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  • And Now For Something Completely Different

    We all have our writing routines. Some are more strict than others, some involve a particular setting or music, and some include what we’re reading when we’re not working. Sometimes we need these routines–and sometimes we need to abandon them for something completely different.

    My routine typically involves listening to no music whatsoever while working, and reading a similar genre to my own during leisure times to keep in the proper mindset. Recently, however, I hit a bit of a snag. The novel I’m up to the eyeballs editing and rewriting, Fallen Things, is urban fantasy (though I wonder sometimes if it isn’t more contemporary fantasy), so I’ve been reading a lot of urban fantasy. A good idea usually, but it wasn’t working this time.

    Whenever I sat down to work, I was annoyed with what I was writing. Whenever I went to relax with a book, I was annoyed with what I was reading. Whatever I was doing, I was annoyed, and I realized that I just wasn’t getting a break from anything, which wasn’t helpful. Something needed to change.

    A couple of things happened at once here: the first was that I was looking for some music that related to the character I was working on. While I usually find listening to music while writing distracting, I relate certain songs to certain characters and listen to those when I’m doing other things. This one, however, was being tricky. Nothing seemed to fit–until I abandoned the lyric-filled pop and rock music for Beethoven. It fit him so perfectly, and since I wasn’t trying to sing along with it, I could listen to it while I worked.

    The second thing was finding a selection of classic literature on sale three for ten dollars. Having two versions of the song Wuthering Heights, (Kate Bush and Pat Benatar), I thought I ought to actually read the book sometime. This was a complete departure from what I had been reading, and I loved it. For the first time in a while, it actually felt like I was giving my brain a break from the work I’d given it. I didn’t have to compare things like style and point of view because they weren’t  meant to follow the same guidelines.

    I still spend a good deal of editing time glaring at the screen. That’s a natural part of the process. But the task doesn’t seem so impossible any more, and my leisure time, filled with Emily Brontë and Beethoven, actually feels like leisure time again. I can actually relax.

    Sometimes our writing routines help us to be more productive, but sometimes we need to know when to put aside old practices and shake things up a bit. Sometimes we need something completely different.



  • Why I Love My Local Independent Bookstore

    Walking into this bookstore is a different experience than walking into pretty much any other bookstore for one very good reason: it isn’t any other bookstore. It isn’t just another of a large chain of stores striving to make every shopping experience absolutely identical. This bookstore has an identity.

    I’m talking specifically about Shelf Life Books in Calgary, but I’m sure a lot of this applies to whatever independent bookstores exist in your community.

    To understand what Shelf Life Books is, let’s first see what it’s not. When I walk into a big chain bookstore like, oh say, Chapters, I usually need to know what I’m looking for specifically. It’s not really set up for browsing, confronting me instead with shelves packed with dozens of copies of the current best sellers. It feels more like going to a grocery store than a bookstore, and I tend to treat it the same way. I go to a specific aisle for a specific item. I can be assured to find the latest from any of the major publishers, but the chances of discovering something new and relatively unheard of is unlikely.

    Here, I have to browse. Even if the store is laid out into genres—I can’t imagine a book store that isn’t—the displays and the books themselves compel me to slow down, walk around, and really look at what’s there. For the first time in my life I’m deliberately looking beyond the fantasy section for something different. I’m looking—shock and horror—at non-fiction, finding books about things that interest me and things I didn’t even know interested me. Picking up The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Bable by Nicholas Ostler was hardly a surprise seeing as how I love language, but Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber was something I never expected to get into but did. Today it was the ninetieth issue of The Believer and Light Em Up, a book of microfictions that fits in a matchbook. Some of these things I wouldn’t be able to find at a Chapters, and the rest I wouldn’t even think to look for.

    Shelf Life Books encourages me to linger a while. I can sit at a table and write, just as I am now, which is something I haven’t been able to do easily at a Chapters (I’ve tried. The tables at the mandatory Starbucks are tiny and noisy.) The atmosphere here is an escape and not just another mad-dash stop at the mall on the way to the movie theatre.

    Another thing that bears mentioning is that a local, independent bookstore is, well, local. There’s a section for local authors—fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—and works from local artists on display. The red chair on the wall behind me is by a local painter by the name of Veronica Funk, who also has paintings on display at Café Koi on 1st Street.

    I never know exactly what I’m going to get when I walk into Shelf Life Books, and that’s the beauty of it. What I do know is that I’ll find something new and interesting to discover, and is there any better reason to love a bookstore than that?



  • Blackbirds Devoured My Thursday

    There’s a peculiar thing that happens when I start reading something written by Chuck Wendig… I lose time. An afternoon. A whole day. The latest culprit? Blackbirds.

    Now, it’s entirely possible that I felt more invested in this book than many of the others I’ve picked up off the shelves. In some second-hand way, I feel that through Twitter posts and blog updates, I’ve been along for the journey as this book went from manuscript to published product. Wendig was one of the first folks out there that made me realize that writers are people and that as a fellow person, I have a chance at this thing. Even so, I had this weird preconception that internet people exist only on the internet… maybe if I started putting money in my PayPal and waited the 6-8 business days for it to go through I’d be able to procure a copy, but it seemed like so much effort and waiting and blah.

    But then I was at a Chapters and thought, “Hey, just for kicks, I’ll look up Chuck Wendig in the database and see if they have anything.” And lo and behold, there it was: three copies of Blackbirds right there in the store.

    It was like someone had blown a great big hole in my reality and rainbows shot out of it.

    Needless to say, I bought the book. And then I read it. And when I looked up, I discovered that my Thursday had disappeared, and I didn’t care. It was that good.

    Let me tell you right now, it’s messed up. It’s sick and twisted, and I loved every profanity-soaked minute of it. It’s like Gaiman’s American Gods stripped down and filtered through piss, cheap booze, and highway gravel. And death. A lot of death. It’s raw, dark, and it made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. It’s about fate and yet, however much I heard about the process of writing it, it kept me guessing–hoping and fearing–right up until the end. And honestly, I don’t know how he pulled off those interludes/flashbacks and ‘current time’ all in present tense, but he did.

    He also got me invested in the characters. In Miriam. In Louis. In Harriet even, though I’m a little afraid of what that says about me. I felt for Frankie. I was fascinated by Ingersoll. I swore out loud at Ashley. I really, truly cared what happened to these people–and if I say any more about that, I might spoil it, so I won’t.

    The point is, Blackbirds is well worth losing a Thursday to. It’s well worth buying–online, ink, digital, at your local bookstore, I don’t care. It’s worth it.



  • Life, The Universe, and Douglas Adams

    Long before I discovered Neil Gaiman, before Ray Bradbury even, there was Douglas Adams.

    I remember when I was a child, my mom would take us to the library. I remember the brightly coloured covers, the way four books could be combined, like a puzzle, to complete the pictures. I remember sitting with her as she read to me from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    I also remember at one point looking up at her and saying that when I grew up, I wanted to be drunk like Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox, but what did I know? He made it sound really fun. My mom of course, claims not to remember me saying this at all.

    The point is, I grew up with Douglas Adams as a huge influence in my life. Not only did I read the whole five part trilogy and try my hand at the computer game, my dad taped the BBC mini-series for me (this was in the days before PVR’s, people. Before DVD’s, even!) Between the questionable quality of the cassette tape and the pathetic budget at the BBC at the time, it was grainy and the picture wavered at times, but it was magic to me. Looking back, I think that was part of its charm.

    I also read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and later, The Salmon of Doubt. The last is always a bitter-sweet book for me since before reading it, I don’t think I even knew he had died.

    Is it possible to mourn a man you’ve never met? Absolutely. Through his books, the commentaries, prefaces and posthumous rememberings within, I feel that I know him. I know his humour, and something of his insecurities. I know his process, something he talked about at length in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts. I know how much he’s missed out on these last ten years.

    How much would he have loved the iPhone, the iPad, and all the rest that Apple has put out? He was a devout Mac person, and the fact that he missed the launch of the iPod by less than a year is tragic. In 1999 he talked about the future of the internet and information technologies. How wonderful would it have been from him to see it today? Can you imagine him on Twitter? I can only think that he would have been in heaven.

    He was a man made for this era, a man who would understand and appreciate the way the internet has shaped the world. In his time, he got to see the first glimmers of dawn, and it saddens me that he could not walk with us into the morning. I admire him, and while he left us many wonders, I miss him.

    Douglas Adams, wherever you are, may you always know where your towel is.



  • 24-Hour Read-A-Thon Wrap-up and Debriefing

    Now that I’ve had some sleep and can think clearly, if not rationally, I can give you a more objective run-down of how the Read-A-Thon went.

    Did I say I was going to do a lot of research during this thing? I lied. I only got a little bit of research done around the 1-2pm mark. I might have to try being more selective about my book choice next time, or I might just have to read more. I think I like option 2.

    While I wonder if I would have gotten more done it I’d done it on my own rather than with friends, I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun. There’s something about being sleep-deprived around other sleep-deprived people that makes it so much more intense. Twice I stared up in amazement at the ceiling, and at one point I expressed my deep and abiding appreciation for bricks. I’m not sure even I knew how much I loved bricks up until that point. ‘Coherent’ was the word of the day, mostly because it was completely absent.

    I still maintain that ‘editing’ is ‘reading’ because I spend most of the time reading words that have already been written. Besides which, I restructure sentences in published works while I read all the time… the only difference is that I don’t take a red pen to those one. Other than that, I spent quite a bit of time reading comics/graphic novels, depending on how you define each, or possibly when during those 24 hours you caught me. I also made what I consider to be decent head-way in our book club book, never mind that everyone else has finished it already. Apparently page 289/290 in the paperback is pretty terrible/gruesome; I can’t wait!

    For those really interested in what I was reading, I’m giving you a list. In order of reading:

    Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. The ebook does include the wonderful illustrations by Keith Thompson, but I still plan on getting a print version, because the screen on my phone really doesn’t do them justice. The story itself I find captivating, and I can’t wait to share it with my niece!

    My own work. Currently going under the working title of Daemons because there’s an awful lot of them running around in there.

    The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen. I don’t know why I’ve never read a procedural like this; I love these sorts of shows on TV. Bones, Castle, Profiler… all favourites. And this one is brilliant. The problem is, great writing makes me want to write, otherwise I may have finished it already along with the rest of my book club.

    The Emperor Constantine by Michael Grant. I’ve gotten some good stuff out of it so far, but I’m also coming up against a lot of new things to look up, like ‘Mithraism’. He also seems to assume I know certain historical elements which I don’t. This is not necessarily a failing on his part; I am after all delving into a period of history that is mostly foreign to my experience.

    Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano, John Ridgway, Alfredo Alcala. Because the Emperor Constantine is an obvious lead-in to John Constantine. Naturally. DC’s Vertigo imprint is my favourite for comics/graphic novels, and Constantine here is no exception. He’s my favourite kind of anti-hero, flaws exposed and acknowledged with a cheery ‘sod off.’ Knowing that a good thing can never last makes the whole thing that much sweeter.

    Agatha H and the Airship City: A Girl Genius Novel by Phil & Kaja Foglio. I originally encountered Agatha while reading the Girl Genius webcomic, now and always a rollicking good time. From what I remember, the novel follows the comic pretty much exactly, though with perhaps a little more getting into character’s heads. It proclaims Adventure! Romance! and Mad Science! and delivers it all with a delightful comedy.

    Ezekiel 37.1-14 from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. There’s something about Ezekiel that just grabs me by the throat and refuses to let go. When I first read this passage about the valley of bones, I realized that whether I’d known it already or not, this was the theme of my novel. Knowing that there’s something deeply wrong with the world right now, trying to find a way to get it all back together again… It’s daunting, it’s desperate, and it’s the only thing I can do.

    And on that cheerful note, I give you a video of me singing Close to You as a Jägermonster. (I’m the Jägermonster of my primary triumvirate because I can do the accent, und I gots a noice hat.)

     



  • April 2011 Read-A-Thon Progress Blog

    6 AM

    *Stumbles blearily out of bed*

    …And a good morning to you too! I’m up, I’m packed, I’m ready to go. On today’s menu is everything from graphic novels to scripture, with stops at fantasy novels and historical essays along the way. Mixed metaphors aside, I’m off like a herd of turtles.

    7:15 AM

    What an adventure! Both in the book and out of it. It’s been a while since I’ve read while walking… good times. En route I read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan on my phone. Excellent thing about having Kindle on my phone: I can hold it in one hand and turn the pages with my nose.

    8 AM

    Right. Now that I have some tea in me, time for a proper update, yes?

    I made it to Krissa and Blair’s place easy enough. I must have been quite a sight on the bus in my pyjamas and housecoat, lugging books and soup. All the while I was, sometimes literally, nose-deep in Leviathan. I am loving this book! Seriously. Deryn is my favourite, but I really like Alek, too. And the lady boffin, Dr. Barlow. So much fun!

    Now the question is, do I continue with Leviathan or move on to research? Or our latest book club book, The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen? Time will tell.

    9 AM

    So, I kept on with Leviathan after all. Too bloody good to put down! Short update this time, as I’m anxious to get back to it.

    10 AM

    At 68%, I decided to drag myself away from Leviathan for a spot of editing. Editing is reading, so it counts! And it’ll ease me into me real purpose for today, which is research. I brought a lot of books with me, and I don’t want that to be for naught!

    So now I’m fixing the head-hopping POV in the early parts. I hadn’t thought this was a problem for me, but apparently it was.

    11 AM

    All kinds of excitement! We got food, Danni’s here, and all is awesome! I was a little distracted from my reading/editing by a phone call to confirm a meeting time… we both had different ideas of what day I was to show up, so it’s a good thing we got that sorted. Anyway, back to it!

    Noon

    Ok, I lied about jumping into research after editing. I picked up The Surgeon instead, and holy crap! Love the prologue. First chapter? Awesome. Now go away so I can get back to reading it! ;)

    1 PM

    People (Danni) were distracting me from reading The Surgeon, so I switched to research. How does that work? Either way, I’m now reading The Emperor Constantine by Michael Grant. The fact that the author’s first name is the same as my MC’s has nothing to do with the book selection, of course >.>

    Also, Blair apparently has the Force. At least insofar as getting someone to pass him the chip bowl while he’s covered in dogs.

    2 PM

    I’m running into a slight snag with my research. Reading about Constantine in preparation for my Medieval reading works better when the book I chose doesn’t assume I have a background in Roman and Christian history that I don’t have.

    …I think that last sentence was coherent, but I’m really not sure right now. Perhaps book choice is not my only problem with doing research right now. I’m contemplating lightening things up with a graphic novel. Would John Constantine: Hellblazer be too silly a choice?

    3 PM

    I’m remembering now that the first story in this volume wasn’t perhaps my favourite. Still, John Constantine is hurting my brain less than the Emperor Constantine. I’ve been more easily distracted from my reading lately; hopefully this next hour will be more productive, if that’s a word that can be applied to reading comics.

    4 PM

    Late lunch/early supper break. We had the chicken carcass soup I brought to share with folks here, along with the bread I made earlier. Very yummy, if I do say so myself. And now, cookies!

    As far as the reading goes, I did get a more of Constantine read, before getting pulled away for cooking-type duties. Still love this guy. Getting a craving to read his storyline in Sandman, but I left those ones at home (alas!)

    5:15 PM

    Yeah, my hourly update’s a little late, but I wanted to get that chapter of Constantine finished. That bloke’s right messed, but I love it. Definitely not to be confused with the Emperor, though.

    Feeling sleepy. For some reason this inspire me to edit my own stuff again. Apparently for me, editing and fatigue go well together; this won’t be the first time I edit tired. May get some more tea in a bit.

    6 PM

    Bloody hell, is it update time again already? Just as I was getting into the swing of things, too. Chapter 2 is now starting mid-way through what was originally Chapter 2, before I cut the beginning and turned it into Chapter 1. See, this is why I’m using Scrivener and not numbering my chapters until the end!

    In other news, Danni is making the rest of us look bad by having already read an entire book since she got here, and she’s not even officially participating, besides.

    7 PM

    Still editing. Only have a few kinks to work out of the early bit; I’m impressed! Well, only a few that I know of so far. Who knows what will happen in later passes.

    Contemplating switching to Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Foglio, even if only to justify having talked like a Jägermonster most of today. My condition will probably worsen from this, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

    8 PM

    No Jägermonsters in this chapter. I’m disappointed.

    In other news, I’m apparently doing one of these Read-A-Thon challenges, making a sentence out of book titles. And so I give you The Devil’s Hatband Sparkles Hotter Than Hell. Enjoy!

    9 PM

    What coherency and/or sanity I may have had has gone out the window. It’s entirely possible I was singing Yellow Submarine to myself with a Jägermonster accent. And now I’m giggling over the three tenses of ‘having’ in a row there.

    That my brain cannot grasp the subtleties of prose in a steampunk adventure novel worries me. I’m going back to comics for a while…

    10 PM

    John Constantine’s got my head back on track. Reading The Surgeon again. Back later.

    11 PM

    As I just said on Twitter, editing is reading, damn it!

    Ahem. Anyway. So I was reading The Surgeon, and it made me want to write. So I did some editing, and found that my character’s Spock phase started earlier that I remembered. You know, that one where they all express emotions by raising their eyebrows? Yeah, that one.

    Midnight

    I missed watching the date tic over on my watch. Disappointing. In about an hour it’ll start telling me it’s ‘Samedi’ until about ten to three, when it will admit that it’s Sunday.

    In other news, The Surgeon is still being awesome. I like that. Still wanting to intersperse said reading with editing, but doubting the wisdom of that. Either way, good times!

    1 AM

    After a certain amount of arguing to no one in particular that editing is reading, and getting distracted by Twitter, I got back to reading my comics. Getting back to reading them again. Yay, Constantine! :D

    2 AM

    Still alive, and still reading! Yes, more Constantine. Rereading this, I’m noticing shards of the story that have burrowed through my brain and into my own book in new and dazzling forms. Brilliant is what it is.

    It’s just Blair and I left now. Everything’s quiet, peaceful. Just reading.

    3 AM

    You can always tell when Todd Klein’s the letterer. Beautiful work. The fact that I set out to do a whole lot of research during this thing but instead spent a good deal of time reading comics amuses me more than anything, really. Nothing wrong with that of course; I read quality comics.

    Watched my watch tic over to Sunday. It occurs to me that I am way too aware of the precise moments when the day and date change on my watch. It looks like I’m the last man standing here. Even the dogs are sleeping.

    4 AM

    Hullo! Other people are awake again. Got a bit more Constantine in, of course, and some more editing (which is totally reading!) but had to stop when I ran up against some potential POV issues that I don’t think I can wrangle just now. Returning to The Surgeon, because writing and writing-related activities always make me want to read something awesome.

    5 AM

    There was going to be something terribly interesting that I was planning to write for this post, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

    Quite frankly, I’m surprised it took me this long to get to this point.

    Long story short, yes, I’m still awake. Reading… has been happening to some extent.

    6 AM

    Oh! Now I remember what I was going to say at 5 AM! I find it interesting that part way through I  switched from ‘graphic novels’ to ‘comics’. Still not 100% on the difference, but that doesn’t keep me from reading them!

    Ending things today with a bit from Ezekiel. And really, outside of Twitter, that’s the only thing I’ve read for this past hour. This has been a wonderful and surreal time, folks! After this, I’m off to sing hymns.

    Seriously. I’m in the choir.



  • 24-Hour Read-A-Thon Pre-Blog

    So, starting at 6am tomorrow (my 6am–your time zone may vary,) this blog is going to start getting weird. All right, weirder than usual. Let’s face it, I’m always weird. Tomorrow, I’ll be participating in the April 2011 Dewey’s Read-A-Thon, where I will stay up for 24 hours and read. That’s it. Read. And then blog about it.

    When I first heard about the Read-A-Thon, I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. Did I really have time to spend the entirety of a Saturday reading, when I could be writing or working on other things? Then I went to the library and picked up a big stack of books for research. I looked at the books, at how much reading that would be and thought, What the hell. Bring on the Read-A-Thon!

    So the plan it this: at 6am I will get up and begin with what will no doubt be a delightful and cheery good morning post. I will then update that same blog post for hourly reports, unless I pass out at some point, so you will get to learn all about the Crusades and early Christian history, and whatever else I read to give my brain a bit of a break.

    I will also be spending a significant part of the day at my friend Krissa’s place, reading with her and the rest of our triumvirate of four. This will give me a chance to exercise my skills of reading while walking, since I refuse to leave the house before 6am. And yes, I will be doing this in my pyjamas. There will be soup. And munchies. And lots and lots of Earl Grey tea.

    So join me tomorrow in my reading adventure, as I no doubt dissolve into an incoherency rivalling that of Charlie Sheen. Tomorrow, reading becomes a spectator’s sport.