Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Attack of the Albino Brain Chiggers**

**Joke shamelessly stolen from Third Rock From the Sun.

Oh, my goodness.

That last snowfall warning I told you about dumped up to 70 cm on my city, although it packed down to about a foot in most places, and we got a thaw Monday afternoon that made the roads passable. However, now it's blanketing down again.

I'll reiterate that I live in the one magical little corner of Canada that doesn't get snow. Supposedly.

Yesterday, I saw a car with a mohawk (the driver tried to swipe the roof clear, but couldn't reach the middle, so: snow mohawk), and today I can't see anything; the buildings are grey shadows with white static falling in front of them and an erased world behind them.

Nothing is going to move today; not buses, not cars, not planes, and probably not even pedestrians. I feel so sorry for the people who had planned to travel for the holidays. If you're one of those, please have an internet hug and a virtual rum toddy from me.


What it looks like right now:

A more typical winter day:

The Albino Brain Chiggers have eaten the cars:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

*sings* It's beginning to look a lot like hypothermia...

El Husbando's computer wallpaper shows a composite satellite image of the Earth with the current weather superimposed over it. A few days ago, clouds obscured most of North America. Basically, the whole continent had a snowstorm.

I live in the one small corner of Canada that consistently doesn't get snow, but we've had it for a week now, and it shows no signs of going away. The temperature is currently about -10 C (14 F).

I happen to be a very efficient heat exchanger when it comes to my environment, i.e. I'm a cold wimp. While most of Canada considers -10 C a laughably balmy winter temperature, it's freakin' freezing to me. At least I grew up on the prairies, and even spent four years of my childhood in Yellowknife, so I know I'm just a wimp.

I'm in good company, in that regard. In the snow, my city entertains. We just don't have the tools to deal with this invasion of angel dandruff. We haven't ice scrapers for windshields, snow shovels for sidewalks, winter tires, proper clothing, or nearly enough snowplows in the city.

Traffic becomes a ballet of pirouetting cars. The tires sing every morning, sounding like herds of drunken sleeping bags unzipping themselves. Every hill peers down its nose at little clusters of vehicles, watching as the drivers whir bravely toward its summit, only to slalom down backward again. One bus driver had to ask his passengers to cluster over the rear axle so he could finish his route.

In the snow, My usually-trendy city loses its fashion mind. High-heeled leather boots are paired with bobble hats and mittens. Long formal coats strain and bulge over the lumps created by four layers of sweaters. People hustle down the street, their hands knotted over their nose or slapping their ears flat to their skull.

Yup. It's a winter wonderland.

The thing that's most amusing is while the locals struggle with the snow, they also find it genuinely exciting. Snow is rare, and pretty, and they associate it with skiing, which is fun. I'm an old grump about the white stuff, but I'm certain they enjoy these little blasts of "real" winter.

My family teases me about my long-lost tolerance for cold, of course. My parents live on the prairies, where -40 C (-40 F) might not be nice, but they can deal with it. My brother is in Iceland, which tends to not get much below 0 C (32 F) but has a wind chill that can freeze-dry your eyeballs. My sister lives in Georgia, and she misses the snow.

Especially around this time of year. It'll be a rare white Christmas for me, and only a few years ago, that was the standard for her.

On El Husbando's weather map right now? More clouds. Apparently we've another big dump of snow on the way, and the city is still crippled from the last one. I'm going to dash out (swaddled like baby Jesus; very festive, n'est pas?) and stock up on food and chocolate, because I intend to hibernate this cold snap out.

El Husbando, loony snow-loving local boy that he is, keeps trying to convince me we need to go for a walk.

(PS - Sarflin, I'm wearing that Icelandic wool sweater/coat you bought right now. It's awesome!)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Crack the WIP | Crack the whip | How do I make it stop? | I'm a geer!

Drive-by blog entry!

Chapter 0001: Writing news
I am over 20,000 words into my current WIP. Hurray for 6 AM!

Chapter 0010: Holiday news

Chapter 0011: Blog news
In desperation, I've gone back to my R0bert Pattins0n entries and removed both his photo and the "o"s in his name (they're zeroes now; the font camouflages this), because until I stop getting traffic for the hunka-hunka, my stat counter is useless.

Darn it, I wanna know about the 10 people here to listen to me yammer! Not the 2000 giving Mr. Drool-Worthy his due. Never again shall I underestimate the preternatural power of that man's unholy hair. *shudder*

Chapter 0100: Work news
They want me to teach an engineering lab next semester. Woe and gnash-gnash-gnashing of toothies. My students are gonna be so much smarter than me it'll be painful.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Terror in the Land of Freaky Follicles

My friend Chris prompted me, via his recent blog post regarding the phenomenon of "viral" success on the internet, to go check my website statistics tonight. I hardly ever do this, and it was good that Chris convinced me to, because getting the pants scared off you is great for the circulation.

I average about 10 hits a day, generally. Before I went on blog hiatus a few months back, I got more, but not much more.

Now...remember that silly post about R0bert Pattins0n's hair? *points downward*

That got 853 hits today.

This is in comparison to 63 hits yesterday, and given the post is internet-old (i.e. it was published last Wednesday), you know something freaky just happened.

It turns out a huge majority of the visitors got here via a Google image search for R0bert Pattins0n, so the abrupt success of OxyJen is likely due to my post getting picked up by a web crawler.

Thank my frickin' stars. Who wants to be famous for making fun of someone's hair?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

R0bert Pattins0n's Sentient, Self-Washing Hair

I learned something yesterday. It was a subject I'd never even heard of before.

Interviewer: What is all this talk about you not washing your hair for months on end?

R0bert Pattins0n:
People are scared of my hair. But it starts washing itself after about three weeks.

R0bert Pattins0n, by the way, is the male star of the new Twilight movie. For teens, he is the hunka-hunka-du-jour. He also has really crazy-looking hair, and it often doesn't look particulary clean.

But "washing itself"? What the heck?

It turns out this isn't merely the stoned-out ramblings of a starlet-boy. "Self-washing" is a state of hair.

Let me back up, because if I give you the short version of this, you'll just be disgusted and disbelieving. You need to hear everything.

Consider a cat, or a bunny, or a foofy Pomeranian dog. You don't wash your pet every day, right? They only get a bath every few months, and yet a cat's hair (or a bunny's, or a doggie's) always feels soft, clean and glossy and/or fluffy. Why is that? Why don't cats get greasy-hair days?

The answer is that a cat's oil glands, skin and hair have all evolved to keep the cat's fur clean and healthy with nothing more than water-based baths. In the wild, that's all a cat gets. The jungle just ain't got soap.

The thing that is really bizarre--and frankly hard-to-believe for us modern folks--is that human hair is the same way. Because we shampoo regularly, we strip off our natural oils and upset the body's balance. As a result, if we stop shampooing, our hair starts to look greasy and disgusting in a matter of days due to over-production of oil.

Here's where the "self-washing" thing comes in.

Apparently, if you stop using shampoo, but rinse your hair in warm water regularly (for example, every time you shower), then after about six weeks of suffering beneath your greasy, disgusting, smelly mop of hair, your system finally sorts itself out. Your natural balance of oils reasserts itself, and your hair starts looking clean and fluffy again. You've entered the "self-washing" phase.

Of course, your hair doesn't really wash itself. I suspect what happens is the hair shaft becomes so well-moisturized that it swells shut and becomes impervious to dirt. And since most dirt and all sweat-residue is water-soluable, a quick rinse is all that's required to swoosh the yucky-yuck off your impervious hair.

People who do this--and obviously you're only going to hear from those who think "self-washing" is groovy--report their hair is healthier, nicer-looking, and more manageable than it was when they washed it in shampoo, and that no one ever notices the difference, and that scalp problems and dandruff often disappear, and that they're happy to not be spending money on shampoo they don't need or sluicing unnecessary detergents into the environment.


On one hand, this "self-washing" thing is fascinating to me because I'd never heard even a whisper about it before.

But on the other, behold R0bert Pattins0n's hair:

Ew. Is that hair gel, or...?

(Picture removed because its presence was doing crazy things to my hit rate, liek woah OMG.)


Has anyone here ever had "self-washing" hair, either intentionally or accidentally? If so, what did you think? Does this system actually work? Does it sorta work? Is the phenomenon of "self-washing" hair a sham, or is shampoo the real sham?

As an experiment, I tried just rinsing my hair instead of washing it last night, and then I brushed it heavily once it was dry (which you're supposed to do, to distribute the oils.)

My hair should look disgusting right now, but to be honest, it just doesn't. It's not crazy-flyaway like normal, which is nice, and although it has less luster, it doesn't look dirty at all. I'm truly surprised. El Husbando hasn't noticed anything either, which is great, because when I mentioned "self-washing" to him yesterday, he thought it sounded utterly revolting.

But yeah. I'm probably not going to continue this experiment beyond today.

**warily eyes R0bert Pattins0n's hair**

Edit 10/01/2009: Okay, I lied. I did go through with it. Read this post if you'd like to know what I thought of "self-washing" hair, as well as my best-discovered way of getting through the icky six-week transition stage.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I'm steaming my eyeballs tonight.

It's okay; they're still in my head. My eyes have felt very dry lately, even when they're not. Eyedrops don't help, but sticking a mug of hot water under my nose and blowing to force the steam into my peepers is quite soothing. The guys at work must think I have a bladder of titanium, given how much of today I spent looking like I was just in the middle of a sip.

Writing in the early morning is still proving to be an effective habit, although I'm a bit worried it's to blame for the sore eyeballs (Ah hah! You can be allergic to mornings!)

Hmm. I feel like splattering some personal stuff here tonight. I suspect that's why I sat down to blog.

This has been a bit of weird day, and not in a good way, and I'm going to use that to jump off on a weird tangent.

I gave a lab exam this morning, and one of my students came in and gave me...I'll just call it a thoroughly acceptable reason for not being able to write the test. I don't want to give out any of her details, but it involved two deaths in her family since I saw her last. The poor kid looked like she was hanging on by a thread. Then tonight, I found out about a death in my extended family, one that has some worrisome implications for other family members.

This morning I had a mild feeling of dread when I said goodbye to my husband. I'm a bit of an anxious person, so I didn't pay much attention to this, but here's where I veer off on my tangent.

My family's supposed to have a bit of the "sight", as in second sight, or psychic ability. I've always been of the opinion that I didn't get any of it.

Now, before I really get rolling here, let me back up one step. As mentioned, I tend to be anxious, and I have a frolicsome imagination also, so as a child, I was acutely terrified of the world. My brain was quite willing to picture ghouls and aliens and nuclear bombs coming to get me.

When I got older, I discovered the The Skeptical Enquirer, and it really was a liberating experience, because it gave the more rational parts of my brain ammunition to use against my imagination. Now I could now say, "Okay, that's bullshit" to a lot things I'd not been sure of before. It helped me feel a lot braver.

And for the most part, I still think the majority of evidence in favour of the paranormal is bullshit. Usually, these things are either self-delusion or con artistry. I do still count myself as a skeptic. If you tell me you believe in tarot cards or astrology, I will mock you.

So it's a bit odd--and possibly pathetic--that now I'm older still, and I've made a truce with the fact that, y'know, maybe I did get a bit of the family ability? I can rationalize that I'm really deluding myself, but if I listen to this inner detector that is too random to properly test, the statistics don't work out in favour of it being self-delusion.

El Husbando and I tend to not answer our phone during the day because it's usually a telemarketer. However, every now and then, I know it's someone we should talk to and I jump at the phone. I'm not always right, but I usually am. I have been the last four times.

When we were in London recently, my brother called to say his plane was delayed and he didn't know when he'd be joining us at the hotel. El Husbando and I settled down to watch some TV. A time later, I got the strong feeling that I should go down to the lobby and check for my brother. Rationally, I kept thinking, "No, there's no reason why he should be here yet, and even if he is, you'd probably miss him in the elevators." At the same time, I could picture myself finding him in the line-up for the check-in counter.

As I said, I've kind of made peace these hunches. I quietly slipped out and trotted downstairs. Waiting in the line-up for the check-in counter was exactly where I found him.

Walking to the room, my brother asked how I'd known he was in. Embarrassed, I shrugged and said the ol' family psychic ability had given me a tingle. He just nodded and said, "Yeah. I get those too."

My experiences are pretty mild stuff. Here's some of the freakier family stories:

- My dad once looked up from his reading and answered a question my mom hadn't asked yet.

- My grandfather once woke out of a sound sleep, then woke up my grandmother, and told her one of their neighbours had died. It turned out the fellow had, that night.

- That same grandmother dreamed of an almost-car-accident my mom had on the same night the almost-accident happened. The dream upset my grandmother enough she had to call my mom to make sure she was alright.

- My brother once fell asleep in an exam, and woke up when the bell rang. His test was complete. His teacher said he saw my brother put his head down for a minute, but then my brother sat up again and continued writing the exam. The questions my brother remembers answering, he got wrong. All the ones he answered while asleep, he got right.

Like I said, whatever I've got, it's comparatively pretty mild. I can't guide it (it didn't help me in Vegas last time I went), and it's not always correct. It's also often the sort of thing that could just be my subconscious picking up on subtle clues I didn't twig to.

Basically, it's just not very testable, which annoys the scientist in me, but it's bad science to dismiss something as imaginary just because you can't figure out a test for it. Of course, the real reason I'm accepting the hunches at face value these days is I feel like I'm cutting off something important inside me when I try to believe they're not real. Plus, there's little harm in this, because I don't even think about it until I get the "tingle". Hunches do not rule my life, and I do not walk in fear of the uncanny.

Now, how to sum up a post like that? I should have gotten this up in time for Hallowe'en! Goblin LOLs at herself. about like this: When I signed on with my agent, she expected a quick sale, and I hoped for one too.

But I had a feeling the book wouldn't sell anytime soon.

Guess what? :-/

Friday, October 31, 2008



1000 ft. under the desert in Mexico, they've discovered a cave filled with enormous crystals.

I mean really enormous. Tree-sized. The longest is 37.5 ft. Wouldn't you love to run around this place?

Unfortunately, the cave stays at 112 °F (50 °C) and has 100% humidity. I don't think they're going to turn this place into Carlsbad Caverns anytime soon.

But wow. This one of those cases where reality did something that you could not put in a book and make people believe was real.

The following YouTube video shows still shots, but they're pretty amazing, regardless.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wo ist der Trip Report, bitte?

Oh, goodness. A trip report? Did I really promise a trip report? Just making up the photo album was exhausting. Captions for 800 photos; what on Earth was I thinking.

I think, right now, that I'll actually talk about writing for once.

I've decided. I have committed. Yes: I am willing to suffer for my art.

I--a lifelong night-owl--have been getting up at six a.m. every morning to write before going to work.

This is both fun, and not fun, as you can imagine. On one leg o' the chicken, I finally seem to be getting past the dribbles-and-drabs stage of my new project and the words are beginning to flow. But on the other scratcher-de-la-poulet, we're talking six-freakin-a.m. Every day. Including Sunday morning--and you know that six a.m. on Sunday morning is only supposed to be witnessed by those whose Saturday night has been wonderfully epic and untainted by sleep.

Basically, I feel the same way about early mornings that Travis Erwin feels about vegetables.


In other quasi-writing news, I've fallen off the wagon. The internet and I are kanoodling again. This did, however, give me the chance to enjoy Nathan Bransford's recent guest-bloggers' articles. The ones by Michelle Moran (Part 1, Part 2) regarding how to market your book are particularly great, and I do recommend them to all writers.


This weekend was the Surrey International Writers' Conference. It's a wonderful conference that focuses on the craft of writing, but I have one expensive trip and two expensive dental surgeries under my belt this fall, so I bailed on attending.

Hmm... Perhaps the very talented and warm-hearted writer Brenda Carre would like to do a guest blog here on OxyJen and tell us what she thought of SiWC 2008? *slides Brenda a hopeful look*


This last bit of news is very sad, but important: If you've got a moment, please pop by Sandra Cormier (a.k.a. Chumplet)'s blog and wish her strength. Brandon Crisp, the missing Ontario teenager, is her nephew. If you live in the Barrie region of Ontario, Canada, please consider volunteering to be part of a search party, and if you live in Ontario at all, certainly have a look at Brandon's picture so you'll know him if you see him. The police would appreciate any information you might have that would help them locate him.

Best wishes, Sandra, to you and your family. My heart hurts for you, and I hope they find Brandon soon.

Update: They found Brandon's body on Nov. 5th. He apparently died of injuries sustained falling out of a tree, which he may have climbed in order to stay warm or protect himself from wildlife.

Fifteen years old. You can't not feel terribly sad about this. I wish Sandra and her family all the warmth and strength they need to deal with their awful loss.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Back from Vaca! (Part 2)

El Husbando and I just got back from a spectacular almost-3-week trip to Europe, and since I didn't take good enough notes to write a proper trip report this time, I'm going to do a quasi-trip report here for the benefit of friends and family.

Here, on the blog, where you can ignore it without guilt. You see, I firmly believe in giving people the opportunity to show a polite and kind-hearted interest in my life without actually forcing them to look at every stinkin' one of our 867 travel photos or read my blathering 20,000+ word trip report.

A mini-report will be up here in--ooh--the next week or so? I need to look through our 867 (no, I wasn't kidding about that number) photos to remind myself what we did. Heathrow airport didn't lose our luggage, but I'm going to blame them for the fact that I apparently didn't bring my brain home with me.

Nevertheless, it is good to be home. We had a great time, and could have easily gone another week without feeling like it was too much, but it is pleasant knowing where my next pair of clean underwear is coming from.


We walked everywhere (except Iceland, where it was cold.) El Husbando and I estimate we hoofed over 80 km during the trip. It proved a great way to see the various big cities.

Vienna was the prettiest city we went to. I took a ridiculous number of photos of curlicue buildings there, and regretted it later in the trip when we began to run out of memory space for the camera. While in Vienna, we spoke really horrible German at the locals, saw a Mozart concert, found great figs, and watched a pigeon cross the street using the cross-walk. I swear, European pigeons don't fly; they are strictly pedestrians. I am not making this up: the pigeon waited on the corner until the light turned green, and once the people started walking, it walked alongside us to the other side.

Rome had the most historically interesting stuff and was probably our favourite destination (although we had a hard time picking a highlight from the trip.) El Husbando was most excited about going to Rome, since both his parents came from there, and he dragged me out the night we arrived to go walking. We walked to the Vatican, we walked to the Colliseum, we walked everywhere, or so it felt. I'm glad we did it, but at the time, I thought El Husbando had morphed into El Loco. We saw all that territory again, and in more detail, on our tour the next day, but it was great seeing it at night without any crowds.

Italian food proved to be as good as everyone says (especially the gelato), although we were by this point already trying to save money by going to grocery stores and buying bread/rice cakes, cheese and olive paste to eat back at the hotel. Tasty, but we got a lot of pimples from our distinctly-lacking-in-greens diet.

Paris is frilly. The decorations on the historical buildings are more elaborate than we saw in other cities, and they gild a lot of things there. The Eiffel Tower was a short walk from our hotel and looks very pretty lit up with blue lights and white sparkles at night--which it currently is because France is the head of the EU right now, and the EU's flag is blue with gold stars. We went up the tower twice, once during the day and once at night. We also spent sixteen billion years in the Louvre and only saw half of it. What a massive building!

French wine is as good, and cheap, as everyone says. El Husbando bought a bottle that cost the equivalent of $10 Canadian, and it was excellent. He said that in Canada, something that good would cost at least $40. He got another bottle at the duty-free store on our way to the Chunnel, and he's not usually one to polish off two bottles in the space of four days!

London was the city I was most excited to see, and it also had the added bonus that we were meeting my brother (Sarflin), who lives in Iceland now, there. London proved to be the most sprawling city we visited, so walking everywhere didn't prove very practical, but we did a lot of it anyway. Overall impressions? Regent's Park is much prettier than Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace is a teeny-tiny thing compared to some of the other palaces we saw (both in London and in other cities), and Big Ben and the houses of Parliment are waaaay awesomer than they look on TV.

My brother picked up a wicked cold while in London, so I want to thank him again for taking us around in Iceland despite being feverish and making occasional attempts to catapult his lungs at the horizon. Iceland is an amazing place! The scenery is exotic, a cross between desert-like and stark tundra. We did the Golden Circle tour, where we saw Geysir (the word "geyser" came from this place), Goss Fells (a HEE-UGE waterfall), the rift where the North American tectonic plate is separating from the European plate, and a geothermal plant where they produce very cheap electricity and hot water for Reykjavik. We also took a walk along the seawall with Sarflin before sending him home to try to steam-clean his sinuses in the shower.

That night, Reykjavik got the first snowfall of the season, so driving to the airport the next day allowed us to see Iceland in white. This was completely different, but just as beautiful and exotic. The landscape is all jumbled lava rocks and rifts, with mountains in the background, and the snow allows you to see where all the cracks and bumps lie. El Husbando said that, with snow, the scenery looked the way he had always pictured Iceland looking.

So now I am staring at a pile of dirty laundry twice the size of our suitcase and wondering how that's even possible. It was a long trip, and a mighty ding in the wallet, but you know what? 'Twas totally worth it!

Back from Vaca! (Part 1)

Any writer buddies still loitering about here have probably noted I've not been around the blogosphere. This was partly because work got insane, partly because I went on a splendiferous three-week trip, and mostly due to me deciding the internet was eating my life.

So I quit. Cold turkey.

Um, for a given value of "quit". I kept up on email, of course.

Because the internet's attention span is about three seconds, I suspect I've lost all my regular readers by now, so this blog is now going to be mostly for myself (although I will still talk about writing a lot), for friends, and for family.

Speaking of friends, El Husbando and I are blessed to have two who are a pair of the most effortlessly interesting and intelligent people we've ever met. The more energetic half of this couple has leapt into the blogosphere with two blogs, one of which is meant to be a discussion of ideas. Please hop by Chris's ThoughtFood blog and join in. I promise, he's not just a frighteningly energetic thinker, he's also a joy to know.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Madrigal of Clarity

I was summoned for jury duty recently, but it conflicted with travel plans. I just got the following letter from the Sheriff's office:

Dear [you],
Re: Jury Duty

You have requested to be excused from jury duty.

You are excused.

Therefore you do not have to appear on [redacted date] for jury selection.

Yours truly,
[et cetera]

I am kinda in love with this letter. Talk about ascribing to the principle of "omit needless words"! This is clear and complete, and a third grader could understand it.

It reminds me of something an American friend, who immigrated to Canada, but who had also worked with new immigrants in the States, once noted: You can tell a lot about the mindset you're up against by the language that gets used on you.

If you want to immigrate to Canada, the forms you need to fill out are written in fifth-grade comprehension level English (or French.)

If you want to immigrate to the United States, the forms you need to fill out are written in legalese.

Guess which country is more open to the idea of you moving in.

I read Tara Road by Maeve Binchy recently, and I was struck by how effectively the author communicated her protagonist's turmoil after that character's husband admits he has made a younger woman pregnant and is leaving his wife. Ms. Binchy did it solely by changing the protagonist's voice; a previously bubbly and bumbling personality was abruptly delivering lean, razor-edged dialogue. She didn't sound anything like how she had in the rest of the book, and it worked beautifully. You knew this woman was both shattered by and hostile to the future her husband was forcing upon her.

In your writing, do you ever alter the way a character speaks to betray their mindset? Even beyond changing the rhythm of how they speak in order to show emotion, do you change their voice?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Congratulations! | Dude, you okay? | Twilight of the Fans' Expectations

I haven't been blogging much lately, so cheers to anyone who's still around. Happily, Stuart Neville, a.k.a. Conduit, has given me an excellent reason to break radio silence--he just got a publishing contract! Congratulations, Stuart! I'm so happy for you and I can't wait to read The Ghosts of Belfast.


Dwight, you gave me awesome advice once and I'd like to repeat it back to you, in hope it will help: Get those keys a-bobblin', soldier.

Don't stop doing what you love. Just stop needing what you can't get (yet.) You're talented, and you're definitely missed, buddy.


I'm fascinated by the craze over the final book in the Twilight teen vampire series. Breaking Dawn is suffering some backlash from fans of the series, just as the final book in the Harry Potter series did.

The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows backlash was due to very invested fans who were disappointed the author didn't end the series the way they envisioned. Perhaps a favourite character was killed, or a much wished-for romantic pairing never happened. Whatever the case, these fans were irate. Many started writing fanfiction to "fix" the author's mistakes.

"Positioning" is a marketing term. It means giving your potential audience an idea of what to expect before they put their money down. If you title a book Desert Passions and show a scantily-clad couple groping each other atop a camel on its cover, then your potential customers will expect a steamy romance set in the desert.

If that story turns out to be a murder mystery instead, then even if it's a really great book, the reader will be angry. They didn't get what they thought they were paying for.

I think the backlash for both Breaking Dawn and Deathly Hallows is due to the fans having positioned themselves. The marketing departments were no match for fandom. In the space between publication dates, the fans thought so much about the series' storylines and characters, and formed such detailed expectations of what was coming in the next book, that the author's vision proved a disappointment. The fans didn't get what they thought they were paying for, and they frothed and raved mightily; woe and alack.

This is an amazing phenomenon. On one fang, it's a massive compliment to the author so many people loved her series that they created an autonomous and complex community for themselves. On the other, it's absurd the community would be so self-contained they reject the author's next work because she didn't cater to their whims (using her psychic ability, presumably.)

I haven't read the Twilight books, and while I think there are elements in them that would make me angry for political reasons, they strike me as simply being really enjoyable trash--cheesy, addictive and insane in the best possible way. (Sparkly vampires. Need I say more?)

I could be depressed that people get so excited over fluff, rather than things that matter, but at the same time fandoms really endear me to humanity. We can't agree on the important stuff, but we can unite in our love (or hatred) of sparkly vampires. It's kinda sweet.

Monday, July 14, 2008

From Aboard a Barge Floating Down a Minor Tributary of the River Styx

I am still not dead.

Not that you would know, because I've been a bad blogger again. This has been a busy day following a busy weekend following a busy last week. And now, I'll whine some more. *whimper, snivel*

Okay, I'm done. It's safe to keep reading. In fact, it should be fun because my brain is currently doing the cha-cha in Flakeyville. Did you know the Sleep Deprivation Creek runs through Flakeyville? It's a tributary of the River Styx; you're only half-dead when you cross it.

I had a minor fear realized yesterday (nothing to do with being half-dead, or virtually-dead, a.k.a. dead on the internet, however.) My mom mentioned she'd read my blog.

Eek. Okay, now I feel bad about all the swearing in that one post.

However, as a writer seeking publication, you have to be willing to spatter yourself all over the page and make it public. That's the point; you're dragging things out of your brain and showing everybody. They might not like it, but the onus is on them to walk away if that's the case. I do find it hard to put certain things on paper if I'm intending to try to publish it. I've always been bashful, so I find myself sweating and blushing over writing any sort of erotic scene, because...

Well, because my mom might read it. Or my dad, or my grandmother. I'm more complacent with the idea of my siblings reading my work because I think the three of us already know we're pretty darned quirky. I'm not sure the older generations realize that fully.

Incidentally, when my blog's existence got outed to the family, that was also my writing ambitions properly outed. I had told my parents I'd written a book, but I hadn't said more to anyone because what's the point? Until it's published, there's not much to report that's interesting to anybody but me.

As far as I know, my agent doesn't know I blog either. She's welcome to, because this is public space, but I haven't told her I do this. Again, I'm willing to have her see me being freaky--or flakey in the case of today--but I don't necessarily want to point it out.

Is there anything you avoid putting in your writing because you don't like the idea of people seeing that such things came from your brain? Would you use a pseudonym if you ever got the urge to write, for example, porn or something extremely offensive? Or do you fearlessly slap your name on everything that's yours, and damn the embarrassment that may arise at family reunions? And while we're on the subject, is blogging while over-tired as bad as blogging while drunk? I really can't tell at this point.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Blogging Equivalent of "Um... So... Like..."

I've pretty much borked getting a blog entry up this weekend, so to hold you over until Tuesday-ish, when I will try to repair this oversight:

Non-Seasonal-Appropriate Cat Bowling!

The reason the blogging didn't get done is I finished the outline for my sequel last night and sent it off to my agent.

It's awesome how hammering out plot details can ignite your enthusiasm to write. I am simmering a stew of ideas for this book now and keep thinking, "Yeah, I could totally write this."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sequels and Stand-Alones

I've read on various agent blogs that it's best if your first novel is a stand-alone, even if you intend for it to be first in a series. Agents find it easier to sell a book that is self-contained, because the publisher doesn't have to commit to buying the whole series until after they see how that first book sells.

So I was surprised when my agent, Eleanor Wood, asked for an outline to a sequel for DARK HEIR. It turns out that because most of the hot-selling fantasy books right now are series titles, a book with series potential can be easier to sell than a single title.

I hadn't planned to write a sequel for DARK HEIR, at least not yet. I love these characters, but according to my brain, their story has been told. Now it's pashing on new characters. I'm pretty certain, in terms of my long-term writing career, I would be more comfortable writing unrelated novels set in distinct worlds, but I won't get the opportunity to do so unless I get my first sale. Hence, this weekend, I've been plotting out the surprise sequel.

The most surprising thing about it is how quickly it's coming together. I struggled for several months plotting the book I am (was?) working on, but because I already know the characters in DARK HEIR, I know how their personalities need to change and grow next. I also remembered an antagonist who was only assumed to be killed in the first book. Muahahaha! Insta-villain, back from the dead.

Still, it feels like a gear clash to head back to that world, those characters, and that material. I would enjoy writing a sequel to DARK HEIR, because that book's got such a special place in my heart, but I admit I'm dismayed at the thought of putting what I'm working on now aside. Oh, well; a gal's gotta take the long view.


Fantasy has a strong market for big books, big stories, and big series, and yet in general fiction, shorter books seems to be the latest trend. If you're a fantasy reader, do you prefer series novels or single titles? Do you like big reads?

If you're not a fantasy reader, how do you react to the same questions? Do you want a fast read, or a big book? Are you happy to come back to a world you've seen before, or would you rather a good book's premise not be rehashed? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


P.S. - Don't forget to congratulate Chumplet, a.k.a. Sandra Cormier on Tuesday for the Canada Day e-release of her novel, BAD ICE!

You can win a free copy by participating in her trivia contest on Tuesday, and you can buy an e-copy (for six bucks!!) here at any time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Assholism (The Writer's Second-Favourite Vice)

(This post is overly-personal and features some very offensive language. My apologies to Julie!)

When I think about the personality traits that serve me best as a writer, empathy tops the list--and I have painful quantities of that one. I was the kid who got hysterical watching "Save The Children" fundraising programs. I'm the woman who really, really doesn't like thinking about where meat comes from. I used to live in an apartment that had mice, and I cried every bloody time my plucky mousetrap bagged another victim.

Being overly-sensitive has its downside, but it's extremely valuable to a writer. Empathy for others is the only thing that allows us to create a spectrum of characters. Because I believe there are few truly evil people in the world--that most villains are really misguided, confused, or simply (and sadly) stupid--I try to make my antagonists human and sympathetic. Because I understand that everyone struggles with weaknesses and fears, I always make my heros flawed. It enriches the story.

But there's another facet of my personality that enriches my stories, and I've been noticing this trait's existence with increasing trepidation the past few years.

Grad school was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I got into a bad head-space because of it. I wound up stressed, depressed and at times extremely angry, and that state lasted for four years. I'm mostly over it now, but the anger didn't exactly go away. It changed form.

Meet "Goblin", my inner bitch. She's the part of me that can give blistering critiques without guilt--and usually without forethought. She's the half of me that enjoys grading students' work when they've done poorly. Goblin relishes participating in an online mocking community, because she gets to act like a sarcastic cunt there.

I'm ashamed of this facet of my personality. I'm a life-long pacifist, and I work as a teacher--a profession where I believe patience is the most enabling and helpful tactic we can adopt. I believe in kindness as a way of life. Nothing makes me angrier than seeing people being mean or thoughtless to one another.

And yet, here's Goblin, who is extremely mean. I know the seed of her existed in me long before grad school, but she's well-defined and fully realized now, and she doesn't want to go away.

The question is, does Goblin have a valid place in my existence? Is she a good demon to have lurking in the back of my writer's brain?

One of the mantras of writing is "conflict on every page". I structure a lot of my dialogue as arguments (of varying civility) between characters. There's always tension, and there's usually snark. Goblin does that well. Sensitive character studies have their place in literature, but so does glorious, fangs-out bitchery. See Jane Austen.

I can make the argument that this darker aspect of my personality is harmless if I give it valid outlets, such as my writing or the mocking community (which attempts to ensure those mocked never find out about it). If I let Goblin have her fun, then I can, the rest of the time, be a positive and supportive person in everything that matters.

The problem is, it doesn't work that way. If I let Goblin out regularly, she starts sneaking out when she's not welcome. For example, I said something sharp to a student the other day, and that is not acceptable. I feel badly about it, and I'm annoyed at myself. This student happens to be a dick, but that's beside the point--how you treat people has nothing to do with who they are; it has to do with who you are. And I don't like who I was that day.

I haven't got a tidy conclusion or lesson to pull out of this post; this is something I'm struggling with. How deeply do you explore negativity? Do you have to occasionally kick your darker stories (and impulses) back into their corner to keep them from infecting your whole life? And if you do, does that weaken your writing? Are you strangling your career to protect your mental well-being? (If you are, it's the right choice, but I'm not really persuaded that writing nasty stories is bad for you.)

For now, I'm letting Goblin out on a short leash, and watching her closely, because I'm learning things. They're not fun lessons, however. I had to apologize to someone recently for a thoughtless comment, and I've lost a blogging buddy over something I still feel justified in saying, even if I regret the consequences. On the mocking community, I've found situations where it stops feeling like happy snarking and starts feeling like spite. There's a line between having a strong opinion and being a jerk, and Goblin--disturbing as she is--is teaching me exactly where that is.


What's your advice and opinion regarding this issue? Where do you, personally, draw the line between what you're willing to think about, and what you're not, in order to create a strong story? Have you ever abandoned a work because you didn't like what it was doing to your state of mind?

Or do you find getting those disturbing stories on the page actually lightens your mood, purges you of negative emotions? Is it a positive thing, for you, when you explore the darkest corners of your own mind? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Squealing like a squealy thing | Book Roast!

I'm am completely geeking for this beautiful object:

If you've ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you think you know what you're looking at.

But you don't.

This is a 20-sided die from the second century. It's Roman, it's made of glass, and it's about five centimetres (two inches) across.

I'm squealing like a love-struck piglet over this thing because wow! Who knew the ancient Romans played D&D? We waaaaaants it, my preciousss, we does...


And if you haven't already heard from all and sundry, a new blog has debuted to toast and roast the bravest of writers and their fine, fine books. Please click over to the Book Roast, where the abuse fun starts on Monday, and this week's victims guests of honour include:

Bernita Harris (Weirdly) - June 23
Therese Fowler (Souvenir) - June 24
Dennis Cass (Head Case) - June 25
Erica Orloff (The Roofer) - June 26
Doreen Orion (Queen of the Road) - June 27

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Seeing Opportunities

Warning: I discuss blood and gore here, in a modestly graphic way. Thou hast been warnéd.

I'm televisionally-challenged. El Husbando and I haven't lived in a house with a TV for about a decade. Thus, when we go to a friend's home to watch movies, it's quite a treat.

We saw Cloverfield last night, and I really enjoyed it, but the movie featured one cliché that annoys me in horror/thriller films. Someone gets a deep gash or bite, and then they proceed to run around. Okay, sure, when the ghoulie-monster is after you, you must run or die--but at some point you must also keel over from blood loss.

When I had gum grafts done, I made the mistake of walking down the street afterward. I got two blocks and then had to start spitting out mouthfuls of blood. From walking. The periodontist had stitched me up tight, but a sedate amble down the sidewalk set me leaking again. There is no way Susie Hero who got impaled through the shoulder should be able to run full tilt for three blocks, even on pure adrenaline. At the very least, she should wind up with her sweatshirt soaked red, her face drained grey, and in such deep shock she can't remember her own name. And then she should spend the rest of the movie deflated in her hidey-hole, incapable of even standing up.

And while I'm on the subject, movie injuries never seem to hurt enough. If I whack my finger in the cupboard door, it leaves me cranky and inclined to whine. In House of Wax, the main character has someone sew her mouth shut and snip the end of her finger off with bolt-cutters. Then she escapes, runs around heroically and makes coherent verbal plans with her brother.

Um...shouldn't she be whimpering in pain every time she has to move her lips? Shouldn't she grimace occasionally, or look down at the stump of her finger and burst into horrified tears? The lack of snivelling strikes me as unrealistic.

There are rich opportunities to be had in refusing to use narrative conveniences in your work. I wrote a story once that featured a character fainting from blood loss while he was trying to get himself to safety. It upped the tension of the story beautifully to have him slipping around, thinking flakey thoughts and occasionally waking up on the floor while the emergency gets worse around him. Keeping the situation realistic didn't just increase the stakes, either; it also gave me another level of conflict. People who suffer sudden blood loss become insanely, intolerably thirsty. When my protagonist was almost to safety, I had him spot a water faucet. Oh, the dilemma.

Writer Brenda Carre passed along to me a bit of advice she got from Donald Maass; when you see something that annoys you in the books you read, put it into your own work and make sure you (unlike everyone else) get it right. Every time you see something that makes you go, "Yeah, right...", that's something you can use--it's a cliché or a plot convenience you can overturn in order to slap your reader with the verisimilitude of the worlds you create. It's something you can potentially shock the reader with when you flip their preconceived notions inside-out.

In other words, when you see a cliché in someone else's work, it's really an opportunity for your own. Use it!


What bits of illogic annoy you in books (and films)? Have you ever made a point of skewering that logic in your own work, or found a book that does so brilliantly? If you could convince Hollywood to flip one ubiquitous cliché inside-out, which one would it be? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sneaky Bastards

Who’s a sneaky bastard? Us writers. One of the most satisfying things to do to your readers is surprise them while still giving them the story ending that feels right. And surprises are built of sneakiness, because in order for the surprise to seem believable, it needs to be foreshadowed without the audience figuring out what’s coming.

To build a good surprise--the protagonist wiggles her way out of a seemingly impossible dilemma--I like to try to think up something involving non-linear cleverness, something that works but isn’t an obvious solution.

Example: In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara pulls down the curtains and gets herself a new dress to impress/fool Rhett with.

To build a nasty surprise, I try to engage in some paranoid fantasies. What’s the nastiest truth that can underlie what appears to be true?

Example: What if Heidi and Spencer only trash-talk Lauren Conrad to market Lauren’s name? After all, the nastier their comment, the more widely it will be reported, and while the public easily ignores advertising campaigns, everyone pays attention to a good cat-fight.

Building surprises is one of the things I find most fun about constructing a plot--what’s the most diabolical shocker I can create that is completely believable when viewed with hindsight? Terry Pratchett said that writing is the most fun anyone can have alone, and when I find myself chortling over my own (hopefully successful) literary sneakiness, I agree with him.


What’s your favourite bit of writer-perpetrated sneakiness? Please feel free to mention either your own or another writer’s. I'd love to hear about the best jaw-dropper you’ve ever encountered, or created, in a story.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Another Reason Why S/He's Just Not That Into You

I'm reading Stephen King's The Stand, and my impressions so far are about what you would expect: it's well-written, the characters are empathetic, and the story pulls you along from page to page.

But it's scary, darn it. The faceless man who stares out of the cornfield in people's dreams? Eep.

I don't think this is even supposed to be one of Mr. King's more terrifying books. I'm just a wimp. But this has got me thinking about why certain people won't read certain genres.

One reason people read is for catharsis. We test-drive emotions we often wouldn't want in real life, like the angst and relief of a good romance, the terror and relief of a good horror, or the tension and relief of a good thriller. However, there are certain emotions some of us don't enjoy, even as a voyeur, even if there is relief waiting at the end of the book.

Here's a non-literary example of this effect: I love rock climbing, but only if I trust my rope setup and belay partner. There's something glorious about being balanced on a wall of warm, silver stone and being able to look back over your shoulder at some incredibly view of mountains, sea and sky. You're all alone up there and that view is all for you.

However, if you pair me with a belay partner whose skills I'm not confident in, my pleasure evaporates. Suddenly I have sweaty fingers and I'm too tense, which makes my muscles tire too quickly. I don't pause to enjoy the view because all I want is to get safely back on the ground. I do not climb for the thrill of it, because I don't enjoy fear.

Hence, I'm not enjoying the scary bits of The Stand. Terror is not an emotion I like to dabble in, even for fun.

It's strange that to enjoy a book, we have to be able to suspend our sense of disbelief and really feel the emotions of the story, yet not feel them so intensely that the story becomes too devastating to tolerate. There's a reason why the publishing industry wouldn't touch terrorism stories for a long time after 9/11; most editors and agents live in New York and work in Manhattan. They were there. The subject wasn't something they could enjoy; they didn't have any emotional distance from it.

I think it's best to aim for emotional truth in your writing, because un-involving stories have no chance on the market, but when your subject matter is both dark and intense, that can limit your audience. It's up to you as an artist to decide where the line is drawn, but there is merit to having the really rough stuff happen off the page. To become a hit, a story must resonate with a large number of people, but at the same time, it cannot stir up feelings that the majority of those people can't handle.


What emotional situations do you lap up when you read a book, and does that inform your book choices? Which situations make you hate even a well-written book? I'd love to hear your (darkest, scariest) thoughts!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dreams and Storytelling

Why do we love stories? I think humanity's passion for storytelling is due to the way the brain learns new things.

Researchers have found the following: If you teach a new task to a group of people, and that night disturb the sleep of half the group in such a way that they aren't able to dream, the non-dreaming group won't remember how to perform the task the next day. The dreaming group will--and will still remember how to perform it years later, too. We need to dream in order to learn.

And what's a dream? It's your brain telling itself a story.

Here's some of the most important things human beings do with their minds (while awake):
1) We figure out the logic that underlies the world we see
2) We find solutions to our problems
3) We witness the struggles of others, and when we see someone else come up with a good idea, we recognize it as such and appropriate it for our own use

If you think about what a story is, it's a narrative which describes a person figuring out a solution to a problem and thereby coming to a greater understanding of their self or their world. In other words, your protagonist is performing activities (1) and (2) above, while your reader is engaged in activity (3).

There's obviously more than that involved in the enjoyment of stories, but I do think the reason we like them in the first place is because we evolved to watch others and try to learn from them. If you think about humanity's most ancient forms of storytelling, they were usually lessons, and they always tried to make sense of both the world and the human condition.

A story is a conscious dream. We love stories because we're all hungry to know how to navigate our lives, and that's what dreams are for--literally. Dreaming is what builds our understanding of the world.


Does that theory seem reasonable to you? Does it sound insane? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! And remember that dissent is always welcome here, so long as it's polite. :-)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Comedy and Karma

Human beings are social creatures, and that means we have in-built mechanisms that protect and nurture society. We have a sense of fairness, and we're usually kind and generous. We also are capable of empathy--we can look at another human being and see ourselves there, or at least see what we might have been had we lived that other person's life.

When a writer creates a story, that writer must establish the reader's empathy with the protagonist. If the audience doesn't connect via their hearts to the hero, they can't sustain the energy required to keep reading the book.

So you always want to go groping after reader empathy, right? That's always a good thing to get? Not always, actually; there's one important exception.

If you're writing comedy, reader empathy can be a bad thing. No one laughs if they believe someone innocent really got hurt.

The film A Fish Called Wanda has a scene where a concrete block falls on and kills a small, yappy dog. The director filmed two versions of that scene, one where you see a lone paw twitching under the massive block, and another where you see the same thing except with blood and guts leaking out. When the movie was shown to test audiences, the “clean” version got laughs. The gory version made the audience go utterly silent. “Poor doggie” was the wrong response, so the tidier death is the one featured in the finished movie.

Humour is very often about rage and pain. Think about Dennis Miller's routines--the guy is furious and he's verbally attacking everything that makes him angry. Now think about John Cleese's skits, many of which investigate all the myriad, humiliating ways in which life hurts. No wonder comedy is tricky; you have to take anger and turn it into someone else's laughter. You have to depict pain and evoke derision, not sympathy. People are basically nice, so this isn't easy.

If you want your readers to laugh, you have to communicate that the comedy didn't really hurt anyone who counts.

“[D]idn't really hurt” means it's fine to drop the loveable protagonist into the piranha tank if she comes out with only a single fish attached to her nose. It's okay for the hero to get frothing mad if he externalizes his anger and goes on an absurd attack; the reader knows he isn't going to have lasting psychological damage from his anger.

“[A]nyone who counts” means if the villain is so nasty we think he deserved his pain, we don't feel bad about giggling at his grisly downfall. If the person who blundered into the wedding cake and came up slathered in icing with a small groom sticking out of her ear is so ridiculous that we have no empathy for her, then we'll happily guffaw at her humiliation.

Which brings me back to humanity's innate sense of fairness. Jim Butcher's excellent articles on writing note that the key to delivering a satisfying conclusion to the reader is to deliver poetic justice to your characters. Those who make selfish or stupid decisions are punished. Those who make wise and selfless decisions are rewarded. Humans really are built to believe in justice, and we love to see stories where our sense of what is right is upheld. We like seeing karma in action.

So when you write comedy, think carefully about how much audience empathy each character has, then deliver no more misery than what the audience believes that character deserves. If you don't provide poetic justice, then no matter how wonderful the rest of your story was, the reader puts your book down with the nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. It can kill the positive word-of-mouth your writing might have elicited from that reader otherwise.


How have you handled humour in your writing? In your stories, what got the laughs? Did you show ridiculous behaviour, or did you skewer ridiculous behaviour? Did you let the reader recognize something familiar but funny, or did you show them the familiar and then twist all their perceptions, i.e. deliver the equivalent of a punchline? What humour techniques work for you?


Curses and alas, I am tagged by the very talented Julie Weathers!

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

A Meme about Various Things

What were you doing ten years ago?

Graduating university wearing strappy, sexy five-inch heels I eventually regretted.

(Recall from the last meme I am six feet tall in my socks. I like dressing up girly once in a while, but high heels are always a mistake. I frighten small children and look like a drag queen.)

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

Pee (don't laugh; that's first on my list of things to do in the morning)
Don't get distracted from writing by the shiny internet (Doh!)
Get dressed at some point

What are some snacks you enjoy?

Most variations on the theme of carbohydrates and fat

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Set up a charity that provides birth control for free to those who can't afford it--particularly those in poverty-stricken countries where being able to control how many kids you have, and when, might give you a fighting chance of making sure all your children live to adulthood.

Either that or set up my own space program.

What are three of your bad habits?

Most variations on the theme of carbohydrates and fat
Laziness Procrastination
Doing hermit imitations

What are five places where you have lived?

(I shall keep this vague, since I don't believe in giving out too much personal information on the internet.)
The prairies
The arctic
The prairies again
Here where there be mountains and ocean and culture, oh my!
(There isn't a fifth one)

What are five jobs you have had?

Paper carrier
Cleaning lady
The photocopier's sex-slave
Assembly technician for the BaBar drift chamber, now installed at SLAC
Laboratory instructor

What were the last five books you read?

See here.

What are five web sites you visit daily (in no particular order)?


What, I'm supposed to pick just five? Inconceivable!

What’s playing on your iPod right now?

iPod? Wazzat?

I'm supposed to tag five people. Won't! Shan't! But if you'd like to do this meme, feel free and drop me a comment here; I'll link to your post.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Congratulations with sprinkles on top to Stuart Neville, a.k.a Conduit for not just getting an agent, but getting Nat Sobel as an agent! Squee!

It couldn't have happened to a nicer fellow, but it's also hardly a surprise, because Stuart's writing is just that darned good. I hope to be buying his books soon!

Everyone rattle your pom-poms and give it up for Conduit! YAYSES AND HURRAH!


And in other news, real life is kickin' my butt this week. My apologies for not getting a post up this weekend and my deepest genuflects and grovellings for not having replied to anyone's comments in a while.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Evaporating Pigeons

The principle of conservation of matter is being challenged by pigeons.

Allow me to back up.

Last year, a pigeon laid an egg on our deck. Yes, some people hate pigeons, but we thought mommy-pigeon was quite adorable. Unfortunately, one day while we were at work, the egg tipped off its precarious perch and broke. Mommy-pigeon then disappeared.

And so did the egg shells.

We found the yolk and white lying in a puddle on our deck that evening, but no shells. And just how does a pigeon sweep up and dispose of broken egg shells?

Flash forward to this year. Another pigeon (or perhaps the same one?) laid an egg in one of our planters. We were again charmed, and put out birdseed and a water dish for her. Her mate popped by regularly to trade off on the egg-sitting with her, and we became one big happy pigeon-human family (meaning they probably thought of us as the embarrassing in-laws who kept dropping by to visit.)

According to The Great Spider-God of Wisdom (Google), the gestation period of pigeon eggs would put hatching day

Today, I peeped over the shrubbery to check how mommy-pigeon was doing and found--


No Pigeon. No pigeon-baby. No egg. No egg shells.

Solid pigeon (as opposed to liquid pigeon) is apparently capable of de-materializing.

Egads; no wonder they seemed poised to take over the world. Next time you get pooped on by a bird you didn't see? Consider the possibility that you couldn't have seen it. They're breeding stealth-pigeons, I tell you.


All silliness aside, I feel a bit down tonight. A childhood friend just called to let me know her dad passed away last night. He had only been ill for about a month and was certainly too young to go. He was also a wonderful fellow--joyful, zany, warm-hearted and ferociously loyal to his family, and he never let adversity even faze him. He had a weak leg due to having polio as a child, but he wore shorts and went hiking regardless. If the leg gave out and sent him tumbling, he'd be back up and laughing about it in a second. I'll really miss him.

Happy journeys, Doug. They've got an awesome walking stick and a brand new leg waiting for you in heaven; you're going to love it there.

Friday, May 02, 2008

You Are All So Frighteningly Talented!

First of all, thank you to Travis Erwin, who not only entered the Happy 100 contest but also linked to it and thereby brought some very talented writers (including himself) here. I really appreciate it, Travis!

Eight brave souls oiled up their sleekest 100-word flash fiction, dressed it in its finest spandex and spurs, then hurled it into the ring to scrum for the not completely lame prize of the Happy 100 contest!

And they were all so darned good. If you haven't already, please go read the entries and give the authors some well-deserved adulation. I was truly impressed with the high quality of the submissions and found it hard to choose a winner. I liked each and every story--so well done, competitors!

There's only one winner, but I've picked two runners-up also because I loved their stories so much I'd like the excuse to say so publicly. Unfortunately, the runners-up don't get any prize other than being added to my blog roll. *points to the right*

Drum-roll, please.

In third place, with this wonderfully funny story:

Mom In Scrubs!

In second place, with this also-hysterical story:

Reid Kerr!

And, without any further pregnant pauses to drive you out of your mind with impatience, the winning entry is this atmospheric bit of creepy-beautiful, which is brain-squeezings of:

Josh Vogt!

Congratulations Josh! I agree with Writtenwyrdd's comment: I love that haunting last line. Please email me at:


and let me know what email address you'd like me to send your Amazon gift certificate to.

Thank you to everyone who entered; this was great fun and I really was thrilled with the quality of the entries. Come back in another 100 posts to try again! :-D

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Happy 100

This is my 100th blog post. Hurrah!

I missed my 1-year blogiversary by a few weeks, but hey--we're all still hungover from Evil Editor's rawkin' party, so the oversight comes as a massive relief to our virtual livers, I'm sure.

To celebrate my blog's odometer ticking over to zeroes again, I propose a contest! And to make it really interesting, I propose:

(Picture that in blinky font; I dunno how to do blinky font.)

Aaaaand because I'm po' the prizes are in fact a prize, and a chintzy one at best: a $15CAD gift certificate to Amazon for the winner.

But you're all slavering like crazed beasts, right? You're pulsating in anticipation 'cause it's free, darn it, and free is like candy wrapped in bacon dipped in maple syrup and slathered with cream cheese, right?

Okay, so you're not quite that excited. Regardless! Here's the contest:

Write me a story exactly 100 words long. Being even one word too long or too short disqualifies you, although I will be lenient about sketchy cases like hyphenated composite nouns (e.g. "ten-year-old".)

Post it in the comments; you retain all rights (unless Blogger steals 'em; I haven't checked their fine print.)

The story can be about anything you like, and the winner will be chosen by the thoroughly dodgey criterion of having been the story I liked best (humour is always a safe bet.) Commenters may sway me with their eloquent online votes. There is no limit on the number of times you can enter!

Tell your friends. Tell your neighbours. Tell that hairy guy at the bus stop who wears no pants under his trench coat.

The deadline is Friday, May 2nd, 7 PM Pacific Daylight Time (i.e. expect whiny snivelling and self-pity from me if nobody enters by then.) The winner will need to provide me with an email address to send the gift certificate to.

*Grins wildly and fires the starter's pistol*

Fine Print: Comments on the stories are encouraged, but only if they are complimentary, i.e. this is not a critique session, so all negative comments--even if constructive and polite--will be deleted. Only say nice stuff, okay? Okay. Thanks for your cooperation, guys!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ode to an Evil Editor

Oh, Evil Editor, breaker of hearts, scourge of the querily-challenged, snarky friend to writers--happy two-year anniversary, O Hallowed Bearer of the Sideburns of Sarcasm! Who loves ya, baby? WE DO! WE DO!

Genesis of an Evil Editor

There once was a harried poor editor
Who frothed at the queries coming in his door
He told the authors they stank,
And their writing was rank
But the fools just flocked back for more

"You're so funny!" they squealed,
"And you give us feedback for real!
O Editor, it's you we adore!"

So he rolled bloodshot eyes
And heaved a great sigh
Then gave in and put on some horns

Now Evil rules all it surveys
And in blogland, the writers chant and sway
Adoring their Editor
Whose eyeballs are still sore
But whose blue pen bad queries will slay!

(Speaking of blogversaries, I missed my own by several weeks. My next post will be my 100th, however, so I'll do something special for that one.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I've been tagged, dagnabbit! Please pop by Merry Monteleone's site to read her six interesting facts, but I warn you--her first entry will make you crave sugary badness liek woah. I'm still salivating.

The rules:

a. Link to the person who tagged you.
b. Post the rules on your blog.
c. Write six random things about yourself.
d. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
e. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment at their blog.
f. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.

Six Weird Things About Me:

1: I'm allergic to pretty much all food. Really. I would die without medicine.
2: I'm really good at drawing and painting, enough so that everyone assumed (when I was a kid) I would become an artist. Instead, I got a master's degree in Physics.
3: You've heard that most people dream in black and white? It isn't true. We all dream in colour but most of us forget the colours. Me, however? I remember my dreams in vivid, amazing colour--but I forget all the sound. I know people speak and even sing in my dreams, but I always remember the dreams as being silent.
4: Speaking of sound, I have a lot of trouble remembering things someone says to me; if they write it down and show it to me, I can often memorize the information at a glance.
5: I can't whistle. I've been trying to figure it out since childhood; I just can't make that sound.
6: How appropriate is this for the sixth fact? I stand six feet tall in my socks.

Tag six people? Oh...I always hate doing that. I'm the dork who (bravely! It's brave! Bad luck, and all, ya know.) breaks chain letters, too.

Instead, I'll just leave this as an open tag. If Six Weird Things sounds like a fun thing to do on your blog, considered yourself tagged! And if you let me know you've snatched up that gauntlet, I'll link to your blog here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

If You Decided to Do It, Then It's Valid

What makes a book "publishable"?

We're told all that's required to get published is that we write a good book, but what does "good" mean?

I define "good" in this context to mean "enjoyable to others", but that's where the diversity of humanity comes in, because different people enjoy wildly different things. One person will read anything that has a great voice; another insists on an exciting plot; another wants magnificent writing foremost. One person's "good" is another person's "trashy drivel" or "pompous navel-gazing".

So if "good" can mean many things, what does "publishable" mean?

"Publishable" means the publisher can make a profit on that book. You can be a weak writer on a variety of fronts, and if there are enough people out there willing to buy your work, then it's publishable.

Conversely, you can be a spectacular writer and have your work still not be publishable. If there's only twenty-three people in the world brilliant enough to enjoy your writing, then it's not publishable.

But it's still worthy.

Your writing is valid, and valuable, even if it's not publishable. What you are doing has worth, even if it isn't considered to be worth money. By writing, you are sharpening your opinions and purging your emotional poisons. You are exercising your mind and proving your abilities to yourself. You're making worlds out of pure imagination, and that's pretty freakin' awesome, even if it isn't saleable.

By writing, you're engaging in one of only a handful of pursuits that make human beings great. Seriously: what you're doing is part of why you deserve to be called a person. This makes you alive in a way that simply eating and breathing don't. Compared to this, money is beside the point.

So keep writing and keep creating--and good luck in your pursuit of publication, too, because it's not like that isn't a worthy endeavour. Anything that helps you to become your best is; just remember that it's the writing that makes you amazing--not whether or not other people are willing to buy it.


And in other news, a pigeon laid an egg on our deck. :-)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Is It Rude to Point? Not in Blogger-Land!

Time to point and stare! Well--I'll point, and you stare. Hopefully, you'll participate also.

The Happy Cat, Merry Monteleone, is graciously hosting a pitch/query workshop on her blog. Submit your query or pitch in the comments, and Merry will give you her thoughts and suggestions on it. This is a great opportunity to get a cold reading from a very warm-hearted fellow writer! Please pop by Merry's site and join the fun.

And speaking of fun, if you have a questionable sense of humour, Ello has the contest for you! It's the Pee-My-Pants Funny contest. Write a (250 words max.) short story for Ello, or caption a photograph for her, but whatever you do, your mission is to make Ello laugh so hard she pees her pants. (Please read her instructions on how to submit.)

I have no idea if this is a simple task or not, but the fun is in the trying! And there are prizes... (But not urine-related ones, thankfully.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I'm hardly a new-agey, spirits-and-crystals type. I'm more of a hard-edged, point-and-mock science geek. However, I've really noticed that my mental state makes a huge difference to my creative output. The new-agey types may now point-and-mock back at me for this astounding revelation. Energy matters.

Since getting an agent, I've made a lot of progress on plotting my next novel. It had been going very slowly prior to that.

I'm certain this is mostly due to the excitement of feeling like my writing career is going somewhere again. I started sleeping less; I started getting more ideas for the book. I also feel like I've got an obligation to get cracking on the next novel now, since there is another human being in the world who is expecting me to. However, most of the progress is simply due to a jump in my mental energy.

In this post, Josh links to David B. Coe's list of habits writers should acquire, and the top two are exercise and healthy eating. If you think about it, these are just ways to keep yourself mentally at the top of your game. You're more likely to feel like writing if you've got more energy.

The one thing I would add to Mr. Coe's list is to keep yourself well stimulated (hur, hur.) (Okay, no, I didn't really mean it that way.) (Although... If you write erotica, that sort of activity might come in handy useful to your writing also.)

Rather than holing up in your writing spot all the time, give yourself opportunities to go to movies, go for walks with friends and sweeties, read books, and visit museums and art galleries. Heck, go ahead and give yourself permission to play computer games in moderation; some of them have awesome and inspiring story lines. All of it serves to keep your brain zippy and inspired, and that will only benefit your writing.


What do you do to keep yourself in top writing form, and what techniques would you suggest to other writers as being particularly effective? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks.

Real Life - Nothing to See Here; Move Along, Move Along

This is all pedestrian real-life stuff, so feel free to pass on by. My attempted-weekly writing post will be up after this.


Real Life 1:
We got a new computer--and a sleek and sexy beast it is, too--and we also bought an enclosure for our old hard drive, which means I've now got access to all the files I had potentially lost. Hurrah! No lost writing.


Real Life 2:
Although I could not possibly top the hilariously nerve-wracking and fearful experience Ello recently had at the dentist, I am currently also feeling like the dentists are out to get me.

I've never minded going to the dentist. You lie back in that comfy chair with a bright light shining on your face and it's almost as relaxing as lying on a beach--provided you can ignore having a stranger's hands in your mouth, which I can.

However, I had a molar break recently. This is the second one in a little over a year, which is disturbing for a person who has never had much trouble with her teeth before. Apparently it's due to old silver amalgum fillings, which eventually begin to flex. Unfortunately, your teeth aren't particularly flexible.

The dentist decided to put in a crown this time. The session that saw my original tooth filed to an itty-bitty stub and the temporary crown glued on was...less relaxing than lying on a beach, shall we say.

Apparently I have a muzzle. My jaw is small, yet long. It doesn't help that the freezing makes my muscles tighten up. Thank goodness my dentist has small hands, or she would have had to saw my jaw off and fix that damned tooth on the counter top instead. Regardless, I left the first session feeling manhandled, snivelling, and so numb I could barely speak.

This week, she tried to put in the permanent crown. Tried. Twice. She made a heroic attempt, I must admit. Then she put the temporary crown back on and informed me the lab had made a mistake and they would have to recast the crown. Thus, I left the second session manhandled, snivelling, so numb I could barely speak, and with nothing to show for it except another appointment.

As it happened, my regular check-up and cleaning was scheduled for the day after the permanent crown was supposed to go in. That went well except for the hygienist saying, "You've got a lot of recession. You really need to go to a periodontist and get gum grafts." Hmm; lovely. I've had those before. They are also not quite as relaxing as lying on the beach. Then the dentist came in and did her checkup and said, "You've got another tooth cracking. You'll need another crown in the next few years." Ooh, even better.

So now I've got another week of squishy foods, which isn't bad in that I'm using as justification for eating squishy foods I love, like humous and pesto sauce. I'm also not nearly as bad off as poor Travis, in that I can actually have things that require chewing, provided I chew gently and on the correct side of my mouth.

So are the dentists out to get me? I don't know, but they are getting a lot of insurance money out of me. Thank goodness they're all such lovely people, or I really would start dreading the dentist chair.

Oh, wait; I've still got that appointment on Friday to go through, don't I? *trembles*

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Late Night Ramblings, Ahoy!

First, a tangent. Actually, this whole post is a tangent.

Graduate school was the hardest thing I ever did. It wasn't just intellectually challenging, it was emotionally devastating. I worked in a great lab with great people and my supervisor was arguably the nicest human being on the face of the Earth, but I was confronted daily with the limits of my own abilities. And that experience was nine pleasing shades of hell on my ego. I was miserable.

But there's one thing I did during that time that I'm proud of. I owned my failures.

It's fairly common to witness frustrated writers getting angry at the query system--at the "gatekeepers" of publishing who bar them from the industry based on a whim and a one-page letter. I'm not going to discuss whether these writers have a valid point; I'm only going to note that this isn't a useful mindset. For one thing, it's not healthy to get angry at something you can't change, and on a deeper level, that mindset will cause you to miss opportunities for future success.

Events (and sometimes people) will always get in the way of you reaching a difficult goal. If you suffer a failure, you may be completely correct in blaming outside circumstances for it.

However, you can't stop there. You shouldn't think, "It's their fault," and then hop in the hot tub of sulk. You have to go one step farther if you want a better chance of reaching your goal on the next attempt.

That one step consists of owning every part of the failure that you can. Don't blame yourself for the things you really can't control, but everything you can accept responsibility for? Humbly nod and say, "Yup. That part was my doing." The query letter? Own it. Sample pages? Own them. The presentation, the manuscript, the way you spelled someone's name? Own all that. It's not relevant whether the person receiving the query should have been more forgiving of your naivety--own those parts that you were responsible for.

The reason why is simple: if you blame others for a failure, then by that logic, there's nothing you can do to make things better. You're impotent; you're helpless; you're irrevocably held down by The Man.

However, if you accept responsibility for every part of the failure that you can, then you've admitted to yourself there's something you can do--something you can improve on for next time. You've given yourself the means to keep fighting. You can now concentrate your energy on everything you can change, rather than everything you can't.

Blaming your failures on outside obstacles is always easier on the ego, but please decide which is more important to you--your goals or your ego? In order to learn from your failure, you have to own it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My Query Letter to Ms. Wood

Due to overwhelming demand (i.e. Julie and Josephine), I've posted the query letter I originally sent to my (*tra la!* My. Hee!) agent, Eleanor Wood of Spectrum Literary Agency, below.

A few things first, however. A lot of my excellent and brilliant blogging buddies helped me hone this version of the letter in this post, and I really want to thank them again for their input and fine suggestions. Every one of their comments was useful, helpful and made me think carefully about what I was doing in the letter, line by line. This query wouldn't have been nearly as strong without their kind assistance.

Also, as a caveat, I have to say I don't actually think the query letter was the thing that kicked me over the last hurdle. This manuscript got rejected by almost thirty agents before I got an acceptance, and most of those rejections were form letter passes. This is what I think really made the difference:

I had the good fortune of having Nathan Bransford, a literary agent for Curtis Brown, Ltd., critique my query letter and sample pages on his blog in December. His reaction was basically, "Nice query letter; your pages don't work." He then gave me very specific comments about what the issues were, and his blog and mySpace readers chimed in with their thoughts also.

And dang, it was painful, but he (and they) were so very, very right. His critique did what all good critiques do: it made me see into my own blind spot. I balled up in wibbley self-doubt for a period of time, but then I sat down with my opening scene and rewrote that puppy within an inch of its life.

I queried four more agents with the new pages, and one of those agents was Ms. Wood.

I think my query letter was strong (thank you, blogging buddies!), but I'm certain the rewrite is what made the difference. (By the way, when I thanked Mr. Bransford again for his help, his reply really cemented my opinion that he is one heck of a class act. All of you aspiring writers: query Nathan first! He would make a fantastic agent for you.)

That all said, here's the query I sent to Ms. Wood:

Dear Ms. Wood,

Arthur C. Clarke said sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In DARK HEIR, my 94,000 word science fantasy novel, a damaged A.I. litters the world with unstable "magical" guardians to protect a peace that failed thousands of years ago.

Katirin is a princess of such embarrassing parentage her family forced her into a convent to get her out of the royal succession. She just discovered that the convent's priestesses, who share a communal mind and seek only to increase their numbers, aren't holy women serving God, but empty husks puppeteered by what Katirin believes is a demon. If she doesn't escape, the creature will devour her soul.

For Katirin, however, evading telepathic priestesses and her irate family isn't enough. She can see the demon's hunger will one day destroy the nation she should have ruled, so Katirin vows to stop the creature--but how do you kill a demon that lives in a thousand bodies? And what if the monster turns out to be the most benign weapon humanity ever created?

DARK HEIR reads like fantasy but with a science fiction twist that makes it unlike any book on the market today. I'm deeply impressed by your agency's client list (Lynn Flewelling is a particular favorite, thanks to her Nightrunner series) and I hope you will consider my novel for representation.

I am a physicist, visual artist and rock climber. DARK HEIR is my first novel and is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration; I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

*floating on air*



an agent.


The only reason you're not facing a half-page of blithering gibberish right now is because I had a few days between the offer of representation and actually chatting with the agent and saying yes. So I've calmed down a bit. Not much, but a bit. Whoa, was it hard keeping my mouth shut until now.

I'm delighted to be able to tell you that Eleanor Wood of Spectrum Literary Agency has agreed to represent my novel DARK HEIR.

I don't have much else to say at the moment except blithering gibberish and another heart-felt *SQUEEEEEEE!*, so I think I'll go caper around on the ceiling again.

Blog Roll Call!

It's about time I put up a list of all my blogging buddies on the sidebar, isn't it, Y/Y?

The reason why it happened NOW is frankly that I've been missing you all terribly. When our main computer died, I lost my more-dependable brain all my website bookmarks. Thus, if you're wondering why Goblin hasn't been hanging out with you lately, and thinking it's something you did or maybe a symptom of an abruptly-developing dental issue, I assure you--it's only that I've been wandering in the wilds of the internet for the last week going, "Hellooo? Helloooo? Guys?"

Hah! Let blogger's server be my substitute brain henceforth. So; have I got everyone? If I've missed you accidentally, drop me a comment and I'll add your blog or website to the list! (If you have more than one blog, please let me know which one you want linked.)

And in other writing news...

...I'll have more to say later today.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

*Gnashing of Teeth*

On the plus side, I have backups for my data that are recent to a month ago.

On the plus side, the version of my manuscript that I sent to an agent recently--less than a month ago, in fact--is backed up to diskette.

On the plus side, our new computer is going to be super speedy and awesome.

On the minus side, I've lost all the writing I've done on my new book unless we can save our old hard drive.


My apologies for my lack of recent posts; I shall try to get back to once-weekly natterings soon!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Archetypes With a Side Order of Vampires and Elves

Any time a type of character becomes popular in fiction, there's a reason why. That character is resonating with something universal in the subconsciouses of its audience.

I think there's merit in writers trying to work out why certain character types do this. If you understand why an archetype resonates with the audience, you can either exploit that to create deeply compelling characters, or eviscerate it to forge a potent social satire. Either way, the reader is going to remember your book.

In this post, Jaye talks about why we love vampires. This is a wonderful bit of serendipity because it's a subject I've been thinking about recently. About a week ago, I came to a conclusion about why we like those sexy, gorgeous vampires so prevalent in urban fantasy. (And on the heels of that conclusion came a story idea. Yippee!) Here's how I explained it in Jaye's comment trail:

I think we like vampires for the same reason we are envious of Paris Hilton's lifestyle. We wish we were perfect, beautiful, powerful, desired and esteemed. We want to live a life of pleasure and excess without any moral reservations. We desire an existence containing all of life's pleasures and none of its pain or responsibility.

In other words, we want to be greedy, shallow and evil without feeling guilty about it or paying for it. And we want this state of affairs forever.

Or to put the same idea in less charged terms, I think we love vampires because they are humanity's most selfish dreams personified.

Of course, that's only one possible explanation. People have lots of reasons for liking vampires--one of the foremost being that bad boys make tremendously sexy love interests, and you can't get badder than a predator.

The best thing about thinking about what makes a certain archetype popular is that if your explanation is right, you will create a story that socks the reader in the gut, and if you're wrong, your story leaves readers impressed with your imaginative re-invention of a character type they thought they'd seen every iteration of. It's a win-win situation for a writer.

As a side-note, I think Tolkien-style elves are popular for reasons similar to vampires', except they lack the component of evil. Tolkien's elves were also beautiful, esteemed and basically immortal. They also didn't seem to have to deal with life's pain, and their responsibilities were clearly not troublesome to them. Like vampires, they lived an apparently graceful existence; the elves weren't bad-asses, however.

This reflects the audience. Some readers respond better to the idea of being perfect and without care, so long as that doesn't mean without morals. For these people, elves rule.


What are your favourite stock characters in fiction? Which ones always capture your heart even though you've seen them in a hundred different guises? Can you pinpoint why they affect you that way? Can you parse what makes humanity in general respond to that kind of character?

And since we're on the subject, are you an elf person or a vampire person? (It's a little like being a dog or a cat person.) :-)

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: