Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A little update on an epic plot.

Hey there everybody! Just a little note to say that I've updated my epic novel plotting device:

To me this looks a lot better than it did before. I found that with the other sticky notes, which had 'glue' on one side of the page only, bent up and peeled over when I folded the massive 'scroll' up. But the other day I found these post its that have glue on the entire back surface. So now they don't roll up and fall off. It also helps that they are super sticky, new, a little bit bigger and properly color coded. Weeeee! It's the small things that make me so happy.

It's also handy that when I do my requisite (at least) 1000 words of any fiction a day, I can peel off a scene description and have at. So much better than before:


Isn't it? :P

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Highest Highs, the Lowest Lows

 
I hesitate even to write this, it will be so painful. Well, perhaps in the writing it and putting it out into the world it will help me, it will be a sort of therapy I suppose.
 
The Highest Highs
 
So I received another section of RoboNomics back, edited by my mentor through the Humber School for Writers Correspondence Program. You know, it's been a pretty great experience so far. My mentor has given me enough criticism for me to able to challenge myself to hit new writing heights and to make the work better, doled out with enough compliments on my work so that I don't take the constructive criticism personally. Extremely helpful. This week she told me that my latest chapter -- which takes the reader through a big, pivotal scene filled with twists and action was exciting. And that even though she's been in the business of fiction for a very long time, that it kept her guessing at what would happen next. She said that was a difficult thing to accomplish, but accomplish it I did.
 
It made me so, so happy to hear that. Writing a novel when I've yet to be published is a daunting thing. It is daunting for me because I have not, until now, had a real sounding board. Someone who is in the industry and knows it. All I've had is the hunch that I have talent...all I've had is the notion that I have something new and fresh to say. And so when I receive these comments, I feel a sense of validation. I may need to work on my clich├ęd descriptions. I may not have realistic dialogue down yet. But what I have here is a story: at least for the first half of the RoboNomics manuscript, the part that has been looked over by her thus far, I have a compelling and fresh story. I have not been toiling at it for two and a half years for nothing.
 
The Lowest Lows
 
But then something really devastating happened a few months back. I can't remember when -- there was snow on the ground still I think? But that could have been anytime between November 11th and April 30th (drrrrr). I think it was after Christmas -- that seems the most logical time for which Hollywood movie studios release teasers and trailers for the upcoming summer blockbuster season. My sister sent me a link with the note, "this reminds me so much of RoboNomics" (I had previously vocalized to her the entirety of my plot, along with the question "do you think this is a viable idea?"). Well, I got my answer. Apparently the end of my plot IS viable, is appealing. Is creditable, acceptable sci fi. Thanks, Hollywood. Thanks, Blomkamp:
 
 
 
 
 
This trailer was all the information I had to go on, back in the winter. I panicked. I immediately looked up when the production of the movie began, and I learned that the movie was presented to studios just about the same time that I had the first idea that spawned my novel RoboNomics: early 2011. I was distraught. I think I probably cried myself to sleep that night. I know where my talent lines. It lines in outrageous ideas that no one else would think of. It lies in building worlds and building stories that are compelling enough to suspend disbelief. But how can I do that when I've been effectively, for lack of a better term, scooped?
 
Over the past few months, I've had no choice but to mentally sweep the problem under the rug. I was too attached to my story. I didn't know what to do next. All I knew was that I had to keep going on my work. And so I keep working on RoboNomics, hoping against hope that the trailer was misleading and that the apparent similarities would disappear when I eventually viewed the movie.
 
The problems:
 
I have yet to see it. When it came out on the weekend, my love & I had other plans. We both are sci fi, fantasy, comic book movie nerds and we pretty much see every blockbuster in that vein in the summer (except for The Wolverine this summer. He didn't hold out too much hope of its quality. Also he went with a friend to World War Z. I can't abide zombies). So it's this weekend: the big reveal. The truth will come to light and I'll either be relieved or devastated.
 
But the reviews are already online. And so I don't have a total creative meltdown in a very public forum, I read one of them -- filled with spoilers. And the prospects aren't good.
 
1. The massive similarity is the premise of economic stratification. In Elysium, the 99% of have-nots live on a dystopian Earth while the 1% of haves live on the titular space station. In the back half of my novel, the 99% of have-nots live on a dystopian Earth while the 1% of haves live in a protected colony on a semi-terraformed Mars. Really, this is the most stunning, important similarity and the one that jumped out to both me and my sister. All other similarities are incidental.
 
2. The movie has impeccable world building, apparently. How much more difficult to do on paper. Months of studying how the sky on Mars is actually pink rather than blue, figuring out the best place for a human colony and problem solving how the hell would we get there in the first place...all that scene setting down the friggering drain.
 
3. The themes. They are very similar, as the paralleling premises would suggest. I can't tell you how a successful movie director was inspired to write a tale that obviously has something to say about the economic crisis of 2008 to the present. But mine was very much inspired by that. Namely, by my own and my family's struggle through it. We've had a long road to slog these past four or five years which is perhaps why my tale is far more character than action driven. Hey, like I said in the opener it's not as if my manuscript has no actioney pulse racing scenes and surprises, but these are tempered with quieter character-building moments as well.
 
The solutions:
 
Seriously, this entire situation makes me feel like that dude who invented the telephone at the exact same time Alexander Graham Bell did, but just didn't get to the patent office quick enough. Seriously!!! I don't even know that dude's name!!!! Meucci, apparently! I want to beat my head against the wall at all of this. This manuscript was supposed to do a lot for me. It was supposed to be a totally different take on the robotics/A.I./Frankenstein story, and would have launched me as a novelist. And to add insult to injury, apparently there are robots crawling around the world of Elysium just casually, just as a side note.
 
The thing is, it is all just coincidence. There's no one to blame, no one to be angry with. At times like these it is easy to be fatalistic. I wring my hands and think about how maybe I should just go back to trying my darnest to getting a teaching job and living out the rest of my life in misery and denial of destiny. Perhaps I was not meant to be a writer after all, I'll tell myself and just succumb to a life of monotony and mediocrity and let my ass spread and my soul die.
 
But no. I have not dedicated myself to persistence for nothing. I am too far gone, I am too far along, The dream is too close to give up because of a single set back.
 
1. I have the beginning of my novel. The entire first half of my manuscript is still 100% original. It is new, it is fresh, it is exciting and all that lovely stuff. It is a story, and a compelling one at that, with "chilling" (as my mentor calls them) sci fi details. If I really need to, I can scrap the entirety of my second half and do a rewrite. It is going to take a monumental effort to get rid of half a novel and open myself up to other narrative possibilities. Where else can I take these characters? But I reframe the possible death of my nascent career into something that happens to all novelists, all writers. Sometimes you just have to scrap a great idea. Sometimes you have to "kill your darlings".
 
2. Or I could do something else. I could ignore the whole thing. I can hope that this movie will be as talked about and remembered as....oh, I don't know, maybe 12 Monkeys (seriously, what is wrong with you people? That is an amazing movie). Maybe I should just keep on keeping on with it and try on the off chance that I can get it published and into the public eye without the 'fresh' story. And on the slim chance that that happens, I can hope against hope that no one remembers Elysium. But let's be serious, here? Someone will. The movie may fade from the public imagination, but there will always be someone on the internets who will note the similarities. And then I won't be remembered for great sci fi but for supposed plagiarism.
 
Let's be real here. I am jealous of my material. I don't like to expose the details of any of my stories for chance of ruining the surprise. And I just told you some of the big points of the second half of my novel. There is no way I can live in denial. So it's bye bye to Mars, I suppose. Oh, Mars, I hardly knew ya. I guess there's only one thing to do: have a ritualized ceremony in which I bury the second half of my manuscript in the bottom of a desk drawn and start thinking about what a rewrite would look like.
 
Sigh. At least that book trailer I made a couple months ago as a motivational tool still applies:
 
 
I just threw it together from some free stock photos, music, and the script I wrote as read out by a computer voice. If you click through to the YouTube page, you can find all the credits in the description box.
 
I did have a better looking splash page at the end, but I'd have to pay about $150 to use the image. Other than that I think it's pretty okay, personally. What do you think?
 
 
 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Upsettings

So, Lady Gaga is coming out with a new album soon, the single due on the radio today!

My sister (shout out!) introduced me to Lady Gaga back in like, 2009 or 2010, probably. Yeah, I think it was summer 2010. I knew about her like everyone did as soon as Just Dance, her first major single, hit the American radio airwaves. But Anna, my sister, knew about her way before that happened. Anna was one of her first fans back when Lady Gaga did that Canadian tour in smallish venues in 2008 and no one south of the border knew who she was. Anna got a cheap ticket to a small concert hall in our hometown. She was on the band wagon before all y'all.

And I hopped on not long after. I'd heard all of The Fame singles that were released and I thought they were fun and danceable. But it wasn't until Anna played the entire album for me that I loved Lady Gaga. And then Anna played The Fame Monster for me, which was also already out and I was done. Bad Romance, oh man. And The Fame itself -- the song, I mean. It was just everything. Everything we were feeling, everything we were missing. In a wasteland of Taylor Swifts and Miley Cyruses, it was not only better than that but a comment on it, a comment on the pop machine. And we got it. We identified with it, we danced to it, we blasted it over and over again from the car stereo.



But that's pretty much where it ended. You know, it occurs to me that this is the way it was all along with Lady Gaga. I mean, ever since she busted onto the scene in 2008, she had that whole 'Haus of Gaga' echo of Warhol's Factory. But I suppose I always thought that the Queen inspired aspects would win out over the pretentions to art. Alas:


Now I'm sure that modern performance art has an exalted place in the volumes of the art critic, in the hearts of art historians, & company; but that's probably where it should stay. And I'm not one of these folks who looks at modern visual art and says, "a four year old could have made that." I really want to understand art, modern and post-modern. I want to know what it says about our world, what it can tell us about our world. I want to know about its significance to the culture, and more importantly I want to formulate opinions about its significance to me. But I have my limits. And they basically begins where you can find self-indulgent works of art.

After seeing the above, I did a little research on Abramovic. And it didn't take long until I was like, "oh, right, That Lady." And I have to say, some of her performance I get. The sustained mutual gaze, definitely understand it. I can see why it would move some people to tears, I understand how looking at the nakedness of a stranger's face is intense and important. But this?

As it relates to Lady Gaga and her newest album, Artpop (which is obviously a thinly veiled homage to the Pop Art movement that Warhol pioneered), this is not new, not edgy, not bringing art to the pop-music-listening masses. This is just sad. Pop Art had its height in the late sixties. With Warhol and Sedgwick and the Velvet Underground and Campbell's Cans and performance art videos. Now let's see if we can count: The late sixties occurred 2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, four and a half decades ago. That's nearly half a century ago. That's about twenty years older than that dusty old mac classic that is now a collectable.

Dwelling in the past that you weren't a part of through its art is fine as a hobby. It's okay to value Warhol's art highly if you're a collector. But if you ask me, this sort of performance art is part and parcel of postmodern art that was born of the 1960s. And as far as I'm concerned, the postmodern era in visual art and otherwise is over. It was of our parents (the baby boomers). It has run it's course. It needs to be dragged out into a field and put out of its misery.

Why? Why can't we just have art for art's sake? Why can't we progress art in the direction of performance art of this sort? What if the post modern era in art is not over? And who the hell am I to make such a pronouncement?

Because I agree with bell hooks when she states that movies creates culture rather than just mirroring it. And while I think that this is super true of movies, with their powerful imagery and massive reach, I think the argument could be made that this is true of all art. I've written about this before on my blog in terms of sci fi and fantasy novels and television, and it is no less applicable here. In fact, I believe that because Lady Gaga has positioned and identified herself as an activist, she has opened herself up to this line of criticism. When you take on to change the world in ways positive, it is upsetting to see this kind of self-indulgence.

Because what does this video give to the culture? What sort of culture is created by postmodern performance art? I know that some people will argue that art has intrinsic, not extrinsic value. Art for art's sake, right? But this oft-repeated phase smacks of shirking one's artistic responsibility. Art for art's sake is poison because not only can it lead to self-indulgent directions such as the above example, but it can go down dangerous roads that then creates a violent and ethically irresponsible culture.

Which brings us to THE HORROR of it all: Lady Gaga's leaked song "Aura/Burqa". I won't say much about this. So many people have summed it all up much more eloquently than I ever could have. But one thing is certain from the lyrics of the song and the musical accompaniment: that here the cultural effects can only be negative. That Lady Gaga, whom I so long hoped was part of the solution, is now a part of a problem. This is Madonna's interview in Spin magazine in 1996. This is, for me, Lady Gaga's inflection point. This is the moment at which I go from still hoping that she could be a culturally responsible, positive artist (I held out so long -- I really really really wanted to love Born This Way that mess of an album) to her obviously succumbing to the hype, the money, the greed. It's no longer a comment on the machine. She is a pawn in that machine.

It's a shame. I really wanted all this to turn out differently. I wanted her to be a force for positive change in popular culture. I really did. I wish she just could have slowed down, thought it over, made some intelligent dance music or at least something non-violent and relatable. I suppose the only thing to do now is to turn to other danceable lady artists who, if they do not adopt the goal of changing society for the good, at least their lyrics are written with a deft hand:






Okay, that wasn't so danceable. But Tegan & Sara have not let me down in the past decade I've been their fan! (Plus Canada represent! :P)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

And speaking of secret lives...

Oh, man. Did I have a good weekend or what? I'll not leave you in suspense...it's the former.

I had a bit of a social breakthrough of sorts. It all started on Friday evening. It was going to be the usual routine of driving out to the flight school at Southport for dinner and a few drinks in the mess. And it started out as a pretty slow night. There was a small welcome party for a new course and then the usual round of pool and foosball and air hockey and a couple found-no-where-but-the-military games. The standard crowd of usual suspects: one massive sausage party with like, maybe five girls. If you`re lucky. Most of those girlfriends or wives (for serious -- where my girls at? You were told us little girls that you could do anything...except fly? Come on!)

At some point after I'd have a bunch of drinks, someone decided to break out Rock Band. Now, to give a little background here, the last time he & I were at the mess it was a Rock Band themed night. And I was a lot more inebriated at that party but not as brave. I sat on the sidelines wishing that I could take part. Hoping that someone would ask me too. But at that party the game was set up so that the entire thing was more of a performance. At this random night that turned into a party, it was just a video game in the corner, nothing like a center stage type scenario.

And then, the craziest thing happened. One of the buddies actually asked me to sing. I haven't sung on Rock Band since some time in 2009, and it wasn't exactly the best thing back then, trying to figure out three glasses of wine in how the track is different from the way one hears songs on the radio. Or maybe that machine was calibrated wrong. Probably. Add on top of that my life long fear of singing in public and even with all the inhibiting booze my hands were shaking as I took the mic.

A fear of public speaking, a fear of public singing, a fear of being judged, really. And I was judged. Because that's what humans do, right? "Don't be judgemental," you'll hear folks say. But everyone is constantly making judgements all the time, whether it's in social situations about other people or not. Nevertheless this line of reasoning does nothing to assuage my social anxiety.

But the great thing about Friday night was that, the judgements were all positive. I sang an old ditty that was one of my repertoire back in those preteen days of singing along to the radio. The now defunct Bear 106.9:



I put it on easy, since I'm apt to underestimate myself. 100% first try. They told me to sing a few more, so I had to oblige, trying my best Joan Jett out and the Guess Who's American Woman. The only trick to it is that I have to already know the song, I can't just wing it.

Then I took a break. "You sing," I'd say to someone else, anyone else. But one or two songs and a drink and all a sudden some kid who'd never even given me the time of day before was insisting that I take back the mic, that I'm a better singer than them and that I should just take it over.

I have to admit that I was glad to. I can't deny that seeing boys singing along with me to rock and roll standards was additive. It was a high that I haven't experienced in like, three or four years: the high of commanding a room. The thrill of gobs of attention. That night I play out that secret live of being a rock star: and damn was I ever a compliment or a shot away from swinging the mic in circles and shaking my ass like I was on stage.

But I contained myself and the night ended. Too early! Too early! As now all I want to do is play rock band with pals or go out to karaoke. Or write a rock and roll ditty and get up on some stage to growl it out. Hehehehe. Maybe save some bravery for next weekend.

Friday, August 9, 2013

New Awesome Song

I don't care how nerdy it is. I love Mika. And I just now discovered a previously undiscovered song by Mika:



Such feel good awesome music. Excellent. Grooving to it in the kitchen this morning as I make my breakfast. Mika, you never let me down.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Walter Mitty

I had the best news yesterday! At Christmas, a remake of a classic Danny Kaye movie is being released: Walter Mitty!!!!!!




What a down-tempo, little bit depressing trailer. Walter Mitty is such a great, great character for all of us who have millions of secret lives. I'm excited for the remake, I really am. But this is a comedy, right? Can Ben Stiller really live up to the comedic genius that is Danny Kaye??


What do you think? Whatever joke it was that he was telling, no one has skills like Danny Kaye anymore. Musical talent, rubber faced and slapstick. I wish there were a comedian in the world like him today.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Going Home



So I'm going home in less than two weeks. Home to Ottawa. Pretty much the best city in the world. Or, if you believe Mercer, #14. There are so many things to love about my hometown. I remember when I was a teenager and it had about half the population it does now (about 1 million currently). We'd sit around dreaming of other places to be. We'd whine about how it was boring. Then we all grew up and for the vast majority who stayed there (not including yours truly) made it fun.

And now it's awesome. It's funny how a not-very-promising middle-of-the-road boring ass place blossomed. So, anyways, here are the things that are awesome about Ottawa:

1. Well, my family and friends are there. The weird thing about the city is that even now, it's like a big clubhouse. Not in the way that Winnipeg is. In Winnipeg, the crudely place I live now, everyone has their little group of family and friends that they gather 'round them for the long, long winter of staying inside and being dull. Not that I can really blame them: I mean, if your town had farm equipment for plows and sand to put traction on the more or less impassable roads for eight months of the damn year, would you feel up to meeting anyone new? No? Didn't think so.

But in Ottawa, the clubhouse works a little differently. If you, like me, stayed in town for elementary school, high school and undergrad, you'd get to know a lot of people your own age. Eventually, you probably know almost everyone who lives in town of your own generation. Or, if there are people you don't know, chances are your friends know them. So when an event (like Beau's Oktoberfest a few years back) gains notoriety, it goes just crazy. It's like every person of an entire generation decides that that's what we're going to do and we just all DESCEND. It's word of mouth gone crazy and it's a power that can change a small town fest into a major annual event in a single year.

And it's not as if we slow down in the winter. If anything, our social lives are even more vibrant when they most need to be: that depressing time between New Year's and Spring. Trust. But again, it helps that we have amazing plows that start out a snowy day at like, 5 in the morning and that we can have salt which actually melts ice so that being stuck in a snow bank that's supposed to actually be a road is not an ever real danger. Family, friends...there will be so many to see! It's nice being part of the club.

2. The Food! I'm definitely going to visit the Works, which was born here. A grab a shawarma. Get some poutine, have some Pho from Pho Bo Ga La. And then top it all off with Gravy Pizza. Hopefully not all in one day. Then I'll go to Oh So Good for cake, grab a coffee from Bridgehead. All those great eatums I miss.

3. The Fun. Oh, what fun! I think I am going to miss most of the outdoor summer festivals. But I'll be there for the end of Greekfest as well as Capital Pride. Not too shabby! But we don't just have to hit up festivals, though. There's Shanghai Restaurant for Disco Bingo. We can Dance Slow, or without any pants. Spins and Needles was always a favourite of ours and so was TimeKode. Or we could just head outside to brush up on our salsa skills. None of which I can do in my current city. Nothing comes even close.

Yes, I am excited. A summer wedding, a new nephew, and tons of fun in the city of my childhood. Can Barely Wait!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fargo

So we went for a little holiday on the long weekend to the stunning metropolis of Fargo, North Dakota. Sweeet. Actually it wasn't half bad -- American shopping and a tiny but super awesome zoo. And military discounts wherever we went. No matter that it's a foreign military. Everyone called him "sir" and gave us discounts.

It was pretty amazing, though. A little tiny hop over an imaginary line and suddenly the accent changes drastically. Strange continent, this. I suppose it's not as weird as living on a continent where you go a tiny distance and everyone is suddenly speaking an entirely different language (i.e. Europe). I guess our accents should be more dramatically different considering the vast expanses across which we are all spread.

So we had a tiny bit of trouble at the border. We were actually asked to come inside the American border security building thingy. Sitting there, sweating bullets, thinking of all the American border horror stories I'd ever heard, trying to keep it together while all the traveling-to-the-states-from-Canada-without-a-passport-from-either-country folks were called up first to be finger printed and taken pictures of. And here am I thinking, "Am I going to be on a list now? Is the American government going to have my fingerprints? My government doesn't even have those!!!"

It turned out they just wanted to ask me about my applying to MSU about a million (five) years back. No, I never went there. Yes, I did apply. But I didn't go.

And that was it. Odd.

But it got me thinking. Where would I be now, if I had gone to MSU? Well, right about now I'd have a Ph.D. And a bunch more money. Maybe a house I could sell. But I still wouldn't be writing. I still wouldn't be happy.

Which reminds me:

Yay! Winners' goodies are out. I cannot believe that I have another rough draft in the bag. Just to think, back in 2009 I didn't have anything in existence that resembled a novel, just a big collection of my half-attempts that were not yet stories. Not even close. I really have learnt tons since I decided to take writing seriously. Before then, my life was just on forever pause. I am glad that I decided finally to press play.

And now to share with you my newest inspiration/motivation song. Actually I don't want to post the official video here since stuffed animals beating each other up is highly upsetting. But the song itself helps me imagine certain aspects of the world I am currently editing (RoboNomics) plus the whole thing helps give me a little kick in the writing bum each morning. Weeeee!


Okay bye.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Another first draft

Camp NaNoWriMo

So I just (finally) finished another first draft of yet another novel thanks to Camp Nanowrimo. It was a difficult, gruelling and rewarding experience. Definitely more difficult to do in the summer as opposed to November. There were a few days there when I was sure I wasn't going to make it. But I pulled through with a monumental effort of 4,000 words a day for the last week.

Listening for the aliens...
It is a novel about an alien visitation to earth. Never thought in a million years that I've ever write a novel about that. But sometimes you just have to run with a good idea. So now that it's all wrapped up I guess a nice little vacation on a nice long weekend with my sweetie, opened with some BBQ and watching third encounters of the close kind. Or whatever it's called.

I always do this when I am writing something: the scourging of the narrative landscape for anything that might come close to the same idea as me. Because I like to think of my ideas as original and if they are not, I'd like to disabuse myself of the notion as soon as I possibly can.

Or maybe it's just an excuse to watch a bunch of alien movies. :)