The launch of Dead Air, Pontypool, and other Writerly Goodness

Last night was the official launch of my writer friend Scott Overton’s first novel, Dead Air.  I bought my official copy, Scott signed it, officially, I hung out with the other members of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild who came out to support Scott (his official fan club?), and he even got the official CTV interview 🙂

Before I get to particulars, I wanted to share a few more views of the Living with Lakes Centre at Laurentian University where the launch was held.  Yes, that’s the same place that Scott read with John Forrest and Mark Leslie last week for the LUminaries reading series.

I won’t say that I arrived early, but it looked like I had some time to walk around the grounds and I took a couple of pictures of the centre from a different angle, and then another looking out over Lake Ramsey from the centre’s dock.

Upon entering, I immediately gravitated to the huddle of SWG members.  We chatted and caught up a bit before the flurry of purchasing and signing got underway.

There were beverages, but word soon spread that the caterer hadn’t shown up yet.  Ever the consummate showman, Laurence Steven of Your Scrivener Press gathered the crowd and ushered us into the room for the reading.

One of the SWG members had thoughtfully brought cookies and just as Laurie apologized for the lack of provisions, the caterer arrived, the result of an understandable miscommunication.

With that sorted, Laurie made a brief but gracious introduction of Scott and brought him to the podium.

Scott first introduced his wife, Terry-Lynne, to whom his book is dedicated, his co-host for his morning radio show, and then he read three selections from his novel.  Afterward, he opened the floor to questions.

Scott spoke of his inspiration, the process of writing the novel, and the interesting things he learned on the way.  He also spoke about the editing process and how he and Laurie had negotiated that.

Overall, it was a very entertaining evening.

But I got this cold, see?  So when I got home, I crawled into bed like the little illen-filled chicklet I am and settled in for the evening.  In cruising the channels, I came across Pontypool.

In the movie, adapted from Tony Burgess’s novel of the same name, a morning radio host (sound familiar, Scott?) is trapped in his radio station while people in the town around him succumb to a strange virus.

Far from the scads of zombie-related virus movies, Pontypool takes a left turn.  The virus is spread in the form of words, and the infected begin to babble and fixate on a particular word or sound.  Through the timely visit of a doctor to the studio, the protagonist learns that it is the understanding of a word that seems to trigger the infection and that speaking in another language is an effective means of evading the illness.

As everyone around them succumbs, the protagonist and his producer are hiding from the hordes and she (the producer) begins to babble, “kill, kill, kill …”  The morning man, twigged by the words of the visiting doctor, begins to try to break his producer’s loop, telling her that kill isn’t kill, that it’s sun, dress, flower, and finally he settles on kiss.  Kill is kiss.

He knows he’s been successful when she says, “kill me.”

I just found the premise fascinating.  A semiotic virus.

You may have noticed me dropping that academic bomb from time to time on my blog, and the reason for it is that I love semiotics.  It’s the study of meaning, to put it simply.  Ultimately all language is invented and arbitrary.  Language is a series of signs or symbols that we chose to mean things so that we can communicate with others and think about them.

We accept that the letters D O G spell dog and that means a certain class of canine quadrupeds that many of us choose to coexist with, but why is it dog and not cap or tree of bazooka?  Who came up with the word and why did everyone accept that this wee beastie should be called dog (and not tomato)?

Two things: have you ever repeated a word to yourself over and over again until the word loses all meaning and just becomes a sound?  Have you ever written or typed a word that you’ve written or typed thousands (perhaps millions) of times before only to think immediately that the word is somehow wrong?  Have you been so convinced of this illusion that you look the bloody word up in the dictionary just to make sure you’ve not gone insane?

That’s semiotic confusion, or uncertainty and may just lead to the thought that it’s not the experience that’s the illusion, but all language and meaning lumped together.

That’s the kind of mind-blowing awesome of a movie like Pontypool.  Not to mention the eerie serendipity of coming from the launch of my morning radio show host friend Scott, whose novel is about a morning show host who receives what turns out to be a very serious threat and finding a movie about a morning radio show host in the middle of a semiotic virus breakout.

Gave me dreams, man …

One last thing, well two really, but they’re related.

I’ve been so busy guest blogging, hosting guests, blogging events, and interviewing that I forgot to mention that Brian Braden of Underground Book Reviews interviewed me last week!  And this week, as the result of the number of comments and likes, he’s posted an excerpt from Initiate of Stone, my work in progress.  Sure, he may have misspelled my name, but everyone does 🙂  Hazard of being me.

So if you want to find out what my WIP is made of, go read for yourself!

Need to curl up with my dog and some wicked cold meds.


LUminaries: The Power of Popular Fiction

On October 4, 2012, I attended the first of Laurentian University’s new season of the LUminaries readings series, held at the Living with Lakes Centre (LwLC).  The theme of the evening was the power of popular fiction, with authors John Forrest, Scott Overton, and Mark Leslie.

The first thing to note is that the LwLC is beautiful.  It was built with the landscape and the environment in mind, using a lot of natural or reclaimed materials, a green roof, and wonderful views of Ramsey Lake on the shores of which the centre stands.

The parking was a bit of an issue and I understand the reasons for this.  The builders wanted to encourage a more environmentally sustainable mode of travel, such as walking, cycling, or public transit.  Sadly, this would only work for individuals who work and/or live in the immediate university area.  The room in which the reading was held has a capacity of about 60 I believe.  There’s no way the cars of 60 attendees could fit into that wee parking lot.

This is unfortunate, because it makes the site unattractive for larger events where attendees from off-campus might want to participate in numbers.

This year’s LUminaries was co-sponsored by the English department, through Laurence Steven, the big squishy brain behind Your Scrivener Press, and by the English Arts Club, who are also behind the university’s new literary journal, Sulphur.   

The evening began with a meet and greet/author signing session out in the foyer of the centre.  I decided to hold off on picking up one of Scott’s books until his official launch this coming Thursday, October 11, 2012, at 8 pm (also at the LwLC).  I picked up Tesseracts 16, however, and Mark Leslie’s Haunted Hamilton.  I chatted up the authors, including John Forrest, but I must confess to selling Mr. Forrest short.  The books he had for sale were of Christmas stories and I wasn’t interested or yet in the mood for Christmas.

Laurence Steven began the reading more formally with a brief talk on popular fiction, its attraction, and its denigration in the literary/academic community.  Then he called John Forrest to the podium.

John was an educator and principal in his past career, but then turned his considerable talents to writing.  One of his claims to fame is that he’s had eleven stories published in various Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, three in the one about hockey.  That’s what he started with, his recounting of the ’72 Summit Series from the perspective of a young teacher working the sporting event into his teaching unit.

He then read part of a story from his story collection entitled Home for Christmas, about a WWII bomber tail gunner and his struggle to get home for Christmas.  Finally, he pulled out his first published short story, a humorous tale about purchasing condoms pending his vasectomy.

John’s first Christmas short story collection, published by YSP last year, has gone into three printings and was sold in Home Hardware stores as well as online and in book stores.  Home for Christmas has already sold out its first printing even though it hasn’t formally been launched yet!  John was dropping off boxes of his book to a couple of the local Home Hardware stores this week, so look for them in the Christmas home decor section.

Next, Scott Overton took the podium, and read three excerpts from his new novel Dead Air.  Without giving too much away, because I am going to blogging more about Scott in the next week or so, his novel is a thriller about a morning radio host in northern Ontario who has a strange dispute with a caller to his morning show and subsequently finds a hand-written threat on his desk.

Several possible love-interests, a snow mobile chase, and car trouble on a cold and stormy night are among the thrills in Dead Air.

Then Mark Leslie read a humorous horror story about what it might really be like to be Frosty the Snowman and some of his poetry from his collection One Hand Screaming.  He also spoke about his experience at editor for Tesseracts 16.  He’s never cracked the anthology as a writer, but lost his “Tesseracts” virginity at 16 🙂

As you can see from the picture, Mark is a very animated presenter and performer, changing his voice for the various characters in his stories.

At that point, there was an intermission after which there was to be a Q&A session.  Unfortunately, it was what I like to call a “school night” and I had to get home to complete my interview responses for Brian Braden and Underground Book Reviews and then get to bed so I would be marginally coherent at work on Friday.

I’m sure it was a fantastic second half and I’m sorry I had to leave.

If anyone who was there would care to fill in the blanks in the comment section, please do so!

Fairy tales, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror

Once more, I find myself a day late and a dollar short, but for good reason.  Last night, I attended the Sudbury Writers’ Guild meeting and caught up with my fellow writers in arms 🙂

A lot is happening up here in the north.  Matthew Del Papa published Green Eyes through Capreol, a collection of short stories based on life in the railway town.  Scott Overton had one of his short stories accepted into the recently published Tesseracts 16, will have his first book, Dead Air, launched October 11, 2012, and next week, he will take part in the LUminaries reading series at Laurentian University along with Mark Leslie and John Forrest presenting on the topic “The Power of Popular Fiction.”

Several members are nearing completion of their various works in progress (yay!) and the Guild is moving forward on an anthology of northern writers.

Exciting creative times in Sudz!


Last week, I was a little out of sorts.  My response to stress seems to be to heap more of the deadly stuff on until my overwrought brain insists on a break.  Thanks to the kind comments of my writer friends, I embarked on a dedicated weekend of relaxation, and as part of that, I watched a couple of movies: Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror.

In the beginning

Both movies are based on the fairy tale of Snow White.  Now the original story is much the same as the one most of us have become familiar with through Disney.  With a few subtle differences.

A young queen, desperate to have a child, sits spinning at her wheel.  She looks out through the ebon-wood frame of the window, onto a snowy field.  So distracted, she pricks her finger and three drops of her blood fall.  In that moment she wishes for a child black as ebony, white as snow, red as blood.

She has the child, but dies in childbirth.  The king remarries a vain woman who owns a magic mirror.  As the child grows in beauty, the new queen grows jealous and orders her huntsman to murder the girl.  The huntsman, touched by her beauty, cannot kill her, and she runs into the woods.

The huntsman figures the girl will be killed by wild animals in any case and shoots a deer with his bow, taking its innards (not just heart) to present the queen.  In the meantime, Snow finds her way to the home of the dwarfs and they allow her to stay if she will cook and clean for them.

The queen learns from her mirror that Snow still lives, and the artefact is so kind as to tell her where.  So she disguises herself and visits the dwarfs’ home while they are away working.  First, she gives snow a lace collar that once tied around the girl’s throat, chokes her.  The dwarfs return and remove the collar, restoring Snow.

They warn the girl not to receive strangers but the naive thing does so twice more, once to be poisoned by a comb placed in her hair, which the dwarfs also remove, and then to be poisoned by an apple, a mouthful of which lodges in her throat.

The dwarfs cannot revive her this last time, and determine to encase her body in a glass coffin.  As they transport the coffin to a mountain top, a traveling prince literally runs into them, upsetting the coffin, and dislodging the poisoned apple.

The prince announces he will marry Snow and invites everyone in the land.  The queen, preparing to attend the great feast and not knowing the identity of the bride, checks once more in her magic mirror, and is told once again that Snow White and not she is the fairest in the land.  The mirror neglects to tell her where Snow is this time, however, and she goes to the wedding still ignorant.

At the feast, the queen and her treachery are exposed and she is presented with a pair of iron shoes that have been heated in the fire.  She must dance until she dies.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her anthology of the Tales of the Brothers Grimm, writes:

A tale invites the psyches to dream upon something that seems familiar, yet often finds its origins in a far away time.  In entertaining the tales, listeners are re-envisioning the meanings of them, “reading with the heart” these important metaphoric guidances about the life of the soul.

As my recent foray into Fairy tale blogging madness will attest, fairy tales have an enduring fascination.  Snow White has been given homage in many novels and movies as a result.

Snow White and the Huntsman

This movie is quite faithful to the original fairy tale at the outset, but then takes a radical departure.

**Warning: Spoiler alert!**

Snow White & the Huntsman

Snow White & the Huntsman (Photo credit: Ludie Cochrane)

The queen, a fearsome sorceress who drinks the life force of beautiful maidens to remain young and beautiful, murders the king and keeps Snow White a prisoner for ten years while the country grows desolate around them.

When Snow White escapes into the dark forest, where she has no power, the queen recruits a huntsman and binds him with the promise that she will resurrect his dead wife if he will kill Snow White.

In the forest, Snow meets the dwarfs, who have fallen on hard times.  The huntsman finds Snow White, but Snow convinces him that the queen has deceived him and that they will both die if he takes her back to the queen.

They flee with the dwarfs, through various adventures, and joined by Snow’s childhood playmate, the son of a neighbouring duke, they defeat the queen’s brother and his men.  The queen, however disguises herself as the duke’s son and offers Snow the fateful apple.

When she is revived, Snow convinces the Duke to go to war against the queen and in a final confrontation, a Snow that appears more like Joan of Arc than a fairy tale princess, kills the queen.

What I liked about it:

  • The queen.  She was a brilliant villain, made more complex by a back story of abuse and tragedy, and more creepy by implications of incest with her brother.
  • The dwarfs.  They were a mystical, gruff bunch.  Bob Hoskins was fantastic 🙂
  • The lord of the forest.  At one point, the group enter fairy lands, and the lord of the forest blesses Snow.  It was a scene reminiscent of Princess Mononoke, with the lord of the forest appearing as a giant white stag with gloriously branching antlers, though I much preferred Myazaki’s Puff ‘n’ Fresh-like head rattlers to Huntsman’s eerie fairies that crawled out of the bodies of animals.
  • The scarred women.  To protect themselves from the queen’s predations, the widowed and orphaned women of the land scar their faces.
  • The awakening kiss.  Though it is the duke’s son who loves Snow, his kiss does not awaken her.  It is the huntsman’s kiss that proves to be the kiss of true love, but not because he loves Snow.  It is a kiss born of his sorrow for failing Snow as he failed his wife before.  I liked that a lot.
  • The ending.  Snow White, having defeated the queen and reclaimed her kingdom, sits on the throne, no man by her side, not the duke’s son, and not the huntsman.
  • The song.  Breath of life by Florence + the Machine is awesome!

What I didn’t like:

  • Some of the plot points were too convenient.

Why keep Snow White a prisoner?  The queen could have just killed her, or better still, take the girl’s life force to maintain her beauty.  It’s only when the mirror reveals to her (ten years on) that Snow’s heart will keep her forever young that she thinks to do anything with her rival.  Why did the mirror wait so long to tell her?
The queen has no power in the dark forest, so she recruits the huntsman, but she still sends her brother in after Snow.  Why didn’t she just send her brother in the first place?
The duke’s son gets himself recruited to the queen’s brother’s hunting party, but when they find Snow, he’s more concerned about maintaining his cover than in helping her.

  • The fairies creeped me out.
  • Snow is innocent and pure.  It’s that purity that allows her to defeat the queen, but for the final battle, she’s done up in plate mail.  It promises bad-assery that Snow fails to fulfill.  The queen tosses her around like a rag doll and she only succeeds in killing the queen because she’s lucky.

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror, from the outset, seemed a movie that didn’t know what it was trying to accomplish.  It starts with the queen, narrating her own story in a British accent, which she doesn’t maintain.

There are moments in it that are potentially dark, but they are overwhelmed by the silly.

In this revision of the fairy tale, Snow is merely locked away while the queen fritters away her money on parties and trying to look young.  She is advised by a maid to go out and have a look at the kingdom herself.  Snow is horrified by the poverty she sees.

When the prince comes on the scene, the queen settles on him as a means to continue her wastrel ways.

The prince, however, has fallen in love with Snow (who rescued him after the bandit dwarfs left him hanging), so the queen decides to get rid of her, sending her chief boot-licker out to do the job.  That part is faithful to the fairy tale.  The boot-licker is unable to kill Snow, but leaves her to the beast that lives in the forest and shows the queen some organ meats that were left in the kitchen.

The dwarfs are highwaymen in this version.  They rob the prince twice, and in keeping with the fairy tale, permit Snow to stay with them if she cooks and cleans for them.

As the queen tries to seduce the prince, Snow becomes a highwayman herself, insisting that the dwarfs return the money they steal to the townspeople to whom it truly belongs.

The queen eventually sends “the beast” out after Snow and the beast turns out to be her father.  Snow breaks the enchantment, marries the prince, and when the queen sneaks into the wedding feast and offers Snow the gift of an apple, Snow sees her for what she is, and refuses to be fooled.

What I liked:

  • The mirror.  In this version, the mirror is a kind of portal to another place where the queen communes with the mirror, which is herself.  Kinda nifty.
  • Snow as a highwayman.  She delivers on the kick-ass, though not terribly convincingly.
  • The beast/the king.  It was Sean Bean!  He got to live, for once!

What I didn’t like:

  • The queen.  Shallow and careless.
  • The prince.  He’s depicted as a doofus from the beginning and totally unworthy of Snow.
  • The dwarfs.  Though they’re thieves, they run around on stilts and do circus stunts.
  • The potion.  In the queen’s attempt to seduce the prince she gives him a potion without first examining what it is.  It turns out to be puppy love.  More doofus action for the prince.
  • The puppets.  The queen sends marionettes after Snow and the dwarfs.  Lame foes and once Snow sees their strings, she easily cuts them and saves everyone.
  • The Bollywood production at the end.  Totally misplaced.
  • The soundtrack.  Very traditional orchestral stuff.  Probably very good, but easily ignored given the ridiculousness of the movie.


  1. Villains that have a reason to be villainous and who do truly terrible things as a result are always better than purely selfish divas.
  2. In the same vein, flawed heroes are better than the goody-two-shoes, but …
  3. Heroes need to be heroes.  No doofaci (the plural of doofus, don’t ya know?) need apply.
  4. Convenient plot points will always be noticed and called out by the faithful reader.
  5. Go for the subtle twist.  The kiss of true love doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means.
  6. The trails that your characters go through have to be dangerous, dire, challenging.  If no one is truly in danger, the reader won’t care.
  7. Even minor characters can be awesome: the scarred women.
  8. If in doubt, borrow from Anime before going to Bollywood for inspiration 😉
  9. Similarly, go for the quirky new artist rather than the traditional soundtrack for inspiration.
  10. Your story doesn’t have to end with a kiss, or even a relationship beyond mutual respect.

Have you seen any movies lately that got you thinking?  Do you watch movies for plot?  Learn anything about your craft in the process?

Writerly Goodness must hit the hay.  Reading at the 100 thousand poets for change event in North Bay tomorrow!  And you know I’m going to blog about that 🙂