Simple Pleasures of the First World

best things in life
best things in life
So many things that are great in life.

Ok, let’s face it, the world still kinda sucks. Omicron. Looming war. Only 6 episodes of The Expanse, season 6…

So, I thought I’d look in the other direction- a look at the good things.

Now, I get that I live a very privileged life in a very privileged part of the world, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be grateful for some of life’s simple pleasures.

Here are my top 10.

    1. A brand-new razor blade. Oh, the joy of how it glides over my skin and scythes down my feeble beard-like growths like it was a lightsaber. More blood, sure, but pure joy nonetheless.
    2. A cup of coffee at the perfect temperature. Too hot, and it burns. Too cool, and it’s like drinking coffee-flavoured milk that’s been out in the sun too long. Drinking that coffee at the perfect moment feels like I’ve ignited a heating coil in my throat that warms me all the way to my stomach, then, seconds later, the caffeine soars through my bloodstream like a jolt of pure joy. I imagine heroin is like this, which is why I’ve never tried it.
    3. A perfectly full dishwasher. All the dishes are in the right place, no space wasted, nothing left to rattle around. Sadly, I am the only one in the world with this amazing skill.
    4. Finding my keys in the same place I thought I’d left them. See, they tend to wander around when left alone, so it’s nice to see that they sometimes stay put. A bad day is when those keys are unfindable, my wallet is lost, and for some reason, I have misplaced my shoes.
    5. Crunching frosted grass under my feet. I know it’s another odd one, but it is so very satisfying to hear that sound and feel my foot sink into the semi-solid ground. So if you see me walking around my lawn on a frosty morning in my bathrobe and slippers, and giggling to myself, that’s why. Usually, anyway.
    6. Warm laundry on a cold day. If you’ve not put on warm jammies on a cold day, then, OMG, you’ve missed something. I imagine this is what happens in heaven or Bill Gates’ house (Here’s your warm PJs, Bill, now go buy up some more farmland so we can control food production.)
    7. The taco-smell of my dog’s feet. I know, I know, I could have gone with the smell of warm bread or fresh coffee or a new car or bacon, but as long as the Snoozadoodle has not stepped in poo or anything, that smell is oddly comforting. I suspect I was a dog in another life. A yappy, annoying one.
    8. Finding a good show. Honestly, finding one is rarer than finding an original, rocket-firing Boba Fett figure, so when I actually find something brilliant, I’m like a 3-year-old hopped up on Timbits watching Paw Patrol. It shouldn’t be so rare to find a show that creates a world I want to live in, that has a great villain, well-developed characters I love, powerful dialogue that sings, stunning visuals, epic the-heroes-cannot-win moments, near-perfect pacing, and scenes that will make me laugh or make me cry. The Expanse for me, this year. Dune, last year. Lord of the Rings, a billion years ago.
    9. A good sleep. I was going to say a good poo, (yes, I’m at that age, now), but man, a good night’s sleep is gold. Too often, as I get older and older, as all sorts of things sag and turn grey, I find it hard to sleep through the night. Stress, aches and pains, a need to pee (when I even dream of hunting for a place to pee), or the Snoozeadoodle hacking up a lung all combine to make it hard to have a good sleep. I can’t even imagine being a parent with a newborn.
    10. My family and friends. Sounds trite, right, but the truth is, having lost another good friend just before Christmas, I am grateful for the people still in my life, and for the experiences we share. In the end, life is less about happiness 24/7 and more about finding those rare moments of bliss and having people to share them with.

Thanks, as always, to everyone who takes the time to read this blog. It feels good to get back to writing. Plus, if I am ever to have a chance at getting published, I desperately need to get more people reading this blog.  So, weirdly enough, I need to write more.

However, please share if you like this content (or just want to punish your friends/family with something terrible) so I can continue to build my audience. 

 

 

 

 

 

Covid Cold 2022

omicron cookie monster

Is It A Cold?

omicron cookie monster
Nom nom.

There was a time, long ago, when people still believed in science, the media, and Disney that when you got a cold, it wasn’t a serious thing.

Now it’s a thing because, you know, it may be another thing.

See, it could be the new Covid variation – the deadly-sounding ‘Omicron variant.’ It has the exact same symptoms as a cold. The Covid numbers are insane because of the new, fun-loving mutation. In Canada, we are averaging 39,433 new cases a day.

However, those numbers are misleading because the high infection numbers have not equated into a high death count, thank Yoda, but those numbers have put stress on our healthcare system. Again.

Then, we all got a case of the sniffles.

In the old days, I’d just hunker down under a blanked, feel sorry for myself, and fill a garbage can with Kleenex as if I’m watching This Is Us. Meanwhile, The-Oldest would play his piano, The-Youngest would avoid school, and The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World would sanitize the house with the vigor of a Roomba hit by lightning (while listening to me complain about how terrible my man cold felt).

In the end, it was The-Youngest who got hammered the most.

Because of that, we had to take this seriously. We had to find a test kit, and The-Youngest had to stay home – which for him is like a junkie falling into a silo of cocaine. Sure he’s snotty and has a sore throat and we’re taking his temperature every 10 minutes, but being home means he can watch the Office for the 200th time.

Having used up the tests The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World got from work in late December, we had to book an appointment (which should be a lot easier but ends up being like booking an appointment with the Queen of England) and, worse, when we got to the testing site, well, they don’t actually do a test. Nope. They give us a test kit and told us to bugger off.

As well, we learned that we shouldn’t give The-Youngest the test until the third day of the symptoms. So, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World had to assume the worst and book off work until we knew the results of the test.

Great. Just great.

Now, this is not a fun test, like say, one of those history tests that crop up on my phone. Oh, no. This one involves stuffing a swab up your nose (like super far up your nose), rubbing it around inside your brain, crying a bit, then counting to 15 before shifting it to another nostril.

When we had our first scare, back in December, both The-Oldest and I hopped up and down, tears streaming from our eyes as we whisked our brains. The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, having birthed babies, dealt with migraines all her life, and played board games with us, was no stranger to pain and so took her test without flinching, crying or yelling “Is it 15 seconds yet????”

The-Youngest’s reaction was somewhere in between.

None of us tested positive.

And The-Youngest tested negative this time, too.

Whew!

Honestly, I’m not sure we’re going to dodge this variant. Omicron has infected about 50% of the people I know and infects the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, though it does seem like the unvaccinated have more severe reactions.

However, there is some good news here.

My hope is that the next variant, which is pi, and you know I love pie, will be a milder version still. Sort of like drinking watered-down coffee or watching a CW show.

And once it becomes no more than a bad cold or mild flu, then maybe we can get back to normal.

I miss normal.

Here’s hoping 2022 will honor my request to be a better year.

 

 

 

 

What Would You Ask of 2022?

2022 resolutions

Dear 2022,

2022 resolutions
It’s a brand new year. Is there hope down that road?

I know you’ve just come into existence, but the 2020 line has been a failure as bad as Hair in a Can so I wanted to give you a heads-up that we’re expecting more from you. A lot more.

As you may know, I’m not keen on New Year’s resolutions for myself, but that does not stop me from making a great list for everyone else.

So here is the top 10 list of things I’m hoping you will do better, 2022.

  • No world war. I know this should be an easy one, but with China acting like a panda that wants to eat everyone else’s trees and Russia stomping around like a bear wanting to poop all over the Ukraine, this one isn’t a given.
  • No great depression – ok, no massive financial crisis in general. Oh, I know there are a lot of challenges with runaway inflation, the ongoing pandemic, and the fact no one wants to pay me $1,000,000 for my novel, but still, you can do this. Nice and easy, 2022. Nice and easy.
  • No new pandemic out of China. Gosh, maybe just keep an eye on China in general. We’re nearly through this Covid19, so the last thing we need is some bird virus leaking from a lab that mutates us all into zombies or Maple Leaf fans.
  • Let the pandemic become an endemic like the regular flu. Sure, your predecessors had fun with variations but don’t let that be you, 2022. Be strong. You don’t need the pandemic to have fun.
  • Stop buggering around with all the travel bans. I love traveling. It fills me up like an extra-large chocolate milkshake with a cherry on top. I had to cancel our 2022 trip to Maui and I would very much like to see that this is the last cancelation. Ever.
  • queen of england
    Come on, look at that face? Who could not love that face. And hat.

    Don’t kill off the Queen. It’s her 70th year as regent. Her platinum jubilee. I mean, hell, 2021 took Betty White from us, so give us a break. Also, The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World’s baba wants to live to 102 (she’s 98). Let’s make that happen, too.

  • Don’t cancel the World Cup. Of soccer. Or football. Or whatever you call it. There’s nothing like watching countries that hate each other battle it out without the use of nuclear weapons or overly harsh tweets. Oh, and if you’re really feeling up for something special, something almost impossible to do, have Scotland win.
  • No more rubbish weather. We had epic floods in the Sumas Valley, forest fires that raged out of control, and worse, snow that stopped me from taking my Mustang anywhere. Get your act together, 2022, enough is enough.
  • Don’t mess up Amazon’s Lord of the Rings. You know I have a bad feeling about this and if they ignore existing lore, mess with the elves or find a way to make us understand the trauma of the orcs so we will like them, then, I will find you, 2022, I will find you and make you pay.
  • Let me believe in my writing, again. After a year of rejections for my latest book, that belief has taken a serious beating. Wait, hold on, this one’s not really on you. This one’s on me. Just work on the other items, please.

As always, thank you to everyone who reads this blog. I will do a better job this year of getting more posts done, I promise. With luck, they’ll even be good posts – funny or insightful or simply entertaining. Please like or follow the blog on the website.

What would you ask of 2022?

 

The Composer

The Composer at Long & McQuade

There may come a time when The-Oldest playing on stage doesn’t wow me, but on one Saturday in Dec., not only was I wow’d, but I have to confess, tears leaked out of this old guy’s eyes as I listened to him play at the Langley Community Music School – a piece he’d written.

As a struggling artist (writer, not composer), I felt his anguish as he wrote, then perfected his sonata. For weeks, I heard him trying new things on his piano, playing with themes, progressions, chords and musical thingees I don’t pretend to understand. He’d curse the results sometimes. Sometimes he’d leave to walk around, muttering to himself as he sorted out a problem in his mind. A few times he even shouted with triumph.

But make no mistake, creating his latest composition took time, he suffered in its creation, and he put a lot of his soul into it.

Being a perfectionist, though, he wasn’t happy with the piece even as he sat waiting for his turn to play on stage. Nervous, like anyone having to perform, he talked out the issues swirling in his head, hoping to calm the butterflies or chase away the fear that everyone would hate it, that he’d wasted his time, that he didn’t have the talent.

Worse, as he sat there, he found out he had to do a speech.

A speech!

He hadn’t prepared for that! What was he going to say?

Keep it simple, I told him. What is your name? What is your quest? What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

He didn’t laugh. I don’t even know if he heard me.

Then his turn came.

Christ, I was as nervous as him. I knew there were complex parts he struggled to play. I knew when he let his nerves get the best of him, he’d rush through the piece like a ferret on speed. I knew that he still wasn’t sure one part worked and might even attempt to change it on the fly.

He stood up.

His mom took his hand for a moment. Just a brief moment. Then he marched up on stage.

And played his heart out.

He played his piece fearlessly. He played with passion and power. He played loud and proud, which in our living room sometimes sounds like he’s trying to bring the walls of Jericho down, but in the concert hall, he filled the huge room with incredible music.

After he finished, he stood, bowed with flourish, like a man used to being on stage, like a performer who knew he’d hit it out of the park. Not like someone who just took up the piano 2 ½ years ago.

I dabbed away the tears.

Last blog, I talked about ‘firsts’, and how special they can be, but this, too, was special. Not his first concert. Not the first piece he’s played to an audience, but it was, by far, the best performance that he’d done thus far.

Thus. Far.

Who knows what’s next?

As sat back down, he said he was already working on his next creation, and it would be even BETTER.

The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World and I both posted the performance on Facebook and Youtube, but if you haven’t heard it, check it out below. Like and subscribe to his channel, if you think he did a good job.

Help him get to 1000 subcribers. 🙂

Check out his Youtube Video for more

Thanks for reading! If you like what you see, please hit the subscribe button, buy me a coffee (button at the top) or follow me on FB or Pinterest, or heck, just tell your friends.

Top 10 Discoveries About My Book

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

Are you surprised how your book turned out?

Now, spoiler alert, this is a longer post than normal. Get into your comfy underwear, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, put your feet up on the dog and continue.

Yager’s War has come so far since it’s inception back in 2016, but my first historical novel has finally been sent off to my first readers – Two professional writers, and one person who lived through that time.

Oh, but that seems so long, ago, now. A lifetime. And in that lifetime, I learned a lot about my story, which kinda surprised me since I thought I pretty much knew everything about it when I sat down to write it.

So, what did I discover?

1) I discovered that I can’t eat well and write. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with the novel, per se, but if anyone is looking to write a character in a novel who writes for a living, it’s a good trait. Not a healthy one, but something odd. Quirky. Stupid. Peanut M&Ms. Pop. Pizza. Oddly, I didn’t drink. Sorry Hemmingway.

2) I discovered that I sat down to write this because I love history and World War II history in particular. But it’s not a love based on battles, but stories. It’s something that’s not being taught a lot in schools. It’s all about facts, maps, (wait, I love maps, too), and dates. Even without a specific person, there is a narrative that thrills me. The massively outnumbered Jews who fought the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto. The 500 Spartans at Thermopylae. The Alamo. Then it hit me. I love the underdog. The few who stood up when it mattered BUT died in the end. All knew they would die, yet still fought the fight. That leaked into my novel in a big way (and will certainly be a major part of the second and third novels.)

3)

Iron Lungs. Therapy for polio. But it looks like something out of a horror movie.

I discovered a lot about things we understand now, understand back then. Polio. PTSD. Asperger’s. They’ve all existed since the beginning of time. Like the Queen of England. But we’re only now understanding them fully and I was surprised at the complexity of each one of those subjects.

 

4) I discovered ‘what to keep in and what to take out’ was tougher than I ever thought. Yanking out a whole subplot ain’t easy, my friends. It’s like trying to yank off a skin tag, it’s quite painful and wants to snap right back. I can still use a lot of what I wrote or imagined in my next book,

5) I discovered I could fall in love with one of

Amelia Anderson. (AKA- Bryce Dallas Howard)

my characters. It’s amazing how much a story can change even from the 2nd draft, to the third. I yanked out some decent writing about my character’s interaction with a family to explore a love interest and I fell in love with that love interest. Amelia “Amy” Anderson, a brilliant red-head with Sherlock Holmesian Asperger’s. Socially awkward. Kind. Driven. Beautiful (of course, cuz, you know, I’m a guy.) I dream about her now. Don’t tell my wife.

6) I discovered it’s tough to choose what research to use and what not to use. I had to cut research out. Oh, that fine line between having authentic historical details and way, way, way too much information… it’s so easy to cross because information is so fun! (You know what I’m talking about, Paula!)

7) I discovered that I could make myself cry while writing. Not, oh god, this is terrible, but I moved myself at some of the tragic scenes. Maybe no one else will shed a tear, but it’s odd that I could actually get in touch with emotion. Without whiskey. Thanks to Don Maass for making me live in the pain for a while.

8) I discovered, much to my horror, that it was not as much fun, sometimes, to do research. Now, this really shocked me. I love learning new facts. Like did you know that the Kaiser, the Imperial Emperor of Germany, fled to Holland? And had the nickname of the Woodchopper? But trying to get all my facts right, like what soap the Dutch used for dishes or what goods were sold in the Waterlooplein market, well, that took a bit of work and I often got distracted tracking down other details.

9) I discovered this is not, at its heart, a who-killed-Roger-Rabbit story. This is a Jewish

Lest we forget

story. Again, a bit of a shock. Not that I didn’t have Jewish elements in it, but on the last rewrite, it really hit home how much I needed to tell the Jewish story here.

10) I discovered it’s a feminist novel. This came as the biggest shock. BIGGEST. Like finding a spider in your underwear.  Both of my main female characters are strong, independent women in a time where such things were not the norm. Maybe it was all the women in my life who influenced that. My mom who went to university and graduated as the only woman in her class. My wives, Margot and Corinne. My inherited great Baba, who designed and built a frigging church.

But all those discoveries aside, the novel will get one last polish from my first readers, then it’s off to the agent.

It is the best thing I have written, but something not achieved without great pain and anguish. Ask my wife who’d find me wandering around the house muttering, “No, that won’t work, won’t work, my precious, he has to die, yes, die but how, dammit, how?”

It’s been an interesting journey, combining my deep emotional connection to the Netherlands (based on my visits there and my reading of the holocaust), my love of a good thriller, and my love of books that touch a poignant chord within us all.  But, as any writer should, if someone has a way to make it EVEN BETTER, (my first readers, my agent, my editor, Bob the grocery bagger,) then I’ll kick it up yet another notch.

Because I not only want it to be the best story I’ve ever written, but one of the best others will ever read.

The Joys of Copy Editing

Who knows more about great suffering, I ask you?

June 5th, Yager’s War was finally sent to an agent who’d requested it. Like most things worth doing, this was not achieved without great suffering. Or at least great silliness. Especially when it comes to the copy-editing,

The writing of the novel was fun. The rewrite a lot of work.  A LOT. Then I did up the first final draft and sent it off to my trusted readers. They came back with suggestions, ideas and concerns. I dealt with them all.

Then came the dreaded copy edit. Now, some people have minds fo copy-editing. Smart people. People who can do the NY Times Crosswords in pen. The people who beat Jeopardy winners to the questions. People who can quote Shakespeare instead of Snoop Dog.

Not me. I am like that dog in Up. I get distracted very easily. My mind’s always thinking of something. Like where did I put my Def Leppard tape from the 80’s? Or why did Ares try to convert Wonder Woman when clearly, she wasn’t all about the whole ‘let’s kill mankind’ thing.

But I got some help from my friends and did the best I could. I went slowly. I used Gammarly. I blew up the font to be so huge, it could be read from space (so I wouldn’t start actually reading the story and get all lost in it.)

And then, after a freaking month, 459 pages, I finished.

But for laughs, here’s what I found.

I had to look up the crazy stuff like is adam’s apple capitalized? Well, it turns out, yes, yes it is. Adam’s apple. (I’ll take stupid things the English language does for 200.

Or you can ask Bill Maher. Wait, too soon?

Alec.)

I found that I had written gate instead of gait. Oh, I knew the difference, but somewhere in my brain, gate came out. I did the same thing with hanger and hangar that my critique group still giggle about.

I actually wrote, “bowels of soup” instead of “bowls.”

Looked up if herring should be capitalized (grammarly said yes, but google says no, so, I, ah, guess it’s kinda dealer’s choice.) I went without.

I wrote, “at the there.”  Yup. Dunno how, but that came out.

Later, I wrote, “on the table above the table.” I had to wonder if I’d been drinking that night. Or just up too late.

But seriously, WTF!?!?

Then I found that I’d written, “whipped the anger from his face.” which made me giggle.

From the Huff Post. They know their women’s bits.

I spent an hour, I kid you not, trying to find good words for lady bits. Then another hour reading about the time-line of genital slang. Then briefly thought about using stiff deityinstead of erection. But, my cop, being from Chicago and all, would probably not have used that term. Makes me want to write a novel using that as a title. (See how I can get distracted.)

I made lots of comma errors, plenty of ‘he’ instead of ‘the’ mistakes, buggered up the paragraphing somehow from one document to another, and even accidentally copy-and-pasted a deleted chapter back into the final draft.

Oh, fun times.

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

But it’s all done. Yager’s War, 109,000 words is out there. A story set in Amsterdam in 1940 about a Chicago Detective who races against the clock to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

It’s the best writing I’ve done.

Wish me luck.

(Copy edited by the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world).

Surrey International Writers’ Conference 2017

Writer’s Tears. I have filled bottles.

(First of all, my apologies if you read this already on About a Stepdad. There’s a good reason for the dual post or at least a good excuse. See below.)

Being an unpublished writer can be frustrating. It’s one of the few jobs where you won’t get a pat on the back. There are no annual reviews. No bonuses. No Christmas Parties.

It’s tough to stay motivated. Harder to stay positive.

But going to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference gave me the chance to re-energize, to refocus, to learn to be a better writer, and even attend a staff party.

Plus, I would get a chance to pitch my novel to an agent or editor. Face-to-face. No interns in the way, no 150 emails before yours. Just you and an agent.

However, my wife, aka the-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World, will attest to the fact that I wasn’t super excited about going this year. I moped and grumped and shuffled around like a 10-year-old being forced to eat vegetables while doing homework.

But once I got there, the energy, the workshops, and the enthusiasm of the people there turned me around.

I listened to experts, I pitched my heart out, I even got a case of chatty-Joe and talked to other writers.

Of the three people I pitched Yager’s War to, all three were interested and wanted to see more of it. All were so nice and very understanding at my Joe-ish way of pitching things.

One even took the time to ask me about me and hey, we all know there’s nothing I love better than talking about me. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What was your first book? What are you reading now? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Why did you move to Vancouver? Why are you crying?

Honestly, I learned so much, had a great time, and came away ready to charge the dragon again, my cape singed and tattered, my armor dented, but my sword sharp and my moral restored.

So what’s in the future?

First, I’ll pass along some super valuable information and links in my next blog. Man, I tell you, all the workshops I took were solid gold and I hope to pass along a small fraction of what I learned.

Second, I realized I’m unable to hold down two blogs, so I will merge my two lives into one and create something amazing. Like spaghetti and meatballs becoming the greatest meal of all time.

Third, I need a new website. I’ll post more on that next week, but it’s a daunting task so I’ve enlisted a very creative, very knowledgeable person to help me out. I’m super excited about this one.

Forth, I’m going to create a newsletter. It’s an odd and very difficult thing for me to do, but it should mean that I can connect to people directly. No more signing up for WordPress. No more having to log into the FB to find me, (cuz I know that’s why everyone logs in.) All my blogs will be sent directly to you with an electronic hug.

Lastly, I’ll definitely be asking for help. Help with the novel – like recipes, pictures, and thoughts. I’ll need help with making sure I put my best printed-foot forward – like everyone taking a hard look at my query or at what would make you buy a novel.  I’ll need help with step-daddying, and look forward to everyone’s helpful suggestions.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference #SiWC17

See, this is what happens when you get inspired at SIWC#17.

You create a lot of work for yourself.

 

SiWC Workshops – Sharing What I Learned pt 1

Surrey International Writers’ Conference #SiWC17

I’ll have to break this into 2 parts. One on writing, one on the business of writing (branding and self-publishing.)

So let’s look at the writing.

Don Maass, the master teacher of all things writerish, taught a workshop on Pacing Beyond Plot.

He’s got an amazing book out on The Emotional Craft of Fiction and, of course, Writing the Breakout Novel and I would highly recommend buying them, taking them out of the library or borrowing them from a friend (and never returning it).

Don Maass, master teacher of the writerly arts. #SiWC17

Mr. Maass wanted us to move away from pacing as simply plotting, to pacing as an emotional journey of our characters and their character arcs.

That growth, that movement, that change is compelling. Like a good car chase, it moves the plot forward and engages the reader.

I don’t know why, but that really struck me.

As he went through a ton of exercises, I thought, damn, I did that in Yager’s War. And that. And I totally nailed that one, too. But there were scenes (if I am totally honest with myself), where I realized, you know what, I didn’t nail it.

For me, it was the slower scenes. Where the character gets from point A to B. Now I could skip those but I used them to add character conflict and some interaction with the locations (since I firmly believe in making the location a character as well). But what if I kicked that up a notch and thought a LOT harder on how my character develops in that scene? Wouldn’t that make it better?

I think so.

So whenever a scene has low tension, I’mma gonna look at it again and see if I can create MORE emotional movement.

Should be fun.

**********

Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni. – Another great teacher, workshopper, and highly entertaining writer. His workshop –  The First 3 Pages. (I didn’t get a chance to take his editing one, but if someone did, could they please send me their notes.)

From RD, I learned just why those first pages are important.

Let’s face it, agents and editors are SUPER busy people, so they are looking for a reason to put that manuscript down and catch up on an episode of Stranger Things. So it has to be tight, it has to be completely mistake-free and the best writing you can do.

Making it our best work increases the chance of someone reading it.

So he asked us, does the first sentence hook the reader? Do you establish what type of book it is quickly? (A romance, mystery, SF etc). Do you engage our senses, quickly? Do you have action in the 1st 3 pages? Movement? Dialogue? Do you have someone important come on stage? Have you taken us into your world? Have you engaged us? Hooked us?

It’s a lot to do, but basically the idea is to make it amazing.

But the biggest thing I got out of the workshop was something I have to learn in life.

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

Just because I can climb up the side of a ruined castle to reach the top, doesn’t mean I should. Just because I can start a novel with dialogue like Nelson DeVille did, doesn’t mean I should. Be aware that, as new writers, we simply have to be the best.

So if you’ve heard over and over again that you should never start a story with dialogue and you counter, hey, Ah, Bobberino, like, Stephen King did that in Firestarter, then ask yourself, first, are you Stephen King? Then ask yourself, should you have dialogue in the opening if you know a whole butt-load of agents and editors might reject it right there? Then ask yourself, if you still want to do it, why did the great writer’s do it, cuz they sure as hell had a reason why.

There are no rules in writing except the ones that work.

But you have to make it work.

**********

Michael Slade – check out his books and tell me they don’t give you the shivers

From the great storyteller, Michael Slade, I heard three things I need to remember.

  • For authentic characters or scenes, look to your own life. Remember the smells, the sounds, the way time played out. Go deep. Especially when you need to create chilling fiction, use what scares you.
  • A hero is only as good as the villain. Make the villain epic and you’ll force your hero to be epic as well. But give that villain something human. Hitler’s dog. Lector’s culture. Joker’s humor.
  • The more we like your character, the more we’ll worry when they’re in danger.

There was so, so much more that these fine presenters taught, so if you attend the conference next year, please check them out.

If you like what I’m writing about, take a look at my About a Stepdad Blog. Sorry for the double posts if you’re following both, I’ll be fixing that with my new website.

Don Maass teaser video

Robert Dugoni teaser video on writing.

Robert Dugoni in Writer’s Digest.

Michael Slade website, which is scary and cool.

First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?
What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters
Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

 

Nothing like a good minecraft story
Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

 

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)

 

 

His First Story

First tooth.
First tooth.

I’ve missed a lot of kid ‘firsts’.

First steps. First tooth. First use of the f-bomb.

But this one I’ve managed to see. Last week, The-Youngest wrote his first story.

He didn’t do it by choice, however. He didn’t sit down and think, my goodness, I need to write a story about an evil brother who constantly tries to scare the bejesus out of his gentle, younger brother. No. He was forced to do it by his arch enemy. The school system.

I remember writing my first story at 9, the same age as The-Youngest. It was called The Invasion of the Mole People –  Blue construction-paper cover, twenty handwritten pages (Jam smears on a few of them), eleven illustrations (all bad).

My parents loved it.  My teachers loved it.  My friends loved it.  I knew, then, that I wanted to be a writer.

Throughout my school years, I continued to write, and by the end of high school, I even attempted my first novel, Starborn, a story about a hunter of rogue androids who doesn’t realize he’s an android.

I received an A in English class and a stack of rejection letters.

Sadly, out of high school, I did not pursue a writing career in any shape or form.  Instead, I chose the very exciting field of accounting.  Oh, the glory, the challenges, the excitement!  But I still kept on writing.

So I was super excited to help The-Youngest out. I mean, damn, this is what I’m trying to do: Write.

Surely he would want my input or want to make use of my vast experience, right?

Wrong.

That moment before you write
That moment before you write

He’d worked himself into a quick tizzy about doing it, and only wanted The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world (AKA his mom) to help him out.

That was heartbreaking. I so wanted to help him out. But he wouldn’t have any of it.

Here’s how the conversation went…

“I can’t write a story.”

Prettiest-girl-in-the-world: “Sure you can, honey, you just have to sit down and start.”

“I can’t, I don’t know what I’m going to write. I’m not a writer.”

“Sure you are. You just have to start at the beginning. What story do you want to tell?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Ok, hold on. Wait. That was the conversation she has with me every time I start to write a story. But The-Youngest’s conversation went pretty much the same way.  Like any writer, he was terrified of that first page. Of no ideas coming forth. Of not being able to tell a story.

But unlike me when I wrote my first story, the schools have done an amazing job in teaching the kids HOW to actually write a story. And he had his mom.

I’ll detail the amazing cool (and super simple ideas the school had for creating a good story) in the next blog, but for now, here’s why the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is such a great mom.

Her: So what if we tell a minecraft story? About two boys named jinga-jinag and goobermunday.

Mom! What? You can’t have names like that.

Her: No? What should their names be?

*Thinks* Floyd and Florence.

Her: Good names. And what’s happened to them?

I dunno.

Her: What would be the WORST thing to happen to them in minecraft?

The worst?

Her: Yup

Someone stole all their stuff.

Her: Oh, like what?

Diamonds and stuff.

Nothing like a good minecraft story
Nothing like a good minecraft story

Her: Why would someone do that?

They’re bad guys. They like destroying things.

Her: That’s pretty terrible. What are Floyd and Florence going to do?

Then the ideas came fast and furious. They came so fast he couldn’t write them down so she did, scribbling while his mind went this way then that way, then flipped around and raced in a totally new direction. Not once did she say an idea was wrong or silly. She just kept him talking.

Then, like magic, they had a ton of writing on sticky notes and a good story.

The-Youngest got out his laptop and began to type. He typed until he finished the story. In one burst. Like he eats a bag of chips.

Then he proudly printed it out.

I was so excited to read it. It had been so cool to watch the creative story-birthing process, and listen to how the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world help brainstorm the best story possible.

He was proud of himself, too. You could tell.

He’d done what all writer’s do in the end.

He wrote.

All he needed was a muse and despite the fact I hate it couldn’t have been me, The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world did incredibly well.

Next up, a quick peak into how the schools are teaching kids to write.

Born to Be

Born to Be

babies in wombSometimes I wonder, are we born to be something? To do something?

Was Einstein born to be a scientist? Was Gretzky born to be a hockey player? Was Carrot Top born to be an idiot?

What got me thinking was watching the youngest go to a skating event at school. It wasn’t a hockey practice. I wasn’t even a skating practice. Just a bunch of kids, some on those funny, plastic walkers, skating around. No sticks. No pucks. Skates and helmets only.

Then they threw some balls on the ice. Big, rubber balls that, in my day, would have made the perfect dodge ball. Oh, boy, wing that thing hard enough and that’d leave a good mark on Guy Machet’s face for stealing my pencil.

But when the balls came out, the youngest took up position in the goalie’s blue box. No net behind him. No goal posts. No one told him to. No games were organized.

Yet there he was. In goal. Being a goalie.

It’s what he does.

IMG_2614When he skates onto the ice for a hockey practice, he goes in net. Even when he’s not dressed as the goalie. Sometimes the coaches have to actually drag him out of net. Sometimes, when he’s playing a game, he’ll fade back until he’s nearly in the net with the real goalie. And, his bestest, most favourite Christmas present was, not surprisingly, a mini hockey goalie kit.

For him, being a goalie is all he wants to be, all he wants to do.

So imagine, yesterday, 6am, the coach says, we’re going to suit up two goalies this morning. He looks at the youngest. Are you up for that?

Does he say, “Nah, the pressure’s too much.”?

Does he say, “Gosh, coach, some of the other kids might want to try.”?

Or does he start to jump up and down (like I put a mouse on fire in his jock) and shout, “Yes, YES, YES!!!!”

goalie quotes

You probably guessed which way he went.
So, whether or not he was born to be a goalie, only time will tell, but one thing for sure is that he is passionate about being a goalie.

But it’s more than that. He HAS to be a goalie. Like I HAVE to write. Like Celine Dion HAS to sing. Like the sun has to shine.

And it’s that kinda cool?