Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

Jeepers Peepers and all things Alyx

imageI am in the process of adjusting to new glasses, a shiny new prescription that was probably six months to a year overdue, and just enough of a change that I have to pay close attention whenever I’m in motion. Each time I’ve gotten new lenses, there has been a clumsy moment, and a fall. Since I’ve been working very hard to rehabilitate a sprained foot, I’m extremely keen to not damnwell fall.
(There should be a picture now, I know, but the week has been so packed that neither K or I has had a chance to shoot one. Soon!)
Other true things: I am in the midst of a mountain of marking for one of my UCLA classes, which is why  I haven’t been around much on social media. I busted out the heavy winter coats this week, since it has been five below and a little snowy. So far I’m finding the cool weather invigorating. (We’ll see how I feel when it’s like this in March!) I’m wrestling with a horror story that is meant to be subtle, and I suspect it would much rather not be.
My current fannish obsession is the TV show Gotham. I think it’s incredibly well cast, and decently (though not brilliantly) written, and I am very taken with Sean Pertwee’s Alfred.
Tell me about your fannish obsessions! Tell me if there’s anything you’d like to see a blog post about. Tell me things, things about you!

Alyx and Kelly – Unpaid Extras

imageI have been meaning to write a personal-type blog post,updating you all about all the things that aren’t book launches, book festivals, book stuff. But the fact of the matter is, there hasn’t been much.

This isn’t to say it’s been some long drudge of all work and no play. All of these events have been packed with friends new and old. And it is very much starting to be the time of year when you’d rather be indoors, at a pub or whatever, hanging with your chums rather than roaming around out of doors.

It’s officially gotten cold today, really for the first time this winter. It’s ten below, sunny and clear, and we broke out the winter coats. On our first fully-swaddled outing down Simcoe Street, we walked through the Beauty & the Beast crew, shooting a scene on a side-road that had been made over into New York’s Canal Street. Cameras were rolling, and we mingled with actors dressed as NYPD officers as we made our way down toward K’s office.

Why don’t they make us stop walking until they’ve got the shot?

Other random non-worky things: There was a cardinal at my window yesterday, while I was working on grading some UCLA stuff. They still seem novel and extra-delightful to me. And later, when I was walking down Dundas Street, I walked past a restaurant that was having some kind of police incident. It had obviously been evacuated midway through lunch: through the windows, beyond the police tape, was a wholly empty dining room, dozens of tables, each covered in plates full of half-eaten food. A little eerie.

If there’s anything about life that you’re all wondering, let me know. If there’s anything you’d like me to blog about–writing-related, photography-themed, you name it–tell me that too.

More importantly, what’s up with all of you? The holidays are coming–37 sleeps to December 25! What are you doing with the rest of 2014?

Propitious Birds (Toronto Day 532)

imageA thing about living right downtown here is I mostly see sparrows and pigeons. Starlings, sometimes. Grackles and gulls, for sure. I’ve had cardinals and finches in the tree outside my window, there’s a young raptor who taunts me on Queen Street when I’m out without the big zoom camera, and I can go to the lakeshore for ducks and cormorants. It’s not as though the birds aren’t here.

But, day to day, it’s mostly sparrowkind.

In Vancouver last week I caught glimpses of all my faves: crows (commuting crows, by the hundreds!), starlings, great blue herons, three species of duck, bushtits, cormorants, and a glimpse of northern flicker. I thought I’d have to content myself with the scolding of a Stellar’s jay in the bushes, but it turns out my sister-in-law feeds them. I almost collided with one Monday on my way out the door; it was headed to a clutch of peanuts on the kitchen windowsill.

It was satisfying and soul-nourishing, and a nice concrete example of a difference, neither good nor bad, between Then and Now. But not truly between Here and There, because if I’d got a house outside of the downtown core, I’d be hip-deep in feathery company.

Home from the West Coast, Catching Up

I’m ba-aaack! And so happy to be back with my wife and my kittens and all the wonderful things.

I did some terrific things and saw many beloved friends while I was away, and will tell you all about it over the next little while, possibly in lots of short blog posts like this one. Here, for example, is a shot of me and author Don DeBrandt, channeling Charlie’s Angels.

And here is a review of “The Color of Paradox,” and five other short stories, from The Other Side of the Rain.

 

Thankful for a whirlwind tour of #NYCC!

imageNew York Comic Con was an enormous, delightful, fan-filled spectacle of an experience, and I was thrilled to be able to go there, to meet some readers and get to know all of Team Tor a little better. I got to talk magic systems with Sam Sykes, Ilona and Gordon Andrews, Kim Harrison, George Hagen and Jeff Somers at a standing-room only panel. I signed books, gave out Child of a Hidden Sea buttons, and met a lot of people who had, previously, been e-mail contacts.

In and around the event, Kelly and I visited The Frick Collection, the Met, Chelsea Market and the High Line. We saw Cabaret, with Alan Cummings, at the former Studio 54. I tried on some dresses at the Desigual store, but failed to commit to any of them, and walked through Central Park a couple times. In the process, I got a much much better sense of where things are in Midtown.

What else? We ate many pastries, and actually saw Times Square both by day and by night. (Our decision to skip it on the previous trip was more or less borne out, but I admit I wasn’t entirely immune to the glitter and flash of it all.) We drank much coffee at Gregory’s, and much better coffee at Blue Bottle, and discovered that the Food Network has a fantastically beautiful loading dock of all things:

On Sunday we went to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn with Ellen Datlow, Rick Bowes and Terence Taylor, and then we looked around the neighborhood (which includes a superhero supply store!) for a little before going back to our new digs in the West Village.

Then on Monday we flew home to two well-cared for but pleasingly happy to see us kittens. By then we were in such kitteh withdrawal that, despite having been favored with a bit of love from the cats at our Air B&B, we were watching the Greatest Hits of the Kitten Channel on Kelly’s phone during take-off.

Wheezing into Monday…

photoKitten updates have been few and far between lately, I know, because Kelly and I were scampering around to a variety of movies at TiFF, with my always delightful and thoroughly brilliant cousins, Alicia and Joe. What’s up with the kids is, basically, that they are cute. Supercute, even!

We experimented a little with leaving the bedroom open to them at night while we were en vacance, but they are still too rambunctious. No big surprise there. CinCin’s headed back to the vet in about ten days for spayage and shots. I’ve also rearranged the top of the cat tree known as Beetlejuice Station. This might, eventually, occasion a new video.

This past staycation has been the best vacation, for me, in quite a long stretch of time. It offered the perfect mix of tourism, intellectual stimulation, good company, downtime, and amazing foodie experiences. Among other things, we tried a huge number of new restaurants: Khao San Road, The Harbord Room, The Senator, Fusaro’s Kitchen, and Byblos. Each of these is as deserving of a review as all the incredible films we saw.

It was illuminating, and has made me consider what K and I require in a break where our entertainment isn’t curated by a savvy, film-loving family member. Next time we have a stretch of time off at home, this shall be the model, I think: buy lots of tickets to lots of things, make a list of restaurants, and lure out various lovely people to partake with us.

Guest Post: Kelly Robson on the Writer’s Process Tour @kellyoyo

IMG_2509Kelly Robson attended the utterly awesome Taos Toolbox master class in 2007, and has two stories coming out next year, in Start a Revolution and The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. She was tagged by Caitlin Sweet to do the Writer’s Process blog meme (as was I) and, as she’s not maintaining a blog of her own these days, it was suggested that she might post her answers here. What a brilliant idea! 

Kelly can be found online at Facebook, Instagram, and PinterestHere’s what she has to say:

I started the first draft of this Process Blog Tour post by waffling over whether I have enough real writer points to legitimately respond. But screw that. Cut cut cut. Then I delayed posting this because I felt superstitious — like if I posted it I’d never write fiction again. Dumb, hmm? But Caitlin Sweet tagged me because she’s interested in what I have to say, so let’s just do this. Protesting too much is boring. Delay is boring.

What am I working on?

Final revisions on a historical horror story set in 19th century Bavaria. Horror isn’t my thing at all, but I wanted to submit something to a particular anthology so I waded in. When I first started drafting, I got myself quite freaked out while conjuring the horrific elements (I have an overactive imagination). It’s okay now, though.

I was surprised to discover that horror seems to require huge amounts of sensory information, and I loved writing that. It was an excuse to get a little lyrical, where otherwise my writing tends to be quite straightforward.

On the novel side of things, two potential projects are battling for supremacy. One is an alternate-present fantasy and the other is near-future non-genre. Both have their pros and cons. I just need to decide which project will make me happiest — which pinata contains the most candy.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

God, what a loaded question. First of all, I reject genres as anything other than marketing categories. Some people only read within certain marketing categories and that’s great if it works for them. I read the best (as I define it) across all categories. That goes for all media.

So I’ll redefine the question to: What characteristics does my work have that I think might be somewhat unusual?

I’m not interested in writing about characters like myself. To date I’ve mostly pursued male characters. Out of the three stories finished this earlier this year, one MC is a mentally disabled Viennese janitor, one is a potty-mouthed Australian winemaker, and one is an Enlightenment-era French slut. All men.

Maybe that’s because I’m mostly interested in characters who are absolutely convinced by the actions they’re taking and it’s easier to imagine men moving through the world with that kind of conviction. Women tend to be more ambivalent unless they’re pretty extreme outliers. But I’m not interested in extreme outliers.

However, the new historical horror has a lesbian MC. She’s backed into a corner physically, financially, and emotionally, so I hope she’s moving with conviction. I had trouble getting her there, and I’m afraid she might not be sympathetic enough.

Why do I write what I do?

Better to ask why I write at all. Because it would be better if I didn’t. All writers know that the opportunity cost for what they do is huge and the chance of it ever paying off financially is little to none.

I write because I’ve always wanted to — always — and getting the psychological permission to do it was one fuck of a battle that only started turning when I approached 40.

I write because it’s taken over 300,000 words to figure out how to write something I’m proud of. I’ve got great taste, and I can tell when something’s shit even if I’ve shat it out myself. So after learning how to please myself it would be a damn stupid waste to stop now.

I write because it’s mentally beneficial and controls my anxiety. Which is a way of saying that I really NEED to.

I write because finishing something and having people you respect like it, understand it, maybe even love it, is the best feeling in the world.

I write because many of the people I love and respect are writers, and I always felt like an outsider when I visited their playground. That wasn’t a good feeling. It also wasn’t a good way to achieve the recommended levels of mental health and self-love.

I write because I love fiction and can’t live without it, but I don’t love it unconditionally. I have high and exact expectations that are rarely met. So if I want to read something that pushes all my buttons, I have to try to write it myself.

How does my writing process work?

Output

I’ve tried the “quantity not quality” thing and it doesn’t work for me (it was a great way to learn though). It just makes a mess too awful to face cleaning up. Not very many people can write quickly and produce something worth reading. I think the quantity not quality orthodoxy is responsible for a lot of crap.

Some people can write a story in a weekend. That’s not me. For the previous two stories, seems like I’ve gotten a 5000 word draft in a month by working at least eight hours a week. Then finishing it takes huge amounts of revision — 30-40 hours. Maybe 100 hours per story total. I haven’t actually calculated it.

Process

I start a drafting session by grooming the last 1000 words or so to make sure I’m not headed off on a tangent. That means by the time I have a complete first draft it’s already been revised at least three times, except for the end. Which means the ending sucks. Then I rewrite several times before asking Alyx to weigh in on it. She’s wonderful at critique not only because she’s a terrific writer and experienced critiquer, but she also teaches writing so is very smooth at communicating her opinions and fixes. Rewrite again and get another crit from a friend. Then rewrite again and again. Maybe 5-10 revisions?

Revise, revise, revise. There is no other way.

Tools

My most unusual tool is an 11 x 14 inch sketchpad, which I use to doodle scene mechanics, story, and plot. If I’m spinning my wheels, the sketchpad will usually put me on track again. Scribbling has always helped me think.

Location

Our condo is too small for me to have a desk. My laptop lives in a drawer. But our condo building has a library with wifi, which is nice. Our kitchen table works too. Often Alyx and I will write in a coffee shop. The current spot is Jimmy’s on Gerrard, which has two upper floors with big tables.

I can draft on an iPad with a regular Mac bluetooth keyboard, which is great to haul around to the coffee shop. This setup is no good for revision because cutting and pasting and flying around a document with efficiency is impossible on an iPad.

Research and inspiration

I read a lot of non-fiction. Good, clear non-fiction primes my brain for the kind of writing I want to achieve. I actually think that Alan Bennett’s essay collections Writing Home and Untold Stories are magical in this way. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Why Moving is Cool… (Toronto, day 466)

Last week I developed a sudden burning need to rewatch the first five minutes of “Mountie on the Bounty,” a Due South episode from about midway through the Ray Kowalski years. In Due South fandom, you are generally either RayK or a Ray Vecchio fan; I’m the latter, and didn’t acquire the DVDs after The One True Ray had left the building.

Youtube, however, has the opening of MotB, which sets Fraser and RayK atop a very tall building, in a gunfight which they’re losing, and midway through the process of maybe getting killed, Fraser comes up with the bright idea of jumping off the building and into what–since this is Chicago–should be Lake Michigan. They do it. Ray, who can’t swim, is Officially Unimpressed.

Anyway, I brought up the clip. Bang, bang, yell, yell, and… jump!

And there was something shiny and new! In a piece of television which I’ve probably watched… oh, hey, let’s not even guess the number of times. I recognized the building! Because the role of Chicago was, naturally, being played by the city of Toronto, and now that I live here I recognized the very tall building as one of my favorite photographic subjects, the Canada Malt silo on the shore of Lake Ontario.

And, yes! I am right. Proof!

I’d see so much more, I realize, if I dipped into a proper DS rewatch.