The Writing Process Blog Hop with Author Susan Rodgers

I’ve been tagged by Author Susan Rodgers to participate in a Blog Hop. This is nothing like a Sock Hop, which I once participated in back in nineteen seventy-six. This Hop involves writing, not dancing, which is good, because I’m much better at writing than dancing.

Susan Rodgers, as well as being a talented writer, is my sister. She’s one year, one month and three days younger than me, but a whole lot smarter and better looking. She’s a film maker with several films to her credit, some of which have been broadcast on the CBC and Bravo, and the author of the Drifters series of books, available online and in fine bookstores in Prince Edward Island. I am honoured to participate in a Blog Hop with her.

Susan Rodgers, Author, Film maker

Susan Rodgers, Author, Film maker

The way it works is she asks me a bunch of questions, which I answer here in my blog, and then I somehow convince two other bloggers to do the same for me.

Here are Susan’s questions and my attempts to answer them:

1. You grew up in Prince Edward Island, Canada, but you’ve lived your adult life in Toronto and Whitby, Ontario. You work in Toronto, one of the busiest cities in Canada. It’s a far cry from the serenity and natural beauty of PEI. How do you feel these two worlds affect your writing? Do they merge in any way?

I moved to Toronto when I was nineteen and lived there for eleven years, then moved to Whitby to raise a family, although I kept working in Toronto, where I still work. Somewhere in there I also spent the better part of a year in France, which you may have heard of. Believe it or not, there is serenity and beauty to be found in Toronto and Whitby. I love Toronto, and have loved it from the moment I set foot in it. When I lived in France, I missed Toronto terribly. My friend Lisa Trimble sent me a copy of the Toronto Star after I’d been in France a while, and I devoured every single word in it, including the Classifieds, because I missed Toronto so much.

My wife Lynda and I actually moved to Whitby because downtown Whitby reminded us of downtown Summerside PEI. So we obviously miss PEI too. Though now that I live in Whitby, I miss France terribly. I miss wherever I’m not.

Downtown Whitby

Downtown Whitby


Prince Edward Island has had a tremendous impact on my writing, though. My damned-near-complete novel (2500 words left to revise out of 115,000) is set on an island which is a fictionalized version of Prince Edward Island. I’ve retained some place names (like Evangeline) and changed other locales completely (Charlottetown became Farfuston, with a completely different down town core). I did this because I couldn’t remember Prince Edward Island accurately enough, forcing me to make stuff up. I do most of my writing on the Go Train travelling back and forth to work where there’s no internet connection, so I can’t research anything. Also, I like making stuff up, so it doesn’t really bother me. Curiously, people who’ve read portions of the novel think it’s a real place in Great Britain. But they’re wrong. It’s Prince Edward Island in disguise.

I don’t think Toronto has affected my writing at all, so far. Or Whitby. They’re just where I do my writing.

2. It seems you write mostly in the fantasy and science fiction genres. Did you consciously choose these genres or do you feel it came to you somehow? Do you think you will always write in these genres or might you branch out some day?

It’s true that all of my short fiction and my damned-near-complete novel are either fantasy or SF. I have also written and co-authored several plays, none of which is SF. (They’re murder mysteries.) I read many genres, including non-fiction, and enjoy them all, but for now I’m happy writing SF and Fantasy. I have several novels in mind that I’d like to write, all of which are SF, but it’s taken me so long to write my damned-near-complete novel that I probably won’t have time to write anything other than SF. My daughters, who are astute mathematicians, have calculated that at the rate I write, I should have time to write another half a novel in my lifetime, assuming I ever finish the final 2500 words of the damned-near-complete one, and I live to the age of one hundred and fifty-seven.

That being said, I do have a hankering to pen two memoirs. One would be about my career at the CBC, and the other would be about my time in the magical land of France. Or I may fictionalize those experiences with a dash of SF. We’ll see.

3. Tell us about your process. I’d be interested to know where you do most of your writing as well as what comforts you like to have around you. I, for one, must have my large iced mocha to ‘jumpstart’ my brain. Do you have any such habits or creature comforts when writing? Does it help you to sink into that fantasy world more fully?

As I mentioned earlier (what, were you not paying attention?) I do most of my writing on the GO Train. The GO Train carries me back and forth from Whitby to Toronto, and each ride is between half an hour to forty-five minutes long, depending on whether it’s the Express. The longer the better for me. I like nothing better than for the GO Train to break down. Then, while all about me are losing their heads, I get more writing done. It’s a sad time for me when the train pulls up to the station, and I must put away my headphones and close my laptop. Especially when I accidentally close my laptop on the top of a USB key, which I did once, which broke the screen. But I digress.

I have no rituals on the train other than to start writing as soon as possible and not do anything else, like read, or talk to people. I’m rather rude on the train, or at least I feel like I’m being rude. Sometimes people will try to talk to me. If it’s someone I just met, I will talk to them the first time I ride with them. During that ride, I will tell them that normally I write on the train, and that if I ever run into them again on the train, I hope they will forgive me, but I would prefer to write instead of talk. I explain that it’s pretty much the only time I have to write, and writing is extremely important to me. I have never met anyone who doesn’t understand. Most people who take the train regularly wind up doing their own thing on the train anyway. My friends know better than to try to talk to me on the train. It took me years to build up the courage to tell people that. But now that I have, I get a lot more writing done.

Joe's Writing Garrett on Wheels

Joe’s Writing Garrett on Wheels


Long ago, I read that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, trained herself to be able to write while raising kids. Sometimes she would only get a few seconds in. Time for a single sentence, or to correct a single word, before having to change a diaper or manage some minor crisis. But that was enough. It was progress. I’ve trained myself to do the same. I can write anywhere. I’ve written in Doctor’s offices, by swimming pools, at my kid’s art lessons, piano lessons, on the train, on the plane, buses, outside, inside. I don’t have any rituals other than ignoring everything around me and starting to write.

4. What are you working on now and what are your hopes and dreams for future writing projects?

As I mentioned before (you really aren’t paying attention, are you?) I’m finishing up my damned-near-complete novel, with the working title of A Time and a Place. This is a one hundred and fifteen thousand word novel about a man by the name of Barnabus J Wildebear whose fifteen-year old nephew has been conscripted into an alien army. Wildebear, the boy’s only living relative, sets out to protect him, but to do so, Wildebear must pass through an alien portal that transports him not only to other worlds and times, but into the very minds of alien beings.

My next novel, which I plan to start the day after I finish this one, will be set in the same universe. It’s working title is Captain’s Away!, and it’s based on a radio play I wrote which was broadcast on CBC Radio back in 2003. It’s about a woman who is mistaken for the captain of an interstellar space ship and is forced to play the part as the ship heads for war.

Then, if I’m still capable of writing (when I finish that one at the age of one hundred and fifty-seven), I may attempt one of those memoirs I mentioned earlier. Or I may just take a well-deserved retirement, perhaps in France, which is almost as beautiful in parts as your beloved l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.

***

Here are the bloggers I’ve tagged:

Robert Runté:

Editor and Writer Robert Runté

Editor and Writer Robert Runté


Robert Runté is Senior Editor at Five Rivers Publishing, a freelance editor at SFeditor.ca, and an Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge. He is best known as a critic, reviewer, and editor of Canadian speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), for which he has won two Aurora Awards. His first short story was published in the first issue of On Spec magazine in 1989; his most recent story, “Split Decision”, appeared in the Tesseracts 15 anthology and was reprinted in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. He in the process of revising his own first novel, and will be the first to concede that editing a novel is a lot easier than writing one. (See the Writer, the Editor, and Human Nature to read about Robert’s experience being on the author-end of the editing process.)

Angela Misri:

Author Angela Misri Signing her new book Jewel of the Thames

Author Angela Misri Signing her new book Jewel of the Thames

Angela Misri is an award-winning journalist, writer and mom based out of Toronto, Canada. Her first book Jewel of the Thames was published in March 2014 by Fierce Ink Press. This is the first book in the detective series called ‘A Portia Adams Adventure‘ and Angela is hard at work editing books two and three right now! She has spent most of her career at the CBC making radio content extraterrestrial through websites, live streams and podcasts. These days Angela also freelances locally and nationally for magazines and newspapers and teaches at Ryerson University.

The Dreaded Travelling Shot

This is a repost, with some slight revisions, of a post I wrote back in June 30th 2006 on a different version of this blog. Also posting the audio sample of the travelling shot in question, which wasn’t included in the original post:

Canadia 2056

Canadia 2056

First of all, I have no idea how to spell “traveling.” I have seen it spelled both as “traveling” and “travelling.” The more I look at the word with either spelling, the stranger it looks.

That aside, some of you may recall my comments on traveling shots in radio a little while back. (For those of you new to the term, a traveling shot is a shot in television, film or radio in which the characters are on the move and the camera/microphone is following them. Think Xander on his skateboard in the opening shot of the very first Buffy the Vampire Slayer for TV, or the famous lengthy traveling shot with Tim Robbins that opens Robert Altman’s The Player)

Basically, traveling shots in radio are usually a bad idea. The reason they’re usually a bad idea is because many writers write them accidentally, without even realizing that they’re writing a traveling shot, until they get in the studio and the engineer says, what the heck, this is a traveling shot, you do realize how difficult it is to convey traveling shots on radio, dontcha? And they say, well, you did read the script before getting here didn’t you? And the engineer says, um, I didn’t really have time, and the writer says, well then you only have yourself to blame then, don’t you? And then the engineer says, well, the producer should have caught it, and then the producer suddenly jerks awake in his chair and says, what scene are we on…?

So why am I repeating myself?

Well, after I wrote that post, I wound up working on projects that were essentially traveling shot after traveling shot. Clearly people are not reading this blog (for shame!) It bears repeating: do not drink and drive, do not pet burning dogs, and DO NOT write traveling shots for radio UNLESS YOU ARE A FOOLISH, IMPETUOUS RECORDING FOOL LIKE MYSELF!

Now.

Have I made myself clear?

Good.

I beg your pardon? You want to know about the “foolish, impetuous recording fool like myself” business?

Oh, all right.

Yes, I was personally responsible for one of the traveling shots. The traveling shot in Canadia, to be precise. (Canadia being the science fiction comedy pilot I’m producing with my buddy Matt Watts).

You see, after writing about them, I realized that I’ve long wanted to try recording the granddaddy of all traveling shots. One that really works. Because if you can convey to the listener what’s going on, then your traveling shot will have worked. Now, it happens that I have recorded dinky little traveling shots that have sort of worked, and longer traveling shots that have kind of worked, and location traveling shots where I’ve followed actors with a boom on the streets of Montreal that also have kind of worked after a fashion…

…but I’ve never built a really good, effective traveling shot for a radio play in a studio.

So I said to Matt as we were planning Canadia that I thought it would be neat to attempt a West Wing/Hill Street Blues style traveling shot off the top of Canadia. So obliging fellow that he is, Matt went ahead and wrote one.

It so happened that we got busy before the taping, Matt was off to New York to see The Drowsy Chaperone (which he helped write), and we never got to discuss the scene properly before taping was upon us. I had originally thought that I might grab a boom and a Tascam and follow the actors around somehow, but instead I opted to record the actors in place with the rest of the cast swirling around them.

Racing against the clock in post-production, however, I lost my nerve and simplified the scene to essentially a static shot. It didn’t work at all. It just lay there in the play, twitching from time to time like a dying rat. When Matt heard my rough mix, he was horrified. I had to admit that it didn’t resemble our original conception at all. Guilty as charged, I admitted that “it still needed a bit of tweaking.”

During the final mix, I sent Matt off for some sound effects, which meant that he had to pass through five different rooms and hallways, each with radically different acoustic ambiances. On the way, it occurred to him that if we broke the scene up in exactly that manner (several different clearly distinct rooms) that it could be made to work. The scene happens to take place on a starship, where this would make complete sense. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to take listeners on an acoustic tour of the ship.

Genius!

I grabbed an AKG stereo microphone and our Edirol and Matt and I set off on a trek across the Broadcast Centre. I recorded everything as we passed through as many radically different acoustic environments as possible. Afterward, I loaded the material into my ProTools mixing session and cut it down to about a minute and a half, the length of the traveling shot. We placed doors at strategic points during the scene, and built wildly different sound effects beds for each section. (These included a set of stairs, an engine room, a room with loads of construction happening, etc.)

I also electonically “treated” the actors’ voices depending on their supposed location (as well as the accompanying sound effects)… for instance, in the stairwell, I used a Protools plugin called TrueVerb to make them sound realistically like they were in a stairwell.

Although I’m essentially opposed to the use of footsteps in radio (for fear of it becoming “all about the footsteps”), I try valiantly not to be too dogmatic about such things, and reluctantly added a “soupcon” of footsteps here and there just to help sell the movement in the scene.

Whew!

We think it works.

Next time round we’ll plan it better, though, so that the actors know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing when (ie. speaking loudly in the engine room). Although I must say that there is something to be said for their straight delivery, in which nothing is overplayed.

Now if we can only get this show greenlighted for a series and broadcast so that folks can actually hear it…

Note: Not only was the show greenlit, it ultimately went two seasons, with twenty episodes in total broadcast (twenty-one in total made, with two versions of the pilot).

Here is the infamous travelling shot:

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Repost: Plunging the Dead Dog Cafe

I’ve been perusing the Wayback Machine for long lost posts from earlier incarnations of Assorted Nonsense. Here’s one from back in the good ol’ days (circa 2006) when I worked for a fun and much missed show called Dead Dog Cafe:

So there I am, in charge of the live sound effects for the Dead Dog Cafe. Jasper, Gracie and Tom are all counting on me:

Jasper, Gracie and Tom

Jasper, Gracie and Tom

 

My fellow recording engineer Greg DeClute helps me bring some props in on the Go Train for the Sunday morning session.

Greg DeClute

Greg DeClute

 

 

 

 

 

That’s his son Randy’s hockey sticks.

The umbrellas belong to my little girls.

The pressure’s on ’cause we have some high profile guests:

 

 

 

Margaret Atwood after recording Dead Dog

Margaret Atwood after recording Dead Dog

 

I prepare for live sound effects by reading the scripts and getting the sense of the sounds I require. Once I’ve read the script, I delete all the dialogue, leaving me with a list of sound cues. Any sound cues that are kind of vague, I refer back to the script to see their context.

 Most sound cues are obvious… like, say, “plunger.” How many different kinds of plungers are there?

 

 

 

Dead Dog Plunger

Dead Dog Plunger

 

So, seeing plunger in my list a week or two after making the list, I think, well, we don’t have any plungers kicking around in the studio, I’d better bring one in from home. So I disinfect the thing, stick it in my bag and carry it all the way in on the train. I place it close by during the recording session so that I can grab it when the script calls for it. We get to the part of the script that says “plunger!” and I grab it and begin vigorously plunging the floor, making (I think) some particularly good “thwocking” sounds for the rest of the cast and crew to admire.

 

Producer Kathleen Flaherty immediately calls a halt to the proceedings. “Joe, just what the heck do you think you’re doing?”

Kathleen Flaherty, Producer

Kathleen Flaherty, Producer

“Uh… making plunging sounds. Pretty good, eh?”

Not!

Turns out the sound cue was calling for a kind of “medical” plunger to test Tom King’s blood sugar level. Which was obvious when I read the script a little closer.

D’oh!

Fortunately, it’s a comedy show; everyone has a good sense of humour. We all have a good laugh and move on.

And I learn to read my scripts just a tad more thoroughly.

Potato hockey with Dead Dog Cafe

Potato hockey with Dead Dog Cafe

Night and Day

Day and Night Dragons

Some fiction from my daughter Erin. It’s a myth, which she wrote for a class project:

Night and Day

By Erin Mahoney

A small night-scaled dragon lay grumbling at the roots of a great oak tree. Stars speckled her wings, bright and glowing, and a shimmering halo floated just above her horns. With a bored expression she watched a leaf flutter by. Suddenly, the tree she was laying under burst into flames.

“Night will never come again,” snarled a voice.

The night-scaled dragon shielded herself with a wing as the voice drew closer, brining with it a blinding light.

“Luna…” The night-scaled dragon gasped, screwing her eyes shut. “You know that will never happen.”

Within the blinding light a large, glowing dragon appeared, wings outstretched, tail lashing. She also had a halo, shining a vibrant yellow. Her horns were long and hooked like claws, and she wore a miniature sun around her neck.

Luna snarled, and Night braced herself for a battle.

“Nerona would be better if dragons like you didn’t exist,” Luna spat.

Night, now seething with fury, dove out of the cover of the burning oak and launched herself straight at Luna. Luna, taken by surprise, didn’t have time to react as Night crashed into her.

Night clawed at her wings, fury blinding her mind. Luna lashed her tail, trying to shake Night off. A rumbling sounded deep in Luna’s throat.

I wonder what that mea– Night didn’t have time to finish her thought as a huge, blazing fireball burst from Luna’s mouth. There was no way Night could dodge something that big. As the fireball flew at her, she thought one last thing:

I’m sorry…

Night awoke to see fire all around her, the flames lapping at a stone roof. I’m in a cave?

At first, Night thought she was dead, but then she saw Luna. There was no way Luna could’ve been dead too.

Luna’s eyes lit up when she saw Night. “You’re awake! How wonderful!”

Night lashed her tail. “Wonderful isn’t exactly how I’d put it.”

“Of course not. You’re the one trapped behind a wall of fire.”

Night felt a growl rising in her throat. Obviously.

Luna paced around the cave, her sharpened claws tapping on the cave floor.

“You know why you’re here, Night.” She pointed with her tail to the glowing sun outside. “Night should never be allowed to come again.”

Night knew that was because of the excruciating cold that came in the darkness. Luna much preferred the warmth of the sun in her scales, unlike Night. Her dark scales absorbed every drop of heat, and Night hated it.

“Why can’t we just share the day?” Night argued. “Then we wouldn’t be fighting all the time, and plus, it would even out the heat and cold.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Share?”

Night grunted. Did she not know what ‘share’ meant?

Then Luna continued. “That could work… it would make the night warmer if the sun shone long enough.”

Night felt a glimmer of hope. She never thought Luna would agree to this.

“We would have to make the night and day equal in length,” Luna said.

Night nodded. “We will.”

Luna curled her tail. “Then I accept. We will have a night and a day.”

The End

D.G. Laderoute’s Out of Time

Out of Time

Out of Time

I stumbled upon a nice post on novel writing just now by Canadian author D.G. (David) Laderoute. I like his advice on how to write a novel:

…put a bunch of words onto paper, so they form a complete story that other people will want to invest their time and energy in reading.

That’s pretty much it.

Sure, one could go into all the mechanics but what’s the point. Most people will never get past putting the bunch of words onto paper. If they do get to that point, and invest enough time into it, and have enough natural ability, they’ll figure out the mechanics themselves.

I suppose I didn’t actually just stumble upon David’s post. First I stumbled across mention of his forthcoming novel by Five Rivers Publishing called “Out of Time.” I love the title–it’s one of those great dual meaning titles. (I would say double entendre but there’s nothing salacious about this novel.) It’s, as Dave puts it:

Author David Lederoute

Author David Lederoute

…a Young Adult Fantasy, the story of two boys–Riley, who lives in present day Canada on the shore of Lake Superior, and Peetwonikwot or “Gathering Cloud”, an Aboriginal boy from the same region but hundreds of years earlier, in pre-European contact times. These two meet across the gulf of time separating them and, together, confront a powerful evil that threatens both their worlds.

I’m a big fan of books featuring time travel.

I also love this book’s cover art, pictured above, by artist Jeff Minkevics. It’s a unique style, with great use of colour. To paraphrase what David Lederoute himself has written about the cover art, it captures what the story is about without giving anything anyway, and does so in an intriguing fashion.

Artist Jeff Minkevics

Artist Jeff Minkevics

I haven’t read the book yet. It hasn’t even been released yet. Five Rivers is publishing it November 1st. I plan to pick up a copy. Just based on the title, the cover, and the engaging nature of David’s informal writing that I see on his blog.

Here’s hoping he blogs more.

Joe`s Favourite Flicks

Friends who have checked out my list of Ten Films You Might Not Have Seen But Perhaps Ought To have questioned the absence of certain films they know I love but that aren`t on that list.

That`s because that list is a list of slightly more obscure films. A list of my absolute favourite films would consist of different films. Such a list would be much shorter, and might look something like this (in no particular order, because they are all equal in my mind):

Little Big Man (1970)

I first saw this movie when I was about eleven, and I`ve seen it many times since. Such is the power of this movie that even during the long years I didn`t really like Dustin Hoffman as an actor (it was probably his choice of roles I didn`t like) I continued to love him in this role. It`s an episodic tale, which is probably another reason I love the movie, skipping from tone to tone, story to story in a linear fashion.

I couldn`t find a proper trailer, but here`s a decent clip. The clip doesn`t give a proper sense of the scope and majesty of this movie, but it does reveal its occasional gravitas.

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

This is the only movie that has ever made me cry (though It`s a Wonderful Life sometimes makes me tear up, especially when I see it on the big screen). I laughed throughout Life is Beautiful, and when the credits rolled, I burst into tears right there in the theatre and sobbed like a baby for a full minute, much to my wife`s amazement. I have never cried before, during or after another movie in my life. In fact, I didn`t even think I had tear ducts until then. You will have to see the movie for yourself to understand why I cried, and perhaps even then you won`t understand, but the fact that it was capable of reducing me to such a state is but one of many reasons I love it.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

This is not a movie for people with short attention spans. There are long, slow scenes. But once you get into it, once you absorb the pace and feel of the movie, it`s terrific. Clint Eastwood is appealing as the kind of guy you wish you could be like, but it`s really Eli Wallach who walks away with this movie with his energetic performance.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

I caught this movie one morning back in the late eighties around Christmas time before working a late shift in Radio Master Control at the Jarvis Street CBC. What a gift! Sean Connery and Michael Caine together. With Christopher Plummer, no less. And John Huston directing. I`ve always been fascinated by John Huston, the charismatic asshole who also directed The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and picked on Ray Bradbury mercilessly during the making of Moby Dick. (It wasn`t the whale who was the dick during the making of that movie.)

Anyway, if you like adventure movies, I`m pretty sure you`ll love The Man Who Would Be King.

Excalibur (1981)

King Arthur, Merlin, the Knights of the Round Table. What`s not to like? Especially if served up properly, as it is in this flick. Liam Neeson has an early role as a knight. Nicol Williamson delivers a slightly eccentric but brilliant performance as Merlin. And Nigel Terry, who my casting director friend Linda Grearson once met and cannot stop talking about whenever his name comes up, is a wonderful King Arthur. There has never been a better movie about King Arthur, at least that I have seen.

Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre (SF Academic Conference at McMaster University)

McMaster SF Conference

McMaster SF Conference

Last weekend I attended an SF academic conference at McMaster University.

The conference was in honour of science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer’s archival donation to the university library collection.

It wasn’t a typical science fiction convention. There was nobody in costume. This was a conference in which academics from all over North America presented papers and talks on the subject of science fiction. Talks on subjects like “Russia’s Afrofuturism” by Anindita Banerjee from Cornell, and “Sawyer and Czernada in the Classroom” by David DeGraff of Alfred University.

I wanted to attend for several reasons. One, I’ve known Rob Sawyer since before his first book was published, when I worked on a show he made for CBC Radio’s Ideas way back when. Flash forward (ahem) a few years and we made some other radio together. I’ve read many of his books (I’ll get to them all eventually) and have followed his career with great interest. So I just wanted to be there to help support the man during what would be a pretty significant event in his career.

The Bobbsey Twins -- Ya Gotta Problem With This? width=

The Bobbsey Twins — Ya Gotta Problem With This?

Also, I just want to be a part of the Canadian science fiction community. I’ve read science fiction since I graduated from the Bobbsey Twins (yes, the Bobbsey Twins got me started on the path to reading) and it’s no secret to readers of this blog that I write science fiction. I knew that this would be a relatively intimate affair and afford me the opportunity to meet and chat with some really interesting folks in the SF community.

Finally, I was interested in hearing some of the presentations. But more on that later.

Getting to the conference proved a bit of a task. I was commuting from Whitby to Hamilton (my wife needed the car). This involved a bus at quarter to five in the morning connecting to a subway at York Mills connecting to another bus at Union Station — a three hour commute. I hadn’t slept well so I wasn’t exactly in the best of form by the time I got to Hamilton. Making matters worse, I’d decided to wear my glasses because I don’t trust my contacts these days. I am almost always ill-at-ease in glasses.

I was one of the first to arrive at the conference. I sat in Gilmour Hall wondering if it had been a mistake to come. I was actually feeling kind of panicky. Apart from Sawyer, I realized, I wouldn’t really know anyone. There would be a few people there I’d met before, like Peter Halasz and authors Julie Czernada and Robert Charles Wilson, but I didn’t really know them. I was confronted by a day of social isolation, crashing a party that really had nothing to do with me, attempting to make myself welcome in a community in which I probably didn’t really belong.

And I wasn’t quite sure how getting home would work.

This is how my mind works when I’m tired and wearing glasses.

Rob Sawyer arrived. He saw me, made a beeline for me and welcomed me warmly. The man almost seemed to go for a hug, which I botched by sticking my hand out. We settled for a hand hug. We chatted briefly, catching up (not having seen one another in about four years), and afterward I felt a little more welcome. Maybe this wasn’t such a mistake after all.

I sat back down.

Nah, it was still a mistake.

Two women entered and sat two rows ahead of me. Weird, I thought. They look just like a mother and daughter pair from my karate Dojo. Impossible.

But the daughter is university age. In fact, she’d be starting university this year.

I got out my Samsung Galaxy and texted my Sensei. Is so and so attending McMaster? Does she like Science Fiction?

Sensei texted me back within minutes. Yes and “she loves that stuff.”

It had to be them. Emboldened, I made my way to their row and sat down beside them.

“Hey,” I said.

The daughter looked at me blankly. The mother looked at me blankly. I had the wrong mother daughter pair. I felt lost. Alone.

“Would it help if I put on a gi?” I tried.

Finally recognizing me, they loosened up immediately. “Hey, what are you doing here?” the mother asked.

I explained all, and so did they.

From that moment on the entire day was gold.

They were a lot of fun. Margaret (the mother) and I attended all the academic sessions together, writing notes to one another throughout with our (to us, at least) witty observations. The three of us had lunch and dinner together and I got to know them both a lot better than when violently throwing punches and kicks at one another back at the dojo. And Margaret generously drove me home afterward.

John Robert Colombo

John Robert Colombo

The day began with a speech by Canadian author John Robert Colombo called “400 years of Robert J. Sawyer.” Evidently Sawyer is older than I thought. It’s a great pleasure listening to accomplished public speakers like Colombo. He speaks well and elicits many laughs. One listens to every word. Damned if I can remember any of his speech now but I remember being impressed at the time. Okay, just kidding. Sort of (hey, I didn’t think there’d be a test afterward). The gist of his speech was about how science fiction is about four hundred years old, dating back to the writings of Cyrano de Bergerac (“The Other World“). The question he posed was, would we be reading Robert J Sawyer in four hundred years? To which I would emphatically respond, not unless we make a great deal more progress in the science of senescence. Okay, OTHER people might well be reading Sawyer, but probably not me, so I’ll just have to do my best to read the rest of his works in however many years I have left.

After Colombo, Margaret and I trotted off to Chester New Hall where we took in Herb Kauderer, Associate Professor at Hilbert College & PhD Candidate, Buffalo, talking about “Fedora Hats and the Great Gazoo: Pop Culture References in Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Triggers and Red Planet Blues.” At the risk of doing a terrible injustice to Herb’s presentation, which was much more expansive and erudite than I can possibly present here, Herb wondered (among other things) whether the pop culture references in Sawyer’s work were distracting, especially considering some of them could not possibly be understood or appreciated (without research) by many younger readers (the Great Gazoo dates back to the mid-sixties). I believe Herb came down on “no,” and I would agree. I wondered as Herb spoke whether Sawyer’s work (and the work of other modern authors) would have to be annotated in the future, as classic texts are now. Of course they’ll have to be.

Next up were Rebecca McNulty (MA Candidate, University of Florida) with a speech entitled “‘Let Me Reveal Your Future!’: Robert Sawyer’s Use of Prediction in Near-Future Narrative”, followed by Carrie J. Cole (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) discussing “Science and the Staging of the Speculative Imagination:Interdisciplinary and Intertextual Performance Strategies”.

I love these titles. The speeches were usually infinitely more interesting than the titles suggested. I won’t get into the gist of all the speeches (you really ought to have been there — shame on you for not attending).

I do have one critique, and it’s about public speaking. And I trot this out based on my years working for CBC Radio, working with freelancers and actors of all stripes. This is what I have learned. When speaking in public, it is VERY hard to be entertaining and properly engrossing if you are reading from notes. Almost certainly you will read too fast and the audience will miss much of what you say. It’s okay to have notes, it’s even okay to have it all written down, but don’t read from it. Refer to it from time to time if you have to. The speakers at this conference illustrated this to great effect. Some read, others spoke. The ones who spoke were a lot more fun to listen to than the ones who read (unless they were reading an excerpt from a book, which is different).

And I say all this as someone who struggles sometimes with public speaking. It’s hard to put down the notes. What if you freeze? I froze once during a speech. But that was because I wasn’t prepared (and somebody had told me not to be funny… I need to be funny, or at least try to be, to put myself at ease before the audience). So that’s my two cents. Lots of folks at the conference had plenty interesting to say, but they need to take a page from John Robert Colombo’s book and put down the notes.

David DeGraff (Alfred University)

David DeGraff (Alfred University)

One great talker I’ll point out was David DeGraff of Alfred University talking about “Sawyer and Czerneda in the Classroom.” DeGraff, a youthful (despite his full head of gray hair) professor spoke with enthusiasm about using fiction effectively as an aid to education. I’d take one of his classes in a heartbeat.

Another great speaker — actually, among the best of the day — was Chris Szego of Bakka-Phoenix books, who spoke about “Independent Bookselling: Two Parts Circus, One Part Gong Show.” Speaking from the heart about her experiences selling science fiction books, complete with facts and figures, refuting a few myths about the trade and just generally being interesting and engaging.

And now we come to the highlight of the day for me.

One man I really wanted to hear talk was David Hartwell, Senior Editor at TOR books. He was among the last to talk on Saturday. I had heard him talk at Anticipation in Montreal a few years back and he had some great things to say about the editing process which have since informed my writing. He’s Sawyer’s editor and has a reputation for being good to Canadian science fiction writers. He read excerpts from a book he’s working on about science fiction anthologies.

David Hartwell, Senior Editor Tor Books

David Hartwell, Senior Editor Tor Books

There was a Q & A afterward with both Hartwell and Szego during which Hartwell commented that they are always on the lookout for “talented” writers. I asked him to define talented, which got a big laugh from the audience. But I really wanted to know. How does he define talented? What the heck does that mean? His answer was rather flip, which also got a big laugh, and I’m afraid I don’t remember quite what it was, though he (or maybe it was Chris, or Rob) went on to say essentially that talent manifests itself in many ways.

I spoke with Hartwell afterward. He apologized for his flip response, though it hadn’t bothered me at all, its saving grace being that it was both funny and true (if only I could remember what it was!) I was treated to a rather lengthy conversation with the man, during which (I fear) I peppered him with many questions about editing and writing, all of which he answered graciously. I asked him (for instance) what kind of editing one does on a writer of Sawyer’s calibre (“it’s all about detail,” he told me, or words to that effect).

Before we parted I couldn’t resist telling him that I would love to send a manuscript his way one day. “Send it to me now,” he responded, to my astonishment.

“What if the last five pages aren’t quite done?” I asked him, panicking a little.

“Just make sure the first five pages are perfect,” he said.

Naturally I forgot to ask him for his email address (which Rob generously provided later).

Now, I am not a complete fool. I am well aware that nothing may come of this. Mr. Hartwell was probably just being nice. But his comment did have the effect of galvanizing me. I spent the next week not only making sure the first five pages of my manuscript are perfect, but finishing the last five. I think it (more or less) rocks now.

Whatever comes of it, Hartwell’s offer was a terrific end to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

What the…?

Huh?

Huh?

Yesterday somebody asked me, what’s up with your blog?

“You’re referring to the poker thing?” I asked him.

He was.

Here’s the deal with the poker thing. It’s an advertisement. Somebody offered me one hundred and forty some bucks to place that on my blog. I thought, hey, I could use one hundred and forty some bucks. So I accepted, both because I wanted the cold, hard cash, and because I thought it would be an interesting experiment. Little did I know that it would involve such a butt ugly graphic.

No problem, I thought when I saw it. I’ll just bury it with other posts.

Which worked until something odd happened to the poker post. It became impossible to access it from outside the blog. You could scroll down to it, but you couldn’t click on a link to it and access it. The advertising company emailed me and pointed this out, so I was forced to post it again, bumping it to the top of the blog. And yes, I have asked myself, how did that one post become corrupt?

Don’t know. Curious to see if this one becomes corrupt.

If it does, guess I’ll just refund the one hundred and forty some bucks, and my little experiment with advertising will be done.

The Best Tips for Poker Players

GUEST POST

poker posture

It’s pretty obvious that poker players are not the fittest group of individuals. Along with any other poker player in the virtual poker room or at The Palms, there’s really not enough physical activity going on because you generally just sit there at the table. As a professional poker player or even when you’re just starting out, you don’t only need to have a sharp mind but also a fit body because it can definitely do wonders for your performance. You don’t need to get into crossfit training or running but with these simple tips you can ready yourself for any poker challenge and perform at your optimum level.

Of course, following a healthy diet is a must but a gym membership from GoodLife Fitness can also be beneficial as well. With the right amount of cardiovascular exercise and stretching, you can develop your physique as well as improve your overall wellness. If you’re an online player, investing in a great ergonomic chair can be your greatest weapon. An ergonomic chair that you can choose from Ergonomic Chair Pro can support your lower back. In considering to buy a good chair you must look for the following important qualities. When it comes to seat height, it should be easily adjustable and should be about 16-21 inches from the floor. As with your seat width and depth the standard would be 17-20 inches but if you can’t fit your butt, it means that you need to take up that Crossfit Training. The backrest should be about 12-19 inches wide for comfort, and lastly, the seat material should have some comfortable padding. Now when you have finally acquired the perfect chair, you can definitely see the changes and benefits during an intense game in PartyPoker . You’ll notice you have stopped fidgeting and you don’t need an extra ottoman to be more comfortable around your seat. Professional poker players such as Paul Volpe, Steven Silverman and Marvin Rettenmeier are known to sport a professional demeanor just by sitting up straight. You don’t need to be a chiropractor to know how to improve your posture you just need to observe this rule. The Radiological Society of North America says that when you lean your back when seated, it should be observed at a 135 degree angle.

Another way to maintain your sanity and health especially during a tournament is to take 1-2 minute breaks while playing online or if you’re in a tournament you can opt for a five to ten minute break. You can grab a cup of coffee or just go outside and get some sun and fresh air before resuming your game. Finally, eye fatigue is pretty common for online poker players. You can rest your eyes and close them for a bit or just by looking outside your window for a moment or relaxing your eyes by looking at cool colors in your room. You can also put some Visine to refresh your retinas.

Ten Films You Might Not Have Seen But Perhaps Ought To

There are probably hundreds if not thousands of films out there that we’d appreciate — maybe even love — if only we knew about them.

Sadly, we don’t know about them. Either because they didn’t do so well at the box office, or were only released on Mars, or we weren’t born yet.

Or maybe we just weren’t paying close enough attention.

So I compiled a list of ten films I consider worth seeing.

I’m not saying they’re my favourite films (that’s another list for another time).

I’m just saying these are a few cool films that maybe flew under the radar that are worth checking out.

I’ve numbered them, but the numbers don’t matter. Truth is I couldn’t decide which order to number them in. So this is just the order I left them in when I gave up the silly exercise of numbering them.

So, without further ado:

10. Les Visiteurs (1993)

I saw this film, about a French nobleman and his servant who are transported forward in time to the twentieth century, in 1993 when I was living in France. A bunch of my French friends dragged me to it, insisting that I had to see it, it was all the rage, and sure enough since then it has turned into a French cult classic

My French wasn’t so hot back then (my French never actually got past “warm”) so I didn’t understand much of the film when I first saw it.

But one line stood out for me with absolute clarity, a line spoken by Jean Reno: “Je pense que j’ai fait un grosse betise” (I think I just did something really stupid).

I was perversely proud of myself for being able to pick out that one line.

It’s a bit of a silly movie, with a particular French comedic sensibility. There was an American remake (Just Visiting), but you owe it to yourself to see the original.

9. One Week 2008

This is a Canadian movie, currently available on NetFlix, starring Joshua Jackson of Fringe and Dawson’s Creek fame.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Jackson’s character feels compelled to take a motorcycle trip from Toronto to Vancouver, presumably to come to grips with his illness and also to sort out his feelings about the woman he’s about to marry. Along the way he sees a lot of small town Canada and meets several interesting characters (one of whom provides some startlingly dubious advice about his relationship).

The soundtrack to this gentle but engaging film was recorded in the Glenn Gould studio in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre where I work, by my colleague Dennis Patterson. But that’s not why I’m flogging it.

8. The Last Mimzy 2007

This is a lovely little science fiction movie for the kids. And the grown-ups. And everyone in between.

I like it for three reasons in particular.

One, it’s an intriguing story about two kids who discover artefacts from the future that give them seemingly magical powers. But for what purpose?

Two, it’s clearly the result of a labour of love for the director, Robert Shaye (founder and former head of New Line Cinema, also famous for giving the green light to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring trilogy).

And three, it’s an adaptation of an old science fiction favourite of mine called Mimsy Were the Borogroves (note the different spelling of “Mimsy”) by Lewis Padgett.

A couple of things about that. The title is a line from Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky:

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.

And Lewis Padgett is actually a pseudonym of the husband and wife writer team Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore.

7. Away From Her 2006

Another Canadian film, this time by director/actor Sarah Polley. It’s about a man (played by Gordon Pinsent) dealing with his wife’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease (the wife is played by Julie Christie). So, a happy movie. Not. But a compelling movie.

I found a promotional copy of this movie on the infamous “Table of Shit” in the Q production area back when I worked on the show. The Table of Shit was where we put all the books and videos and whatnot that people sent us flogging their wares. So I took this one home and watched it with my wife, and was duly impressed.

6. Le Hussard Sur le Toit (The Horseman on the Roof) 1995

This one is set in Provence, France in 1832. It’s about a young officer trying to help a young woman find her husband during a cholera outbreak. I saw it a long time ago (well, eighteen years ago, to be exact) and would love to see it again. I remember being drawn to it because it’s set in Provence, my home for a year shortly before seeing it. But well worth seeing in its own right.

5. The Emperor’s New Clothes 2001

If you like Bilbo Baggins you’ll like this movie. Well, maybe not. But perhaps if you like Ian Holm, who played both Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings franchise, and Napoleon, in this flick. It’s a small but charming movie about Napoleon’s final attempt to regain the throne of France. An attempt that doesn’t quite go as Napoleon would have liked.

4. Spoorloos (The Vanishing) (1988)

A disturbing movie about the disappearance of a woman with one of the best endings I’ve ever seen in a movie.

I will say nothing more about it, except to say you must see the original, not the Hollywood remake (but isn’t that just about always the case?)

3. The Swimmer 1968

I caught this Burt Lancaster flick on late night television back in the eighties. The best kind of quirky. A couple of months ago I stumbled across the John Cheever short story the film is based on. A good short story. A better movie. Roger Ebert called Lancaster’s performance in this movie his best.

2. Ridicule 1996

Ridicule

Ridicule

(I have removed the trailer for this film because it is rather explicit. I must confess I didn’t watch it all the way through before posting it. Learned my lesson there!)

What can I say? I like French films (I pretty much like French anything). This one has a lot of humour in it but not the kind you might expect from a French film. This one’s smart and sometimes nasty. Highly recommended.

1. Legend of Drunken Master (1994)

This Jackie Chan film is a personal favourite, influenced no doubt by my love of both martial arts and martial arts films. Tons of action and plenty of humour. I brought it home one night from the video store and my wife said, “What the heck is this?”

Five minutes in, after some pretty dubious English dubbing, she said, “Seriously, this is what you want to watch?”

But she watched the whole thing with me.

And the next night, when we felt like watching another movie, she said, “Let’s watch Legend of Drunken Master again!” because she had enjoyed it so much. Watching the same movie two nights in a row is something we’ve never done before or since.

So what’s it about?

Jackie Chan’s character is a martial artist who gets better the more alcohol he drinks. Needless to say his parents don’t approve. But when foreigners start stealing priceless artefacts, Jackie has no choice.

Particularly charming and hilarious is Anita Mui’s performance as Jackie’s character’s mother-in-law.

Now.

What little known gems do you recommend?