian American experience) I realized it sounded like I was describing an Amy Tan novel but in fact this book has a unique, American voice – It doesn’t indulge in magical realism of ancient lore or fortune cookie wisdom. Rather, the voice of the characters are immediately recognizable – maybe not extraordinary but are surviving the sometimes extraordinary circumstances surrounding them (whether it be a suffering spouse or parent, or a teenager witnessing abuse, or a military massacre). I learned about some Taiwanese history which as far as I know has never been touched upon in American fiction. But to me this book is fundamentally about caring – our innate need to care and be cared for. There was so much that resonated and that I recognized in these character’s stories. Just a wonderful book that I enjoyed very much.”

WG: How did your experience in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition contribute to your success as a novelist?

JJC: I think entering the competition gave me more confidence. When I realized that I had made it to the second round, I understood that other people might really be interested in this story. When the contest passed and I started submitting the manuscript to publishers, it also didn’t hurt to mention my experience with the ABNA competition.

WG: What’s next for you and The 228 Legacy?

JJC: I’m hoping that more people will become aware of my book and that readers of all cultural backgrounds will be able to relate to and learn from the book. A specific event I’m looking forward to is my book launch party on Sunday, September 15 at 4pm at Pages bookstore in Manhattan Beach, California. It’ll be a fun celebration of the book’s release, complete with an excerpt, reader testimonials, a raffle, and delicious Taiwanese snacks!

Thanks for a great interview, Jennifer! All the best with your future writing endeavours.


The 228 Legacy

The 228 Legacy

Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together.

A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds.

“An impressive debut!  Moving, hopeful and triumphant.  A compelling read.” -Jane Porter, national bestselling author of The Good Daughter

Caturday quickies: The Conspiracy of Three reading series in North Bay

I went on a bit of a road trip on Tuesday evening with Kim Fahner and her friend Brenda—a poetic road trip!  Kim and our mutual friend Roger Nash had been invited to the Conspiracy of Three reading series in North Bay.

A word about the Conspiracy

Kim and I have both read at the Conspiracy before…like nearly twenty years ago (!) and on Tuesday, I learned that the series is close to twenty-five years old.  The reading series that preceded it (and out of which it emerged) ran for an even longer time.  So the Conspiracy has a long tradition in North Bay.

To the reading

The reading was hosted in the new location of the White Water Gallery and by Doyali Islam, who I met last year at the 100,000 poets for change event.

Also in attendance were Tim Robertson and his wife, Karin, Kevin Smith, and Natalie Wilson.

There was a brief discussion about upcoming events and the group’s concerns about Gulliver’s, a local book store that they’re trying to form a co-op for.  Otherwise, this independent book store might just disappear.

Kim and Roger were the featured readers.

KimSmilesTooKim was great, as usual, and managed to dig out a North Bay poem for the crowd.

Roger read from his recently published book of shYesRogerSmilesort stories, The Cobra and the Camera, and a few of his poems.

Afterward, the final set was for open mic participants.

I’m terrible with names, but aside from the curator of the gallery, there was a man who worked as a plumber whose poetic observations were witty and hilarious.  A young poet, Mary, I believe, was also quite good, but in the way of someone new to the reading experience, she needed to project her voice just a bit more.

It was a lovely night and the worst of the shadflies were over.  It started raining just as we arrived and stopped by the time we left.  While this mostly served to bring out the fishy smell of the shadflies, it was lovely and cool for the ride back to Sudbury.

The next chapter: Diving back in

The last of my caturday quickies is a bit of an update on the work in progress (WIP) and other writing projects I’m tackling these days.

I revised my short story “A Terrible Thing” for Tesseracts 17 and submitted that on February 27, just one day before the deadline (!)  I submitted a short story back in October for the competition, but was not successful at that time, though the rejection letter was of the very encouraging variety (please send us something else).  I followed the editors’ advice, and ATT is sufficiently different from the story I submitted last fall that I hope it will tickle some fancies 🙂

I also submitted a poem for the League of Canadian Poets’ National Poetry Month blog: “peregrine.”  I’ll link through when it’s posted.

In related news, I forwarded an opportunity to my friend, Kim Fahner, a couple of months ago, and she, in turn, asked her publisher to submit her poetry collection, The Narcoleptic Madonna, to the powers that be.  The result?  Kim will be participating in the Battle of the Bards at Harbourfront Centre April 3rd!

It’s inspired me to think more seriously about submitting some of my poetry to various publications.  We’ll see where that leads.

As of today, I’ll be diving back in to Initiate of Stone and the next set of revisions.  I’ll also be revising “The Michael” for the Writers of the Future competition and working on a new story, “Way Station,”  (which the Retro Suites inspired) for In places between.

Finally, after my bout of training fury and certification regret, I’ll be catching up with my critiquing crew.

I never did work further on Gerod and the Lions.  I am hoping that I got far enough into it that I’ll be able to pick up the threads when the time comes.

A not so pleasant writing-related task that I’ll be picking up shortly, is collecting all my various financial bits and pieces and submitting my taxes.  I claim writing as self-employment on my income tax.  My lack of recent publishing success is a bit of a concern, but it’s certainly not for lack of effort 🙂  Do you think auditors would accept this blog as evidence of my industry? 😉

Writerly Goodness

Writerly Goodness

What’s been happening in your writerly lives lately, my friends?  Are you writing “hard”?

What’s coming: I’ll continue my series, A life sentence with mortal punctuation, tomorrow, and in the future, I hope to have an interview with Amazon Breakthrough Novelist Award 2012 quarter-finalist Alon Shalev regarding his writing life and the second book in the Wycaan Master Series, The First Decree.

“What if” Fairy Tale Madness Blogfest Part 1

Sorry to have missed a day on my blogging schedule, and a poetry day at that, but if was for a good reason.  A colleague, after 42 years of dedicated service, and service excellence, is retiring.  Her last day at work was today, but the BEA Hive took her out for dinner last night.  It was several hours of wonderful chat, memory-sharing, food and drink.  Ah, yes … there was much drinking 🙂

But so much for the excuses, and on to tonight’s post: I’m throwing my hat in the ring, the fairy ring at  that!

“What if” Fairy Tale Maddness Blogfest

So this post will tell you a bit about the blogfest, and you can join in up until 11:59 pm tonight, so get crackin’!

Part 2 will be my submission.

Onto the details.  The following is verbatim from Cassie Mae’s post (linked above).

Fairytale Madness BlogFest!
AUGUST 13th – 17th          
Have you noticed that by changing one detail; one event, one character trait, one thought…you can completely alter the rest of the story?For this bloghop we are exploring “What If?”
Not only do we want it to be fun, but it will hopefully be a fun writing exercise and make for some great reading during the hop!

To enter:
Think of your favorite “well known” fairytale and ask “What If…!”
Then, pick one of these four categories: (be sure to mention which category you’re joining, during your blog post!)

·       Best Plot Twist
·       Best Love Story
·       Best Tragedy
·       Best Comic Relief
Finally, write a scene(s) illustrating a new detail of the fabled fairy tale that changes our perspective.
To recap,
Is it a plot twist? (Cinderella gets knocked up by the Carriage Driver…)
An unknown romance that comes to light? (Snow White dumps the Prince for Grumpy…)
A tragic loss occurs? (The Three Little Pigs are too late to save their house…)

The wolf blows down the straw house in a 1904 ...

The wolf blows down the straw house in a 1904 adaptation of the fairy tale Three Little Pigs This is one one of the less intelligent pigs.. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little comic relief? (Hansel and Gretel win a trip on Euro Rail, sponsored in part by M&M’s…)
Whatever the change…It’s limited only by your imagination – but please keep it PG-13 😉
Other Rules:
·       Post your story during the week of August 13 to 17.
·       Flash Fiction – 300 WORD MAX. (You don’t have to tell the whole story in three hundred words. Pick what works to illustrate your point.)

Got the flavour?  If you want to submit, the link is also on Cassie Mae’s post.

Good luck to all!  It’s been a fun challenge 🙂

Some of my favourite books on the craft

Several months ago, I read a post called “Confessions of a Craft Book Junkie.”  I had no choice but to comment, because reading books on the craft of writing is an addiction for me.  I’m always buying more!

I have no idea what brought this issue up for me again, but having thought of it, I’ve decided to share some of my favourite craft books with you, and may you reap their myriad benefits! I don’t care if you get them as ebooks, or from a used book shop.  Just get ‘em 🙂

In the beginning …

There was Natalie GoldbergWriting Down the Bones and Wild Mind were the first two books I read about writing, and they’ve stuck with me through the years.  Goldberg espouses a philosophy of “first thoughts.”  Writing in your journal first thing when you wake up.  Sound like morning pages to you?

Goldberg introduced me to free-writing, and weaves in wonderful exercises for journal writing with Buddhist philosophy.  Monkey mind and wild mind is a concept I come back to again and again.  Monkey mind is the nattering, distracted place in our heads we occupy most of the time. 

Wild mind … well, draw as big a circle as you can on a piece of paper.  Put a wee speck of a dot in the middle of it.  The dot is monkey mind.  The rest of the circle—you guessed it—that’s wild mind, the cosmic consciousness that will endow your writing with greatness.

The key is to let go.  Don’t worry.  Don’t pin all your hopes on the greatness you might achieve.  Just be in the moment and do it.

Word after word

Heather Sellers two books: Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter really changed my writing game.  It was time for some tough love, and Sellers delivered.  She was the first author I read who asked the question: do you want to be a writer, or are you a writer?  She made the distinction very clear.

Wanting to be a writer means that you’re letting things get in the way, making excuses, because the phrase is always followed by the word “but.”

If you are a writer, you write.  You write every day.  You’re dedicated to your craft and you don’t let excuses get in the way.

Sellers also writes about her struggles, how the disapproval of peers and professors affected her, how relationships, good and bad, can influence your work, and how serious life incidents like car crashes and disease can change things forever.

In the end, you can only keep writing, word after word, page after page, and chapter after chapter 🙂

The Maass Oeuvre

Donald Maass is an industry expert and he turned his expertise into several wonderful books.

His first, The Career Novelist, delved into the changing face of the publishing industry.  No longer the land of monster advances, runaway auctions, and multi-book contracts, Maass discussed the kinds of writers, the kinds of agents, the kinds of editors, and publishers that were emerging, how they might survive the new era, and he offered a lot of practical advice about the mathematics of publishing (what do the numbers mean and why should I care?).

In the current market, this book has lost some of its relevance, but I would argue that it is still an important read.  Understanding the changes that led to the current state of publishing offers the reading writer insight.  Learning from history, we hope not to repeat it.

Writing the Breakout Novel gets more into the mechanics of how to write a damn good novel.  Using his personal experience and that of some of his well-known clients, Maass explains what agents and publishers are looking for, and gives the reader tools to achieve their goals.

The Fire in Fiction is more of the same, but deeper.  Maass really asks the writer to dig deep in this one and offers exercises to deepen your understanding of exactly what it is you’re doing.  Analysis.  Critical thinking.  If you’re willing to work for it, Maass tells you how to write a novel that will WOW.

Finally, The Breakout Novelist, Maass’s most recent publication, is more of a workbook and reference than some of his other books.  It combines the best of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction with extra exercises.  If you’re having trouble with a particular aspect of your novel, flip to that section and start working through the exercises.

Obviously, I’m a fan.

I’ll have more of these coming in future months.  I just thought I’d start with what I think are the best of the best 🙂

What are some of the craft books that you value and why?  How did they speak to you?  And as always, like, comment, share, subscribe!

Creative antimatter

This is a post from last fall that got lost in the shuffle when I restarted my blog.  I think it still has merit … how about you?  Let me know: Like, Comment, Share, Follow!

Leah McLaren, in her Globe and Mail article “Postmodernism: Finally, a museum piece,” published October 1, 2011, reminded me of (at least) one reason why I wasn’t a very astute graduate student.  She calls postmodernism the “intellectual and artistic equivalent of antimatter,” further defining it as a “creative sucking sound.”

I agree.

My problem with postmodernism started in Literary Criticism, the most feared and demanding course of my undergraduate career.  It was intended to help the lot of us make the transition to graduate school.  By and large, I simply found it confusing.  It made me feel stupid.  I’ll leave it to my former professors to comment on that …

I had returned to university in order to become a better writer, by reading and studying great writing.  Lit Crit seemed the perfect way to deepen my understanding.  Not so, I discovered.  The earlier literary theorists weren’t so bad.  I could relate to them, and gain something from them to fortify my art, but postmodernism … hurt my poor, tender head.

Think of a black hole in scientific terms: its gravitational centre is so dense that is draws in all energy and matter around it, and nothing can escape it.

Postmodernism is similar.  It has no presence, or meaning, except in the absence of meaning.

I was told that a way to engage with the big PM was to read between the lines, that it was as much about what was missing, or not being written, as it was about the words on the page.

Then ensued endless exercises regarding what a particular piece of prose meant, in absentia.  Meaning became this fluid thing and my mind a sieve attempting to contain it.  Every interpretation could be valid, if supported by theory.  I wasn’t writing anymore, I was thinking about writing, ironically, even when I was writing an essay about writing.

It was one big intellectual exercise to see if I could get it.  “It,” being that there wasn’t an “it” to get.  I came to understand that while some works, though challenging, had merit (Elliott and Joyce), other postmodern literature could be the equivalent of an artist painting a blank canvas and embedding pubic hair in the gesso, or defecating in a can and selling it as “merde d’artiste” as a performance piece.

I have, sadly, heard of both occurring.

Postmodernism hasn’t helped me a bit if life, or in art, and perhaps that was what I was supposed to learn.

In November, my mom went to see a production of Waiting for Godot.  I’ve seen it before and we compared notes.

Mom enjoyed Godot very much.  She got the whole philosophical slant and said that she didn’t think they were waiting for God at all.  They were waiting for death, or the end of the world, one or the other.  Very astute interpretation, Mom. The two friends she went with weren’t very impressed though.

Ultimately, that didn’t settle any of my postmodern angst.

Is there an intellectual exercise that you don’t get, or that pisses you off?  Do share 🙂