Silver Court

Last week I talked a bit about getting refocused on a new project and (hopefully) getting back into the swing of writing productively after a rough fall. Public accountability was useful the first time I completed a novel-length project, so perhaps it will work out again for me. I thought I’d write a little about what this (not exactly) new project will be.

I’m returning to the idea of my take on an Arthurian-inspired fantasy story. As frequent readers of the blog will know, I have a great deal of affection for the King Arthur stories, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the medieval world in general. Plenty of people have asked me why I’ve never written a story set in the Middle Ages, and while there are definitely reasons, my take on an imaginary version of the Middle Ages sounds much more plausible to me.

I’m going to use a lot of elements of the Arthurian toolbox, but I’m also going to change them up as I do so. My main character is a knight, but a pretty atypical one. He starts the story with a quest (because of course) but this quest won’t end up at all like it was meant to. I think suiting the rather confusing world that I’m writing in, in this story some of the characters one might expect to be villains will not be, and some characters my hero might think he can depend on will, uh, not be dependable. I’m calling this the world of the Silver Court, and for now that’s the title for the story, as well.

I like the characters I’ve created, I think the story should be a fun one both to write and to read, and (unusually for me) I have a plan! Notes and everything! So, although I’m still fairly immersed in Real Life stuff at the moment, I’m optimistic about how this will go when I can get to writing.

The main concern would be marketability, I suppose. It’s not exactly unheard of territory, in terms of setting or the traditions it draws upon. So, a fair assessment would probably say that put an obstacle in my path in terms of selling this story, once it’s done. A fair counterpoint would be that it’s even harder to sell a story that isn’t written, and so maybe worry about that part first. Another fair counterpoint would be that chasing the market is a bad idea, and that I should trust that a good story will find a home.

In addition, I am going to try to listen to the wisdom of my friend Jay Odjick on this one. Jay has a lot of good advice for artists, but one thing he said about writing always sticks with me. Paraphrasing a bit, it was essentially that no-one else can tell your story. Only you can do that, and you have to have confidence that your story has merit.

I do think The Silver Court is a story that has merit. Over the next months, my plan is to get to finding out.

Thanks for reading.

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Back Again

And we’re back (again) after a bit of an(other) unplanned blog interruption. Mostly I’ve just been struggling with health and work soaking up most/all of my energy the past while, and unfortunately both time and inspiration to write something here is one of the things that got chucked overboard.

I do think that it’s valuable for me to keep this thing going, though, and most of the time I enjoy writing a little entry each week, so I’m going to try very hard to refocus on making this thing a priority one night of the week once more.

Lots of refocusing going on. It is still the plan for me to lay aside the space fantasy I had been working on for the past year or so and resume work on the fantasy project that I had laid the foundations for shortly before that. I still think the reasons for doing so are good and I’m excited – once I wall off a little more time and mental space – to get to work on it.

I am also aware that I need to be careful not to fall back into old habits, from way before I wrote King in Darkness. Because I used to hop around from project to project, getting excited about a thing, working away on it long enough for the initial buzz to wear off, and then jumping to a new fresh idea. It meant I never finished anything.

Part of the reason I started this blog to begin with was to make a (sort of) public commitment to write a novel-length piece of work to completion, and in the end it worked. I’m hoping it can do so once again, and I’m going to try to provide more frequent updates about the new thing as I get going with it.

Anyway, just to quickly say that yes, this blog is still here, and yes, I’m still writing both here and elsewhere. It hasn’t been the easiest fall in a lot of ways, but I have a good feeling about where I intend to go from here.

Thanks for reading.

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Battling a sinus infection this week, but I still wanted to write something, especially since there has been what we would have to call an explosion in the world of Canadian spec fic since I wrote last. As many/most of you will be aware, over the past few days it has come to light that ChiZine Publications, one of the larger markets for horror and dark fantasy in Canada, has been run with all manner of ongoing bad behaviour, ranging from financial malfeasance to sexual harassment to bullying to racism.

Many of their victims are gradually sharing their stories, and by and large the writing and creative community has rallied around them. This has been heartening to watch, especially in contrast to the feelings of anger, disappointment, and sadness all the stories of pain and abuse will have caused anyone who heard them.

I’m intensely grateful for my little community of creatives, who support me in the stuff I do, give me a pat on the back when I need it and a kick in the ass when I need that, and who I know will have my back if and when I ever need it. It’s easy to feel good about a community like that.

And yet. What the ChiZine episode teaches us, far more than that there are bad people out there (because surely, we knew that already), is that we need to work constantly on our communities. What was going on at ChiZine went on for as long as it did because people were afraid to share their stories, afraid of being ridiculed, ostracized, various things.

So, as well as I think the overall community has reacted to what we’ve learned about ChiZine and their victims, obviously we could have been better. We could have done a better job identifying bad actors in our midst. We could have made it clearer that if people spoke out about abuse they had suffered, that they would be helped and believed. We could, no doubt, have done a better job of putting together the pieces of the puzzle that we did see. (For my part, I had heard that some of the ChiZine people could be difficult, and that the could be mean to people they didn’t like. That doesn’t sound like much, but I also never thought to inquire further.) So, I think the SFFH community in Canada is pretty good in some ways, but also has work to do in others.

Finding out you have work to do isn’t the worst thing in the world. Just about everyone and everything does. We just need to learn the lessons, and get at it.

Be grateful for our communities. Keep working on them, too, because they can always be better.

Thanks for reading.

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Course Correction

No musings on migratory birds this week, nothing on running either – but I have made a decision about what to do next with my writing.

If you follow the blog, you’ll know that for the last year or so I’ve been working on a moderately insane space fantasy involving dragons and faeries and a wide variety of batty shit. I’ve had fun working on it, I’m pretty fond of the characters and the general idea still makes me smile. I have about 33,000 words done, which is a good chunk of story really. However, as you’ll also know if you follow the blog, it hasn’t been going great the last while.

Some of it has just been life intervening, but I’ve also had some struggles with not exactly knowing what to do next and I’m at a point now where it has become kind of A Thing that this project isn’t going well, which has tended to take the wind out of my sails when I sit down to write and I know just the psychological aspect has damaged my productivity at least as much as the whole Real Life thing.

So, I went back and looked at the previous thing I was working on (before getting the loopy idea for this space fantasy) and discovered that a) parts of it are pretty good really and b) I had notes! Armed with these two important pieces of knowledge, I’m going to put the space fantasy into stasis for a while and get to work on this new/old thing for a while.

For one thing, I think the new/old project is a pretty good idea and as I look through the notes, along with the amazement that I have notes is a gradually returning excitement about why I started to write this one in the first place. And on Monday morning, I wrote about 2,000 words in a little over an hour, which is way more productive than I have been for a while. So, I’m going to follow that for a while, hopefully get back into a groove getting words on the page, and whenever I come back to the space fantasy, it will be with fresh eyes, and I’ll have a better chance of figuring out what to do to make it work.

I know that at some point if I want to be serious about this writing thing, I do just have to get something finished so that I have another complete project to take to market. I had some useful perspective this week, which was a reminder of how many completed projects professional writers tend to have that never sell and are never published. It’s often a lot.

All of which to say that as much as I still love Heretic Blood, as much as I’m still proud of it and will forever be fond of the characters from it, it may just be that it’s not going to catch the right interest. There’s a whole constellation of reasons why that might be the case, some of which having to do with the quality of the work and some not, but ultimately the ‘why’ doesn’t matter. It may just not get there, so I have to have the next thing to try again with.

I can’t keep switching around and backtracking, obviously. But, I still think this is the right choice to get me writing significantly again and, ultimately, to get both projects finished. Deciding that I need to, effectively, pull the car over and turn around wasn’t necessarily the best feeling, but now that I’ve done it, I feel pretty good about the new(/old!) direction.

Thanks for reading.

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Can*Con 2019, and also geese

Ahoy, back after another one week break, this time unplanned and caused by my computer being in the shop. Apologies there.

In some ways it was just as well because the previous weekend was the weekend of Can*Con, the SFF convention that I help plan and put on. Normally I write a little thing about that in the aftermath. This time ’round, I didn’t honestly have a great weekend. There were reasons.

For the previous Can*Con, I had a real plan going into it of what I was going to do, primarily that I was going to meet the agent GoH and pitch my book to her. Which I did. All of that felt great. I didn’t have any plan going into this one (our agent GoH this time out doesn’t rep the kind of book I am (still) querying on) and so I didn’t have that sense of purpose going in.

I also, as some of you will be aware, haven’t really had a great fall. So I went in already feeling pretty worn and stressed, and my General Human Tolerance Level was pretty low. So I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be around a bunch of people for a whole weekend and come away feeling like it was a positive experience. And I didn’t, which was in itself kind of an additional drag, since I (and so many other people) had put tons of work into Can*Con all year, and then having it be not the best time was a letdown.

Now, none of that is to say that the convention itself didn’t go well. It really did. We had great guests and panelists, there were no (major) crises, and pretty well all the feedback I have heard was tremendously positive. It was a great weekend of conversations around the writing and reading of SFF, and I heartily recommend that everyone come out next year, when presumably I will be in a better mood.

For people like me, though, for whom engaging with large groups of people and people we don’t know well and coming out of it feeling good does not come naturally, requires effort, and something very much like putting on a mask – well, sometimes you just can’t do it. I couldn’t that weekend, and I apologize to anyone I saw or didn’t see that weekend that was hoping to have a nicer chat with me than they did, and to my friends on the Can*Con team who had me kind of drop my end of the load right at the finish line there. You are all the best, all very patient, and we really do have the best team.

So, tough fall.

However, this morning, as I set out for work on a very foggy day, I had brief moment where I could watch an enormous flock of geese getting formed up to migrate south for the winter. Yes, I’ve written about geese before on this thing. Yes, I am more than aware that they are vicious hellbeasts. Hang in with me a second.

It was really cool to see because as they first took off, it was just an undifferentiated cloud of birds, a blob in the sky. As they flew towards me and passed overhead, though, they all – very smoothly, it seemed – strung themselves out into a nice neat V, and on they went, looking like they knew exactly what they were doing, because really they did.

I am, as you can tell, looking for inspiration in the world around me a fair bit these days. That flock of geese was inspiring, and here’s why: even when things are a chaotic blob of a mess, we can get things sorted out and arranged and get on our way. Things can come together as fast as they seem to come apart.

September through (most of) October may have been a big fluttery mess, but I’ll get back into v-formation soon enough.

Sorry again about the missed week, and thanks for reading.

See you, I hope, at Can*Con 2020.

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With Help

On the weekend, a man did something many people had thought was impossible.

Eliud Kipchoge ran the marathon distance in a time of 1:59:40, becoming the first person to ever do it in under two hours, and breaching a limit that some had said was absolute. It was, especially for fans of distance running, something really exceptional.

Kipchoge’s feat came with a significant ‘but’ – due to the use of a rotating formation of pace runners, a pace car, a deliberately flat course, and other forms of assistance, the time is not an official world record. Some people have discounted it entirely, mostly with the argument that it doesn’t count if Kipchoge had help.

What rubbish.

Every runner who has ever done the marathon ‘had help’. They had coaches and training partners, friends and family who encouraged them and supported them, rivals to inspire them. and on and on the list goes. I would argue that no one has ever done a single thing in this world ‘without help’. There are always those who went before us and showed the way, the people who worked with us, who did things so we didn’t have to, who told us we could, and told us we should.

That’s why I was as excited to see Kipchoge’s immense achievement, just as much as I will be whenever someone (probably him) does it in a competitive setting. He still ran around 21 kph for two hours. However much help he had or had not, he still ran every step of that thing.

It’s important to keep in mind about the things I do in my own life – not that I will ever do anything to put beside Kipchoge. It’s easy to minimize our achievements, because someone else is better, or what we did wasn’t perfect, or we ‘had help’. You know what? It’s true every time, and it still doesn’t change that we did the bloody thing.

Yes, with help.

Just like always.

Kipchoge, perhaps with the level of self-assuredness one needs to do things people say are impossible, seems unbothered by the qualifiers people want to put on his monumental accomplishment.

I will never run like him, but I’m gonna try to think just a little bit more like him.

Thanks for reading.

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Limitations and Demons

Hello again.

So, week before last, I received what I felt like were some rather urgent reminders of my limitations. Work was getting busier, the time commitments for Can*Con were rising, and I was trying to keep all my other things ticking over as well.

I was tired. I was (more) irritable. I didn’t feel like doing anything. All sorts of things (like, say, writing this blog) had shifted over from ‘yay, now I get to’ into ‘aw fuck, I have to’ territory. I got sick. Basically I was given a whole bunch of signals that, for a variety of reasons, I was trying to do Too Much Stuff at that moment.

Eventually, the penny dropped and I put some stuff down, until the waters recede just a bit and I’m ready to carry those particular weights again. It’s all fine, even if Real World concerns meant that some of the things put on pause were ones I wish I could prioritize. Alas. But, everyone has limitations. Nobody can do an unlimited number of things, and the size of the load we can carry varies over time, often for reasons not under our control.

Usually, hopefully, I figure it out before the urgent signals begin, but in any case, it’s ok to adjust and deal with things on the level I’m capable of handling. Eventually I’ll pick all that other stuff back up again, and I’ll actually enjoy it and be good at it instead of grinding away at it low on energy, inspiration, and competence.

I know I will, too, because the day after I skipped my weekly blog entry was the 15th anniversary of my sobriety. My addiction is a demon I will wrestle until the day that I die, but I have 15 years worth of proof that it isn’t too strong for me. We have struggles, we have limitations, we have demons. But we have our strengths as well and there’s a way through most things if we don’t quit on ourselves.

Sometimes, ‘not quitting’ means taking a step back and taking a break, because you’ve got to fight smart more than anything. But our demons? We don’t have to back down from those.

I’ll be back to pick up everything soon enough. Thanks for reading.

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No Entry

Just a quick note by way of apology that there will be no blog entry this week.  There’s a lot going on just now between work and getting ready for Can*Con, and I am quite low on energy overall.  All of which to say, I just don’t have a good subject to write on this week, so I’m taking myself off the hook.

I’ll be back next week with your regularly scheduled ramblings.

Death of a Druid

Since we talked last, one of my characters died.

By itself, this is hardly a newsflash. My characters die all the time, and it’s almost always my fault. I’ve never counted how many imaginary people I have crafted a demise for, but it’s a lot. Even if we restrict it to relatively major characters, I’m sure it hits triple digits if all the stories I’ve ever written were to be added up.

This one was a little different, though. If you follow me around on Twitter, you will know that for the past ~2 years, I have been a part of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with some of my writer friends here in Ottawa. We have gotten to know each other better, our imaginary people have gotten to know each other as well, and we’ve had some pretty cool adventures. We have not met the demogorgon.

My (original) character was Gwriad, a rather irascible druid who lived in a hedge and did not like people very much. He was wise enough to see the usefulness of the other characters in the party, and then to tolerate them, and even to start to like some of them. He fell in love, awkwardly.

Then, he left the party. It was a tough decision for me to make, at the time, because I was essentially choosing to write him out of our story. If it was just my story, of course I wouldn’t have done it that way, but an RPG is a shared kind of storytelling where I don’t get to control all, or even most, of what happens. I can just control, or write, my own character’s actions, and keeping him true to himself, he had to leave.

In general, you try not to do that. The point of an RPG is to tell a story together, so you don’t want everyone flying off in various directions all the time. When I decided that Gwriad had no other real choice, or at least none that would belong to the character I had created, I knew that there was a very real chance that he was gone forever. Once a character leaves the party, they’re in the DM’s hands, and there’s certainly no guarantee that you get them back.

As it happened, again, my DM Brandon and I discussed what would happen to Gwriad a few times, kicked around various alternatives, and eventually hit on the idea of bringing him back as a villain, or at least a temporary villain. That seemed both dramatic and fun, so we did it, and I got to play Gwriad again briefly at our last session, albeit as a bad guy.

I admit that I was sort of assuming that in the end the other characters would figure out how to save him, and maybe Gwriad would be back, after all. But it is a game and not a story, and as things worked out, Gwriad perished in the battle.

It’s not exactly the same as when any of my other imaginary people have died, because of course I didn’t choose to end his story then, or that way. It’s part of the fun and the risk of the collaborative story that you get from an RPG: sometimes, things don’t go exactly as you would have them. There were still ideas that I had for things to do with this grumpy, ragged druid, and now they won’t happen.

So it struck me, a bit, having this particular character die, and it surprised me that some of the other players seemed to be given some pause by it as well. As D&D characters go, Gwriad was still very young, but he’d been around for about 2 years of our lives, and I guess people got used to him. I shall miss playing him at the table, even though I already enjoy his replacement very much. But Brother Maxwell, my kindly priest of the Raven Queen still feels like new shoes, a little, and he’s not the same as having Gwriad around, who shared the whole pretend history of this particular group from the beginning.

And I guess that’s where I’m perhaps lucky, because for me, Gwriad isn’t gone. When he left the party, I said something on Twitter about being sure that I would see him again, somewhere, and I’m still sure it’s true. My bad-tempered druid who doesn’t know where he fits in life is still waiting in a hedge or a forest somewhere in my imagination, waiting for the right story.

That’s the thing about imaginary people. They’re never really gone at all.

If you’re interested in following along with our campaign, my friend Marie Bilodeau has started keeping a blog about it. You can check it out here.

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Team Tarnish

A few years ago, basically as a thought exercise while I was running, I put together a team of seven heroes to handle any kind of mission in my head. It was a fun puzzle to worry away at while studiously not thinking about how many more kilometers I had to go, and the results are here if you want them. I still pretty much stand by them.

One of my friends responded with a list of anti-heroes, and it’s fair to say that I had Issues. So I’ve been working away on that one ever since. It was a tougher problem because I didn’t find it as easy to come up with a team that has a diversity of skills. ‘Anti-hero’, as a category, tends to skew pretty heavily towards ‘lethal killing machine’. But, just yesterday (out running again) I thought of another addition to the team and discovered I have seven. So, here it is.

Same ground rules as before: no-one with actual super powers, because once you start picking those you don’t pick anyone else. No-one who does actual magic, because again, that tends to marginalize anyone else.

Here we go. Feel free to yell at me in the comments.

Molly Millions (Neuromancer): I almost took her on my hero team, but didn’t in the end and upon reflection she fits better here anyway. We’re starting off strong with someone who will cut your face off with razor blade fingernails and/or shoot you in the eye with a shellfish toxin dart, but will also outmanoeuvre a lunatic plutocrat in a decades-long power struggle. Of course it helps that she’s from one of my very favourite books ever, but Molly is a wonderful sharp-edged tool to aim at our enemies.

The Marquis de Carabas (Neverwhere): For pick two we’ll diversify a bit and go for someone who isn’t much of a fighter, but knows the ins and outs of the underbelly of urban society (both fantastic and real), can cut us a deal and run us a scam, and honestly anyone who is willing to have themselves tortured to death to pick up a key piece of information is the kind of thinker we need.  de Carabas knows all your secrets, and if he doesn’t yet, by god he will find out.

Max Rockatansky (Mad Max series): Sooner or later, there’s gonna be a car chase, so we need a driver. For my hero team, I took Furiosa, here I’m grabbing Mad Max. Max is dangerously close (for the purposes of this) to ticking over into being a hero, but his core impulse by the end of the first movie, and onwards, is just to survive. He has his moments where redemption starts to look pretty good, but in the end, he’s always out back on the road, living only in our dreams. Max can drive cars, trucks, wagons pulled by camels, and he can do it across a radioactive wasteland.  He’s also got like a million weapons on him.  I have no idea if he and Molly can avoid killing each other.

Ker Avon (Blake’s 7): If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you should have seen this one coming. Avon is another of my most beloved characters, and he’s going to be huge for our team. He can fly spaceships (which is sure to come up), he’s good with computers, and then that gets generalized to ‘all kinds of science’ as a certain type of SFF tends to do. But perhaps more valuable, he’s a schemer and a plotter and great at seeing the worst in other people and acting accordingly. He and de Carabas will be a dangerous team. I’m not sure if Avon will be relieved to be on a team that isn’t full of people with noble goals or if he’ll perhaps miss it, but he’ll drop some lethal zingers on everyone either way.

Samantha ‘Root’ Groves (Person of Interest): While we’re dealing with tech, let’s add another, possibly even greater computer genius. Computers make more sense to Root than people, and in the course of the series she never meets her match with making tech do what she wants, and figuring out how to use it against her enemies. Who are hopefully now our enemies. Also, we just may get a superintelligent AI on our side this way, and perhaps also government assassin Sameen Shaw to help take out our enemies. Whether we get the package deal or not, between Root and Avon, our IT department is the best/worst.

Snake Plissken (Escape from New York): Back to a more blunt instrument now, and another character I have huge affection for. Sure, he’s a gunfighter, yes he can outfight a giant in a gladiatorial deathmatch, but ultimately, Snake is another survivor. From Cold War military engagements to near-future dystopias and the custody of totalitarian police forces, Snake grinds his way through. He’s also got a rep among the poor and the desperate (ok fine also criminals) that we can probably leverage.

Crisjen Avasarala (The Expanse TV series): I mean as soon as you can have the Secretary-General of the United Nations on your team, you’re doing quite well, and in Avasarala we’re getting a savvy politician and expert negotiator/manipulator. Also someone with an endearingly foul mouth, for added style points. I’m not entirely sure we’re meant to take Avasarala as an anti-hero, but when we first meet her she’s remorselessly torturing someone, and soon after she’s manipulating a dear family friend to score information on Mars, and not long after she’s strongarming someone’s mom for information about something else. I think she fits, and between her, Avon, and de Carabas, my only worry would be how long I could stay more than nominally in charge of this bunch.

Didn’t Make the Cut:

Judge Dredd is one of your more obvious choices in the antihero realm, but between Snake, Molly, and Max, we’ve got plenty of lethal force options, and he honestly wouldn’t play well with many of the others anyway.

The Punisher is another very famous anti-hero, but he’s real close to breaking the ‘no superpower’ rule and anyway the character has never grabbed me. I’ve got better shootists, anyway.

Leda Clone Helena also just got cut from the hero team, so she’ll be super pissed, but I’m honestly not sure she works as an anti-hero by the end of Orphan Black, and so even though there’s an off chance we might get all the Leda clones on board adding her, I think it’s not a great fit and – as much as I love her unique brand of threat – we have other people who can fight our fights.

Don’t Even With

Here’s where I get grumpy about how the concept of ‘anti-hero’ seems to have been broadened, recently, to include anyone who isn’t happy go lucky and unfailingly kind. You can be a grumpy jerk and still be a hero. An antihero is someone who is the protagonist in our story, and may do heroic things, but doesn’t do it out of any sense of right or wrong, or (put a little more melodramatically) out of nobility of spirit. They do things out of self-interest, or sometimes according to *their own sense* of what’s right, but that doesn’t generally line up with society good/bad standards.

Thus, although they come up a lot as examples of antiheroes, do not come in here with

Indiana Jones, who we do think differently of these days regarding his life mission to travel the globe obtaining priceless cultural artifacts and hauling them back to an American museum, but I still argue caution is required. We do not, today, approve of Indy’s goals, although ‘that belongs in a museum’ is perhaps still better than something ending up the private possession of some millionaire jerkwad. Moreover, it’s clear from the framing of the movies that we’re at least supposed to think Indy is doing the right thing (morality here has shifted in the direction of justice). My final point, though, is that no-one whose most famous tagline is ‘Nazis! I hate these guys’ belongs on the anti-hero list.

Even moreso with Han Solo, who is so unambiguously an enormous softie trying very hard to hide it that I can’t believe anyone interprets him any differently. When we first (well, originally first?) met him in A New Hope, he’s scrambling desperately to survive, but at really the first possible opportunity he Does The Right Thing and never stops up until he gives his life trying to help his son in Force Awakens. Not even close.

I hesitate to even mention Batman, since he kind of breaks the ‘no superhero’ rule anyway, but I keep seeing him on lists of anti-heroes and it’s silly. Yes, again, if you view his mission as ‘rich guy beating up poor people’, it looks rough, but then in the comics he spends virtually no time actually doing that and almost all his time grappling with superpowered terrorists and murderers. The message of many Batman stories re: mental illness is not great, but I’d argue you have to generalize that criticism over superhero comics overall. In sum, I tend to agree with Superman’s assessment of Batman in Kingdom Come, that if you scrape everything else away from the character, you’re left with someone who doesn’t want to see anyone die. That’s a hero, come on now.

Anyway, there you have it, for whatever it may be worth. Let me know why I absolutely got it wrong, and thank you for reading.

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