Category Archives: Writing

Baseball, Stories

So, a day late on this one again, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything to write that wasn’t pandemic-related, and I have been determined not to make this All About The Pandemic, because frankly I already do more than enough thinking along those lines anyway, and I’m sure you’ve got all the pandemic content you could ever want or need as well.

But then (as of course often happens) as I was lying down to sleep, an idea occurred to me, because I was thinking about baseball*. Now, why was I thinking about baseball, in this odd season where major league ball is not being played, and gives no particular sign of being played? Partly, this doesn’t mean that there’s no baseball being played at all – the Korean league is playing in front of empty stadiums, and I have adopted the SK Wyverns as my team to follow from a (great) distance. Korean league baseball is a delight, with bat flips and teams named the Heroes and parts of the stadiums labelled ‘EXCITING ZONE’, but of course the Wyverns are terrible and it’s still all very far away.

So that wasn’t why.

I have also just finished reading a really excellent baseball book, Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball, which you should really give a read if you have even a tiny piece of affection for the sport. I would argue that a lot of people will probably enjoy it even if they’re not into baseball, but I can’t imagine a baseball fan not liking it.

But that wasn’t why, either.

The real reason is that one of the ways I have been passing some of my extra time in seclusion has been to get out my old tabletop baseball game (Avalon Hill’s Statis-Pro Baseball)** and playing out a little league with teams from 1985. Now why 1985? Because that’s not the year I bought the game, and in fact I ordered these cards special.

Well, if you’re a Blue Jays fan (or, I suppose a baseball historian) you may know that in 1985, the Jays had finally turned into a good team, good enough to win their division and get to the American League Championship Series, and even lead it 3 games to 1. The ALCS being a best-of-seven, they needed to win just one more game to go to the World Series. Instead of doing that, they would lose three straight, and the Kansas City Royals advanced to the championship, won it, and (with apologies to Joe Posnanski) I have loathed them ever since.

So, 1985 is a bit of a tantalizing ‘oh, what if’ in the minds of the right vintage of Jays fan, the sort of thing that games like Statis-Pro are somewhat uniquely suited to exploring. But, despite the heartbreak of how 1985 (and, really, all the efforts of those 1980s Blue Jays teams) ended up, I have a lot of affection for it because that’s more or less when I started becoming a fan of the team.

By which I mean, having an active interest in the team itself and hoping they would win rather than just watching a baseball game because it was something my father put on in the living room. I had favourite players (Jesse Barfield and the late Tony Fernández), and although I had tons to learn about how baseball really worked, I would watch the games and hope to see my heroes do well and (since they were pretty good that year) see them do some pretty amazing things.

Bit of a shock how it ended up, which is really the point I am (eventually) getting to. 1985 was also the year when (coming to this realization perhaps a bit late in life, but I have generally been behind the curve in various kinds of learning) the difference between sports and a story in a book, or a movie, came home. Because of course, had it been a book (or at least, the kind of books I would have been reading at the time), ‘the good guys’ wouldn’t really lose three straight games to their rivals, and they wouldn’t really not go to the World Series. Maybe they’d lose two, and then win the last vital game in dramatic fashion, but they’d never really fail utterly the way the Blue Jays did in 1985 (or the way they did an arguably even more heartbreaking thing in 1987).

One of the main reasons I enjoy watching sports is that you do get wonderful, exciting, amazing stories played out in front of you that challenge the limits of the imagination and would strain suspension of disbelief if someone did make them up that way. You genuinely cannot predict what might happen, no matter how well you know the conventions of drama and character and plot, because none of them apply.

But, of course, that’s also one of the strengths of the stories we write. We can tell the tale we want to tell, or want others to experience. Unless it suits our purpose, we don’t need to have our heroes, or our readers, experience their own 1985. That’s a big part of why I think fiction is always my first love, both for entertainment purposes, and as something I will always come back to creating***. Being able to tell, and to read, or watch stories where things end up as they should is such a powerful and important thing, and perhaps especially so during times where the ends appear uncertain.

.Keep creating, and keep reading.

Thanks for being here.

*-I did not leap out of bed and go write it, right then, thereby getting it published ‘on time’ because although deadlines are definitely a thing for me, I am just sane enough to recognize that the world does not exactly turn on the writing of this blog. Also, it was just past midnight anyway.

**-For the unfamiliar (thus, virtually everyone), Statis-Pro and games like it were simulations of baseball from the time before computers became ubiquitous. Each player has a card that rates their effectiveness at hitting, fielding, running the bases, and pitching, and with these and a bunch of arcane charts you can play out all these imaginary games. You can use the teams as they existed, or switch the players around and create new ones. If you have cards from different seasons, you can have pretend matchups that break the laws of time. It was exactly the sort of thing that would naturally appeal to a quiet kid with a good imagination who was also a baseball fan. I played a lot of Statis-Pro.

***-I was going to write a whole thing on this, but again, I don’t want to dwell too much on the pandemic situation. So: as I mentioned on my friend Jay Odjick’s podcast, I started out my seclusion period thinking about how much writing I would get done. For a variety of reasons, that hasn’t happened, and in fact, I have written exactly zero words during this time. I have, at times, felt very badly about this, especially while seeing writers I know be very productive. Most times, though, I feel able to recognize that there are good, legitimate reasons why I’m not able to write right now, and I know in my soul that I’ll get back to it.

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Christmas (?) Cactus

First of all, I flat-out forgot that yesterday was ‘write a blog entry day’ until I was just about to go to bed, and with my usual struggles in getting my brain to turn off and let me sleep, I decided not to take any chances. Obviously things are a little weird right now, my schedule is all messed up, and hopefully we’re all making allowances for ourselves as a result. And I’m going to get back on the ‘Tuesdays’ schedule going forward, as best I can.

However, this is also kind of perfect based on what I wanted to write about on the blog this week.

My Christmas Cactus.

No, seriously.

See, I have had this plant for quite a long while now, and right up front I’ll admit that I’m quite sure it hasn’t been in ideal Christmas Cactus conditions (mostly due to me not really knowing what those are). Mostly it has been a nice little splash of green that survived the rather iffy lighting conditions of a series of apartments.

It hadn’t bloomed for the past two Christmases, and I pretty much figured it wasn’t going to, any more.

Then, a little while ago, I noticed it had buds.

It is, you will note, April.

My first instinctual reaction (and this is not to my credit) was ‘Man, this cactus is bad at it’s job. Doesn’t bloom for two years and then finally produces some in the springtime.’ I was going to make a Hilarious Internet Post about it.

But then I thought a little more, and you know, there’s a lot to be learned from this cactus. It is not, as I said, in ideal conditions. It’s not producing what is expected on the expected schedule, nor at the rate of other similar cactii.

But, by the gods, it has produced something, and (one has to assume) done the very best it was capable of. This is much like many of us, including myself. I don’t write as much as a lot of other people I know, I definitely don’t do so with any kind of predictable regularity these days, but I plug away. I like to hope eventually something will come of it.

And really, this is all any of us can do. We are all in our own situations, unique to ourselves, and if we do the best we can, then we have no reason to feel in any way ashamed of the results.

By all appearances, my cactus’ flowers are going to be lovely.

It’s great at its job.

Thank you for reading.

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On Vacation

I am writing this on vacation, which so far has been very nice.

Taking some time to go away on a trip was perhaps not the most practical decision in terms of use of time (or, no doubt, financially) but I can’t maintain an endless level of grind. As the last couple of weeks have shown, eventually it wears to the point that even time spent ‘on task’ becomes so unproductive that I do very little.

Counterintuitive though it may be, taking a space of time to do nothing works out to me being more productive in the long term. So that’s what I’m doing this week. I did bring a ridiculous amount of reading with me (because of course) and I already had one solid idea for my writing project, so I think this is already paying off.

We’ll see. Still on vacation at the moment.

(I have already finished, and enjoyed, Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower, which is a very clever and unusual kind of fantasy story that I find personally comforting because although it is a really good tale, it is also not what you would call packed with action. Which tends to be what a lot of the stuff I write is, so it’s encouraging re: marketability. Which we’re not thinking about. Because we’re on vacation.)

Back on the job next week.

Thanks for reading.

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Just Checking In

Not much to say this week – or last, as you may have noticed. I’ve been feeling very low energy in a number of different ways lately and haven’t been feeling either confident or inspired enough to write on any particular topic. I kind of thought about leaving it for another week, but that’s getting dangerously close to breaking the habit of writing this thing, and most of the time, I do find it valuable.

So. I’m busy right now with teaching related stuff, which does suck up a lot of available time and energy. Writing is not going real well, both because of the above and the aforementioned lack of confidence. I need to compare myself less to what other people are getting done right now and let some of my batteries recharge.

On the other hand, we’re recording some episodes of the podcast, and another Secret Project is puttering along, so there’s bits and pieces of progress being made. I’m still shopping around Heretic Blood, a little, and had a bit of a nibble the other day, so some stuff is happening. I just don’t have the mindset or the bandwidth for much of it right now. The pace will pick back up when I’m ready to do it.

I have a week off teaching coming up shortly, so that’s probably well-timed. Hopefully I’ll come out of that feeling a bit more ready to tackle some creative stuff again.

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New Project

So, since I have abundant free time (aheheheh) I have decided to take on another project. I spend a lot of time making up stories out of nothing, but there is at least one really good story that happens to be true that I think needs to be told, in some form. If you have followed this blog for a while, you will probably have seen me mention my grandfather at least a couple of times. Usually connected to one of those running posts.

This is because my grandfather was, among other things, an athlete. He did some running, he bicycle raced, he snowshoe raced, he canoe raced. He did snowshoe races with a 50 lb bag of flour on his back. He did another one against some army cadets in weather so bad that all the cadets quit and someone had to go find my grandfather and tell him that he was the only one left out there. So, athlete.

He also supported his family with a little farm in Northern Ontario where there was no electricity or running water. He went away to the Second World War and came home married. He was a local politician, interested in regional heritage, and you wouldn’t have guessed any of that from meeting the quiet person who I knew as my granddad when I was growing up.

To my regret, I never got to know him especially well (among other things, two shy people) before he passed away, some years ago now. The project I am going to work away at for the next however long is to find a way to properly tell his story. It’s going to involve some research, and (I think) eventually some writing. I make up stories that I think and hope are interesting, but again, this is a truly exceptional and unique one that is also true.

Granddad was never rich and never widely famous (seems to have had some kind of reputation in certain athletic circles, though), but there’s a story there nonetheless. I think there’s a story in the lives of many people, perhaps everyone, if we look at it right.

Our stories need telling, and deserve telling.

I know some of the details of my grandfather’s life already, through family stories, but I know there is a great deal more to know, much of it in the memories of family members who are not as young as they used to be (who of us are?) and on increasingly fragile pieces of paper.

Our stories can be fragile, and if we don’t tell them they can be lost.

Part of this project does, of course, scratch a particular historical research itch for me, and no doubt that is part of why I have picked it up. Part of it is just curiosity – I’m interested to know what new things I may be able to learn. I am also very interested in putting together all the little bits and pieces of fact and memory into a real story about a remarkable person that I was fortunate to know, for a while.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading.

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New Knight

Not entirely sure what to write about this week, awash as I am in end-of-term Things That Must Be Done, and I’m nearly out of Tuesday so since I jabbered on a bit about the story that is going to be the next Project last week, maybe I might introduce you (kind of) to it’s main character this week.

I have what I think is a nice assortment of imaginary people who will all take their turns being vital to the tale I’m putting together, but (perhaps inevitably) there is one character who is the thread that (I hope) pulls it all together. (He’s actually the second character I created for this story, but I’m not quite ready for you to meet the first one yet.) My main character for this one is Sir Gareth Rowanwood.

Of course, if you know the Arthur stories, you will also know that they have their own Sir Gareth. He’s my favourite of the classic Arthurian tales, not because he’s the best fighter (although pretty good, according to Malory, only Lancelot (of course) and Tristran can hang with him) or because he’s a blade of destiny like Galahad (no fun) or Percival.

Nah, I like Gareth because (again, in Malory’s version of things), he’s the glue that keeps Camelot stuck together for as long as it lasts. He’s Gawain’s favourite brother, and as much as Gawain dislikes Lancelot, he won’t do anything about it because Gareth and Lancelot are also best friends. Gareth is the one everyone likes, and that trick of personality keeps all the fractures of Camelot from breaking apart – until Gareth is accidentally killed, and it all goes to hell from there.

I guess I like the idea of a knight who is not the greatest knight on life, nor the one who will get the Grail, nor the one who is the once and future anything – but just the one people genuinely like. Depending how you look at it, Sir Gareth is arguably the most important of Arthur’s knights, but he’s not particularly well known – and I kind of figure the guy who was willing to work as a kitchen boy to get accepted at Camelot would be all right with that.

Anyway, while my own character will not be an attempt to reproduce the Arthurian Gareth, I am choosing a knight who is not considered among the best of the group he belongs to, and thinks of himself as a bit of an outsider. Like Sir Gareth of Orkney, Gareth Rowanwood’s personality will be a lot more important to how his story works out than his lance or sword.

It used to bug me when the main character of a story wasn’t ‘the best’ at whatever their thing was: best fighter, pilot, car racer, whatever. I guess I wanted the simplicity of an imaginary world where when if it came down to it, our main character was the best at what they did, and would therefore triumph in a fair contest. As I’ve gotten older (wiser? Crazier?) I’ve drifted on that a fair bit, to the point where I think I prefer a character now who isn’t an overwhelming force, even at their ‘best thing’. But, they get things done anyway. I suppose there’s more of a challenge element there, but I also enjoy the idea of the person who knows that a thing will be very hard, but knows also that it will be very important, and tries to do it.

That’s what I’m aiming for with Gareth Rowanwood, and we’ll see how well I do over the next while. I’ve enjoyed writing the bits and pieces of his story that I’ve got done so far, and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with him over the next while. I hope, once I’ve got it right, that you’ll enjoy it as well.

Thanks for reading.

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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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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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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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