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  • A Good Writing Group Is A Great Thing To Have

    As writers, we tend to be solitary creatures. It’s the nature of our work. Sitting in the dark pounding away at a keyboard for hours upon hours doesn’t really lend itself to rich and varied social life. Add the fact that most ‘normal’ people don’t want to hear how our characters hijacked our story yet again, and it looks like we’re doomed to be hermits, doesn’t it? So we can’t be allowed around the general public. But what about… other writers?

    Other writers? They get us. We can vent about our character troubles or share an exciting yet disturbing epiphany about our plot and rather than backing away slowly, a fellow writer will say, “I know, right?” Suddenly, we are not alone. Gather one or two more, and we become a writing group. And a writing group is something we want to be a part of for many reasons:

    A Writing Group Provides Support

    Having a writing group means having people we can go to when we’re stuck or frustrated or feel like giving up. These are the people who can offer workable suggestions for our stories, and even if we don’t use those suggestions, they get us thinking about why giving the MC a pet alligator isn’t going to work which can lead us to an idea that will. They remind us why we wanted to write in the first place even as they commiserate with us. They encourage us as we battle through word count and edits, and they celebrate with us when our hard work pays off. And we do the same thing for them.

    A Writing Group Pushes Us To Improve

    A good writing group is never satisfied with simply writing; a good writing group wants us to write better. This includes critiques and writing challenges, sharing resources we’ve found, and coming up with new ways to work on our craft together. A writing group gives us structure, which as much as we hate to admit it, is something we all need. One day we look up and realize that we’re sitting with a group of friends, analysing something we half-killed ourselves to write, and that we’re doing this voluntarily. That is when we know we’re in a good group.

    A Writing Group Forces Us To Finish What We Started

    In order to discuss each others work, we have to have something written to discuss. A good writing group won’t let us off the hook with a half-finished story; they will make us finish it even if it means shunning us over dinner while we pound out the penultimate battle and final confrontation. And when we finally submit our masterpiece, they will still give us brutally honest feedback, because that’s what friends are for.

    A Writing Group Is An Idea Factory

    Put writers in a room together, and we will feed off each other’s insanity. Our conversations are wild, and often wildly inappropriate (just ask any server who’s waited a table of writers.) The littlest thing will spark an idea. A joke becomes canon, a ‘what if’ becomes a story, a ‘we should’ becomes a reality. A critique group spawns short story challenges, and a short story spawns a forum where our multitudes of characters can interact, just to see how someone from one person’s universe interacts with someone from another’s.

    We make each other work hard, but we also play hard, having so much fun that it’s hard to tell where the ‘work’ left off and the ‘play’ began. We leave each other energized and ready to dive back into the editing we’ve been struggling with or start that story we’ve been meaning to get around to. A good writing group helps us do what we love, and helps us feel less alone while we do it.

    And now for an announcement!

    FELT TIPS – The World’s Greatest Charity Anthology of Office-Supply-Related Erotica is coming out December 12, 2012. It includes What Is It, Suzie? by yours truly, as well as many other exciting stories by authors I am proud to be featured along side of. Check out the ‘Coming Soon!‘ tab above for more information and updates.



  • Planning After The Fact

    Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, if you’re going to write a book–and want it to make sense–you’re going to have to do some planning at some point. It’s a given that plotters will do the bulk of their planning before ever putting fingertips to keyboard to write their first draft, but what about those of us who just start writing?

    All right, I’ll admit that I’m more likely than I once was to do some planning beforehand, but that wasn’t really the case with Fallen Things. Ironically, it actually started out as an exercise in description(my critique group will get a laugh out of that thought) and a ‘what if?’ and went from there. So now, somewhere around my third draft–give or take ten drafts depending on the scene–I’m finding that I need to do some planning.

    As the book grew, it became more complex and more layered, which is great. Mostly. The problem is, I’m now juggling several POV characters, three distinct worlds, and about as many plot lines. My focus has gotten a little fuzzy, and it turns out I’ve actually forgotten to introduce important elements until half way through the book. This is, as you might imagine, a problem.

    Now I have to go back to the drawing board a bit. Who are my main characters? What are their motivations? (You’d think I’d have that one nailed down by now, but that’s not always the case.) Does this scene have to be told from this tertiary character’s POV, or would it be better to change it to the POV of a more major character? Where do I need to slow down the pacing to show character growth? Are all the relevant elements properly explained, or am I assuming that my readers are also mind readers?

    My critique partners are excellent for helping me figure out where I’m having issues in these areas (especially the mind-reading part.) Now it’s time for me to figure out what I’m going to do about it. A lot of it comes down to brainstorming and writing out ‘character bibles’ based on what I have so far so I have something to work from as I revise my book. Once I know my characters’ motivations, I can figure out the plot. Once I know my plot, I can figure out what each scene needs to be doing and whether or not it’s doing that.

    It’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s worth it. I already have a much stronger book than I had in my first draft. And from here, I have a better idea of where I’m going with book two and beyond, which means I’ll be able to write a tighter first draft when I get there.

    Whether we like it or not, planning will happen at some point in the writing process. If we don’t get it in before we start, that just means we have to do it after the fact.

    How do you plan your books? Do you plan everything out in advance, or do you end up playing catch-up afterwards? Alternately, have you had any interesting slips as a result of not planning ahead?



  • It’s Not Bragging If It’s A Short Story

    I brought it on myself really. There’s no denying it. After all, I’m the one who chose the number for the latest writing challenge sent out by Danni… how was I to know that it would turn out to be so, well, challenging?

    Here’s what I apparently chose:

    “A Twist of Truth”

    Tell us a story from your past.

    THE RULES:

    1) It must be a true story, but it can be any story that you want to tell.
    2) It does not have to be completely accurate.  Think of this more as a dramatization rather than a biography.
    3) The story cannot be from your POV.  In other words, it’s your memory, and your story, but it should be from the POV of someone else who was there.  (This could even be the family pet, if you’d like)

    Ignoring–or perhaps allowing for–the fact that rule 2 offers some leniency, I’m faced with a dilemma. In any story of mine with actual conflict told from the other persons point of view I either a) come off as looking like a terrible person, b) look like I’m trying to be sensationalist, or c) both. A corollary to b is that I’m afraid that anything interesting about me will come off as trying to make a political point somehow.

    If I’m completely honest with myself, I’m a little afraid of the soul-bearing involved in this. That sounds weird coming from me, I know. After all, I tweet and blog pretty freely about my trans experience, my ADHD, and to some extent even my faith(though I still hold back there sometimes for fear of being too ‘evangelical’.) On top of that, my short story for the previous exercise was nothing if not a morality story that pretty much came down to ‘good Christians don’t throw their kids out of the house for being trans*’ and Fallen Things is nothing if not my soul refracted into a multitude of characters. I have no issues sharing these with the group, so why am I so hesitant now?

    Partly, revealing myself through my characters is safe because it’s not ‘really me’. I can hide myself in the bit that are pure invention. And on the other side, revealing myself through my own perspective is authentic. I know how I feel or think I feel about the things I’ve experienced and the things I’ve done, but I can’t be certain how others perceived me in the same event. I’m terrified enough of getting my sister ‘wrong’ that I won’t even give a character her name. Actually, most close friends and family are off limits for names, for just about the same reason. I don’t want to get into their minds and get it ‘wrong’.

    All of this of course just underlines why I have to write this. If it makes me uncomfortable, that’s just one more emotion to tap into for my writing. It’s one more thing I need to face so I can grow in my craft, and thus become a stronger writer. I may have to drag myself through this story kicking and screaming, but I will do it.

    Is this something you’d have trouble with too, or would you have no problem with it? What other sorts of topic or situations are challenging for you to write? Don’t be shy, tells us all about it in the comments.



  • Grab-Bag Week

    This has really just been One Of Those Weeks so rather than posting on a single topic, I’m giving you all a whole bunch of topics. Aren’t you lucky? And now, in no particular order:

    Standing Up For Yourself

    I haven’t always had the greatest track record in this area. Most days I’d rather let something slide than risk conflict or risk losing/not getting a service I need. This time however, I realized I needed to take a stand.

    Those of you on Twitter may have noticed me mention ‘awkward questions about my genitals’. Without going into too much detail, during the interview for an unrelated psych evaluation, the psychologist got overly curious about my trans history, to the point that I felt uncomfortable. I decided I needed to let him know how I felt about it, so I wrote him a letter. I kept it calm and reasonable, using ‘I feel’ language rather than accusatory, even if part of me wanted to call him an insensitive idiot, and other invectives along those lines. I also included some of the ‘what is trans*’ resources I received at the gender clinic, because I think it’s important to educate where I can, whatever the topic.

    And you know what? I think it worked. I got a call from him thanking me for the feedback and the articles, and apologizing for putting me in that position. Does that make what he did all right? No. Did his apology wipe the slate clean and repair my trust? No. But now he knows and can do better next time, and I have closure and have taken away his ability to hurt me. (This, by the way, is what forgiveness is really about. Letting go of the hurt someone else has caused, not ignoring the hurt and letting them hurt you again.)

    All The Fun Jobs Require A Degree

    Brain-mush and inappropriate questions aside, I actually enjoy psych evaluations. I love seeing what’s going on in my brain (and I kind of feel like it’s a licence to show off.) So I asked one of the ladies administering the tests how I could get a job doing that, and the answer was pretty much: “You need a degree.” This is pretty much true for everything I would like to do. Librarian? Need a degree. Minister? Need a degree. Even Graphic Designer; for anything in-house you’re better off with a degree. All of this pretty much leaves me with the question of how do I afford going back to school? Because one way or another, I’ll be going back.

    AndroGel Is Not A Good Long-Term Substitute For Delatestryl

    This may not be true for everyone of course, but for me it’s no contest. Delatestryl is an injection every two weeks that is effective, inexpensive, and covered under my insurance. AndroGel is a daily topical gel that is ineffective for me, can be transferred to others if I’m not careful, is expensive, and is, of course, not covered by my insurance. Granted, it might be more effective at full dose, but since I can’t really afford the starting dose as it is? Yeah. Unfortunately, I have very few options right now, since Delatestryl and all other injectable testosterone compounds are currently unavailable in Canada due to manufacturer shortage.

    In Spite Of It All, I’m On The Right Path

    One thing I have gotten out of this is yet another confirmation that I am headed in the right direction for me. Yesterday, even after all the awkward questions, my first genuine smile of the day was when I talked about my experience guest preaching at my church. Remembering how it felt to look at the text, to find the message in it, and to share it with others… it was amazing. Just the memory of that connection cut through all the crap of that day and reminded me of the most important thing: this is what I’m meant to do. This is my path. As crazy as it sounds, this queer trans boy is going to be a Christian minister. And I feel good about it.



  • Building Bridges Part 2: Alberta Job Corps

    The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father… wait, no, that’s the Psi Corps. Totally different.

    About a month ago, I mentioned having an interview for a paid work training program in this post. That program is Alberta Job Corps, and as you can probably guess, I got in. I started work on Friday the 13th, which is ironic because this is the best luck I’ve had with work in a long time.

    I’ll admit, the first two days were like being dumped in a snake pit of anxiety. Orientation days are always tough, sitting there with no idea what to really expect while some facilitator hands out booklets and goes on about procedures and requirements. Add to that the people who feel like they’re being forced to be there being as disruptive as humanly possible, and it’s no surprise I left the building shaking like a leaf at the end of the day. I was there to learn and improve; I wasn’t sure I could handle it if I had to push past all that negativity each time.

    But the third day? It was like magic.

    For the work experience aspect, we had a choice between painting and carpentry. I chose carpentry because I wanted to work with my hands and maybe learn some new skills, so on the third day I found myself in the wood shop doing tool orientation. The change from the class room to the shop along with the separation from the Negative Nellies made a huge difference. What’s more, some of those who I’d marked as ‘trouble’ in orientation were a lot happier and more relaxed once they started doing something. So was I, for that matter.

    Over the next little while, we got to know our workers and we got to know each other. There was a sense of optimism growing in us as we saw ourselves doing something worthwhile and learned more about what we really wanted to do and how we could actually get there. Hearing good news about an opportunity for one of our co-workers, or seeing them develop some skills in the shop they didn’t even know they had made us all feel excited and happy for them.

    And it doesn’t just begin and end in the shop. Yesterday and today I was in the career assessment workshop, which will be continuing next week. Here we’re looking at our interests and skills to find jobs that suit us as well as looking at what what sort of challenges and issues we have when it comes to not only finding but keeping a job.

    Once again, I was surprised at how open and receptive everyone was to the class. The facilitators kept the atmosphere positive and constructive, and we all felt comfortable sharing honestly about our experiences and the troubles we’ve had both in the workforce and in life. For the first time, we recognized that we were not alone. How we got there might be different, but we were all there for the same reason. We were all having trouble, and we were all trying to change. I may never have done jail time, and my classmate may not be trying to rebuild after a major identity shift, but we all want something more, and something more satisfying, than a string of going-nowhere survival jobs.

    At Job Corps, I’m getting the support I need to move ahead in life. I get up every morning and go to a wage-earning job that helps me discover what I really want to be doing and gives me the skills to get there. Right now, this is exactly what I need.

    Trust the Corps.



  • Critiques, Revision, and Editing

    There’s something amazing that happens when you join a good critique group. You begin to develop a keen sense of what is and what isn’t good writing. This can be a mixed blessing as it means never being able to read (or in some cases watch TV) for pleasure without critiquing ever again, but the impact on your writing is well worth it.

    It almost goes without saying that receiving proper critiques can greatly improve our writing. However much we study the craft of writing, and however many times we go over our own work with a fine-toothed comb, there will always be something we overlooked. Some big, glaring problem that we just can’t see because we are too close to the story. We need a fresh set of eyes to look at it over and point out the problem. With a good critique group, that’s multiple sets of eyes. And these eyes know what to look for.

    Sometimes it’s as simple as a really embarrassing typo. More often it’s a fundamental problem such as a complete and utter lack of description, or chapters with short scenes that switch POV four times in five pages. (Or was that five times in four pages?) In any case, it’s a good reminder that just because we know what we meant, doesn’t mean our readers will.

    Getting an outside perspective on our work is an obvious benefit of a critique group, but the side-effect is that we also learn how to critique.

    Suddenly, we see writing through a different lens. We notice things like sentence structure, or where the author struggled. This perception may get in the way of simply enjoying a book, but when applied to chapters from our group members, it becomes invaluable. What’s more, it spills over into our own writing. We become more aware of what we are doing. We begin to develop a little voice in the back of our head commenting on what our group will think of the scene we just wrote. This isn’t to say that our group will always be right, or that fear of critique should stand in the way of how we feel our story needs to be told, but being aware of what we’re doing helps us make better decisions about our writing.

    And because no story is ever complete on the first draft, this leads us to revision and editing.

    Personally, I don’t let my critique group see anything less than draft 2. I’ve even taken to revising my chapters before sending them in. I figure if there are issues I can see on my own, it’s in my best interests to fix them so I don’t get a critique coming back with problems I already knew about. So there’s always a little polish done before the critique.

    After? Well, that’s where the fun starts. We now know where others are seeing issues with our work and whether we agree with every point or not, we still have to deal with it. We have to make the hard decisions. Kill our darlings. We need to edit.

    It’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s worth it. Once cranked through the critique machine and edited, our stories will (hopefully) be ready to send out into the world, be that querying agents or publishing.



  • Where I’ve Been, and Where I’m Going

    I may be a little late to the New Year party, but I still think this is the ideal time for a look back at what’s happened in 2011–especially during those months of silence on this blog–and to look forward to what I have planned for 2012: The Year Where Things Happen.

    A lot happened for me last year. My career and employment prospects went up and down like a mad rollercoaser; my trans history began to be just that, a history, rather than a daily struggle; writing became central to my life, giving my a greater drive and purpose; I began to face and manage my ADHD which brought focus to my drive.

    I also found God, or maybe He found me. Either way, I’ve been delving into my theology like never before, finding that if I can ignore the vocal factions of fundamentalist bigots calling themselves Christians, there’s actually a solid and powerful message of acceptance in the faith itself. It’s made me question my beliefs about a lot of things, but rather than changing my values, it’s strengthened those I already held dear, principally: love each other.

    2011 was a year of discovery, a year of finding out who I am and what I want to do with my life. 2012 will be a year of action. It will be the year where I put myself out there and Make Things Happen.

    I’ve been working on my novel, Fallen Things, for over a year now. In the next few months I’ll be putting on a final push to polish it up and get it out the door. It’s being cranked through the Critique Machine with my group, A Bitch Of Writers. And if you’ll take a peek at my friend Danni’s blog, you’ll notice a little counter on the side bar. I’m participating in her Epic Year of Querying, and therefore have no choice but to get Fallen Things out to agents.

    I’m also putting together a portfolio on this site, showcasing my cartography and graphic design work. I’ll be adding to it over the next few weeks, but until then you can check out the land of Felsirq.

    Also in the next week or so, I’ll release the details of an experimental publishing project that’s just waiting to be funded and developed. If this goes well, and I have every intention that it will, I’ll be able to devote more time to my creative aspirations, and write a book in a way I’ve never written, or seen a book written, before.

    2012 is the year to take risks, make mistakes, and create something glorious along the way. I plan to do all of the above, and lucky you, you get a front row seat to it all.

    Any grand plans for 2012? Who else is jumping in feet first, and damn the torpedoes? The year is young; let us bask in the glow of optimism and Make Things Happen!



  • Confessions of an Urban Transit Junkie

    I learned two important things today:

    1) I don’t feel like I’ve truly visited a city until I’ve taken public transit there

    and

    2) I’m an urban creature with no love for suburbia.

    I am now, and suspect that I will always be, a transit junkie. Not only am I dependant on public transit to get around my own city, it’s the only mode of transportation I truly feel at home with. True, having a car would make some things easier and more convenient, up to and including finding a job, but the reasons for me not to drive outweigh the potential benefits by a wide margin.

    With transit, I can make my way around independent of of the plans of friends and family. If I want to do something on my own I don’t have to ask for a ride or wait until someone is going in the same direction, I can just look up the bus route and go. It’s actually a lot easier on me, though I have a hard time convincing my be-vehicled friends that no, I don’t need to be picked up, I can meet you there. (A ride home however, is a different story. We’re leaving at the same time, from the same place, therefore there’s less stress around coordinating timing.)

    With transit, I can pull out my MS and work while travelling. If I tried doing that while driving a car, Bad Things would happen. We’ll put that under ‘reasons Eric shouldn’t drive even if he could afford to.’ I love the ability to squeeze that extra bit of work time into my schedule, which is why I ironically prefer a longer commute to the day job. I also don’t have to deal with navigating rush hour traffic; that’s the bus driver’s job.

    With transit, I can get into downtown, any downtown, ridiculously easily, and can either take transit elsewhere from there, or walk anywhere within the city core. Or a combination of the above. My choices are endless. If were trying to drive however, and I’ve seen this more than enough times trying to direct people driving downtown, I’d have to worry about one-way streets, finding and then paying for parking, and worrying about having to move the car or plug the meter to avoid getting a parking ticket. Driving to a downtown destination is at best stressful, and at worst, impossible.

    Which brings me to my second discovery of the day, my distinct preference for the urban core over suburbia.

    With the convenience and accessibility of downtown, I have no use for suburbia (except maybe as a temporary place to store my parents.) The houses really do look the same, as do the neighbourhoods. You could take a house from New Brighton in Calgary and move it to Riverside South in Ottawa, or vice versa, and no one would know the difference. (Seriously, you should try it. It would be a great prank, except that no one would notice.)

    The sprawl is not only uninspiring, it’s an economical and ecological nightmare. Suburbia is pretty much cut off from every sector of life outside of sleeping and, I dunno, watching TV. Maybe there’s a mega block of outlet stores with giant parking lots within walking distance, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a leisure centre or even a library nearby. You’ll have a couple of playgrounds for the younger kids, but any teen without a car is SOL. I don’t know about you, but I’d be bored to tears if I had to live there.

    From my suite just outside of the downtown core, I can walk to my nearest grocery store. The core itself is maybe 15 minutes away by transit, and that’s only if the rush hour traffic is particularly bad. It’ll be even faster once the new train line is complete. I can walk to 17th Ave with all its boutiques and cafés if I don’t feel like taking the bus, and I can even walk to the downtown core itself if the weather’s nice and I have the time. I’m right by the Bow River, with parks nearby if I want to escape the City for a short while. It’s beautiful.

    Rather than one bus from my neighbourhood into the core, I have my choice of buses both to the core and elsewhere. Grab the Circle Route in one direction, and I can get to Chinook mall, and beyond that to my friend’s house. In the other direction, I can get to my pharmacy in Brentwood, right next to a used record store where I can find such gems as 16 Hits of the Gay Nineties for a dollar a pop. (There are pharmacies closer, but a good pharmacy is worth travelling to. The record store is just a bonus.) The whole variety and vibrancy of the City is on my doorstep, and it doesn’t even have to cost me anything to see it.

    And I don’t just feel this way about Calgary. I learned that today when I took the bus to the Byward Market in Ottawa. Taking transit, I felt so much more immersed in the City than I did being driven around by my Dad or my Step-Mom. I got to explore a part of Ottawa that was unique and vibrant in its own right, with elaborate murals in narrow back lanes:

    A tribute to French Canadians

    store fronts with sidewalk displays to take advantage of pedestrian traffic:

    Pedestrians walk past a sidewalk display in the Byward Market

    and wrapped it all up with a pot of specialty tea at the Tea Store:

    A special tea light holder to keep my pot of tea warm, such a clever idea!

    And that’s just a small sampling of what I saw and experienced in a couple of hours. I could spend a week, a month, a year there and never be bored. And if by some chance I did, I could hop a bus to Gatineau in Quebec for a new, more francophone experience. Or else visit Librairie du soleil right there in the Market and pick up some books in French. Whichever.

    The point is, I had a variety of activities to choose from downtown, and the freedom to get around easily. I felt at home there because I am an urban creature and a transit junkie, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Am I the only transit junkie out there, or are there others who proudly ride the bus? Do you have a favourite downtown destination or experience? Alternately, is anyone willing to try to defend suburbia as a viable, sustainable option? Devil’s advocates welcome.



  • Character Mood-Swings and You

    I glared at the computer screen, arms crossed. I was hurt. Angry. I could feel the tension in my clenched teeth and in the muscles across my shoulders and neck. I was in a terrible mood, and all because my characters had a lovers’ quarrel.

    What a way to start the morning.

    As writers, it’s common for us to feel for our characters. We’re well familiar with sadness at their heartache, joy at their delight, and more often than not, perverse glee at their anguish and frustration. I’ve been doing this writing thing steadily for a while now (read: little over a year) and I thought I’d felt it all. (Ha!) But this was the first time I’d been genuinely pissed off along with my characters.

    It was as though I were right in the room with them, participating in their small, private Cold War. And for the first time I realized just how much our characters’ moods can affect our own. It should have been obvious, really. We live and breathe their lives with them, so why wouldn’t we feel these things right along with them as well?

    And the thing is, however angry we may be on their behalf, there’s also some sense of satisfaction. A reaction that strong can only mean that we’ve done our job well. We’ve created characters who are so real that their emotions hijack our own, affecting us long after we’ve stepped away from the computer. In our line of work, that is success.

    So even as I glared at my characters, (who were too busy glaring at each other to pay me any mind,) I had to smile. This scene had done exactly what it was supposed to.

    How have your characters hijacked your emotions? Has it ever come as a surprise to you when they have? Come, share your tales of character-related moodiness.



  • The Close Relationship Between Foreshadow and Irony

    The other day I was working on some rewrites, and found myself giggling at the irony of a character dismissing as irrelevant a piece of information that would later become very important. Then it occurred to me: the only reason I find this ironic is because I know how important it will be. To a brand new reader, this is foreshadow.

    For a writer, or someone rereading a story, foreshadow takes on an incredible transformation. We are no longer following clues, we know where this is going. This is officially Dramatic Irony. The character says something, does something, thinks something, and we get this little voice in the backs of our heads singing, “I know something you don’t know!” and we squeal with delight/dread/titillation. At least, that’s what I do.

    It’s why we reread our favourite books, isn’t it? That extra pang of sadness when a beloved character we know won’t survive the book puts on a brave face. The feeling of complicity when someone’s true identity is hinted at but not yet revealed. The heart-sore sighs as you watch your favourites dance around their love interests, or else stand oblivious to their friend’s affection. It’s what brings us back time and again.

    This is why foreshadow is such an integral part of storytelling. Not only does it give a first time reader clues so they aren’t completely blind-sided by the plot twist, but it adds a layer of irony for those returning to the tale. It’s what brings a story to life.

    Have you ever noticed how foreshadow turns into irony? How do you use it in your own work?