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Monday, November 28, 2011

NaNoNoWri

I love the concept of NaNoWriMo (for those who don't know what it is, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It was started in 1999 by Chris Baty and meant to be a socialization of a personal and "sole" activity. With the goal of writing 50,000 words in a single month (November), registrants post and share how they are doing towards that goal.

More than a quarter of a million people participate each year, and the number continues to grow.

I have participated in the past. I'll likely participate in the future again.

But right now, I'm just happy when I can get ANY writing done.

Which was why, Saturday morning, I got frustrated when my writing got cut short by an activity that frequently occurs when I'm in the middle of something.

I was "in the Zone" and composing what I thought was an important moment in a novel. I came to a part where one of the characters was going to say something about a subject where he was supposed to be knowledgeable and authoritative.

I, of course, was nowhere near authoritative or knowledgeable about the subject -- that's my cue to doing a bit of research.

And therein lies the mistake I made.

I took a quick moment to check a fact, do an internet search about a topic so as to ensure my character was speaking with the correct degree of knowledge. That "quick moment" of research turned into fifteen minutes of reading about the topic and about a related topic, getting drawn in and interested in learning more.

The next thing I knew, the writing flow had been broken. I was no longer in the Zone.

In that same fifteen minutes, I could have likely written another 500 to 1000 words. But alas, those words remain unwritten.

quill writing from wpclipart.com
This is a mistake I regularly make - the trick is catching myself in the midst of it so as to prevent the "full stop" that occurs. A strategy I have employed in the past (which tends to work) is inserting a note for myself to pay attention to during the re-write. So, instead of breaking the narrative flow by more than a few words, I insert a line in the middle of the sentence [just like this - just a few words] and then, satisfied I have recognized a moment that needs to be addresses when I have the time, I continue writing.

During the re-write phase, or when I'm about to quit for that session, I do the research and substitute in the appropriate word or detail.

Example.

Robert turned toward the instrument panel and noticed that [the proper technical name of the radial dial] was glowing [alert colour]. He immediately sounded the alarm and called Steve on his cell phone.

In the example above, once I do a bit of research to determine the proper technical name of the radial dial on the monitoring device Robert is looking at and whether the alert colour is red or orange, I return to them and insert the details.  Note that the research doesn't have to be into real stuff. This could be a piece of speculative fiction in which the instrument panel system Robert is observing is entirely fictitious but I need to look back to my own notes or where this detail was previously mentioned in the novel and merely fill in the info there.

It's a useful device. One I should remember to use so I don't get all carried away with the enjoyment of the research.




Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday OR "Occu-buy" Chaos?

One wonders about the whole "Occupy" movement. Despite the "we are the 99%" slogan being used in wonderfully, creative ways, the movement consists of a relatively small percentage of the population dedicating an incredible degree of time and effort into bringing a serious issue to our attention.

It all started just a few months ago and was gaining some traction world-wide.

Interesting though, that there are issues with a bunch of people wanting to stand up and make people pay attention to social and economic inequalities that exist throughout the world by camping and planting themselves in public places.

I suppose there isn't as big a deal made over the fact that, for Black Friday, a slightly larger group of people in many more parts of North America, were setting up tents and sleeping bags so they could "camp" outside retail spaces to be there when the doors began to open.

Cartoon 11/22 from Wesley's Cartoons - Dec 3, 2009


On one side, a bunch of disruptive people with a desperate message are looked down upon. On the other, those perpetuating capitalistic culture are just part of the norm.


And yet I look at incidents like the one recently reported in the Los Angeles Times in which a woman used pepper spray on her fellow shoppers in order to get to the deals first at a Wal-Mart and I just shake my head.

Cartoon: The Spirit of the Season from The Boiling Point by Mikhaela B. Reid
Google "Black Friday Violence" and you'll see this is a trend that has been growing.

Sigh . . .


Thursday, November 24, 2011

HNT - Seeing Santa

This past weekend Santa arrived at Limeridge Mall.

We headed over to the mall to see the incoming mini parade which included Sir Topham Hatt (from Thomas the Tank Engine), a couple of ponies from My Little Pony, as well as a few other characters, bagpipe musicians and mall staff dressed as Santa's helpers handing out fun activity/colouring books for the kids.

I hoisted Alexander on my shoulders so he could get a good view through the crowd.  Then I readied my iPhone to take a few pictures and remembered that there was a front facing cam on my new iPhone. So I snapped a couple of quick pictures to test it out.


Then, as things begin to start, it was cute how he was yelling out: "I see Sir Topham Hatt!" at the top of his lungs as the characters began their march far far down the hall.

At that point we knew it was a good idea to take him to this. (We'd debated on attending the Parade in Toronto which was the same day, but the concept of the drive plus the possible 5 hour wait just to get a good spot just wasn't feasible given our schedule of activities and chores for the weekend. This little event was enough to kindle the fun excitement of Christmas without overpowering it with long waits and being stuck in a huge crowd far from the comforts of home)

I took a few pictures of the characters and Santa, but I'd been more eager to see the look of joy that I knew must be plastered on my son's face.

So I switched to the front facing camera and took a few shots.


Ahh - got to love this smile as the various characters are marching by.


And this one, waving at Santa as he passes in front of us.

Got to love Christmas, and, in particular, the excitement and joy my son gets in the various little traditions that we do together which make it that much more special.





Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An 80's Geek's Bookgasm

I think the best way that I can describe Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is as an 80's Geek's Bookgasm.

I'd leave it at that, but I feel I should at least discuss how I came to discover and enjoy the book.

First, let me blame Mark and Jon of The Enthusiasticast. It was in Episode 72 that Jon starting talking about this novel by Cline. Before he was even half-way done, I was practically salivating and knew I wanted to read it.

No, I didn't want to read it.

I wanted to listen to the audio version read by Wil Wheaton. (I'd previously enjoyed listened to Wheaton read a few of his own books and knew he was an excellent narrator. Having Wheaton as the voice for this 80's "nerdgasm" was the perfect fit.

Throughout the listening (most of which was done via my 1.5 hour commute from Hamilton to Toronto), there were times when I just sat in the car and kept listening to the novel. And half the time, when traffic was so bad that I was stuck on the highway for up to 2 hours or more it didn't bother me in the slightest - because it meant I had more time to listen to the book. It was the perfect thing to soothe this commuter's soul . . .

In a nutshell, Ready Player One is set in a dystopian future in which a huge cross between social media and online gaming exists in a virtual world called The Oasis. The Oasis was created by billionaire James Halliday -- (think of him as a cross between Steve Jobs and Howard Hughes - hmm, maybe more of a John Hughes, given his love for that film-maker`s popular movies from the 80`s)

When Halliday dies, there is an announcement that his entire fortune will go to the person who can succeed in finding the 3 hidden Easter eggs that he planted somewhere in The Oasis. An entire culture of people dedicate their lives to finding these eggs - and it is, the way online gaming can become for some, an overwhelming obsession that takes over their lives.

A good deal of the Gunters (the "Egg Hunters") role is studying and leaning about Halliday - about the things he wrote, the things he said, the things he loved. Because Halliday was a product of and a huge fan of the 80`s (he was a teen in the 1980's) a good deal of understanding of where he might have hidden the eggs comes from understanding and knowing 80's pop culture.

This element of the book makes it an incredibly wonderful trip down memory lane for anyone who enjoyed the John Hughes teen movies of the time, playing Dungeons & Dragons, the very first text-based adventure games, the hype of Pac-Man and the video game arcade frenzy, and a slew of other pop culture music and movie references from the time.

Combine that with an intriguing set of characters (who are often extreme in their dedication to this virtual world and the hunt), a beautiful mirror held up to our current fascinating with online and mobile connectedness via social media, and an easy to approach style of writing made this a fantastic novel that I simply couldn't get enough of.

To top it off, the Canadian rock trio Rush ends up playing a significant role in the novel -- as a huge Rush nerd that completely blew my mind.

Being a fan of sci-fi, a fan of dystopian fiction, a lover of the 80's, a lover of Rush and a fan of Wil Wheaton it seems as if this novel was written for me -- or at least that I was one of the intended audience for this book.

But perhaps you might see how this novel was a kind of bookgasm for this particular 80's book nerd.

Thanks, Mr. Cline. Escaping into Ready Player One the way that many of the characters of the novel escape into The Oasis was a glorious treat that I fully enjoyed. Having the book read by Wil Wheaton was the perfect icing on that cake.

Needless to say I highly recommend this novel - but only if you're serious about 80's geek culture. If you are, chances are you'll have similar strong feelings. If you're not, you'll likely still enjoy the storyline, the twists and turns and the tension, along with the various plot strings that Cline sets up, but it's hard to say how you'll react to the strong 80's presence in the book.

Friday, November 18, 2011

HNT - CSC2011

Yesterday I spent the day networking with the great folks from Campus Stores Canada.

It was an odd sort of reunion, because for the past few years I had been a CSC member and attending as a campus bookseller.

This year, though I was there to do a presentation about the POD success I had at McMaster University with the bookstore's Espresso Book Machine, my name tag was showing my role as: Director, Self-Publishing & Author Relations for Kobo, the company I now work for.

It was fantastic to see so many great folks from the campus side, and share great POD information with them, but, of course, also chat about Kobo, talk with them about getting content from them (particularly those campus stores who are already offering self-publish POD services. When I was at McMaster I had set up an account with Kobo so that any self-pub clients who wanted global ebook distribution could get it through that Kobo relationship - and I was encouraging folks using EBM's to do the same thing and thus expand their business through mutually beneficial partnerships. By the end of the day, I had a handful of new folks who will be setting up an account with us, giving their authors a new sales channel and great presence.

It was also fun showing many of them the Kobo Vox.

I didn't take any pictures while there -- so busy that I neglected to whip out the camera to take any pictures . . . . so I thought I'd share a photo from way back. A shot taken of Paul Wilde (from U of Alberta bookstore) and me in front of the EBM at their store - the first in Canada and the third location in the world to embrace the POD technology back in 2007.


Good times!



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Just The Boys Writing Scary Stories Together

Francine flew off to Banff on Saturday. (Okay, in the interest of accuracy, she flew to Calgary then took land transportation to Banff).

Fran's trip left Alexander and I to our own devices this weekend.

The original thought was that, without Francine's calm head, and clear guidance, and proper influence, Alexander and I would be running wild all weekend, having nothing but pizza parties (okay, we did have one, but ate a healthy, well balanced home made meal Saturday night and a nice hearty breakfast on Sunday), playing video games (well, yes, we did that too, but just for a couple of hours at the neighbour's house), and making huge messes (okay, we did make a few little ones, but we also did some cleaning)

But here was the funny thing.

We spent a lot of time writing.

All week, Alexander has been talking about wanting to write a story on his computer. I told him we'd have a chance to do that on the weekend.

So, Saturday morning, after he woke up he joined me down in the den. I was working on a revision to a novel and across from me, he was beginning his first experience at typing up a story.

I helped him figure out some of the basics such as how to open Word and save a new document, how to BOLD a selection of text and how to delete and replace a word.

Here is his first attempt at a story he was itching to tell . . .


Immediately after writing, then printing this first draft of his story, he took out some pencil crayons and added some illustrations to it. I love it. I think I'm going to have it framed.

Then, this morning, during the Sunday morning father and son writing session, he expressed the fact that the story wasn't over and he had more to tell. I was delighted to hear this. I then explained to him the importance of re-reading the previous day's work and working on a second draft. As part of this exercise, I asked him to explain a few things to me.

When I told him that the first sentence didn't make sense because it wasn't a proper sentence, he explained that it was an overview/summary of the story. So we talked about it and he modified it slightly and I suggested that he add an indicator that it wasn't part of the story.

Then we had a quick chat about POV. I gently explained that he couldn't write "Alex" using a third person narrator, then revert to "we" and "me" -- but that he had to keep the point of view the story was being told from consistent.

He immediately caught on and said: "I should change Alex to I." I nodded vigorously.

Then I explained a bit about past and present tense. I wasn't even half-way through my intended explanation when he said: "I need to change it from see to saw."

"Exactly!" I said.

"And change run to ran."

"Precisely!"

So he made the changes and then began working on the next "chapter" of his his story.

At a certain point, because he kept asking me how to spell words, I took him up to his room and we pulled out two difference dictionaries he had there and brought them downstairs. I showed him he could look up words he wanted to know how to spell in either his The Cat in the Hat Beginning Book Dictionary or his Macmillan First Dictionary. (The latter was a bit more sophisticated and had a lot more words and more descriptive meanings).

He was rather pleased with the exercise of looking up words he didn't know how to spell, but then he asked why he would use more than one dictionary and I showed him Daddio's four different dictionaries, and told him that writers often use these types of writers tools to help them, depending on what was important at the time.

We didn't get into the hundred or so other writer guides and other reference books on the shelf to the immediate left of my writing space. Those lessons will come at a future day.

I was initially pleased at how productive this past weekend was for my own writing. But I'm tickled pink, and as proud as can be to see my son enjoying the simple yet powerful act of pouring his creative spirit into words on a page.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

HNT - Down With The Old, Up With The New

As I began to write this I took at quick look back at the last few posts. The previous four were about Halloween, and I noticed I have not been blogging regularly. I suppose that's because I used to blog early in the morning before getting ready for work as part of my daily morning writing routine. (I began blogging as a warm-up to actual writing)

But the new job and 1.5 hour morning commute takes that time away. Sure, I could get up at 4 AM rather than 5 AM, but I'm needing between 5 and 6 hours of sleep a night, and that would cut into that in a bad way.

Still need to figure out optimum writing times. (Hmm, maybe actually taking a lunch break at work might do the trick - a difficult task when I enjoy my job so much that it doesn't feel like work.)

In any case, today's post is another HNT one - at least I have the HNT ritual to ensure that I blog at least once per week.  Today's post also refers to -- one last time for a while at least -- Halloween.

On Saturday, Alexander and I spent a couple of hours taking down the massive Halloween setup from our front yard. And on Sunday, with the weather being so absolutely gorgeous (particularly for November), Francine suggested that we put up the Christmas lights. She's a smart gal, that Fran - often reminding me of the challenges of climbing across the roof and slipping and sliding on a cold, icy surface when I wait too long to get those lights up (Of course, when Fran suggested it mid week after hearing the weather forecast, Alexander was itching to get started every day when I got home from work last week)

This week's HNT pics are of Alexander and I on the roof preparing to complete our task. (Yes, he has been involved in helping get the decorations up since he could walk - although it's only in the past few years he has been coming out onto the roof with me - when he was two he used to pass me the decorations through his bedroom window then point out where to place things.)









And I just couldn't bare to take pictures of the putting away of the Halloween decorations. It's still too painful to think about . . .

Thursday, November 03, 2011

HNT - Halloween 2011

Francine and I have always loved Halloween. It's thus natural that our son Alexander would love it, too. Usually, once August ends and the first days of school begin, Alexander starts to talk about setting up the Halloween decorations in our front yard (yes, we tend to go "all out" on this) as well as what costume he'll want to wear.

This year, being mad about everything Star Wars, he dressed as Captain Rex one of the lead clone troopers from The Clone Wars (an animated series which takes place in the time between the 2nd and 3rd installment of the prequel series - a war eluded to by Obi-Wan back in the very 1st Star Wars movie when Obi-Wan and Anakin fought side-by-side before Anakin turned entirely to the dark side)

Since Alexander was Captain Rex, I was going to dress up as Obi-Wan, only I didn't decide in time to grow a beard. So perhaps I'm Anakin (the black I'm wearing might suggest that), or maybe just some miscellaneous Jedi "guest-star" for a single episode . . . you know, like the disposable ensigns on Star Trek that get killed off . . .

In any case, it was another fun Halloween.




How many days is it until Halloween 2012?




Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Music With Halloween Spirit

Alexander & Francine's Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween 2011




I always feel the post-Halloween blues kick in at about the same time I go to blow the candle out in the Jack-o-Lantern for the night on the evening of October 31st. A strong part of me wants to keep that candle lit for a few moments more as I peer down the street hoping for just one last trick or treater to come calling.


That's usually when my mind starts trying to conjure ways to bring back that beautiful Halloween spirit that the rest of the world shares but which I seem to hold in my heart for most of the year.

This time, I began composing a list of songs I'd love to mix together to celebrate Halloween. Sort of a virtual "mixed tape" like the ones we used to make when we were younger.

Here's the list I came up with:

Don't Fear the Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult
Running with the Devil - Van Halen
Time Warp - Rocky Horror Picture Show
Witchy Woman - Eagles
Clap for the Wolfman - The Guess Who
Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr.
Psycho Killer - Talking Heads
Boris the Spider - The Who
Devil with a Blue Dress - Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels
Welcome to my Nightmare - Alice Cooper
Crazy Train - Ozzy Osborne
People Are Strange - The Doors
Thriller - Michael Jackson
Tubular Bells (Exorcist Theme) - Mike Oldfield
Let's Go Crazy - Prince
Witch Doctor - David Seville
Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
Enter Sandman - Metallica
Iron Man - Black Sabbath
Black Magic Woman - Santana
Witch Hunt - Rush
Highway to Hell - ACDC
Sympathy for the Devil - Rolling Stones
Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Picket

Maybe if I put together a playlist like this I could bring back just a bit of the Halloween spirit. Or at least, when I hear some of these songs throughout the next 364 days, it'll help rekindle the dying embers of that wonderful feeling of Halloween.

What songs would you add?