Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

Father’s Day has come again, and I’ve been thinking of you. I have a little photo of you on my dresser, from when I was a little guy, when you were working on the Hollic’s farm that summer. I think it’s my favourite photo of you because you look suntanned and happy.

Anyway, I was chatting with Kim the other night, and she was very excited about a cancer treatment that was based on research done at TRIUMF at UBC. I know you were proud to have worked there, and we’re still proud of it today. It’s very cool to know that you were part of the team of RF technicians and engineers who helped to maintain equipment for the Cyclotron. In Grade 5, my teacher, Mrs. Atkinson, asked me if my Dad worked at the atom smasher at UBC. I didn’t really know what she was referring to until you explained how the particles get whipped up to near the speed of light, and then get smashed against gold targets so that the various particles break off and can be studied. Atom Smasher makes me picture a big hammer and anvil arrangement, which is kind of funny and old. Even back in Grade 5 I think I understood that if was really high-energy beams going through special pipes. You explained it as best you could. I’m sure I asked way too many questions. 🙂

You always seemed to have an interest in physics, and things electro-mechanical. Since we last spoke, I’ve read a *lot* of physics by many of the big thinkers. I’ve read Einsein’s book on Relativity a couple of times. I think it was rewritten for a general audience, but some of the calculus near the end was very cryptic and hard to follow (the Lorenz Transformation, and his final arrival at the famous equation, e=mc^2).

Stephen Hawking is also an incredible teacher of cosmology and large-scale physics. A lot of these fellows seem to get very philosophical and even a bit religious in some of their wider views. I think that means that the science they’re exploring is hitting on the same big questions that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with over the centuries. I think that in the future, science, philosophy and religion will continue to merge.

You and I never really talked about big ideas like that, but I have a sense that you thought about some things like that on your own, in private.

I really wish you and I had talked more.

Anyway, happy fathers day, Dad. I love you.

John.

Share

Amazon Studios & Bootstrapping Original Content

What does it mean when the major online retailer of books and movies is getting into the content production business? It’s more industry convergence that proves that “content is king”, even when it’s crowdsourced…

I think that Amazon is doing a kind of Zeroes2Heroes approach to getting original content, but on a bigger, Amazon scale: promises of “options”, coupled with free (but strings attached, I think) tools like their Storyteller storyboarding app and online network.

 

Share

Getting closer to writing again…

Other than the occasional blog post, I haven’t written anything of consequence, personally, in close to a year. So goes my on-again-off-again relationship with creative writing.

The stopper (or slower-downer) for me this time has been a preoccupation with  money (re: earning more) and enduring a series of extensive repairs and renovations to our condo.

Our building was built in 1995, and that, coupled with the fact that our suite is on the ground floor, makes us prime targets for receiving water from the world outside (a cracked cement planter adjacent to our bedroom), and from the upper floors (a broken pipe a few stories above).

These leak damage repairs began in November, and were finally completed in February, so we endured a few uncomfortable months living in our guest bedroom with all our master bedroom and en-suite bathroom contents piled up over our ears throughout the rest of our place.

My inner grateful voice told me many times “at least you weren’t unemployed this time”. Yes, dear inner grateful voice, that is true and I am indeed grateful. When things break and you don’t know how long it will take to fix them, it’s a good time to count your blessings.

Reading fiction is one of the best forms of escape from stress or grief that I know. I have been trying to finish Hugo’s classic novel “Les Miserables”, and it’s reminded me of the meaning of true suffering and sacrifice. How can one compare a leaky condo to being homeless, ostracized, or physically and emotionally beaten down? I had a hard time beginning this novel, and at first found Hugo’s writing style rather hard to take, since his voice tended to switch from narrative, to period history, to philosophy, or to personal polemic. It requires a great deal of patience and perseverance,  but the reward is a deeper comprehension of his characters and the world in which they live.

As inspiring and beautiful as “Les Mis” is, it’s a monumental novel for a part-time reader like me. After months, I’m not even halfway through the epic.

The only writing I’ve been doing in recent months is business communications, and editing/reformatting training manuals for a much-appreciated contract. My inner creative mind has been eclipsed by my inner pragmatist. Of course, this delights my inner grateful voice no end, since in addition to blessings, it can also count a few new dollars among its reasons to keep on smiling.

I’v finally started to hear the voices of my own characters calling to me as well. I haven’t worked in the world of Jack Owen for a long, long time, but it’s starting to feel like writing time again. I’ve neglected Jack’s world for too long.

God, it’s getting crowded in there with all those bloody voices. But, they’re telling me good things. I just have to keep listening.

Share

Stream of conscious delight

My headphones are in. Robert Plant wails and Jimmy Page brings layer after layer of metal blues and funk. My heart has been uninspired to do anything creative for weeks. Fuck my own voice, I seem to have been murmuring to myself. Just work and get paid. Get it done, and climb out of that financial divot that you’ve chipped yourself into, and then get out of the weeds and play your ass back onto the green. Great. A golf metaphor – how creative.

Listening to songs that I love always makes me fantasize that I’m singing and playing guitar and having the time of my life with my friends. I don’t know if I have the patience to learn guitar, but I would like to sing. That’s an instrument I would love to cultivate. I like my voice.

When I was a little boy, I sang like a little bird. A beautiful boy soprano withe dirty blonde hair. Back then, singing in a choir was more my family’s idea than mine. I rebelled against it in my own way, yet also loved the spotlight and feeling of freedom. Singing well was work, but it was also about virtue. Notes had to be clear and pure. It might be the closest thing to flying or teleportation that I can imagine. On a grey, misty day, I’d love to see the sun shine. Maybe tomorrow.

Now Beck is saying “All right! Turn it up now!”
Yeah, I should totally turn it up now.

Share

How and what will I try to say today?

With just a little time, there’s a chance to flex my mind…
How and what will I try to say today?

Will it be words, peeping out from pigeonholes?
Scraps of memories in my ear…

Will it be pencil scribbles or little points of light?
In a way that you can see but not quite hear…

I guess it’s a wealth of riches – raw materials with nowhere to go.
I’ll give it up for now, and try some other day.

Maybe a little poem – painting pictures with words?
If only I could think of something clever to say.

 

Share

Sandwiches by the Lake

I just had this image of my Mum and Dad, not as they were in most of my memories, but from a time years before me and my sister were born, a time when they were younger, healthier and happier – maybe a time when they were truly in sync and in love as a couple.

In my mind, I expand it out into a littLe fantasy, where they’d rent a cabin at a rustic little vacation spot, adjoining a campground, near a lake.

Dad’s hair would still be mostly black with just a touch of grey near the temples. He’d wear a white knit pullover with a vee neck and short sleeves, and he’d be trim and in good shape, the way he was when they first got married in 1961.

Mum would have curly dark brown hair that was worn up off her neck. She’d wear a knee-length dress that had the colour and pattern to remind you of autumn leaves.

They would be on a vacation that they’d been looking forward to for months, and both of them would be smiling the whole time.

At lunchtime, Mum would cut a fresh loaf of white bread into thick slices and butter them, while Dad sliced up baloney or corned beef. They’d bring their sandwiches outside to their cabin’s tiny little front porch, and sit on a bench made from a split log, while munching away, talking and sipping on sodas. They’d watch the campers in their tents, and listen to kids splashing in the lake about fifty yards away. Maybe there’d be a nice sunset, and later, a clear and starry night sky.

I only have some snapshots of them in these clothes, driving to some location together on some bright sunny day. Why not complete the story, and wish this for them? At earlier times in their lives, they surely must have had it. They really did love each other once.

This is the kind of afternoon that I enjoy with my wife, at home or away, in our hearts, whenever we want. Just some food, some peace, and some good loving company.

Share

Meeting Michael Slade and talking about eBooks

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to sit down with Canadian author Jay Clarke (aka “Michael Slade”).

He’s a former lawyer and the author of over a dozen crime novels, in a genre sometimes referred to as “Mountie Noir”. (It’s a great label – almost as good, IMHO, as “Tartan Noir”, which refers to Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin.)

Mr. Clarke is currently doing a Writer in Residence at Vancouver Community College, and during that time is making himself available for one-to-one’s with students and staff, as well as conducting some presentations or classes. Check out his personal “Special-X” website.

What did I learn from talking with Michael Slade?

Michael Slade appears highly energized, with a laser-like focus and a rapidity of speech akin to a machine-gun. In answering my questions, he flowed breathlessly from one story to the next, in effect raising me up out of my chair a little, buoyed on his waves of enthusiastic patter. The man has a lot to say, and says it with a quickness and precision that had me picturing him sweet-talking many a jury back in his day.

I had hoped to ask him some questions such as who his favourite writers were, what fiction had influenced him, etc. I had considered my questions around in my mind, but I never asked them. I never even got close to ’em. That’s because when I spoke, my mouth began telling him about how I hoped to find an Agent or a small publisher to help me repackage and market my first novel. I suppose this is what I was really frustrated by – a lack of success in selling my books.

What he told me was this: the eBook revolution is still a work in progress. The market will soon “tip over”, and eBook sales will eclipse print book sales entirely – not just at Amazon, but everywhere in the market. The tablet and eReader markets are making this happen, and the traditional publishing industry will be changed forever.

What does it boil down to?

My efforts as a novelist are split down the middle by an important boundary, One the one side (the side I love and am blindly devoted to), there lives me, the caring creator, trying to formulate and legitimize a mythical world of characters and events through the written word. On the other side, there’s this realm of unknown results and lack of predictability, where I stuff little messages into bottles and fling them out into the sea, hoping for one of my books to get purchased. On the first side of the boundary, the one where I’m synthesizing out of fragments, I’m in familiar territory. I know I can do it and have confidence that my skill will improve over time with lots of practice. On the other side, it feels like a no-man’s land, with me flailing around in the dark.

All the same, the aspect of both those things is the concept of me remaining in control of the work and the process. Above all, that is what appeals to me the most.

The books I’m trying to write (and Jay, if you read the copy I handed you of my little novel, Owe Nothing, then bless you sir), are vastly different in content, pace, and tone from anything by Michael Slade, whose last novel, Red Sun was described by one reviewer as “Ian Fleming-esque in its narrative drive”. I am still developing my voice.

But, we’re all working in the shadow of the same industry-changing technological tide that is putting more emphasis on writers becoming their own publishers, and paper turning into pixels.

The stigma attached to self-publishing (“vanity press”) is eroding as more readers and writers get involved online, and as the barriers to “getting published” continue to transform.

Jay Clarke also named quite a few famous authors who initially self-pubbed (Mark Twain?) or who had struggled for decades before their big book came (Elmore Leonard!). He mentioned that every author tends to compare himself to another whom he admires, whether newer or older. We’re all influenced or inspired by somebody else.

I believe what Michael Slade was telling me was essentially this: Don’t quit. Keep trying, and keep control of your work, because the sea change is coming…

Share

On Creativity: Carnivalé and the Hero’s Journey

The HBO series Carnivale has been inspiring me.

We recently picked up Carnivalé on DVD, and are enjoying season one. This series was broadcast on HBO in 2004 and only lasted two seasons before being cancelled, but not before attracting attention and kudos for its haunting stories, great cast, and movie-quality production values.

Carnivalé presents us with two unlikely protagonists: an abandoned farm boy who has recently lost his mother and his home, and a tortured preacher who struggles to save the down-trodden “Oakies”, outcasts from society in the midst of the American dustbowl-era depression.

Ben, the farm boy, is beset with dreams and visions of his late father. Ben possesses a healing ability, which his devoutly religious mother condemned him for moments before she died.

Brother Justin, the Preacher, also possess a power – the power to make others see visions. He uses this power to convince the weak and the evil to follow his path of righteousness, specifically to help the downtrodden and especially, poor abandoned and orphaned children.

Each of these men lives in a different world from the other: Ben with the “Carnivalé” circus, and Brother Justin in a small, conservative town that would never accept him as their pastor if they knew of his special abilities.

Ben undergoes what I see as the classic Hero’s Journey, or trial, where he becomes trapped and lost in an abandoned mine, and sees visions involving his late father and a man from the Canivalé, whom he knows as Ludz.

In the Hero’s Journey (a la Joseph Campbell), the hero becomes trapped in a maze or some kind of labyrinth, but eventually escapes after having a vision or dream.

This maze experience is a test. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker went to Dagobah to learn from Master Yoda, and one of his tasks was to enter an underground cave, where he confronted Darth Vader in a dreamlike battle. We knew it wasn’t the real Darth Vader – it was a test visited upon Luke by his Master, to help him see his own soul and potential future.

 

Share

On Creativity: Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”

I first read this piece from designer Bruce Mau about a dozen years ago. It’s still good to read these words from time to time, and take them as a personal challenge…

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth (brucemaudesign.com)

“This design manifesto was first written by Bruce Mau in 1998, articulating his beliefs, strategies, and motivations. The manifesto outlines BMD’s design process…”

Share

On Process: How Scrivener is changing how I write…

I’m still getting used to working with Scrivener, but its design is encouraging me to organize my manuscript in a better way.

When I wrote Owe Nothing, I saw individual scenes first; specific exchanges between characters, or particular story “beats” that were important to me. However, I didn’t start with much of an overall framework in mind – I went back later and analyzed my half-finished manuscript, documented the various plot-points, and tried to resolve or relate sub-plots. Then, I had to decide where to put my chapter breaks, make sure I had good hooks at the end of chapters, or create good break-points if there weren’t any.

Bottom line: Working that way, I wasn’t really in control of my story, because I didn’t create much of a plot skeleton for it when I began.

Scrivener’s design encourages the creation of an outline by making it easy to create little index cards on which you can bang out basic plot points and major events, and then progressively fill in details as you work from general to specific to develop each scene. Working with modular chunks of story (scenes) is the way it should be done, and Scrivener makes rearranging scenes as easy as dragging a piece from one place to another in the story outline.

This author has some good points on writing your content as scenes first, and then compiling them into Chapter folders after:
From “Clay’s Site” – “Using the Scene writing method with Scrivener”

In my last post about my own writing process, I covered a little about how Scrivener (and other tools) have helped me learn and improve my work-flow.

 

Share